James Shaw, Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters ahead of Budget 2019 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
James Shaw, Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters ahead of Budget 2019 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The BulletinJune 25, 2020

The Bulletin: Will the three-party government survive the term?

James Shaw, Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters ahead of Budget 2019 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
James Shaw, Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters ahead of Budget 2019 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Questions over stability of the government, health minister throws top official under the bus, and concerns raised over dolphin protection plan.

After several days of frantically knifing each other at parliament, you’d be forgiven for thinking the coalition government is on the verge of collapse. The highest profile incident was the news that the process on deciding how to get light rail in Auckland is now off the table, with the NZ Herald reporting that cabinet had given up on trying to get agreement on which competing plan to go with. It doesn’t necessarily mean light rail will never happen, reports Stuff – it is possible a future government could progress it under something much more like the original plan, rather than under a public-private partnership that came into the picture later on. But this current one won’t be doing so. In remarkable consecutive interviews on Newstalk ZB last night, transport minister Phil Twyford and Green co-leader James Shaw both pinned it on NZ First, but also had to take their medicine on failing to get them on board.

As if to underline their independence from the wider coalition, NZ First have inflicted several more quick defeats on their frenemies this week. They’ve refused to support the proposal for hate speech laws. They put the brakes on proposed changes to commercial leases, in the wake of Covid-19. They stalled changes to how rape trials operate, based on concerns raised by defence lawyers. In each case, the party put up reasons for their opposition. But the cumulative effect of a barrage of similar stories creates the impression that they’re no longer interested in allowing anything else through before the election. Such a strategy isn’t exactly new – we’ve now seen several years of it. But it is an escalation.

What’s driving all of this? Politik’s Richard Harman is particularly well informed on these matters, and has speculated that what we’re seeing right now is revenge from NZ First around one of their key projects – the movement of Auckland port operations to Whangārei – not making the speedy progress that they would have liked to see. Among the snubs in this area, the report noted that a proposal to build a floating dry dock in the north was not part of the recently announced list of 11 shovel-ready projects.

NZ First lost another of their own issues, but it was on a relatively peripheral matter. Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin told the NZ Herald (paywalled) that Labour and the Greens had blocked her plans to restrict access to online pornography. In the story, Martin criticised both coalition partners in turn.

Could all of this actually bring the government down? It’s not impossible that we’ll see an early election, even if it is deeply unlikely. Newstalk ZB’s political editor Barry Soper was speculating on air about this very possibility last night, saying it could come over a completely different issue – Ihumātao, and NZ First’s opposition to any public money being put towards a deal. “I am just putting it out there, both NZ First and Labour would probably do better than an earlier election, and if they could force the ballot before then, then I think the cards will play better for them,” said Soper. There’s now less than three months before the election, and it will be fascinating to see how hard the parties of government campaign directly against each other. Perhaps more fascinating is the question of whether they’ll ever be able to work together again afterwards, and act like none of this happened.

Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive: 

“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. The loss of some key commercial clients meant that change has to be permanent. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and can afford to contribute, please consider doing so – it really is critically important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”

Health minister David Clark has refused to take responsibility for the large number of people released from managed isolation without a Covid-19 test. In an interview with Checkpoint, the guy who was out and about biking during level four described the failings as an operational matter, which means that it falls at the door of Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health who has spent long stretches of this year as the public face of the response. It’s a point that was made by Clark repeatedly over the day, including an instance captured on video by Newshub in which Bloomfield was standing behind Clark at the time. As Toby Manhire writes, the politics of it are extremely bad for the wider government.

As for more general numbers of how many of those people have been contacted and tested, there is still some way to go. Radio NZ has a useful breakdown of the numbers so far. But on testing numbers generally, there has been a whopping increase here (which presumably is also an operational matter) more than 45,000 tests have been completed around the country since the first new cases last week. The overwhelming majority have come back negative, and there is as yet no evidence of renewed community transmission.

A new plan to protect Māui and Hector’s dolphins has been released, but there has been criticism about whether it will be effective. Newshub has an excellent overview story of the plan, which includes a nationwide ban on drift-net fishing, an extension of areas closed to set-net fishing, and an extension to areas closed to trawling. Fisheries minister Stuart Nash says fishing will still be allowed in these areas, just not using such methods, and support will be provided to the industry to make the switch.

But there has been some criticism that the measures won’t go far enough to save the dolphins in some habitats. The Science Media Centre reported comments from Otago zoology professor Elisabeth Slooten, who said “with the proposed protection measures, what’s likely to happen is that we will lose the dolphins on the east coast of the North Island, and from areas like Otago and the Catlins.”

There was also a curious clause in the plan that will allow the minister to shut fishing operations down if a single dolphin is caught. One wonders if this would ever be invoked, given the wider leniency this government has given the industry on matters like cameras on boats. There’s also the wider question of whether it’s all too late for the Māui – as Taranaki Daily News editor Matthew Rilkoff writes, not a single one of the critically endangered species has been seen by a government observer in Taranaki waters for eight years. As a result, some commercial fishing operators insist they’re simply not there, so are questioning why new restrictions are being put in place.

In related news, the industry has won a battle over the extension of a marine reserve around Campbell Island, reports Stuff. The subantarctic sanctuary is a vital ecosystem for many species, however a push to expand protected areas by conservation minister Eugenie Sage was overruled by Nash.

Embattled Otago Regional Council chair Marian Hobbs has lived to fight another day, reports Stuff’s Hamish McNeilly. However, it won’t necessarily last, with an extraordinary meeting called for July 8, at which the votes will be cast. Hobbs was backed up by a group of protesters who turned up to the meeting, who argued that she was being pushed out because of her support for freshwater reforms. Hobbs’ opponents around the table accused her in turn of “grossly unfair” misrepresentation.

A series of options have been presented to pedestrianise the Golden Mile area of Wellington’s CBD, reports Stuff’s Damian George. At one end, the proposals would effectively remove private cars from the area, making it much better for buses, and much safer for cyclists, walkers and scooter riders. If that option is taken up the cost will be close to $80 million, while another cheaper option would heavily prioritise bus travel.

Consenting costs for water tanks in Auckland have been removed in a bid to get more installed. Stuff reports those costs had previously been up to $5000, and the Council is hopeful it will lead to many more people putting them in. It seems like a no-brainer because of the general importance of water, so it’s nice that it only took a crippling and prolonged drought to make it happen. It would have been even nicer if they had’ve been in place when it was bucketing down last night.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: Hayden Donnell criticises the Auckland Council plan to slash services so that ratepayers can save 47 cents a week. A returning NZ citizen writes about being in Rotorua lockdown, and their dismay at being criticised for wanting to come home. Adam Kamradt-Scott writes about the accelerating pandemic in other parts of the world, where it’s all getting much worse. The Fold podcast speaks to Sinead Boucher, the former journalist turned media exec who just bought Stuff for a buck. Emily Writes watches High School Mums, and says it should be a call to action around support for young mothers. Historian Giacomo Lichtner writes about ‘divided memories’, and what statues and monuments really mean, then and now. And Danyl Mclauchlan tries to make sense of the malaise currently sweeping through Wellington, not least because of the horrific weather.

For a feature today, a profoundly sad read about the diminishing moral stature of the United States. I don’t think anyone would pretend that country has ever been purely a force for good, but for a while at least, the global dominance of the US allowed for some of the greatest advances and achievements in human history. Now, as The Atlantic’s Tom McTague writes, the country stands humiliated on the world stage. Here’s an excerpt:

Today’s convulsions are not without precedent—many I spoke to cited previous protests and riots, or America’s diminished standing after the Iraq War in 2003 (a war, to be sure, supported by Britain and other European countries)—yet the confluence of recent events and modern forces has made the present challenge particularly dangerous.

The street protests, violence, and racism of the past few weeks have erupted at the very moment the country’s institutional failings have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforced by its apparently unbridgeable partisan divide, which is now even infecting parts of the American machine that have so far been untouched: its federal agencies, diplomatic service, and the long-standing norms underpinning the relationship between civilians and the military. All of this is happening in the final year of the first term of the most chaotic, loathed, and disrespected president in modern American history.

The team of Football Ferns star Ali Riley has withdrawn from their competition in the US over a series of positive Covid-19 tests, reports Newshub. Six players and four staff at the Orlando Pride have the coronavirus, and the team will now take no part in the NWSL Challenge Cup – a revamped tournament to be held behind closed doors over the coming month. Incredibly, the show will go on despite a team pulling out a week beforehand, as there were contingency plans in place for just such a scenario.

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