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Jacinda Ardern gesticulating at Simon Bridges in parliament (Youtube – InthehouseNZ)
Jacinda Ardern gesticulating at Simon Bridges in parliament (Youtube – InthehouseNZ)

The BulletinOctober 25, 2018

The Bulletin: Ardern will be held to fuel tax pledge

Jacinda Ardern gesticulating at Simon Bridges in parliament (Youtube – InthehouseNZ)
Jacinda Ardern gesticulating at Simon Bridges in parliament (Youtube – InthehouseNZ)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: PM makes no new regional fuel taxes pledge on the fly, dream of merger over for media companies, and Hager speaks out on JLR saga. 

Jacinda Ardern has made what could become something of a defining pledge for her career – no new regional fuel taxes for the rest of her tenure as PM. Newshub reports it happened in parliament, apparently spontaneously too, during a heated debate with National leader Simon Bridges, who has been hammering away at the topic in recent weeks. It’s one of the issues he’s managed to get real cut-through with the public on – but perhaps not now that the PM has given her word that there won’t be any more of them.

How did it all come about? The new regional fuel tax in Auckland doesn’t significantly add to the cost of petrol, but it does feel like a real sting for motorists who are already paying high prices. Yesterday morning Mr Bridges alleged that the government had been in secret talks with Wellington Council about implementing a regional fuel tax there – which the current law does allow for from 2021 onwards. However, Stuff reports that both mayor Justin Lester and transport minister Phil Twyford say that’s incorrect. Petrol prices are particularly high in the capital too, so even though there are pretty pressing spending needs in terms of transport infrastructure in the region, it wouldn’t have been popular.

Why could it be defining? There wasn’t any wiggle room in the statement made by the PM. You can watch for yourself – it’s probably the most quintessential Question Time video of the year. “I can give this guarantee… there will be no other regional fuel taxes while I’m Prime Minister. Which at the moment feels like it might be for a while.” It prompted an even more boorish series of cheers and jeers, over and above what had already been an ugly spectacle of a question.

John Key made a promise like that too. The former PM said he’d resign rather than preside over a rise in the superannuation age. And fair play, he kept his promise, but it meant that the former government was incapable of even considering it as an option, even as the possibility of the cost of superannuation blowing out became more urgent. The stance was scrapped just a few months after Bill English took the reins. Claire Trevett at the NZ Herald has some further analysis comparing the two situations.

The thing about fuel taxes is that they’re ring-fenced funding for transport – here’s a Stuff piece that explains it. And if this government really aspires to be transformational, one of the most important areas they could do that in is in revolutionising the transport system. But to do that requires massive investments in infrastructure. If Jacinda Ardern really does end up being Prime Minister for a while, in a few years she might start to regret chopping out fuel taxes as a way of coming up with the money for those investments.

The dream of coming together in happy matrimony is over for media companies NZME and Stuff, who have indicated that they won’t bother appealing to merge again. The NZ Herald (published by NZME) has a report on it, reports that the media landscape has shifted a lot since merging was first proposed in 2015. One option for Stuff might be to tie themselves up with Mediaworks – I wrote about this possibility last month. For NZME, their big hope is for a paywall on premium NZ Herald content to be a winner – and while they certainly publish a lot of journalism worth paying for, it remains to be seen if New Zealanders are willing to pony up in the sort of numbers that will be needed for it to work.

Speaking of paywalls, the NZ Herald reports that TVNZ might end up looking at something like that themselves next year. The option being mooted is sort of like Spotify Premium – you pay a subscriber fee and get ad-free content in return. That seems like it could work a bit better, because the concept is already proven in the local market.

Here’s the piece many of us have been waiting for since last Monday: Dirty Politics author Nicky Hager has analysed the Jami-Lee Ross saga for The SpinoffHe argues that the story has been far bigger than just one person being a bad dude, and that it shows the culture of brutalising attack politics is still alive and well. But Hager also says coverage so far has been lacking in explanation of motive: Why is all of this going on in the first place, and who benefits?

New Zealand has been named as the 2nd most risky country in the world for insurance, reports the NZ Herald. That’s driven by two things in particular: a reasonably high vulnerability to disasters like earthquakes and floods, and because New Zealand has very high levels of uptake of insurance generally. One way of course that insurance companies could make life less risky for themselves is to simply not insure certain properties. This was forecast in a report last year for coastal homes against the backdrop of climate change driven sea level rises.

It turns out overseas teachers are really keen on coming to New Zealand, reports the NZ Herald. Since a recruitment drive was launched earlier this month, the minister of education Chris Hipkins says more than 2000 applications have come in – much more than the target of 850. Of those applications, not all have been assessed, but 315 have been deemed ready to teach in NZ.

Here’s an new sports sponsorship idea from the Warriors, reported on by the NBR (paywalled) Basically, it’s for the back of the shorts, but the sponsor will only have to pay out for each half of footy the Warriors win. It must be quite an attractive proposition for sponsors really – win lots and that’s a lot of good exposure. And lose lots, and it just turns into free exposure. Knowing the Warriors, whoever takes it up certainly won’t be paying out every week.

I haven’t seen this reported anywhere, but it’s a very interesting industrial relations development. A new union has launched for technology workers in NZ, both at tech companies, and in tech focused roles at other organisations. Here’s there press release announcing the launch. While tech might be seen from the outside as a glamour industry where everyone’s getting filthy rich, the Aotearoa Tech Union says many workers in such jobs face “difficult working conditions, unstable or unpredictable working hours, and low job security.”

This was a cool series last year, and it’s a cool series again now that it’s been revived. Radio NZ are doing one-year-on pieces from the Beyond the Beehive series, which was a very worthwhile set of election coverage at the time. The video linked to above focuses on the continuing dire state of precarious housing many people face.

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Jorge Sandoval at home in the Wairarapa. (Photo: Gemma Snowdon/NZ Red Cross)

Right now on The Spinoff: Wendy Allison from Know Your Stuff takes aim at New Zealand’s crushingly stupid laws on drug testing ahead of the summer festival season. Alex Casey reviews the new book by Clementine Ford called Boys will be Boys, which examines the toxic effects our misogynistic culture has on everyone. And I’m really excited about this new series we’re running called Kiwi Legends, about people from refugee backgrounds who have made a life here. The first person profiled is Jorge Sandoval, originally from Chile, who is now a pillar of the cycling community.

This is a piece from last year, but I only just discovered it and loved it, so here you go. Tom Lamont from the Guardian has written about what happens to offshore oil rigs when they get to the end of their life. Suffice to say, they can’t just stay in the middle of the ocean. But the process of getting them off to shipbreakers is hazardous, and can go badly wrong. Here’s an excerpt.

“Her 17,000 tonnes came in on Dalmore Bay, one of the island’s prettiest beaches, a quarter-mile crescent of bone-coloured sand and muscular swell that, on a normal Monday morning, could expect to be visited by dog-walkers, surfers, kayakers, seabirds, even dolphins. Back behind the sand, where the beach narrowed and formed an uneven track up to the coastal road, lay the gravestones of a hundred or so islanders. A fractional difference in the gusts and tides overnight, and the runaway Winner might have brought her great weight down on the resting place of one Malcolm MacCauley, whose grave was set closest to the water.

As it was, the rig collided with the headland that defined Dalmore Bay’s southern edge – a slope of marram grass busy with snails that rose to a boggy cliff and then fell away to rocks on the foreshore. Winner’s pontoons scraped into the shallows and a strut of her crosswise steel snagged on a tall, tooth-shaped crag. The rig pitched to the south, away from the beach, her derrick cutting obliquely across the sky and her helipad inclining at an angle that to the human eye read as almost apologetic. However terrific a noise this made nobody was around to hear it, bar the seabirds and snails. The police started to arrive around 7am, as did the first stunned residents.”

For certain athletes, getting what’s known as ‘the yips’ can be the end of everything. Basically, it’s a mental block – something that they’ve trained themselves to do for years suddenly feels alien, and they completely lose their flow. It happened to spin bowler turned opening batsman turned broadcaster Mark Richardson – and it happened to rower Lucy Strack.

She’s the subject of this amazing profile by Dana Johannsen on Stuff. Strack is now racing in Ironman events, after qualifying as a rower for the 2016 Olympics and then completely losing her stroke. It’s pretty remarkable to be able to come back from something that would be so shattering of confidence like that, and I gotta say, it’s pretty inspiring.

Also, I saw this one on Sunday and clean forgot about it until this morning, but it hasn’t lost any relevance. A pay equity push for the upcoming domestic T20 double-headers has been scuppered, reports the NZ Herald. Certain games of both men’s and women’s competitions are going to be played on the same night this summer, but while men will make the lavish sum of $575 per game, women will earn nothing.

From our partners, World Energy Day has put a spotlight on New Zealand’s sluggish progress towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Vector’s Beth Johnson explains why the time is right to accelerate.

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