Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Changes rippling through architecture of local government, ‘yellow flag’ case causes concern about Auckland outbreak, and health select committee to reconvene.
To lead us off today, a roundup of a few stories taking place at local government level. It keeps going while the rest of the country prepares for an election, and under the radar, some reasonably significant changes are being made to the architecture of many councils.
The biggest and most recent is a vote by the Tauranga City Council to establish Māori wards, and give tangata whenua reps on council committees voting rights. The Waikato Times has a comprehensive story on what the decision means. In a shorter story, the Bay of Plenty Times reports the decision came as something of a shock to many in the room, because the debate had made it seem like the council vote would go the other way. Like with the recent moves by the New Plymouth District Council, the vote could end up being challenged in a referendum if a petition gathers enough signatures. Meanwhile, Stuff reports Wellington City Council will today decide on whether to give mana whenua members voting rights on all committees except the full council. The underlying idea behind the proposal is that under the Local Government Act, Māori are required to be included in decision-making.
Meanwhile a rash of councils have been adopting the Single Transferable Voting system for their future elections. We’ve covered a few in recent months, but the more recent ones include the Far North District Council, the Nelson City Council, and the Gisborne District Council. The idea behind STV is that it is a more proportional electoral system than first past the post, in an electoral context where a system like MMP wouldn’t make any sense. Voters are asked to rank candidates rather than simply having one vote to cast as under FPP, meaning the preferences of greater numbers of voters are reflected in the final results.
Finally, Local Government NZ held their annual conference recently, with a series of policy remits debated. You can read about all of them here, including a series of interesting ones on water bottling. But in keeping with the theme of this being about the architecture of local government, one in particular jumps out: “To advocate for central government to conduct a referendum on a proposal that the electoral terms of both central and local government be extended from three to four years.” It passed overwhelmingly, and could put momentum behind an idea that has been kicking around for years.
A must-read story about Covid-19 in Auckland: As Justin Giovannetti reports, a man in his 30s turned up at hospital on Friday with symptoms. He’s now in intensive care, and nobody knows how he contracted the virus. Even with significant contact tracing efforts underway, that last detail is really pertinent. As well as that, it is unusual for cases in New Zealand to only get noticed when someone presents at a hospital. What does it all mean? Basically, that we still don’t quite know how wide the perimeter of the outbreak could be.
National and NZ First have teamed up to get the health select committee reconvened, reports Newstalk ZB. It will go ahead on Wednesday of next week, which is expected to be the last sitting day of the term, and it is likely Dr Ashley Bloomfield will be invited to appear. National in particular is very keen to give MPs a chance to question him. Select committees weren’t brought back along with the recall of parliament, following the election delay, but for this one there is now a majority of MPs wanting it to reconvene.
The rich of the world are trying to flee to New Zealand. If that sounds to you like an overstated framing of what’s happening right now, I encourage you to read this piece from Radio NZ’s Gill Bonnett, who reports that expressions of interest in investor visa applications are soaring right now, particularly from the US. For many of them, the required investment minimum of $3 million will be chump change, though at the moment they cannot necessarily get on the ground to allow NZTE and Immigration NZ a chance to do due diligence.
It’s not usual for a party co-leader to really talk down their chances ahead of an election, but John Tamihere isn’t a particularly usual politician. That comes through in this revealing interview with Stuff’s Thomas Manch, in which Tamihere is already looking towards 2023. There is some chance for the Māori Party to pick up a seat this time around, with co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer seen as a potential winner of Te Tai Hauāuru. But at third on the list, Tamihere himself has a very difficult run towards parliament, and on current polling will almost certainly need to beat two sitting MPs in Tāmaki Makaurau.
Some of the PPE being used in New Zealand may have been manufactured by slave labour, reports The Detail. The US has stopped imports from a pair of factories in Malaysia because of conditions of modern slavery – including practices like debt bondage, and confiscating passports from workers. And to be blunt, New Zealanders can’t really be sure that we’re not sourcing PPE from factories that employ the same conditions.
Concerns are being raised by student groups that the new election date could affect youth voter turnout, reports Te Waha Nui’s Tessa Parker. October 17 will come up against exam season, meaning many students just won’t have democracy on their minds. However, an Otago University Students’ Association rep said it would still be a better outcome than a November election, because of the movements around the country many students make at the end of term.
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Right now on The Spinoff: First of all, electoral politics: Justin Giovannetti writes about how parties are preparing for a campaign with unknown Covid conditions. We’ve concluded the run of Youth Wings with a remarkable debate between all five parties in parliament. The New Conservatives have accused election info site Policy of bias – I report on the accusation and the response. Josie Adams reports on a new political litmus test – an instagram account that looks at the thickness of marmite spreading by our political leaders.
And in everything else: Justin Latif asks why landlords are able to get away with charging such high rents in South Auckland, relative to the rest of the SuperCity. Nessa Lynch writes about how unprepared New Zealand’s laws are for an explosion of facial recognition technology. Toby Manhire reports on a new poll that asks whether people are complying with lockdown. Russell Brown writes about Ecostore’s moves to close the loop on plastic bottles. I report on Grey Power disavowing the Covid-conspiracy views of one of their branch presidents. The Silver Scrolls finalists talk about what they like about each other’s songs. And Alice Snedden of Bad News asks why the TV world is still so afraid of women’s breasts.
For a feature today, an investigation out of the US into workplaces with terrible Covid-19 outcomes. Meatpacking plants have been absolutely hammered by the virus, because almost nothing was set up to prevent rapid spread among largely low-income workers. But as this ProPublica investigation reveals, what happened was anything but unforeseeable, and the management of these companies knew it. Here’s an excerpt:
But a ProPublica investigation has found that for more than a dozen years, critical businesses like meatpackers have been warned that a pandemic was coming. With eerie prescience, infectious disease experts and emergency planners had modeled scenarios in which a highly contagious virus would cause rampant absenteeism at processing plants, leading to food shortages and potential closures. The experts had repeatedly urged companies and government agencies to prepare for exactly the things that Smithfield’s CEO now claims were unrealistic.
“It was an unmitigated disaster for food processors, and it didn’t have to be,” said John Hoffman, who developed emergency planning for the food and agriculture sector at the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration. “There are things that could have happened in a pandemic that would have been novel, but this has unfolded pretty much as the pandemic plan has suggested it would.”
In sport, one of New Zealand’s greatest team players is calling it a day. Silver Fern Laura Langman is retiring, after amassing more caps than any other New Zealand netballer in history, winning two Commonwealth Games golds, and captaining the team to victory in last year’s World Cup. LockerRoom’s Suzanne McFadden has collected the voices of those who coached and played alongside her, for a fitting tribute.
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.