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Students packed out Civic Square in Wellington before heading to parliament for the 24 May climate strike (Ana Tovey, Radio NZ)
Students packed out Civic Square in Wellington before heading to parliament for the 24 May climate strike (Ana Tovey, Radio NZ)

The BulletinMay 27, 2019

The Bulletin: Climate protests an uncomfortable new normal for politicians

Students packed out Civic Square in Wellington before heading to parliament for the 24 May climate strike (Ana Tovey, Radio NZ)
Students packed out Civic Square in Wellington before heading to parliament for the 24 May climate strike (Ana Tovey, Radio NZ)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Another major day of climate protests puts pressure on politicians, PMs fall in dramatic political weekend, and calls to stop use of remand for young people.

If activism in 2019 so far has been defined by any one movement, it is climate change. And there’s every reason to expect those protests are going to become more urgent and pressing, both in New Zealand and around the world.

Despite a much lower profile lead-in, Friday’s climate protests still brought large numbers of New Zealanders out on to the streets. In fact, according to Stuff’s live blog, the total numbers stretched into the tens of thousands cumulatively around the country. They were in every big city and most of the major towns. And their demands are really quite specific. In contrast to the characterisation from some of the student strikers as wishy-washy, Woodstock-esque hippy types, time and again these young people have shown themselves to be focused, serious and capable.

They say they’ll keep turning up too. And on local levels, there are a range of groups organising (sometimes under the banner of Extinction Rebellion) which are taking on small but pointed demonstrations. An example of this is likely to happen today, with protesters expected to attend the Minerals Forum in Dunedin – one of those minerals that will be discussed by delegates is coal, and the protesters want coal gone.

It also shouldn’t be forgotten that the student strikers in New Zealand are very much part of an international movement of people doing the same thing. In fact, those international protests have been going a lot longer than New Zealand’s versions. Over Friday’s protest, Vox estimated the numbers at 2300 different student strike events in more than 130 countries. That’s more countries than the number with people taking part in the March 15 climate demonstrations too. One of their number, 17 year old Zoe Mills, wrote on The Spinoff that the strike “was not only a direct address to governments all around the world to wake up, but also a way to unite communities.” That whole piece is incredibly strong, by the way.

I say all this as a preamble to the main point here: If these climate protests continue, they’re going to start to get very uncomfortable for New Zealand’s politicians. Stuff’s Henry Cooke has written insightfully about how climate change is still what he terms a “2nd tier” political issue, in that it isn’t something that really motivates voters when it comes down to it. And we’ve seen plenty of evidence of that up until now. But a sustained campaign of pressure on a government that professes to care deeply about climate action could seriously erode the credibility of those MPs making such statements.

The protest demands go much further than the measures outlined in the Zero Carbon bill. One of them, by far the easiest one for all concerned, has been picked up by a few Councils now, which is that a ‘climate emergency’ be declared. But other demands massively speed up the timeline by which net-zero emissions would be achieved, and call for the immediate end to all new oil and gas exploration and extraction. On both counts, we have plenty of evidence that the government just isn’t interested in going that far or fast – see for example the caveats in the widely-publicised oil and gas exploration ban, that allow exploration to continue in Taranaki, and extraction to continue generally for decades. As well as that, New Zealand’s emissions are likely to continue rising year on year for most of the next decade.

To sum up the gulf that is likely to start widening, I’ll leave you with two quotes. The first comes from Green MP and environment minister Eugenie Sage, who spoke to climate strikers in Christchurch, accepting their list of demands. “Thank you for your inspiration, thank you for your courage, thank you for your energy, your passion to calling decision makers to account. Your clarity, your energy is inspiring,” she said in comments carried by Newstalk ZB’s news bulletins.

The second comes from this article on Radio NZ about a law student who took the previous National government to court over climate inaction. Even though Sarah Thomson is relieved the Zero Carbon act is now coming, it seemed like the legislation was being seen by the government as a substitute for actual action. “It is very hard to allay my worry about the future, even with the bill progressing through Parliament,” she said. The point is, there’s only going to be so many times ministers can thank protesters without meeting their actual demands.

Then again, at least minister Sage won’t find herself in as awkward a position as National leader Simon Bridges is likely to be – Politik reports this morning the party is now looking unlikely to continue backing the Zero Carbon bill unless it gets softened further. That’ll be a tough sell to the voters of tomorrow.

Papua New Guinean PM Peter O’Neill has resigned after a string of defections from his coalition, reports RNZ Pacific. It comes ahead of a vote of no confidence his opponents had been planning, that they likely would have won. Mr O’Neill has indicated a successor, but at this stage it’s not clear if they will be able to actually command a majority of parliament.

Speaking of messy political exits, British PM Theresa May has also announced the date of her resignation, which will be June 7. She may stick around for a bit longer as a caretaker while the Conservative party chooses who will take over – that whole process it outlined here by the BBC. Whoever does win the job will face the exact same circumstances as she did, with the impossibility of getting a Brexit deal palatable to both the UK parliament and EU. As such, potential successor Boris Johnson has been talking up the prospect of leaving without a deal. By the way, European election results are expected to come out in the next few hours.

The Children’s Commissioner is hitting out at the use of remand in youth detention facilities for young people facing charges. The comments from Andrew Becroft are reported on Radio NZ, and he says remand has become the default option that it was never meant to be for those yet to be convicted of anything. It’s an important point to make in terms of what is known about rehabilitation, institutionalisation, and young people going on to a life of crime.

Many parts of New Zealand are on track to set new records for their driest ever autumn, reports Stuff. Mean maximum temperatures are also looking likely to break records at some monitored sites. The article does a good job of explaining why this is happening – partly it is natural phenomena taking place, and partly it is because of human-caused climate change.

Today’s NZ Herald (paywalled) front page is a comprehensive look into ministry of education interventions into schools. Overall ministry staff have stepped in at one in seven schools over the past decade. It’s relevant in the context of the Tomorrow’s Schools review plans, which could involve legal powers of Boards of Trustees being taken over by regional hubs.

The outgoing commerce commissioner is calling for a market study on the construction sector, reports Interest. The most recent market study was on fuel, and Mark Berry says construction is a market of national importance. He didn’t tell Interest much detail about where in the supply chain he thinks needs scrutiny, but pointed generally to the high cost of construction materials.

Passenger complaints around Waiheke ferry services have led to explosions in tensions, reports the NZ Herald. Part of the problem is the switch to reduced numbers of sailings for winter – that has left commuters frustrated to the point of lashing out at ferry staff. Some ferries are also departing with spare seats (and angry would-be passengers left behind) if the staff to passenger ratios are too low. You can understand the frustration of the commuters though, it’s not like they can just walk home.

Expect to hear a lot more this week about business confidence, the lack of which has returned. Because it’s Budget Week, senior figures in the government are out and about speaking to various groups about what is likely. Stuff’s no-nonsense business editor Rebecca Stevenson was in the room on Friday when the PM spoke to a business audience, and found a real concern among other observers about a lack of detailed and specific plans.

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James Acaster

Right now on The Spinoff: Organiser of the first ever union for legal workers Hayley Coles explains why the profession needs it. David Farrier looks into the weird instagram subculture of jumping on hotel beds, and gets threatened by strangers for his troubles. Zoe Deans writes about what men can do to support abortion rights. Hannah Spyksma gets amongst the netball courts after a long time out of the game, and writes about the return to social sport.

Finally, I don’t go to a lot of live comedy, so I never really knew this was a thing. But apparently comedians hate New Zealand audiences? Our new staff writer Josie Adams (welcome!) has looked into it, and written a really interesting piece about it all.

For a feature today, I actually just want to share a lengthy and highly informative piece of feedback from a reader. Kat from Waipu got in touch after Friday’s Bulletin on the logging truck court case, to share some general impressions about how the roads are around Northland when logging trucks are on them. Here it is:

I live in Northland and those trucks scare me every time I’m on the road. I travel the section of road between Marsden Point (the destination for these logs) and Whangārei regularly and I’m genuinely scared a logging truck will kill me one day.

Part of it is the road quality. Trucks pull out in desperation at dumb times because it’s the only chance they get. They drive aggressively, regularly. The trucks also throw stones, I’ve had at least 5 chips and a new windscreen in 2 years.

The other part of it is operators thinking they are above the law and allowing (forcing) their drivers to drive tired, and driving some pretty tight deadlines. Nothing hoons up here like an unloaded logging truck, but a loaded truck will try.

Everyone I know up here has a “near miss” story with these trucks. I made a complaint over a month ago about one that cut me off on a roundabout and gave me the fingers, and have had no response to my complaint.

Some of the operations put all our lives at risk. No small car has a chance against these trucks. And it often feels like we’re at war. I’m angry that the forestry business takes priority over lives.

In cricket, it’s time to start predicting New Zealand is going to win the World Cup easily. The Black Caps have absolutely stuffed India in a warm up match, with Trent Boult and his fellow quick bowlers demolishing the much-vaunted Indian batting lineup. And Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor both scored 50s in running down the modest chase. Now I predicted the Black Caps would come 6th out of 10 at the World Cup, with India to win it – hopefully I’m about to be very very wrong?

Athletics NZ has pulled off a coup by retaining the allegiance of teenage sprint sensation Edward Osei-Nketia, reports Radio NZ. He spent most of the last decade living in Canberra, and Australia were keen to pick him up for their programme. However, one of the interesting things about this agreement Osei-Nketia has come to in New Zealand is that NZ Rugby are supporters of it, which means that there could be a code-switch somewhere down the line.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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