The BulletinMay 27, 2020

The Bulletin: Political divisions rage as election looms


Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Political divisions rage as election looms, economic forecasts considered too optimistic, and travel routes start to move again.

They had all been doing so well at getting along, but that’s all over now. A cross-party consensus is emerging that it’s time to get back to the bruising business of bare-knuckle politics. We are now after all extremely close to the election, after a big chunk of the year was chewed up by the Covid crisis. In some instances, that impending deadline appears to be focusing the minds of politicians, and in others it appears to be causing panic.

National had another fairly shambolic day of avoidable mistakes yesterday. Newshub had a particularly cutting report on an incident in which the leadership team suggested that finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith was Māori, and therefore the party didn’t have an all-Pākehā top 10. He isn’t, and then had to clarify that. List MP Jo Hayes also aired criticisms of the party’s front bench in a Waatea News interview. And the Newshub story carried another poisonous detail for National – MPs are continuing to leak to the media. New leader Muller told his caucus meeting yesterday that under no circumstances were they to do so, because they’d be found out – within hours, that detail had made its way to Newshub’s political editor.

As for the actual sitting of parliament, new leader Todd Muller got his first crack at PM Ardern in Question Time. He asked about unemployment, the wage subsidy, and whether there had been sufficient direct support for small business. Amid the childish shouting from the backbenches, some useful points of discussion and debate emerged from it all.

Meanwhile, the government has its own problems amid divisions over stalled projects and watered down policies. You may not be shocked to discover that both examples involved NZ First getting one over Green priorities. In the first instance, the NZ Herald reports Winston Peters contradicted transport minister Phil Twyford over whether Auckland’s light rail will ever get rolling – Twyford was upbeat on the prospect in the morning, before Peters came out and said it wasn’t going to happen “in the immediate future”. And Politik reports this morning that NZ First is believed to have scored a win over freshwater standards, particularly around nitrogen limits which would have hit dairying pretty hard.

This also comes off the back of serious Green anger over the ‘two-tier’ welfare proposals – not because they didn’t support additional money being given to those made redundant, but because they argue all beneficiaries should receive more support. Once again though – and I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened over the term – their anger around it has turned out to be meaningless in terms of driving political outcomes. It will be fascinating to watch the dynamic between the two parties on the campaign trail, and how hard the Greens end up attacking their frenemies in NZ First.

Finally, there is one parliamentary party that hasn’t been mentioned in this summary. The Act party caucus has proven to be totally united with itself. But there’s a danger looming – on current polling, they could end up with 3-4 MPs after the election, which as we can see from every other party would greatly increase the risk of division from their current caucus of one.

We’ve got a new job going for our commercial team. It’s a newly established account manager position, and would suit someone who has a little bit of experience in the advertising and marketing world. All the details can be found here – applications close on June 5.

The economic toll of Covid-19 has been captured in poignant detail, in a new longread from a team of Radio NZ staffers. It is made up as a series of stories, collectively titled Collateral Damage, which examine the ways in which events rippled out into people’s work and lives. You can see that effect especially in the story of the West Auckland cleaning contractor, who is nervously waiting on whether the financial situations of other households will tighten to the point they cut her service. That in turn hits her income, and among other things, she hasn’t been able to restart her kids in music or swimming lessons again after lockdown.

Meanwhile, economists are warning that Treasury’s figures on how bad unemployment could get are “unrealistically rosy”, reports Stuff. The contention is that current forecasts don’t take structural changes in the economy into account, which because of the uncertainty of predicting the future right now is very difficult to do.

Travel routes are starting to move again in earnest after being largely halted over the lockdown. Stuff reports that an additional 100 flights will be added to Air NZ’s schedule over Queen’s Birthday (that’s this weekend, if you’d forgotten) around a range of regional airports. Radio NZ reports that Intercity buses will resume for the long weekend at a third of capacity, with the West Coast and Far North missing out on services.

For those who are interested in the forestry industryBusiness Desk’s Gavin Evans (paywalled) is running an excellent series of reports on submissions for a new bill that would govern the industry. The bill – which is being rushed through parliament – would give the forestry minister much more power over forest management, and sales and exports – a prospect that is alarming many of those submitters. Questions have also been raised through the process of whether the government really understands the regional variations and considerations of the industry.

A couple of pieces about electorate selections that will be well worth watching: The Wairarapa Times-Age has looked at the lineup for Wairarapa, which has the potential to be a heavily contested three-way race. National currently hold the seat through the departing Alistair Scott, but Labour’s Kieran McAnulty and NZ First’s Ron Mark are both fairly highly regarded, and National is yet to confirm their candidate. Incidentally, since that piece was published, former Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown has been announced as the Green candidate for Wairarapa. Meanwhile on the NZ Herald (paywalled) former MP Marilyn Waring has weighed in on moves within Labour to deselect sitting MP Louisa Wall, with Waring arguing that such a move would be a big mistake.

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Nadia Reid and Reb Fountain in episode two of Under Cover.

Right now on The Spinoff: Eamonn Marra writes about life on the benefit, and the life-changing effect being in the better version of the two-tier system would have. Justin Giovannetti reports on a new survey that finds many hospitality businesses and patrons are struggling to comply with level two rules. We also report on a survey that has found three quarters of households are either in or at serious risk of financial hardship. Emily Writes looks at the concept of trusting the community as kids go back to schools. Dr Amanda Black looks at a unique indigenous model for managing both environmental and economic outcomes in farming. I write about what happens when huge businesses get sold for a buck, in the context of media giant Stuff. Simon Hertnon writes about the complexities of moving to a four day week. The NZIER team write about rethinking the concept of productivity after lockdown. Elle Hunt writes about a scandal blowing up British politics, over a top political advisor repeatedly flouting lockdown rules.

And something cool to watch and listen to: We’re launching Under Cover, a new series that pairs musicians together to chat, and play each other’s songs. The first episode features Nadia Reid and Reb Fountain, direct from their houses.

For a feature today, a very interesting piece about what actually goes on when someone in the backcountry is injured and needs to be rescued. NZ Geographic’s Allen Uren has looked at how search and rescue has changed in recent years, told through a couple of terrifying case studies. And as this excerpt shows, the author themself knows intimately what they’re talking about:

After about an hour, Clinton reappeared and said he’d found a crevasse with a false floor that he thought would shelter us. He’d put his foot through the floor, but otherwise it seemed mostly intact. It was a few hundred metres away on a rising traverse—but I couldn’t walk and Clinton couldn’t carry me.

I devised a way of crawling sitting up, where I lifted my bum and shuffled, then lifted my injured leg. It seemed to take me hours. Around me, the glacier rolled away towards the West Coast bush. A flat light had set in, with the sun low on the horizon.

At the crevasse entrance, I took one more look at the weak sun behind the thickening clouds. I wondered if we’d still be alive when the storm cleared.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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