National leader Simon Bridges (Radio NZ, Dom Thomas)

The Bulletin: National sets out stall for next election

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: National unveils their big economic discussion document, suicide toll leads to targeted support calls, and honey market faces worrying oversupply.

National have unveiled a range of ideas around the economy that they’ll almost certainly campaign on at the next election. As with many discussion documents of this nature, some entries are new, some are old, some are vague and some could have genuinely significant impacts if enacted. Fair warning, the top section is quite long today, but as it’s as close as the main party of opposition will get to an election manifesto this year, it’s worth covering in detail.

The main headlines were largely grabbed by two pledges. The first was that the party has continued to back a gradual rise in the retirement age to 67. That battle was fought in both the 2014 and 2017 elections (ironically, National was against a rise in 2014) and both times parties promising not to raise the age won. It could be a boost for NZ First and Winston Peters, who reacted with fury to it. Newshub’s Jenna Lynch reports it would almost certainly be a dealbreaker in coalition negotiations between the two parties – though a conspiracy theorist might wonder if it would also make for a useful sacrifice to get a deal over the line.

The other headline grabber was a proposed ‘bonfire of regulations’. This is literally how it was branded, reports One News, with a promise to get rid of 100, as yet undefined regulations, in the space of six months. This sort of thing has been done before, and it wasn’t overly successful last time. There was also a slightly incongruous promise to “reduce the compliance costs of anti-money laundering regulations while continuing to meet our international obligations”, so that might be one of the hundred.

The wider document pulls quite a few economic levers in basically the same direction the Key/English government took. There is the promised repeals of the oil and gas exploration ban, and the regional fuel tax. The brightline test on property sales would be moved back to two years (as opposed to the five that the current government changed it to) and there would be an aggressive pursuit of free trade agreements. Resource Management Act reform is in the mix, because RMA reform will never not be in the mix. Writing on Politik, Richard Harman notes that the proposals would also undo a few bits and pieces from the Key/English era, in particular around the 2015 Health and Safety at Work act.

There could be a lot of back and forth over the effects of the tax policies as well. One of them, a discussion point on whether effective tax rates on savers should be lowered, has been worked over thoroughly by Interest’s Jenée Tibshraeny. She argues that it would have distortionary effects that would largely benefit baby-boomers, some of whom would have built up their savings by selling property that rapidly inflated in value. But then again, we still don’t know the final shape of Labour’s tax policy for the next election, so positions for both could move between now and then.

As Stuff’s Henry Cooke writes, many of the proposals show the influence of National’s new finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith, who is understood to be economically more right-wing than his predecessor Amy Adams. One of the less widely discussed proposals in the document is a clear example – the pledge to “remove the ability for governments to give preferential pay agreements to union members during public sector wage negotiations.” Theoretically, that could put a serious dent in the resurgence unions have shown, in the long and hard fought industrial action campaigns undertaken in the last two years.

Meanwhile, the government has also set up big news days of their own. The Kiwibuild reset, which will basically become the basis of the new housing plan, will be released on Wednesday next week. That too will be something of a defining announcement a year out from the election, as a set of issues that are certain to come up again in the 2020 campaign.

But either way, any PR bounce National get from this policy document could be very short lived. Because just this morning, the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Matt Nippert has reported a fresh Jami-Lee Ross bombshell. In this instance, it is the claim that the last government’s trade minister Todd McClay facilitated a whopping donation from Chinese billionaire Lin Lang, via the company Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry NZ. Even though there’s no suggestion in the story of illegality, it’s one of those stories that raises questions about foreign influence in politics – the same questions that were never really satisfactorily answered last time around.


The latest provisional suicide figures reveal a grim toll, reports Radio NZ. The number of people taking their own lives among the young, Māori and Pasifika people has gone up over the year, prompting calls for more targeted action. The total number of deaths – 685 – is the highest ever in a year since recording began. The vast majority of that number were males.


The honey market is facing an oversupply, and beekeepers are sitting on honey they aren’t getting good prices for, reports Stuff. The number of hives nationwide has almost tripled to almost a million in the space of a decade, for a massive rise in annual export revenue. But the industry has also seen something of a gold rush, which is now being corrected. Mānuka remains a particularly strong brand, but that requires a significant area of mānuka trees for bees to gather from, as well as MPI certification.


A packed out Queenstown District Council meeting has once again demonstrated strong public opposition to airport expansion plans, reports Crux. In this case it was about Wanaka Airport, which was looking at a major upgrade. However residents at the meeting were against the noise, over-tourism and emissions such an expansion would bring. Councillors voted to send the expansion plans back for more work.


South Wairarapa will see a return to 24 hour police staffing, reports the Wairarapa Times-Age. It’s not quite what petitioning residents in Greytown and Martinborough were asking for, which was a sole charge officer in each town. But the police say the solution that has been found is a better one, with the recruitment of extra personnel for the region overall.


Here’s a remarkable story about senior Napier Council staff snooping on the facebook activities of Councillors, to try and catch them out. Radio NZ’s Anusha Bradley reports that the surveillance – ordered by Napier City Council chief executive Wayne Jack – was seen by those snooped on as “creepy” and “disturbing”. It all took place in the lead-up to a major vote on the swimming pool, with the snooped-on councillors being described as “renegades” by a council officer for opposing the pool spending.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Maria Slade writes about the opportunities extremely low interest rates give businesses. Alice Neville writes about the accommodations an environmental group is making with the fishing industry over dolphins – Alice is also a well deserved food feature writer of the year, as of last nightDuncan Greive lavishes praise on locally made crime drama The Gulf. Christine Ammunson rips into two examples of young people being humiliated for the enjoyment of others, and what that represents. I argue about why you need to pay attention to Regional Council elections if you care about environmental issues.

And to Emily, we’re all here for you and your family.


A remarkable series into the far-North’s housing crisis continued over the weekend, with a report from the village of Horeke. Stuff’s Florence Kerr has filed a piece of brutal bleakness, about how the hapu of the area have been repeatedly let down and ripped off, and how people are living right now. It is without a doubt one of the best pieces of reporting published this year. Here’s an excerpt:

New problems have emerged in the last few years. The reversal of the urban migration of the 50s and 60s has hit housing and infrastructure hard. And whānau who have only known the city way of life are struggling out in the sticks.

“We’ve got generations of families that are coming back to the area,” Dawson says.

“They’re coming coming back with nothing and actually living on the land. Living in a car, living in a van. Just making do with a shack kinda building.

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Cricket. How good is it? The Black Caps have pulled off a thrilling test win against both Sri Lanka and the odds, to square up their two-match series. Here’s the highlights of a brutal day of aggressive bowling from New Zealand’s attack, with all five bowlers chipping in some wickets. The win also means the Black Caps are off the mark in the new Test Championship, with a full 60 points taken from the game.


From our partners: With several high profile government objectives in the spotlight, a single ministry could drive better outcomes across them all. Robyn Holdaway, senior policy advisor at Vector, makes the case for a Ministry for Energy.


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