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The Bulletin: Government signals intent on renting

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Government signals intent on renting and tenancy laws, gang tensions in Whanganui, and the humanities are under pressure at two universities.  

The government has released a discussion document, with the aim of changing renting in New Zealand. Released by Phil Twyford and Marama Davidson, it will look at “scrapping no-cause tenancy terminations, increasing the notice landlords have to give tenants if they are to end one, and limiting rent increases to once a year,” reports Radio NZ, as well as a ban on rent bidding. They’ll also look to crack down on squalor in boarding houses, with regular warrant of fitness checks, reports Stuff.

Labour have been asking for views on this for quite some time – here’s Grant Robertson in January, for example, asking for people to get in touch if they’ve been subject to unreasonable rent rises. What the discussion document does is signal the areas in which the government intends to change the laws, and they’ve put a timeframe on it too – within the parliamentary term. But it’s not a law change in and of itself.

The rhetoric the government is using on this is framed around redefining the relationship between tenants and landlords, and it has sparked other points around the area. One of those points is letting fees. Property Investors Federation Boss Andrew King told the AM Show that some tenants actually like them, because it gives them access to 100% of potential rentals. Back in March, Renters United described letting fees as unfair, and lacking in transparency.

The role of property management companies has also been grinding away in the news. Consumer NZ says companies like Quinovic have shifted the balance of power firmly in favour of landlords, reports Stuff, in a story that opens with this illuminating and shocking opening line: “When John Marshall died on his bed, his property manager Quinovic took $320 in bond money to replace the mattress.”

Clearly these issues are going to rumble away over the entire Parliamentary term. The government came in on a promise to “fix the housing crisis,” and even with Kiwibuild home ownership remains out of reach for many. And here’s a curious piece of data reporting from Interest – the amount of money being borrowed by housing investors is rising again, after retreating in 2016 after new deposit laws were brought in.

So clearly, the relationship between landlord and tenant is going to remain one of the most defining and important economic relationships in the lives of many people. The way that housing issues connect up to health, social and employment issues means that relationship can affect every other relationship in a renter’s life. Moves by the government to put itself in the middle of that could have far reaching effects. And if you want to read more about some of those interconnected issues, we did a whole week of stories on renting earlier in the year.


Gang tensions around Whanganui have been big news over the past week, in relation to the shooting of 27 year old Mongrel Mob member Kevin Ratana. It led to Mob members turning up from all over the country for the tangi, and police raids on Black Power houses in the area. This story from Radio NZ is different to a lot of stories around the issue, in that it’s actually quoted people connected to gangs, rather than just quoting police.


Oh, the humanities. Two leading universities are making cuts in the arts. The ODT reports that the University of Otago is considering the phased abolition of the art history programme. And AUT is planning on cutting 40 jobs in the Society and Culture faculty, reports the NZ Herald. AUT says arts student numbers have been declining, amid a wider rise in the number of people studying at the University.


Derek Handley is tipped to be the government’s first Chief Technology Officer, writes Tom Pullar-Strecker Stuff. He’s an entrepreneurial, thought leader type with connections to other global, entrepreneurial thought leader types. But he’s also the guy former government digital services minister Clare Curran had an off the books meeting with (that got her sacked from the portfolio) so there could be tensions around that.


Here’s an interesting courtroom yarn from the NZ Herald, about whether harsh sentences work. A judge asked both prosecution and defence to come to sentencing armed with evidence that longer sentences reduce crime. “Days later, defence lawyers came with research showing it didn’t work. The Crown turned up with nothing.” It’s interesting timing for such a story to come out, given justice minister Andrew Little’s current push to reform laws around how long people spend in prison.


Does anyone want to know where that whole Simon Bridges expenses leak thing has gone now? I’ll tell you anyway, but surely we’ll have run out of new angles to talk about on it tomorrow. The latest, reports Newshub: Mr Bridges remains unconvinced it was a National MP, the party will hold its own internal investigation, but the terms of reference and findings of that probably won’t be made public. Just think – it’s entirely possible we will never find out who the leaker was.


Just a couple more days to go in our referral competition, so if you haven’t got your signups in, now’s the time. Also, I’ve been noticing quite a few people have been giving their own email address twice – that’s not how it works, sorry. You have to give your email, and the email address of the person who referred you – and the referrer gets the prize.


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BERLIN, GERMANY – APRIL 15: Offenders working in the laundry facilities of the prison Ploetzensee in the context of the pilot project work instead of punishment, delinquents that are not able to pay their monetary penalty can shorten the imprisonment through work in the prison on April 15, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

Right now on The Spinoff: Jehan Casinader writes about the need for a new media approach to mental health, after the suspected suicide of Greg Boyed. Emilie Rākete writes about the prisoner strikes in the US, and how the conditions aren’t so different in New Zealand. Rachael Sharman has some advice for parents who are considering getting divorced as to how they should tell their kids. And Qiane Matata-Sipu profiles lawyer and activist for indigenous rights Natalie Coates.


The call for feedback on taxpayer money for the All Blacks has elicited a pretty uncompromising response – pretty much all the feedback was not in favour. Now, coach Steve Hansen may have been joking when he suggested it after the match, but when NZ Rugby CEO boss Steve Tew is talking about it (as Stuff reported he did yesterday) it seems like a bit more of a serious call. But before you all grab pitchforks, minister for sport Grant Robertson has ruled out giving the All Blacks more money, reports Newstalk ZB.

So, what did you have to say? Lucy said it was ludicrous, Brian said the All Blacks are dreaming. Kate said “the way professional rugby has killed grassroots club rugby in its quest for the almighty dollar gives me no sympathy.” Others like Jody made the point that rugby is a sponsor’s dream in New Zealand, and that the sport is “drowning in sponsor’s merchandise,” and Paul said we should be letting rugby earn its own keep.

There was some support for the idea that rugby generally should get more government support, but aimed at the mass participation end of the scale, rather than the elite level. Jeanette suggested a model of sports that could be investigated would be “funding a percentage of cost over numbers of players nationwide.” That would certainly give rugby a boost, along with other high participation sports like football, basketball and netball. And Ruth said while she wasn’t a rugby fan, but it wasn’t an unreasonable idea given how much so many New Zealanders get out of the sport. There are, incidentally, already mechanisms for funding high levels of sports participation, particularly the network of regional sports organisations, and the Kiwisport fund.

I also put some thoughts down on the page about it – you can read them on The Spinoff here – and I’m not a fan of the idea at all. Leaving aside the questions of what limited government money could be going towards (schools, hospitals, etc) I’m just not convinced that more money going to the top end of any system is ever the best way to bring benefits to all. In my view sport isn’t really an exception there.


The name of New Zealand’s first pro baseball franchise has been revealed, reports One News. In November, the Auckland Tuatara will play their first ever competitive game, and on the 22nd of that month will play their first games at home. Former MLB pitcher Steve Mintz has signed on as the coach.


From our partners: The chair of Vector’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Teina Teariki Mana, ponders the state of gender equity in an industry that still lags behind, and we hear about three women working in the male dominated work of energy generation and maintenance.


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