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An elderly woman reading under a blanket (Getty Images)
An elderly woman reading under a blanket (Getty Images)

The BulletinApril 29, 2019

The Bulletin: Another winter of energy poverty approaches

An elderly woman reading under a blanket (Getty Images)
An elderly woman reading under a blanket (Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Energy poverty in the spotlight with winter approaching, Nelson activist sews up statement on consumerism, and NZ Herald releases paywall plans.

The country’s best current affairs TV show has put the spotlight on energy poverty, which is both a symptom and a cause of serious hardship. Energy poverty is exactly what it sounds like – people can’t afford to pay the power bills, and their quality of life suffers as a result. But because there are different regional lines companies, some areas have a much tougher time of it than others.

The Hui has demonstrated this with a story about the King Country – I recommend watching the whole thing. The region has a particularly expensive lines network to run, because there’s a small but widely spread out population, and the terrain is exceedingly difficult to get around. But it’s not by any stretch a wealthy part of the country either, and some in places like Taumarunui are living without power altogether after being cut off for a bill they couldn’t afford to pay. The resulting living conditions that were described in the episode were dire. What is energy poverty like? Emily Writes described it on The Spinoff back in 2017, when a study revealed that one in five New Zealanders had experienced it. Health risks from damp and cold become more severe as a result of it, and it can make it harder for people to do basic things like cooking food in their own home.

A major part of the issue for people in King Country is the fact that they previously had to pay what felt like two power bills – one to the power company, and the other to the lines company, TLC. The company says that this was to promote more transparency, so customers would know exactly what they were paying for, and in other regions both charges were simply bundled up in the same bill. TLC changed their pricing structure last year – it was an issue heavily covered by the Taumarunui Bulletin (pdf article) But energy poverty hasn’t stopped in the area since those changes, nor around the country generally.

It has been one of the things the government has looked to address in a targeted fashion, through introducing the Winter Energy Payment. People on Super or various benefits can get it, for up to $31 dollars a week – this year it will start on the 1st of May, and run until the 1st of October. While that’s plenty of money for wealthy retirees who own their own homes, for some it won’t cover the cost of power and lines over winter, and they’ll have to go without as a result. For those in the working poor, it may not be available at all.

There have been a range of options put out for consideration by the Electricity Price Review as ways to reform the system of power pricing, and more is expected on that later in the year. But another winter is rapidly approaching, and it’s a simple fact that there will be people around the country where using energy just isn’t an option. When that happens, there will be little to stop them being left out in the cold.

The main street of Nelson has seen a really interesting protest against rampant consumerism over the last week, reports the Nelson Mail. Activist Yasmeen​ Jones-Chollet spent eight days in a row sewing for 16 hour stretches, to highlight the conditions garment workers in countries like Bangladesh face. The parallel point that jumped out at her was at the demand end – she was surrounded by people shopping day after day – and she says the culture of consumerism has a really negative effect both socially and environmentally.

Media company NZME has announced details of its paywall plan for premium content on the NZ Herald. Editor of The Spinoff Toby Manhire has unpacked the plans, in particular covering what it will mean for consumers of news, what will and won’t remain freely available, and whether this gamble will pay off for the organisation. The NZ Herald itself is heavily pushing the big name international partners that they’ve signed content sharing deals with, including the likes of the New York Times and Daily Telegraph.

If there is one thing I’d add to it, it would be this: much of what I link to in The Bulletin from the NZ Herald will soon be behind the paywall, and I strongly focus on linking to quality work. So I’ll definitely be getting a digital subscription, and simply continue promoting what they do which is good, and continue to ignore the things they publish which are rubbish.

Corrections has spent more than a million dollars on slushy machines for prison guards, and National leader Simon Bridges is apoplectic over it. Stuff reports it was a measure to help guards cool off during the hot summer months under weighty body armour, which slushies are particularly effective for. That in turn increased staff safety and wellbeing, says Corrections.

Incidentally, the facebook post put out by the National party didn’t say anything about guards – it said “Corrections under Kelvin Davis has spent $1.1 million on slushy machines in prisons” – which one could easily take to mean the slushy machines were for the prisoners. In fact, prisoners won’t have access to them at all. I’m not trying to be obtuse here, but isn’t there a chance prison violence rates would go down if everyone had more opportunity to cool off?

By the way, if this all seems like a rather minor issue for the leader of the opposition to be making the running on, there might be something in that. It did come out on a Sunday, which is traditionally a day where parties can chip out a few news stories with an otherwise underwhelming press release. But in a report packed with fascinating details from National’s regional conference over the weekend, Politik’s Richard Harman said it was clear that the party’s membership was becoming impatient with the current tactics, and “wants to see the party produce a plan for the future and engage less in day to day brawling with Labour.”

With a junior doctors strike getting underway this week, senior doctors have hit out at DHBs for “spreading misinformation,” reports Radio NZ. The senior doctor’s union boss Ian Powell says DHBs have been attempting to divide the workforce and “isolate junior doctors.” The strike is going ahead in all regions except Canterbury, and is expected to go all week, so hospitals will be under immense pressure as a result. Because of that, people are encouraged to not go into emergency departments unless they have to, and to instead contact their GPs.

Parents are being warned to watch out for symptoms of measles as kids head back to school, reports One News. The outbreak is ongoing, and with schools in session there’s a higher chance of infections spreading. Six new cases were reported on Friday, which brings the total number of cases in Auckland to 27. Meanwhile, it has been a bad start to the term for Pakuranga College, where a classroom has been hit by fire overnight.

Police are actively monitoring more than 100 people in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks, reports Stuff. The list is ideologically wide ranging, and among others includes both white supremacists and Muslims. Meanwhile, extremist Christchurch white supremacist Philip Arps has been convicted of sharing the video of the mosque attacks, along with asking for it to be modified into a meme-type format, reports the NZ Herald. He is likely to be imprisoned, and has previous convictions for offensive behaviour for racist actions.

Labour MPs have been scrambled to Queenstown, amid concerns that the party doesn’t pay enough attention to the city, reports local news website Crux. The visit was spearheaded by Dunedin South MP and former minister Clare Curran, who says she started observing problems faced by Queenstown (often related to an extremely high cost of living and a huge corresponding demand for workers) a few years ago. The group of backbenchers say they will now take their concerns and observations back to the relevant ministers.

Many Samoans appear to have been caught up in a cryptocurrency scam despite a ban and warnings, reports RNZ Pacific’s Mackenzie Smith. OneCoin has been described by the US Justice Department as “a fraudulent pyramid scheme” but several Samoan churches, along with other members of the public, made investments in it. A few million dollars also appears to have been funnelled through New Zealand.

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Right now on The Spinoff: First, the serious political stuff. Branko Marcetic questions why people who want to change society for the better spend so much time attacking the baby boomer generation. Traci Liddall, an intermediate school principal, details and breaks down her long long days at work. And Paula Simpson tries to dissect the anger of white men, to find out why the most privileged segment of society also seem to be the most enraged.

And then the other kind of politics stuff we like to publish: Madeleine Chapman mourns the loss of the rock-solid friendship that used to exist between two young up and coming MPs called Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern. And a bunch of comedians pay tribute to Ukraine’s new President, by outlining the platforms they’d govern on if they too were elected President.

Friday’s Pen Question Answer: I think I might have overcompensated and made this one too hard, because in the end nobody got the right answer. So for the record, the sign with all the long gone businesses on it is in the Central Hawke’s Bay town of Ōtane. And the museum that is proudly hosting a first ever exhibition of Māori taonga is just a little bit to the south in Waipawa. And can I just plug that museum generally, I go to a lot of them and the Waipawa Settlers Museum is absolutely charming.

Here’s a really interesting look into the online phenomenon of ‘creep catching’ – by which vigilantes film themselves catfishing and confronting people they believe to be potential sex offenders. It’s told by Stuff through the story of Connor Bevins, the so-called Palmy Creep Catcher, who ended up in prison for offences under the Harmful Digital Communications Act. It raises all sorts of interesting questions about whether vigilante tactics from members of the public can ever be justified. Here’s an excerpt:

If they ran, Bevins chased them, telling them he had chat logs of what was said between the “minor” and the target. Occasionally, he verbally abused them. He yelled at bystanders, saying he was “Palmy Creep Catchers” and the man he was following was a paedophile.

Videos ended with him uttering “you’re done, bruv”, a riff on Surrey group’s catchphrase: “Yer done, bud”. The videos were posted to YouTube and a Facebook page Bevins set up. The Facebook page, deleted soon after his arrest in April 2018, attracted hundreds of comments, likes and followers.

The comments consisted of people tagging their friends, outing the alleged paedophiles, messages of support for Bevins’ crusade and, occasionally, someone saying he should leave it to police.

The Phoenix could end up going right back to the beginning for their next coach. Stuff reports that Ross Aloisi, who captained during the club’s first season, has put his hand up for the vacant job after shifting into coaching. Notably, his pitch involves a heavy emphasis on developing a squad primarily made up of New Zealanders, and he says he’s very interested in being in Wellington – the sticking point that eventually caused Mark Rudan to move home to Australia early. Meanwhile, the Phoenix have limped into the playoffs with a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Perth Glory to end the regular season.

From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.

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