Environment minister David Parker, who announced the package (Radio NZ, Dom Thomas)

The Bulletin: Farmers fairly comfortable, ecologists angered by freshwater rules

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Mixed views on freshwater rules, pay equity settlement for teacher aides, and concerns raised about new internet filtering proposal.

The final form of a major package of freshwater reforms was announced yesterday, and it was notable how little anger came from certain quarters. Throughout this process, the battle over freshwater reforms has been cast as something of an existential crisis for the farming world – and in some cases, the new rules as they originally stood would have resulted in farmers going out of businesses. That seems like a much lower risk now, with some of the key components of the rules being watered down.

It’s not necessarily over, or course, and some aspects are likely to be revisited. But the feedback process that took place last year was an example of how politics should work – a proposal was formulated for new rules, officials toured the country to gather up views from those who would be directly affected, and then changed the proposals accordingly. As Stuff reports, Dairy NZ are welcoming large swathes of the changes, even if they’re concerned that controversial dissolved inorganic nitrogen rules could still be introduced – but according to Politik, those rules are now very unlikely to be applied at a blanket level, rather being set according to catchments. Chris Allen from Federated Farmers told me yesterday that the key thing they want now is pragmatism in implementation. And as Dr David Houlbrooke from Agresearch put it, “a blanket approach to how individual farms operate in relation to the freshwater resource would risk not only creating an unfair playing field, but also failing to produce the kind of results for freshwater that we all want to see in New Zealand.” The reforms will be supported by $700 million in funding for waterway restoration projects.

On the other hand, ecologists aren’t seeing much to cheer about. Writing on The Spinoff, Dr Russell Death is deeply disappointed about how the final balance of interests has shaken down, and is dismissive of the prospects of this resulting in long-term waterway restoration. And there were some really interesting expert comments contained within the Science Media Centre’s roundup, that are worth quoting at length.

For example, President of the NZ Freshwater Science Society Kate McArthur said “the Government hasn’t yet delivered on long-awaited protections of river ecosystem health from dissolved nitrogen and phosphorus. With decades of research already available on these pollutants, we are curious to see what further research the Government deems necessary before these protections can be delivered”. And Dr Adam Canning from James Cook University put it in terms any non-scientist could understand, saying “for the first goal of stopping rivers getting worse, I would give the Government’s policy a B+ grade. For the second goal of restoring rivers to a healthy state within a generation, I would give the Government’s policy a D grade”.

One somewhat unexamined aspect of it all is that new rules also apply to urban waterways – which to be honest, are often in worse ecological shape than rural waterways. As far as I can tell, basically no reporting has taken place on what the implications of this are, and whose job it will be to clean urban waterways up. So if you see anything, please send it my way – thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz.


Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive: 

“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. The loss of some key commercial clients meant that change has to be permanent. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and can afford to contribute, please consider doing so – it really is critically important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”


A pay equity settlement for teacher aides has been agreed, and will now go out to the workforce for approval. Radio NZ reports it stems from a claim first lodged in 2016, and will affect about 22,000 people. Education minister Chris Hipkins has described it as a “milestone” for frontline workers, and the NZEI Union say they’re delighted with the outcome.


Further concerns are being raised about a bill that would allow the government to apply censorship filters to the internet, reports Marc Daalder of Newsroom. In the view of internal affairs minister Tracey Martin, it would allow violent terrorist or extremist content to be blocked, if the chief censor deemed it objectionable – the primary example of this of course being the video streamed by the March 15 murderer. But Internet NZ argues giving the government these sorts of filtering powers isn’t consistent with the maintenance of a free and open internet, and “isn’t justified by the problem that we’re trying to solve here.”


More sewage issues have erupted for Wellington, with a pipe bursting just outside the Wellington Central police station, reports the Dominion Post. This time around, only a small amount of sewage has ended up in the harbour, and at the time of writing the leak is understood to be contained. Meanwhile, this is a very human story from Radio NZ’s Hamish Cardwell about the engineers who flew into Wellington from Germany in January to help fix the city’s problem – and then ended up having to ride out a global pandemic here.


There’s water coming out of the taps in Kaikohe at least, but locals aren’t particularly keen on the taste, reports Stuff’s Denise Piper. The town in a heavily drought-stricken part of Northland has had restrictions in place for about nine months now, and the lake that emergency supplies have been sourced from has had algal blooms recently. As such, it needs to be treated extensively before being safe to drink, which also delayed the arrival of new supplies.


Even the Hauraki Gulf recreational crayfish take being cut in half is unlikely to save the fishery. The NZ Herald reports the fishery is being described as “functionally extinct”, and the wider ecosystem is in serious danger of collapse. Recreational fishing group Legasea says it is evidence that the quota system for commercial fisheries has failed. And a marine scientist quoted in the story said what is really needed is for the fishery to get a proper break.


A timely reminder came in from a reader yesterday about that tramper survival story. Nick wrote in to ask “did these two pack a locator beacon? As a city slicker I might be naive in thinking if they did, it might have saved the terrific rescue effort some valuable time.” Good point, and the answer to the question appears to be no. Radio NZ reports the message is now going out from search and rescue services – if you’re going into the bush, carry a locator beacon.


A bit of housekeeping for members: The Bulletin World Weekly did not go out yesterday because it turned into an extremely busy day. So it will instead be coming out later on this afternoon. The main story will focus on the eruption of anger sweeping across the US, after police officers unjustifiably killed yet another black man.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

(Illustration: Pinky Fang)

Right now on The Spinoff: Paul Millar writes about the arts funding boost, and how the sector could contribute to the post-Covid recovery. Claire Freeman has written about rediscovering sex after suffering a spinal cord injury. Alice Webb-Liddall looks at a Ngāi Tahu futures lab, which gives rangatahi Māori the opportunity to decide their own destiny. Emily Writes has an appreciation for ‘soft TV’ – wholesome and cosy shows that “feel like a hug”. And Scotty Stevenson gives a fascinating analysis of what social media means for the relationship between journalists and athletes.


For a feature today, a fascinating Q&A with an organisation doing deeply thoughtful work to prevent drug harm. Russell Brown at Public Address has published the transcript of an interview with Dr Jez Weston from Know Your Stuff, the organisation that tests drugs for people so they don’t accidentally take something that will do them real damage. Is what they do against the law? As this excerpt shows, that’s a fascinating question.

“I should explain. So nothing we do is illegal, okay? We’re not handling the substances, we’re not giving any of the substances back. The clients, whoever comes along, they have to do all the sample handling for themselves. Obviously, our clients are in possession, so that’s illegal, but hey, they’re trying to look after themselves.

The risk comes in a line in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975:  Section 12 says it’s a crime to provide a venue for people to take drugs. Now, does having testing on site mean that you’re providing a venue? No one really knows. No one’s been to court yet about this. But if someone was convicted for that, then, the festival owners, the people who put on all of this stuff for us, they potentially could get 10 years in jail. Which is crazy.”


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme



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