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Former boss of the Kiwibuild unit Stephen Barclay (Radio NZ – Patrick O’Meara)
Former boss of the Kiwibuild unit Stephen Barclay (Radio NZ – Patrick O’Meara)

The BulletinJanuary 30, 2019

The Bulletin: Drama reigns over Kiwibuild boss departure

Former boss of the Kiwibuild unit Stephen Barclay (Radio NZ – Patrick O’Meara)
Former boss of the Kiwibuild unit Stephen Barclay (Radio NZ – Patrick O’Meara)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Drama erupts over departure of Kiwibuild boss, West Coast Council’s climate change stance in spotlight, and change is coming to insurance sector.

There’s some serious drama going down about the suspension and resignation of former Kiwibuild boss Stephen Barclay. He was forced to take leave in November, and resigned formally earlier this month. Complaints have been made about his leadership style, and as Stuff reports, there’s a disagreement over whether those complaints were made before or after the Kiwibuild unit being moved into the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development. The conjecture matters because of the politics of the unit being moved into a new ministry.

For his part, Mr Barclay has said he’s going to take legal action, and told Radio NZ that under his leadership, the Kiwibuild programme was actually on track to meet the building targets, which have now been rolled back. He also says he can’t go into the nature of the complaints, but can rule out sexual misconduct, financial impropriety and bullying. He said the process taken against him was unfair, and he deserves the chance to defend his reputation.

It all comes at an absolutely terrible time for the Kiwibuild programme generally. A property developer who spoke to Radio NZ on condition of anonymity said that they’d noticed paperwork was getting through much more slowly since Mr Barclay was placed on leave. As the NZ Herald’s Front Page podcast reports, the original Kiwibuild targets might now be missed year after year, even though the ultimate goal remains 100,000 houses in 10 years.

Meanwhile, the politicians are sticking resolutely to their lines on the matter. Both PM Jacinda Ardern and minister Phil Twyford have said they can’t and won’t comment, as it is an employment matter. And that’s absolutely true, but it doesn’t do much to help them politically. There’s still clearly a lot to come out in the saga, but it looks for all the world like someone has mismanaged something. There’s every chance neither the PM nor the minister is at fault for that, but they’re still the ones who have to front the press conferences to explain that.

The West Coast Regional Council has put in a submission in opposition to the Zero Carbon bill, reports Radio NZ. They say they want to be presented with proof “beyond reasonable doubt” that climate change is happening. To put it bluntly, that has been demonstrably proven by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and NIWA and Ministry of the Environment scientists have been to the Regional Council to talk to them about the effects of climate change. They’re the only Regional Council to oppose the bill.

I reported on this for The Spinoff, and an experts on these matters told me that part of the problem is that there’s still a big communication gap in how the facts on climate change are received. It’s neither useful nor correct to attack the Coast councillors, or deride them as stupid. Charlie Mitchell at Stuff (more from him later) unpacked the submission further, and noted that many of the objections represent a legitimate fear as to whether the regional economy will be able to transition away from fossil fuels. But climate change is already doing damage on the West Coast, and will continue to do so. Future generations need this action to be taken – though in fairness, they need it to be taken everywhere, not just on the Coast.

Change is coming to the insurance sector after a damning report into conduct and sales incentives, reports Interest. The problems identified are very similar to those identified in the banking sector last year – such as pushy sales tactics for life insurance policies because of commission payments for staff. Consumer affairs minister Kris Faafoi is committing to introduce legislation to better regulate the insurance sector.

Yesterday was the first post-cabinet press conference of the year, and PM Jacinda Ardern did not appear to have a great time of it. NZ Herald political editor Audrey Young writes that the tone reflected the fact that the government has some major headaches to deal with this year – in particular the likely recommendation from the Tax Working Group of a capital gains tax – expected to be made this week. But whatever is recommended will still have to go through the coalition, with NZ First looming as a potential handbrake. That challenge is also unpacked this morning on Politik, with more detail on Winston Peters’ history of objection to CGTs.

Junior doctors are currently on strike, and they may keep heading out for fresh strikes through February, reports Radio NZ. They’re about halfway through a 2nd 48 stint on the pickets, and say they’re trying to prevent some of their workplace protections from being watered down, particularly who has the final say on roster changes. So far there haven’t been widely reported disruptions to services as a result of the strikes. On Radio NZ’s 6am bulletin this morning, it was reported that there will be a mediated meeting next week.

Massey University is under pressure after it was revealed by the NZ Herald that several complaints about lecturer Grant Hannis weren’t acted on. Mr Hannis, now a convicted sex offender, continued to be a journalism professor at the school after he was arrested. Over that period of time, several students made complaints alleging “intimidation, aggression and inappropriate jokes about sexual assault by Hannis.” The university says they were never aware of either the arrest or the charges he was facing, and says their handling of the complaints was “regrettable.”

You might have heard some conjecture this week about a potential tax on red meat. The government has now come out and directly ruled out anything of the sort, reports Radio NZ. They’re blaming a “stupid figure of speech” issued because of a minister’s office still being in holiday mode.

Some feedback on my flippant tone when talking about tooting in the Mt Victoria tunnel yesterday from Helen, who wrote: “It’s not a proud Wellington tradition. It’s a health hazard to people walking and cycling through the tunnel. There is a growing body of evidence about the negative health effects of noise pollution. The tooting in the tunnel is much more than just an annoyance, it can cause premature deafness and increased risks of cardiovascular disease.  As someone who cycles through on a regular basis I find it almost painful and incredible stressful. Until a suitable alternative route through Mt Victoria can be provided for people walking and cycling it should be banned.”

To which I say: Fair enough. I love a good tunnel-honk whenever I go back home to Wellington, and have never minded walking through the tunnel personally. But these are very good points. I’ll keep my horn un-honked in future.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Romance writer Kirsty Wright defends Amazon, which now provides the vast majority of income for many authors, and better access than brick and mortar stores. Liam Hehir argues against a proposal to extend the parliamentary term to 4 years. Toby Morris illustrated his way through the Laneways festival. And I spoke to some bartenders who are doing really interesting things to cut down on waste in the hospitality industry.

Meanwhile, the heatwave drags on, so here’s some news you can use: Alex Casey has some top tips for keeping your pets cool while it’s really hot out there. And for a scientific view on the causes and effects of the heatwave, read this by James Renwick and Jim Salinger.

Today’s feature is a fascinating insight into a PR campaign you’ve probably come across. It’s by environmental journalist Charlie Mitchell at Stuff, and digs into the campaign by DairyNZ called ‘The Vision is Clear’. Basically, he argues that it’s an example of a campaign that ends up making people less informed, rather than more, about the issue of waterway quality. This is despite the campaign being run in partnership with NZME, who publish the NZ Herald, and own a string of radio stations. Here’s an extended excerpt:

The pressure to improve water quality is weighted heavily towards agriculture because it has a disproportionate effect on the environment. DairyNZ would instead cast this as bias.

In an opinion piece in the NZ Herald touting The vision is clear, chief executive Dr Tim Mackle – seemingly referring to the media – noted the “apparent hypocrisy” of their “reluctance to publicly call out concerns over urban or wildlife induced environmental pollution”.

He speculated there were financial motives that prevented coverage of issues such as the human waste polluting Auckland’s beaches or an E. coli contamination in Lake Wakatipu.

Both of those issues were covered by mainstream media outlets, including Stuff and the NZ Herald (Stuff has written many dozens of stories about the pollution of Auckland’s beaches). The notion that the media has a bias against the dairy sector is contradicted by DairyNZ itself, which in its last annual report noted that over 90 per cent of media coverage of the dairy industry was either positive or neutral.

New Zealand’s cricketers have now officially lost both ODI series against India. Here’s some stats that put the drubbing into context – and we’ll bundle both the Black Caps and White Ferns together to really show the damage: Across three men’s games and two women’s games, Indian bowlers have taken 50 wickets. New Zealand’s bowlers have taken 12. And by my count, Indian batters chasing down all five targets have had a cumulative 63.1 overs left in hand at the end of the games. But don’t worry – there’s some good news. After the ODIs are played out, there are a pair of T20 series coming up. So even if India continue thrashing New Zealand by the same margins, at least the torture won’t last as long.

From our partners: The government is digging deep into the price of electricity in New Zealand, with a review of the entire energy sector. What will the review look at, why should there even be one, and does it mean you might pay less for power? Vector’s Bridget McDonald has the answers.

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