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Finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Radio NZ / Dom Thomas)
Finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Radio NZ / Dom Thomas)

The BulletinJanuary 30, 2020

The Bulletin: Business groups welcome big infrastructure spend

Finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Radio NZ / Dom Thomas)
Finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Radio NZ / Dom Thomas)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Business groups welcome big infrastructure spend, four charged by SFO in relation to election donations, and Pacific countries act against coronavirus.

So, the massive infrastructure package has been announced. Here’s the top lines of the announcement in the form of a cheat sheet, and Stuff has a breakdown of each project, region by region. $8 billion in projects were announced yesterday, out of a total $12 billion package. A huge share of that is going to go towards roads, and around $1.8 billion is going towards rail, other public transport, cycling and walking projects – some of which are themselves part of wider roading projects. Health is also getting a big boost in capital spending of around $300 million, and around $10 million has been put towards specific projects to decarbonise public buildings like schools.

The roads have been a rather controversial spend in some quarters, and wildly popular in others. Generation Zero, in particular, are shocked to see how disproportionately the spending is going towards roads. But on the other hand, some regions are seeing their dreams come to fruition – an example of this comes from the Whanganui Chronicle, where local mayor Hamish McDouall says the massive package to upgrade the Ōtaki to Levin route is vital for his city. And even in the big cities like Auckland, the roads themselves aren’t necessarily just a matter of smashing more cars on more lanes. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Simon Wilson notes that by expanding the roads, it makes it possible for much more in the way of busways and cycleways too, which in a perfect world is how these projects will come out.

Infrastructure NZ are thrilled by it all, saying in a press release that it “breaks decades of underinvestment,” and addresses the major infrastructure deficit that pretty much everyone agrees exists. It also gives the construction and engineering sectors real certainty that there will be work to do for the next decade or so, with projects ready to go. From the perspective of business confidence, that can only be a good thing – a message given by Business NZ’s Kirk Hope. These announcements should probably also be seen in tandem with the more low-key announcement a few weeks ago of a new plan to boost the construction industry workforce – one of the biggest barriers to these projects is having enough skilled workers to actually get the jobs done. Theoretically, it adds up to an argument the Labour-led government will deploy to try and convince the business world that they’re a good bet to stay in power.

And while ministers will insist that this is all necessary infrastructure (and with plenty of evidence to back that up) this is highly political spending. That’s the main theme of this wider analysis by me on the politics of the announcements – both in terms of where the money is going, and what it means. It’s quite telling that the major line of attack from the opposition – reported here by Newshub – is that the government has been too slow and ineffectual to get on with this sooner, rather than arguing against the projects themselves.

Four people have been charged by the SFO in relation to allegations made by former National MP Jami-Lee Ross about party donations. However as the NZ Herald reports, nobody in the National party has been charged. The identities of those charged are suppressed, and at this stage the SFO have only released the court date. National GM Greg Hamilton says the party will now put the matter behind them. But as Andrew Geddis writes, it really might not go away so neatly for anyone.

Several Pacific countries are taking strong measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, reports RNZ Pacific’s Jamie Tahana. Severe quarantine measures have been put in place by Sāmoa particularly, with the health system already under strain from the recent deadly measles outbreak. Palua has suspended charter flights from China, Hong Kong and Macau, and other countries are considering the same. What underlies it is the understanding that prevention is really the only good option – if the virus arrives, it could be very hard for those countries to deal with the spread of it.

Meanwhile, British Airways have suspended all flights to and from mainland China, reports the BBC. As well as that, Britons returning from Wuhan itself will be put in quarantine for 14 days. Newshub reports the Australian and New Zealand governments will work together to get those citizens out that want to leave. And the World Health Organisation Emergency Committee will be reconvening to assess whether the virus should be reclassified as a global health emergency.

And an update to the wider story about economic impacts for New Zealand from the virus: The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Jamie Gray reports the trade in live crayfish to China has basically been stopped dead, and as a result prices are slumping. It’s a terrible piece of timing for the industry, as Chinese New Year is the peak season in the biggest export market for crays. The industry is worth more than $300 million, and employs several thousand people.

Students are up in arms about the University of Auckland spending up on a $5 million Parnell mansion for the new vice-chancellor to live in. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Ben Leahy spoke to the NZUSA – their president Isabella Lenihan-Ikin compared the generous (rented) lodgings of the well-paid VC to the conditions students are currently facing in the rental market. It’s also worth reading the NBR’s (paywalled) wider take on universities buying up property.

Here’s an interesting piece of news about the country’s vehicle fleet. Business Desk’s (paywalled) Dan Brunskill reports the emissions of new vehicles fell more in the last year than in the seven years prior. It’s partly because of more EVs and hybrids on the road, and partly because New Zealand has a seriously aged fleet, and any renewal will almost inevitably be beneficial. However, it is somewhat offset by the continued popularity of the least efficient types of vehicles, particularly SUVs and ostentatiously big utes.

A small but delicious silver lining out of the Wairarapa’s seriously dry weather: it’s gonna help get a lot of nice wine on the market. Stuff’s Catherine Harris reports growers in the region are looking forward to a much better harvest than last year, in which huge swathes of grapes were wiped out by frostbite – that’s provided the conditions last into late February at least. Of course on the other hand, sheep farmers are under a lot of pressure from the dry weather, and it raises other risks like higher fire danger.

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A farm worker at urban agriculture project Vivero Alamar in Havana in 2015 (Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Right now on The Spinoff: Catherine Woulfe covers the release of Ockham Book Award finalists, and gives some frank thoughts about what did and didn’t make the list. Madeleine Chapman reports on the difference between NZ and English Anglicans on whether sex outside marriage is fine. Jihee Junn writes about the effect 5G could have on business, in a world where the internet is already pretty fast. Renee Liang responds to the curtain-twitchers having conniptions over the idea a mother might text while breastfeeding. Amanda Thompson has some advice for those dreaming of escaping the city and moving to a country town. Luke Sole writes about what can be learned from the Cuban agricultural revolution.

Plus, my colleagues inform me that something absolutely massive happened on The Bachelorette last night. Alex Casey is very well placed to tell you all about it.

For a feature today, an expose of someone rather over-egging their credentials. Those familiar with Australian news might have heard the name Bettina Arndt – if not, she’s a widely quoted columnist who gets presented variously as a clinical psychologist or doctor. But as this wild New Matilda investigation found, she’s actually nothing of the sort. Here’s an excerpt:

Ms Arndt’s true credentials are so widely misrepresented that she has also been falsely portrayed in federal parliament, including during a Senate Estimates hearing in October 2018, when Liberal National Party Senator Amanda Stoker referred to her as ‘psychologist, Dr Bettina Arndt’. That false portrayal was later shared in a video published on Ms Arndt’s own website and on her Youtube Channel.

She was also introduced at a number of conferences and events as a “clinical psychologist” including the Sydney Festival of Dangerous Ideas and LibertyFest in 2018. Eight years earlier, Ms Arndt was promoted to delegates at the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) National Convention as “clinical psychologist Dr Bettina Arndt”. That conference, which is reportedly the largest medical conference for medical students in the Southern Hemisphere was opened by former NSW Governor Professor Marie Bashir and included other high-profile individuals such as Dr Charlie Teo.

The Black Caps have lost again to India, but at least this time made a real fight of it. In fact, the third T20 went to a Super Over – which Kane Williamson ruefully noted really shouldn’t have been necessary, as the team was able to chase their way into such a good position. Williamson himself had a great knock to answer critics who say he’s out of form, cracking 95 off 48. Meanwhile, the White Ferns will be bolstered by the return of quick bowler Lea Tahuhu, who has returned from parental leave ahead of the T20 World Cup.

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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