PM Jacinda Ardern (Radio NZ)

The Bulletin: Does school food initiative go far enough?

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: School food programme welcomed with questions about scale, vital tourist infrastructure under pressure, and Transmission Gully won’t be tolled.

It’s difficult to do anything on a chronically empty stomach, let alone learn. That is the rationale behind a new announcement from the government, to provide students year 1-8 at 30 selected schools with a free lunch every day next year, with that number eventually rising over the year to 21,000 kids at 120 schools. Stuff reports the announcement was fronted by PM Jacinda Ardern, who said it will give kids the best chance to succeed, and that it was part of a wider wellbeing strategy. The PM was pressed for details on how the programme would be delivered by Checkpoint, if you’ve got ten minutes to watch the interview.

To put the numbers in context, charity KidsCan are currently feeding around 31,000 kids each week, reports the Rotorua Daily Post. Those numbers aren’t quite comparing the same thing, but they illustrate the need that is out there – especially as the charity currently has dozens more schools on a waiting list. A recent story from Stuff’s Jessica Long focused on a secondary school in Levin, at which attendance was dropping because kids didn’t have lunches. In that instance, a teacher at the school noted that “it’s not uncommon” for teachers to dip into their own pockets for hungry students. The new programme will be delivered alongside existing work in the area.

But it also won’t go as far as earlier efforts to address the issue. Former MP Hone Harawira’s ‘Feed the Kids bill’ would have seen breakfast and lunch provided to all students at all schools at a decile 1-4 level. When he lost his seat in 2014, it was picked up by former Green co-leader Metiria Turei, and supported by Jacinda Ardern, who at the time was Labour’s justice spokesperson.

Ardern’s comments from 2015 – that it was a necessary immediate measure, but wasn’t the answer for alleviating poverty – are incredibly similar to those made yesterday by Auckland Action Against Poverty. They welcomed the measure, but were “concerned that the government continues leaving their parents in poverty”, One News reported. The Child Poverty Action Group also described it as a “good start”, but noted that the government hadn’t implemented many of the recommendations from the recent Welfare Working Group report, which would have a more structural effect on the question of why kids are going to school hungry at all.

An important part of the country’s tourism infrastructure is under pressure for funding, reports Radio NZ. There are 80 i-SITE locations around the country, but that number is gradually being whittled away, and some still open have an uncertain future. The Kaipara District will lose their volunteer run information centre this week, after a decade of not even having an i-SITE. It leaves them fearing that the region won’t be able to capitalise on tourists – around 7.6 million of whom visited an i-SITE around the country last year.

Transmission Gully won’t have tolls when the major Kāpiti road is finished, reports Stuff. A big part of the reason for that is because of the likelihood that tolls would drive motorists towards the coastal route, which would worsen congestion, safety issues and environmental outcomes. It’s worth noting though that Transmission Gully is likely already contributing to environmental damage, reports Radio NZ, through the runoff and sediment from construction ending up “choking” wildlife in Porirua Harbour.

I mentioned yesterday the Waitangi Tribunal report on freshwater, and how it would likely become a really big deal. Today, I’ll share Morgan Godfery’s reporting on Māui Street which gives a potent example of why. His report is about the remarkable encouragement from the Tribunal for a test case to be brought, to see how the report gets interpreted in the High Court. The piece also goes into what the Tribunal report will mean for coalition politics, with minister David Parker stuck in an extremely delicate position between NZ First and the Greens.

Government debt is one of those topics where the goalposts often seem to get shifted, in seemingly arbitrary ways. Writing on the NZ Herald (paywalled) business journalist Pattrick Smellie looked ahead at the political battle over it coming soon, and shuddered. He argues that while low debt has advantages, parliamentary debate has become myopically focused on it, to the absence of a wider view of spending.

Broadcaster TVNZ has reported a huge drop in profit for the year, reports the NZ Herald. It has also warned that sooner rather than later, a loss is likely. On the other hand, on demand streaming is starting to take off for TVNZ, both in terms of viewers and revenue – though the latter isn’t yet making up for declining ad revenues for linear television.

An announcement: Today is the last day of our partnership with Vector on The Bulletin. It started 18 months ago, and in fact was what helped us get the whole project off the ground.

Personally, I really can’t thank them enough for that support. When I first got the job to do this project, it excited me because it was exactly what I had been looking for as a reader. I’m really glad they shared that vision, and I think the thousands of readers who open it up every day would too. So to Beth, Richard, Iain, Murielle, Matthew and everyone else at Vector who had a hand in it, thank you. It has been a pleasure to work with you.

Now, if you’re concerned this means that The Bulletin is finished, don’t worry. I’ll be keeping on with it for the foreseeable future, because it’s still the thing I’d want to read every morning. It’s also because The Spinoff believes in the concept, and want to continue funding it while we figure out what comes next. There’s an immense amount of news coming up and we want to be there for it.

But it does mean we’re looking for a new partner, or partners even, coming on board. These are of course discussions that are wildly above my pay grade, but if you’ve got an organisation that could be interested, please get in touch with Matthew McAuley in our commercial team on

And finally, there’s a way that you as a reader can help us out. Our members programme isn’t tied to The Bulletin, but the money raised through that gets put entirely towards worthwhile journalism. Right now it’s going towards a pair of really interesting local government projects, including this incredibly ambitious project announced yesterday. We also send members out our book, and you also get access to a weekly Bulletin featuring major world news. So if you like the ethos of The Bulletin, about celebrating strong work from everywhere across the media in New Zealand, that will ensure that we at The Spinoff can do more of it too.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Alice Webb-Liddall previews the mayoralty race in Gisborne, with the job open after the departure of Meng Foon. Josie Adams went to the massive new mall in Auckland and hated pretty much everything about it. Andrew Geddis dives deep into questions around the security of our democracy, and attempts by foreign actors to influence politicians. On the Rag was joined by ALRANZ’s Terry Bellamak to bust some common myths about abortion. Sam Brooks watched new the new Netflix movie set in NZ (Falling Inn Love) and found it actually got more than a few things right about our fair land.

And finally, I teased this one in the top half of today’s Bulletin, but I’m excited enough about it to share it twice. The Spinoff has partnered up with our friends at Policy again, to create Policy Local. That involved tracking down everyone running for local elections, no matter where they’re running, and asking them what they stand for. Here’s Toby Manhire’s announcement piece, it’s going to be brilliant.

For a feature today, an obituary. I’m sharing this not because I knew Mike Loftus, but because this beautiful profile of him by Stuff’s Steve Kilgallon lingered with me long after reading it. In the piece, Loftus comes across as a wonderful guy, who worked hard to a place where he could live his best life. May we all be so lucky to be remembered by someone with a gift for words. Here’s an excerpt:

Mike stood out from his family; he was culturally Labour, but a National Party member. He was socially mobile and ambitious in his career. His political conversion came thanks to a chance conversation on a plane with an Australian Liberal senator; he never reached his goal of becoming an MP (he would have made a good one), but doesn’t really regret it now. He doesn’t regret much, he says.

“One of the keys, I’ve come to realise, is the ability to forgive people, but also to forgive yourself,” he says.

“We’ve all got grudges or history with people, or with ourselves for stuff we haven’t done or would do differently, but we’ve made those decisions and move on. It’s not having no regrets, but in giving yourself permission to move on beyond them.”

Warriors players have been speaking out, in a year that was most certainly not their year. The NZ Herald reports that many of the younger players have had harsh things to say about the team’s performances, though admittedly they’re true. It could be a turbulent offseason for the club, with plenty of speculation being aired around sports media that a fair few people at the club might not be returning – and not necessarily just players.

From our partners: With several high profile government objectives in the spotlight, a single ministry could drive better outcomes across them all. Robyn Holdaway, senior policy advisor at Vector, makes the case for a Ministry for Energy.

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