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An earlier Christian protest at Parliament (Photo by Marty Melville/Getty Images)
An earlier Christian protest at Parliament (Photo by Marty Melville/Getty Images)

The BulletinOctober 30, 2018

The Bulletin: Parliamentary prayer protest amid changing country

An earlier Christian protest at Parliament (Photo by Marty Melville/Getty Images)
An earlier Christian protest at Parliament (Photo by Marty Melville/Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Protest on at parliament today over opening prayer, major changes recommended for biodiversity, and the strange tale of a drug dealer not being deported.  

To lead off today, we’re going to start with a story that isn’t necessarily the biggest of the day, but is a fascinating snapshot of cultural change. A protest will take place at Parliament today calling on the speaker to reinstate references to Jesus in the opening prayer. As the NZ Herald reports, Trevor Mallard has no plans to do anything of the sort, after changing the prayer when he started the job.

Trevor Mallard’s decision was therefore a controversial one when it first changed back in late 2017. National in particular were up in arms about it, with Jami-Lee Ross leading the charge as chief whip, saying MPs hadn’t been properly consulted. He also argued that references to Jesus were an important reflection of New Zealand’s traditions and history.

But it didn’t really pick up much mainstream Christian support as a cause – a point noted by recently departed United Future party leader Peter Dunne (content warning on the design of his blog) Of the political causes that organised Christianity will take up this year, opposing abortion law reform seems more likely to generate a lot more activity. But it’s really hard to assess these things, because there’s no one voice who can claim to speak for all Christians in NZ – and even within a major denomination like Anglicanism there have been significant splits in recent years.

The parliamentary prayer has actually always been a bit controversial. On Pundit, Tim Watkin points out that it was one of the first things MPs argued about. That piece is worth reading for a variety of reasons actually, not least because it’s a really thoughtful unpacking of what exactly religion, and equality between religions, has meant in New Zealand’s political life.

One point of conjecture over the new prayer was whether or not it was now more inclusive. Mr Mallard says it is, but the protesters argue by removing references to Jesus it actually marginalises other religions through ambiguity. They’re also concerned about an alleged agenda “to remove God from Parliament completely,” and with Parliament, the nation as a whole.  

But would it really be so bad if the Parliamentary prayer was removed altogether? Here’s a Newshub piece which outlines the changes in NZ’s religiosity over the last few decades. Slightly less than half the population at the 2013 census gave their religion as one of the various Christian denominations (and I’d expect there would be a fair few lapsed Christians among that figure) and just over 40% said they had no religion at all. While we might still entreat the God of Nations to hear our voices, across the country, the proportion of religious people is falling sharply too – between the 2006 and 2013 census the number of religious people fell 5.5% nationwide. Interestingly, the number (but not proportion) of religious Aucklanders increased in that period, but on those raw numbers, can the place of Jesus Christ really be justified in Parliament?

There’s one other suggestion that is used in some parts of the world. The prayer is intended to focus the minds of MPs on the duty and responsibility they must take on, hopefully with wisdom and strength of character. Could that not be accomplished just as well with a minute of silent reflection? MPs would be free to offer a prayer to whichever God or Gods they believe in, and those who don’t could still pause to think about those they were representing. It could be an elegant solution for an increasingly multicultural country. But of course, it would rather prove the point the protesters are making about God being removed from Parliament’s procedures.

An important new draft report on biodiversity has recommended major changes for conservation and private land, reports Newsroom. New Zealand’s native wildlife species are largely at risk of extinction unless they’re carefully protected, and the report has suggested measures like tax incentives, more pest control funding, and requiring Councils to identify areas of significant natural value. If implemented, it would also enhance the role of the Department of Conservation in overseeing biodiversity measures.

There’s a bit of a weird story going on around a Czech-born drug dealer, who has been granted residency in NZ despite currently being in prison. Part of the problem in talking about it at all is the incomplete information about why the decision was made by immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway. Stuff reports that PM Jacinda Ardern told reporters they should “read between the lines” in response to questions about whether the man’s life was in danger, were he to be deported. Still, it has raised the ire of National’s Mark Mitchell, who the NZ Herald reports has called the decision “rotten,” and is offering to fly to the Czech Republic to get to the bottom of it all. I for one will volunteer to go to the Czech Republic too if the pilsener breweries need to be investigated.

Housing minister Phil Twyford has says out loud what was already pretty clear – Kiwibuild isn’t intended to help low-income families. Stuff reports Mr Twyford says market failure has led to a severe shortage of affordable homes, but is not aimed at people who might not be able to afford a mortgage.

No major changes have been recommended to the oil and gas exploration ban, which means it’s likely to go ahead as is within a fortnight, reports Stuff. There will be a few slight exemptions – for example, new exploration can take place onshore in Taranaki for a few more years. And this is just an exploration ban as well – actual extraction will still continue for quite some time.

Whistleblowing laws in New Zealand are likely to change, but not particularly radically, reports Stuff. That’s off the back of targeted consultation, which will now be opened up to the general public, on the Protected Disclosures Act. State Services minister Chris Hipkins says the current law needs to be strengthened, because it is currently seen as weak and confusing.

Dunedin is about to start trialling a new system for freedom camping, reports the ODT. Basically, there’ll be a big carpark in the centre city for people with vans, but in other parts of the city bylaws will be enforced more strenuously. Thousands of freedom campers are expected to pass through Dunedin over the summer – it is after all a hub for a rather lovely bit of the country.

Here’s a couple of new podcasts to have a look at: First up, the NZ Herald and Newstalk ZB have launched The Front Page, a 15 minute evening drive time podcast covering their newsroom’s big stories of the day, hosted by Frances Cook and Juliette Sivertsen. And TVNZ have launched The Story – a mid-length documentary current affairs podcast hosted by a young up and comer they’ve hired recently called John Campbell.

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Monique Fiso (Photo: Supplied)

Right now on The Spinoff: National MP Simeon Brown defends his bill going through parliament that would increase penalties on synthetics dealers. Alice Neville profiles exciting young chef Monique Fiso, who is opening a Wellington restaurant with indigenous ingredients at the heart of the menu. And Henry Oliver is still plugging away at the Project Runway power rankings – I don’t watch the show but these pieces are great. And by the way – if you wanted to know a bit more about the Declaration of Independence mentioned yesterday, there was a Kaupapa on the Couch episode about it last year.

The Royal Tour is continuing, and so are your reckons. There was a big volume of feedback on the latest visitors from the House of Windsor. Now just a reminder – I’m not keen to get into the Republic debate here – that can be for another time. But as to this current tour itself: is it worth it?

Short answer – not according to the readers of this publication. A “waste of money,” says Bryce, with the price tag coming in at about $1 million. “Just another couple of celebs,” says Annie. “I saw enough of Meghan Markle on Suits,” said Simon, who described their trip as a “free honey moon in the South Pacific paid for by us Colonials.” And Dirk said it was just another example of unearned, entrenched privilege.

On the other hand, it’s not all bad! Terry said there might be some diplomatic advantage in keeping cosy with Britain right now, while they’re going through Brexit. Kate made the point that it’s really not a lot of money, and that’s fair. She also suggested their work raising awareness of mental health and environmental issues could be worthwhile. And Lauraine said it made her particularly proud of New Zealand to see the Duchess open her speech in te reo.

What about the press coverage – is it over the top? Shanti doesn’t reckon it has been, but she concedes she’s not really making the effort to seek the coverage out, and it’s being filtered through her social media feeds too. By contrast, Kerri is muting the telly when it comes on.

And on that note, that’s probably the last we’ll do on it in The Bulletin. If you want more Royal Tour news, have a look at literally any major NZ news site between now and Thursday.

The owner and chairman of football club Leicester City has died in a helicopter crash, reports the BBC. Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha took over the team in 2010, before bankrolling them to one of the most unlikely sporting triumphs in history – an English Premier League title against 5000-1 odds. He is being remembered as a philanthropist and astute businessman.

And a New Zealand scrabble ace has just won his 4th World Championship title, reports Radio NZ. Nigel Richards’ winning word was ‘groutier’ – which until literally right now I was unaware of the existence of, but there you go.

From our partners, World Energy Day has put a spotlight on New Zealand’s sluggish progress towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Vector’s Beth Johnson explains why the time is right to accelerate.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you liked what you read, and know other people who would find it useful, pass on this signup form to them.

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