Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson speaking to media at post-cab (Getty Images: Hagen Hopkins)

The Bulletin: Ardern promises year of action

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: PM tells MPs it’s time to deliver some results, National launches new tax policy aimed at bracket creep, and Local Government NZ counts cost of climate change.

It’s time for the rubber to meet the road, as far as the government’s agenda is concerned. PM Jacinda Ardern has given a Martinborough caucus retreat of Labour MPs a strong message about the need to deliver on their promises this year, reports Radio NZ. It follows a year in which a seemingly endless string of working groups, reviews and inquiries were set in motion – now something tangible will have to come out of them.

While Labour MPs were in the Wairarapa, National leader Simon Bridges was down in Christchurch delivering his major set piece speech to start the year. There’ll be more on his new tax policy below, but it’s worth highlighting one of the key attack lines he delivered. “Underneath the working groups and all the spin, the government has no real plan,” he said. That has been a potent message that National pushed hard last year – if nothing changes this year then it could start to have a real impact.

So what areas does the government need to deliver something real in? That’s covered off in this Stuff article, which identified climate change, housing, mental health and tax policy as areas for the government to deliver results. In more specific terms, climate change will require the Zero Carbon bill to be pushed through, mental health and tax will rest on the government’s responses to the inquiry and working group respectively. Housing will likely just be measured on the Kiwibuild programme actually putting some nails in wood – more on that below too.

In fairness to the PM too, it’s worth going back to an interview she gave The Spinoff on the first anniversary of her government being in office. She never promised results would happen overnight, even if an energetic 100 days programme right at the start of their tenure gave the impression of a highly active government. “You know, transformation does take a bit of time, though. If there’s anything that I’ve learnt, that I’ve struggled with, it’s how long things take. And that’s something that has been hard, when you come in in a hurry.”

So while the message from the PM to her colleagues is fairly clear, there’s a big stick she can wield if results aren’t coming. Stuff reports there won’t be a cabinet reshuffle until after the budget is delivered in the middle of the year, but there will be one. You’d have to expect that any under-performers, who would by then have had almost two years in their jobs, would be shown the door.


National has fired a salvo on tax policy, promising to end ‘bracket creep’ from inflation. One News has a report on the policy, in which leader Simon Bridges says tax thresholds would be indexed to inflation. He says New Zealanders are currently being unfairly taxed, because they move into higher tax brackets without their incomes simultaneously keeping up with the cost of living. He also promised no new taxes would be levied in the first term of a National government.

The policy wouldn’t exactly be healthy for the country’s coffers, with Mr Bridges himself estimating it would result in about $650 million less tax coming in at the first adjustment. In response, finance minister Grant Robertson absolutely savaged the plan, with Newshub reporting him blasting it as a “reckless, empty promise”, and asking what services National planned to cut to pay for it. Honestly, it’s like looking into a time machine from how tax politics played out during the last government, only everyone has swapped places.

 


A landmark Local Government NZ study has estimated the infrastructure costs Councils will face as a result of climate change, reports Stuff. Under a sea level rise of 1.5 metres, around $8 billion worth of infrastructure would need to be replaced. That will take decades of course, but on current trajectories is certain to happen eventually, so early preparation could make a huge difference. LGNZ wants the government to create a climate change adaptation fund to help deal with the costs.


Two important bits of heatwave news, over and above the headline temperatures: Farmers in the Tasman region are concerned that they’re on the verge of a drought, reports Radio NZ. Some farmers haven’t seen rain all month, and river levels are dropping. And in Wellington, the train network is under a lot of pressure because of the heat, reports the NZ Herald. Capital residents are also being told to be mindful of their water use. Restrictions aren’t in place yet, but use is way up as a result of the heat.


Kiwibuild interim targets have now been scrapped altogether for this term, reports Stuff. The policy is being recalibrated, but the headline target – building 100,000 affordable homes in 10 years – remains the same. A paper on that recalibration is going to be delivered to Cabinet in a few weeks, and it may include new interim targets. Among the recalibration plans, there’s likely to be better incentives for private developers to get amongst.


There’s been another big fall in the expected number of international students coming to New Zealand, reports Radio NZ. The drop in numbers of Chinese students is a significant factor in this, and there’s a range of reasons why, but part of it is understood to be because of changes in immigration laws. Numbers from other countries, like Japan, Korea and India, are basically holding steady.


A lot of people say they want to buy electric cars, but worry about the range you can get out of them between charges. Fortunately, Stuff motoring journalist David Linklater has done some solid research on this, and found that by and large, you could drive pretty much anywhere around New Zealand without getting stuck. Having said that, many of those charging stations aren’t necessarily fast chargers, so the infrastructure is by no means perfect yet.


Over in Britain, this week has been an important one for their Brexit plans. A range of amendments have been voted on in their parliament, but the country appears no closer to actually sorting out a workable deal. The best piece on this comes from leading remain supporting journalist Ian Dunt at Politics.co.uk, who argues that MPs have “just voted against reality”. It’s a brutal evisceration of just how incoherent British politics has become, and offers a warning to countries looking for trade deals that Britain is behaving like a country that “will demand something one day then seek to detonate it the next.” New Zealand is firmly among those countries seeking a trade deal, by the way.


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Vernon Tava and Vernon Tava

Right now on The Spinoff: Danyl McLauchlan offers a take on why a proposed new Blue-Green party is likely doomed to failure. Cat Connor writes about a remarkable and unique Upper Hutt bookstore which only stocks New Zealand authors. And Jihee Junn writes about some of the important emerging technologies that are improving access to healthcare.

Also, this is a really powerful piece that examines a facet of sexual violence many would rather look away from. Someone Emily Writes knew, or thought she knew, raped a woman in a horrific attack. She asks why she didn’t see the monster within.


Today’s feature comes from Australian publication The Monthly, and it’s about the small but fierce independence movement on Norfolk Island. They had previously had a form of independence under the overall governance of Australia, but in 2016 were effectively annexed. Some of the island’s 1700 or so residents are still campaigning against that. Here’s an excerpt:

The syntax and lexicon of Norf’k offer an almost archaeological glimpse into conditions on Pitcairn after the mutiny: many verbs come from an 18th-century naval vocabulary, and the Polynesian-derived terms for food reflect the domestic role of the Tahitians. In her Dictionary of Norfolk Words and Usages, Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates “I gwen hewh out aye han line, I bet de oony thing I gwen cetch es boohi” as “I’m going to fish with the hand line, I’ll bet all I’ll catch are sea eels!”

Sanderson clings to the local identity. He disputes the Australian government’s claims that the legislative assembly couldn’t adequately provide for its citizens, and that many residents possessed no connection whatsoever to a romanticised Pitcairn heritage and simply wanted to access Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. He says the islanders required only a relatively small loan to cover the post-GFC drop in the tourism on which the local economy was almost entirely dependant; the crisis narrative was simply used to justify the conditions attached by Canberra.


Here’s an interesting piece from Newsroom about the life of two Football Ferns plying their trade in the professional German league. It’s a fascinating reminder that outside the spotlight, a lot of New Zealand’s women footballers are actually making a living from the game, playing all over Europe and the USA. The next major assignment for the Football Ferns will be the Cup of Nations next month.


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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