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The BulletinMay 31, 2019

The Bulletin: Govt gives and takes with Wellbeing Budget

ardern robertson peters budget 2019 rnz dom thomas

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Govt gives and takes with first Wellbeing Budget, Treasury Secretary under immense pressure, and dozens of kākāpō sick from fungus.

The question was asked in yesterday’s Bulletin – what does this government value enough to put real money towards? In the end, the Budget that was delivered wasn’t wildly radical. It did lay down some significant markers which are certain to be part of the government’s pitch to voters for more time in office. But there were also plenty of areas as well that came away with basically nothing new. I can promise you now, we won’t get through every detail of it this morning, but we’ll cover some of the big stuff.

Firstly, let’s look at health. The timing of Wednesday’s mental health inquiry report response has to be seen as significant, given the astoundingly large funding package directed there. The NZ Herald reports over the next five years, $1.9 billion will be put towards dramatically widening access to services. That will be shared across a few portfolios, which makes sense given that mental health is influenced by a wide variety of factors. But on the other hand, Stuff reports that some in the health sector will be seriously disappointed – Pharmac’s budget for example was increased by a relative pittance. And even among the winning areas, there could be some significant delivery issues – for example Radio NZ reports there aren’t remotely enough clinical psychologists and mental health workers to meet the demand. So it’s a really complicated picture, and many will be unsatisfied.

Environmental policy is another similarly complicated area. Rail as a transport and freight system will basically be resurrected for the 21st century, reports Newshub, which could have enormous environmental benefits in the long run, and crucially set up systemic change in which the benefits really start to pile up. The NZ Herald also reports more than $200 million will go towards cleaning up waterways, which is serious money. But as Greenpeace boss Russel Norman points out (in this Group Think which is honestly an incredibly good digest of expert takes) “the biggest climate spend in this budget is the $1 billion per year to subsidise agricultural greenhouse emissions under the Emission Trading Scheme. We are paying taxes to accelerate our own demise.”

How about poverty? Benefits will now be indexed to the average wage, reports the NZ Herald, which is a significant change because it means the gap won’t keep growing ever wider. Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft is a strong supporter of the change, and it’s part of a wider package of measures to address child poverty and halve the numbers of those affected over a decade. But as One News reports, campaigners at Auckland Action Against Poverty say people are desperate now, and the Budget won’t address that. AAAP coordinator Ricardo Menendez also noted that poverty itself was a significant cause of mental health problems.

Housing? There was a big boost for Housing First places, which from memory had been signalled in advance. But Kiwibuild appears to have been flushed down the memory hole – seriously, nobody from the government side even really mentioned it in their speeches. When housing minister Phil Twyford went on Newstalk ZB, he argued that the recalibration of the overall housing policy was a better use of the money.

We could do this on probably a dozen different topics, but it would take too long. Next week there will be plenty of chances to revisit under-covered areas. So for now, I’ll direct you to a few key pieces. Firstly, our business editor Maria Slade has wrapped the key details of the major areas with new spending announcements – it’s packed full of interesting nuggets like funding for decile 1-7 schools so that they can stop asking for ‘voluntary’ donations. Interest’s Jenée Tibshraeny has drilled down into the financials of it all, in particularly taking a big picture look at increases in both capital and operational spending. And Newsroom’s Bernard Hickey looks on at what has been announced with a lingering tone of disappointment at what more it could have been.

Finally, there was a curious and potentially rather revealing subplot to the whole Budget. The NZ Herald reports the woman and child on the cover were stock photo models, and actually gave up on living in New Zealand at the end of last year, not able to afford the cost of living in Auckland. Vicky Freeman probably spoke for a lot of people when outlining what she thought about politics: “It doesn’t help me, it doesn’t help the world, I just choose to be really passive and whatever they’re going to do, they’re going to do.”

It’s hard to see how Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf can continue coming into work, even though he’s leaving soon anyway. Basically, the hack/leak/whatever has been revealed to have been basically just sloppiness on the part of Treasury. But what makes it worse, as Newshub reports, is that it has been known within Treasury for a day or so that it was human error, which makes calling in the cops a questionable decision. Danyl Mclauchlan reckons it’s all pretty much just bum-covering gone wrong.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB, finance minister Grant Robertson said he is disappointed, and that it’s not his call to sack Mr Makhlouf immediately. There’s going to be a State Services Commission inquiry. The whole thing is just a mess really, and in my view the best take on it all comes from Newshub’s Mark Longley. His argument is basically that nobody has come out of this looking good, let alone looking like they’re behaving in the interests of the public.

Dozens of the already tiny kākāpō population have been hospitalised due to a fungus outbreak, reports Radio NZ. The revival had previously been going really well, off the back of plenty of birds breeding and an abundance of food. However, there are now an alarming number suffering from aspergillus fungus spores, which occur naturally but have a severe effect on birds with compromised immune systems.

There’s not really a unifying theme to this paragraph, it’s just three interesting stories about farming that I thought were worth passing on. The first comes from the NZ Herald’s Andrea Fox, who reports on a battle between a businessman and Synlait Milk over the construction of a new processing plant in Pokeno – the businessman has their own tourist development in the pipeline and is trying to block the building.

The second comes from Interest, who have done some really good textured reporting on the current state of Fonterra’s finances, and what will be paid out to their shareholders. And the third comes from Radio NZ, who report some dairy farmers are finally getting the opportunity from higher milk prices to do some of the maintenance that had been deferred.

Corrections NZ has been visited by Norwegian officials for advice on how to manage the alleged Christchurch mosque shooter, reports Stuff. The Norwegians have expertise in this area because of the actions of Anders Breivik, a white supremacist who murdered 77 people in 2011. The alleged Christchurch shooter has recently become the first person charged under New Zealand’s terrorism laws.

As an early riser, I’ve been impressed so far by the new Radio NZ show First Up. One of their stories from yesterday exemplifies why it has been so good. Host Indira Stewart went down to decile 1 Tamaki College to talk to people about the challenges there. She spoke to kids who had been evicted from Housing NZ properties, and saw almost half the school turn up for free breakfast. For some of the kids, there won’t be much else to eat over the entire day. It’s a really dire situation, and First Up brought it to life with great humanity and care.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Sarah Paterson-Hamlin delves into the Charities Act review, with probably the most interesting piece I’ve ever read on the subject. Alex Casey watches the first episode of Wife Swap NZ (urgh) and finds a wonderful woman who could be the biggest local reality TV star of the year (hooray!) Don Rowe wishes the Auckland Harbour Bridge a happy birthday, and recalls some of its finest moments. And The Handmaids Tale is about to come back for season 3, so we’ve put together a recap video that catches you up on the first two seasons in a couple of minutes.

Now that the heat around the Auckland Pride parade is of a lower intensity, it’s the perfect time for Metro to come out with this comprehensive feature. Journalist Anthony Byrt has gone very deep into both the history of the movement, and the tensions that erupted into the spotlight over the barring of uniformed police officers from marching. It’s a very fair piece too, going beyond a simple ‘both sides’ treatment to taking in many different perspectives. Here’s an excerpt:

There were also discussions about getting Pride out from central Auckland — particularly from Ponsonby — into areas like South and West Auckland, to connect with queer communities there. This has been yet another sore point. Defenders of previous Auckland Prides dispute the assertion that certain groups may have felt marginalised from the central Auckland events, or simply not bothered to engage because they felt there was no space for them within Auckland Pride.

But that dismissal overlooks the massive economic transformation of Auckland, and Ponsonby in particular, since the Hero days. Anyone who spent time in and around Ponsonby in the 90s knows just how important it was as a formative space and place of intersection for Auckland’s creative and queer communities. Now, though, it is a suburb of two-million-dollar houses, European cars, and extortionate boutiques. It is getting whiter by the day, but even more than that, it is becoming a potent symbol of Auckland’s economic stratification. With that in mind, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that queer Māori and Pacific people, too young to remember Ponsonby as anything other than a strip where rich people eat and drink and shop, might not be particularly interested in taking part in a parade there.

The Cricket World Cup has started, and I’m very excited to say we’ll be covering it at The Spinoff with a brand new podcast. In fact, if you’ve ever wondered while reading this what my voice actually sounds like, good news, because I’m hosting it with fellow cricket tragic Simon Day. We released our first episode of The Offspin last night, looking ahead at New Zealand’s chances, talked divided fan loyalties with journalist Jogai Bhatt, and Simon shared a rather insightful story about meeting David Warner. Really looking forward to the next six weeks during which I’ll sleep even less than usual. Meanwhile England have got their campaign off to an ominous start, thrashing South Africa by 104 runs. Ben Stokes took a very tasty catch.

Meanwhile, the NZ Football boys have suffered their first loss of the U-20 World Cup, reports Stuff. The 2-0 defeat to Uruguay means they’ll play Colombia in the round of 16, but don’t worry too much, because most of the first team got rested for the Uruguay game. The U-20 All Whites have made the round of 16 twice now, but never gone further.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

This content is brought to you by Vector. If you live in Auckland, they also delivered the power you’re using to read it. And they’re creating a new energy future for all of us, as showcased by the incredible Vector Lights in partnership with Auckland Council.

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