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Flooding at Porters Pass as a result of the torrential rainfall in May. Photo: Radio NZ
Flooding at Porters Pass as a result of the torrential rainfall in May. Photo: Radio NZ

The BulletinMay 31, 2021

The Bulletin: Drought broken as flooding smashes Canterbury

Flooding at Porters Pass as a result of the torrential rainfall in May. Photo: Radio NZ
Flooding at Porters Pass as a result of the torrential rainfall in May. Photo: Radio NZ

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Drought broken as flooding smashes Canterbury, Morrison and Ardern to have serious diplomatic discussions today, and Tauranga group launches to retake control of local government.

Serious flooding has swept through the Canterbury region, after weeks of rain fell in just a few days. Stuff reports that more than a hundred evacuations have taken place, amid a state of emergency being declared across the region. Selwyn, Ashburton and Timaru are particularly badly hit. Motorists are being asked to take “extreme care” out there, and many roads are closed, along with dozens of schools today. The damage from this flood will be lasting, not least because several bridges have been washed away. Looking ahead to today, live updates from One News report the Selwyn River could still break its banks, and thousands more people in Ashburton are waiting for a call on whether to evacuate.

The danger is particularly severe for farmers and their animals, who can end up cut off from help more quickly. Radio NZ reports some local farmers ended up putting their own lives on the line to rescue trapped animals, and get them to higher ground. Sometimes it has been the farmers themselves who have needed rescuing. In one instance, tweeted out by TVNZ reporter Lisa Davies, an Ashburton man was winched out of a tree by a helicopter. To date, it doesn’t appear that anyone has been killed by the flooding. But to give a sense of how unusual this event is, I’ll share this tweet from local Caroline Amyes, who took a video of the Selwyn at Coalgate, and said “this isn’t a normal event, please move stock as far away from rivers as possible. Areas that have never flooded before are flooding.”

The bad weather is not yet over. After a rare “red warning” was issued by Metservice over the weekend, their forecasters have kept a heavy rain warning in place until this evening. What makes the rain worse is that much of Canterbury has been in drought conditions this year – the rain will be welcome for water storage and reservoirs, but this sort of volume falling can be really bad for dry paddocks.

PMs Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison will today hold their first formal in-person talks for more than a year. You might recall last week there was a bit of concern that Morrison’s trip over the Tasman would be cancelled, but in the end he made it. Political editor Justin Giovannetti was there for the pōwhiri yesterday afternoon in Queenstown, and looked ahead to the issues that will be up for discussion. You probably already guessed it, but a major one will be Australia’s current trade tension with China, and where New Zealand stands on that.

A new group including old councillors has formed in Tauranga with the intention of taking back the city if elections return next year. They’re called the Tauranga Ratepayers Alliance, and they’re motivated by the steep rates rises being imposed by the commissioners, who were appointed after local government minister Nanaia Mahuta sacked the council for dysfunctional infighting. I’ve been following this story reasonably closely, and filed this report from the launch event. Unfortunately, parts of the crowd also appeared to be motivated by racism, both against Mahuta herself, and against Māori more generally.

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Cycling protesters caused the temporary closure of two Harbour Bridge lanes to cars yesterday, to highlight the lack of cycling infrastructure in the city. The NZ Herald’s Zoe Holland reports the direct action took place after a rally in Pt Erin Park, when cyclists breached barriers put up by police. The location was chosen because of the lack of progress on any sort of cycling path between Auckland CBD and the North Shore. Speaking of the way transport infrastructure is set up, this piece from Hayden Donnell about Auckland Transport’s current work priorities is a must-read rant.

Two men have been arrested over alleged death threats made towards National MP Simeon Brown. The NZ Herald has a short story on the second arrest. It’s not directly clear why the alleged threats were made, but it follows Brown campaigning against gangs. It’s not the first recent incident of such threats – Green MP Golriz Ghahraman has also been targeted in this way, for example – but suffice to say, it’s deeply concerning that the alleged threats to a politician were serious enough for police to intervene.

A bit of media news: From today, you’ll no longer hear reporters “sign off” their news packages on Radio NZ. According to an internal company directive, the aim is “to make the transition from one item to the next as smooth as possible for the listener”, and to increase the pace of news bulletins. It is also more consistent with the style used by international broadcasters like the BBC and ABC. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a shame, especially since most reporters have started doing their sign-offs in te reo, and because it’s nice for the reporters to be able to put their name to the story.

And a bit more media news: The Voyagers were on the other night, and it seemed like everyone had a pretty good time, both during and especially afterwards. The NPA has published a full list of winners, and with pretty much all of them you just have to look at the work to see why. We at The Spinoff had some wins and some losses, but if there’s just one win I could highlight it’d be opinion writer of the year Leonie Hayden, who made cases last year that meticulously built up to storming conclusions.

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Anna Chrichton

Right now on The Spinoff: took the Te Huia train service from Auckland to Hamilton and got both a review and a slightly limp cheese toastie out of it. Alice Webb-Liddall meets the outspoken educator in charge of Mt Albert Grammar, one of the country’s biggest and most diverse schools. Redmer Yska looks back on when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle toured New Zealand, at the height of his interest in the spirit and supernatural world. Catherine McGregor reviews a new documentary about an “unremarkable monster” who ran the Centrepoint commune. And Michael Appleton breaks down the stats that give a steer on who will win cricket’s first ever World Test Championship.

For a feature today, a terrifying use of technology that seems likely to actively make the world a more fearful and dangerous place. Vice technology site Motherboard has looked at the Citizen app, which basically crowd-sources vigilantism against alleged criminals. If that doesn’t sound frightening enough, consider the fact that often vigilante mobs end up targeting the wrong person. Here’s an excerpt:

“It’s basically an anxiety sweatshop,” a Citizen source said. “On days when things are ‘slow,’ they relax the standards around incidents because a dip in incident count is really bad,” they added. The company sends congratulatory emails announcing which analysts reported the highest number of incidents, another source added.

This results in Citizen warning users about “everything,” according to one former employee. This includes lost dogs, minor car crashes, unsubstantiated reports of gunshots, and domestic incidents, they said. This week in Los Angeles, incidents ranged in severity from “assault” to “gunfire” to “two men brawling” to “injured bird,” “firefighter activity,” and “crowd gathered.”

“In a healthy society we are typically not incentivized to sensationalize mundane events and code them as crime. I can’t help but think it plays into people’s anxieties and fears and magnifies people’s fears of the other,” Gilliard said. “What’s really dangerous is the ways they’re starting to serve as infrastructure, where people start to feel like they have to use them to maintain society and order.”

The Australians have finally won a game of trans-Tasman Super Rugby, and all it took was one of the best players in New Zealand getting red carded. The NZ Herald reports the Reds managed to hold onto a 40-34 victory over the Chiefs, who spent periods of the game with as few as 13 players on the field, after Damian McKenzie was sent off for a bad hit. Under the new rules, the Chiefs were able to bring on a replacement after 20 minutes, and when that happened they demonstrated that on a normal night, they probably would have won easily.

And the dream isn’t yet over for the Wellington Phoenix, but it’ll take a lot of luck to qualify from here. Their trip to Eden Park to host the Perth Glory didn’t quite go to plan, with the Phoenix having to score late to save a 2-2 draw – and then missing a penalty very late in the second half. Stuff reports that because of how the table looks, it is a near-fatal blow, and they need both one more win to round out the season, and for other teams to lose. As for the atmosphere – I can report it wasn’t quite as intense as the Wellington game, with a pre-match hailstorm dampening the previous expectations of a big walkup crowd.

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