The sun has come out for Kiwirail (Photo: Radio NZ)

The Bulletin: Train fight not in vain

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Electric trains to continue on main trunk line, alarm sounded over loss of Auckland tree canopy, and MP Jami-Lee Ross gives proxy vote back to National.

The railway network of New Zealand has been given a shot in the arm, which could signal more investment in the future. The government has announced that $35 million will be put into refurbishing electric locomotives on the Main Trunk line, 15 of which will run between Hamilton and Palmerston North. The alternative would have been to revert back to diesel – 15 of which will still be coming into service, according to Newstalk ZB’s news bulletins this morning.

It was announced in a press release headed by senior ministers from all three parties in government, each of whom put their own spin on it. NZ First’s Winston Peters touted the jobs for Kiwirail’s workshop in the Hutt Valley. The Green Party’s James Shaw said investing in electric trains would be vital to meet climate change targets. And transport minister Phil Twyford took the chance to note that the government had put $4 billion into transport spending. The point is, trains meet all their respective political needs very nicely.

But this decision hasn’t been a foregone conclusion at all, even though by and large this has so far been a rail-friendly government. In fact, earlier in the year Radio NZ reported Kiwirail saying despite a pre-election promise from Labour, they’d had no directive to do anything other than continue with the dumping and replacement of the electric trains with diesel. That prompted the Rail and Maritime Transport Union to call it a broken promise – they now say they’re thrilled. The Environmental Defence Society was also pleasantly surprised in a media release, saying it meant a commitment to not ditching electrification altogether, which had been the plan.

The question now though is how much further it can go. Transport currently makes up about 20% of New Zealand’s total emissions profiles, and electric rail both in cities and between them could take a bite out of that. The problem with that is that investing in the networks is very expensive up front – 15 electric trains for the Auckland network cost $133 million, for example. When announcing the 2018 land transport Government Policy Statement, the Q&A section noted that funding was tight was further investments in rail.

But the rail sector clearly feels there could be more. That was the message that came through earlier this year at the 2018 New Zealand Rail Conference, reported on by logistics industry publication FTD Magazine. Then-outgoing Kiwirail CEO Peter Reidy said that when he came into the job, there was talk of rail being shut down, and now Kiwirail was talking about what the next 150 years would look like – rail is after all a pretty durable infrastructure investment.

Another big clue could come from the innocuously named Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group, which is considering whether to move Auckland’s port. The terms of reference say a strategy will be released by December, which will include “priorities for investment in rail and road.” How those priorities shake down will be fascinating for the wider freight and transport strategy for the island – heavy prioritisation of rail projects would show that the relatively small funding top up to help keep part of the Main Trunk Line electrified isn’t going to be a one off.


The alarm has been sounded on the loss of tree canopy in the Waitematā Local Board area of Auckland, reports Newsroom. In the decade to February 2016, well over 12,000 trees were felled, and the report that data comes from indicates the real number is likely a lot higher. Worse still, many of the trees were simply cut down with no development happening in their place. Changes that weakened the Resource Management Act were blamed for the loss of the things that filter the very air the city breathes.


MP Jami-Lee Ross has announced his proxy vote will belong to National, his former party, until further notice. Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien reports that by doing so, he’s making an attempt to not upset the proportionality of Parliament, which would then give National grounds to use the Electoral Integrity law on him and boot him out. It may or may not be sufficient. Either way, he’s booked in to speak in parliament on December 13 – and that speech will be covered by parliamentary privilege.


Confusion abounds over how many people have had their eligibility for compensation confirmed for meth-test evictions at Housing NZ properties. Housing minister Phil Twyford said it was about 200, Housing NZ say it’s zero so far. Radio NZ highlighted the confusion with this Checkpoint audio report – which by the way, from a craft perspective, involves truly brilliant use of music to underline the point of the story.


In business, big changes at the NZX stock exchange have been given the go-ahead, reports the NBR (paywalled) Three listing boards will be condensed into one, and companies like Xero could be lured back under new rules allowing overseas listed companies to list. It is hoped the new rules will turn around what has been a challenging period for the NZX.


Immigration NZ has been accused of being “incapable” of cracking down on scams and immigration fraud, reports Stuff. An immigration agent has told Stuff that he’s made tip-offs before about scams, but they’ve come to nothing, with delays because of low levels of resourcing.


There’s been a lot of chatter online about who should get a Kiwibuild house, and who the policy is meant to benefit. Fortunately, Stuff has done a mythbusting article breaking down some of the misconceptions about the policy. There will continue to be debates about what the policy aims of Kiwibuild should be, but hopefully this will help put to rest debates about what it actually is.

Meanwhile, in Kiwibuild news, maybe don’t cyberbully ordinary people who happen to get a house? In fact, you could probably extend that out to maybe not cyberbullying people full stop – but let’s start with something easier to manage for former cabinet minister Judith Collins. Here’s Don Rowe’s take on her bizarre and misleading tweet (which is still online) attacking a couple who were in a photo-op with the PM after going into the ballot, meeting the criteria and putting a deposit down on a Kiwibuild house.


There was a fairly hefty shake across much of the country yesterday, but because it was so deep, it didn’t really cause damage. It struck near Taumarunui, and was reported to have been felt strongly on both islands. One News has a live blog of the day, which includes Parliament TV footage of when the quake hit – it’s actually not that dramatic, which is probably a good sign that the building would hold up in a bigger earthquake. On The Spinoff, we’ve reported an explanation as to why the quake was felt so far away from the epicentre.


The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.

Sign up now



Right now on The Spinoff: In this months edition of The Side Eye, Toby Morris delves into the world of fake news and reliable facts. I went along to the Materialise science conference and came back knowing quite a bit more about lithium. Maria Slade reports from the front lines of the war against cyclists. And speaking of urban transport, Hayden Donnell has a question for those up in arms about Lime scooters – have they heard of cars?


You may have noticed around the world a lot of states are drifting from being democratic to being quasi-authoritarian. That’s likely to mean an increasing use of what is called ‘sharp power’ – outlined in this analysis by Dr Paul Buchanan on 36th Parallel.

Rather than being like hard or soft power, which is typically how geopolitical actions are classed, sharp power from authoritarian states carries an element of deliberately highlighting the impotence of liberal democratic norms. Think for example the murder by Saudi Arabia of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – there was lots of condemnation, but a few days later the Saudis were quite happily hosting an investment summit and raising billions of dollars. Here’s an expert from Dr Buchanan’s analysis:

“These and scores of authoritarian atrocities go unpunished because the liberal democratic world has neither the will or the capabilities to stop them. That is a weakness that authoritarians seek to exploit with their sharp power projection, and in this they may have been encouraged by the US abandonment of its support for the liberal institutional world order under the Trump administration.”


The return of Black Caps cricket is only 22 hours away, even if it is a T20 series in the uninspiring surroundings of Dubai. The Black Caps will play Pakistan to begin what is effectively a 7 month buildup towards the 2019 World Cup in England. On The Spinoff, Michael Appleton assesses their chances in that tournament. A reminder too – the White Ferns start their T20 World Cup campaign in less than a fortnight.

Meanwhile in football, regional federations are warning of a low level of confidence in NZ Football’s governance, reports Stuff. A letter signed by chairs from 6 regional federations has found its way to Stuff, but it should be noted the word is low confidence, not no confidence. It follows in the wake of the Muir report, which was not at all positive about the culture and conduct of NZF.


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.


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.

Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.