Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Agreement reached in principle for Auckland to take Waikato water, beneficiary debt to MSD balloons, and Opportunities Party lose candidate in key seat.
An agreement has been reached in principle for Auckland to take water from the Waikato River. As Radio NZ’s Jordan Bond reports, it is an interim measure, so there will still be a Board of Inquiry case heard on the matter to discuss a permanent solution. What this week’s decision effectively involved was environment minister David Parker pulling it out of a long queue of issues to be heard by the Waikato Regional Council, and sending it through a streamlined process. He did this by declaring Auckland’s water supply an issue of national significance.
But the health of the Waikato River is also a significant issue, and taking water from a river generally harms that. The RNZ story notes that comparisons are being made to the Darling river in Australia, where overallocation has severely damaged the wider area around it, and has led to both environmental and economic crises – here’s a recent report from Bloomberg on that. Iwi Waikato-Tainui initially opposed Auckand taking more water from the river they act as kaitiaki over, but as Te Ao News reports, they have since softened their position and pledged their support for a process to help resolve Auckland’s problems. “We hope to bring intergenerational thinking and unique cultural perspectives that provide long-term, sustainable solutions for both Tamaki Makaurau and Waikato,” said iwi chair Rukumoana Schaafhausen.
One thing that won’t be happening is Auckland paying the previously asked-for price for the water, reports Stuff. In the initial negotiations a price of 10c per litre had been asked for – a cost that would cumulatively have been way too high for Auckland to bear, but one that at least recognised how precious water is. Mayor Phil Goff gave the idea of paying that cost very little consideration, but did pledge to put several million dollars towards a trust to remediate and restore the Waikato River.
There has been a lot of opinion published on the matter, much of it from Aucklanders demanding that the Waikato region simply hand the water over. To my mind, a very interesting take came from veteran Waikato Times columnist Tom O’Connor, who has seen this situation develop over about seven decades. He makes the point that with climate change bearing down on us, the frequency of droughts will only increase, at a time when water use around the household has dramatically ramped up, and that there are lessons from the past that should be applied now.
Meanwhile, heavy rain has given the storage dams in Auckland some relief. Watercare’s website says the dams are now sitting at 55% full, which is better than it was, even if it remains way below what is normal for this time of year. The long range forecast still says that the rest of the year will be drier than average, so households will need to continue saving as much as possible.
Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive:
“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and would like to contribute, please consider doing so – support is important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”
The amount of debt beneficiaries owe to MSD has ballooned in the past five years, reports Sarah Robson for Radio NZ. Some grants are currently required to be paid back, and more than $300 million is owed by about 225,000 people. Women owe on average more money than men, a discrepancy that is put down to the vastly higher likelihood that mothers are acting as sole parents. Campaigners at Auckland Action Against Poverty are calling for changes so that the debt can simply be written off – something which MSD are currently unable to do, even though other government departments are allowed to, and even though such a move would instantly remove a lot of hardship.
The Opportunities Party has lost a candidate in a key seat after an acrimonious dispute over his alleged conduct towards others in the party. I reported for The Spinoff that Auckland Central candidate Joshua Love was accused of potential breaches of the Electoral Act, and allegations of aggression and belligerent behaviour towards fellow party members. He denied some of the allegations but accepted others. Incidentally, the article was originally meant to be an interview with party leader Geoff Simmons about their upcoming campaign and UBI policy, and some of that was included in the second half.
A police investigation is underway over allegations of sexual offending at Gloriavale, reports Stuff’s Joanne Carroll. A teenage male has been accused of offending against multiple young boys, and police and Oranga Tamariki have been at the community this week. It is also alleged that church leaders have known about the claims for months, without informing the police.
A major early childhood education provider has been accused of pushing an unlawful contract on staff, reports Laura James for One News. The NZEI union says that Evolve Education, which employs around 2000 people across multiple brands, says that there are multiple illegalities in the contracts that have been offered recently. Evolve itself said it couldn’t comment as a consultation process is currently underway. However, education minister Chris Hipkins has also been called in, and he says he has directed the ministry to have a “good, close look” at such issues in this “highly devolved privatised sector”.
If you want to drive the Desert Road today, bad luck, it’s closed for snow. The NZ Herald reports that it is brutally cold all over the country, with extreme gales also hammering the Hawke’s Bay and Wellington. Keep safe out there and rug up warm.
Several more pieces of news about NZ First: Newshub’s Michael Morrah reports that fishing company Talley’s hosted two fundraisers for the party. The party continues to deny they had anything to do with the delay in cameras on fishing boats. Meanwhile, fishing industry figures have expressed disappointment at comments made by fisheries minister Stuart Nash (who is a Labour MP) in which Nash compared people in the industry to criminals, reports Radio NZ. Nash later clarified that he was only talking about Hawke’s Bay Seafoods, who were recently convicted of some fishing crimes.
And there was a response to the story yesterday about Winston Peters’ links to leading brexiteer Aaron Banks: Peters tweeted “for the benefit of the woke leftist spinoff, had they asked me, which they didn’t, I came across Arron Banks in 2016 in the UK. We have been happily sharing thoughts and ideas on international matters ever since. He’s a top bloke and we both believe that freedom matters!” For the record, our political editor made no fewer than 15 attempts to seek comment from the party.
Finally, Peters himself has written a comment piece about the party’s term in government and in particular light rail, for the (paywalled) NZ Herald. In the interests of getting his full views on the matter, I encourage you to read it. The main argument is this: “We are a handbrake for bad ideas, that is true, but our track record since 2017 has seen New Zealand First constructively also serve as an accelerator for good ideas.”
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Right now on The Spinoff: Hayden Donnell apportions blame for the recent shemozzle around Auckland’s light rail. Danyl Mclauchlan gives his opinion on the way NZ First has operated over this term of government, and what socially conservative voters might make of it. Sam Brooks laments the grinding cultural stagnation of video games based around zombies. Shabnam Dastgheib writes about the businesses breathing life back into New Brighton in Christchurch. And as we do at the start of every month, here’s a guide to all the new shows on various streaming platforms in July.
For a feature today, a long story about trying to get an MP to agree to an interview. Q+A reporter Whena Owen has long wanted to speak to National MP Dr Jian Yang, who rarely if ever speaks to English-language media since the story broke several years ago regarding his former ties to China’s spy agencies. For the record, Dr Yang refutes “any allegations that question my loyalty to New Zealand”, and denies being a spy. However, as an MP and chair of a select committee, it’s unusual to say the least. Here’s an excerpt:
Owen contacted Dr Yang’s PA in early 2018 when the programme was running a segment profiling MPs and showing their lighter, more human side. His PA said Dr Yang “would like to decline the request”. When pressed, the PA said this would be indefinitely.
In 2019, reporters wanted to ask Dr Yang about his arrangement of the itinerary for Simon Bridges’ visit to Beijing, cutting out the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and fixing a meeting with a top-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party.
Q+A asked National’s chief press secretary for an interview with Dr Yang. The answer was no.
More unsuccessful attempts followed, including a visit to his office and home this year, once other avenues were exhausted and written interview requests remained unanswered.
If you’ve been following the unfolding saga around weird spending allegations at Emirates Team NZ, here’s an update: The NZ Herald’s Derek Cheng reports that the pipeline of taxpayer money won’t be frozen, despite the allegations of fraud. Theoretically, millions of dollars more could be spent while an investigation from MBIE is underway. ETNZ continue to deny any and all wrongdoing, but have confirmed that public money ended up in a Hungarian bank account because of a scam.
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