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The Bulletin: The battle over opening the borders

The Spinoff logo The Spinoff 6 days ago Alex Braae
a large white sign with black text: Auckand Airport International Arrivals (Photo: RNZ) © The Spinoff Auckand Airport International Arrivals (Photo: RNZ)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Battle over whether opening the borders is tenable, Christchurch mosque shooter interview concerns, and Paula Bennett leaves politics.

The first thing to note about the opening of the borders is that it is unlikely to happen any time soon. The PM declared yesterday afternoon that the prospect was “dangerous” in the short term, and “untenable” to do so with countries that are currently experiencing serious outbreaks. The comments were one of the strongest statements made so far by the PM on the prospect, and indicate a hardening position on the matter.

The word ‘untenable’ was probably chosen specifically in response to National leader Todd Muller. It was the word he used when speaking to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce yesterday, saying “a strategy that says we stay completely closed to everybody for the next 12 to 18 months is simply untenable. We won’t recognise this country in terms of economic impact.” To be clear, he wasn’t calling for anything like an immediate throwing open of the borders, so it’s fair to say that he and the PM were addressing somewhat different questions. But nor was Muller offering any specific method of doing so. The argument was also put by Stuff editor Luke Malpass, who is full of praise for how effectively community transmission was eliminated, but fearful for the implications for the economy if the border stays closed. Malpass also questioned whether the public’s tolerance for risk has evaporated, which makes any potential outbreak politically and socially impossible.

And yet, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the risk being discussed here has potentially terrible consequences. Put aside for a moment the utterly inept and frankly murderous political response in countries like the US and Brazil – there are no politicians in New Zealand who are remotely comparable to that. Look at a relatively well-governed country like Australia, where there has now been a serious spike in community transmission. It can happen quickly and relatively unexpectedly, and when it does happen, the only realistic response is some version of locking down again, which has serious economic consequences. It might not mean lockdown in a level four sense of course, but it would mean a halt to the laissez-faire lifestyle we’ve got used to again. We also have no idea what the long term health impacts of Covid-19 are, but there is emerging evidence that even some survivors will face serious and lasting symptoms.

There is also emerging evidence that the New Zealand economy may not end up as shattered as was initially feared. Radio NZ reported on a survey conducted by a credit ratings agency which suggested that the country might be less badly affected than others in the region, at least. That was even taking into account international travel and tourism not returning any time soon. Before anyone gets carried away, the review also estimated that unemployment would peak at 5.8%, which instinctively feels like an overly optimistic view, and would still be too high for most to be comfortable with.

In any case, the quarantine system will remain in place for a long time. And there were some more updates yesterday on increasingly stringent measures that will be taken, such as compulsory mask-wearing between planes and facilities, and potentially confining those in managed isolation to their rooms for the first three days of their stay. There was also a question from our political editor Justin Giovannetti about whether those in the facilities would have to pay for their stay – Ardern indicated that while it would be very unlikely that returning New Zealanders would face costs, those who choose to go overseas might not have the same privilege.

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.”

There’s disagreement over whether an interview with the March 15 mosque shooter should be made public. Radio NZ’s Conor Young has been reporting on the interview, which was carried out as part of the Royal Commission into the attacks. There are fairly strong arguments on both sides – both that it would be dangerous to show it to the wider public, and that it would potentially impede the public’s right to assess what went wrong not to show it. The Royal Commission is expected to report back in late July.

Paula Bennett is leaving politics for good, after making a surprise announcement yesterday morning. I went along to see it yesterday morning, and wrote about what her departure will mean for the National party, and the wider politics of the country. It is fair to say her legacy will be a controversial one, particularly in the area of welfare. While Bennett staunchly defended her legacy here, many anti-poverty campaigners will be happy to see her go.

Love her or loathe her, Bennett will also go down in political history as one of the great characters of this era. Jihee Junn has collected some of the moments that defined her in the public eye, both the scandals and the successes. And in a final strange twist to this story, it was reported by Express that she told comedian and impersonator Tom Sainsbury that she was leaving politics before she actually told her party leader Todd Muller.

An exceptionally good result for a New Zealand company that has benefited heavily from Covid-19: Business Desk (paywalled) reports that Fisher and Paykel Healthcare has seen a massive boost in profit in the last six months, in part because of heavy sales of machines that assist breathing. In some cases demand for their hospital hardware tripled. It has seen the share price soar, and allowed the company to hire about 500 new manufacturing staff in New Zealand.

The opening gambit has been made in the negotiations over whether Auckland can take more water from the Waikato River. The NZ Herald’s Bernard Orsman reports the Waikato River Authority has set an initial price of 10c per litre – which could be up to $20 million a day. That’s probably unrealistic for a city currently slashing costs in other areas. Even so, a single day at that rate would dwarf the contributions Watercare has made so far to keeping the river clean and healthy. A weekend of heavy rain means storage dams are now above half full again – but still way below the level they’d normally be at for the season.

A small, invasive and gross looking pest has been discovered in New Zealand for the first time, reports Radio NZ’s Maja Burry. The ‘tomato red spider mite’ has been spotted in two locations in Auckland near the airport. It is so-called because it can primarily damage tomato plants, along with a range of other important food crops. It isn’t considered likely to have a major impact on the value of horticultural exports, but it’s still a problem that growers just don’t need right now.

Labour has given the Green Party’s new tax and welfare policy package a tepid response, which makes it much more difficult to see it becoming government policy. PM Jacinda Ardern told Newshub that Labour would be releasing its own tax policy before the election, and that there will be “significant differences” between the two. She also questioned some of the assumptions made in the policy around revenue, which she described as “heroic” – it didn’t sound like she meant that in a good way. Meanwhile, Politik reports that National has still launched a social media campaign claiming that Labour supports the wealth tax, which is pretty dishonest.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz



a car parked on the side of a building: Gemmell’s, Symonds St, Auckland (Photo: Michael Andrew) © The Spinoff Gemmell’s, Symonds St, Auckland (Photo: Michael Andrew)

Gemmell’s, Symonds St, Auckland (Photo: Michael Andrew)

Right now on The Spinoff: Toby Manhire reviews the new Judith Collins book, and comes away disappointed about what might have been. Michael Andrew writes about the impending recession, and family-owned businesses that have seen off previous economic bad times. Patrick Smellie writes about the state of the market for the old Bauer titles, and which might end up being sold off and revived. Nigel Gaudin writes about why Kiwibank slashed their variable interest rate, and what that’ll mean for small business. Laumata Lauano writes about the remarkable soundtrack in the new TV show Insecure.

And I missed this piece over the weekend, but now having actually set foot in the new Commercial Bay mall in downtown Auckland I can say it’s right on the money. Duncan Greive has written about how the development entirely inverts 20th century concepts of what a mall should be, and how that reflects the development of a very different kind of city.

For a feature today, a reflective piece that will have been extremely hard for the author to write. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) columnist Teuila Fuatai has written about attempting to interview local Black Lives Matter organisers, and then being rejected on the basis of the publication she was working for. Rather than taking a shot at them, she deeply considered what they had to say. Here’s an excerpt:

It is probably here the premise of the piece began to shift. I began to unpick my own role as a journalist who had tackled stories around racism before for the Herald. What had made that okay prior to today? Why had I been happy to use it as a platform to examine how racism operated in New Zealand in the past?

Truthfully, there is no one explanation. It is wrapped up in myriad reasons around enjoying my job, needing an income source, and feeling my voice offered a unique perspective on issues like racism. Perhaps more important is the dynamic that played out because of those. When confronted with shortfalls in the organisation’s approach to stories related to racism and minority communities, including tangata whenua, I would perform a type of balancing act to effectively “carry on”.

My working theory of the America’s Cup is basically that it’s an industrial arms race between non-state actors that just happens to involve boats. In any case, this bizarre story of alleged espionage fits in with that. Stuff has reported on Emirates Team NZ firing a contractor, who is believed to have leaked a load of secret information to unnamed parties, and for unknown motives. MBIE has even got involved, because “claims around structural and financial matters” relating to the hosting of the event have been made. I’m just saying, this wouldn’t be a problem if it was just a competition to find the fastest dinghy.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme

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