The Bulletin: Doubts emerge about Auckland port move

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin for Monday 18 November, by Alex Braae for The Spinoff. Presented in partnership with Z Energy.

In today’s edition: Doubts emerge about Auckland port move, NZDF leaves death-causing material behind in Afghanistan, and laws around renting to be shaken up.

Image: Auckland’s port at dusk.

Over the last week, the ramifications of moving most of the operations of Auckland's port north to Whangarei have been rumbling around. At the start of the week, a report from the working group looking into the question was leaked to One News. But now various stories are emerging that make such a move look far from a done deal – particularly at the price tag of $10 billion for the massive infrastructural upgrades that would be needed to make it viable. 

That comes through strongly in this review of the report conducted by Auckland Council, and then subsequently reported on by One News. According to the review, it wasn't clear how moving the port would actually deliver the nationwide environmental and economic benefits that underpinned the plan – describing it instead as "an extremely expensive way to relocate jobs to Northland from Auckland." Auckland Council – which owns the port and the land it sits on – which currently returns the Council relatively small dividends each year. Mayor Phil Goff says if there was to be a move, the Council should get compensation, and not just that which would accrue from prime waterfront land becoming free for development, reports Newsroom.

As well as that, opponents of the plan say it is being overly driven by politics. One voice on that comes from used-car business association VIA, whose chief executive David Vinsen told the NZ Herald (paywalled) that such a shift would create more problems than it would solve. Car imports are one of the major functions being slated to move. Vinsen says to change the import system would be to indulge in "purely political decisions with almost no commercial understanding of the realities." Auckland Chamber of Commerce boss Michael Barnett also criticised the plan to One News as not a good business decision. In response, working group chair Wayne Brown has responded to those criticisms as self-interested and short sighted, reports the NZ Herald (paywalled.) That Herald piece, by the way, also gives a really interesting insight into the personality of the guy tapped for this job.

The case for a move still exists, and is likely to remain topical. Part of the reason for the latter is because the change has been talked about for so long, and port operations have nowhere else to go at their present location. It's very hard to imagine building further into the harbour would be politically possible, and the land around the port is all now too valuable, to the point where the current use is widely considered a waste of space. The NZ Herald reports the PM is on board with a move being "when, not if" – a major test of the first part of that will be whether cabinet decides to forge ahead with work this term. National leader Simon Bridges believes little will come of it all in the immediate term, and on the evidence of major government infrastructure projects over the last two years that might not be a bad bet. 


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Laws around renting will be given a major shakeup in changes announced yesterday, to be introduced to parliament next year. The Spinoff has a rundown on what they'll involve, which minister Kris Faafoi says is about greater security of tenancy, and slowing down the frequency of rent rises, reflecting the fact that for an increasing number of people renting for life is the new normal. Also a new normal – right now rents are hitting all time highs all over the country, not just in the main centres. 


Another major investigation about the harm caused by New Zealand's military deployment to Afghanistan has been released. The Stuff Circuit team have released a new documentary on deaths and injuries of civilians, from explosive material left behind on firing ranges by New Zealand troops. Only a tiny proportion of land used by the NZDF was fully cleared up when the deployment ended, and in one incident, seven children were killed. You might recall, once upon a time, the idea being pushed that New Zealand's deployment to Afghanistan was about winning over 'hearts and minds' – and yet this is the legacy that has been left behind at the end of it. 


Green MP Gareth Hughes is leaving politics, with evident lingering frustration at the slow pace of change put in place by the new government. Hughes spoke to Stuff's Henry Cooke about his decision to depart, with the 38 year old also discussing his wish to spend more time with his kids. Hughes is the longest serving member of the current Green caucus, and one of only two men currently – relevant because of party policies around gender balance. Looking at the 2017 list, his departure at the next election could therefore mean a winnable list spot for someone like farmer John Hart, Palmerston North mayoral candidate Teanau Tuiono, or a return for former MP Barry Coates. 


This is a remarkably interesting piece from the NZ Herald's (paywalled) Liam Dann, bouncing off a 2004 Stats NZ press release. In it, the organisation predicted the country would hit a population of 5 million people in 2050 – in fact that is now projected to happen next year. It's caused by a huge variety of factors, but the bottom line is this – governments simply hadn't planned for such a rapid population increase, and now the infrastructure of the country is under huge strain as a result.

And here's an example of thatNewshub reports that in relative terms, Auckland is one of the worst cities in the world for public transport for accessibility, reliability, and affordability. That rating is highly disputed by Auckland Transport, but it's pretty clear from the immense amount of work going into new projects right now that the infrastructure hasn't kept pace with the city's population. 


Advocates are calling for a huge increase in funding for cochlear implants, which can restore hearing for those who have lost it, reports One News. Currently only 40 procedures a year are funded for adults, though there are 200 people on the waitlist. However the actual need is likely higher, because New Zealand has very strict criteria to even get on the waitlist. 


Samoa is under a state of emergency to combat an outbreak of measles, reports Barbara Dreaver for One News. More than 700 cases have been reported, and it is suspected to have killed at least nine people. A rapid vaccination programme of 100,000 people is being planned, along with a ban on large gatherings. New Zealand is sending 3000 vaccines and 12 nurses to administer them. 


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Right now on The Spinoff: Alice Webb-Liddall writes about the cannabis referendum, and how it could rebalance the racist scales of justice. Hadassah Grace writes about her disappointment at the lack of inclusive spaces for queer people in Christchurch. Golriz Ghahraman describes meeting the freed Behrouz Boochani, and what New Zealand can learn from him. Hannah Kronast writes about efforts to bridge the gender chasm in STEM fields. Hayden Donnell comes up with a short list of ways Auckland's housing crisis could be tackled, and to stay on brand also writes about PM Ardern's bold pledge to send creepy Santa to Te Papa. 

And a few writers from The Spinoff were at the music awards last week – here's their account of how it all went down, what didn't get seen on TV, an alleged backstage punch-up, and their highlight of the night Troy Kingi. On the subject of live music, and if I may just make a quick endorsement after going out last night, if you get a chance to see The Beths play this summer, do it. 


I've mentioned Radio NZ's series about the population approaching 5 million before, but this piece is worth giving it another nudge. Feature writer Susan Strongman has profiled the small towns where the population isn't growing, and looked into the deeper demographic effects of that which basically mean the towns are dying. It focuses in on Kawhia, where both the population and housing stock has been hollowed out by political choices and market forces. Here's an excerpt: 

Changes to the social welfare system in 2007 meant that those receiving the benefit had to look for, and accept, any work that was offered to them. Apiti says these changes saw people leaving town if they could not commute to jobs outside of Kawhia, taking their families with them.

"I'm an example of that. When I first had my first baby, I could take a year off and be on some kind of benefit and there was no problem, no issues. By the time I had my last child, my husband had to move out of town, get a job, and I was only able to have a few weeks off.

"I remember it affecting our town greatly. At one stage, we became the third highest transient school in the whole of New Zealand. Our families want to live in Kawhia - I mean, who wouldn't want to live in Kawhia - but, because of the policies and the inability to afford to live here, they have to go."


The Breakers have been ordered to stand down new import Glen Rice Jr after an alleged late night assault, reports the NZ Herald. Rice Jr was arrested in the early hours of Thursday morning, and the Breakers had intended to play him over the weekend against Perth, before the NBL intervened. It's worth going back to the distant past of two weeks ago on this, when Madeleine Chapman reported for The Spinoff about how the signing could go wrong, given Rice Jr's extensive history of violence. The Breakers lost the game by the way – they're now two wins from nine and a world away from the club that won four championships in five years. 

Sticking with basketball, the Tall Ferns have come within a few points of Olympic qualification. Radio NZ reports they had a must win game against South Korea yesterday, which they took by four points – it's just that they needed to win by 12 to advance from the Four Nations tournament. It was still a very handy win – the Tall Ferns are ranked 35 in the world, while South Korea are ranked 18. 


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