The Bulletin: Pivotal party moving beyond Winston First?

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin for Monday 21 October, by Alex Braae for The Spinoff

In today’s edition: NZ First holds crucial party conference, roving AOS trial sparks concerns, and Mediaworks facing dramatic days ahead

Image: Winston Peters speaking while flanked by both MPs and pro-gun protesters (Radio NZ, Jo Moir)

The most pivotal political party in the country right now has held their annual conference, a year out from what will be a make or break election. NZ First members have gathered in Christchurch, with the party holding the balance of power in the current parliament, but with storm clouds on the horizon in the form of polls that put them below the five percent threshold. From reports out of the conference, it was possible to see a world beyond Winston for the party. 

Of course, the party leader and deputy PM remains a huge drawcard. The NZ Herald's Claire Trevett (paywalled) writes that Winston Peters presented wildly different versions of himself over the two days – both a defiant brawler, and a dignified statesman. Both personalities have been immensely useful for Peters – the former gets his name out there, and votes rolling in, while the latter allows him to assert NZ First's leverage within the coalition government.

Meanwhile over on Politik, Richard Harman wrote that it was more like two different parties being presented, with Peters looking back while his membership looked ahead to the future. A genuine youth wing of the party is emerging, and made a successful play on the conference floor to get through a remit calling on caucus to overturn their opposition to drug testing at festivals. Over and above that episode, Harman saw signs of developing independence around the NZ First membership, and turned around traditional understandings of party structure by saying it would be a challenge "to integrate Peters into the broader-based movement that NZ First is becoming."  

The biggest question around NZ First remains simple – who will they back to form the next government, and how will the decision be made? Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva said there were few signs the current arrangement would be overturned, with constant attacks being made on National. But it could still happen, and Stuff reports MP Shane Jones has been speculating about what a potential National-NZ First government would do with light rail in Auckland (more on that below.) It'll all depend on whether the voters put NZ First in the kingmaker position again in 2020.


A trial has been announced for roving teams of armed police to be on patrol, to be able to respond rapidly in the event of an emergency. There are concerns that while it will undoubtedly be a useful resource for police to call on, it could exacerbate bad outcomes from existing biases in policing – articulated here in this opinion piece on Radio NZ by Tim McKinnel. If violent tactics policing tactics are already far more likely to be used on Māori and Pacific Islanders, there are fears this will increase the chances of people in those groups being shot. The locations selected for the trials are Waikato, Christchurch, and Auckland.  


It will have been hard over the weekend to escape coverage around the bid from Mediaworks to sell their TV station Three. The coverage from Spinoff boss Duncan Greive on this has been exceptional – in all of the initial story, a media-wide health check on this troubled industry, and a 29 minute solo podcast about it all which is a remarkable ride. On a personal note, I am really concerned about what it might mean for journalism in this country, and put together a list of some pieces of work from the company over the last few years that underline why this matters. 


Major developments took place in the Operation Burnham inquiry last week, which have shaken the credibility of senior figures. The NZ Herald reports the head of the Defence Force has now accepted that it appears a three year old girl was killed as a result of the SAS operation. Stuff reports former defence minister Wayne Mapp has also admitted that he knew of possible civilian deaths, but told neither then-PM John Key, or the public. 


Following the resignation of Sonny Tau, Ngāpuhi's new leader wants an investigation into the iwi's finances, reports Helen Castles from One News. Mere Mangu says there are concerns floating around in the wake of the sudden resignation, and a review would be a normal process to take in response. Over and above that, her job won't be easy – Ngāpuhi have long struggled to settle a treaty claim, in part because there have been bitter disputes over who has the right to hold the mandate for the iwi. 


This is an excellent example of reporting that goes to the heart of a major issue by pulling out a small, crucial detail. Thomas Coughlan at Stuff has looked into the stalled Auckland light rail project, which is costing businesses who would have been working on it large amounts of money. Among the biggest reasons why it has stalled is because of "dithering" around a potential partnership bid from the NZ Super Fund, which would have been politically beautiful for the government but has basically gone nowhere. That detail, by the way: initially the bid was little more than six powerpoint slides. 


A recount is likely in the Wellington mayoral election, with just 62 votes in it now. Andy Foster is still for all intents and purposes the winner, but Stuff reports ousted Justin Lester has indicated he'll request a recount, because of the extremely narrow margin. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Foster isn't particularly keen on the potential cost of a recount. Meanwhile an early test for Foster is likely to be the sale of the Council's share in the airport, with several councillors already coming out against. 


A few bits of housekeeping: Many Spinoff members will know this already, but the Bulletin World Weekly which is open to subscribers will be moving to Thursday rather than Friday from this week. So don't be alarmed if you are a member and it turns up early. 

The second few bits relate to Substack – we had an issue on Friday with macrons over words in te reo, and they have assured us that it doesn't normally happen, and have fixed the problem – they were fantastically fast about getting back to us too. Also, if you're having trouble getting The Bulletin now or it's going to the wrong folder, please add our email address to your trusted senders list or shift it over. And finally, it has occurred to me that there's a 'like' button on Substack for emails, so if you particularly enjoy an edition of The Bulletin feel free to smash that like button. 

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Right now on The Spinoff: Alice Webb-Liddall reports on a gathering of five cannabis law experts, each from countries with different experiences of legalisation. David Farrier dives into the weird world of Auckland Mag, which boasted signs of huge popularity despite nobody really ever hearing of it. Jenée Tibshraeny writes about an unusual meeting between Sir John Key and China's President Xi. Caroline Shaw writes about why e-bikes are the solution to our "lethal car culture". And Kamahl Santamaria reflects on what made TV Three different, from his experience of being picked up by the station and set on course for a brilliant career as an 18 year old. 


The gentrification of Auckland suburbs (and many parts of the country really) is often talked about, but what does it actually mean for those living there? This feature from Metro's Tess Nichol takes a close look at Onehunga in an attempt to answer that. It's a nuanced piece that looks at wider questions than the economics of house prices, including demographics, symbolism and the sense of ownership people have about their community. Here's an excerpt:

Onehunga is enjoying a moment of increasing cultural capital previously experienced by suburbs such as Grey Lynn or Ponsonby, where — unlike the old-money eastern suburbs, which many young people are not interested in moving to — it’s perfectly balanced between seeming not too posh and offering several spots to get a decent coffee within a stone’s throw of the main centre. 

This accrual of cultural currency is ever-shifting and, unlike a suburb’s intrinsic virtues such as sea views, completely manufactured — and can therefore fade. The very “realness” that can give a place an air of cool (making it attractive to a certain kind of young first-home buyer or renter) is undone at a certain point, as house prices continue to rise and the area attracts ever-wealthier residents. At that point, the focus shifts and starts again elsewhere — as has arguably happened in Onehunga as Grey Lynn’s bohemian star fades.


The All Blacks have set up a semifinal against England after thoroughly stuffing Ireland. While the All Blacks played beautifully, the Irish probably played collectively the worst game of their lives. Horrible mistakes on penalties and scoring opportunities, and a tendency to drop the ball after going nowhere in phase play dragged Ireland down. By contrast Aaron Smith was perfect, his peerless game awareness leading to a 46-14 win. In the other games, England easily saw off Australia, Wales scraped home against France, and South Africa put Japan away comfortably. 

Yet again, the Silver Ferns have proven it doesn't matter how many you win by. They're 2-1 up in the Constellation Cup, with a week to prepare for what is now effectively a grand final – lose and Australia will hold it for another year, win and take it back. One News reports the Silver Ferns slogged out another one-point win over the Diamonds  last night, with Ameliaranne Ekenasio scoring the decisive final goals. 


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