Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8 am: Kicking a water balloon into touch; A big tertiary education report card; The problem(s) with cows

The two scenarios in Vivid's report for achieving carbon neutrality this century both involve moving away from a dairy commodity-based economy. Photo Lynn Grieveson

In today's email, we look at Bill English's attempts to dampen down the water debate, check out the big change in the Productivity Commission's final 500 page report on Tertiary Education since the draft version, and detail the dangers of burping cows.

1. Kicking a water balloon into touch

The water debate has turned awfully hot for the Government in a short space of time so Prime Minister Bill English tried yesterday to cool it down.

His announcement at his post-cabinet news conference that he had asked the Ministry for the Environment's technical advisory group to consider the issue of bottled water exports was an attempt to dampen it down until after the election.

It's all about the political and economic dangers of pricing water, and the risk that the Government is dragged into a foreshore and seabed style debate over water rights and the Treaty of Waitangi. Here's my longer take on it over at Newsroom.

2. Not quite so radical

There Productivity Commission's final 500 page report on Tertiary Education is out and there's plenty of tweaks and at least one big change from the draft report.

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw picks out the key changes in this piece this morning.

The biggest change was dropping the suggestion of shifting funding from universities to students -- dubbed the Student Education Model. It would have entitled everyone to $45,000 worth of tertiary education after the age of 16.

However, the Commission still has plenty of criticism for a sector it says is not student centred enough. It is also continuing to recommend the reintroduction of interest on student loans, albeit weighted to the CPI. The Government has ruled that one out.

There'll be plenty more reaction and commentary on that today and Shane will keep an eye on it for Newsroom Pro and Newsroom.

3. It's all about the cows

It turns out New Zealand can't realistically achieve its climate change targets unless it seriously addresses its agricultural emissions. That's the conclusion of a couple of big semi-official reports out today.

Newsroom's Environment Editor Eloise Gibson writes here at Newsroom Pro about the Vivid Economics report out earlier this morning.

The report by a London-based climate consultancy was written for a cross-party group of MPs and will be formally released in Parliament tonight.

"A notable feature of the Vivid report is that the two scenarios for achieving carbon neutrality this century presume a radical move away from a dairy commodity-based economy," Eloise writes.

"Both scenarios assume we have fewer cows and convert some land that is currently used for dairying to other uses, either by hugely ramping up forestry or a more diverse range of farming activities (including horticulture)."

Dairying faces a regulatory pincer movement in the years to come on water quality and water rights on the one side and then on agricultural emissions on the other. We'll cover the twists and turns of the debate in and around Parliament, starting with the OECD report on New Zealand's environment due out at 9 am. It covers the climate change issue extensively.

4. A refusal to waive immunity

Revelations about a US diplomat leaving the country after an incident in Lower Hutt made for some uncomfortable questions at Bill English's post cabinet news conference yesterday.

The United States has refused to waive immunity and the man has left the country with a black eye and a broken nose. The body language from English suggested he wasn't thrilled about it.

"We asked for a waiver of immunity. They said they wouldn't give it. We asked that the young person in question leave," English said.

"He's gone and the US has said that their authorities will look into these allegations, and so now that's up to them."

Asked if it was OK for diplomats to commit serious crimes and then be whisked out of the country, he said: "We regret that they didn't give us a waiver of immunity ,but they didn't, and now it's in the hands of their authorities."

The incident is making waves overseas too, with Reuters including a report on its Reuters.com front page in America.

5. Food for thought

Two of my favourite writers are US economist Tyler Cowen and Malcolm Gladwell. Here's a long interview Cowen did with Gladwell in video and text form.

They range very broadly, which makes it fun. It's well worth saving for the weekend.

The conversation includes Gladwell's mother Joyce, Caribbean identity, satire as a weapon, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, Harvard’s under-theorized endowment, why early childhood intervention is overrated, long-distance running, and Malcolm’s happy risk-averse career going from one "fur-lined rat hole to the next."

6. While you were sleeping

FBI Director James Comey confirmed an investigation into Russian interference in the US Presidential election and said there was no evidence to support the accusation that President Obama had wiretapped Donald Trump. (Reuters)

In big global food safety news, China suspended all imports of meat from Brazil after Brazil's largest poultry exporter was found to have bribed health inspectors to hide unsanitary conditions. (Reuters)

The Brexit trigger is about to be pulled. Prime Minister Theresa May's office said she would officially notify the European Union of the triggering of Article 50 next Wednesday, March 29. That starts the clock ticking for a two year period of negotiations for Brexit. (BBC)

7. Coming up...

The OECD will release its report on New Zealand's Environment at 9 am today. We will cover that report in detail on Newsroom Pro and on Newsroom.

The Parliamentary caucuses hold their weekly meetings at 10 am today. Parliament resumes today with Question Time at 2 pm.

8. One fun thing

There's nothing more enjoyable for a junkie of politics and economics than Paul Keating on the attack. The former Australian Prime Minister has a pithiness and a verve that most politicians lack. His one liners are legendary.

Here in this SMH opinion piece, he is attacking Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's decision last week to float the idea of allowing first home buyers to withdraw money from their Superannuation funds to use as deposits on their homes.

Sound familiar?

Some blame the recent ramping up of Kiwisaver withdrawals along with the addition of Government grants for adding heat to the housing market fire through 2015 and 2016 after the introduction of the Government's 2014 election promise.

Anyway, here's Keating on the idea, which he described as a reckless raid on the national savings system his Labor Government built:

"And all of this is going on at a time when the same government has committed itself to enshrining the David Murray proposition of 'superannuation for retirement' in legislation. So, one minute, the government is putting superannuation as a savings vehicle on a pedestal, the next minute, it is seeking to pull the backside out of it. Is it any wonder people despair about the government's economic credentials?"