Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: Smith loses GMO over-ride; house price inflation down; business confidence down

Nick Smith finally got his RMA reforms over the line. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email, we detail at what Nick Smith had to do to get his RMA reform bill over the line, we look at the latest business confidence and house price statistics and at some interesting news about gene tests and insurance - and how the headlines were instead grabbed by a spaghetti pizza.

1. Smith loses GMO over-ride

Last night Environment Minister Nick Smith finally secured the two Maori Party votes he needed to get the Government's long-touted Resource Management Act reforms over its final Parliamentary hurdle, but it came at a cost.

Smith had to agree through gritted teeth to give up powers in the bill that would have allowed the Environment Minister to override council bans on genetically modified organisms (GMO) for crops.

But he did manage to keep those powers to override trials of GMO for human tissue or medical trials.

See my full report on Newsroom Pro.

2. Winston's last minute RMA attack

One feature of the at-times heated debate in Parliament last night was an attack by New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters on the bill's Iwi participation agreements, which Don Brash's Hobson's Pledge group has campaigned aggressively against in recent days.

Peters wrote a letter to all National MPs yesterday, calling on them to suspend the bill's progress and pledging to repeal the law in Government. They ignored him with their vote in the house, but it highlighted the unease on National's back-bench over the issue.

There's more about the detail of the bill and the debate last night in my report.

3. Business confidence down

NZIER reported yesterday that overall business confidence fell in the March quarter, although businesses saw their own activity outlooks as solid.

A net 16 percent of respondents were optimistic about the economy's prospects, down from 26 percent in the December quarter.

NZIER saw the result as consistent with GDP growth of around three percent in the coming quarters.

However, there were some signs of inflation pressures building, with capacity utilisation hitting a record high 93.6 percent and a net 29 percent saying they planned to increase prices in the next three months -- the highest level since late 2014.

4. House price inflation cools

Quotable Value reported this morning that nationwide house value inflation eased to an annual rate of 12.6 percent in the three months to March from nearly 14 percent in January and February.

However, there was still inflation nationally of 0.6 percent in March from February in seasonally adjusted terms, and inflation was still strong in Wellington. Auckland values fell 0.2 percent over the last three months.

QV found rental property investors, and cash investors in particular, still dominated in Auckland.

QV said its CoreLogic Buyer classification data shows sales to investors in Auckland hit a high of 44.0 percent in Mach and that the share of sales to cash buyers not affected by the LVR restrictions had increased, while first home buyers had dropped to a record low of 19.0 percent of sales.

5. McCully's last speech

Foreign Minister Murray McCully reflected on eight and a half years as foreign minister in a speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs last night.

He said managing New Zealand's "complex, intense, and dynamic relationship" with China had been a key preoccupation during his tenure. He rejected the suggestion New Zealand may have to choose between China and America.

He also criticised the UN heavily.

6. 'Protect Generation Rent'

Victoria University law lecturer Dr Mark Bennett has written a useful piece over at Newsroom about the need to better protect renters.

"The rental market is not delivering: after many years of low rents, there is now a scarcity of properties to rent, and rents are beginning to increase. People are living in overcrowded houses, camp grounds, converted garages and in cars," he writes, calling for a recalibration of the laws around tenancy protection.

7. Gene tests and insurance

Newsroom's Eloise Gibson has a fascinating piece on how New Zealand insurers are requiring people who conduct simple gene tests to disclose them for insurance purposes.

"Insurers may use the results to set exclusions or raise premiums. Approaches vary: while some companies require the full results of any tests, including direct-to-consumer tests, others only want to see tests requested by a doctor for medical purposes," she writes.

8. One pizza thing

Bill English cooked a tinned spaghetti and pineapple pizza for his family last night and then told the world about it on Facebook. As of this morning, the Prime Minister's post had been shared and liked by 7,600 people and sparked stories on both Stuff and Newshub.

What a world we live in.