Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8 am: Weekend Reads; quotes and numbers of the week

Labour is offering schools $150 per student per year if they agree to drop 'voluntary' donations. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email: lots of news from Wellington and a bumper crop of weekend reads.

1. 'Volunteer to end 'voluntary' donations'

Labour has begun dipping into its $4 billion pot of planned spending on education, announcing a $70 million plan to end 'voluntary' school donations.

Leader Andrew Little said this morning Labour would pay schools $150 per student per year if they agreed to stop asking parents for voluntary school donations.

He said school donations had risen 50 percent under the current National Government and would continue to rise because of restrictions on operational funding.

The policy looks to be aimed at lower to middle decile schools, given donations for upper decile schools are well above the $150 offered by Labour, making participation not worthwhile for those schools.

Ministry of Education figures published in February show total donations to all New Zealand state schools rose to $120.8 million in 2015 from $76.6 million in 2008. Auckland Grammar school received the most donations in 2015, collecting $2.069 million. Auckland Grammar's school donation for 2017 is $1,175 per child.

“Our policy delivers an extra $150 per student to every school that agrees to stop asking parents for a donation. We expect the parents of more than 450,000 students will no longer be asked to pay a donation, bringing the total cost of the policy to an estimated $70 million per annum," Little said.

“Schools will still be able to request parents pay for extra-curricular activities, such as school camps, but those that take up the offer will not be able to ask for a general donation to help fund school operations," he said.

Labour released its fiscal plans earlier this week, which included $4 billion of new spending on all levels of education. The plan included a block of $1.8 billion worth of unallocated spending on education. The move to end donations is the first announcement, with Labour Education spokesman Chris Hipkins scheduled to release Labour's full Education manifesto at an event in Lower Hutt later today.

Labour has already announced plans to offer three years free tertiary education in phases by 2025, which forecast to cost $276 million by 2020/21. It has also promised to pay for early childhood education centres to have fully qualified teachers, which it forecast would cost $86 million a year by 2020/21.

Little hinted at the announcement due later in the day, saying Labour would spend $1.7 billion over four years to boost funding and deliver more teachers.

“Labour is the only party offering to properly invest in our education sector and do it in a way that will drive quality while reducing financial pressure on parents and students," he said.

2. What China's 'Belt and Road' means for NZ

Newsroom's Foreign Affairs and Trade Editor Sam Sachdeva has taken a deep dive into what China's 'Belt and Road' collection of infrastructure plans might mean for New Zealand.

His report gives an excellent summary of what the collection of projects involves and what China's motivations and our opportunities might be.

An interesting and little quirk is how New Zealand's approach differs slightly from its closest partner.

New Zealand was quick to sign a MOU with China on Belt and Road, but other allies have not been so keen; notably, Australia refrained from putting pen to paper, apparently wanting to assess individual projects based on its national interests.

See Sam's full piece on Newsroom Pro, where it was published first yesterday.

3. 'Regulate the cowboys'

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw has uncovered an emerging debate within the Government about whether (and how) to regulate the increasingly dodgy area of 'no win no fee' legal advice to employees from people not qualified as lawyers.

Shane reports here on MBIE advice to Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse about the need to regulate the sector.

He reports incompetency, intimidation, and “guerrilla tactics” are emerging in the unregulated employment advocate industry.

Shane's full report was published first on Newsroom Pro yesterday.

And look out below for a cracking quote on the issue.

4. Numbers of the week

56 percent - That is the estimate of the cost of land regulation on the price of an Auckland home in a Superu study released yesterday.

$17 billion - Labour's plans for extra spending over the next four years on education, health and income support, as detailed in its fiscal plan announced this week.

$8.3 billion - Labour is paying for the extra spending by forgoing National's tax cuts, which saves $8.3 billion over four years, and by not repaying $7.2 billion worth of debt. That slows the debt reduction track down to 20 percent of GDP by a year.

53 percent - MBIE's Labour Inspectorate found 53 percent of kiwifruit contractors in the Bay of Plenty were in breach of minimum employment standards, including not providing employment agreements or paying the minimum wage.

1.4 percent - The Reserve Bank's own preferred measure of core inflation, the sectoral factoral model, reflected the flat outlook for inflation after the June quarter CPI was flat. Annual inflation of this measure fell in the June quarter to 1.4 percent from 1.5 percent in the March quarter. This was the first fall since March 2015 and took the rate back to the level it was at in September 2015. Back then the OCR was at 2.75 percent.

5. Quotes of the week

Andrew Little talking about Winston Peters after Peters suggested Little would not make it to Parliament if Labour's vote fell to 22 percent. Little accused Peters of leaking UMR poll results showing Little's preferred PM rating falling to a record low and below both Jacinda Ardern and Peters.

"Winston is a very colourful character in New Zealand politics and he's got some principles too. But he is a blowhard and this is blowhard politics. In the end this election isn't going to be fought on the basis of swinging dicks it is going to be fought on the basis of what party has demonstrated that they are listening to the real concerns of New Zealanders." (NZ Herald)

Winston Peters responding to Little's comments:

"I've got no reaction to that. I couldn't give a rat's derriere what he says."

Winston Peters calling for a banking inquiry:

"These big banks are like a hole in the hull of the New Zealand economy. NZ First will conduct a review of the foreign-owned banks focusing on competition, how much tax they are paying and how we can grow our own New Zealand banking sector. It’s time someone stood up to the banks."

Mark Nutsford, president of the Employment Law Institute of New Zealand, telling Shane Cowlishaw about the dodgier end of the employment advocate industry:

"You fire a website together and put some pretty pictures on it and Mr Joe Blow wouldn’t know you from a brown spider."

6. Coming up...

Labour is due to announce its education policy in Wellington later this afternoon.

ACT will release its candidate list in Auckland on Sunday.

Local Government New Zealand will hold its annual conference in Auckland on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Prime Minister Bill English will speak at the conference on Sunday afternoon.

Jared Kushner is "expected to appear before the Senate intelligence committee" on Monday and Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort are "scheduled to testify before the Senate judiciary committee" next Wednesday.

7. Weekend Reads

Elon Musk warned again this week that sentient robots were an existential threat to human civilisation. But this Wired piece reports that the actual experts in Artificial Intelligence (AI) think Musk is overstating the risks for now, and that other problems with AI are in more immediate need of regulation. They include how AI is giving disproportionate market power to a few large tech companies and is creating risks around privacy and ethics.

Jack O'Donnell is a casino executive who worked directly for Donald Trump in Atlantic City in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He writes in Vox about how Trump's problems with Donald Trump Jr are just another case of a fatal flaw Trump has exhibited for 30 years: nepotism. "While watching the saga unfold this week, I was reminded how President Trump puts unprecedented faith and responsibility in those he most trusts: his family. Seeing Trump Jr. flailing on the public stage is a commentary on President Trump, not Jr. After all, the president has done this before, and with similar disastrous results," O'Donnell writes.

We've all heard of the gig economy (Freelancer, Taskrabbit and Upwork) and seen pop-up stores, but this report in the New York Times on 'pop-up employers' is an eye-opener into just how far this could extend into working life. Another term used is 'flash organisation'. Bit like a flash flood.

Here's one of the risks: "Still, even while fostering flexibility, the model could easily compound insecurity. Temporary firms are not likely to provide health or retirement benefits. And even if high-skilled workers like project managers and web developers find they are well compensated on the open market, said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist, low-skilled workers tend to fare worse outside firms."

Everyone thought Google Glass had died under a welter of derision and suspicion, but as Wired reports, Google Glass 2.0 is alive and well in the workplace. It's called Glass EE.

"Companies testing EE—including giants like GE, Boeing, DHL, and Volkswagen—have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality. What started as pilot projects are now morphing into plans for widespread adoption in these corporations. Other businesses, like medical practices, are introducing Enterprise Edition in their workplaces to transform previously cumbersome tasks."

It's worth asking what a society without cash might look like and which countries will lead the world in cashless technologies. This New York Times piece on how cash is becoming increasingly obsolete in urban China is worth a click. Any New Zealand business not offering WeChat and Alipay is missing a trick.

"Almost everyone in major Chinese cities is using a smartphone to pay for just about everything. At restaurants, a waiter will ask if you want to use WeChat or Alipay — the two smartphone payment options — before bringing up cash as a third, remote possibility."

This column from Richard MacManus on Newsroom on China's fintech companies is useful background on all this, as is this other column from Richard on Latipay, a New Zealand startup that makes it easy for businesses here and in other countries to integrate with WeChat or Alipay.

8. One fun thing

This Spinoff remix of National's campaign video is worth a watch for the captions.

Have a great weekend. Go the Chiefs and the Canes! I grew up in the Waikato and live in Wellington so I'm a dual citizen of sorts....but not an Australian senator.