Newsroom Pro's 8 things: Big land sales suspended in OIO; Tax Working Group naming this week; Digital curriculum changes face headwinds

In today's email we looked at the Prime Minister's comments on big land sales before the Overseas Investment Office, the challenges facing the implementation of the new digital curriculum in schools, and the latest in politics and the economy.

1. Big land sales suspended in OIO

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that several big land sales in the South Island to foreign buyers have been suspended in the Overseas Investment Office process while the Government reviews the law for its proposed ban on foreign purchases of existing houses.

Ardern confirmed the suspension when asked about the proposed sale of several big South Island sheep stations, which appeared to have been put on hold.

"We have a few options -- legislative means," she told her weekly news conference when asked about how to lift the suspension.

The Government had only indicated that the ban applied to existing residential homes, rather than bare land or farm land. New Zealand First had campaigned for a complete ban on sales of all land, but Labour did not agree to that in coalition negotiations.

"We're taking some advice on that as we speak. Legislation is one way to deal with that. There are others available," Ardern said.

"There are applications in train, and we are aware of that."

The suspensions could halt approvals under the current Overseas Investment Act for some time. The Government said it planned to alter the act to designate residential homes as 'sensitive land' under the Act to get around restrictions written in to some of New Zealand's Free Trade Agreements that prevent an outright ban.

However, there remains the tricky issue of how to classify farms that also have residential properties on them, or may have more homes built on them in future.

2. Tax Working Group details this week

Ardern also told the post-cabinet news conference that the Government was likely to make its first announcements about the Tax Working Group later this week.

She would not give further details when asked if it related to the identity of the working group members or its terms of reference.

"Later on this week we're likely to make our first announcement relating to the Tax Working Group," she said.

Labour promised to launch the Tax Working Group in its first 100 days. The Group is expected to look at changes to the tax system to tax capital gains on houses and land, as well as taxing multi-nationals and purchases of goods online.

3. Digital curriculum

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw has taken a closer look at what is happening to the new digital curriculum that is due to be available to schools early next year.

He reports teachers are doubtful they will have the skills to teach it.

Announced by the previous government in June, it will see $40 million spent on boosting teachers’ skills so they can deliver the new curriculum for years one to 10 pupils.

Split into two key areas – ‘computational thinking’ and ‘designing and developing digital outcomes’ – it would see children learn key digital skills such as computer coding and hardware design.

The new content was expected to be available for schools from January 2018, with a transition period of two years. But questions have been raised about how many schools will be prepared to begin teaching the curriculum next year and whether those that want to have enough time to train staff.

A draft went out for consultation until the end of August, with the results released by the Ministry of Education last week. While there was widespread agreement from schools that a digital curriculum was needed, there were concerns about its implementation, training for teachers and the extra workload.

Of teachers surveyed, 81 percent responded that there would be significant challenges in implementing the curriculum.

See Shane's full report on Newsroom Pro, where it was published first yesterday.

4. Briefly in the local political economy...

Except for butter - Statistics New Zealand reported food prices fell 1.1 percent in October from September and were down 0.1 percent in seasonally adjusted terms for the month. Fruit and vegetable prices fell 6.8 percent for the month, while grocery prices fell 0.8 percent. Annual food price inflation was 2.7 percent. However, butter prices were exceptional again, rising to a record high $5.67 per 500g block from $5.55 in September. They are up 62 percent from a year ago.

Back down the mine - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Pike River Re-entry Minister Andrew Little announced the creation of a stand-alone Pike River Recovery Agency with the aim of executing "a plan for complete recovery of the drift by the end of March 2019." The Agency would have a budget of up to $23 million to spend over three years.

Direct Broking again - ANZ agreed to sell its share broking and bond trading platform to locally-owned share broker and investment bank First NZ Capital Securities for an undisclosed sum. ANZ customers would still have access to the platform, which ANZ bought from Dorchester Pacific in 2007 for $5.1 million in 2007 when it was called Direct Broking. The platform would be renamed as Direct Broking.

Down but not out - ASB's quarterly survey of investor confidence found net confidence about returns expected over the next year had fallen to 19 percent in the September quarter from 22 percent in the June quarter and from a two-year high of 25 percent in the March quarter. It remains above the low of three percent seen in first quarter of 2016.

5. Morning political news links

These are available in the subscriber email.

6. Briefly in the global political economy...

Migration stumbling block - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would prefer to have new elections after three-way talks to form a coalition Government collapsed overnight over the issue of migration. Germany had its general elections on the same day as New Zealand, and some compared New Zealand's delay to Germany's. New Zealand is not looking so slow or indecisive now. (Reuters)

Will it backfire? - US President Donald Trump declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism overnight. Although the designation is largely symbolic, it does allow sanctions to be wound up another notch and could further inflame tensions on the nuclear-armed peninsular. (Reuters)

Trump vs China too - In another sign of protectionism, trade hardliner Robert Lighthizer is growing in influence in the Trump White House, according to Axios' Jonathan Swann in this useful piece on the US Trade Representative.

"He agrees with Trump that the mounting trade deficits with China are unacceptable. And he's staking out such hardline negotiating positions with South Korea (on the KORUS trade deal) and Canada and Mexico (on NAFTA) that top Republicans on the Hill and in Washington's business community fear he will torpedo both deals," Swann reports, pointing to a key meeting where Lighthizer won the day with other advisers.

7. Coming up...

Parliament is in recess this week and resumes next Tuesday for a four week session until December 21. Normally, Parliament finishes on the same day as the Parliamentary Press Gallery Party, which is on Thursday December 14 this year.

Statistics New Zealand is scheduled to report international travel and migration statistics for October on Wednesday and retail trade volumes for the September quarter on Thursday. They are expected to show a slowing of migration and flat retail spending.

The Labour caucus is scheduled to hold a half day special meeting on Friday, Jacinda Ardern said yesterday.

8. One fun thing

One Twitter account I follow for British jokes is 'HaveIgotNewsForYou'.

This one gave me a giggle this morning in the wake of the German news above:

"UK government insists it’s taking absolutely no pleasure in Angela Merkel’s misfortune, as there isn’t an English word for that."

Have a great day.