Newsroom Pro's 8 things: An Adrian Orr profile; China's soft power debate; Mackenzie tenure review slammed; Sea level advice coming


In this morning's email, we pointed to Bernard Hickey's profile of Adrian Orr. Also, Sam Sachdeva looked in depth into the debate about China's growing use of 'soft' power in Australia and New Zealand, while David Williams reports on a damning review of the Mackenzie Basin High Country Tenure review.

1. A profile of Adrian Orr

I've taken a deeper look at Adrian Orr's background and written a longer profile for Newsroom on how he differs from previous Governors and why his appointment is so important for the new Government's hopes of economic reform.

Adrian Orr worked as a truck driver in his youth growing up among Polynesian families in Taupo and squatted in council flats in London as a student. He's now set to be a fresh type of Reserve Bank Governor.

Adrian Orr is not your regular sort of banker or bureaucrat or fund manager, not that you can tell that from his CV.
Orr can talk the languages of both the leafiest and the grimiest of suburbs, and has a track record of financial success that the new Government would like to be associated with and emulate.

Here's the full profile first published on Newsroom Pro, including details about his views on how he sees his role as a kaitiaki, how his background informs his view of the world and why he went shopping with a big trolley in the depths of the financial crisis.

2. A growing debate about China's soft power

Newsroom's joint investigation with the Financial Times into National list MP Jian Yang's background in September and the subsequent release of Anne-Marie Brady's paper on the growing use of soft power by Xi Jingping's regime is fueling a wider debate here about China's involvement in our politics and society.

The debate is white-hot over the Tasman with the resignation yesterday of Labour senator Sam Dastyari. He had close ties to billionaire Huang Xiangmo, who in turn was connected to the Chinese Government. Dastyari warned Huang about potential covert surveillance by Australian authorities and voiced support for China's claim to the South China sea. He also lobbied other politicians to stop criticising China. This morning the ABC reports that Liberal politician and Finance Minister (which is more like our Revenue Minister) Mathias Cormann had also received donations from Huang, although he denies any impropriety.

Last week Malcolm Turnbull announced plans for tougher rules on declaring political donations and registering foreign interests, which prompted criticism from Beijing.

Both sides of politics here have denied there is an issue to worry about, but it emerged the SIS is not so sanguine. It warned in its Briefing to the Incoming Minister that foreign powers were seeking to influence expatriate communities here, which was seen a veiled reference to China's activities. Brady has documented the increasing control of local language media by figures from China's ruling Communist Party.

This morning the Wall St Journal reported that "at a meeting in July of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance in Ottawa, officials from Australia and New Zealand raised unease about Chinese interference, according to a senior Australian official with knowledge of the talks."

Yesterday Newsroom's Foreign Affairs Editor Sam Sachdeva had a closer look at the issue in a longer piece first published on Newsroom Pro.

One surprising response yesterday was from Bill English, who argued that Australia's banks and insurers were more influential as foreigners than China.

Here's more on that in Newsroom Pro from Newsroom's Lynn Grieveson.

3. Govt direction on sea level change coming

Newsroom's Environment Editor Eloise Gibson is back from maternity leave and firing on all cylinders this week. She and Auckland reporter Cassandra Mason released a major series of articles yesterday on how the Thames Coromandel District Council approved over $250 million of developments with assumed sea level rises well below the 1.9m likely under current Environment Ministry advice.

The previous Government held back the advice and now the new Government is planning to release the advice on Friday, along with early indications on how to deal with the issue.

Yesterday we challenged former climate change minister Paula Bennett and current minister James Shaw on the issue, which has potentially explosive effects for capital values and for councils in low-lying areas. This issue is one any real estate agent, property buyer, councillor and ratepayer should keep an eye on, particularly if home owners start suing councils and the Government for compensation. Bankers and insurers should also be watching.

Here's Eloise's report on those comments from Bennett and Shaw, as published on Newsroom Pro yesterday.

Asked if councils would have treated developments differently had the guidance been released sooner, Bennett told Newsroom that councils affected by rising seas "did have access to that information".

"They were being consulted very early on and that's why there was a delay in releasing it publicly ... we were consulting with those very councils," she said.

Yet when Newsroom previously asked one council dealing with coastal subdivisions about the gap between the 1m higher seas it is using to test new developments, and the 1.9m test in the draft Ministry for the Environment guidance, Thames-Coromandel District Council said:

“The guidance you refer to continues to be in draft form and the most recent formal guidance from the Ministry for the Environment continues to be the 2008 guidance ... We are awaiting the new guidance being released officially before we update our assumptions as a council.”

In other words, it would not use the guidelines based on an informal consultation draft.

For many, the issue seems remote and some are even in denial.

Here's one comment we featured in our article yesterday from a shareholder in one of the developments in Whitianga.

“We’ll all be well dead and our kids and their kids will all be gone before you see any difference, so why are you worrying and upsetting people now?”
the shareholder told us.

News coverage of climate change issues was largely “fake news”, she said.

4. Mackenzie tenure review slammed

Newsroom's South Island Editor David Williams has picked up on a damning academic paper looking at the high country tenure review process around the Mackenzie Basin.

New research suggests the law controlling tenure review is being ignored in the Mackenzie Basin, with important landscapes and threatened habitat going into private ownership, some with scant protection.

The academic paper, published in the New Zealand Universities Law Review journal this week, says the controversial land carve-up of Crown-owned high country stations is only “half-heartedly” protecting landscapes and biodiversity.

In fact, the more rare and threatened the ecological values of the land, the more likely it is to be freeholded, the research found, David reported here on Newsroom.

The findings have sparked a renewed call from conservation lobby Environmental Defence Society for a halt in tenure review, while Forest & Bird says it’s time for a thorough review.

Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage is so far resisting calls for a moratorium, although she has told officials she’s disappointed with the results of tenure review and has demanded changes to counter what she calls a “biodiversity crisis”.

Farmers, meanwhile, say tenure review is “locking up” the higher ground on stations and irrigation is needed to make their farms sustainable.

This all comes as a multi-agency review, due to be finished early in the new year, runs the rule over land management in the Mackenzie Country – a vast expanse of tussock-land which is being increasingly greened and irrigated by hulking irrigation machines.

5. Briefly in our political economy...

Heating up again? - The Real Estate Institute released figures this morning showing the housing market heated up again in November, suggesting the Reserve Bank may have been too hasty in relaxing its Loan to Value Ratio restrictions.

REINZ reported
the number of properties sold in November rose 17.8 percent from October, which was the biggest increase in a November in six years. The seasonally adjusted rise was 4.5 percent. Auckland sales volumes rose 13.9 percent in November from October and the median price there rose more than $30,000 for the month to $880,000.

The Auckland median has now risen by $50,000 over the last four months to be up 0.6 percent from a year ago. The median price nationally was up 3.8 percent from a year ago, while the median excluding Auckland was up 8.4 percent annually.

“After a difficult winter and a slow start to spring, the real estate industry has experienced a lift in optimism and activity, with increases in the properties sold in 15 out of 16 regions across the country when compared to the previous month,” REINZ CEO Bindi Norwell said.

The REINZ House Price Index for all of New Zealand, which strips out the skew linked to changing mixes of houses sold, rose 0.3 percent in November from October to another all-time high. The ex-Auckland index rose 0.8 percent for the month to a fresh high and was up 6.7 percent from a year ago. The Auckland index fell 0.1 percent and was up 0.3 percent from a year ago.

Mycoplasma in North Island - In another blow for dairy farmers hoping to stop of the spread of the deadly Mycoplasma Bovis disease, MPI announced yesterday it had identified four new properties as positive for the bacterial cattle disease and strongly suspected one more. One was in Hastings and the other was in Winton, with one suspect property near Ashburton. MPI said early indications are that all the properties had links with the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group (VLDG) through cattle movements. The Group's South Island farms have been quarantined.

Wairarapa says no to amalgamation - Wairarapa residents have voted 58 percent to 41 percent against a Local Government Commission proposal for a Wairarapa District Council that would replace the existing Masterton District Council, the Carterton District Council, and the South Wairarapa District Council. (RNZ)

6. Briefly in the global political economy...

Big Christmas sale - Sir Frank Lowy's Westfield Corporation agreed last night to be bought for A$32 billion in cash and shares by European giant Unibail-Rodamco. It is Australia's biggest ever takeover, but the deal does not include Lowy's small stake in the separate Scentre business, which owns Westfield's shopping malls in Australia and New Zealand. (AFR)

No more oil money - The World Bank announced overnight at the One Planet Summit in Paris that it would no longer finance upstream oil and gas projects after 2019. Separately, the NZ Super Fund joined a group of 225 pension funds with US$26.3 trillion in assets that pledged to pressure greenhouse gas emitters to curb emissions and improve their financial disclosure. The group is known as Climate Action 100+

7. Coming up...

Less is Moore - Political observers in the United States will be transfixed today by the race for the senate seat in Alabama. It is being contested by Republican Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, and Democrat Doug Jones. A win for Jones would further tighten the current 52-48 Republican majority in the Senate and make further Trump-led reforms less likely. It would also be seen as a rejection of Donald Trump, given he strongly endorsed Moore.

Inflation watch - Statistics New Zealand is scheduled to release food price index data for November at 10.45 am today.

A tough debate - Parliament is set to debate David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill through its first reading tonight. MPs are not being whipped by their parties to side one way or the other and the vote is expected to be close after a passionate debate. The Government pulled other bills from the order paper to give the debate plenty of air.

Poverty reduction - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to release the details of Labour's families package and its legislation to target reductions in child poverty tomorrow with the HYEFU.

100 days in one document - Finance Minister Grant Robertson is set to release the Half Yearly Economic and Financial Update (HYEFU) with a new Budget Policy Statement at 1pm tomorrow after a lockup for journalists and analysts. It will reflect the new Government's policies in its 100 day plan and Treasury's latest economic forecasts.

The Press Gallery's Christmas Party is on tomorrow evening. I will be working on Friday and there will be an email the next day.

8. One fun thing

My favourite news today is about the discovery of ancient evidence of a giant waddling penguin in North Otago.

American comedian Steve Martin
noticed it too: "Sometimes a headline is just too much to bear: “Ancient Penguins Were Giant Waddling Predators.”