In this morning's email we opened the police file of the latest investigation into former MP Todd Barclay, and we looked at the Government's plan to end the "moral panic" over meth residues.
1. 'Repeated refusals to cooperate'
Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva and David Williams received the police file back from the latest investigation into (now) former MP Todd Barclay yesterday. They requested it under the Official Information Act. The Police decided for a second time on October 30 not to prosecute Barclay on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
The file shows one reason for the insufficient evidence was that Barclay repeatedly refused to cooperate with police, having previously said he would and had nothing to hide. The report reveals various failed attempts to get his confidentiality waivers and access to records and offices, which Barclay repeatedly refused.
Police concluded in their final report there were “credible witnesses” and “reasonable grounds to suspect” he recorded a former employee, but that that there was no direct evidence in the form of the recording or first hand evidence of it.
In June, Barclay announced he would step down as National’s MP for Clutha-Southland after Newsroom revealed his alleged clandestine taping of former staffer Glenys Dickson led to a secret payment from former Prime Minister John Key’s leader’s budget.
2. Twyford wants meth testing reform
The new Government wants to end a 'moral panic' around meth testing of rental properties by lifting the trace levels seen as dangerous.
Housing Minister Phil Twyford yesterday slammed the meth testing industry and the previous Government for allowing a 'moral panic' that saw over 900 families evicted from state homes because standards they created meant trace levels of methamphetamine were seen as dangerous.
Twyford made the comments to reporters in Parliament as he revealed he had asked for official advice on better standards for measuring what were truly dangerous levels of methamphetamine in rental homes.
He said he had instructed Housing New Zealand to reduce the number of vacant houses, many of which had been emptied after the state house provider detected trace levels of methamphetamine indicative of previous smoking rather than the more dangerous activity of manufacturing.
"One of the things I have been concerned about is the ridiculous waste caused by the previous Government’s policy of dealing with methamphetamine contamination in state houses which led in the last three years to 900 state houses left lying empty on the basis of a methamphetamine contamination standard that cannot distinguish between genuine contamination," Twyford said.
"My intention is that we are going to sort out the methamphetamine standard that I don’t think is fit for purpose because it can’t distinguish between genuine contamination that is a risk to people’s health and a residue that is not a risk to anyone’s health," he said.
Baz Macdonald reported in depth for Newsroom on the issue of meth testing in October, citing drug researchers comments that even a recently revised standard vastly over-estimated the risks to human health. Standards NZ, raised the maximum acceptable level of meth contamination to 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2 from 0.5 earlier this year.
The National Government also presented an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act in July which would give landlords more rights in testing for meth on their properties and, as a result, would cement this new standard into law. The bill passed its first reading and is now in the select committee stage, which would give an opportunity to change the standards and rewrite the amendments there in the new Parliament.
See the full story from Lynn Grieveson and Baz Macdonald here on Newsroom Pro, where it was published first yesterday.
3. Not enough Census forms
Newsroom's David Williams has followed up on his article about Statistics NZ's IT problems with a piece this morning on a shortage of paper forms for the Census in March.
New Zealand’s census has been hit by a paper form shortfall, according to internal documents released to Williams under the Official Information Act.
The documents state NZ Post won’t be able to print the required number of paper pack forms to be left by field staff before census day on March 6. Some officials worry it will discourage early responses in some places, especially in bilingual areas, and possibly dilute the overall quality of the data collected. Significant changes have been made to census field operations.
It’s a further headache ahead of the country’s most important collection of authoritative data, after problems emerged with crucial backroom IT systems.
Of course, a paper shortage might help the census achieve its 70 percent internet response target. But it might also mean fewer people will respond before being visited by field staff, making the follow-up phase longer and more costly, with higher demand for paper forms at the tail-end of the exercise. That leads to risks of under-staffing or over-spending.
4. Let the end game begin
Yesterday's big news in the media and business worlds was the High Court's emphatic rejection of NZME and Fairfax's plan to merge on the grounds it could undermine our democracy.
The High Court agreed with the Commerce Commission that it could consider factors other than price and quality when considering a merger, including the potential reduction of 'plurality' of media and its effects in a democracy.
Here's the key quote: "The risk is clearly a meaningful one and, if it occurred, it would have major ramifications for the quality of New Zealand democracy," the court wrote.
Newsroom's Co-Editor Tim Murphy has had a look through the decision and looks at what might happen next, particularly if either one of the two companies decide to cut their losses and not appeal.
Greg Hywood, the CEO of Fairfax Australia, said during the long battle that if a merger was denied, Fairfax in NZ would move immediately towards what he called 'the endgame". He didn't specify what that would mean for a digital company saddled with numerous newspaper titles, but the term carried its own comment.
Private equity buzzards must be circling a little lower after yesterday's decision, with many local publishing entrepreneurs also no doubt politely inquiring about buying local newspapers. The purchase and break-up of both is now more possible.
5. Briefly in the local political economy
KiwiBuild Commission a year away - Housing Minister Phil Twyford yesterday announced plans to create the Urban Development Authority to run the Government's KiwiBuild programme by early in 2019. In the interim, he said the Government would set up an interim unit within MBIE to work on KiwiBuild while legislation was being drawn up and debated to create the Authority, which will be called the Housing Commission. He said the first Kiwibuild homes would be ready to occupy by the middle of next year.
First step - The Overseas Investment Amendment Bill, which is designed to declare residential land as sensitive and thus prevent foreigners from buying existing houses, passed its first reading in Parliament last night and was referred to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee for consideration in a shortened process early next year. The bill's sponsor, David Parker, said the bill had to be passed before the renamed CPTPP took effect and its passing was unlikely to have much effect on prices at this stage in the property cycle.
Empanelled - Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced the appointment of Suzanne Snively as the chair of the independent expert advisory panel giving advice to the Government on phase one of the Government's review of monetary policy. The review is designed to give the Reserve Bank a dual mandate that targets both low inflation and full employment, while also bringing in a formal monetary policy decision making committee process that may include external members. Currently the law says the Governor is the sole decision maker, although the bank has used an informal internal committee system in recent years . Snively is a former Reserve Bank director and the current chair of Transparency International. The two other members are former Reserve Bank of Australia Assistant Governor Malcolm Edey and former Treasury Chief Economist Girol Karacaoglu.
South Island extension - Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor yesterday announced that he would introduce a new shorter bill to effectively extend the current provisions of the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act (DIRA) beyond May 31, 2018 in the South Island. The current provisions forcing Fonterra to accept all new suppliers and restrict its power to exercise dominance are set to expire in the South Island on May 31 without a change because the current Act's provisions were triggered in 2015 when Fonterra's market share fell below the 80 percent threshold. O'Connor said the short bill would not include National's plan to allow Fonterra discretion to reject supplies from newly converted dairy farms. O'Connor said the Government would include the issue in a full review of DIRA next year.
Finally, Rod gets his demand - Communications Minister Clare Curran yesterday announced the creation of a new cross-Government Chief Technology Officer role to provide independent expert advice to ministers and senior leaders on digital issues. "The Chief Technology Officer will be responsible for preparing and overseeing a national digital architecture, or roadmap, for the next five to ten years," Curran said. Xero CEO Rod Drury, who has repeatedly called for the creation of the role, said he would not be applying for it. Here's the cabinet paper detailing the role.
Down again - The GlobalDairyTrade Index of prices in last night's fortnightly auction fell 3.9 percent, which was its fifth fall in the last six auctions since September 19 and the biggest fall since early March. The Index has fallen 13 percent since then. Wholemilk powder prices, which are the basis for Fonterra's milk price payout, fell 2.5 percent, which was unexpected. Dairy Companies of NZ reported yesterday that production rose an unexpected 4.2 percent in November from a year ago, despite dry conditions through the month.
ANZ Rural Economist Con Williams pointed to unexpected strength in supplies and the potential for another sharp drop in wholemilk powder prices. "The result will raise doubts over Fonterra’s latest forecasts of $6.40/kg MS and pressure views lower for 2018/19," Williams said.
6. Briefly in the global political economy
'Peace through strength' - Donald Trump unveiled a new security strategy built on a US$700 billion increase in military spending which sanctioned the use of nuclear weapons to respond to 'non-nuclear strategic attacks.' "We recognise that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unrivaled power is the most certain means of defence," he said. (Guardian)
We all WannaCry - Britain joined America in blaming North Korea for launching the WannaCry cyber attack that caused widespread disruption in May. (Guardian)
A climate change - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reversed part of the Liberal-National Government's climate change policy yesterday, announcing that Australian businesses could start buying carbon credits in overseas markets. (SMH).
Shuffling the deck (chairs) - Turnbull also announced his fifth cabinet reshuffle in two years yesterday, which changed the roles and faces of half the cabinet. The larger than expected change saw two National MPs demoted, which is already threatening to destabilise the Government, with one threatening to cross the floor of Parliament. (SMH)
7. One fun thing...
It really is close to Christmas now so that's time to break out more of the Dad jokes.
Here's one from Dean Nimbly: "I just stole a camouflage jacket from my neighbours. As I hobbled away, he yelled after me “You can hide, but you can’t run!”
8. This morning's political news links
These are available in the morning subscriber email