Ardern's 'Pacific Reset' tour; Peters' harder China tone; Trump's trade chaos; NCEA's failures; Fonterra's injunction

In this morning's email we learn that, although they won't say the name, China is the focus of Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters in the Pacific.

1. The elephant in the Pacific

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva traveled with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a delegation of business and other leaders to Sydney late last week and has stayed with them for an extended trip through the South Pacific.

The trip includes Samoa today, Nuie on Tuesday, Tonga on Wednesday and the Cook Islands on Thursday and Friday.

Both Ardern and her Foreign Minister Winston Peters have emphasised the top priority of the South Pacific in New Zealand's foreign policy world, particularly now that China is pushing its influence into the region with loans, buildings and roads.

However, they're being careful not to mention China outright as the reason for the 'Pacific reset' of New Zealand's foreign policy, or to make the mistake Australia made of patronising our South Pacific neighbours about the Chinese built 'roads to nowhere' and useless buildings.

Last week's move by China to make Xi Jingping President for life and President Donald Trump's stumbling moves to withdraw America from trading and strategic ties with the rest of the world have only increased the urgency of the task.

New Zealand's tone towards China appears to have hardened somewhat in the most recent comments from Winston Peters at least. In off-the-cuff comments after his speech in Sydney last Thursday he questioned why New Zealand had signed up so quickly to China's Belt and Road Initiative under the previous National Government. National Leader Simon Bridges criticised the change in tone.

Peters appeared for an interview on Corin Dann's Q+A programme on Sunday and appeared also to toughen New Zealand's tone on the South China sea. The full transcript of the interview is well worth a read.

Sam has written an excellent preview of the series of visits here on Newsroom Pro, where it was published first yesterday.

2. Fonterra's injunction

Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw spent most of Friday afternoon in the High Court in Wellington listening to Fonterra's lawyers arguing for an injunction to stop the publication of comments by someone.

Newsroom has been named as a third party in the injunction granted by Justice Karen Clark and it prevents us from reporting any of the details of the comments or who they were from.

The order will allow Fonterra to keep the information at the centre of the action secret until "the determination of the substantive matter" on March 26, which falls after its next financial reporting date.

Newsroom will continue to inquire, here and overseas, into Fonterra and its activities. That is all, for now, that can be said by us.

However, Fonterra sent a letter to its 10,500 shareholders over the weekend that appeared to be in conflict with the injunction it applied for, giving information that referred to the former position of one of the respondents.

“Our Board has applied for and been granted an urgent injunction to prevent the publication of what we believe to be leaked and misrepresented details of Board discussions, supplied to the media by xxxxxxx,” Fonterra’s board of directors wrote in the letter obtained by Newsroom.

Newsroom has redacted the key phrases to ensure the judge's verbal orders are not breached.

“It is deeply regrettable that we have been forced to take this step in order to protect the Co-op,” the directors wrote.

“Xxxxxxx, confidentiality obligations are intended, in part, to encourage robust debate, dissenting views, and honest and frank discussions,” they wrote.

“It is not uncommon to have disparate views around xxxx, in fact, that is a sign of healthy debate. We must be able to have those conversations on your behalf within the boardroom, not in the newspaper.”

“We look forward to having open and quality conversations with you directly during the Director Roadshow following our Interim Result later this month.”

That result on March 21 will be closely watched. (That is as much as we can say.) Both Newsroom columnist Rod Oram and I will be at that news conference to ask Chairman John Wilson and CEO Theo Spierings some pointed questions in an open forum.

3. The problems with NCEA

Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw has highlighted a new report suggesting the NCEA system has created a “safe passage” for students to graduate with a poor education.

Spoiled by Choice is the latest work from the New Zealand Initiative, undertaken by former deputy principal and maths teacher Briar Lipson.

It comes as a review into NCEA gets underway, the first of its kind since the assessment was introduced by the previous Labour Government in 2002.

NCEA, the unit-based secondary school assessment that replaced School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate and Bursary, has faced increasing criticism that it places an excessive workload on teachers and does not prepare students with adequate skills for life in the adult world.

In the report, Lipson praises the system for its flexibility and contribution to keeping pupils in school for longer. But she is strongly critical of the effect it has had on children’s abilities in core subject areas.

Since NCEA was introduced the data on pass rates has shown consistently improving performances in areas such as reading, maths and science, but international education data from PISA revealed the exact opposite, Lipson says.

“If NCEA data can paint a picture of constant improvement, while almost all other measures expose decline, there is a reason to believe we have a problem.”

See Shane's full article here on Newsroom Pro, where it was published yesterday when the NZ Initiative released its report.

4. The bull in the China shop

Donald Trump's apparently impromptu decision to declare the United States would impose a 25 percent tariff on all steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on all aluminium imports has thrown his own administration into turmoil and shocked many in global trade politics who thought he was bluffing.

Trump went on over the weekend to tweet that trade wars were 'good and easy to win'.

China was relatively circumspect with its response, in part because it is only the 11th largest direct exporter of steel to America with only two percent of imports. Canada and Europe are much more heavily effected. The biggest risk if the tit-for-tat sanctions escalate.

The European Union threatened its own response. Trump, in turn, tweeted this:

"If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!"

New Zealand, for its part, is keeping its head down and hopes not to become collateral damage in any exchange.

Trade Minister David Parker has already ruled out any response from New Zealand, and told RNZ his Government would ask for New Zealand to be exempted from the rules.

Until now, Donald Trump's trade rhetoric has appeared to be mostly bluster. It's now getting serious and is symptomatic of a White House in chaos. Despite appearances of constant chaos, the coverage out of Washington suggests a new level of conflict and disorder around Trump. See this Washington Post report to get a sense of the chaos. Some think the tariffs may actually not be imposed this week, despite Trump saying they would be.

5. Conflicts of interest in politics

Victoria University's Bryce Edwards has called in this piece for Newsroom for more transparency around political commentary, particularly when those involved don't always declare their conflicting interests.

He raises questions about the use of so many political insiders, and points to Thursday’s revelations involving a Beehive spin-doctor providing commentary for RNZ.

Edwards' column came as the Greens announced two measures over the weekend to counter the influence of money in politics.

James Shaw said the Green ministers would proactively release their ministerial diaries to show who they’ve met with and why. Green Ministers, MPs and staff would also not accept corporate hospitality, such as free tickets to events unrelated to their work.

6. Briefly in the political economy...

Easier pay equity - Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and Womens' Minister Julie Anne Genter announced this morning that its Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles had reported back with proposals to simplify the process of making pay equity claims. They said they planned to make recommendations to Cabinet soon and introduce legislation mid-year. The Government has also agreed to negotiate an agreement to extend the Care and Support Workers Pay Equity Settlement to an estimated 3,800 mental health and addiction support workers.

Sunny times - ANZ reported on Friday its Roy Morgan survey found consumer confidence improved slightly in February.

7. One fun thing...

Trump appeared to joke in a speech to Republican donors on the weekend that maybe America would maybe follow President Xi Jingping and remove term limits on Presidents. (CNN)

Dave Pell tweeted in response: "I’d love to see a life sentence for Trump. Just not this one."

8. This morning's political links

These are provided with the morning subscriber email.