Newsroom Pro's 7 Things: Joyce goes; Climate change already a Pacific crisis; census day

In today's email, we covered census day concerns, Ardern's travels in the Pacific, and Steven Joyce's announcement that he is to retire from politics.

1. Joyce announces retirement

Steven Joyce has announced his retirement from the Parliament and political life after his comprehensive rejection by the caucus in his bid for the National leadership.

He said he had been offered a front bench position by new leader Simon Bridges, but had decided to give Bridges the space for a fresh start.

"With the recent change of National Party leadership I have had the opportunity to consider again what I would like to do over the next several years," Joyce said in a statement.

“Simon has made a very positive proposal to me to stay and contribute as a senior member of the team on the front bench with a choice of portfolio. However, I feel that it is time for him to get a new team around him to take National forward and win in 2020 and then govern again for the benefit of all New Zealanders," he said.

Joyce will be replaced as a list MP by Nicola Willis.

As those political junkies who like to follow the views of various columnists and the reactions inside the beltway will know, the decision by NBR publisher Todd Scott to drop Matthew Hooton as the NBR's flagship political columnist has caused a stir this week.

Scott made the announcement on Twitter over the weekend after Joyce laid a formal complaint in a letter to NBR that Hooton's latest column was defamatory and inaccurate. Joyce called for an apology and retraction.

Scott said the decision to drop Hooton was not linked to Joyce's complaint and that he had already made the decision in the interests of avoiding accusations about conflicts of interest, given Hooton's day job as a lobbyist. He refused Joyce's demand for an apology and retraction.

Hooton confirmed in a Facebook post that Scott had let him go because of fears of accusations of conflict of interest, rather than Joyce's complaint.

"On the Joyce matter, he said he would back me and his editors, and he has been as good as his word," Hooton said.

2. Our Pacific neighbours' existential threat

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva is travelling with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her delegation of ministers and business leaders through the Pacific, where climate change is a daily reality now and an existential threat.

Sam reports from Apia on the climate change challenges facing the region and how Ardern's government plans to lend a hand.

At a meeting with Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, Ardern announced New Zealand would provide $3 million in additional support to help the country's recovery from tropical cyclone Gita.

Gita may be a sign of things to come, with more frequent storms and rising sea levels meaning those in the Pacific could be hit more badly more often - despite making a minimal contribution themselves to greenhouse gas levels.

Speaking at a climate change lunch organised for Ardern's visit, Conservation International's Pacific oceans and climate change manager Cherelle Jackson said there was no denying the impact of more extreme weather on the region.

"We do not need to delve into the challenges of climate change, because we in the Pacific do not question it, we live it.

"You only have to look at the stripped driveway as you drove up see the wrecked fales [houses] in your neighbourhoods to know that climate change is very real for our people, and it will become even more real for our children as they grow up."

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

3. A Nuiean homecoming

Sam also reports Ardern and her party arrived on Niuean soil this morning - a homecoming of sorts for a woman known by some as "the daughter of Niue".

The familial ties were literal as well as metaphorical, with Ardern's parents, sister and niece all on hand to greet her as she arrived at the Pacific country's small airport. The tiny country has a population of less than 2000, but the Prime Minister has longstanding ties to Niue.

Ardern's father, Ross, has been New Zealand's High Commissioner there since 2013, and before that was Niue's police commissioner from 2005 to 2009.

After disembarking her Air Force plane, Ardern was greeted by a traditional welcome ceremony, accepting a gift of coconut water following a challenge.

Ardern is not staying for long, due to the strain her delegation would put on Niue's accommodation; she departs for Tonga in the afternoon.

4. 'We will deliver,' says Census boss

Newsroom's South Island correspondent David Williams has been following technology and process problems around the census inside Statistics New Zealand for months.

Now the day has arrived, reports are emerging of people not receiving their digital tokens or not being able to fill out of the census online, while others are finding Statistics NZ's help line swamped.

National's Statistics Spokesman Scott Simpson criticised Minister James Shaw for being overseas on census day. Shaw is with Ardern on the Pacific trip and won't have to fill in the census, given New Zealanders who are out of the country don't have to fill it in.

"It’s unbelievable that in light of the multitude of problems being reported by those grappling with the country’s first online census, he has chosen to be swanning around the Pacific on a junket while his officials at Statistics NZ are left to carry the can," Simpson said.

David Williams reports today on Newsroom that Statistics New Zealand is putting a brave face on the problems.

Every household in New Zealand will get at least a code to take part in the census by the end of today, Statistics NZ assured him.

Yesterday and today, 500 census field staff have been delivering paper forms or access codes to remote areas, some with no internet access and with households that may have trouble completing the form alone.

“A higher level of support is required so we try to get the forms completed while the staff member is there and then everything is done in one visit,” StatsNZ’s census senior manager of communications, marketing and census engagement Richard Stokes said via email.

“This is best done on or as close to census day as possible, hence why it was not planned for earlier.”

By yesterday morning, 96 percent of households had received census letters and 1.2 million forms had been completed online. Only 1133 paper forms had been returned.

Ex-cyclone Gita delayed postal deliveries in some areas. Hundreds of homes in Kaikohe and the East Cape are expected to be reached today. Asked if every single household will at least get a code by the end of today, the official census day, Stokes says: “Yes, they will all get a code.” He adds: “We are making it clear that people can still respond after census day."

Since December, David has reported on multiple issues facing census bosses, including problems with a crucial back-end IT system, a paper form shortfall and an external project manager was appointed when a company missed its deadline to provide form-scanning software.”

5. Minister vs Mandarin

David Williams has also looked in more detail at the clash between Megan Woods and Maarten Wevers that led to Wevers' resignation as chair of EQC.

He reports the State Services Commission has backed Woods.

The high-powered defence of Woods’ appointment comes after last month’s high-profile resignation of EQC board chairman Sir Maarten Wevers. At a hastily arranged press conference, Woods announced Wevers had stepped down after she outlined her intention to appoint an adviser to try and speed up settlement of the remaining 2600 Canterbury earthquake claims. Last week, Newsroom published letters exchanged by the pair, including Woods’ warning of a looming board shake-up.

(It was announced last week that the ministerial adviser is Christine Stevenson, the deputy chief executive of Department of Corrections, while EQC’s interim chair is former Labour Party deputy leader Dame Annette King.)

In an interview with Newsroom, Wevers questions the legal basis for the adviser’s appointment – saying “we’re not a Government department”.

“It’s not the role of the minister to helicopter somebody in to an organisation and just say to the board I’m going to do it,” he says. “She’s talked publicly about wanting to work with management to improve things; we want to improve things too. But it’s not her role to work directly with management. That’s my view.”

The Crown Entities Act gives the board authority to exercise the powers and functions of the Earthquake Commission. And under the Earthquake Commission Act, the minister can issue directives – something former minister Gerry Brownlee did several times. Wevers says there’s a process for that, which involves to-ing and fro-ing between the minister and board.

See David's full article on Newsroom.

6. Briefly in the political economy...

Insurance review - Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi announced the release of the terms of reference for a review of New Zealand insurance contract law, including a look at onerous disclosure requirements, the need for greater regulation and supervision of insurers. He said he hoped to have an issues paper published in mid-2018 with legislation introduced in the current Parliamentary term.

Crisis spreading - Housing Minister Phil Twyford announced he had released new regional factsheets showing the housing crisis is spreading from Auckland to other regions and cities.

Compensate accordingly - Trial judges should give juries limits on how much to award in defamation damages, the Court of Appeal has ruled after knocking out a jury decision to make politician Colin Craig pay more than $1.2 million to political lobbyist Jordan Williams. The appeal judges said the amount of damages awarded should reflect the character and reputation of the person defamed and, given some of Williams' behaviour which emerged in evidence at the trial, that also should have led the jury to a lower sum. "The law must be concerned with the reputation he deserved and compensate accordingly."

7. Today's political links

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