Newsroom Pro's 8 Things: Air NZ targets Airport parking fees; Surveying Tonga's damage; Economic headwinds and tailwinds

In today's email we found out why Air New Zealand is challenging MBIE over airport parking charges.

1. Air NZ targets airport parking fees

There are pockets of our economy where there isn't much competition and where the biggest long-term challenge for Government is to either regulate prices in natural monopoly situations, or to introduce competition.

It took a while in electricity, but there does now finally seem to be some competition in residential electricity that has has capped price growth. It was done very effectively in telecommunications and mobile telephony through the forced introduction of mobile number portability and fixing mobile termination rates.

But there does seem to be an issue with airports because the basic runway fees for airlines are regulated, but the peripheral services such as carparks, taxi charges and property management are not.

Newsroom's National Affairs Shane Cowlishaw has discovered through Official Information Act requests that Air New Zealand has challenged MBIE over Auckland Airport's parking charges, which it described as the most expensive in the world.

Air New Zealand's head of government and industry affairs Duncan Small is the protaganist on this issue, pushing for a Commerce Commission review of the issue.

The email trail uncovered by Shane is instructive. Small wrote to MBIE after Auckland Airport revealed it made more than $50 million a year from parking.

Hamish Grant-Fargie, a policy director at MBIE, replied that further work on the issue would be considered as part of a briefing to the new Minister and asked Small for information that would assist.

Small responded that one approach would be to bring both the aeronautical and non-aeronautical costs that passengers faced at airports under one regulation so that money made from activities such as parking offset costs that passengers paid elsewhere at the airport.

We'll keep an eye on this one. Here's Shane's full article on Newsroom Pro, where it was published yesterday.

2. Surveying the Tongan damage

Newsroom's Foreign Affairs and Trade Editor Sam Sachdeva is traveling with the Prime Minister through the Pacific and filed a report on what Jacinda Ardern and her delegation found in Tonga in the aftermath of cyclone Gita.

Sam reports Gita was labelled the worst storm to hit Tonga in 60 years, with houses levelled, trees knocked over and thousands of residents left without power. A shortage of vegetables on the island means they are being rationed, while a curfew is in place for the CBD as the cleanup continues.

Kiwi farmer and "hammerhand" Karl Stevens, who flew over to help the Red Cross in the wake of the storm, said Gita had left an unpredictable trail of damage.

"A lot of the buildings are say, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old, and a lot of the stuff that's blown away is predominantly decayed material, so the newer places have handled it or at least they've taken the full brunt of the twist.
"But it's quite amazing, you'll have like five shanties that have been blown down and it'll be the worst-looking one that's still standing right in the middle, and that just must be the nature of the cyclone."

Among the worst-affected buildings were the country's schools, with more than half suffering moderate or severe damage.

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

3. 'The bill is too broad'

One of the hottest topics around Parliament and in many public debates is David Seymour's bill on assisted dying that is going through Parliament at the moment.

Newsroom's Health reporter in the Press Gallery Thomas Coughlan is keeping an eye on the submissions.

He reports the Disability Rights Commissioner has submitted a scathing report on David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill, saying it does not include adequate safeguards.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero released her submission on ACT leader David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill on Wednesday. The report is critical of the safeguards written into the bill, which Tesoriero thinks do not go far enough to protect the disabled.

At the heart of the submission is the question of whether the way the bill is drafted restricts its application to those with terminal illnesses.

“The key thing for New Zealanders to understand is that this bill goes beyond terminal illness,” Tesoriero told Newsroom .

“What people need to understand is there’s a really broad scope to the bill, and quite a range of debilities or chronic health conditions could be considered a grievous or irremediable condition,” she said. “We haven’t had a discussion about the extension of the scope beyond terminal illness."

Tresoriero's submission argues that a wide range of chronic conditions including diabetes, heart disease, neurological disorders, intellectual disabilities, autism and other neuro-disabilities and regional pain syndromes, “if advanced and sufficiently degenerative,” could fall within the bill’s scope. 

See Thomas' full report here on Newsroom Pro, where it was first published yesterday.

4. Dame Bazley to report privately

Newsroom broke the Russell McVeagh sexual harassment story last month and has been following the various steps taken by the blue-chip law firm ever since.

Yesterday the firm announced Dame Margaret Bazley would lead its inquiry into the instances of sexual misconduct. Bazley is widely seen around Wellington as the go-to person for official inquiries. She rarely pulls her punches and her heft will give the inquiry extra credibility around the capital at least, although the announcement didn't start well by only referring the cases as 'sexual harassment'.

The allegations are far from what is commonly understood as sexual harassment. They include complaints of sexual violation, including rape.

The firm's announcement also reveals Dame Margaret's report on the firm's handling of the 2015/16 scandal and other "improper conduct" will not be made public. It will instead be shared with "stakeholders", the Law Society and the law schools of the country's universities.

Newsroom has been told Russell McVeagh's portrayal today of the assaults and misconduct during the summer clerk programme as "sexual harassment" has gone down poorly among women closely connected to the case.

One former Russell McVeagh lawyer said: "This review is getting off on the wrong foot because it is minimising, from the outset, the gravity and nature of the alleged offending against the summer clerks. It confirms my scepticism that this review is just another window-dressing exercise."

It said 80-year-old Dame Margaret, who was a top civil servant before leading the inquiry into the police rapes and sexual misconduct involving Louise Nicholas last decade, would have full access to its previous "internal" inquiries and to any staff "who wish to participate".

"Former staff and summer clerks will also be invited to take part and she will commence her review immediately."

Russell McVeagh lawyers who knew of complaints from the summer clerks of sexual assaults did not refer the matter to the Law Society, as required under its rules. The Society only learned of the accusations against two male lawyers from the firm when a woman concerned raised them with it between eight and nine months after the incidents.

The firm conducted its own inquiry, let the two men leave its Wellington office with at least one continuing on Russell McVeagh client work, and changed its summer clerk programme with new rules over alcohol and treatment of women.

See Newsroom's full report on the inquiry.

5. On the turn?

ANZ reported this morning its Truckometer measures of heavy and light traffic showed falls of 2.5 percent and 0.2 percent respectively in February from January.

"We will be watching this data closely over coming months, as although the correlation to GDP growth has not been tight lately, and annual growth remains strong, this is the weakest signal for quarterly GDP growth this indicator has given for some time," ANZ Chief Economist Sharon Zollner said.

However the Government's finances, which it could be argued are more of a lagging indicator, are in healthy shape as the GST and income tax revenues from record high tourism spending and high jobs growth come flooding in.

Treasury reported yesterday that the operating balance before gains and losses or OBEGAL was in surplus by $2.4 billion in the seven months to the end of January, which was $0.7 billion more than forecast because tax revenues ere $900 million more than expected. Income tax and GST revenues were each $300 million more than expected.

6. Coming up...

Economists are expecting Statistics New Zealand to report GDP growth in the December quarter of around 0.7 percent next Thursday. They are now fine-tuning their numbers as the components of GDP (wholesale trade and building work put in place) come through. Growth in the quarter from a year ago is expected to be around 3.1 percent.

7. One fun thing...

The White House is an entertaining/scary place at the moment, as Bill Maher remarks:

"Wait, now Gary Cohn is gone too? I can't keep up - the last time this many people fled the White House the British were burning it in 1814."

8. This morning's political links

These are available with the morning subscriber email.