In today's email we celebrated one year of Newsroom and Newsroom Pro.
1. Newsroom's first birthday
A year on from the launch Newsroom.co.nz and Newsroom Pro, we'd like to say thank you to all our subscribers, sponsors and supporters.
It's been quite a ride.
We started publishing on March 13 last year with the hope we could find a sustainable way to produce independent and essential news and analysis about the things that matter. That meant not producing click bait or lists about celebrities' fights on social media. It meant producing exclusives and thoughtfully reported pieces about the things that matter in New Zealand, and which are being reported on less and less by the older media companies as they cut staff and try to find a profitable business model.
So we have covered politics, economics, the environment, foreign affairs and trade, science, social issues, health and the law for the last year with an energy and independence that has changed the national conversation on a variety of topics.
It meant earning the trust and support of our donors (through Press Patron), sponsors (thank you Auckland and Victoria Universities, Chorus, Kiwibank, Bell Gully, Holden and Ecostore) and our subscribers to Newsroom Pro. These subscribers range from individuals paying through credit cards to large institutions and corporates paying for their staff to get our specialist reporting, and to support our larger goal of producing fearless, independent and provocative journalism.
Thank you. Your support matters. Feel free to tell your friends and colleagues that they're welcome to support our publicly available journalism on newsroom.co.nz via Press Patron and/or to subscribe to our paywalled Newsroom Pro service here.
We launched on March 13 with this investigation showing millions of caged eggs were sold via Countdown as free range eggs. The revelations shook the industry and within weeks both Countdown and Foodstuffs announced plans to phase out caged eggs.
Our investigation into Southland MP Todd Barclay's clandestine taping of his electorate secretary and then-Finance Minister Bill English's knowledge of the incident led to the early exit from Parliament of Barclay and an about-face by English that led to him releasing the details of a statement he gave police.
The issue convulsed Parliament for weeks in June and led to acrimonious scenes on the floor of the debating chamber between Winston Peters and Bill English. Peters accused English of misleading the house over what he said was an illegal payment. That acrimony carried over into the election campaign and eventually the post-election negotiations.
Newsroom also published the most detail in August about Peters' pension arrangements, which he alleged were leaked by English, Steven Joyce and Paula Bennett personally. In retrospect, Peters decision to file legal action against them the day before the election showed he was most unlikely to have ever chosen National. He did not choose National and on October 19 New Zealand learned it would have a new Labour-New Zealand First coalition Government with the support of the Greens. We covered all those political shocks through the second half of 2017 and into this year.
In September we published a joint investigation with the Financial Times into the extensive background in Chinese military intelligence of National list MP Jian Yang. That sparked an intense debate about the involvement of China's Government in New Zealand's political and public life.
And then on February 14 Newsroom published an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against a Russell McVeagh partner over his actions towards summer interns, along with other cases of sexual misconduct at the firm. The article and the series of follow-ups opened up a #metoo debate about the way such complaints are handled in the workplace. Just today, we published an exclusive from a support person for one of the clerks who said Russell McVeagh's HR department told the clerk to be careful not to defame the assailant, to look at the whole summer programme ‘holistically’, and then arranged for meetings concerning the assaults to take place at a café in the firm's building.
Newsroom also yesterday published the results of an investigation into sexual assaults by a 20 year old man of two 16 year old men and two 16 year old women at a boozy Young Labour summer camp in February.
Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about the incident at yesterday's post cabinet news conference. She was caught unawares and subsequently said Labour handled the incident badly, having not told the victims' parents and allowed alcohol into the camp.
Over the last year we've also covered countless other issues in depth, ranging from the CPTPP to rising sea levels and single use plastic bags. We delivered scoops on Winston Peters' own deadline for deciding the Government (which he missed) and Alfred Ngaro's threats to community groups.
We now have 23 staff and columnists, including myself, Lynn Grieveson, Shane Cowlishaw, Sam Sachdeva and Thomas Coughlan in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. We are dedicated to providing the best coverage we can of the things that matter at the intersection of the economy and the Government for our Newsroom Pro subscribers.
You're special and we appreciate your support. We aim to keep working hard and doing our little bit to make our democracy safer, cleaner and better. The fourth estate has a role to play in any society and we think we've found a way to do it sustainably without pandering to the lowest common denominator.
I've even written in-depth stories about monetary and fiscal policy, along with pieces from the rest of the Wellington team on prison reform, China's Belt and Road Initiative and constitutional law reform. Such fun.
Thank you. And happy birthday to us! That's my one exclamation mark for the year. I have a quota.
2. Bridges shaky on value capture rates
One of the biggest dangers for any new Opposition is reflexively attacking the Government, only to realise they are also attacking policies they themselves were considering just a few months ago.
National's new Housing spokeswoman Judith Collins and new Finance spokeswoman fell into that trap in recent days, attacking Finance Minister Grant Robertson over the idea of value capture rates, which he mentioned in a speech on Friday. They called the idea a new tax. Collins called it an 'envy tax'.
This is not a new idea. Auckland Council is actively considering it and the previous Government was supportive because it goes some way to extricating the Council from its funding logjam (which I explained in yesterday's email).
Bridges has himself been supportive in the past and was forced into an awkward corner of having to both defend his previous support and back his spokeswomens' criticisms.
He went as far as saying he opposed using such a value capture rate on individual properties. He risks tying himself in knots here too. A rezoning of a road such as Dominion Road to allow a light rail line would significantly lift the values of all properties along the road, including single residential sections. Those are unearned capital gains.
Bridges comments reflect the view of home owners who expect to capture all of the capital gains due to population growth and changes in land use -- all of which are unearned. And untaxed. This is central to the debate.
Newsroom's Thomas Coughlan has written a detailed piece on the issue value capture rates for Newsroom Pro.
3. The King of Retail wins again
Another new addition to the Newsroom team in recent weeks is Nikki Mandow.
She is Newsroom's Business Editor working from the Auckland office. She is working half time for Newsroom and half time for BusinessDesk, which is another independent news operation with a business model that does not rely on advertising. It sells its news wholesale to other media organisations.
Nikki has been busy covering company results and digging behind the scenes of our biggest businesses and companies. Last week she took a deeper look at how New Zealand Rugby makes its money. She found it actually did poorly during years when the All Blacks win the World Cup.
Yesterday Nikki looked at Briscoes' results and found the retailer at the top of its game, despite all the pressure from online competition and near-constant deflation in prices of imported manufactured goods.
Rod Duke really is the King of Retail in New Zealand.
Carolyn Holmes, head of equity research at financial service provider ShareClarity, has been covering Briscoes for several years.
She says Rod Duke is a good business manager and has maintained his focus on costs, inventory management and having a good feel for customers. She says the 'mark up to mark down' model, where stores lure customers into stores with regular mega sales, has worked well - and sets the Briscoes Group apart from retailers like The Warehouse using an 'every day low prices'-type model.
"He sticks to his knitting and has kept focused on what he does well. He has kept a consistency in his offer, down to using the same lady [Tammy Wells] in Briscoes TV ads for nigh on a quarter of a century. His relationship with suppliers is good and he knows what sells. And he has done a better job than other companies of managing end-of-year inventory so he doesn't end up with lots of stock at the end of the season."
We aim to keep improving our business coverage. Watch this space for more detailed and useful bespoke email options and please do tell us what you'd like to see from our coverage of economics and business.
4. Briefly in our political economy...
Unpicked apples and grapes - In another sign of the skills shortages starting to slow economic growth and the pressure on the Government to keep the migration gates open, the Ministry of Social Development formally declared a seasonal labour shortage across Hawke’s Bay from March 12 to April 6. That means overseas visitors with visitor permits can gain permits for working on orchards and vineyards without needing a formal work visa.
Financial advice - Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi has announced the beginning of public consultation on a new code of conduct for financial advice. The changes are contained in the Financial Services Legislation Amendment Bill, which is currently before select committee. “Under the Bill, all financial advice to everyday clients will have to meet standards of conduct and competency," Faafoi said. Hopefully this is not a completely brand new thing.
Green bonds - Auckland Council announced it had given staff the go-ahead to establish a Green Bond framework and to consider the issue of New Zealand dollar green bonds later in 2018 as part of its ongoing borrowing programme, probably around the mid-year.
5. Briefly in the global political economy...
Nerve agent - British Prime Minister Theresa May said overnight it was highly likely Russia used a weapons-grade nerve agent to try to kill a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. She promised retaliation if Russia could not explain by Wednesday why its nerve agent was used. Russia denied responsibility.
“Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom,” she said, promising to return to Parliament with a full range of responsive measures.
“This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.” (The Guardian)
6. Coming up...
Economists are expecting Statistics New Zealand to report GDP growth in the December quarter of around 0.7 percent at 10.45 am tomorrow. 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 world is awash in jargon and hype around blockchain and crypto-currencies at the moment. It appears to me like a libertarian wet dream at this point, although large corporates and governments could find legitimate and productive uses for blockchain. I would not trust my money in a crypto-currency unless it was backed by a Government or a large corporate with a massive balance sheet.
And you know you've hit peak crypto when the world's first blockchain-based whisky investment fund was launched with a new crypto-currency called CaskCoin.
"Whisky has a rich history as a store of value and a medium of exchange, and we are building upon this idea with the help of the blockchain and our new CaskCoin cryptocurrency," CaskCoin operations director Ricky Christie said in this CryptoCoin news article.
Several drams are required to believe this all won't end in tears. Or other bodily liquids.
8. This morning's political links
These are available in the morning subscriber email.