Newsroom Pro's 8 Things: Ardern tougher on Russia than Peters; FTA talks suspended indefinitely; Air NZ's variable pricing

In this morning's email we compared the stance of the Prime Minister on the proposed Russia FTA with that of her foreign minister.

1. Ardern pushes Russia FTA further away

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared yesterday to take a tougher stance than Foreign Minister Winston Peters against Russia over the nerve agent attack in Salisbury in Britain.

Speaking with Corin Dann on TVNZ's Q+A programme, Ardern said any prospect of a free trade agreement with Russia had been put on hold indefinitely because of the attack. That contrasts with the view of Peters, who specified the inclusion of the resumption of FTA talks with Russia in New Zealand First's coalition agreement with Labour and pointedly refused to mention Russia in a statement condemning the attack last week.

Ardern's comments also followed Peters' extraordinary interview on Newshub Nation last weekend where he did not agree with an international report that Russia was responsible for the downing of MH370 in Ukraine and talked up the prospects of a free trade deal with Russia, despite deteriorating relations.

"Salisbury has changed things. We are in an unprecedented position now. That has to have an effect, and it has,” Ardern told Dann of the prospects for FTA talks.

“We had not resumed FTA talks with Russia and now what I’m telling you is in this environment, I cannot tell you if or when that will occur," she said.

2. Differential pricing

Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw has been digging around in the internet booking systems here and overseas for Air New Zealand tickets and has found Air New Zealand is charging premium New Zealand passengers up to double the price to fly to North and South America as their Australian counterparts.

Shane cited research by MoneyHub, an independent site that reviews consumer products, found that travellers flying from Australia via Auckland on the airline will pay far less for the same flight if it was taken from New Zealand.

Newsroom compared flights booked on airnewzealand.co.nz and the airline’s Australian website and found several examples of the practice.

In one instance, a business class ticket on Air NZ from Sydney to Buenos Aires transiting through Auckland in June costs NZ$4347 when booked on airnewzealand.com.au, while a ticket on the same flight to Buenos Aires embarking in Auckland is $8365 on airnewzealand.co.nz.

Premium economy tickets also have similar markups, while economy tickets for both countries are similarly priced.

Air NZ competes with several other airlines on the Australia-Americas route but holds a monopoly on flights departing to the continents from New Zealand for most of the year.

A lack of competition is one of the factors keeping New Zealand prices higher than in other markets and restraining productivity growth.

See Shane's full story on Newsroom Pro, where it was published first on Friday.

3. 'Embrace your true conservatism'

Newsroom's Thomas Coughlan argues in this comment piece that National is ignoring the looming threat of rising superannuation costs and a changing climate.

He argues its new leaders should look to the party’s history for solutions.

Thomas points to Edmund Burke as a model. He wrote that society is “a partnership… not only between those who are living, but between those who are dead, and those who are to be born."

See Thomas' full comment piece here on Newsroom Pro, where it was first published on Friday.

4. Russell McVeagh off Council list

The Russell McVeagh sexual misconduct case has generated protests and has cost it sponsorships with university groups and others. The universities have also banned its recruiters from coming onto campus. But so far, clients have stuck with Russell McVeagh.

However, Newsroom Co-Editor Tim Murphy reported this morning Russell McVeagh is missing from the Auckland Council's new list of providers of legal services valued at $16m year. It's not clear if it is because of the interns case, but it is surprising.

After a review, the council selected 10 firms to conduct its legal work. Russell McVeagh previously provided legal services to the council and its "family" of Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) but is missing from the list.

Neither the council nor the law firm would confirm if Russell McVeagh was one of 30 bidders for the work, but legal sources said it would be surprising had one of the country's premier practices not sought at least part of the lucrative and sought-after city contracts.

Mayor Phil Goff said yesterday he was unaware of the reasons for the final list of 10 law firms not including Russell McVeagh. The council's strategic procurement committee approved the new list in December, before the Russell McVeagh scandal over sexual assaults against five summer clerks became public last month.

The council says the change to the way it procures legal advice will save ratepayers millions. Instead of taking issues to law firms on a case by case basis it has now signed fixed price contracts from three of the firms for high volume work and term contracts for two years with one year right of renewal.

It selected these firms: Anthony Harper, Brookfields Lawyers, Buddle Findlay, Chapman Tripp, DLA Piper, Heaney & Partners, Meredith Connell, Minter Ellison, Rice & Co, and Simpson Grierson, plus another, Mayne Wetherell, remains a provider for the council's capital markets and corporate finance assignments.

See Tim's full report at Newsroom.

5. Briefly in the global political economy...

Data harvesting - The New York Times and The Guardian reported over the weekend that Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm associated with the Brexit and Trump campaigns, harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without their permission. It cited a whistleblower saying the firm built psychographic profiling software to predict and influence the votes of people in the 2016 Presidential election.

A man unleashed - Donald Trump ramped up his twitter attacks on Robert Mueller's investigation over the weekend after it emerged he had been asked to hand over information linking his family's finances to Russia. Republicans warned Trump against firing Mueller, saying such an act would be the beginning of the end of his presidency. (New York Times)

Putinslide - Russian President Vladimir Putin won a landslide re-election victory overnight, extending his rule for another six years. The 65 year old has been President or Prime Minister since 2000. He won 73.9 percent in the vote, where he was virtually unopposed. His main opposition rival was banned from contesting the election. (Reuters)

6. Coming up...

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to hold her weekly post-cabinet news conference around 4 pm today.

Parliament resumes on Tuesday for a four-week stretch after the respective caucuses hold their weekly meetings around mid-morning.

Fonterra is due to announce its half year results on Wednesday, including an expected writedown for its Beingmate asset in China of as much as $1 billion. This could endanger the positions of Chairman John Wilson and CEO Theo Spierings.

Statistics New Zealand is scheduled to release migration figures for February at 10.45 am on Wednesday.

The Reserve Bank is scheduled to announce its latest monetary policy decision in a brief statement at 9 am on Thursday. Economists expect retiring Governor Grant Spencer to leave the Official Cash Rate on hold at 1.75 percent and stick with the bank's essentially neutral stance from its last full Monetary Policy Statement on February 10. Spencer retires at the end of this week and will be replaced next Tuesday by Adrian Orr. Grant Robertson has yet to release a new Policy Targets Agreement with Orr.

7. One fun thing...

Over the weekend the Green Party announced it had handed over most of its Parliamentary Questions to the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, to limit the number of 'patsy' questions in Parliament.

Twitter satirists had some fun, including this 'recording' of a radio interview by the often brilliant GCSB Intercepts:

“Mr Shaw, can you tell us why you’ve given the Greens’ primary Question Time questions to National?” “No.” “Why not?” “Because I’ve given your question to Simon Bridges.”

8. This morning's political links