Newsroom Pro's 8 things: Ardern eyes new drilling ban; Fix the OIA; 5G rollout plans

In today's subscriber email we caught up with the latest news in politics and the economy.

1. Future drilling under review

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is reviewing whether to allow the opening up of new areas for drilling for oil and gas, but has indicated a full moratorium on oil and gas exploration is a step too far.

Ardern made a surprise appearance yesterday at a noon petition presentation on the steps of Parliament by Greenpeace calling for a complete end to deep sea oil and gas drilling. Ardern’s appearance was initially taken by some media as a signal that her Government could be ready to end the practice altogether. Energy Minister Megan Woods was expected to receive the petition, but Ardern did the honours instead.

Ardern told her post-cabinet news conference that at this time of the year every government had to consider what would be included in the 'block offer' for new areas for prospecting.

Future block offers were an issue that needed to be discussed in the context of making New Zealand carbon neutral by 2050, she said.

“We have to keep in mind that of course there are contractual obligations that the Crown has entered into and there’s a cost of moving away from those and also a planning issue," she said.

"We have the Climate Commission coming in in the future, but obviously one of the things they’ll consider is gas, which has less of an environmental impact than some of the alternatives. So we need to factor all those issues in, but, of course, that includes keeping in mind any cancellation of anything that’s happened in the past would come at a cost to the Crown."

The Green Party asked Treasury during the coalition negotiations how much it would cost the Crown to immediately suspend all drilling permits and was told the cost would be $15 billion.

2. #fixtheOIA

The Public Service's use and abuse of the Official Information Act has been simmering away as an issue for some time, but the new Government's stated aim to be more transparent has intensified that debate.

The Prime Minister was again asked if the act was being treated with respect yesterday at her post-cabinet press conference, following tweets from NZ Initiative economist Sam Warburton.

A savvy user of the act, Warburton ‘OIA’d his OIA’ by asking for correspondence surrounding his initial request. Highlights included a private secretary for Transport Minister Phil Twyford emailing “we are in the process of determining the best approach to withholding information” and a report being withheld despite being described as “pretty bland”.

When asked if she believed her Government was fulfilling its promise to be open and accountable, Ardern said it was still working on its proactive release framework and there were still some teething issues.

In response to Warburton’s OIA and the official’s comments she said: “I imagine that’s a poorly-worded response”.

The central Government is not the only one under pressure on the OIA. Elsewhere, RNZ's Todd Niall detailed yesterday how Auckland Council executives used the Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act to stall the release of a major report.

3. 5G is coming

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva took a closer look yesterday how the Government plans to manage and encourage the rollout of 5G networks in coming years. Yesterday Spark staged the first real-world tests of 5G mobile technology in New Zealand with some tests on the streets of Wellington.

CEO Simon Moutter and Communications Minister Clare Curran were there and went through some of the regulatory and technical hurdles, including an unintended consequence of the new Overseas Investment Act designed to stop foreign entities buying residential property. Spark, like most other large listed companies, is technically seen as a foreign entity because foreign investment funds own more than 25 percent of the firm.

This means any land purchases by Spark for cell sites would have to go through the Overseas Investment Office process.

Sam reported Curran saying this was a valid issue and she had passed it on to David Parker as the Government takes the new OIA through the select committee process.

See Sam's full story published first here on Newsroom Pro yesterday.

Also for more background on the 5G rollout, here's an excellent piece published last month on Newsroom by Tim Murphy.

4. Briefly in politics and the economy

EQC reform - Earthquake Commission Minister Megan Woods announced this morning the Government planned to amend the EQC Act by December this year to increase the cap on residential cover to $150,000 from $100,000, to increase the time limit for claims to two years from three months and to remove EQC cover from contents. The new cap and the changes to contents cover would apply from July 1.

A limiting statute - Jacinda Ardern confirmed the ‘year and a day’ rule in the Crimes Act would be removed to ensure those who break the law can be prosecuted later in time. Most countries have already made the change, she said.

Justice Minister Andrew Little and Ardern had met with families of the CTV building collapse and one of the issues that came up was the law.She acknowledged previous Justice Minister Amy Adams had asked officials for advice on the issue, but Little had made it a priority.

Silent visits - Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc have completed visits to New Zealand this week without holding news conferences. Barack Obama is also visiting Ardern in Auckland later this week, but will also not be holding a news conference.

Ardern defended Obama’s decision and said she had inquired with MFAT about the protocol of holding press conferences with visiting leaders. The advice was that it was done on a case-by-case basis.

Slower expansion - The BNZ-BusinessNZ Performance of Services Index (PSI) fell 0.7 points to 55.0 in February from January, indicating a slightly slower level of expansion for the biggest part of the economy. Any reading over 50 indicates the sector is expanding. This was the third consecutive month of slowing expansions.

5. Briefly in global politics and the economy

Dis-liked - Facebook shares fell sharply overnight on concerns about its regulatory outlook in the wake of revelations that Cambridge Analytica harvested the profiles of over 50 million users and used them to help the Brexit and Trump campaigns win. (New York Times)

Tougher line? - Liu He, an close adviser to President Xi Jingping, has been appointed Vice Premier overseeing industrial and financial policy, including both insurance and banking. He is seen as being behind a recent push to restrain debt-funded overseas expansions by private firms. He was credited in 2016 with an influential paper accusing previous leaders of trying to spend their way out of economic doldrums, rather than shutting down debt-loaded, inefficient “zombie enterprises. (New York Times)

6. Coming up...

Parliament resumes at 2 pm today 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 tomorrow morning at 8.30 am, 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 tomorrow.

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.

New Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is expected to announce a 25 basis point increase in the Federal Funds Rate to a range of 1.50 percent to 1.75 percent around 8.30 am on Thursday morning.

7. One fun thing...

Newshub announced yesterday that Press Gallery correspondent Lloyd Burr will be moving to become Newshub's European correspondent in London, replacing Tova O'Brien, who is returning to become Newshub's Political Editor.

Lloyd couldn't resist and tweeted this: "As the UK Brexits, I will Brenter."

In other staffing news around Parliament, Stuff's Business Editor Ellen Read is leaving to join Alex Tarrant as a press secretary for Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

8. This morning's political links

These are available with the morning subscriber email