Newsroom Pro's 8 things: Greens, NZ First find block offer compromise; NZ's Russian spy deficit

In today's email we caught up on the latest from in and around the Beehive.

1. Block offer blocking tactics

Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw battled his way past protestors and into the TSB Arena yesterday to hear Energy Minister Megan Woods tell New Zealand's oil and gas industry leaders that they needed to plan for a transition to a carbon neutral future.

He tells me he was called a 'capitalist pig' by the protesters as he walked in with a bunch of other men in suits behind a phalanx of police.

Woods entered through a side entrance and was keen to deliver a message of transition, but not immediately or in a disruptive way. She and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are at the centre of an internal debate within the Government between Greens who want a complete end to new exploration and New Zealand First, which doesn't want the regions to lose jobs.

Woods walked a careful middle line yesterday, saying Ardern would make an announcement about this year's round of block offers for new exploration within a few weeks. This suggests some sort of compromise is still being cooked up that would significantly restrict new exploration on new blocks, but not tear up existing licenses for exploration.

Woods reassured executives at the PEPANZ conference the existing deals were safe.

“No one is talking about making abrupt, jarring change in our economy and by planning now, that is what we can avoid," she said.

Woods said she had instructed officials to begin work on transition planning for the future.

She assured conference attendees that existing permits, some of which extend out to 2046, would be honoured and hinted that there could be a place for gas beyond the dates set due to the country’s heavy reliance on hydro-electricity and the peak effects of a dry spell.

Despite this, all signs point to the halting of future exploration permits, or at least a severe restriction of them.

Shane reported in this piece first published on Newsroom Pro that New Zealand First's main concern was about the retention of existing permits.

With those ringfenced, they are happy to move towards using the regional development fund to finance alternative projects such as clean energy with an aim to replace or supplement the employment currently generated by the oil and gas industry, he wrote.

2. 'Dad will be around some more'

Former Finance Minister and National Party Campaign Manager Steven Joyce was always an avuncular, phlegmatic and pragmatic person in public at least. He could be just as aggressive and combative in Parliament as the next MP, but I can't ever remember seeing him angry or emotional in any sort of sense that suggested he took it personally.

He gave his valedictory speech in Parliament last night and was his typically relaxed and engaging self. He was always a better public speaker than many gave him credit for. He never launched into any flights of oratory, but he was always clear and authentic. He never mucked around.

Politics always seemed to be a temporary and almost accidental activity for him, and he confirmed that last night with his story of how he got into politics and stayed there at the highest level full time for nine years. He painted a picture of his almost accidental arrival driven more by circumstance and reactions than any great strategy or ambition.

He said he refused John Key's request to join Key's first government at least twice indirectly and expressed surprise that he had been National's campaign manager for five elections.

"There was never a plan to chair five election campaigns; I just kept being asked back, and today I'm hoping that we fix that, finally," he said.

Indicative of his less strategic and more project based approach, he said he was most proud of delivering projects such as UFB, a wider and cheaper Waterview tunnel and the quickly-arranged regulatory framework for New Zealand's space industry, which enabled the fast creation of Peter Beck's Rocket Lab. Beck attended the valedictory speech.

But Joyce was more personal than I've seen him before when talking about the brutal hours involved away from home as a senior minister. I think many in the public don't realise how intense the job is and he gave a sense of it in his valedictory. He explained how he was away from home from 5am on a Monday until late on Thursday evenings, and even then spent most Saturday and Sunday afternoons reading official papers in the back garden.

"I have to confess that I've often worried about the example that I've been setting them. Of course parents travel for work. It's just the relentless nature of the ministerial job, day and day out for years on end, and in my case nine. Then there were the particularly arduous times," he said, when speaking of his children.

"During one such time in 2011, my then four-year-old daughter—there were friends around at the house and she wandered up to the TV and I had a video of the Rena on, and she turned around to everybody and said, "That's where my daddy lives."

He was most affected when talking about Tommy, his autistic son.

"He is 8 years old, doesn't have any vocabulary at all, but I know he likes having his dad around. He tells me with this laugh and with his eyes, and now he's going to have dad around some more."

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva wrote a full report on Joyce's valedictory, which was published first on Newsroom. Here's the full video and the complete Hansard text of the valedictory.

I always found Joyce helpful and engaging in person and obviously one of the 'big three' that ran the Government from 2008, alongside English and Key. But from a political and policy point of view, it will always be hard to overlook his failed attempt to paint an $11.7 billion black hole over Labour's shadow budget in the final weeks of the election campaign, and his absolute refusal to accept he was wrong. It did him and Bill English no credit to stick with the error.

I wrote at the time as a 'Fiscal TMO' there was no black hole, "but you've got to admire Steven Joyce's low body position and running angle."

In summary, Joyce was one of the props in the engine room of the team who was always picked to play first and seemed to be an integral part of winning teams, but was never seen as a potential captain or a genius player. His strange and failed bid for the leadership just a few weeks ago proved that.

3. Curran's big TV plan claims first victim

The big news around Parliament and the Beehive in the last 24 hours was the surprise and immediate resignation of RNZ's Head of News Carol Hirschfeld after she was discovered to have misled her CEO Paul Thompson and Chair Richard Griffin over a meeting she had with Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.

Hirschfeld said it was a chance meeting, which Thompson and Griffin repeated and backed up in a select committee meeting, and which Curran initially did not correct when she heard it.

It turned out from text messages released today they had used 18 text messages to arrange the meeting, which happened at the Astoria cafe in Wellington just days before a much more formal meeting between Curran, Griffin and Thompson.

The texts don't indicate what they discussed and neither have divulged what they talked about.

Curran has pledged to grant RNZ and NZ On Air a $38 million funding boost for RNZ to build a new state-run television channel, but Thompson and Griffin are known to be cautious about creating a brand new and expensive free-to-air and in-line conventional channel at a time when viewers are moving to time-shifted streaming content.

Hirschfeld was thought to prefer the move to a full television channel, sparking speculation that she was working through a back-channel with Curran to achieve that. Neither have commented on that speculation yet.

Curran initially did not record the meeting as a formal meeting and later said she had been "naive" to do that. She contacted RNZ a month ago to reinforce that the meeting was pre-arranged. Thompson and Griffin had painted the meeting as accidental after Hirschfeld bumped into Curran one morning after a gym session.

There will be questions in Parliament later today about why Curran did not correct the record in the select committee and about what they discussed. Ardern expressed confidence in Curran yesterday.

Here's the full story this morning from Shane and Sam.

4. No Russian spies in NZ. Really?

It seemed almost insulting to say New Zealand was not interesting or important enough for Russia to bother putting any spies here.

But that's the only conclusion to be reached after Jacinda Ardern revealed yesterday that New Zealand would not be expelling any diplomats from Russia, unlike most of our allies, because our spies believed Russia didn't have any spies here.

The news, reported fully first on Newsroom Pro by Sam Sachdeva, initially sparked amusement and then derision overseas.

Some were sceptical about the apparent lack of spies here, given New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes security alliance. And even if there were none here, then the dismissal of simple diplomats would have sufficed to join the alliance against Russia's use of lethal nerve agents in Britain.

"There seems to be some mincing of words here on the part of the PM in order to wriggle out of what many think is the responsibility to join our allies in this solidarity action," defence analyst Paul Buchanan told RNZ.

"This is mostly about repudiating Russia's actions abroad, so it's symbolic. You could recall the expelled people within two to three months," Buchanan said.

Eyebrows have been raised over the Government's positions on Russia ever since an extraordinary interview given by Foreign Minister Winston Peters on The Nation with Lisa Owen on March 11. Peters questioned whether Russia was responsible for shooting down a Malaysian passenger jet over Ukraine and his initial statement about the nerve agent attack did not mention Russia.

Ardern had to reassure the EU that New Zealand preferred to do a trade deal with the EU before doing one with Russia. The talks with Russia were also suspended indefinitely after the nerve agent attack.

5. Bryce Edwards: A fast-revolving door

Jonathan Coleman is the latest senior minister to switch from politics to business. Victoria University's Bryce Edwards argues in his column this week (it's published every Wednesday) that it's another example of the problem of New Zealand’s revolving door between the public and private sectors.

Coleman was brazenly unapologetic about shifting straight from his health portfolio into working as the CEO of private health group, Acurity. He explained he had received a lucrative approach from a private provider in the industry sector he has been overseeing as a Cabinet Minister, and more recently as an opposition spokesperson.

The shameless switch barely warranted a mention in the reports about his retirement, and there was little questioning from the media about the ethics of such a shift or whether Coleman faced any conflicts of interests in going almost straight from Health Minister to running a private health company.

Bryce rightly points out this revolving door phenomenon is new and needs to be looked at to keep our system clean.

See Bryce's fullinterviewe here on Newsroom Pro.

6. Pip McLachlan: A broader China debate

The debate over China's soft power activities in New Zealand has been rumbling along in fits and starts since Newsroom reported Jian Yang's background in Chinese military intelligence long before he became a National MP.

Sometimes the debate online hasn't been that cordial or constructive.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Director Pip McLachlan has written a piece published on Newsroom Pro this morning calling for a broader debate.

She makes the good point that nature abhors a vacuum and we need to avoid a polarised discussion.

"We might not always agree with each other, but New Zealand will be the better for a rich, textured and constructive discussion. If we don’t have one, we risk sleep-walking to a relationship with China that we don’t fully understand, or ruining one of our most important international relationships," she writes.

7. Some fun things...

What a time to be alive. Here's Mikel Jollett at the US President's expense:

"A marriage is supposed to be between a man, his mistress, a rolled-up magazine, his lawyer, his daughter, his porn star, his publicist, his Russian dictator and his wife."

And I particularly enjoyed this tweet from Press Gallery colleague Henry Cooke on the Curran-Hirschfeld meeting (a perfect Wellington joke):

"This whole thing just proves my longstanding point that you should never go to Astoria."

And Keith Ng: "I pick all my cafes based on operational security concerns and flakiness of their pastries."

8. Today's political links

These are available in the morning subscriber email