Newsroom Pro's 8 Things: No new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration; Deep injection of wastewater; Bluff's oyster slump; China blocks Australian visas

The news that matters this morning

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has taken the Government's first major step to address climate change, announcing there will be no more offshore oil and gas exploration permits granted.

But the move is a compromise as existing permits covering an area the size of the North Island will allow further drilling for decades and new permits for onshore exploration will continue.

The policy sits between calls from the Greens for all exploration to end, and New Zealand First's concerns about the loss of thousands of jobs in Taranaki.

Labour argues it has struck a balance.

Forest and Bird welcomed the move, but called for a law change to make it permanent, and Greenpeace repeated its call for a complete cessation of drilling. National's Jonathan Young and Todd Muller described the move as "economic vandalism" that signalled the end of 2,500 jobs.

Ardern will hold a 9 am news conference in the Beehive. Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw, who wrote this preview on March 27, will attend.

Here's my initial story this morning, first published on Newsroom Pro.

Elsewhere, Attorney General David Parker announced an Inquiry into Operation Burnham in Afghanistan that could take a year, agreeing to calls from the authors of 'Hit and Run' and others for an official probe that the previous Government rejected. But Parker also said video footage he had seen appeared to contradict some of the book's claims, which disappointed co-author Jon Stephenson. Former Defence Minister Mark Mitchell called the Inquiry an expensive waste of time that risked alienating our allies. See Thomas Coughlan's report from last night on Newsroom Pro.

Overnight, US President Donald Trump taunted Russia about imminent military action in Syria over a suspected poison gas attack, declaring that missiles "will be coming" and criticising Russia over its support of Bashar-al-Assad. (Reuters) Global stock markets fell around one percent after Trump's comments.

In another sign Republicans expect big losses in this November's mid-term elections, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced overnight he would not stand for re-election. (Reuters).

China has started refusing visas to Australian ministers and a major Australian showcase for trade and business in China is set to be cancelled as China becomes increasingly unhappy with the Australian government's rhetoric about China's use of soft power in Australia. (AFR).

Bad weather cut power and damaged houses and businesses in Auckland yesterday. A lightening strike closed Wellington Airport overnight, forcing the cancellation of dozens of flights, including mine to Napier.

2. 'The sky will not fall'

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw covered yesterday's Employment select committee and the debate between employers and unions about the Government's planned changes to roll back some of National's moves on labour relations.

Hospitality industry representatives called for the 90 day trial exemption for businesses with less than 20 employees to be lifted to 50 employees, and said the reintroduction of tea breaks could devastate the industry.

The CTU's Richard Wagstaff described the changes as simply a restoration of union rights.

“We have noticed some of the alarmist reactions to the bill and they remind me of when the ERA was first introduced and some of the talk that was going on then almost 20 years ago. But the sky didn’t fall in," he said.

Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway rejected the call to move to a 50 employee threshold for the 90 day trial and dismissed fears of business closures.

“We’re returning to settings that were in place during a period when we had strong economic growth and better productivity than we do today so I think they’re a bit more worried than they need to be." he said.

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

3. A Bluff oyster shortage

An alarming drop in the Bluff oyster catch has prompted a veteran skipper to go public with his concerns that Foveaux Strait is being fished unsustainably. Newsroom's South Island correspondent David Williams reports.

Over 45 years at the helm of an oyster boat, Anthony Fowler has seen it all in Foveaux Strait, including the closure and partial closure of the fishery after huge die-offs in the 1990s and 2000s. But he’s distressed by this year’s dramatic drop in catch numbers – in what is supposed to be a healthy fishery, boasting hundreds of millions of adult oysters.

“Put it this way, we’re getting half of what we caught last year,” he told Newsroom. “Last year at this time we were getting 40 to 50 cases a day. This year we’re getting, like, 20.”

Fowler says he’s speaking publicly out of duty as kaitiaki of the Hokonui Runanga and to let the people of Bluff know what's happening.

When the season opened on March 1, few Bluff oysters were sent outside Southland, something that was put down to high demand.

But Fowler, who joined the Bluff oyster industry in 1968 and became a skipper four years later, says he’s never seen fishing conditions to be so bad. There’s also a high “reject” rate in the processing factories, where poor quality oysters of legal grade aren’t meeting expectations for size and colour.

See David's full article here on Newsroom.

4. Bringing back 'four wellbeings'

The Labour-led Government is reintroducing the 'four wellbeings' tests for local governments that were removed by the previous Government.

The Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill passed its first reading last night and aims to restate the promotion of social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities to the statutory purpose of local government.

“We face serious challenges such as the impact of population growth, climate change and ageing infrastructure. A broader focus in the way councils meet the challenge of setting priorities and planning for the future is required," Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

“Reintroducing an emphasis on the four well-beings will engage councils and citizens on an intergenerational approach to improving quality of life outcomes in our towns and cities," she said.

The Bill would also give council back the ability to collect development contributions to fund community facilities, such as libraries, sports grounds and swimming pools that result from new housing developments.

National MP and former Auckland councillor Denise Lee criticised the bill's removal of of any reference to cost-effectiveness or value for money.

"What local government does not need at this point in time is accusation that it's getting away from core roles of providing local infrastructure, local public service, and local regulatory functions, and that if they do, the cost will end up being borne by the ratepayer," Lee said.

Here is the Hansard of the first reading debate.

ACT Leader David Seymour described the bill as the 'Puppy Dogs and Ice-Cream Bill" and criticised the removal of the cost effective clauses.

"Councils are poorly focused enough already. This bill will make them completely unfocused. The nuttiest community activists will have free rein to waste ratepayer money on their various well meaning but pointless projects," he said.

Elsewhere of interest to local government, a Local Electoral Matters Bill was introduced to Parliament to allow the design, trial and analysis of new voting methods for local elections. Mahuta said it would make it easier to trial electronic voting, including online voting.

Meanwhile, also overnight in Parliament, Justice Minister Andrew Little shepherded a new Privacy Act through its first reading.

“The Bill gives the Privacy Commissioner new powers. It allows the Privacy Commissioner to issue notices requiring an agency to comply with the Act, or direct them to provide access to a person’s information," Little said.

The Privacy Bill implements recommendations made by the Law Commission in 2011.

5. Akaroa's deep bore injection plan

Newsroom's David Williams has also been covering plans to dispose of Akaroa's wastewater by injecting it deep underground.

It's the latest twist in a years-long debate about moving Akaroa's sewage works. Christchurch Council, which governs the Banks Peninsula settlement, is seriously considering a little-used method of disposing of treated wastewater, called deep bore injection, David reports.

It involves sending the liquid down a hole, or a series of holes, drilled deep into the ground, below groundwater and below sea level.

The method is so infrequently used, that the only place in New Zealand thought to use the technique for public wastewater disposal is Russell, in the Bay of Islands. If it works in Akaroa, perhaps other small towns around New Zealand, which are also trying to find an affordable solution to disposing of its waste, will consider it.

That worries Massey University freshwater ecologist Mike Joy, who calls deep bore injection a “dangerous and scary cheap option”. “The only true solution is to cycle nutrients in wastewater proper land-based treatment or separate lines for grey and black water.”

About 70 people attended a meeting in Akaroa last week, at which the city council and its consultants outlined their plans.

See David's full report here on Newsroom.

6. Coming up...

Financial markets and economists will get their first taste of the Reserve Bank under new Governor Adrian Orr when Assistant Governor John McDermott delivers a speech titled "Inflation targeting in New Zealand: an experience in evolution" at midday today. The speech will be available from 11 am here.

7. One fun thing...

Donald Trump warned Syria and Russia he was about to launch military strikes there later today.

In 2013 he tweeted this about Syria and the actions of Barack Obama: "No, dopey, I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools."

His historic twitter feed is the gift that keeps giving.

8. This morning's political links

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