Front Page podcast: Concerns NZ govt turning blind eye to China meddling

Each weekday The Front Page keeps you up to date with the biggest news in New Zealand. Today it‘s concerns our Government is complacent about China‘s influence in New Zealand, thousands paid out for wrongful meth evictions, lightning strike injures four people, and one restaurant proves you can be successful while paying the living wage. Hosted by Frances Cook.

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A US group‘s report into China‘s influence in New Zealand has highlighted concerns, including the possibility political sensitivities are stopping our intelligence agencies from investigating.

The Hoover Institution, a US think-tank, released its “Chinese Influence & American Interest” report today with New Zealand presented as a case study.

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New Zealand is said to be particularly vulnerable because of our smaller size and China being a dominant market for dairy and tourism exports.

The report says China‘s influence operations in New Zealand have ramped up since Xi Jinping became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2013.

It contrasts the relatively low-key response of New Zealand with the stronger legislative programme implemented in Australia.

The continuing saga of National Party MP Yang Jian comes in for particularly scrutiny. The Herald, Newsroom and the Financial Times have all previously reported on his selective disclosure of the extent of his 15-year working relationship with China‘s military intelligence agencies.

The Hoover report has also raised the possibility that political oversight of SIS investigations into “sensitive individuals” may be preventing local authorities from looking into matters of national security concern.

It says that cases of subversion and foreign influence inside political parties can‘t go ahead with the approval of the service‘s minister, but then points out that political considerations may impact the Minister‘s decision on allowing investigation.

The Government has today paid out around $8000 each to 55 people, who were wrongly evicted from Housing NZ homes after flawed meth tests.

It follows an apology in September from Housing NZ for kicking out about 800 tenants from their state homes for meth tests that were wrongly used and not needed.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said in addition to the first 55 payments, a further 92 assistance claims had been approved and, once an offer was accepted, payments would be made immediately.

Twyford said the payouts could cost Housing New Zealand up to $5million.

The payouts were because of material losses and were made on a case-by-case basis, covering expenses such as moving costs and furniture replacement.

New property data shows first-home buyers make up about one quarter of new mortgages.

OneRoof and Valocity research shows new entrants make up 26 per cent of Auckland‘s new mortgages, only slightly lower than the rate nationwide, which is 28 per cent.

Valocity spokesperson James Wilson says first-home buyers can be put off by the perceived difficulty of the getting on the ladder, when they shouldn‘t be.

It seems first-home buyers are increasingly opting for apartments over houses.

Apartment sales have grown a whopping 62 per cent.

Some other stats out today show the Central Otago-Lakes District may be the first region feeling impacts of reduced overseas buyers.

Realestate.co.nz figures show the region‘s average asking price in November fell by almost 20 per cent from October.

Auckland still has the top housing asking price in this month‘s figures, sitting around the $950,000 mark.

If you want to see how your area compares to others around New Zealand, the Herald has put out a cool little interactive about it.

A Herald investigation released over the weekend has seen former staff accuse National MP Maggie Barry of bullying

Barry has been investigated twice over bullying claims this year – including accusations she expected staff to do political party work on taxpayer time, which would be against the law.

The MP concedes there were issues raised by former staff, but says they were resolved “by mutual agreement” and “there was no finding that bullying or harassment had occurred”.

The Weekend Herald obtained documents which showed the Parliamentary Service investigated allegations including that Barry swore and yelled at staff, used derogatory terms about other elected officials, discussed her employees‘ sexuality in the workplace, and expected National Party work to be done during office hours, which staff felt unable to refuse.

One staffer told investigators he believed there was a huge power imbalance and that Barry was “terrifying” and could destroy his career.

National Party leader Simon Bridges says there is a grey area in what constitutes political and non-political work by parliamentary staffers and he welcomes scrutiny by the current review into bullying at Parliament.

But he doesn‘t have concerns over Barry‘s management of staff, saying she denies the allegations, and Parliamentary Service didn‘t find evidence of bullying or harassment.

While we‘re talking politics, the latest poll shows National surging ahead of Labour.

The One News Colmar Brunton poll is the last poll for this year.

It shows National has rebounded from the Jami-Lee Ross saga to 46 per cent, up three points.

Labour has slipped two points to 43 per cent.

The Greens are down two to five per cent, New Zealand First is down 1 to four per cent and Act registers 1 per cent, up from zero in the October poll.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has slipped as preferred Prime Minister from 42 per cent to 39 per cent.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges is holding steady in the preferred Prime Minister stakes on seven percent.

Judith Collins is nipping at his heels as preferred Prime Minister, up one point, to six percent.

Bridges says he‘s blessed to have a bunch of senior colleagues doing a good job, including Collins, and he doesn‘t see her as a threat.

For her part, Judith Collins says she‘s focused on her portfolio work and being the MP for Papakura.

Nasty weather is hitting various parts of New Zealand, including a lightning strike which has injured four people.

There‘s a risk of slips and flooding as thunderstorms across the country threaten to bring as much as 40mm of rain an hour and hailstones over 20mm in size.

A lightning at a Hamilton school injured four people.

Waikato police Senior Sergeant Tina Shaw says the four adults who were struck were in one of the classrooms at the time.

It appears the lightning bolt struck a rugby post before travelling along the ground, connecting with the tennis court fence before hitting the classroom and striking the four teachers.

The lightning strike apparently felt “tingly”.

MetService has issued a severe thunderstorm watch from Waikato to Bay of Plenty and Rotorua, the east of Taranaki, the central high country and south to Wairarapa.

Troughs will continue to cross the upper North Island in the afternoon and early evening, creating a moderate risk of thunderstorms.

Research is warning we can‘t recycle our way out of a growing mountain of plastic problems.

The Sustainable Business Network is urging more widespread and overarching change to our economy is needed, after the first-ever study on the country‘s entire plastic packaging system.

The study was supported by 10 major companies, including Coca Cola and Countdown.

The Sustainable Business Network study estimates the material value of 95 per cent of plastic packaging is lost to the economy.

Instead of being turned into something useful, it ends up in landfill, incinerated, or in our ocean, cities and countryside.

Spokesperson James Griffin says we have to look at moving from a linear economy, where we use and discard, to a fully circular economy.

The study suggests that individual businesses should audit the types and amounts of plastic packaging they used, and set bold targets to phase out problematic packaging.

It says the Government also needs to develop and implement a comprehensive plastic packaging strategy, with bold and ambitious targets.

Experts say petrol prices are due to fall further as oil slumps and the kiwi dollar rises.

The Automobile Association says it wouldn‘t be surprised to see prices fall below $2 if the current global trends hold steady.

Oil prices soared earlier this year, through to a peak in early October. It came at the same time as a fall in the kiwi dollar and new fuel taxes, meaning many drivers were hit in the pocket.

It seems the lower prices have come just in the nick of time.

A release of figures showing the health of our overall economy show the previous high petrol prices meant a reduction in the purchasing power of our exports overseas.

The terms of trade have declined by 0.3 per cent.

Stats NZ‘s Sarah Johnson says overall export prices were high, thanks to good meat and dairy prices in the September quarter.

But that was offset by extremely high petrol and diesel prices.

‘Strangulation or suffocation‘ is one of three new criminal offences coming into effect today.

The Family Violence (Amendments) Bill also adds the new crimes of assault on a person in a family relationship, and coerced marriage or civil union.

Domestic violence charity Shine says the changes are welcome – and long overdue.

General manager Jane Drumm says strangulation and suffocation in particular are a high risk indicator of domestic abuse, so making them a specific offence is crucial.

Another change from today, domestic violence victims will now be able to give their evidence to police at the scene, in a video.

The statements of domestic and sexual violence victims can already be video recorded before a trial – to avoid the added trauma of giving evidence.

Today‘s law change allows police to film such statements immediately on their phones, when they get to a domestic violence callout.

An estimated million New Zealanders are directly affected by family violence every year and police attended 121,000 family violence callouts last year – one every four minutes.

An Auckland eatery is showing how the living wage can change Kiwis‘ lives.

As part of an ongoing Herald series into New Zealand workplaces, a profile on Kai Pasifika shows how the hospitality sector can tackle the living wage issue.

Kai Pasifika is one of the first restaurants in Auckland to embrace the living wage. At $20.55 per hour, it‘s defined as what “a worker needs to pay for the necessities of life and participate in the community”.

It‘s $4.05 cents higher than New Zealand‘s minimum wage of $16.50.

Kai Pasifika‘s co-founder and internationally renowned chef Richard Hall says they built an internal culture around Pacific values, and so, paid a living wage from the beginning.

It‘s an important story, because out of all ethnic groups to have benefited from the past decade‘s economic growth, the Pacific Island community have been left behind.

Between the 2006 and 2013 Census, the Pacific Island community was the only ethnicity in the entire country to see their average wage decrease. Wages dropped from $20,500 in 2006 to $19,700 in 2013.

That‘s the Front Page for today, Monday December 3, making sure you‘re across the biggest news of the day. For more on these stories, check out The New Zealand Herald, or tune in to Newstalk ZB.

You can subscribe to this podcast on , , and .

If you like to stay up to date on social media, you can find host Frances Cook on , and .

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