The Bulletin: Wairoa dental service withdraws, and a quiet regional crisis

Something Was Wrong. My Nightgown Was in Flames
December 10, 2020
Weather: Snow in the south, strong winds up to 120kmh for Wellington and Wairarapa
December 10, 2020


Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Why it matters Wairoa lost their dentist service, commercial rent relief won’t be revisited by government, and four year term referendum looking likely.

It can be hard enough for key workers to live in the big cities, with the high cost of living. But for many smaller towns, the struggle is getting the services they provide at all. For today’s Bulletin, we’re going to start with an excellent hyper-local story about the town of Wairoa losing dental services, with next to no option for people who live around there except to drive for hours. The story by Stuff’s Georgia-May Gilbertson gives a clear insight into the sheer added difficulty and inconvenience that unfairly comes from living in a poorer town, away from the main centres. You might recall that last time The Bulletin mentioned Wairoa, it was a story about driver licencing services being non-existent. This is not an insubstantial place – almost 5000 live in the town itself, and almost twice that in the district around it.

There is a community hub for those under 18, but that doesn’t help adults who need treatment. And services that are promised in these parts of the world don’t always get delivered. The Gisborne Herald had a story recently about a service around the school in Tolaga Bay, in which the community waited more than a decade for any consistency or continuity in a programme.

All the while, and for a variety of reasons, oral health outcomes continued to be comparatively worse in the region, which could in turn have lifelong consequences for those people who missed out. It also comes at a time when hospitalisations for dental issues are becoming much more common, in part because of the high baseline prices of dentistry, and people are routinely turning to home jobs in an attempt to fix them. Communities that lack these services are likely to be disproportionately Māori, and it compounds inequalities.

Many different medical services are affected by similar problems, including roles with universal need like GPs and midwives, and particularly for anything specialist. With Covid-19 border restrictions, it’s harder to recruit people from overseas, reports Stuff – even with border exemptions for essential medical workers.

Meanwhile, rural schools have long struggled to find enough teachers, and are now instead turning to online classes instead, reports Radio NZ’s John Gerritsen. Finding teachers to work in far flung places is particularly difficult for specialist subjects like maths and scientists. Previously these schools also relied heavily on overseas recruitment to fill gaps, and in fact you might remember two years ago a massive international recruitment drive was launched. All the while, people in those communities continue having to make do with not enough.

Commercial rent relief will not be revisited by the government, a policy that got stalled in coalition negotiations during the last term, reports Newshub. It follows an open letter published in The Spinoff, which talked about how Covid-19 had made things much more difficult for small businesses, particularly because of a lack of mediation with landlords. Robertson did say that might be revisited if there was another lockdown.

Meanwhile, the government has moved ahead with an election promise to cap fees banks can charge retailers for paywave services, reports Newshub. Fees were temporarily waived by banks during Covid – after all, it made more sense to not have a parade of people touching the same eftpos machine. But when those fees came back in, many retailers dropped the service again, because they couldn’t afford the extra transaction costs.

It seems increasingly likely we’ll get a referendum on a four year term at the next election. One News reports a poll conducted last week shows a majority of people support such a change, and there’s a fair bit of common ground across parliament on the desire to submit themselves to the judgement of voters less frequently. By international standards, New Zealand’s parliamentary terms are fairly short.

Struggling to work out how to spread the Christmas cheer this holiday season? Have you checked out The Spinoff’s merch store? It’s the perfect Christmas destination.


Fully half of the Hastings District Council was unable to vote on the city’s new gambling policy, because of conflicts of interest, reports Shannon Johnstone for (paywalled, NZME) Hawke’s Bay Today. Those who didn’t vote have since criticised the process as undemocratic. In terms of the policy itself, new pokie machines in the city will be banned, but existing owners will be allowed to relocate them to new venues.

A story that is fundamentally about incentives, and the bad outcomes of having houses as a commodity: Radio NZ’s Ruth Hill reports consumer groups are hitting out at real estate agents, for allegedly manipulating price estimates to fuel the housing market. Some buyers might expect appraisals to be conducted by neutral third parties, but in fact many are submitted by those with a vested interest. Meanwhile, real estate agents are defending themselves, saying that it is literally their job to sell properties for the highest possible price.

Some world news to keep an eye on over the weekend: Negotiations between the UK and EU will be continuing, after repeated failures to find a resolution on a post-Brexit trade deal. The BBC reported several hours ago that despite negotiations being conducted at the absolute highest level, the prospect of no deal being the outcome continues to loom larger. The EU has already announced how it will manage the chaos that would come with that – the UK seems somewhat less prepared.

Best Journalism of 2020: Today’s nomination is for one of those writers who has a knack for bringing issues big and bewildering down to an understandable level. Ben got in touch to nominate the NZ Herald’s Simon Wilson – he said “I’ve always loved his thought provoking, and well researched and argued feature pieces. I thought this piece was great & even put it on the fridge as a talking point.” For those without an NZME subscription, the linked piece is a deep dive into the diverging Covid strategies of New Zealand and Sweden, and the political implications of either choice. Without ever getting bogged down, it brings it all together beautifully.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

The games industry has potential to be a multi billion dollar sector for New Zealand (illustration: Ezra Whittaker)

Right now on The Spinoff: Hal Crawford writes about the concerns in Australia about how new internet laws could affect services. Frank Hogan from CPAG questions whether now is really the right time to promote home ownership as a housing crisis solution. Justin Latif speaks to people in South Auckland about a new campaign pushing back against misinformation. David Hill reflects on his mother’s life of servitude, and that of many others like her. Jonathan Cotton writes about the potential for the gaming industry to be further unleashed. Alice Neville looks at how google taught an entire generation how to cook this year. And Jules van Costello has a crack at the ‘winosaurs’ who can’t accept tastes in wine are changing.

One of the most pressing climate change causes right now is the deforestation of rainforest, which are vital for regulating global temperatures. So for a feature today, a piece that outlines just how worrying the situation is – sorry, it’s depressing but it’s important. Published by Yale Environment, it looks at how this deforestation could disrupt water flows, and contribute to bad droughts in distant places. Here’s an excerpt:

But there are local effects, too. Forests moderate local climate by keeping their local environments cool. They do this partly by shading the land, but also by releasing moisture from their leaves. This process, called transpiration, requires energy, which is extracted from the surrounding air, thus cooling it. A single tree can transpire hundreds of liters of water in a day. Each hundred liters has a cooling effect equivalent to two domestic air conditioners for a day, calculates Ellison.

Monitoring of rapidly deforesting regions of the tropics has recently shown the effect of losing this arboreal air conditioning. Take the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which has been losing forests to palm oil cultivation faster than almost anywhere else on the planet. A study last year found that since 2000, surface temperatures there have on average increased by 1.05 degrees Celsius (1.8°F), compared with 0.45 degrees in forested parts. Clifton Sabajo at the University of Gottingen, Germany, found temperature differences between forest and clear-cut land of up to 10 degrees Celsius (18°F) in parts of Sumatra.

In sport, the second cricket test of the summer starts today, assuming it’s a typically bright and sunny Wellington day that is. But there’s been a fair bit of debate this week about the broadcast setup, and whether the sport has closed itself off too much from the public by choosing to go with Spark. Stuff’s Mark Reason laid into a range of people over the difficulty of seeing broadcasts, and what that would mean for the future of the game. On Sportsfreak, Aiden McLaughlin gave a contrasting view from his family’s experience, saying TV wasn’t the key to participation – being there in person was. See also, if you didn’t read it before, my piece about hospo venues not taking up Spark subscriptions.

And as for the game itself, Kane Williamson will not be playing. One News reports he’ll be back in Tauranga with wife Sarah, who is due to give birth to their first kid some time this month. In Williamson’s absence, Tom Latham will captain the team, while Will Young will move down to first drop.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme






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