Every weekday, The Detail makes sense of the big news stories. This week on the podcast, we’ve covered the debate over farrowing crates in the pork industry, what’s contributing to the decline in youth literacy rates, whether sanctions against Russia are actually working, why our biggest infrastructure projects seem to constantly run over-budget and overtime, and the position of Speaker of the House in the wake of Trevor Mallard’s imminent departure. 

Whakarongo mai to any episodes you might have missed. Find out how to listen and subscribe here.

Pig problems and the debate over farrowing crates

We’re a nation that loves meat, but as consumers, we’re getting more and more considered about where we get that meat from. We want free range chicken, grass-fed beef – but where does pork sit when it comes to animal welfare? 

Photo: Supplied/SAFE

The Government has signalled the use of steel farrow crates on pork farms will be phased out by 2025. Up to 60 percent of New Zealand pig farmers use them – sows are put in them about the time they give birth so they don’t crush their piglets. Animal welfare advocates say the crates are bad for the sow’s health, but farmers warn thousands of piglets could die without them. 

Veterinarian Helen Beattie, who founded the group Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa, explains to The Detail the complex history of New Zealand’s animal welfare laws and the world-first inclusion of animal sentience in a series of legislative amendments made in 2015.  

She says the debate around farrowing crates has put huge stress on the farmers, which flows on to their families and communities, and the animals themselves. 

Reading the signs: Why literacy rates are falling

Youth literacy rates in Aotearoa have been on a steady decline for more than 20 years. 

Photo: Getty Images

Dr Nina Hood, of research group Education Hub, tells The Detail we don’t know why for sure, but research shows that young people are consuming digital content more and reading for pleasure less. 

“What we know in terms of reading is: the more you read, the better you get at reading,” she says.  

Bronwyn Yates, te Tumuaki of Literacy Aotearoa, says when literacy issues go unchecked as a child, so many aspects of their adult life, from employment opportunities to parenting, can be impacted – take waking up and going to the fridge.

“[Think about] all the components of literacy that are related to having a fridge: being able to buy a fridge, have the money to have a fridge … come out of the fridge, you’re putting your kai on: again, you’ve got power. You need to make sure that you’re paying your power on time, to read when that’s due,” she says. 

“Then there’s your kids: they’re getting ready for school. Some didn’t do their homework last night, because they asked you for help, and you’re a little bit whakamā – a bit embarrassed – about the fact you couldn’t help them with that.” 

Are sanctions against Russia working?

It’s more than 100 days since Parliament unanimously passed the groundbreaking Russia Sanctions Act in response to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, but companies’ efforts to sever ties with Russia are dragging on.  

Photo: Getty Images

According to media reports, sanctions imposed by Western countries and the exodus of more than 1000 multinationals are starting to bite hard in Russia. GDP is expected to decline by double digits and inflation is forecast to hit 20 percent by the end of the year.   

But the sanctions also come at a cost to the governments, banks and companies involved, and sanctions specialist and partner at law firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts Sarah Salmond says the number of New Zealand entities caught up in the thick of it is surprising, and getting out is complex. 

“They might have a distribution network in Russia, they may have investments, they may have a physical presence in Russia, and it’s not possible to wind that down instantly,” she says.  

Are big projects doomed to be late and over-budget?

When it comes to building big, Aotearoa has a charming history of things not going to plan. Projects of recent memory include Transmission Gully, the Justice Precinct in Christchurch, and the Wellington Town Hall – all turning in late and with a bigger price tag than expected.  

Photo: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

John Tookey, a professor of construction management at AUT, tells The Detail there are plenty of things we simply can’t predict or plan for. Take for example Chinese steel producers reducing their exports in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics: “All of a sudden, without forewarning, the Chinese producers stopped exporting stuff, and all of a sudden the cost of structural steel went through the roof,” he says. 

“Any builder here know that was coming?”  

Tookey says it’s easy for the average person to take issue with the up-front cost of large-scale builds without necessarily thinking about the long-term societal benefit the project will yield. He says it’s better to spend large if it means getting it right. 

“Cutting corners on the provision of infrastructure for the future doesn’t ultimately lead to good outcomes. You end up with the flow-on effects of having to re-engineer the infrastructure down the track to cope with the additional capacity needs.”  

Mallard’s departure and his complicated legacy

After a political career spanning 35 years, Trevor Mallard is stepping away from the Speaker’s chair to take up an as-yet unknown diplomatic posting in Europe. 

Photo: Newsroom/Lynn Grieveson

Mallard’s time in office was tumultuous, to say the least: he falsely accused a parliamentary staffer of rape, regularly clashed with Opposition MPs, and was heavily criticised for his response to the Parliamentary occupation earlier this year, which included spraying the protestors with lawn sprinklers and blasting Barry Manilow to try and disperse them.  

But NBR political editor Brent Edwards says he can also be credited with making parliament a more casual, inclusive place – from relaxing parliamentary dress codes to nursing new-borns while the House sits, to cultivating stronger canine representation in the halls of power and making it easier for parliamentary staffers to report instances of bullying by MPs.  

He also discusses whether electing the Speaker by secret ballot would help the credibility of Speakers in the future; and the trend of long-serving MPs leaving politics and immediately taking up high-profile diplomatic positions overseas. 

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