Election Live, August 5: Two new Covid cases; returnee charges to start mid-month

Welcome to Election Live for August 5, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other breaking news. For key dates in the election season click here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Policy launching soon. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

6.45pm: The day in sum

The unemployment rate has dropped to 4%, but the number of people out of the labour force has skyrocketed.

The National Party unveiled its Wellington transport plan, which includes a second Mt Victoria tunnel.

There are two new cases of Covid-19, both in managed isolation.

The legislation for charging returnees has passed, with the new rules to come into effect mid-month.

Rob Fyfe and former PM John Key offered their thoughts on Auckland’s rebuild at a conference following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gerry Brownlee asked whether the government is withholding information about the risks of a Covid outbreak.

A massive explosion in Beirut left countless people injured, and the death toll continues to climb.

6.30pm: Jian Yang denounces ‘conspiracy theories’ in final speech

The latest MP to wave farewell with a salvo at the media is Jian Yang. In his valedictory speech, just completed in the house of representatives, the National list MP condemned “speculation about my loyalty to New Zealand”. He had initially resisted approaches by National president Peter Goodfellow about standing for parliament nine years ago, but when he agreed, he had been clear about his previous links to the Chinese Communist Party. (He studied at an elite spy school.) He had “been transparent from the beginning”.

Yang added it was a “conspiracy theory” that he had not spoken to the media, and that he had done so “more than 10 times in the past 18 months” in relation to his statistics portfolio. He had simply refused to do so when “the sole purpose was to question my loyalty to New Zealand”.

6.00pm: ‘What are they not telling us?’ – Brownlee

Gerry Brownlee has issued a press release that reads as though it might at any moment break into all-caps. “The government needs to come clean on what they know about the state of Covid-19 in New Zealand,” said the National deputy leader. “We have had three-months of no community transmission, then inexplicably, Ashley Bloomfield tells the nation today that a second wave was a likely prospect. As well, health minister Chris Hipkins tells the House in Question Time that tomorrow he will tell Kiwis the conditions in which they will be expected to wear masks in the event of the country moving back into level two.”

He added: “It doesn’t add up. Why announce this now when there are few cases? What do these guys know that they are not telling us? New Zealanders have already sacrificed a lot during this pandemic. The least they deserve is more honest, transparent treatment.”

A reminder: three weeks ago the government laid out its plan for the response in the case of a community outbreak. Read Justin Giovannetti’s summary here.

4.00pm: 90% of those who lost their jobs over lockdown were women

News that the unemployment rate fell in the June 2020 quarter, defying economists’ predictions, got the biggest headlines this morning. But perhaps an even more remarkable stat was hidden in the figures. The number of employed people actually fell by 11,000 in the June quarter – and 10,000 of them were women.

On The Spinoff, Kiwibank economist Mary Jo Vergara explains what’s going on:

“With stay-at-home orders issued, businesses shut up shop and the service industry bore the brunt. And for the same reasons that male employment was hardest hit in previous crises, women are especially vulnerable this time around – over 60% of sales workers and over 70% of hospitality workers are female.

Read the full story here.

3.25pm: New podcast alert! Conversations that Count

The first episode of The Spinoff’s new podcast series tackles equality and equity and the role of our education system as a solution.

The idea that all New Zealanders should have access to equal opportunities is one that rarely meets with opposition. But if inequality is baked into a society, how can we redress the issues underpinning that? Dispensing assistance according to who needs it most might be unequal by definition, but in a world where we don’t all use the same starting blocks, is that the kind of approach needed to ensure fair outcomes?

That problem – of equity v equality – is exactly what the first episode of Conversations that Count – Ngā Kōrero Whai Take, our new podcast produced in partnership with Massey University, seeks to unravel. Broadcaster, author and Massey University lecturer Stacey Morrison hosts the kōrero, joined by Massey University Professor in Innovation and Economics Christoph Schumacher and The Spinoff’s Justin Latif, a former communications director for the Child Poverty Action Group and current chair of the board of a South Auckland primary school.

Subscribe here and read more here.

Welcome to Election Live

Reposted from 7.45am

Hello, it’s nice to see you again. You may have noticed that The Spinoff’s live updates have undergone a very mini rebrand this morning. From today, this is Election Live. It will, hopefully, be your go-to for all the latest coverage of the 2020 election campaign. But don’t you worry – I’ll still be covering other important stories, like the latest on the Covid-19 crisis and today, for example, the massive explosion in Beirut. If you have any questions, queries or you think I’ve missed a big story, please reach out to me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz.

And if you want to see what other cool stuff The Spinoff is doing this election period, read what Toby Manhire has to say right here.

2.45pm: Unemployment stats offer National no path to redemption

Right now on The Spinoff, political commentator Ben Thomas has broken down what today’s employment statistics (see 11am update) mean for Judith Collins and the National Party.

Here’s an extract:

The government has delivered an economic miracle! How else to describe today’s labour market statistics for the June quarter showing that after a lengthy shutdown of the economy and a worldwide economic contraction, unemployment has fallen to 4%?

That’s not just less than half Treasury’s prediction for the unemployment rate, it’s 0.2% lower than the quarter before lockdown. Hallelujah!

Like most magic tricks, it pays not to look behind the curtain. Notably, Statistics New Zealand headlined its release not with the remarkable unemployment number but with “Covid-19 lockdown has widespread effects on the labour market”.

1.00pm: Two new Covid cases; legislation for returnee charges passes

Updated

There are two new cases of Covid-19, the Ministry of Health has confirmed. Both are in managed isolation.

The first new case is a man in his 20s who arrived in New Zealand on July 23 from the Philippines via Hong Kong. He has been in managed isolation at the Rydges in Rotorua and tested negative for Covid-19 around day 3 of his stay. He’s now been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility after testing positive around day 12 of his stay in managed isolation.

The second case is a woman in her 40s who arrived in New Zealand on August 1 from the Philippines via Hong Kong. She has been in managed isolation at the Grand Millennium in Auckland, and tested positive around day 3 of her stay.

The total number of active cases in managed isolation facilities in New Zealand is now 24.

On managed isolation facilities:

The legislation allowing for the charging of some returning Kiwis for managed isolation has passed this morning, minister Megan Woods has confirmed.

Woods confirmed that the fees – $3100 per room in managed isolation – will come into force from the middle of the month. People will, however, be able to apply for a waiver on financial or compassionate grounds.

Air Commodore Digby Webb said more than 35,000 people have now come through border isolation facilities, and extra security is being put in place to prevent further escapees. That includes 28 licensed site security managers spread across each hotel.

There are now 31 isolation facilities across the country.

Ministry ‘actively considering’ public advice on masks:

The ministry said it’s actively considering its advice to the public on use of masks, as we look at steps the public could take to be better prepared for a possible further outbreak of Covid-19. It follows Ashley Bloomfield telling media this morning that the country should be prepared for a second wave.

In a statement, the ministry said the updated World Health Organization advice is that masks are effective in helping to reduce the spread of Covid-19 when worn by the public where there are cases of community transmission.

“The WHO also suggests that people should be prepared for the use of masks before the need to use them arises.”

“We know that masks have been successfully used overseas to reduce transmission of COVID-19. Masks can be particularly useful when people are in close proximity to each other – including on public transport, in shops, and in other confined spaces. If there are further outbreaks of COVID-19, masks will be one important component of our strategy for containing the spread of the virus.”

12.00pm: Collins vows to ‘smash’ Wellington’s congestion

The National Party has unveiled its Wellington transport plan this morning.

This from our political editor Justin Giovannetti who was at the launch:

Judith Collins has vowed to “smash congestion” in the capital city by building a series of revamped expressways across the Wellington region. The National campaign promise adds $4 billion to the central government’s existing $8 billion transportation plan for Wellington over the next two decades.

At the top of the wish list are second tunnels under Mount Victoria and the Terrace. Speaking with reporters after the announcement in the Lower Hutt suburb of Petone, Collins enthused about tunnel construction. “I love them, we need more of them,” she gushed. The two tunnels alone would cost $1.1 billion.

The price tag would then double to $2.2 billion with the promise to tunnel state highway 1 under Te Aro to speed traffic to the airport. That’s more than half of the total new construction on less than four kilometres of highway. An additional $1.4 billion is set aside for other road construction, including a new road linking Petone with the outskirts of Porirua.

National said it would create a new stand-alone agency, modelled on Auckland Transport to plan, fund and managed transportation across the Wellington region.

11.00am: Unemployment rate drops, defying predictions

Updated

New Zealand’s unemployment rate fell to 4% in the June 2020 quarter, blowing minds everywhere and defying economists’ predictions. That’s a decrease from 4.2% in the last quarter. But, while that might sound impressive, it doesn’t reveal the full picture.

According to Stats NZ, the number of people not in the labour force has risen 37,000 this quarter. The number of employed people fell 11,000.

Stats NZ’s labour market and household statistics senior manager Sean Broughton said “underutilisation” provides a more detail picture of our labour market. “This quarter, underutilisation rose from 10.4% to 12% – the largest quarterly rise since the series began, while hours worked were down by over 10 percent – another record,” Broughton said.

To be counted as “unemployed”, a person must have been actively seeking work in the last four weeks or be due to start a new job in the next four weeks. “At the end of June, there were around 39,000 more recipients of Jobseeker Support than at the end of March, but Jobseeker Support recipients are not necessarily unemployed,” Mr Broughton said.

“Some people who receive Jobseeker Support might work part-time and are therefore employed. Other recipients will not have work obligations. If these people are not actively seeking work or were not available to start work had a job been available, they will be counted as not in the labour force.”

The government’s been quick to claim victory over the drop in the unemployment rate, with the finance minister Grant Robertson saying it shows they’ve protected jobs and supported businesses during the pandemic. The opposition is less convinced: National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said “today’s unemployment figures don’t tell the full story of the jobs crisis we’re in as a country, and are masked by the 452,425 people on wage subsidies.”

Press releases on the matter were released within minutes of each other:

From Stats NZ:

In the June 2020 quarter:

  • unemployment rate fell to 4.0 percent
  • underutilisation rate rose to 12.0 percent
  • hours worked fell a record 10.3 percent
  • the number of people not in the labour force rose 37,000
  • the number of employed people fell 11,000
  • the wage subsidy scheme was in place from 17 March 2020.

Read more: Why the hell has New Zealand’s unemployment rate just gone down?

9.25am: Key praises Ardern, Bloomfield and Kiwis’ compliance to rules

Updated

Former prime minister John Key has told a crowd in Auckland this morning that part of our success combatting Covid-19 is due to New Zealanders actually following the rule. He said that overseas, in places like Australia, a lockdown looks like you can still head to the beach. “Full credit to New Zealanders, they’re very compliant,” Key said. He was also quick to give out praise to our government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, singling out Jacinda Ardern and the director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

But, Key said there are things that need to change and asked for increased flexibility: “Im not advocating that we recklessly open the border, but I think under the current settings we can do a lot more with quarantining on a bigger scale.

“You’ve got Whenuapai, Auckland University – we need to get more flexible at letting people in,” he said.

If Key was still in charge, international students would be allowed into the country, and could quarantine in residential halls. He also said businesses should be allowed to bring in people easily, so long as they cover the cost of quarantining.

In terms of getting our economy moving again, Key questioned the need for a ban on foreign buyers, saying New Zealand needs the economic investment. “To be blunt, why do we have a foreign buyers ban? Do we want to stop people from investing $10 million for some land [and] employing all the builders?” Key said we need to asking how quickly can we get that sort of money into New Zealand.

The crowd Key was addressing were largely business leaders in Auckland. Key said that Auckland matters to the rest of the country: “If Auckland slows down, the rest of the country slows down.”

8.40am: ‘Government is not agile, departments are territorial’ – Rob Fyfe

Updated

The government’s Covid-19 business advisor Rob Fyfe has criticised the government’s ability to make quick decisions during the pandemic. Fyfe is one of several business and political leaders addressing an Auckland business crowd this morning.

He said we need a “living plan and a road map that can be continually updated.” And that, Fyfe said, does not involve QR codes and the government’s existing tracer app – which he called “ineffective.”

As the former head of Air New Zealand, Fyfe said he’d had a reasonable amount of experience in dealing with crises, “like SARS, bird flu, earthquakes, and the GFC.”

“I went into the assignment [of helping the government] quite pragmatically,” he said. “My perspective was that government is good at many things but government isn’t particularly good at moving fast in response to a crisis.” Specifically, he said that governments aren’t very agile, and their departments are often territorial.

Fyfe said that even if the borders remain closed, we remain at risk of a second major spread of the virus.

“Testing levels are one of the lowest in the OECD. The paradox is we are now highly vulnerable to new incursion from across the border.

“A super-spreader could now infect several hundred people before they’re tested.”

8.20am: ‘No room for complacency’ – Goff’s plea to Aucklanders

“We were advertising 2021 as a year like no other for Auckland,” mayor Phil Goff has told a crowd of business and political leaders in Auckland this morning. “It’s turning out to be like that now but for other reasons.”

Goff gave the opening address at the ‘Auckland’s Future, Now’ summit, which is calling for a robust discussion on how to rebuild Auckland following the Covid-19 crisis. “The Kiwi bubble is something of a paradise… the fact that around 200 of us are meeting here today without social distancing and face masks demonstrates our preparedness,” he said. Goff also paid tribute to the leadership of Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield, and the ability of Kiwis to follow instructions – a nod to the ongoing crisis in Australia. 

But despite our success, Goff said there’s “no room for complacency” in our continued efforts against the virus.

8.00am: Summit questions how to rebuild Auckland post-Covid

Business and political leaders are meeting in Auckland today to discuss challenges the city is facing in the wake of Covid-19. Speakers include former prime ministers Helen Clark and Sir John Key, and former Air New Zealand boss Rob Fyfe. The summit will also discuss opportunities for rebuilding the city: Auckland’s GDP is forecast to decline by 6% in 2020 compared with a national 5.6% fall.

I’ll be covering the summit live this morning, so keep an eye on this page for updates.

7.55am: Dozens dead, thousands injured, in Beirut explosion

In major world news this morning, a massive explosion has rocked Beirut. As the Herald reports, much of the port has been destroyed, buildings across the city are damaged, and a giant mushroom cloud could be seen. At least 50 people were killed and 2,700 injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known, but Israel has denied all involvement.

Welcome to Election Live

Hello, it’s nice to see you again. You may have noticed that The Spinoff’s live updates have undergone a very mini rebrand this morning. From today, this is Election Live. It will, hopefully, be your go-to for all the latest coverage of the 2020 election campaign. But don’t you worry – I’ll still be covering other important stories, like the latest on the Covid-19 crisis and today, for example, the massive explosion in Beirut. If you have any questions, queries or you think I’ve missed a big story, please reach out to me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz.

And if you want to see what other cool stuff The Spinoff is doing this election period, read what Toby Manhire has to say right here.

7.45am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has issued a call for charges for an officer who used excessive force in the course of a family harm arrest, reports the NZ Herald. The officer kicked the man repeatedly, as well as punching him in and placing his foot on the man’s head, in an incident that was captured on CCTV. The suspect had attempted to flee the scene in a vehicle, and narrowly missed hitting officers in his escape attempt. He subsequently drove for about 90 seconds, before crashing into a barrier, at which point the arrest took place.

The decision to charge an officer is one for the police to make, and in a statement a spokesperson said it was a carefully considered decision. Superintendent Karyn Malthus said “as the IPCA acknowledges, it was apparent the officer involved was in a heightened state of emotion after taking evasive action to avoid being hit by the offender’s vehicle, which undoubtedly impaired their judgement and affected their decision-making when effecting the arrest.” They also accepted that the officer’s decision-making was flawed, and “exercised poor judgment during the arrest.” The decision to not proceed with a prosecution was made on a range of factors, including low likelihood of a successful prosecution. The statement also said the incident had been the subject of a confidential internal employment process, however the officer remains a sworn member of the police force.

Some are questioning whether that is the right course of action. A post on the No Right Turn blog – which covers police matters extensively – has argued that it shows the IPCA should be given prosecutorial powers for incidents like this, on the grounds that “the police are clearly not willing to enforce the law impartially”.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were no new cases of Covid-19, and five more people recovered.

The government renewed its push for people to use the Covid tracer app and display QR codes.

Owlcatraz shut its doors for good, leaving New Zealand’s owl fan(s) devastated.

TVNZ announced its televised election debates, the first between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins on August 1.

Minor parties are up in arms, again, about being excluded from TVNZ’s multi-party debate.

Students are to take to the streets demanding action on climate change – for the fifth time.

Iain Lees-Galloway was one of five departing MPs to gave valedictory speeches in the house. He used the opportunity to issue a public apology to his family for the ‘hurt and humiliation’ his affair had caused.

Read yesterday’s live updates here




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