For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level two – read The Spinoff’s giant explainer about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.
The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is funded by The Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.
8.15pm: The day in sum
For the third day in a row, there were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand
The 2020 budget was unveiled by finance minister Grant Robertson, who described it as a “once in a generation” budget
Described by Jacinda Ardern as the “jobs” budget and by others as the “rainy day” budget, its biggest numbers included a $50 billion Covid response fund and a $4 billion business support package, featuring an extension of the wage subsidy scheme
Opposition leader Simon Bridges slammed the budget and criticised Labour, as is his job, saying that “spending [was] the easy part”
The budget announcement triggered an avalanche of takes from various commentators, ranging from “the budget is very good” to “the budget is very bad, I hate it!”
Tourism minister Kelvin Davis was perhaps the politician under the most pressure in the immediate aftermath of the budget, receiving heavy criticism from tourism operators underwhelmed by the budget’s $400 million tourism support package
The move from alert level three to alert level two saw more people return to work, while shops, restaurants and cafes reopened their doors to customers. Barber shops and hair salons were especially busy.
8.05pm: ‘Get a haircut, and a real job’
Jacinda Ardern hoped for civil and supportive exchanges. Simon Bridges lambasted a “tsunami of debt”. Winston Peters told him to get a haircut and a real job. Read Justin Giovannetti’s roundup of the debate on the budget in parliament here.
We’ve also got an explainer of just how that $50 billion mega rescue package breaks down, and the views from the unions and from the business sector. As well as the reaction from one of the most affected sectors, hospitality. On top of that, there are more hot takes than you can shake a rescue package at in our roundtable here.
7.30pm: Kelvin Davis under fire from tourism operator
The closure of borders has affected no sector more than tourism, New Zealand’s biggest export industry. And many are deeply unimpressed by the $400 million package announced today. “I’m devastated, absolutely devastated,” Pan Pacific Travel’s managing director Matt Brady told Checkpoint. “Underwhelmed. To be honest, it’s a crock. It’s an absolute crock. We’ve been told that the tourism industry has been listened to. That it’s been taken onboard.” Yet he knew no one who had spoken to the minister, Kelvin Davis, he said.
The eight week extension of the wage subsidy was nowhere near the “certainty” they required, he said. There was “a bit of a groundswell in the industry that we need a petition to say in the biggest crisis in our industry’s history we have no confidence in the current minister of tourism.” Brady said Davis should be stood down and Jacinda Ardern should “take over and lead from the front”.
Kelvin Davis responded by telling Lisa Owen: “Look, I refute that claim. This government moved quickly to put in place the wage subsidy, tax provisions and loan schemes, all of which the tourism sector has been eligible for, and that was tens of billions of dollars … We listened to what they had to say. Their number one concern was the extension of the wage subsidy scheme … The $400 million that we’ve announced is just the start.”
Earlier on Checkpoint, Grant Robertson said he hadn’t ruled out emulating other countries that had provided “helicopter money” – essentially providing unconditional cash to households to stimulate spending. “It’s an option that we are considering,” he said.
OK memegate is unforgivable hyperbole, but there was a minor uproar on Twitter this evening when the Labour supporting “Let’s meme this” Twitter account got stuck into Action Station’s Laura O’Connell Rapira when she tweeted “I mostly hate this budget.” They used up all their characters to accuse her of, yes, “privilege”:
That invited a fusillade of anger from other Twitter users. They deleted the tweet.
6.30pm: But what about the media?
We’re hardly disinterested observers, but were asking this very question ahead of the budget today. The answer, it seems, is: we’ll deal with that later. As Colin Peacock explains in this write-up for RNZ, “further sector packages, including for the media sector, are being developed over the coming months”, was all Grant Robertson has to say about the sector today. Deep in the documentation there was $6.25m a year for “a new policy initiative to alleviate financial pressures on crucial public media platforms”, but nothing else laid out.
Peacock’s piece also touches on the latest chapter in the enthralling love-hate soap opera playing out between New Zealand’ two biggest print media groups, NZME and Stuff. It’s a hot mess and we’re here for it.
5.35pm: ‘The economy on life support’: Business leaders respond to budget 2020
The government has unveiled a massive $50bn spending package, including an eight week extension to the wage subsidy. Duncan Greive asks the business community: is it enough? Read the full piece here.
4.10pm: Scorching takes incoming
Fresh out of the oven, a range of commentators and sector experts have delivered a verdict on the aspect of the budget that they can speak to.
On our list, here are the headlines:
Sam Stubbs: A sensible, well judged budget
Gabrielle Baker: Little more than the bare minimum for Māori health
Iain White: The start of a long haul for state spending
Nicola Gaston: A missed opportunity to support research and innovation
Oliver Hartwich: KiwiBuild on steroids
Cath Conn: A welcome focus on green jobs
Liam Hehir: A prudent approach was necessary, and Robertson delivered
Samantha Murton: GPs left hanging
And Clarissa Mackay: A milestone for the free school lunches campaign
You can read all of the arguments in full here.
3.45pm: Reaction starts flowing in
Reaction has started coming in from various sector groups, with a range of views on whether this budget does what it needs to do.
Children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft says the budget is insufficient for the 158,000 children who were already living in poverty before Covid-19. “The impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown has not been and will not be equally shared. 150,000 of our children who were already living in material deprivation will most keenly feel the weight of this pandemic, as well as families who will find themselves out of work in the coming months,” he said. He called for changes to medical and dental care, a “folding of the in-work tax credit into the family credit for all families,” and a lift in benefits that relate to children.
Business NZ’s Kirk Hope welcome the increased focus on apprenticeships and trades training, saying it will better position the country for the future. “A skilled and adaptive workforce will be an important part of the economic recovery, and position New Zealand well for the future. Being able to get the people and skills they need to thrive is critical for New Zealand businesses. It is good to see the Government acknowledge the critical role that industry leadership needs to play in our skills system.”
Similarly, FIRST Union’s Dennis Maga said those investments were welcome. But he also criticised a lack of action addressing the plight of migrant workers, “who can’t necessarily return to work at present and aren’t always being supported by their employers to stay home and protect themselves and their families.”
The Environmental Defense Society welcomed the various initiatives in the budget to create jobs in environmental projects. “The prioritisation of funding on regional environmental restoration projects is great. Who would have thought a budget announcement would ever propose investments on restoration of wetlands and cleaning sediment out of polluted waterways?” said director Gary Taylor.
Greenpeace also applauded some of those initiatives, but were disappointed at the lack of focus on climate change. “Unfortunately there’s only loose change from Grant Robertson’s pocket to address our most pressing existential challenge – climate change. Under current policies New Zealand is on track to increase net emissions by 20% from 2005 to 2030 according to Government projections. The Finance Minister talked about Covid-19 being a one in a hundred year threat, but climate change is the threat that will decide if we have another hundred years on this planet”, said executive director Russel Norman.
3.10pm: ‘We have chosen to act’ – Ardern
Next up on the list of speakers is prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who says that the budget is about getting ahead of a tough global economic outlook. “This government will apply the same unrelenting focus as it put on the health response, to the economic response to Covid-19.” She said that the government had chosen to act, rather than “sitting back” and hoping for the best.
The prime minister’s speech focused heavily on jobs, with the word being used more than twenty times. “I said yesterday that this budget would be about jobs, jobs, jobs. In total it seeks to save as many as 140,000 of them over the next two years, and to support the growth of 370,000 more over four years,” was one passage.
Deputy prime minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters spent much of his speech talking about various National MPs of the past and present, criticising comments made in the 80s by Maurice Williamson, interjections from long-serving MP Gerry Brownlee, and telling Simon Bridges to “get a haircut, and a real job.”
ACT leader David Seymour accused the government of “trying to plan the economy from the Beehive,” rather than putting together the conditions for “an outward focused recovery led by the private sector.”
2.50pm: ‘Spending is the easy part’ – Bridges responds to budget
In response to the finance minister’s budget speech, National leader Simon Bridges said his party stood with those who had lost jobs or businesses, and this budget represented a crucial moment for the future of the economy. “With a thousand people a day joining the dole queue we needed a proper plan. Spending money is the easy part. But investing billions where it will make the most difference was what we needed.”
Bridges also warned of debt blowouts hanging around the necks of taxpayers of the future. “Today we are seeing an extra $140 billion of debt. That’s $80,000 per household and it’s our children and grandchildren who will be paying for it. That’s equivalent to a second mortgage on every house.”
He praised the government on how quickly they had got money out the door through the wage subsidy, and that it had been extended further.
Bridges also criticised some of the job creation projects that had been announced as ineffectual, saying rail and pest eradication were “pet projects”, rather than an economic growth plan.
He also warned that “Labour is instinctively in favour of raising taxes,” and would put them up this time next year. Incidentally, there have not been any changes to the tax system in this budget.
Bridges warned that the plans that were announced today would still have to be delivered by a government with a poor record on previous projects. After making that point, one of his MP’s interjected with a shout of “Phil Twyford”.
He ended his speech with a call to “unlock New Zealand and get New Zealand working again.”
2.10pm: Robertson announces ‘once in a generation’ budget
Finance minister Grant Robertson has described his third budget as being “delivered in the shadow of a one in 100 year threat to the wellbeing of our people.”
He said that a couple of months ago, a very different budget was planned. However, “the lives of all New Zealanders have been affected in ways we wouldn’t have thought was possible.”
Robertson said he maintained that the best economic response to Covid-19 was a strong health response, and as such, difficult calls had to be made. “There were no costless decisions in this situation, and nor was there any playbook to go by.”
Speaking about the $50bn fund that has been made available, Robertson said “this is the most significant financial commitment by a New Zealand government in modern history.” He added that it wasn’t a spending target.
“The rainy day has arrived, but we are well prepared,” said Robertson.
Government debt to balloon
Under this budget, net debt is likely to blow out to more than 50% of GDP. Previously, the government had been operating under the so-called ‘budget responsibility rules’, which required net debt to GDP to be kept below 25% of GDP. Robertson paid tribute to previous finance ministers Michael Cullen and Bill English for giving him room to move in this moment. Deficits are now being projected until 2028.
Robertson said that running deficits over the coming year was necessary, but ratings agencies had reaffirmed the country’s economic stability, and ability to weather the economic storm of Covid-19.
Unemployment expected to reach almost 10%
Robertson also expected unemployment to hit a peak of 9.8% before any recovery begins in earnest. This would still fall at the low end of projections released by Treasury last month.
“Our focus is to see people get back to work,” said Robertson. He said “the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund will deliver major investments in jobs such as making certain trades training and apprenticeships free, the delivery of 8,000 new public houses and extending the food in schools programme to up to 200,000 children creating jobs up and down the country.”
Wage subsidy scheme extended for worst affected
$10.7bn has been paid out so far under the wage subsidy, which will be extended by a further eight weeks for those businesses most affected. The extension will be available for a further eight week period for those who have suffered a 50% reduction in turnover in the 30 days prior to application compared to last year. This is expected to cost a further $3.2bn. Robertson said beyond that, there would be research and development funding, one-off loans for businesses, and a focus on securing trade links with other countries.
Assigning Covid response funds
Of the massive $50bn Covid response and recovery package at the heart of the budget, about $20bn remains unallocated. The criteria for assigning those funds are as follows:
- Fighting the Virus and Cushioning the Blow – acting swiftly to contain the virus and avoid the extreme human and economic costs of an uncontrolled outbreak.
- Kickstarting the Recovery – continuing to support households and businesses and preparing to kickstart the economy in the medium term.
- Resetting and Rebuilding – taking the opportunity to reset our economy, address longstanding challenges and chart a course to return to a more sustainable fiscal position.
Focus on (re-)education
In talking up the funding available for retraining, apprenticeships and adult education, Robertson said it corrected “the greatest mistake” in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis – the cutting on adult education funding. He also spoke about the need to have a workforce ready to carry out the infrastructure projects being planned by the government.
He assured the country that there would be no return to austerity economics, nor would the costs of borrowing be put on those “with the least ability to pay.”
Opportunity to ‘build back better’
Near the end of his speech, Robertson said “there are few times in your life when you get to hit the reset button… and it is an opportunity that we will not squander.” He said that the government aimed to use this budget to “build back better”, in the same way the first Labour government did after the Great Depression.
2.00pm: The budget at a glance
From the government’s summary:
- $50bn fund to deliver Covid response and economic recovery plan at centre of jobs budget
- $4bn business support package, including targeted $3.2bn wage subsidy extension
- $3bn infrastructure investment and 8,000 public house build programme to boost productivity and create jobs
- $1.4bn for trades and apprenticeships training package
- $1bn environmental jobs package
- $3.3bn new funding to strengthen core services including health and education
1.55pm: The latest data, charted and mapped
Here are the data visualisations for New Zealand’s Covid-19 cases today. There are now 65 active cases. Hover your cursor over them for more information.
1.30pm: Watch Trevor Mallard explain what’s about to happen
What to expect of a budget delivered in Covid-19 alert level two? The speaker of the house, Trevor Mallard has knocked out a video introducing “a budget like no other”. He outlines who will speak in the House of Representatives and for how long. There will be six bills entered, he said, three of which will be debated under urgency. The debate could run as long as into Saturday night, he reckons. We’ll have updates from 2pm here.
1.00pm: No new cases today
For the third consecutive day, there are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.
The country’s combined total of confirmed and probable cases remains at 1,497, of which 1,147 are confirmed.
1,411 people are now reported as having recovered, an increase of 9 from yesterday. This is 94% of all confirmed and probable cases.
There are still two people receiving hospital level care for Covid-19 – one each in Auckland and Middlemore hospitals. Neither are in ICU.
Yesterday 6,568 tests were processed in New Zealand, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 209,613.
New case numbers over the last seven days now look like this: 2, 2, 2, 3, 0, 0, and today, 0.
Definition of ‘closed cluster’ updated
The Ministry of Health release also said that the definition of a “closed cluster” has been changed.
Previously, clusters were considered closed two full transmission periods (the equivalent of 28 days) since their last case was notified. The updated definition of a closed cluster is now two full transmission periods since the last case completed their isolation period.
This means the four clusters which had previously been declared closed are still technically open, however it was important to note that there had been no new disease activity in these clusters, the release said.
Under the new definition, none of the 16 clusters were expected to be closed until the end of the month.
12.50pm: Level two legislation necessary, but flawed – law professor
Otago law professor Andrew Geddis has written a compelling analysis of the new law rushed through parliament this week to enable the enforcement of alert level two. On warrantless entry, he writes: “I would have thought that this sort of power might be worth a bit more scrutiny than it actually received. In particular, the pretty lax procedures that enforcement officers need to follow – no requirement for record keeping, no reporting the use of their powers, etc – seems less than ideal to me. However, it is now the law.”
Among the issues he addresses is this consideration given to the treaty and tikanga Māori. He concludes: “This particular issue also seems to reflect a broader problem with how Māori have been involved (or, rather, haven’t been involved) in the plans to move to level two. The quick reconsideration of the number of people permitted at tangihanga looks to exhibit a similar blind spot.”
Read the post in full here.
12.45pm: Pilots swapping planes for trains
Pilots made redundant as a result of Covid-19 are trading the cockpit for the cabs of trains on Auckland’s rail service, RNZ reports. So far, 34 pilots have applied to drive trains for Transdev, which employs around 200 train drivers in Auckland.
“I really feel for the pilots who are in this position and I’m really pleased we have an alternative and hope they will adapt to driving a train on a piece of metal instead of flying free up in the air,” managing director Peter Lensink told RNZ.
12.15pm: Coming up today
We won’t be getting the usual 1pm media briefing today. Instead – and this is likely to become the new normal now that we’re in level two – the daily update will be provided in the form of a written release from the Ministry of Health. This will be blogged here the second it hits our inbox. From 2pm, focus will of course turn to the budget, and we’ll have all that here on the blog too.
11.40am: Ardern on a jobs-focused budget – and her RSI
“It will be focused first and foremost on jobs, jobs, and jobs,” Jacinda Ardern has said in a Facebook Live preview of today’s budget. “Decent jobs with decent pay creates a foundation for what gives them dignity, it gives them a network when you think about the things that people are missing during this phase.” She said the budget, drawn up amid a health crisis, was “one step in our recovery, one step in our rebuild, there will be a lot more to say”.
Ardern also said, in apologising for her telephone camerawork, that she has “very bad RSI at the moment, which probably says I’m a bad user of desktop devices and too much time typing recently”.
Embarrassingly, they appear to have printed all the budget documents in reverse (no need to email us about this please).
11.30am: New Zealanders migrating home in record numbers – Stats NZ
New Zealand citizens are returning to the country from overseas in record numbers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, new figures from Stats NZ show. For the year ended March 2020, annual migrant arrivals of New Zealand citizens were provisionally estimated at 42,800, the highest annual number on record. More than half of those arrived in the four months from December to March.
Annual migrant departures of New Zealand citizens were provisionally estimated at 35,700 for the same time period, meaning net migration of New Zealand citizens was provisionally estimated at 7,200, also the highest number on record.
In unsurprising news, Stats NZ also reported that New Zealand’s border restrictions have resulted in a drop in visitor arrivals. There were 175,500 visitor arrivals in March 2020, down 202,700, or 54 percent, compared to March 2019. “Visitor arrivals in recent weeks have been near zero,” population indicators manager Tehseen Islam said.
Stats NZ estimates there are still 135,000–155,000 visitors from overseas currently in New Zealand. “These are people who normally live overseas, including Australian and New Zealand citizens, and those on work, student, visitor, and other visas,” the report explains.
Just before lockdown in mid-March there were an estimated 240,000–260,000 visitors in New Zealand.
11.00am: The complicated act of dining out under alert level two
If you’re frothing to go and eat at a cafe or restaurant today, the process may be a little more complicated that you’re used to. The Restaurant Association has sent out a 42-page set of guidelines on how to operate to its members, based on its interpretation of the government’s level two instructions. This report from Stuff covers some of the details, from all diners having to supply their names, email addresses and phone numbers for contact tracing to the dos and don’ts of table condiments. From the customer’s perspective, the key thing is that it’s probably a good idea to call ahead, even for places that don’t normally take bookings.
10.30am: Possible budget nicknames emerge
Every budget gets a nickname. Last year’s was “the wellbeing budget”, in 2005 there was “the chewing gum budget”, and of course who can forget “the mother of all budgets” in 1991. So what will today’s budget be colloquially known as?
An early frontrunner has emerged in this opinion piece from Stuff’s Henry Cooke: “the rainy day budget”. While Jacinda Ardern appeared to be trying to make “the jobs budget” happen in her pre-budget speech yesterday, she also said: “I defended the surpluses we ran in our first two budgets on the basis that we needed to prepare financially for a rainy day. Well that day has well and truly arrived and we are ready for it.”
Probably today’s budget will be known simply as “the Covid budget”, but in this live blogger’s opinion “the rainy day day budget” has a nicer ring to it.
The Spinoff will have more comprehensive and serious budget coverage when its contents are released at 2pm this afternoon. In the meantime, please enjoy Stephen Bishop’s 1977 yacht rock classic Save It For A Rainy Day:
9.30am: Act change allows temporary ministerial pay cuts
A bit of legislation is being added to the Remuneration Authority Act to allow ministers and senior public officials to take temporary pay cuts, state services minister Chris Hipkins has announced today. In April, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced that all ministers would be taking a 20 percent pay cut for six months in response to Covid-19. “This legislation will allow the Authority the discretion to do that,” said Hipkins.
9.10am: Painting rocks one way to keep the lockdown spirit alive
If anybody is looking to pivot to a new hobby or childcare activity under level two, you could always consider joining New Zealand’s burgeoning rock painting community. Avid rock painters nationwide have reportedly been painting up a storm during lockdown, and will be releasing their masterpieces back into the wild in the coming weeks. If you find a painted rock out on your daily walk, look for the hashtag or Facebook group where you can post and say you found it. This is the thrill the rock painters crave.
8.50am: Not enough flu vaccines
The Ministry of Health does not have enough flu vaccines to meet the increased demand brought on by Covid-19, and is having to look to the Northern Hemisphere for more stock, RNZ has reported this morning. So far this year 1.4 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed to health providers, with an additional 220,000 expected to arrive in the country by the end of next week. This was a third more than last year, and in an ordinary year would more than cover demand. NZ Medical Association chair Dr Kate Baddock told RNZ Morning Report last week that those not in high risk groups should check with their GP that they had adequate supplies before getting vaccinated.
8.30am: New Zealanders need haircuts
If the first morning of level three was all about getting a coffee, the first morning of level two is all about getting a haircut. RNZ is reporting a line of men “around the block” waiting to be seen by a barber in the Auckland suburb of Mt Eden this morning, while elsewhere barbers opened on the stroke of 11:59pm last night to cater to an unprecedentedly scruffy nation. The Herald claims “more than a dozen” people were waiting at one barber shop on Auckland’s North Shore just before midnight last night, with queues still “pumping” at 3am. Stuff yesterday reported many hairdressers have been booked solid for weeks since the move to alert level two was announced on Monday.
Despite everybody being out and about getting haircuts, traffic still appears to be flowing freely in the major centres. The Spinoff’s own roving reporter Michael Andrew said traffic on Auckland’s North Western Motorway was “pretty light” at rush hour this morning. He has also reported Ponsonby Road cafes as being “quite busy”, and said there was a line outside one barber shop.
8.15am: Any future alert level rises likely to be regional, Bloomfield says
Localised alert level increases were more likely to be implemented if new cases of Covid-19 emerge under alert level two, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said on RNZ’s Morning Report this morning. “If we see cases popping up in the community we’re unlikely to see them popping up in a lot of places at one time,” he told host Susie Ferguson, “so it will allow us to do a more tailored response to an area, district or region … so we don’t have to put everybody into alert level three again.”
Bloomfield said it was a “nice feeling” to have got to level two, and that he wasn’t worried the loosening of restrictions would undo the hard work of the last seven weeks, though locking in the gains was still “going to rely on everybody, as they have to date, doing their bit”.
There is now daily capacity for 12,000 tests, and public health units are able to contact trace 185 cases per day, Bloomfield said, with that number expected to be scaled up to 500 in the next six weeks. Asked why it was still short of the “gold standard” of 1000 cases per day Dr Ayesha Verrall recommended in her report, he said “the gold standard refers more to the timeliness of the process, and that’s what we have achieved … we are able to identify around 80% of contacts and get them in self-isolation within 48 hours.”
Bloomfield also said he didn’t think there needed to be an independent review into the Covid-19 cases transmitted at Waitakere Hospital. “I don’t think a so-called independent review will give us anything further than [the report released yesterday]” he said.
7.30am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin
Plenty of concerns have been raised about the powers that police will hold under enabling legislation for alert level two. The bill to make level two possible passed last night, including provisions for enforcing the continued rules around gatherings and social distancing. A must-read summary of the changes has been put together by our new political editor Justin Giovannetti, in particular the concerns that police will be able to enter homes without a warrant, if they suspect that gatherings of more than ten people are taking place. They already had this power in certain situations of course, but some are seeing this latest extension as an overreach.
Attorney-general David Parker defended the laws as necessary in the fight against Covid-19, telling Newstalk ZB that the law had been narrowed so that “the only time police can go in with a warrantless entry is to essentially break up a party.” He said in normal circumstances it wouldn’t be justified, “but if the virus takes hold, we’ll lose all the gains we’ve made.” He also said the law had to be rushed through under urgency in order for the move to level two to take place, which was important for ensuring “voluntary compliance”.
However, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission have both come out with concerns that the level of scrutiny of this bill hasn’t been sufficient. Māori political leaders have also registered their opposition – for example, Te Ao News reports former MP Hone Harawira called on Labour’s Māori MPs to vote against the bill – that story also included discussions on tangihanga and funerals, which we’ll cover more below. Te Ao News also spoke to Tūhoe activist Tame Iti, a target of police overreach in the past, who said that such laws raised the spectre of raids like those that took place in 2007. And Newshub reports concerns have also been raised by the youth wing of the Green Party, who say that Māori could end up being disproportionately targeted by this sort of policing. Green MPs voted for the legislation, along with Labour and NZ First, with National and Act voting against.
Meanwhile, a strange and troubling story came out yesterday about police officers testing the use of controversial facial recognition software. Radio NZ’s Mackenzie Smith reported that a trial of the Clearview AI system began at the start of this this year. The story had a weird twist to it though, in that it doesn’t appear to have been signed off by anyone at the top. Privacy commissioner John Edwards said that he discussed the matter with police commissioner Andrew Coster, and had been told the top cop was unaware the trial was taking place. The story notes that police have not corroborated that version of events. Justice minister Andrew Little later went on Radio NZ and made it clear that there had been no ministerial awareness that the trial was taking place. However, according to documents released under the OIA to the Taxpayers Union, police spent more than $700,000 on the trial.
The police say they have no plans to use the software or resume any trials at the moment. I would like to know if police will make a cast iron guarantee that they won’t ever use it, and if everyone involved in making this trial happen in the first place will be reprimanded. If you want to know why such a suggestion is warranted, read this piece from the New York Times. It is an intensely dangerous piece of technology, with terrifying implications for privacy rights. There’s potential for abuse of privacy rights to become standard police policy if such software was available, but let alone that, we know for a fact that not every single officer is trustworthy, regardless of what protection systems are in place. One of the mantras given by police and ministers throughout this period is that policing in New Zealand takes place with the consent of the public – well, the deployment of this sort of invasive technology is only inevitable if we allow it to be.
From the Friday files: Today’s story is about international students from China, and the decision to block them from coming into the country. Politik has read through the documents behind this decision, and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t based on health reasons – rather, it was a decision based on resourcing concerns and systems not being able to process the students. “In other words, the Chinese students would have meant extra work”, concludes the piece.
One of the things to really watch out for in the budget today is measures around keeping people in jobs. As Stuff reports, there is a strong possibility of a large new wave of unemployment next month when the wage subsidy comes to an end. As well as that, some businesses still aren’t going to be able to operate at level two, which starts today.
Speaking of the Budget, we’ve published a few worthwhile but different views on what is needed today. Stacey Shortall writes about economic justice and the need to ensure the economic recovery includes those at the bottom. Laura O’Connell Rapira writes about justice for Māori being necessary if the budget is to be fair. And from the economic right, Eric Crampton says with debt levels being about to balloon out, the government will need to carefully prioritise spending in the interests of economic growth.
First it was clarifications to rules on tangi and funerals, and now the rules are simply changing. The NZ Herald reports that attendance rules will allow up to 50 people, provided a range of other conditions are met, such as physical distancing, hand washing, and not gathering afterwards to eat. Health minister David Clark said that as funerals are exceptional circumstances, the government has agreed to make an exception. It comes after heavily political pressure from a range of voices – but also comes with a warning that overseas, funerals have been a vector for the spread of Covid-19.
There’ll be no easing off on the Reserve Bank’s quantitative easing programme, with the news that it will be almost doubled in size. Interest has reported on the latest announcement from governor Adrian Orr, who says the bank will purchase another $27 billion in government bonds over the next 12 months. There was also guidance that the OCR will stay at 0.25 until at least next year – though the option of it going lower or even negative is still on the table.
This is one of those stories that is worth absolutely hammering away at, so here’s another update. Radio NZ’s Glen Scanlon has collected several more personal anecdotes of the newly redundant who say they were denied what they were entitled to by Work and Income. What they have to say about how they were treated is brutal, and the weight of cases coming out would suggest that similar treatment is all too common.
A bit of bad news for those who want to travel at level two but don’t fly – Intercity Bus services will remain cancelled over this period. In a statement posted to the company’s website, Intercity said it wasn’t financially viable to operate at 50% capacity, which will be required under social distancing rules. They say “talks with government and the Ministry of Transport have been encouraging and are ongoing”, and that refunds will be offered for any affected ticket holders. However, it will put an end to travel plans for many on low incomes, who rely on the more affordable option of the bus to get around.
6.30am: The day ahead
As of a minute before midnight, New Zealand is in alert level two. That means a major change in what is permitted and what isn’t, with a different legal framework applied. For a roundup of what is and isn’t allowed, see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris’s guide to staying safe at alert level two here.
It’s budget day, too, with the post-lockdown lockup concluding at 2pm and Grant Robertson addressing parliament. It will be a different kind of budget at a different time. For all our budget coverage, including new commentaries this morning from Eric Crampton, Laura O’Connell Rapira and Stacey Shortall, see here. We’ll have updates as they happen.
The usual 1pm briefing on Covid-19 cases is also expected. The last two days have seen no new cases.
6.00am: Yesterday’s key stories
A bill to enable the enforcement of alert level two passed its third reading in parliament, enabling New Zealand to move at 11.59pm last night. The new rules are summarised here.
The rule on funerals and tangihanga for alert level two was relaxed following an outcry, from a maximum of 10 attending to 50.
New Zealand recorded a second consecutive zero in the new cases of Covid-19 count.
A review of procedures at Waitākere Hospital found problems with PPE used by infected nurses.
The national state of emergency was lifted.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.