Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Digby Webb heading to a press conference (Photo: Radio NZ, Dom Thomas)

Live updates, July 29: Hamilton absconders plead guilty; Peters, Collins slam isolation pay plan

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 29. The latest on New Zealand news, politics and the Covid-19 crisis, updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.20pm: The day in sum

The government revealed its plans to charge some returning Kiwis for isolation.
NZ First will support the law change, but Winston Peters labelled it dreadful public policy. Judith Collins called the scheme “complete nonsense”.
There were two new cases of Covid-19, both in managed isolation.
A review of the RMA recommended the law be scrapped and replaced.
Judith Collins backed the recommendations, saying that’s been National’s policy for three years.
The National Party unveiled its small business policy, allowing people to dig into their KiwiSaver for funding.
National MPs Sarah Dowie and Paula Bennett gave emotional valedictory speeches to parliament.
Four members of the family who absconded from Hamilton managed isolation pleaded guilty to failing to comply with an order under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020.

6.00pm: Sarah Dowie and Paula Bennett give valedictory speeches

National MPs Sarah Dowie and Paula Bennett are tonight making their valedictory speeches to the house. Bennett, who is speaking now, began by taking a characteristically upbeat tone, paying tribute to her family and the looking back on her favourite memories from her 15 years in parliament and as a local MP.

In contrast, Dowie’s speech must rank among one of the most emotional and excoriating valedictory speeches in a long time. The MP had an affair with former National colleague Jami Lee-Ross and was last year blasted in the media after it was revealed a text to him saying he “deserved to die” was sent from her phone. Tonight she hit back at her treatment. “We are not elected as angels. We too make mistakes as members of the media do.”

5.25pm: Politics in Pubs livestreaming on our Facebook page tonight

If you haven’t got a ticket for our Politics in Pubs event happening tonight in Wellington, fear not! We’ll be livestreaming it on our Facebook page.

Pour yourself a beer, grab the popcorn and tune in at 6.30 to watch Danyl Mclauchlan in conversation with former National leader Simon Bridges – no doubt what the hell’s going on with the National Party will be a big focus. And maybe yaks?

5.00pm: Hamilton isolation absconders plead guilty, Public Party co-leader asked to leave court

A woman and her three teenaged children who absconded from managed isolation in Hamilton last week have pleaded guilty in court this afternoon, reports the Herald.

The 37-year-old woman and her four children, aged 12, 16, 17 and 18, absconded from the Distinction Hotel last Friday night in the hope of attending the funeral of the children’s father.

Four of the five (the youngest child has not been charged) appeared in the Hamilton Youth Court on Saturday jointly charged with failing to comply with an order under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, and reappeared this afternoon in the court via audiovisual link. Each separately entered guilty pleas to the charge.

The 37-year-old was convicted and remanded to appear for sentencing on August 27, while the teenagers were remanded to reappear in the Auckland Youth Court on the same day, reports the Herald.

Billy Te Kahika, co-leader of the New Zealand Public Party, who earlier said via a press release that he would be supporting the family in court as an act of solidarity (see 11.30am update), was asked to leave by the judge, the Herald reports. During the hearing, judge Noel Cocurullo told Te Kahika that although he appreciated he was wider whānau of the defendants, he felt his presence had been in part politicised. Te Kahika said he was only concerned for the welfare of the family, but Cocurullo was concerned that he had never met the 37-year-old accused before.

4.30pm: Collins calls government’s isolation payment plan ‘nonsense’

National will replace the border charging plan if elected at September’s election, says leader Judith Collins, who described the government’s scheme as “complete nonsense” and a “failure”. “I just think it’s the sort of policy you have when you don’t actually want a policy,” RNZ reports Collins as saying.

The government’s scheme would not generate enough revenue, she added. “We’ve got 200,000 thousand people unemployed, we’ve got 360,000 other people on wage subsidies; it’s really important that we don’t waste the money and the government is saying now out of almost half a billion dollars they think they might get back $9m to $10m. I mean, basically the admin costs of that will be eaten up just by that amount.”

 1.30pm: Two new cases of Covid-19, in managed isolation

There are two new cases of Covid-19, detected at the border. They are both in managed isolation.

Today’s first case is a man in his 50s who arrived in New Zealand on July 14 from Afghanistan via Dubai. The positive test was from day 12 testing. He has been transferred to an Auckland quarantine facility.

The second case is a man aged in his 40s who arrived in New Zealand on July 27 from the Philippines, via Hong Kong. He was taken straight to an Auckland quarantine facility as he was symptomatic on arrival, and subsequently tested positive.

There are no recovered cases to report today, meaning the number of active cases in New Zealand is 23.

1.00pm: Some returnees to pay for isolation; Peters labels it ‘dreadful’

Updated

Some New Zealanders returning back into the country will soon be charged for managed isolation, the government has confirmed.

Legislation will be introduced to parliament today by the minister in charge of managed isolation, Megan Woods. She said it will help the government recoup some of the costs of the isolation scheme.

“I am proposing to only charge New Zealanders who enter temporarily, or who leave New Zealand after the regulations come into force,” she said. “Temporary visa holders would have to pay unless they were ordinarily resident in New Zealand before the border closure, and left before the border closure.”

“I intend to seek cabinet agreement to a charging structure of $3100 per person in a room, $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child sharing the room. There will also be mechanisms to allow charges to be waived in full or in part,” said Megan Woods.

The proposal differs from the National Party’s planned scheme, which would see all Kiwis charged for isolation from October.

“We want to share the costs in a way that fairly reflects the benefits to both the New Zealand public of having such a robust system, and those who leave and enter the country,” Woods said.

The Greens had initially signalled they did not back charging for mandatory isolation, saying those who left overseas without knowing one would apply deserve the right to return home.

Further details of the charging scheme and when it will come into force, are still to be announced soon.

Who would be affected?

Some New Zealand citizens will be charged, if:

  • They leave after the regulations come into force; or
  • They visit New Zealand for less than 90 days

Temporary visa holders would also be charged, unless:

  • They were ordinarily resident in New Zealand as of March 19, 2020; and
  • They departed New Zealand on or before March 19, 2020, and
  • They are not entering New Zealand on a border exception as a critical worker.

Who will likely be exempt from charges?

  • Family members travelling or isolating with people who do not have to pay charges (unless they are entering New Zealand on a border exception as a critical worker)
  • New Zealand citizens deported to New Zealand
  • Diplomats and official government representatives
  • Any person travelling to New Zealand to attend the sentencing of the accused in the Christchurch mosque attacks
  • Refugees and protected persons for their first entry into New Zealand after the charges come into force

Winston Peters labels co-payment scheme ‘dreadful public policy’

Foreign minister Winston Peters said New Zealand First will support the bill – but has invoked the agree to disagree provisions of the coalition agreement.

“We cannot support the minuscule population of qualifying people to be charged partial MIQ costs, as outlined in today’s government announcement,” he said.

Peters has also hit out at the Greens for opposing the originally proposed scheme, that would see all returning New Zealanders charged. “We believe that the Green Party opposition to the originally proposed policy, alongside the incredibly inequitable regime proposed by [Labour], is putting naked political self-interest ahead of a prudent public policy response to the burdens being faced by domestic taxpayers who are, after all, underwriting the full costs of the MIQ regime.”

Peters continued: “It is quite clear to New Zealand First that Labour/Green opposition to a more equitable and consistent MIQ charging regime opens them to the allegation that they are being overtly political. Why? Again, the Greens and Labour leave themselves open to the perception that they see New Zealanders overseas as a source of votes for the looming general election, so public policy integrity has given way to electoral strategy.”

12.20pm: Govt expected to make announcement on border charging

The Spinoff understands an announcement about charges for incoming travellers will be made at 1pm this afternoon, by the minister in charge of managed isolation Megan Woods.

It’s expected the scheme, which will have the backing of all three government parties, will see New Zealanders charged for mandatory isolation if they willingly leave the country and then return, or if they’re only here for a temporary visit.

That would go against what the National Party has announced, which would see all incoming arrivals charged from October this year.

We’ll cover the announcement live at 1pm.

11.45am: $262m for 50yo Auckland hospital upgrades

Auckland Hospital’s been given a $262 million lifeline from the government, to help cure its ageing infrastructure. It’s the second stage of core infrastructure works at the city hospital.

Health minister Chris Hipkins said the government’s tackling the long term challenge of bringing our country’s hospitals back up to standard.

“Announcing the project today sends another strong signal to the construction sector that the government has a rolling maul of major construction work to provide confidence and support to businesses and workers.” Hipkins said most of the hospital’s facilities are almost 50-years-old and that “any infrastructure failure could compromise the entire hospital.”

11.30am: Public Party co-leader to support alleged quarantine absconders in court

The family who allegedly absconded from a Hamilton quarantine hotel before the weekend will be supported in court by the controversial co-leader of the Public Party – Billy Te Kahika.

The Spinoff’s Alex Braae, who attended the party’s recent merger event, reports:

At the NZPP’s merger event with the Advance NZ party over the weekend, Te Kahika said he had “not at all” encouraged the family to leave managed isolation, and said that while the family had been in contact with him before the escape attempt, he was not aware of their plans to do so. He said he had only asked them to send him a copy of their letter declining the exemption, which “wasn’t very informative”.

Te Kahika also said that “we don’t support breaking the law in any shape or form”, but also added that “the Covid-19 health response bill is bad law, so we have people that would normally be law abiding citizens feeling that their democracy is being challenged, and that they need to leave”.

10.35am: Emmy nominations announced

We’re surely heading for a 2021 where no scripted TV series will be made outside of New Zealand, unless they’re set in different rooms and filmed on Zoom. But, for now, we’re able to bask in last year’s televisual offerings with this year’s Emmy nominations being announced.

Watchmen (11), Ozark (10), and Succession (9) lead the nominations tally – with the Marvellous Mrs Maisel (8) and Schitt’s Creek (8) the most nominated comedies. The fact it took until last year for the latter to be nominated at all is a sin, so this is well deserved.

The American remake of Kiwi hit What We Do in the Shadows has picked up three nods, including for outstanding comedy series. Somehow, it got less nominations than Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, which has four. But don’t get me started on snubs (see: Rhea Seehorn for Better Call Saul).

The full list is available here.

10.10am: National ‘claims victory’ over proposed RMA changes

After a major review into the Resource Management Act recommended scrapping the sprawling act and starting over, National’s leader Judith Collins says that’s what National came up with three years ago.

“Labour has wasted three long years with RMA working groups when it could have done what National has been saying in the first place.

“The three wasted years means New Zealand is in much worse shape to invest and grow our way out of the economic and jobs crisis than we should have been,” she said.

Collins has pledged to introduce legislation within her first term as PM that would give effect to today’s recommended changes.

10.00am: RMA review recommends replacement

A comprehensive review of the sprawling Resource Management Act has concluded that one of New Zealand’s most important laws should be torn up and replaced.

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports.

The RMA is at the centre of much of what the government does. It shapes urban living, environmental protection, water rights and the country’s response to climate change. The act’s review concluded it has failed at most of that. House prices are too high, environmental protection is spotty, there isn’t enough national planning, the RMA favours the status quo and doesn’t involve Māori enough in the management of the country’s natural resources, the review found.

“Our view is that the RMA should be repealed and replaced with new legislation,” concluded Tony Randerson, the chair of the review panel. According to the review, the act should be replaced with two major new pieces of legislation. The first, provisionally named the Natural and Built Environments Act, would steer regional plans, with clear goals on what needs to be protected and what needs to be built.

The second piece of legislation, the Strategic Planning Act, would set long-term goals for the country. The act would match planning regulations with infrastructure spending, as well as prepare New Zealand to deal with climate change and urban sprawl. The act would also designate areas unsuitable for development because of natural value or importance to Māori. “The RMA has doubled in size from its original length. It has become too costly, takes too long and has not adequately protected the environment,” environment minister David Parker said in a statement.

While the RMA itself is a thick brick, the review is also no easy read at 531 pages. Two public servants delivering copies of the review to the press gallery were, quite literally, gasping for air. The Labour-led government has made some tweaks to the RMA over the past three years and due to Covid-19 has introduced a loophole to allow some projects to move quickly through the act. Parker said that with an election in less than two months the next government will need to decide on what to do with the report.

National leader Judith Collins has made the RMA one of her favourite targets on the campaign trail, blaming it for everything from slow road construction to trouble people face renovating their sitting rooms. She has promised to repeal the RMA.

The review also called for new climate legislation to plan for “managed retreat” from coastal areas facing serious erosion. The panel found that planning for climate adaptation was too complex for current laws to deal with. The panel, not feeling constrained by a review of one of the thickest pieces of legislation in the country, went further. It also commented that 78 local authorities in a country of five million is difficult to justify. It called for the reform of local government and a move towards more regional levels of governance.

While commenting that Māori need to be made more central to most of the country’s resource management, the panel called for an overhaul of Māori rights over freshwater resources. It warned that without a fix to current laws to deal the concerns it heard from Māori, New Zealand will face significant problems in the future over water use. This is already happening as Auckland has begun reaching across its surrounding regions to find untapped sources of drinking water.

9.30am: Collins launches small business policy

Updated

Teased during her morning media this morning, National leader Judith Collins has officially unveiled her party’s new small business scheme – called BusinessStart.

Speaking at a car yard in Petone, near Wellington, Collins said the scheme is all about allowing Kiwis to harness their business ideas.

“The best thing about small businesses is they can grow at a much faster rate than big business,” she said.

“National’s BusinessStart will help Kiwis who have lost their jobs since March 1 2020, or lose their jobs in the months ahead, to set up a small business with at least $30,000 available to help you buy kit, make sure you have some working capital, and lower your taxes in the early stages, as you start to become successful.

“The $30,000 will come from a combination of KiwiSaver savings, tax credits and taxpayers’ funds.”

Under BusinessStart, qualifying New Zealanders can access a $1000 voucher to go toward proper financial advice from a chartered accountant or registered financial adviser on their ideas, and put together a viable business plan.

“We should not give up on people just because they’ve been made redundant,” Collins told media this morning. “But you’ve got to have the business plan, you’ve got to have something sensible otherwise it’s not going to work.”

Once those business plans are signed off, BusinessStart recipients can access:

  • Up to $20,000 of their own money from their KiwiSaver account to help get their business going
  • At least $10,000 in tax credits to pay GST or provisional tax when the business starts making a profit
  • A waiver from the Company Office registration fee of $130; and
  • Free mentoring from advisers like chambers of commerce, employers and manufacturers associations and Business Mentors New Zealand from a new $10 million contestable fund.

The scheme has been criticised by National’s only friend in parliament – the Act Party. In a statement, leader David Seymour said cracking open KiwiSaver is “tempting”, but the real problem for business is out of control government spending.

“It’s no good freeing up people’s KiwiSaver accounts when they’re going to have to pay it back in taxes,” he said.

8.15am: Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson launches campaign

The Green Party officially launched its 2020 election campaign over the weekend. This morning, co-leader Marama Davidson launched her electorate campaign for the seat of Tāmaki Makaurau.

This from our reporter Justin Latif who is at the launch:

As the first rays of light broke through the tree canopy at Tōtara Park in Manurewa, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson launched her electorate election campaign with a karanga, accompanied by a chorus of birds. The karanga was followed by karakia and waiata, and Davidson then spoke to the handful of hearty supporters, who braved brisk temperatures at attend the launch at 6.30am, about how her campaign will be guided by tikanga values.

“Because a woman has never held this seat, my campaign team said let’s use that as a point of difference, as I’m the only female candidate running, and so this campaign will draw heavily on the role of women in a tikanga framework.”

Davidson says issues affecting Māori women in the Tāmaki Makaurau seat will also guide her campaign.

“I’m standing for the role of woman in protecting our whānau and mokopuna, and I’ve been quite vocal about how our state agencies have been removing our Māori babies disproportionately, and so I see the solutions being more about providing support than removal.”

Davidson, in her third attempt at winning Tāmaki Makaurau, expects the campaign to be highly competitive and for there to be a few fireworks, given the presence of Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere. She added that her two tick campaign will have the full resources of the Green Party behind her, but with recent developments in Palmerston North, the party may also consider putting more resources into supporting Teanau Tuiono’s electorate campaign.

8.00am: ‘My jokes are funny’ – Collins doubles down on ‘joke’

The National Party’s internal polling leaked yesterday, following a devastating Newshub-Reid Research poll. The television poll had the party on just 25%, with Labour just short of 61% – but Collins told RNZ this morning her internal polling showed National to be much higher.

The leaks suggest National on about 36%, with Labour roughly ten points higher. Collins wouldn’t confirmed these figures this morning, but said they were “in the ballpark.”

When pushed on why she continues to “trash” the Newshub poll, Collins said that’s because “it deserves to be trashed.”

Meanwhile, Collins has doubled down on her claims that she was joking when she told a town hall meeting in parliament that “nobody escaped [from prison]” while she was corrections minister. “I think we live in a humourless world and it’s time everyone had a jolly good belly laugh.”

“You can always tell my jokes because my eyebrows go up or… everyone’s laughing because my jokes are funny,” she said.

You can read all of Judith Collins’ ‘jokes’ from her debut leader’s speech here. 

7.50am: Announcement on border charging expected soon

A law change which would lead to Kiwi returnees being charged for mandatory isolation and quarantine could be announced as soon as today.

The Herald’s reporting that the government may have reached an agreement about charging New Zealanders who opt to travel overseas, then go through managed isolation upon their return.

The legislation would need to be announced soon, however, as parliament will soon shut down for the entirety of the election period. Any law change would need to be passed before then.

Yesterday, we reported on how the Green Party could put a spanner in the works for Jacinda Ardern if she wanted to pass the law change before the election. Without the Greens, she would have to reach across the aisle and work with the National Party to get it done.

But Ardern remained confident when questioned by reporters that she wouldn’t need opposition support to get any law across the line.

Right now on The Spinoff, you can read a report from our political editor Justin Giovannetti about how a three-party deal on the possible law change might have been struck.

7.45am: National unveils small business policy

National’s leader Judith Collins has revealed that Kiwis who want to start a business will be able to access up to $20,000 from their Kiwisaver, under the party’s new small business policy.

Collins told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking this morning that the money belonged to people yet they couldn’t access it.

More policy detail will be unveiled at a press conference at 9.30 this morning. Collins told Hosking the policy is intended to make it easier for people who have lost jobs through the Covid-19 economic downturn to start a business.

This morning’s policy announcement follows a number of transport plans unveiled around the country since Collins took over as leader two weeks ago.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A significant update in New Zealand’s relationship with China: Yesterday foreign minister Winston Peters announced that this country would be suspending the extradition treaty with Hong Kong, on the basis of new security laws passed in the city that erode the protections of citizens, and the independence of the judiciary, reports One News. In practice, what the new laws theoretically mean is that a suspect could have been extradited to Hong Kong, and then on to China itself.

Expressing the “deep concerns” of the New Zealand government, Peters said “China’s passage of its new national security legislation has eroded rule-of-law principles, undermined the ‘one country, two systems’ framework that underpins Hong Kong’s unique status, and gone against commitments China made to the international community.” On Newstalk ZB, National’s foreign affairs spokesperson Simon Bridges presented a united front, saying the party was in complete agreement – the main point of difference was that where the government had concerns about the national security law, he condemned it.

The reaction from the Chinese embassy has been one of anger, saying it is a “gross interference in China’s internal affairs.” Here is the full statement, and it defends the new national security laws as necessary “to ensure the steady and sustained implementation of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.” As for the diplomatic relationship, the statement said “any attempt to pressure China on the issue of Hong Kong will not succeed. The Chinese side urges the New Zealand side to abide by the international law and the basic norms governing international relations, immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs in any forms to avoid further harm to China-New Zealand relations.”

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here 

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

New Zealand’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong was suspended due to China’s controversial national security law. China responded by calling the suspension a “gross interference” in its internal affairs.

There was one new case of Covid-19, in managed isolation.

Contact tracing is underway for a man who tested positive for the virus after landing in South Korea from NZ. A Christchurch Countdown supermarket he visited prior to departure was closed for deep cleaning.

National’s teen candidate William Wood apologised for impersonating Hitler.

The party’s internal polling was leaked, with National at 36% – a big improvement on Sunday night’s Newshub poll.

Air New Zealand extended its international flight freeze due to the lack of quarantine beds available.

Family Planning received $427,000 in government funding, its biggest cash boost in more than a decade.

Read yesterday’s live updates here



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