Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 8, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at email@example.com
5.55pm: Seymour leapfrogs Collins in preferred PM polling
Act leader David Seymour can now make a good claim to be New Zealand’s preferred Opposition leader after a bombshell poll found that he had overtaken Judith Collins in the preferred prime minister stakes.
The NZ Herald reports that in UMR’s poll for July, 12% of respondents said they would like Seymour to be PM – 2% more than the National leader, who polled 10%.
Jacinda Ardern continues to hold a huge lead as preferred PM, at 55%. Of the National voters polled, 15% prefer Ardern as prime minister.
3.50pm: Another entry into NZ’s book of great slogans
It’s a Thursday afternoon – what better time to enjoy a brand new town slogan, courtesy of Woodville.
As Stuff reports, Woodville has settled on “all good in the Wood” to promote its town to the nation. As someone who has enjoyed the sights of Woodville on many occasions (I highly recommend stopping for a cheesecake), I can confirm all is, in fact, good in the Wood.
The slogan joins a long list of extraordinary slogans, such as “Foxton: the Fox Town” or the Hutt’s “right up my Hutt Valley”.
2.50pm: Government aware there would be backlash to ute levy – but told to go ahead with it anyway
The government’s decision not to exclude ute buyers from a levy on high emissions vehicles matched advice provided by the transport ministry.
Information released proactively by the ministry has revealed that officials were aware there would be a backlash to slapping ute buyers with a fee as no hybrid or electric alternative is available on the market. However, they advised pushing ahead with it anyway due to the environmental benefits.
“A decision needs to be made on whether [ute buyers] paying a fee is considered an appropriate contribution to social costs, or whether some form of concession is justified,” said the ministry.
“The Ministry [of Transport], Waka Kotahi and Ministry for the Environment recommend that no concession be given because of the considerable adverse environmental and health impacts, notwithstanding the lack of alternatives currently in the market…”
If a concession was to be introduced, the ministry advised it to be “as time-bound, limited in scope, and limited in financial value as possible”.
2.20pm: Sydney records highest number of new cases in over a year
Sydney has recorded another 38 cases of Covid-19 – the highest single-day rise in cases in more than a year.
The state of New South Wales has moved into the third week of lockdown as case numbers continue to spiral out of control.
Of the new cases, 26 have been linked to a known case or cluster, but the remaining 12 are under investigation. New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian told locals the numbers are “too high”. But, she said the lockdown can end if people do the right thing.
“Experts have told us it is achievable. If it was not achievable, we would not have provided those details to the community,” she said, as reported by Nine News. “That’s assuming everybody does the right thing and we work together to make sure we stop the spread.”
1.30pm: Covid-positive mariner confirmed to have delta variant
One of the two Covid-positive mariners isolating off the coast of Taranaki has the delta variant of the virus, genomic sequencing has confirmed.
Sequencing has also confirmed the infection is not linked to any other cases in New Zealand. An all of government response has been set up led by Customs. In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it is working closely with border agencies, port authorities and the shipping company to address the health needs of crew members and to determine the next steps for the vessel.
It’s not yet clear, the ministry said, which port the ship will return to. On their return to New Zealand, 15 of the 20 crew members disembarking (including the two with Covid-19) are expected to go into a managed isolation and quarantine facility.
“This will likely be a facility at the port they return to. There are no managed isolation or quarantine facilities in New Plymouth so at this stage it is considered unlikely they will return to Port Taranaki,” said a ministry spokesperson. “New Zealand Customs and other agencies are working on the operational details of the boat’s return.”
At this stage, the risk to the public from the new cases is deemed low due to the infection prevention control process in place. There are no locations of interest.
Second vessel with ‘flu-like symptoms’ off-shore
A foreign-owned fishing vessel operating from New Zealand has contacted authorities and declared that a number of crew have reported “flu-like symptoms”, the ministry said. The vessel has requested to dock in New Zealand.
“The ship will undergo the usual pratique declarations and the situation assessed by the local public health unit,” said a spokesperson.
“The vessel is outside our territorial waters and presents no immediate risk to New Zealand. This situation will be updated by Customs as more information comes to hand.”
No new community cases today
There are no new cases of Covid-19 to report in the community, and just one recorded in managed isolation. The number of active cases in New Zealand is 41.
Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,408.
1.00pm: Government received warnings from public service against ‘pay freeze’ months before announcing it
Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports:
Chris Hipkins had been warned by the public service and unions to remove “pay restraint” language from a policy setting the government’s workforce expectations for years to come, but the public service minister refused the advice, according to cabinet documents released today.
In documents that detail the minister’s thinking over a two month period before he announced his proposal in May to freeze most pay in the public service, Hipkins told cabinet that his goal was to create “sustained restraint” in pay expectations across the public sector for years to come.
The policy would all but forbid “pay adjustments” for anyone making over $60,000 except in “restricted circumstances,” Hipkins wrote in a paper that was approved by cabinet.
“Our expectation is that pay adjustments will be at nil or minimal levels unless exceptional circumstances apply,” he concluded. He noted that the public service had expressed reservations about ongoing pay restraint while the unions wanted it removed completely. “On the issue of pay restraint, which both agencies and unions raised issues about, I have retained the references to pay restraint,” Hipkins wrote, offering no explanation.
It’s possible some of his thinking is behind redactions. In a section that described what the pay policy is meant to do, the cabinet paper read that it creates “a set of broad goals that reflect…” the rest is redacted.
In March, Hipkins wrote up a note his cabinet colleagues to provide key messaging for them: pay restraint “is going to be with us for some time,” the aim of collective bargaining going forward will reflect the need to restrain pay and finally, “it’s not about austerity. It’s about managing wage growth.”
That messaging was put to use in May after the policy was announced, with significant outcry from the rank-and-file public service about a pay freeze. Following the anger, Hipkins, along with finance minister Grant Robertson and prime minister Jacinda Ardern would argue that policy was actually about lifting the wages of low paid members of the public service.
While that is mentioned twice in Hipkins’ paper, restraint is mentioned 13 times.
12.30pm: Hospitality industry group responds to Spinoff op-ed
Marisa Bidois, the Restaurant Association’s CEO, has provided a statement in response to Charlotte Muru-Lanning’s opinion piece, The hospitality industry needs much more than a reset, which we ran on Tuesday.
Saying she was saddened to read the piece, Bidois said “bad employers exist in every single industry and we will always stand against exploitation”.
“But the notion that our industry is across the board poorly paid and exploitative is not the reality that we see when speaking to our members and their teams,” she added.
She said people who work in hospitality care about their workers, their customers and their suppliers, and are innovators who have grown the industry to where it is today through their hard work and creativity. “But there is a practical reality to working in a business that serves people dinner, late night drinks or weekend brunch.
“This is not a 9-5 industry or one from which you can work from home. But it does offer opportunities in spades.”
On the pay issue, Bidois said, “You don’t need to be an economist to work out there’s a benchmark to the salaries that can be paid before prices climb to unsustainable levels.
“And the reality is that salaries have been climbing consistently in our industry.
“In the year to June 2020, the annual wage rate increase was 3.0% for the public sector and 1.7% for the private sector. The overall rate was 2.1% for all sectors. Over the last six years wage rates have grown by 25% in hospitality.
“So the issue is not just salaries – even with increased salaries we would still have a supply issue.”
Bidois said the industry was adaptable and nimble because it had to be, as well as focused on solutions. While it may not have “gloss”, it had passion, she said: “Passion for food and for people – we care about our people because our business is based on them.”
11.15am: ‘More like a vibe’ – Treasury criticised for using ‘professional judgement’ to forecast house prices
MPs from across the political spectrum have criticised Treasury after the department said it used “professional judgement” to predict house prices.
The information was provided in a statement to parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee. Green MP Chloe Swarbrick, who sits on the committee and has been asking for the information for weeks, said it’s not good enough.
“We literally have it on the record there, quite explicitly, that they’re using their ‘professional judgement’ – that isn’t giving us any form of insight into the variables used to predict house price forecasts, which in turn inform Government policy,” Swarbrick told Newshub.
National’s Nicola Willis agreed – and said it sounded “more like a vibe”. “It seems officials basically collect some housing related stats, throw them in a spreadsheet, and then use their ‘judgement’ to pick a forecast,” she added.
Of the four parties represented in the finance committee – which included Act – just Labour has defended Treasury.
“I think the responses that the committee has received from the Treasury in writing do cover the material that they’re asking about,” said finance minister Grant Robertson. “It’s up to the committee what they then decide to do with that.”
10.30am: Lack of widespread saliva testing a ‘failure’, says Bishop
The government has once again been criticised for a failing to roll out saliva testing as the main method of Covid-19 testing.
Documents released to National under the Official Information Act revealed that the government’s Covid-19 advisory group chaired by Sir Brian Roche recommended regular saliva testing. The group went as far as to say “all efforts’ should be made to introduce saliva testing as soon as possible.
National’s Chris Bishop said nothing was done about it. “The new documents paint a sad and sorry saga of this government’s failure to roll out saliva testing,” said Bishop in a statement. “New advice shows that even in January this year the Ministry of Health recommended to the government to approve voluntary saliva testing in quarantine facilities, saying this would increase weekly testing to 4000 per week.
“Incredibly though, fewer than 400 saliva tests have been carried out in total since then.”
Earlier this week, the government blamed border worker reluctance on the lack of saliva tests being given out as users cannot eat or smoke beforehand. That claim was rebuffed by the chief executive of a testing provider who said there is simply no evidence of this.
10.00am: New figures reveal just 34 people using Te Huia train service each day
Just 34 people have travelled each weekday on the Te Huia train connecting Hamilton and Auckland, on average.
Figures revealed by Newstalk ZB’s Jason Walls have showed that between Monday to Friday, the 150-seater service is usually 75% empty. As a result, ticket sales have also been lacklustre – about $1679 each day.
National’s transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said it vindicated the party for claiming people wouldn’t take the train. “We believed this service just wouldn’t be patronised and we were right,” he said.
“The reason it’s not [very popular] is because it’s not a service people see as a service that’s better than the alternatives.”
But the transport minister Michael Wood has defended the project. “This is a five-year start-up service – we anticipated it would start off with relatively modest numbers,” he said.
The Spinoff’s Alex Braae tested out the service back in May and labelled it a “missed opportunity to think bigger”.
9.20am: Wellington the ‘third hottest’ housing market in the world
Bernard Hickey writes for The Kākā:
Knight Frank released its first quarter figures for its Global Residential Cities Index overnight, showing Wellington as the third hottest housing market in the world in the March quarter with annual inflation of 30.1%, up from 32nd fastest a year ago. Auckland was the 11th fastest with inflation of 19.6%, up from 101st fastest a year ago. The Turkish cities of Izmir and Ankara were the first and second fastest, thanks to a collapse in confidence in the local currency and very-fast inflation.
New Zealand had the fastest house price inflation in the developed world in the year to the end of March, Knight Frank’s measure shows.
8.00am: Bloomfield ‘concerned’ by spike in virus sweeping schools, kindergartens
A massive surge in cases of respiratory syncytial virus – or RSV – has the director general of health “concerned”.
Most media outlets have this morning run stories on the the wave of RSV cases, including reports some kindergartens and primary schools are half empty. Speaking yesterday, Ashley Bloomfield said the virus could be debilitating for children. “We’re certainly concerned in the sharp surge in RSV cases,” he said. “This is a nasty illness and for young babies it is very debilitating and makes them very sick.”
However, Bloomfield called the virus a “classic” and said there is often a winter surge. “Once again this year, as happened last year, we’re not seeing that rise in flu cases, however we had very little RSV last year and this year we are seeing the usual increase that we had seen previously.”
Attendance numbers slashed as schools battle winter bugs
We reported last week on anecdotal evidence that schools were battling high numbers of absences as a result of winter illnesses. Now, that’s been largely confirmed.
According to the Herald, Poroutawhao School in Palmerston North had 45 of its 112 students off sick this week and the Auckland Kindergarten Association reported a 20% increase in absences at their 107 kindergartens.
“In the best interests of tamariki, we advise parents and whānau to keep their children home if they are unwell, and staff to stay home if they are sick,” said the association’s general manager of education and innovation Bram Kukler.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
The Janssen vaccine has been “provisionally approved” by Medsafe, but it’s not yet clear how and when it’ll be used in New Zealand. Our live updates reports Janssen only requires one dose, with two million of them secured by the government in a pre-purchase agreement. Cabinet will decide on a use plan by August, so it’s unlikely we’ll see any of it until well into the back half of the year. But that is also when the rollout is expected to reach the wider public, so it theoretically could speed up the rollout significantly.
The J&J/Janssen vaccine compares slightly less favourably against Pfizer, but has some advantages. A report from NBC covering CBC data showed that Janssen was good for preventing the worst impacts of Covid – serious illness and death. But only about two thirds of recipients are prevented from getting Covid altogether, compared to more than 90% with Pfizer. That study had a note that the data on the delta variant is much less comprehensive. But it is foreseeable that it could have widespread use among people already of a lower risk profile.
So will it have an impact on the rollout? In commentary provided through the Science Media Centre, immunisation expert Dr Nikki Turner said it is more likely to be used as a backup to the main Pfizer rollout, and in the rare cases where that vaccine isn’t safe for people to take. “The Janssen vaccine has an excellent safety and efficacy profile and has been widely used internationally with robust data sitting behind it.”
But no matter which vaccine is used, herd immunity remains a long way away. Initial modelling from Te Pūnaha Matatini suggests that 97% of the population would need to be fully vaccinated with Pfizer if a delta outbreak hit, reports the NZ Herald. That means life suddenly snapping back to normal any time soon is deeply unlikely, and Stuff reports Waikato DHB medical officer of health Richard Hoskins is warning that we should expect periodic outbreaks and measures against them through 2022.
National leader Judith Collins is keen to have a debate about raising the age of super, and wants to find some sort of cross-party accord. Stuff’s Henry Cooke reports Collins wants that approach so that the public can have some certainty about what will happen, if change does get made. After all, people often make decisions about when they’ll try to retire before they hit 65. The proportion of total government spending on superannuation relative to everything else is expected to grow in the coming decades, along with the total cost.
But raising the age of super has typically been tremendously unpopular – in fact it is one of the rare policies that can truly be described as an election loser. Since Sir John Key was PM, major parties promising to keep the age at 65 have won every time. Current PM Jacinda Ardern has ruled out ever doing it, making this a likely non-starter. The economics of it all are a bit more complex, and for more, I’d encourage reading this piece by Jenesa Jeram from last year.