Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Covid-19March 12, 2021

Live updates, March 12: Auckland moves to alert level one; $31bn transport plan revealed

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 12, brought to you by Stewart, Alice and Toby. Get in touch at info@thespinoff.co.nz 

4.00pm: IMF calls for capital gains tax in NZ as house prices continue to climb

The International Monetary Fund has concluded New Zealand should consider a capital gains tax, or a new tax on investors, to help control the country’s wild housing market.

The fund’s report, released today after its experts looked at New Zealand’s economy, puts it in conflict with Jacinda Ardern who has flatly ruled out a capital gains tax during her prime ministership. She’s also said no to new taxes over the coming three years.

The IMF is one of the key pillars of the global financial system. Based in Washington DC, the fund makes it easy for money to move between economies and has been often criticised during its 75-year existence for providing economic advice that is too conservative and stingy.

While it praised the government’s response to Covid-19, this is a rare case where the international institution is calling for more taxes and spending than a national government is willing to consider.

“Mitigating near-term housing demand, particularly from investors, would help moderate price pressures,” the fund wrote. “Introduction of stamp duties or an expansion of capital gains taxation could reduce the attractiveness of residential property investment.”

The IMF further concluded that the new taxes should only apply to investors and not first home buyers, while the government should continue to provide grants and loan help to first timers. It also called for more funding to help councils build infrastructure for new homes.

Without a fix to the country’s housing prices, the fund warned that a sharp rise in mortgage rates could “trigger an eventual, pronounced correction.”

The IMF’s central purpose is to spot trouble in financial systems and patch them up after they fail. Its warning to New Zealand should be taken seriously.

– Justin Giovannetti

2.30pm: Auckland transport plan criticisms

The $31bn transport plan for Auckland unveiled today (12.10pm) has attracted criticism from the National Party and some lobby groups.

Opposition transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said the government had its priorities all wrong, highlighting the specific lack of funding for a second harbour road crossing. “There is little mention of a second crossing in the new ATAP. Auckland’s new transport plan only provides minuscule funding for a harbour crossing business case, with any meaningful action on a second road crossing at least 20 years away.”

Michael Barnett, the chair of the Auckland Business Forum, said the plan will make congestion worse. “Many of the 75 projects confirmed today will address long-term challenges of climate change and housing, but what about action on big, bold projects needed to reduce road congestion where freight and the bulk of general traffic will continue to be?” he asked in a press statement.

Brett O’Riley of the Employers and Manufacturers Association has questioned the balance of transport models, and the project’s focus on public transport. He said, “We need to maintain a balance between public transport initiatives and much-needed rail and road projects that support our economic growth, the movement of critical freight and build on the connections needed across the upper North Island from Taupo through to the Far North.”

David Aitken, CEO of the National Road Carriers Association, questioned the project’s focus on walking, cycling and public transport at the expense of strategic freight routes. “Everything we consume is delivered by multiple truck trips from seaport or airport to distribution centres and then on to retail outlets or direct to homes. The public see the freight industry as heroes as a result of their work during Covid,” he said.

2.10pm: Joseph Parker named as sports star with alleged links to drug syndicate

After a two-year battle to keep his name secret, boxer Joseph Parker has been named as the sports star allegedly connected to an international drug syndicate.

Parker was named during the trial of a trio found guilty of importing methamphetamine from California at the High Court in Auckland in 2019, reports RNZ. Although the boxer was the subject of police interest, authorities did not speak to him, did not execute a search warrant and have never charged him.

He has denied any involvement in the importation of class A drugs, or the purchase, supply or consumption of methamphetamine, and being involved in changing or transporting money for the three men.

Tevita Fangupo, Tevita Kulu and Toni Finau were convicted of importing large amounts of methamphetamine in 2017 and jailed for between eight-and-a-half and 18 years. During the High Court trial, Parker was refused name suppression, but challenged it all the way to the country’s highest court.

In a judgment released yesterday, the Supreme Court said although naming Parker would cause him undue hardship, the principles of open justice outweighed that.

1.00pm: No new community Covid-19 cases; one case in MIQ

As mentioned by the prime minister as she announced Auckland’s move to alert level one, there are no new cases of Covid-19 in the community today, the Ministry of Health has confirmed.

All tests of contacts connected to the February outbreak have returned negative results. Day 12 tests of five remaining close contacts tested in quarantine were carried out today, and results are expected shortly. All contacts of the air crew case have returned negative results from initial testing.

There is one case in MIQ, who arrived from India via the UAE on March 7.

12.10pm: $31bn transport plan for Auckland revealed

The “refreshed” plan for the next decade of transport infrastructure spending in New Zealand’s biggest city has just been announced. It will see half-price fares for Community Services Card holders from next year, a boost for walking and cycling projects, and $1.8 billion in seed funding for the beleaguered light rail plan.

The $31 billion plan broadly reflects the priorities of the $28 billion 2018 version. “The Atap 2021-31 package alone would result of around 13% decrease in emissions per capita when compared with the previous package, and is projected to increase public transport trips by 91%,” said the transport minister, Michael Wood, in a statement. He promised that “the next steps for light rail” would be revealed next month.

“At $31 billion this is the largest capital programme ever allocated for Auckland transport infrastructure and services,” said the Auckland mayor, Phil Goff. “By itself, ATAP does not solve all of Auckland’s transport problems but it will allow us to make inroads into the increasingly serious problems of carbon emissions, traffic congestion and housing shortages.”

Key parts of the plan include:

  • New “community connect” initiative to give half-price fares for 200,000 Community Services Card holders to roll out next year.
  • $1.5 billion for local boards and walking and cycling initiatives to see cycleways completed through the isthmus.
  • $1.3 billion for buses and ferries.
  • State Highway 16 bus improvements.
  • Walking and cycling programmes including the Te Whau Pathway and completing the Glen Innes to Tāmaki cycleway.

12.00pm: ‘I really reject the implication’ 

At this morning’s press conference to announce the alert level change for Auckland, the prime minister faced several questions about a tweet by her partner, Clarke Gayford, in response to Wellington chef Martin Bosley about the decision-making process.
Ardern said he was not privy to any confidential briefing but responding to information in the public domain.

Asked if she could categorically rule out that Gayford had accessed any privileged information, Ardern said: “Of course. I have not seen my partner since yesterday. He absolutely has not. I really reject the implication. I think what he has taken off his own bat to rebut is the suggestion that we’ve had a decision that we’ve sat on. That is information we were sharing since yesterday, the process we were following.”

Ardern denied that delaying announcing the decision was to fit in with her schedule. “At some point we have to make a decision. We wanted to do that with all the results we had in this morning. The easiest way for us to then make a move very very quickly is to pre-prepare,” she said.

“What we’ve been criticised for here is this assumption that we made a decision and didn’t act on it. In fact what we did was try to maximise as much as possible the ability to move early for business.” 

She denied the government was overly cautious with making this decision because Auckland was moved out of restrictions too early last time. “I would refute that the last decision was wrong. Some of the issues we saw occurred in level three. We have always taken a cautious approach.”

11.45am: Auckland moving to alert level one at midday

Auckland is moving to alert level one at midday today, the prime minister has announced.

The decision was made yesterday afternoon, but, before announcing it, cabinet wanted to confirm there had been no new community cases overnight, meaning we’ve now gone a full transmission cycle (14 days) since the last exposure event; and the results of the last remaining contacts of case M came back negative, said Ardern. Both happened overnight. There are some remaining day 12 tests but those people are in quarantine, said Ardern.

The first questions put to Ardern have focused on the staging of the announcement: given the cabinet decision yesterday, why could they not have made the announcement, even if preliminary, yesterday?

“We always said we would announce before the weekend but wanted to be assured we had testing in the wider community as well,” said Ardern.

“Every day when we stand up and say we have no new cases, someone will make an assumption about whether or not we’re going to be in a position to move. There has to be a point where we make the official announcement,” she said. This case was unusual, she said, because the alert level change would kick in almost immediately.

“The final decision was of course awaiting these results, so what we’ve done, is in order to move as quickly as we can, instead of having if these things all come through negative, are we comfortable then to lift? And the answer was yes. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

When is the PM getting the vaccine?

The prime minister said a date has not yet been set for when she’ll be getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

Ardern has previously said she will get it early and publicly. Responding to a question from The Spinoff, Ardern said it hasn’t yet been decided when she’ll be getting the jab. She said she has “no contact” with the border or those on the frontline, but recognised the role she played in encouraging uptake.

Jacinda Ardern at this morning’s press conference (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

10.45am: Auckland transport plan revealed today

Apologies to everyone outside the 09: it’s a mostly Auckland-centric day as far as news is concerned. As well as the alert level announcement for the super city, which is being made in the CBD at 11.30am, we’re expecting shortly afterwards, at 11.45am, the release of the updated Auckland Transport Alignment Project. Created under the last National government, and first outlined in 2018, Atap lays out the plans for transport infrastructure for the city, chiefly across the next decade. Assigning something in the region of $30 billion expenditure, it is designed to ensure the council and central government are singing from the same hymn (and balance) sheet.

The transport minister, Michael Wood, and the Auckland mayor, Phil Goff, will be speaking to press as they unveil the latest version of the package.

We’ll have all the details here at 11.45am.

Canterbury, meanwhile, is on the brink of approving a two-year trial of free buses.

New podcast episode alert: Remember When… and The Real Pod

If you’re looking for something to listen to today, a new episode of Remember When… hit the pod stands this morning.

Join Jane Yee with The Spinoff’s Eden French-Putu and Michael Andrew as they remember the days everybody had a spray can of Lynx or Impulse in their school bag and no one was afraid to use it.

And for my fellow reality-heads, there are also two episodes of The Real Pod out this week – one recapping the latest from The Bachelor NZ, the other focused on MAFS AU. Click through to listen on Spotify, or subscribe wherever you normally get your podcasts.

9.45am: No law change planned so mosque attack victims can claim ACC – Little

The government has no plans to amend the law to allow victims of the 2019 mosque attack to qualify for ACC support. That’s despite a direct recommendation in the royal commission report advising exactly that.

Lead coordination minister for the government’s response to the royal commission Andrew Little told RNZ that the government doesn’t “intend” to make any chances to ACC.

“In terms of other support given to all the victims, the families of those who were killed, those who were injured and those who were witnesses, there is a variety of support that has been in place,” said Little. “One of the things that we have undertaken to do is set up what is called the ‘Collective Impact Board’. That is a group from the muslim community. They will come together to oversee all of the government agencies who are there to support the community.”

Little said the government cannot direct ACC to do whatever it likes as it is subject to its own statute and its legal framework. “Witnesses don’t easily fall into the regime that ACC is there to deal with which is physical injury by accident,” he said.

On the agenda

It’s a busy day here, folks. Here’s what we’ll be covering today:

11.30am: The big one – Jacinda Ardern will be fronting media at a downtown Auckland press conference where she will reveal if (and hopefully when) the city is moving down to alert level one. The PM will also likely face questions on the overnight delay in revealing the alert level outcome after an “in principle” decision was made yesterday. Our live updates editor Stewart Sowman-Lund will be at the announcement.

11.45am: The government is making an announcement in South Auckland. More on that later.

1.00pm: The Ministry of Health will be sending out today’s Covid-19 data. As it follows the PM’s press conference, we’re certainly hoping for good news.

8.50am: Parker says it’s ‘looking good’ for Aucklanders

A Labour MP has hinted that good news is in store for Aucklanders ahead of the prime minister’s press conference at 11.30am.

David Parker, speaking on the AM Show alongside National’s Simon Bridges, told viewers that the situation is looking positive. “It is looking good. We took the in-principle decision but we wait for the latest data, which will come out this morning, and if there is bad news in there, we might have to revisit it.”

Bridges joked that the minister had “just stolen the PM’s announcement” – although Parker denied this.

8.05am: Businesses bracing for sudden shift to level one

Businesses in Auckland could face a quick turnover from alert level two to one, with the prime minister set to make the announcement this morning.

It’s possible the city could shift down in time for the Friday rush, almost a fortnight after the initial move into lockdown.

But Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White told RNZ a short lead in time to a big Friday night under level one would catch some businesses out. “There’s going to be a run on suppliers is what I’m thinking is concerning. There’s only going to be so much stock available. Some … might have to go without stock,” White said.

One restaurant owner on Auckland’s busy K Road said it’s difficult being left in the dark. “We kind of order for the next day, and sometimes you’re ordering for the next week. It’d be nice to know,” they said.

“It’s been really up and down. We’ve got used to it. The reality with Covid especially for hospitality is that you just [have to] be prepared for anything,” another owner said.

Aucklanders will find out at 11.30am, when Jacinda Ardern gives a press conference. We’ll have live coverage so stay tuned.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The question on all Aucklanders’ minds today: will the city move back down to alert level one in time for the weekend? Cabinet met yesterday to make its decision, with prime minister Jacinda Ardern set to make the announcement at 11.30 this morning in Auckland.

As I said in yesterday’s live updates, it feels a bit weird that the announcement was delayed overnight. I expect there is some kind of contingency plan in place in case Covid comes back this morning, but why not just make the announcement on the same day of the decision? Just asking questions…

I’m not the only one to have that thought. Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said the government should have announced its decision last night. “Every day counts and the sooner we know the plan, the sooner we can get back to business,” he said in a statement.

Judith Collins isn’t happy about it either. The National Party leader tweeted to say it’s just not good enough. “We are not allowed to know what the decision is… to fit into the PM’s scheduled press conference,” Collins wrote. “Kiwis deserve more respect,” she later said.

You’d have to think there’s a pretty good chance of Auckland moving down alerts, even as soon as tonight. As reported in the Herald, the last community case of Covid-19 was February 28. A week ago, Jacinda Ardern said: “Cabinet will review this decision [alert level] at the end of next week… with a view to moving Auckland to level one at the start of the weekend, if we are in a position to do so.”

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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