blog march 18 upd2

Covid-19March 18, 2021

Live updates, March 18: Almost $1m to have Rod Stewart ‘rock the dock’

blog march 18 upd2

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 18, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at

Top stories:

4.45pm: Green co-leader Marama Davidson and National MP Nicola Willis clash in house 

During question time at parliament today, MPs canvassed the worst economic downturn in the country’s history, shortcomings in the ongoing review of Pharmac and which DHBs are facing the chopping block next year. Then they turned to homelessness.

Thousands of New Zealanders have found themselves in motels and other emergency accommodations in recent months as the government’s social housing programme has fallen far behind demand and rents have shot up.

National’s Nicola Willis, one of the few MPs left in that party’s progressive wing, was tasked with asking questions of the associate minister of housing (homelessness), better known as Green co-leader Marama Davidson.

The associate minister revealed that in the past year, over 1,000 new spots have had to be created for the homeless and another 2,162 people are receiving emergency grants to stay in homes. Willis’s questions, though, didn’t focus on the number of people, but on who they are.

“Is she concerned by reports that children are being co-located in emergency accommodation with 501s and gang members engaging in violent and criminal behaviour?” asked Willis.

Yes, said Davidson, who then added, “We must make sure that we do not stigmatise any one group or community with crime.”

Question time then turned towards comments Davidson had made on Twitter and whether people concerned about living near homeless people housed in emergency accommodations are showing “racist and classist undertones”.

“Is she accusing New Zealanders who raise concerns about their safety in relation to increased numbers of people in emergency accommodation as being racist?” asked Willis.

It’s important to note here that an MP can’t call another MP racist in the house.

“I am accusing a member, a National member of this house, of attempting to stigmatise a group of people with little access to power and resourcing, of attempting to whip up stigmatising and dehumanising narratives around groups of people who need our support, around groups of people who need us to address the systemic causes of crime,” said Davidson. “Yes, I am accusing a National member of raising that dehumanising narrative,” Davidson answered.

A back-and-forth ensued about whether Davidson called Willis a racist. The speaker eventually concluded that she did not.

Over the past year, about nine more New Zealanders a day have turned to government for help because they’re homeless or about to be.

– Justin Giovannetti

3.30pm: Yet another call for the trans-Tasman bubble

You’re possibly sick of hearing about the will-it-or-won’t-it-happen trans-Tasman bubble – but here’s another update.

Business NZ is joining the calls for the bubble to open as soon as possible, saying Australian travellers would help plug the gap in our struggling tourism sector.

“It’s now 12 months since the 600,000 New Zealanders living in Australia and 75,000 Australians in New Zealand have been able to easily travel to see families and friends face-to-face and share important occasions like weddings and other milestone events,” said co-chair of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum Ann Sherry.

“And it’s not just those wonderful, personal connections. Our countries are very closely linked economically, with around $27 billion in two-way trade flowing between New Zealand and Australia (pre-Covid-19). This meant about 400,000 business trips a year across the Tasman. Plus, tourism companies on both sides have been left languishing without visitors from the other country – a gap that domestic tourism has struggled to fill.”

Earlier today, it was reported by both RNZ and Stuff that a bubble could be operating by the end of next month. Sherry said that the issue seemed to have stalled since Australia started quarantine-free travel for New Zealanders six months ago.

“Both countries have successfully managed the health risks of Covid-19, with testing and tracing regimes that are quickly snuffing out any cases appearing in the community. Now with vaccination rolling out in New Zealand and Australia it’s time the low risk of transmission between the countries is recognised with more open travel arrangements.”

2.30pm: Regional check – what’s happening outside of Auckland?

Time now for a sporadic live updates feature taking a look at some of the news happening outside of the main centres.

In Northland: A Bay of Islands peninsula could be turned into New Zealand’s most important kiwi sanctuary, according to a (paywalled) report in the Northland Advocate. The conservation project will see pests such as possums, stoats, feral cats and rats eradicated from 7600 hectares of land on the Purerua Peninsula. 

“We’re well placed to suppress the four main threats to our wildlife on the peninsula — possums, feral cats, mustelids and rats — with a view to eradication further down the track,” said Kiwi Coast Mid-North coordinator Andrew Mentor. “This should help the resident kiwi, kūkūpa, pāteke, dotterels, bittern, fernbirds and ōi (grey-faced petrel).” The peninsula had “massive” potential as a sanctuary, he said.

Also in Northland, some important dog news! Sheep dog Spot won the “short head and yard event” at the Rodney leg of the Northland circuit on Saturday. As reported in the Northland Age, Spot, and owner Mike Moody, also placed fourth in the long head event. Who’s a good boy? Spot is.

Meanwhile in Queenstown: Wakatipu High School is updating some of the more controversial themes from the musical Grease for its local production, reports the Otago Daily Times. “Some points of the show have been tweaked if actors felt uncomfortable or unable to disconnect with the content,” said drama teacher Jake Hansen. The 70s’ film has drawn criticism during recent rebroadcasts for perceived misogynistic, homophobic and slut-shaming lyrics.

1.15pm: Almost $1m to have Rod Stewart ‘rock the dock’

The overall cost of having Rod Stewart “rock the dock” through a performance of his song Sailing almost totalled $1 million.

An official information act request made by Puketāpapa Local Board member Jon Turner, and published on, asked the New Zealand Tourism Board for: “the total costs to the taxpayer of having Rod Stewart sing ‘Sailing’ for the America’s Cup”.

The Spinoff’s Tara Ward wrote about the bizarre weekend performance, in which those at Auckland’s viaduct were encouraged to rock the dock. Rod Stewart, of course, is not in New Zealand.

In its response, the tourism board said while they would not disclose Sir Rod’s exact fee, the total cost of hosting the event was $918,000. “This includes Sir Rod’s fees, marketing and promotional budget and production costs associated with the event,” the response said.

“Sir Rod Stewart was chosen for this event as he has global appeal and a strong connection to New Zealand with two of his children born here he’s always felt like New Zealand was a second home.”

The rock the dock event was intended to bring New Zealanders together in a show of support for the teams and their fans around the world who are unable to be here, the board said.

He is sailing. Screengrab: TVNZ

12.55pm: No Covid-19 update today

Just a FYI that we won’t be hearing from the Ministry of Health today. The ministry will be sending out updates every other day, as the number of new cases has dropped since the recent community outbreak.

If you’re missing your daily dose of Ashley Bloomfield, see the 12.45pm update.

The next update will be tomorrow.

12.45pm: Control of water fluoridation could soon sit with Ashley Bloomfield

As if managing a pandemic wasn’t enough, Ashley Bloomfield could soon have even more responsibility. The government is proposing taking decision-making on water fluoridation away from district health boards and giving it to the director general of health.

Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall said the proposed change would simplify the decision-making process. “[It] means we are taking a nationally consistent approach that’s based on evidence,” she said. “The Fluoridation Bill as a whole recognises water fluoridation is a health-related issue. Right now only around 2.3 million New Zealanders have access to fluoridated drinking water.”

12.20pm: Covid-19, on this day

A daily look at where we were in the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand one year ago:

March 18, 2020: On this day one year ago, New Zealand confirmed eight new cases of Covid-19. At this stage, cases of the virus were continuing to pop up nationwide. These cases were recorded in Auckland, Christchurch, Waikato and Invercargill.

Overall, New Zealand had 20 Covid-19 cases in total.

A year ago, there were just 191,127 cases of the virus globally and 7807 deaths.

11.50am: NZ economy ‘resilient’ despite Covid-19 – Robertson

The finance minister said today’s GDP figures show our economy is “resilient”, despite the ongoing impacts of Covid-19.

As reported here, New Zealand’s economy experienced its greatest ever annual decline in 2020, contracting by 2.9% as Covid-19 shut the country’s borders and upended global trade.

In a statement, Grant Robertson said it’s “not surprising” that the numbers are fluctuating. “The world is dealing with the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and there will be volatility for some time,” Robertson said. “New Zealand had an extremely strong bounce-back in the September quarter and some of that has evened out in the December quarter.”

Robertson said that New Zealand outperformed countries that we compare ourselves to: Australia dropped by 1.1%, United States by 2.4%, the United Kingdom by 7.8% and Japan by 1.3%.

On The Spinoff: All the weird and wonderful moments from last night’s 6pm TV news

I don’t know if you’re aware, but New Zealand won the America’s Cup yesterday. No biggie. The 6pm news coverage of this historic occasion was, quite simply, insane.

The Spinoff’s Tara Ward dutifully watched both 1News and Newshub last night to compile the most comprehensive review of both.

Here’s an extract:

Simon [Dallow] was full of words and they all ended with exclamation marks. He began the bulletin standing by himself, a lone wolf of current affairs in the eye of the celebratory storm, but a rapturous crowd soon gathered behind him. They cheered whenever he spoke, lifting children into the sky and waving in triumph. He couldn’t hear a thing, but it didn’t matter. They were the 12 knot wind beneath Simon’s wings and he was up on both foils, living his best life live on the six o’clock news.

Things were slightly more composed on Newshub, which began by informing us the crowds were so big in the Viaduct that Auckland Council was asking people to stay away. In unrelated news, 1 News reported that mayor Phil Goff was in the Mumm tent getting stuck into the bubbly, while on the water, Newshub reporter Lisette Reymer captured frenzied fans leaping into the sea and police hooning around on jet skis. Lockdown was forgotten, Covid-19 didn’t exist. It was bedlam, and nobody was sorry.

Read the full report here

10.45am: New Zealand economy experienced largest ever decline in 2020

Political editor Justin Giovannetti has the details:

Covid-19 pummelled New Zealand like neither the great depression nor the global financial crisis ever could.

New Zealand’s economy experienced its greatest ever annual decline in 2020, contracting by 2.9% as Covid-19 shut the country’s borders and upended global trade.

The latest figures, released this morning by StatsNZ, shows an economy that hit the brakes in the final months of last year as continuing restrictions on travel began to weigh on the country’s businesses. New Zealand’s economy shrank by 1% in the final three months of the year, the worst showing among the countries with which StatsNZ compares its figures.

The world’s rich economies grew by 0.9% on average during that period, while Australia and Japan’s GDPs grew by nearly 3% in the December quarter. “The December 2020 quarter results reflect an easing of activities following a post-lockdown catch up in the previous quarter, and the continued absence of international visitors,” wrote StatsNZ.

Stats NZ said that these figures need to be taken into consideration when comparing the recent GDP results for different countries.

“Activity in New Zealand in the December 2020 quarter was down almost 1% compared with the same quarter in 2019, pre-Covid,” national accounts senior manager Paul Pascoe said.

“This dip is similar to Australia, but much less of a fall than seen in the European Union or the United Kingdom.”

Read more from Justin here

9.45am: Trans-Tasman travel bubble by ‘mid-April’ – report


Stuff has claimed that a travel bubble with Australia will be up and running by the middle of next month, with cabinet possibly making its decision as soon as next Monday.

According to the report, a paper is currently being discussed in a cabinet committee around what the bubble may look like, and that a meeting of the full Cabinet could make decisions early in the next week.

The opposition has upped its push for a bubble in recent days, with National launching a petition and sending out countless press releases on the subject.

If the decision is made next week, airports and airlines would have little time to prepare for the return of travellers heading for Australia. Covid-19 recovery minister Chris Hipkins said yesterday that Auckland airport would require 10 days to be ready for the bubble, while airlines have indicated that they would require three weeks.

10.30am: RNZ claims bubble by ‘end of April’

In a similar but competing development, RNZ has claimed the trans-Tasman bubble will be up and running by the end of next month.

8.30am: Law change sees hundreds of sex offenders back on register

A piece of news that slipped through the cracks yesterday:

An urgent law change by the government yesterday afternoon will see hundreds of sex offenders put back onto the national register.

The law change was made through urgent amendments to the retrospective provisions in the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) Act 2016, to clarify the intent of parliament when the law was passed.

The changes were made following a Supreme Court decision that ruled the act did not apply to a person who had committed a qualifying offence before the law came into force on October 14 2016 – but was convicted and sentenced after that date.

“As a consequence of this decision, police has had to remove hundreds of individuals from the Child Sex Offender Register,” said police minister Poto Williams. “We are taking urgent action for the safety of our tamariki. The longer these offenders are off the register, the less ability police have to monitor them.”

The amendment will also ensure that any individuals sentenced for a qualifying offence after the Supreme Court decision can be placed on the register, either by confirming their eligibility or enabling review of any decision not to register.

“The urgent amendment to the retrospective provisions of the Act is essential for the wellbeing and safety of children, and their whānau,” Williams said.

7.55am: Challenger for next America’s Cup already accepted

There’s not a lot of news around today, surprisingly, so we’re going to start with the boat race.

On the same day that Team New Zealand raced to victory in the 36th America’s Cup, a challenger came forward – and was accepted – for the 37th.

But despite it already being official, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron general manager Hayden Porter told Newstalk ZB we’ll have to wait a little longer to find out where that challenge has come from.

“We have received a challenge for the 37th America’s Cup. There’s a lot of details to come, discussions will evolve over the next few days, weeks and months and things will happen from there,” he said. “It was all done out on the water – all details will be revealed in the next wee while.”

The Herald has previously claimed the challenge would be coming from the Royal Yacht Squadron, meaning Ineos Team UK would be the Challenger of Record whenever the next regatta takes place.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Well, they won the boat race. If you tuned into the news bulletins at any time last night you’ll already know that Emirates Team New Zealand beat Prada Luna Rossa 7-3, after winning all of the sailing, engineering, logistical and rule-setting aspects of the competition. Which is lovely for them, and good for people who are fans etc etc, happy for you all. But there’s another news line out of it all worth paying attention to.

After the win, the government immediately committed further funding to keep ETNZ together, reports Stuff. One of the more controversial aspects of elite yachting in recent decades has been the team consistently tapping the government up for more support – at times the negotiations more closely resembled ransom demands, to be fair. As yacht race minister Stuart Nash outlined, some of the $136.5 million of public money set aside for the cup has not yet been spent, and in principle that would be made available to the team to build towards the next event.

Which will be held – where exactly? One of the most defensible justifications given for public money going towards the America’s Cup is that it acts as an economic development stimulus for various industries – tourism, hospitality, boat building and so on. It’s probably worth noting that take was heavily contested even before Covid closed the borders, let alone an event with limited superyachts and spending. There was also a credible report from the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Caroline Meng-Yee that ETNZ has been shopping the event to other potential host cities around the world, before they even had their hands on the mug.

The syndicate has said they want to host the next event in New Zealand, but that is a long way away from a firm commitment. Getting access to that money will depend on it – and any future money the government could be asked for. In the government’s statement, PM Ardern said it “would be subject to a number of conditions, including an expectation the Cup will be defended in New Zealand.” Auckland mayor Phil Goff is keen too, and Stuff reports talks will start soon between the syndicate and other stakeholders. Many might be wondering – how high could the bill end up being this time?

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

Image: Tina Tiller

Concussions don’t just happen on TV

Concussion headlines are focusing on professional rugby players, but what about the playing fields where there are no cameras?
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

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox


If Auckland’s roads are anything to go by, the city is struggling. Image: Tina Tiller

Auckland is losing it

As 'Freedom Day' approaches, the people of Tāmaki Makaurau appear to be at the end of their tether.