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Live UpdatesAug 1 2022

New initiatives announced to boost health workforce

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Monday, August 1. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • New initiatives have been announced to help bolster the health sector workforce – but nurses are still off the residency fast track list.
  • Thousands of eligible New Zealanders (and… some ineligible ones) will now have received their first cost of living payment.
  • The PM wants cross-party support closing a political donations loophole.
  • Covid-19 latest: Another 5,312 new cases, 759 in hospital.
blog-aug-1.jpg

New initiatives announced to boost health workforce

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Monday, August 1. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • New initiatives have been announced to help bolster the health sector workforce – but nurses are still off the residency fast track list.
  • Thousands of eligible New Zealanders (and… some ineligible ones) will now have received their first cost of living payment.
  • The PM wants cross-party support closing a political donations loophole.
  • Covid-19 latest: Another 5,312 new cases, 759 in hospital.
Aug 1 2022

‘Absurd’: Shortland Street to help promote a career in nursing

New Zealand soap opera Shortland Street could soon be focusing less on murder and mayhem, and more on the positive side of the health sector.

Andrew Little revealed today that the TV show will be promoting nursing as part of a government initiative to bolster the health sector workforce. It comes as the government faces pressure to fast track residency for nurses – something that was absent from today’s health announcement.

Speaking to media, Little said an agreement had been reached to see Shortland Street “assist with promoting nursing as a fantastic career”. He did not believe it had cost the government anything. “They may even talk about or use the material that is available to promote nursing,” he added.

As for whether Little will be appearing on the show himself: “[They] declined my cameo role,” he joked.

Notably, the Shortland Street announcement was not mentioned in the minister’s press release sent to media.

The Act Party was quick to put out a statement mocking the partnership, with deputy leader Brooke van Velden calling it a “ridiculous plot twist”.

“The government is doing nothing to make New Zealand more attractive for nurses to move here, instead migrant nurses aren’t eligible for residency until after two years in New Zealand,” she said.

“Instead of changing that, health minister Andrew Little says the government is partnering with Shortland Street to promote nursing as a career. You can’t script something this absurd.”

New plan to boost health workforce, but no residency fast track for nurses

New initiatives have been announced to help bolster New Zealand’s struggling health sector workforce – but there’s no plan to fast track residency for overseas nurses.

The government’s been under pressure to help bring foreign nurses to New Zealand, as the strain of both Covid-19 and winter illnesses slams the health system.

Speaking in Wellington, health minister Andrew Little acknowledged the pressures facing health workers and said addressing it was his number one priority. “We have to do what is right for New Zealand,” said Little.

Initiatives confirmed today include a “one-stop-shop” for international recruitment within Health New Zealand. There will also be a streamlined system for international health workers to get their qualifications recognised in New Zealand, including funding for overseas nurses to complete the competency test needed to get registration.

“We’ve changed immigration rules to make New Zealand one of the easiest places in the world for health workers to come to,” said Little. “During the Covid-19 pandemic we brought in 5,700 critical healthcare workers despite the fact global borders were closed.”

Health minister Andrew Little (Photo / Getty Images)

Funding will also be provided for non-practicing nurses who wish to return to nursing but need to get reregistered, while the number of of nurse practitioners trained each year will also be doubled from 50 to 100.

On the decision not to bring nurses into the fast tracked residency scheme, Little said the changes announced today would still make it easier to bring in overseas health workers. “I don’t think that we’re going to have difficulty recruiting nurses or any other health professional… offshore,” he said.

Today’s plan would remove many of the “barriers” that overseas health workers faced coming to New Zealand, said Little, such as the need to re-register.

“The initiatives announced today are just the start of the workforce plan,” Little said. “The workforce taskforce will work with health professional and training organisations and will consider questions like what the nature of health jobs will be in the future.”

Little once again faced pressure to define staff shortages within the health sector as a crisis, something he would not do. “I don’t care what words people use… people have got all sorts of language to describe it,” he said. “We’ve got a system that continues to be under extraordinary pressure.”

Willie Jackson – minister of social media?

Willie Jackson has named himself the government’s de facto social media minister.

New Zealand officially has no minister charged with taking on companies like Facebook and Google, but it’s quickly forming a major part of Jackson’s role as broadcasting minister.

Speaking to Duncan Greive on The Fold, Jackson said he’s effectively the minister tasked to deal with social media organisations. “The social media platforms are, in my view, out of control. You’ve got people disappearing down rabbit holes. I’ve got relations, they hear anything, they see anything, [they think] this is the real deal,” he said.

“We’re going through a whole content regulation review right now. Look, there’s a lot of things out of control, but I’m trying to bring some balance to it. Yesterday I was meant to meet with Google – that’s been put off till next week, [but] they’re itching to get on with me. Then I’m meeting with Meta, or Facebook, in the next couple of weeks.”

Jackson said there needs to be a “set of rules” for content regulation online, but that it should be balanced with freedom of expression. “What’s my job as a minister? It’s probably to protect some people, particularly young ones – they can’t actually work out what’s real and what’s not real,” said Jackson.

“And there’s no rules around that. Where are the consequences here? We have to be brave and courageous as governments, to say these are the rules, these are the consequences. And if safety is your first priority, then that’s the way we should be going.”

Read more from Willie Jackson’s interview on The Fold here.

Listen to the episode below or follow The Fold oApple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

You’ve probably received your cost of living payment

You’ve probably received your first cost of living payment (if you’re eligible).

More than two million New Zealanders are eligible for the first of three roughly $116 payments, part of the government’s plan to tackle the growing cost of living.

The payment was first signalled back in the May budget. It required months of logistical planning – and even then resulted in a number of ineligible New Zealanders receiving the pay-out.

But while you may have officially received the money, accessing it could be trickier. There are reports of outages across both the BNZ and ANZ apps (I can confirm I’ve been locked out for much of the day).

Covid-19 latest: Another 5,312 new cases, 759 in hospital

While numbers of new Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations continue to ease, the daily death toll remains high.

There are now a total of 1,502 deaths confirmed as attributable to Covid-19, either as the underlying cause of death or as a contributing factor. “This is the number that will be reported to the World Health Organization as it provides the most accurate assessment of Covid-19 related mortality in New Zealand,” said the Ministry of Health.

In the past seven days there have been an average of 19 deaths confirmed each day as being attributable to Covid-19. The overall Covid death toll has risen by 28 overnight, however so far none of these have been directly attributed to the virus.

There are currently 759 people with Covid-19 in hospital, including 16 in intensive care. Most of these are now in Waikato, where 102 are being treated.

Another 5,312 community cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed overnight. The seven-day rolling average of community case numbers today is 6,990.

Ardern seeking cross-party support to shut donation loophole

Jacinda Ardern has signalled the government will close the legal loophole revealed in the New Zealand First Foundation fraud case.

The high profile hearing ended in a not guilty verdict, with some suggesting this was due to a legal technicality.

Writing for The Spinoff, Graeme Edgeler explained it like this: “The reason we have donation disclosure is so that, when a party benefits from the money provided to it by donors of large donations, we get to know too… The finding that money paid to people who were involved in the administration of a political party – that money being intended to be a donation to the party, that was actually used for the benefit of the party – does not have to be declared because those people were wearing different hats at the time it was received completely undercuts this.”

Speaking today to RNZ, the prime minister said the government’s proposed electoral law overhaul, which is already on the table, could address the perceived loophole. “We have a piece of electoral law that covers issues of donation that is currently now in the process of going through the House,” she said. “We believe there’s a way that we can, without creating any unintended consequences, address this issue through that process.”

Ardern said the government was seeking cross-party support for the law change.

Bernard Hickey: Looser migration settings will come, sooner or later

This is an extract from a piece first published on Bernard Hickey’s newsletter The Kākā.

The National-Act opposition’s calls for an immediate and wide opening of the migration tap are gathering steam as fast as a host of health, hospitality, travel and other services are wound back due to staff shortages, and as calls grow from businesses to nip any wage-price inflationary spiral in the bud.

Behind in the polls, the pressure will become intense on Labour over the next year, given population pressure on infrastructure and house prices is lower after two years of closed borders. There’s also a swathe of less-tied-down younger resident workers leaving for OEs and higher wages with lower living costs overseas. They will need replacing. High inflation is a new force pushing for more occupations to be put on skills shortages lists and for more generous residency enticements.

Labour has argued over the last couple of years that tight migration settings were needed to offset pressure on existing infrastructure, house price affordability and the wages of lower-paid workers. Those arguments are dissolving in the short term as house prices fall, population growth has stalled and wage growth perks up towards 5-6%, even if it is below current CPI inflation growth of 7%-plus.

Statistics NZ is due to release jobs, unemployment and wages data for the June quarter on Wednesday. Economists are expecting a fall from 3.2% to just under 3.0%, with some seeing it down as low as 2.8%. That would be below the Reserve Bank’s forecast for 3.1% unemployment and keep the pressure on for another 50 basis point hike on August 17 to 3.0%. However, the growing signs of impending recessions globally are continuing to drag global wholesale interest rates lower.

Our own wholesale “swaps” rates fell by around 30 basis points last week, with the two year swaps rate ending on Friday at 3.74%. That means markets now see an OCR peak of around 3.8% later this year, before cuts next year. Further cuts in one or two-year fixed mortgage rates in coming weeks are now more likely, although very strong jobs and/or wages growth numbers this week would stop that.

So what? Labour may choose before the next winter’s flu season to pull hard on the migration lever to scuttle National’s continued calls before the election. It no longer has rising house prices, suppressed wages and surplus labour as reasons to keep the controls tight. National has already promised to loosen the taps as soon as it’s elected. That means looser migration settings are likely, sooner or later.

Bernard Hickey’s writing here is supported by thousands of individual subscribers to The Kākā, his subscription email newsletter and podcast. You can support his writing by subscribing, for free or as a paid subscriber. 

The Bulletin: Plan to eliminate HIV in New Zealand

The government has announced plans to eliminate the transmission of HIV in New Zealand. Elimination does not necessarily mean zero cases. The UN’s target for elimination is 95% of people with HIV will know their status, be receiving effective treatment, and have a suppressed viral load. In 2021, 67 people in New Zealand were diagnosed with HIV.

Associate minister of health Ayesha Verrall made the announcement yesterday, saying “This decline in the number of people diagnosed with HIV, coupled with already having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV in New Zealand, places us in a strong position to eliminate HIV transmission”.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Subscribe and join over 36,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture.  

PM defends cost of living payment as some overseas NZers learn they’ll be getting it too

Some New Zealanders who don’t live in the country at the moment, and therefore are not impacted by our cost of living crisis, will be receiving free money from the government today.

The first of three cost of living payments will be rolled out to middle income earners over the next 48 hours. While the majority of people receiving the payment will be those within the criteria, a number of New Zealanders abroad have confirmed they received notification from IRD that they’d be getting the cash too.

According to the revenue minister David Parker, fewer than one in 100 people would receive the payment in error – though this number was just an estimate.

The National Party said it was proof the government’s policy was designed on the fly. “This is another shambolic rollout from a Labour Government that repeatedly treats taxpayers’ money with disrespect,” said Nicola Willis, the party’s deputy and finance spokesperson.

“New Zealanders will be shocked to learn that their hard-earned dollars are being sprayed around the world in a surprise lottery.”

According to Act’s David Seymour, people “as far away as London, who haven’t been here for years” would be getting the payment. “The government’s last minute, made-for-PR, cost of living payment is spraying taxpayer money around like a garden sprinkler,” he said.

But while the opposition was outraged, the government has defended the policy. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern told RNZ that just a small number of people overseas will receive the cost of living payment. “We’re not asking IRD to go and find those individuals, the cost of doing so would outweigh any benefit of doing so,” said Ardern, who blamed the issue on the payment’s automation.

However, the prime minister added that the payment remained “more targeted” than tax cuts, as proposed by the opposition. “The alternative to weeding out this issue would have been an application-based system… we may not have reached those most vulnerable.”

If you’re eligible (or the system thinks you’re eligible), you should receive your $116 payment within two business days.

Have you received the cost of living payment in error? stewart@thespinoff.co.nz