Royal Commission into Covid response announced

It’s Monday December 5 – start counting down those last work days of the year. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates, made possible by our members. Reach me on

The agenda

  • New Zealand’s Covid-19 response will be investigated by a Royal Commission of Inquiry. All the details can be found here.
  • The government’s controversial three waters entrenchment may have been ditched, but questions remain over how it happened in the first place.
  • Cystic fibrosis drug approved Trikafta will be fully funded, confirmed Pharmac.
  • Aucklanders are in for a 4.6% rates rise under mayor Wayne Brown’s proposed budget.
  • 6pm: It’s a political poll day! All eyes will be on TVNZ 1.

Royal Commission into Covid response announced

It’s Monday December 5 – start counting down those last work days of the year. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates, made possible by our members. Reach me on

The agenda

  • New Zealand’s Covid-19 response will be investigated by a Royal Commission of Inquiry. All the details can be found here.
  • The government’s controversial three waters entrenchment may have been ditched, but questions remain over how it happened in the first place.
  • Cystic fibrosis drug approved Trikafta will be fully funded, confirmed Pharmac.
  • Aucklanders are in for a 4.6% rates rise under mayor Wayne Brown’s proposed budget.
  • 6pm: It’s a political poll day! All eyes will be on TVNZ 1.
Dec 5 2022

Right bloc strengthens as Act, National continue rise: TVNZ/Kantar poll


National will comfortably hold the reins of power with Act’s support at next year’s election, according to the latest 1 News/Kantar Public poll.

National is up one point to 38%, Labour is down one point to 33%, Act is up two points to 11% and the Greens are steady on 9%. New Zealand First rises one point to 4%, a step closer to a possible seat in parliament.

With these numbers National would have 49 seats and Act would have 15, for a total of 64 seats – three above the 61 seats needed to govern.

Of those polled, 11% said they don’t know or refused to say how they vote.

On the preferred prime minister polling, Jacinda Ardern is on 29%, down one from the last poll, while Christopher Luxon is on 23%, up two points.

The last 1 News/Kantar Public poll, on September 29, saw Labour make a slight recovery on previous polls, gaining one point to 34%. National was steady on 37%, with Act and the Greens on 9% and Te Pāti Māori on 2%. New Zealand First was on 3%.

Royal Commission into Covid response announced

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The government has confirmed a Royal Commission of Inquiry looking into New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Set to begin in February next year, the inquiry will assess the success of the elimination strategy and following minimisation strategy and help prepare New Zealand for any future pandemics.

You can read all the detail on the newly announced inquiry on The Spinoff here. Below is the TLDR version:

“Every country in the world has grappled with Covid-19 and there was no playbook for managing it,” said prime minister Jacinda Ardern. “It had been over 100 years since we experienced a pandemic of this scale, so it’s critical we compile what worked and what we can learn from it should it ever happen again.”

The inquiry will be chaired by Australian-based epidemiologist professor Tony Blakely alongside former cabinet minister Hekia Parata and ex-treasury secretary John Whitehead.

The inquiry’s terms of reference state that it will look at “the overall response, including the economic response, identify what we can learn from it and how that can be applied to any future pandemic”. Ardern confirmed that would include the use of vaccine mandates, though the terms of reference specify that any discussion on the “efficacy” of vaccines will be out of scope.

There was some confusion as to whether or not the Reserve Bank’s role in the pandemic would be analysed by the Royal Commission. Ardern said that monetary policy would be included but that individual decisions of the Reserve Bank were excluded.

You can tune into the prime minister’s weekly post-cabinet press conference below.

Taskmaster NZ is coming back for round four

Welcome back, Taskmaster NZ (Image: TVNZ / Design: Archi Banal)

Great news! Taskmaster NZ will be back for a fourth round in 2023.

I’ve consistently opined that our local edition of Taskmaster is one of the best comedy products on our screens – or at least the best homegrown version of a classic overseas format. I am so excited it’s coming back (even if that means our extensive Taskmaster NZ ranking will soon be out of date).

NZ On Air confirmed the show had been funded for season four alongside an extensive slate of new and returning comedies. That includes another season of Guy Williams’ New Zealand Today and a new scripted show for TVNZ+ called The Queen, The Club, The Boy, The Girl and Everything In Between.

The cast of Taskmaster NZ season three (Image: TVNZ / Design: Archi Banal)

Pharmac accused of blacklisting media ahead of Trikafta announcement

Andrew Little says he’ll meet Google again in the new year. Photo: RNZ

We had the great news last night that life-saving cystic fibrosis drug Trikafta would be receiving funding from Pharmac.

But since the announcement, there have been questions asked about Pharmac’s approach to getting that news out into the open.

While Newshub’s Patrick Gower was able to present a lengthy and researched story peppered with interviews with patients, other media outlets were scrambling to produce content in time for the 6pm embargo deadline.

Today FM’s Rachel Smalley has alleged that the entire MediaWorks radio line-up has been blacklisted by Pharmac.  “Pharmac will not be providing information, nor interviews, to Today FM, or any other MediaWorks station, until we feel we can trust you again,” an email from Pharmac’s boss allegedly stated.

Smalley added: “Pharmac had gagged everyone on this story except Paddy Gower. Pharmac told him about the story last week. Even Cystic Fibrosis New Zealand (CFNZ) – the patient advocates, didn’t know.”

Health minister Andrew Little says he’ll ask questions to Pharmac – and it’s likely we’ll hear more on this at today’s post-cabinet press conference.

Covid-19 latest: 40 deaths over past week, over 34,000 new cases

Image: Toby Morris

Daily new Covid-19 community cases are now averaging just below 5,000, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Health.

There were 34,528 infections reported over the past week, with the seven-day rolling average of reported cases now at 4,926. Of the new cases, 9,099 were reinfections.

There are now 418 people in hospital with Covid-19, including 10 in intensive care.

Over the past weeks, 40 people with Covid-19 have died, bumping the overall death toll up to 2,235. Of the latest deaths, 23 have been confirmed as being linked to Covid-19, while 17 cannot yet be attributed. Over the past week, the daily average number of deaths was three, a drop on the week prior.

Case numbers have steadily risen since the dropping of restrictions earlier this year. Experts have been predicting a “Covid summer” as various subvariants of the virus spread simultaneously.

Hamilton West tracking towards dismal turnout

Why does the orange voting guy have no fingers?

All the Sharma drama, high-profile politician visits and talk of a 2023 dress-rehearsal in a bellwether electorate has yet to translate in voter turnout for the Hamilton West byelection. As of yesterday, with less than a week till election day on Saturday, 5,337 advance votes had been cast in the contest, according to numbers from the Electoral Commission.

At the same distance from election day in the Tauranga byelection, almost twice as many people had cast an advance vote. In the general election of 2020, which sent Gaurav Sharma to parliament as Labour candidate on a red wave, the turnout at the same point was almost three times what it is now, with more than 15,000 advance votes returned.

Alongside Sharma, whose decision to quit parliament triggered the contest, the leading candidates are Tama Potaka of National, Georgie Dansey of Labour, Act list MP James McDowall and Naomi Pocock of the Opportunities Party. The Greens, Te Pāti Māori and New Zealand First all decided against standing a candidate. If you’re on the Hamilton West roll, find out where to vote here.

Chart by the Electoral Commission

Aucklanders to face 4.6% rates hike

The Sky Tower dominates Auckland’s city skyline. Photo: Getty

The average Auckland household will be spending an extra $154 a year on rates under a proposed budget by mayor Wayne Brown.

The 4.66% rates hike is not as high as annual inflation, which remains above 7% – and Brown said it’s the first time an Auckland mayor has proposed a rates rise below inflation.

“My proposal would reduce rates in real terms and assist in the national fight against inflation, supporting Auckland households through the agony of this cost-of-living crisis and helping to protect the essential services that Aucklanders value,” Brown said in a statement.

“We want to make systemic changes to ensure there isn’t a rates rise shock in 2024. If tough decisions and trade-offs are not made now, Auckland households may still face a hefty rates rise next year.”

Auckland Council is a facing a budget hole of $295 million, which Brown said was an overhang from the previous mayor. Part of his plan to curb potential rates rises is to sell off Auckland Council’s 18% shareholding in Auckland International Airport, potentially raising $2 billion.

Urban explorers document vandalism at Carrington Hospital

Graffiti inside Auckland’s Carrington Hospital. Photo: Urbex Central

Vandalism is out of control at Carrington Hospital. That’s the claim from a group of urban explorers who broke into the site of the former psychiatric hospital in Auckland recently to document its decay.

The historic Pt Chev site, also known as Building One, has been left sitting vacant and unused since Unitec moved its design and architecture classes out in 2018. Parts of the building, about 7%, are earmarked for demolition to make way for a road servicing a Te Tūāpapa Kura Kāinga housing development.

Graffiti inside the former Carrington Hospital. (Photo: Urbex Central.)

That is proving to be controversial, with former prime minister Helen Clark speaking out against it and a petition being organised in an attempt to stop it.

In the meantime, the building is falling into disrepair. Photos posted to a website operated by the group Urbex Central show multiple break-ins have resulted in graffiti being sprawled across windows and walls.

“Hopefully with more publicity something will be done to actually preserve the site,” the group told The Spinoff in a statement.

Graffiti inside Auckland’s Carrington Hospital. Photo: Urbex Central

In a previous report documenting the drama, Pt Chev Social Enterprise Trust chair Chris Casey said there had been several floods resulting in mould growing on the walls and ceilings inside.

He called it “demolition by neglect” and called on the Ministry of Housing to spend more on the building’s upkeep. “One of the reasons it looks rumpty is that they haven’t maintained it,” he said.

See the full photo gallery inside Carrington Hospital here.

Merry (early) Christmas: It’s poll day

Photo: Getty Images

Christmas has come early for any politics obsessives out there (the rest of you can shield your eyes). TVNZ will reveal the results of its latest Kantar Public poll at 6pm this evening.

While the poll result will not take into account the big weekend of politics – namely the backdown over entrenching elements of three waters – it will include what has been a mixed bag for the government over the past few weeks, including growing unrest over crime and the ongoing cost of living crisis. National’s Christopher Luxon hasn’t escaped unscathed either, with accusations of flip flopping.

We’ll all be glued to the screens at 6pm.

The Bulletin: Cystic fibrosis drug approved

In August 2022, Pharmac acknowledged that Trikafta, a treatment for cystic fibrosis (CF), could give people with CF benefits equivalent to 27 more years at full health when compared to current available treatments. Pharmac and medicine supplier, Vertex, have reached a provisional agreement to fund Trikafta for people with cystic fibrosis aged six years and over who are eligible. The cost of the drug is listed at $324k per person per year, but Pharmac has negotiated a discount.

In 2020, Bella Powell began taking a three-month supply of the drug describing it as “more than a miracle”. Powell now lives in Sydney, as Australia already subsidises Trikafta. Last night on Newshub, Bella told her sister it meant she’d be able to come home.

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

Ardern coy on how entrenchment botch-up was allowed to happen

PM Jacinda Ardern speaks to Jack Tame on Q and A, July 31 2022

We now all know that the government is backing down on its controversial 60% entrenchment of parts of the three waters legislation. As detailed in The Bulletin, leader of the house Chris Hipkins announced yesterday that the clause in the Water Services Entities bill that entrenched public ownership of the new water entities, requiring 60% of MPs for its repeal, will be scrapped.

While it managed to sneak its way through parliament relatively unnoticed – even by the opposition – constitutional lawyers quickly raised serious concerns about the implications of what it could have meant for future lawmaking.

However, while the PM was happy to acknowledge on her morning media slots today that a mistake had been made, we’re not any closer to knowing why/how this tricky legal situation was able to unfold.

Despite persistent questioning from RNZ’s Corin Dann, Ardern refused to elaborate on what she knew about the entrenchment provision before it was voted on. “Caucus discussions are something that aren’t generally broadcast,” said Ardern. “I’m not going to get into the individual conversations of caucus.”

Instead, Ardern reiterated that entrenchment was “commonly understood” to be a 75% supermajority and what had happened here was a “novel approach”. She added: “the way that this has been done with that entrenchment provision had wider ramifications

Asked whether local government minister Nanaia Mahuta was perhaps responsible, Ardern said Labour was taking this as a team. “There is not a role for any one individual, this was a mistake. We as a team are fixing it,” she said. “There are a multitude of SOPs that come before the house, not every single one individually is necessarily produced in a way that is able to go before individual caucuses.”

Ardern was especially keen to discuss the wider issue of introducing a lower threshold than the regular 75% for entrenchment. It’s true, as the prime minister pointed out, that there aren’t limitations to where entrenchment can be applied and this was a “relatively untested area”. I think we can expect to see a lot more discussion on the principle of entrenchment from the government, while the opposition and media continue to query how this u-turn was able to happen in the first place.