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Nov 7 2023

‘Full check’ of election results under way after votes given to fringe parties in error


The Electoral Commission has apologised after data entry errors at three polling booths led to hundreds of votes being wrongly assigned to fringe parties.

At two voting places in Port Waikato and one in Ilam, some party votes were recorded in the wrong row, giving hundreds of votes to the Leighton Baker Party and the New Conservatives, while National received none.

It appears that the commission was only alerted to the error via a Herald investigation.

In a media statement from the Electoral Commission, chief electoral officer Karl Le Quesne said that the number of votes involved was low and “does not affect the overall results, successful candidates or allocation of seats at all”.

“We apologise that these data entry errors were not picked up in the checks made before the official results were published,” said Le Quesne. “They should have been corrected and we regret that didn’t happen.

“A full check of all voting place results is being undertaken immediately to establish if there are any other transcription errors.”

In the same statement, acting Electoral Commission board chair Jane Meares said she had “full confidence in the integrity of the election process and the results”, but that an “independent review of the quality assurances processes in place” would be commissioned.

The biggest misallocation of votes was at the Pukekohe Intermediate voting place in the Port Waikato electorate, where the Leighton Baker Party was assigned 505 votes meant for National, when in fact it received none. Other parties affected include Labour, the Greens, NZ First and Te Pāti Māori. Once the totals have been amended, the Leighton Baker Party is likely to drop from 0.09% to 0.08%, moving it from third to last place to second to last place among the 17 parties on the ballot.

Foodstuffs says proposed merger ‘must’ deliver for customers


The North and South Island branches of Foodstuffs, the owners of chains like New World and PAK’nSAVE, have proposed to merge as one national co-operative group, prompting concerns from another major grocery retailer about what it could mean for food prices.

Announced today, the proposed merger will first be consulted on by members before a final vote expected to take place in mid-2024.

“By combining the best of each co-operative, our members can be supported by one nationwide co-operative,” said a joint statement from the chairs of both Foodstuffs branches. “In recommending that a merger be considered, the Boards have been clear it must deliver meaningful benefits for customers and all our stakeholders.” 

If the merger is approved, the chair and CEO-designates will come from alternate co-ops.

The Commerce Commission would be required to approve the merger and its general manager of competition, Antonia Horrocks, told Stuff that preserving the competitiveness of markets in New Zealand remained “an enduring priority”.

“We will carefully scrutinise the implications of the deal for suppliers and consumers. While we await the merger application, we will not be making further comment.”

But the chief executive of The Warehouse Group, Nick Grayston, which has continued to grow its grocery offering for customers, said it was difficult to see how the proposed merger would help lower costs for families.

“While there may be efficiencies for them, it’s going to be an uphill battle to convince New Zealand customers that they will also benefit with the lower grocery prices that they deserve,” he said in a statement to The Spinoff.

“The hold Foodstuffs have over wholesale access of supply and price is already significant, so we have concerns about the impact this move might have, and it’s likely to make our progress even harder. We need more competition in New Zealand, not less.”

Wealth tax seemingly back on the table for Labour in 2026

Chris Hipkins speaks at parliament (Photo: Joel MacManus)

Newly reaffirmed Labour leader Chris Hipkins says a wealth or capital gains tax could be back on the agenda for his party in time for 2026.

In July, Hipkins said: “I’m confirming today that under a Government I lead there will be no wealth or capital gains tax after the election. End of story.”

But speaking to reporters today, Hipkins said that was no longer a commitment seeing as his party had lost the election and now had a blank page when it came to policies.

Chris Hipkins remains Labour leader after secret ballot

PM Chris Hipkins in May 2023 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

A secret ballot of Labour’s slimmed down post-election caucus has reaffirmed Chris Hipkins as leader.

It’s also seen Carmel Sepuloni, the outgoing deputy prime minister, become Labour’s deputy after Kelvin Davis opted not to stay in the role.

Speaking to reporters in Upper Hutt after the meeting, Hipkins said he and Sepuloni were looking forward to the next three years in parliament.

“We’ve only between the two of us been in these jobs for nine months now,” said Hipkins. “2023 was a tough election campaign… we’ll take some time to digest and look at the reasons for that.”

Some of the reasons for that defeat had been “sown” before he took on the role of prime minister, said Hipkins.

Labour was now ready to reset and its policy platform in 2026 would be very different to in 2023. “We’ve had a range of conversations about policy issues and where we go from here. We do have to take a good period of time to debrief and that does mean we start with a blank page,” said Hipkins.

That could mean a wealth or capital gains tax is on the agenda again. “We had a brief conversation on tax, we didn’t get into a lot of the specific policy issues. We lost and therefore we start again, so everything comes back onto the table and that includes tax,” he said. Tax wasn’t the sole reason for the election loss, the Labour leader added.

Chris Hipkins and Carmel Sepuloni in 2020 (Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty)

Hipkins said it was his “intention” to lead Labour into 2026 and believed he had the backing of his caucus. “They have just endorsed me to continue as my leader,” he said.

As for why Kelvin Davis had chosen to step back, Hipkins said the former deputy remained committed to the team but wanted to pull away from the “frontline”.

The ballot was secret but Hipkins said nobody had indicated they would be voting against him retaining the leadership. There were no other contenders for leader or deputy.

Asked what type of opposition leader he wished to be, Hipkins simply said: “A very good one.”

Sepuloni told reporters she had no aspiration to be Labour leader and that’s why she did not put herself forward for the role.

Labour MPs meet for election debrief and crucial leadership vote

Chris Hipkins speaks at parliament (Photo: Joel MacManus)

Labour MPs are meeting behind closed doors in Upper Hutt where they will vote on the future of leader Chris Hipkins.

For now, Hipkins remains the prime minister, meaning a leadership spill could potentially see a new caretaker PM in place for just a handful of days.

That scenario seems increasingly unlikely, however, with no MP publicly throwing their support behind anyone other than Hipkins.

As Labour MPs arrived at the Upper Hutt venue, they were met with a swarm of reporters all asking the same question: will Chris Hipkins still be the leader.

A handful, including Ginny Andersen and Adrian Rurawhe, publicly said they backed Hipkins and hoped he would remain leader until the 2026 election. Others were less explicit, like Phil Twyford who said he would be surprised if Hipkins was ousted but wouldn’t make predictions for the future.

The Labour leader – assumed to still be Hipkins – will front media at about 1pm. We’ll have all the details for you soon after.

Watch: Welcome to the world of competitive Scrabble


Enter the fierce and fascinating world of competitive Scrabble in this one-off documentary for The Spinoff.

Meet Laura in Christchurch, who is juggling her Scrabble studies with solo parenting and moving out of her house. Eternal optimist Lawson in Auckland has slipped down a grade and has a lot to prove. Former champion Dylan in Wellington is looking to add more accolades to his Scrabble wall of fame.

Whether it is unscrambling seven letter words in meetings, poring over printed word lists for hours, or cramming in spelling lessons on the way to work, Every Word Counts captures the passion and dedication needed to become a top Scrabble player in Aotearoa. Culminating in a thrilling three-day battle of words, this is Scrabble as you’ve never seen it before.

Every Word Counts is made with the support of NZ On Air. 

Forest and Bird website almost crashes after John Oliver segment


It almost feels like I’m giving John Oliver exactly what he wants by writing about his Bird of the Century segment – but here we are.

The American late night show host dedicated part of his show yesterday to New Zealand’s annual bird competition, launching an “alarmingly aggressive” global campaign for the pūteketeke.

The resulting flood of interest from around the world nearly brought down the Forest & Bird online ballot. CEO Nicola Toki told RNZ the website had stayed online, but the team working on it had “very little sleep”.

“We’re pretty impressed that the website held up, given the thousands and thousands of votes that came in,” she said this morning.

The only rules around the competition, said Toki, is that you must be a “bird lover with a valid email address” which is how Oliver and thousands of overseas watchers of his show were able to enter.

This isn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last time that Oliver draws attention to goings on in Aotearoa. You can find a slightly out of date, but broadly comprehensive, list of all his New Zealand-related segments here.

Airline disruption: AirAsia cancels Sydney route, Air NZ facing mechanical issues

(Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

A pair of stories out this morning about possible disruption for New Zealand travellers heading across the ditch.

AirAsia has confirmed it’ll be scrapping its Auckland to Sydney route in early 2024, in favour of direct travel to the Gold Coast. As someone who had booked AirAsia tickets to get to Sydney for next February’s Taylor Swift concert, I received a heads up on this story over the weekend but was too distraught to immediately report it.

As the Herald reported, AirAsia’s chief executive Benyamin Ismail said the move followed a thorough network review.

“However, we remain committed to Auckland as a destination and will be transferring our services from Auckland to Gold Coast. As our very first route which commenced just over 16 years ago, the Gold Coast continues to be a key leisure favourite destination for our Auckland and Asian travellers.”

The Sydney route will be canned from January 31.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s carrier has announced it’ll be placing its direct flights to Hobart and Seoul on hold from April as a result of mechanical issues grounding a number of its fleet.

It could mean two years of disruption for people wishing to travel on those routes, with 17 Air New Zealand aircrafts being checked for possible microscopic cracks in the engines’ fans.

“While both routes have performed well, we need to ensure we can deliver a reliable service across the rest of our network and get customers on our most in-demand routes to where they need to be,” chief executive Greg Foran said.

The Bulletin: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists questions tax cuts

A decision by the Health and Disability Commission released yesterday criticised Te Whatu Ora Southern for failing to provide an MRI scan within the acceptable time frame of 31 days. A man, who waited four-and-a-half months for an urgent scan at Dunedin Hospital to check whether his cancer had returned, now has a terminal diagnosis. Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Sarah Dalton told RNZ’s Checkpoint last night that the man’s horrific treatment was the result of a health system in crisis. Dalton criticised sustained underinvestment in health by successive governments and questioned whether tax cuts should be on the table. “I don’t understand how we can have a government delivering tax cuts when there are people who can’t … get GP appointments, let alone specialist care,” she said.

At an address at the Health Leadership Symposium last week, Sir Ashley Bloomfield said constant catastrophising about the health system is wearing down staff morale and undermining public trust. As Newsroom’s Marc Daalder reports, he was careful not to dismiss or minimise the challenges facing the system but wanted to put them in the global context and keep the focus on the future with a sense of hope.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Click here to subscribe and join over 39,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture. 

Chris Hipkins’ leadership to face a vote

Chris Hipkins on election night (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

As the wait continues for a new government – with media outlets reporting talks are both close and yet still far from being completed – let’s turn our attention to the Labour Party.

After such a battering on election night, and with the special votes bringing no additional MPs into the party’s caucus, all eyes have been squarely on Chris Hipkins and whether or not he can retain the top job. You can find The Spinoff’s top picks for Labour’s likely 2026 election leader here.

Under Labour’s rules, the caucus must vote to endorse its leader within three months of every election. For Hipkins to survive, he will need 60% of his MPs (plus one) to back him.

That vote will happen today at a lengthy and closed doors caucus meeting in Hipkins’ Remutaka electorate. The Labour leader, which will likely still be Hipkins, will then front for media shortly after lunchtime today.

So far no Labour MP has publicly backed another contender, while multiple have endorsed Hipkins. Senior MP Ginny Andersen told TVNZ she “100%” backed Hipkins. “I believe that Chris Hipkins is the best person to be leading us right now,” she said.

The Herald had previously reported that David Parker was considering a leadership bid. He was the architect of Labour’s dumped tax switch during the election campaign and would likely have put that back on the agenda. Writing this morning, Thomas Coughlan said that now seemed unlikely.

“Parker does not appear to have the numbers to mount a challenge, or even to stop Hipkins from clearing the threshold required to confirm he has the confidence of his caucus,” said Coughlan. “He would need just 14 votes to block the confidence motion. Without the numbers, it seems unlikely Parker would even put his hat in the ring.”

If Hipkins fails to pick up the numbers, it’s possible the party could be looking for a new leader – and caretaker prime minister. Hipkins is still, in name alone, the leader of the country and could remain in that role for a few more weeks.

Hipkins has maintained he wants the role. Last week, he told reporters: “It’s a job that I enjoy. I’ve still got a bit of fight left in me, I think there’s an important job for Labour to do.”