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‘Small chance’ that more aggressive Covid variant could reach NZ

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Wednesday, June 8. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me on

The agenda

  • He Waka Eke Noa report recommends ‘farm-level’ levy for emissions.
  • While James Shaw welcomed the report with his ministerial hat on, his party – the Greens – has criticised it.
  • TVNZ has finalised the scope of its independent recruitment review commissioned in the wake of the Kamahl Santamaria scandal.
  • Covid-19 update: 24 deaths, 361 in hospital, another 7,050 cases.

‘Small chance’ that more aggressive Covid variant could reach NZ

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Wednesday, June 8. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me on

The agenda

  • He Waka Eke Noa report recommends ‘farm-level’ levy for emissions.
  • While James Shaw welcomed the report with his ministerial hat on, his party – the Greens – has criticised it.
  • TVNZ has finalised the scope of its independent recruitment review commissioned in the wake of the Kamahl Santamaria scandal.
  • Covid-19 update: 24 deaths, 361 in hospital, another 7,050 cases.
Jun 8 2022

New privacy commissioner announced

Privacy Commissioner NSF 1

Michael Webster has been confirmed as the new privacy commissioner.

He replaces John Edwards, who left the role as chief watchdog late last year to become the UK’s information commissioner.

Justice minister Kris Faafoi said Webster, who is currently secretary of the cabinet, will make sure the public stays confident that their privacy rights are being protected.

“Webster’s career has to date focused on enabling and driving good governance, the promotion of democratic rights and values, the development and application of codes of conduct and behaviour, and working to ensure compliance with both statutory provisions and constitutional conventions,” said Faafoi.

Webster has a long career in the political world, having previously worked within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Internal Affairs.

He’ll start his new role early next month.

Read more: Toby Manhire’s interview with John Edwards as he left the Privacy Commission

‘Covid is not going away’: BA.2 variant most prevalent in NZ

A German pharmacy worker hold up rapid antigen test kits. (Photo: INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

There is a “small chance” that a more aggressive variant of Covid-19 could arrive in New Zealand, the ministry’s top scientist says.

Currently the BA.2 variant of omicron is responsible for over 95% of the reported community cases, with new variants such as BA.4 and BA.5 showing early indications of increasing in prevalence.

Dr Ian Town, the Ministry of Health’s chief science adviser, said that remaining in the orange setting was about protection and surveillance. “The director-general has assessed this as appropriate and we will continue to review that,” Town said. “We are still seeing high numbers of cases.”

Surveillance testing at the border helped detect new variants of Covid-19, while testing in the community helped ascertain the number of infections. Genome sequencing and wastewater testing helped to “build up an overall picture of the spread of Covid-19”, said chief testing adviser Kirsten Beynon.

Lead science adviser Dr Fiona Callaghan said that sampling from across the country “informed the proportion of the circulating variants and then prioritising hospital cases helps us to understand what variants may be causing more severe disease”.

Covid was not going away, said Town, and our response had to continually adapt to new evidence and information. “The more of us that are vaccinated the greater protection we have,” he added. “Winter is always busy for our health providers and we are already seeing increased pressure and it may get worse.”

Watch: Health officials give Covid variants briefing

Dr Ian Town, the Ministry of Health’s chief science advisor, is giving a Covid-19 update this afternoon focused on new variants of the virus. He’ll be joined by the chief testing advisor, Kirsten Beynon, and the ministry’s lead science advisor, Dr Fiona Callaghan.

Tune in below.

Covid-19 update: 24 deaths, 361 in hospital, another 7,050 cases

Image: Toby Morris

Another 24 people with Covid-19 have died, pushing the official pandemic death toll up to 1,267 and the rolling seven-day average to 12.

Twelve of these people have died in the past four days, and the remaining 12 have died since April 25. All were over the age of 50, and 10 were women and 14 were men.

There are now 361 people in hospital with 14 in intensive care.

There are 7,050 new community Covid-19 cases, while the rolling average continues to decline. Today it stands at 6,035 – last Wednesday, it was 6,893.

Meanwhile, today will see the brief return of the Covid-19 press conference. The Ministry of Health’s chief science advisor Dr Ian Town will host a media briefing at 1.30pm to provide updates on the Covid-19 response. Specifically, this will focus on the surveillance measures for monitoring new variants of the virus in New Zealand.

Government touts ‘strong position’ after Crown accounts released


Core Crown expenses over the 10 months ending April 30 were 0.7% down on forecast, totalling $102.8 billion.

The latest expenditure release also reveals that the government borrowed $203 billion, about $6 billion more than initially expected. Gross debt sits at $117.4 billion, or 33.5% of GDP, and is roughly $2 billion higher than forecast.

The operating balance before gains and losses – or the OBEGAL – deficit was $9.4 billion, $3.2 billion below that forecast in the budget.

Finance minister Grant Robertson said it showed New Zealand’s economy remained strong despite global challenges. “We know this is a difficult time for families and business who are doing it tough in the face of rising costs,” he said. “But we face these pressures with record low unemployment, good growth levels, and lower debt than most as we look to secure our economic future.”

Tax revenue was $1.8 billion above forecast at $87.9 billion, with Robertson saying this was due to “better-than-expected” corporate profits and a strong jobs market. “This was partly offset by lower GST returns.”

But the National Party has repeated its view that the government was “addicted to spending”. Finance spokesperson and deputy leader, Nicola Willis, said that of the $4.5 billion set aside in the budget for next year, $2 billion has already been spent.

“This makes a joke of his budget commitment to bring the government’s books back in balance,” Willis said. “That commitment was made on the basis of a spending limit he never intended to meet.”

Luxon uses morning media slots to push for Poto Williams’ sacking


National’s leader has doubled down on his criticism of police minister Poto Williams, saying it’s time she was removed from the portfolio.

Williams has been under fire over a perceived “soft on crime” approach to gangs and gun violence in New Zealand, as well as a lack of familiarity with her police role.

The government has continued to defend Williams, with prime minister Jacinda Ardern telling Newshub in April that the minister had been working on firearms law reform and tackling organised crime.

But Christopher Luxon today used his morning media slots – and a press release – to call for Williams’ axing. “Poto Williams may have skills better suited to other portfolios, but it is clear she is not equipped to be police minister, especially at a time when gang activity and violent crime are increasing,” he said. 

“Police officers across the country tell me there is a serious lack of leadership from Poto Williams, and they simply do not have confidence in her. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern should replace her immediately.”

While those lines were from his written statement, Luxon reiterated the call on TVNZ’s Breakfast, Today FM’s Tova, RNZ’s Morning Report and Newshub’s AM. All outlets are currently running front page interviews with Luxon in which he repeats his call for Williams’ removal.

“I think you now actually have to remove Poto Williams from the job and put someone else into it,” Luxon told Breakfast. “The reason is – I’m sure she’s a good person – but she’s struggling in that portfolio to make a change there.”

A spokesperson for Poto Williams told Today FM that something big on gangs was on the way. However, the minister refused to front to media.

He Waka Eke Noa report recommends ‘farm-level’ levy for emissions

Green Party co-leader James Shaw October 13, 2017 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The government will consider an alternative plan to tax agricultural emissions that would operate alongside the Emissions Trading Scheme. But while James Shaw has come out in support of the plan’s release, his party has criticised it for not going far enough.

The He Waka Eke Noa report, which comes from a partnership between government and the primary sector, has released its long-awaited report this morning. It suggests a “farm-level split-gas levy on agricultural emissions”, but with built-in incentives.

“Farmers stated that this gave them control to manage their own farm business and individual emissions profile,” said the report.

‘”Farmers were uncertain about what pathway should be taken to reach a farm-level pricing system. Of those that expressed a preference, 48.7% prefer moving immediately to farm-level pricing in 2025, while 34.2% supported a gradual transition to farm-level from a processor-level system.”

Farmers Weekly noted that during consultation, 99% of farmers said they don’t want agricultural emissions to be priced through the ETS.

Climate change minister James Shaw said he we will working with the sector to consider the recommendations. “My priority as minister of climate change is always effective emissions reduction policies to meet our legislated targets,” he said.

Despite Shaw’s welcoming of the plan, the party which he co-leads – the Greens – has issued a press release saying the report “falls short”.

“It looks like the sector has missed an opportunity to come up with a solid plan. It’s like they were given a hallway pass and used it to wag class,” said Green agriculture spokesperson Teanau Tuiono. “The report itself admits that further work is needed on many of its key proposals. Time is fast running out for the climate.”

While Shaw is a government minister, the Greens as a party are outside government – Labour received a majority at the 2020 election.

Green party co-leader and climate change minister James Shaw (Radio NZ, Rebekah Parsons-King)

Ralph Sims, emeritus professor in sustainable energy and climate mitigation at Massey University, said it was surprising the recommendations weren’t far more ambitious, given “the farming sector has more to lose than most from the ever-increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions”.

The modelling used in the He Waka Eke Noa analysis is assessed to reduce emissions by 3% below 2017 levels across the sector in 2030, said Sims. With the government’s target for long-lived emissions in the Emissions Reduction Plan net zero emissions by 2050, “there appears to be a significant gap in what might be needed”.

“After many years of inaction by the agricultural sector, at least this analysis of emissions pricing through the industry partnership seems to show there is now a greater agreement across the industry that agricultural emissions actually have to be reduced,” he added.

Agriculture minister Damien O’Connor reiterated the government’s intention to price agricultural emissions, to ensure their reduction, from 2025.

“We will take time to carefully consider the report along with the upcoming advice from the Climate Change Commission on the proposals,” he said. “The sector and the wider public will have the opportunity to provide their view before Cabinet makes final decisions towards the end of the year on how to effectively price emissions.”

Read more on what this plan means in The Bulletin

The Bulletin: Wellington nurses ask for elective surgery to be put on hold

Nurses at Wellington hospital have issued a provisional improvement notice (PIN) which requires an employer to address a health and safety issue before a certain date. They have requested that elective and non-urgent cancer surgeries be put on hold for two weeks, giving official notice to management over unsafe staffing levels asking for staff to have some breathing space.

There is a global nursing shortage which the prime minister addressed yesterday following reports that one in three nursing students in New Zealand were dropping out of their studies before qualifying. No word on whether the New South Wales Premier’s announcement about a $4.5b recruitment drive to attract nurses to the state will be covered in Ardern’s meeting with Albanese.

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.  

Documents containing personal details stolen from Auckland police station


Firearms licensing information, which contained people’s personal details, was among a number of documents stolen from the former Auckland Central police station.

A criminal investigation into the burglary is under way, with four people so far charged for the theft of the property or for receiving it.

Police are in the process of contacting people impacted by the theft, though superintendent Karyn Malthus confirmed there was “nothing to indicate” any involvement of organised criminal groups in the burglary.

“Our investigation is continuing to work to understand the full breadth of documentation that was stolen,” said Malthus. “Police are now contacting people whose documents have been obtained as a result of the burglary to advise them of the situation.”

Police were working with the privacy commissioner and Malthus said the matter was being taken “extremely serious”.

“The protection of all peoples information is of the upmost importance which is why there is a significant ongoing investigation under way,” she added.

Any firearms licence holders were encouraged to contact police if they had any concerns.

TVNZ reveals scope of review ordered after Santamaria saga

Kamahl Santamaria (Photo: Supplied)

TVNZ has finalised the scope of its independent recruitment review commissioned in the wake of the Kamahl Santamaria scandal.

Santamaria quit the Breakfast programme after about a month in the job, and after being off air for several days. Allegations of inappropriate behaviour were later levelled at the broadcaster from within TVNZ and his former workplace, Al Jazeera. Questions were also asked about how he came to be hired at TVNZ, with some staffers reportedly unhappy with the process.

The four-week long review will be conducted by senior employment lawyer Margaret Robins. It will look at TVNZ’s recruitment process along with policies related to internal workplace complaints.

There will be a specific focus on Santamaria’s hiring and the review will look at whether “decisions made by TVNZ were in accordance with TVNZ’s Recruitment Policy and related processes and practices, in the recruitment and reference checking of Kamahl Santamaria”.

Kamahl Santamaria (Photo: Supplied)

CEO Simon Power said he strived for TVNZ to be a safe, respectful and enjoyable workplace. “I believe we have a strong safety culture, but this is an opportunity to ensure that the TVNZ Harassment Policy and TVNZ Code are sufficient for any staff member who may find themselves needing support,” he said.  

TVNZ is also developing a “speak up” policy, which will ensure employees are aware of how they can make complaints internally and anonymously.

The report will be confidential, however TVNZ said it will make the recommendations public.