Is Grant Robertson about to pull a cost of living rabbit out of the hat? This week on Gone By Lunchtime, Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas talk budget day, the big emissions reduction plan, Te Pāti Māori and an early burst of coalition negotiations. Plus: can Jacinda Ardern forgive Trevor Mallard’s trespasses, and what is the speaker playing at?
About 10% of all services across Auckland’s transport network are being cancelled each day as the super city sees a spike in new Covid infections.
An Auckland Transport spokesperson told The Spinoff live updates that about 1,000 daily cancellations were being seen on bus, train and ferry services. “These cancellations are due to an increasing number of Covid-19 cases affecting our frontline public transport staff, which is compounding underlying staff shortages being experienced by many of our operators,” the spokesperson said.
“Some of our individual operators and depots are being hit harder than others, which is why some services have been more affected by cancellations to date than others.”
While the country as a whole is seeing a downward trend in new omicron cases, Auckland has been recording growing numbers of new cases. Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told The Spinoff it was still early days, but another wave of infections going into winter was possible.
Auckland Transport said it was working to assess what funding will be necessary to improve terms and conditions for frontline staff, which would help significantly with recruitment and retention. “We expect that the opening of the border in coming months will also help to alleviate some of this workforce pressure, although this will take some time to flow through,” the spokesperson said.
As for passenger disruption, Auckland Transport said it was working with transport operators to try and minimise the impact for travellers. “We’re encouraging customers to use our Journey Planner and AT Mobile app to help them plan their journeys with more certainty as these tools have the most up-to-date information on cancellations,” said the spokesperson.
All border restrictions will be ditched on July 31, with prime minister Jacinda Ardern telling a business audience today that New Zealand was “open for business”.
Asked how the government came to decide on that July date, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins told The Spinoff it was the logical move. “If you look at the announcements that we’ve just made, there are a whole lot of moving parts that we needed to line-up to get a series of dates that we can deliver on,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done.”
The maritime border will also remain locked shut until the end of July, despite other countries – including Australia – loosening restrictions for cruise ships. Hipkins said it wouldn’t make sense to bring the date forward for cruises.
“There are no cruise ships wanting to come to New Zealand until October, so a July 31 date means we are absolutely giving them certainty well before they want to come,” he said. “Cruise ships don’t just change course mid-sailing, that does require a bit of planning.”
While New Zealand appears to be on the downward trend of its omicron outbreak, cases in Auckland are on the up. Hipkins remained confident the dates announced would not be impacted by a growth in Covid cases. The international border isn’t playing a large role in the number of Covid cases at the moment, he said. But: “We’ve always been really clear with New Zealanders that we might see another peak as we go into winter.”
Pre-departure testing was likely to be scrapped in advance of the July 31 reopening, said Hipkins, but would remain in place for now.
Max Key, a property developer and son of former prime minister Sir John Key, has taken the microphone during audience questions at a Business NZ lunch in Auckland. “My question is about intergenerational fairness,” said Key. “Are you concerned that the cost of the big buildup in government debt from all the borrowing with the government will have to be repaid by young New Zealanders and do you think this is fair?”
Speaking remotely from Premier House in Wellington, where she is isolating as a Covid-19 household contact, Ardern said: “I’m actually missing question time today but I feel I’m not getting too dissimilar a question in this room.” She went on to stress New Zealand’s comparatively low national debt burden and new fiscal rules to constrain further government borrowing. Borrowing during the pandemic was “somewhat akin to those increases that you saw after the GFC when prime minister Key was in the role”, she said.
Max and Sir John announced in February a property development collaboration with the Chow brothers – with whom Max was seated at today’s event – aiming to spend $100 million over 18 months to buy land for development projects. In an interview with Buzzfeed in 2017, Max Key put a different proposition to the prime minister. “I want to challenge you, Jacinda Ardern, to a DJ battle,” he said. “Anytime, anywhere. Name the place, I’m there.”
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New Zealand’s border will fully reopen at the end of July, two months earlier than what the government had previously foreshadowed.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has, via video link from self-isolation, told a business audience in downtown Auckland that border restrictions will end on July 31. “New Zealand is in demand and now fully open for business,” Ardern said. “We know a major constraint on business is access to skilled labour. This plan will increase the available pool of labour, while also speeding up our tourism recovery.”
The escalation of the border plan will mean more tourists along with the return of international students. It will also mean cruise season can commence with existing maritime border restrictions also ending on July 31.
Covid monitoring will continue at the border for now, said Ardern, but the PM was “confident” that pre-departure testing would be scrapped by July 31 as well.
But it’s not just holidaymakers that the government wants to attract. A “rebalanced” immigration plan aims to attract working migrants to travel here. “The cornerstone of our rebalance is the new green list which will incentivise and attract high skilled migrants to New Zealand, by providing a new streamlined pathway to residency for those globally hard to fill roles,” said the immigration minister Kris Faafoi.
The list features 85 “hard to fill roles” including construction, engineering, trades, health workers and tech. Eligible migrants working in these occupations will have clear pathways to residence, either through a direct to residence application or after working for in New Zealand depending on the role.
Simply put, a Doctor could apply for residence as soon as they decide they want to come to New Zealand. The jobs all need to be paid a minimum salary, generally linked to the median wage.
A second tranche of jobs, which includes the likes of midwives and teachers, would be able to apply for residence after two years, she said. Applications for both open on July 4.
While the news of an immigration reset will be great news to many, the opposition has some concerns. Act’s immigration spokesperson James McDowall queried how quickly people will be able to arrive in New Zealand. “The border won’t be open from July, it will be open for applications,” he said. “With Immigration New Zealand’s processing times, who knows when the border will actually be open?”
According to Faafoi, it should be just a month for green list applications. “Immigration New Zealand will endeavour to have these visas processed within 30 days once an employer is accredited”, he said.
Faafoi also confirmed that around 20,000 visa holders with visas expiring before next year were being granted either a six-month extension or a new two-year visa with open work conditions.
More than 5,000 international students have already been confirmed for entry as part of previous border exemptions, said Chris Hipkins, minister for both Covid response and education. “From the end of July, all international students who meet normal entry criteria can enrol for study here,” Hipkins said.
“But the future will be different, we won’t be going back to National’s volume over value approach that became a backdoor to residency for lower-skilled and lower-paid migrant workers, who were then at risk of exploitation,” he said.
Key changes include that students in non-degree level courses will not get post-study work rights except where they are studying and then working in specified shortage and skilled occupations. Students will also not be able to apply for a second post-study visa in New Zealand.
The Ministry of Health is reporting 28 deaths of people with Covid-19 today, seven of whom died over the past seven days, 11 in April, five in March and one in February.
Delays in reporting can be associated with people dying with Covid-19, rather than from Covid, and Covid being discovered only after they have died, said the ministry.
This takes the total number of reported deaths of people with Covid-19 902 and the seven-day rolling average to 15.
Two of the people whose deaths are being reported today were from Northland, five from Auckland, three from Waikato, three from Bay of Plenty, two from Whanganui, three from the Wellington region, four from the Canterbury region and six from Southern. One was in their 40s, one in their 50s, two in their 60s, eight in their 70s, 11 in their 80s and five in their 90s. Eighteen were men and 10 were women.
There are 381 people in hospital with Covid today, 10 of whom are in ICU.
There are 7,970 new community cases, which takes the seven-day rolling average to 7,420, slightly down on last Tuesday’s seven-day rolling average of 7,746.
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Three former Gloriavale members were employees of the commune – not volunteers – and had been doing unpaid work from the age of six, according to a new court ruling.
Hosea Courage, Daniel Pilgrim and Levi Courage are all ex-members of the religious community, and had challenged a Labour Inspectorate ruling that said they were “volunteers” and therefore not entitled to pay or other work rights.
As TVNZ reports, chief judge Christina Inglis came to a different outcome during an Employment Court decision. “Each of the three plaintiffs was an employee… None of them were volunteers within the meaning of [section six] of the Act,” she said.
This even applied while the trio were children, said Inglis. “I find that the plaintiffs were employees during the first age bracket [age six to 14]. They were not doing chores and they were not volunteers,” she said.
National’s leader has refused to comment on whether he’ll extend a hand to the Act Party in the Epsom electorate for the next election.
Traditionally, Act is given a free pass by National in the Auckland seat in a move that’s paved the way for David Seymour and his predecessors to return to parliament. On current polling, Act wouldn’t need the deal to stay in parliament.
Speaking to RNZ, Christopher Luxon was coy on how much he’d negotiate with Act. “We are not going to have the conversation. It’s too far away, too premature,” he said.
Luxon instead said he was focused on next week’s budget. Act’s alternative budget included proposals like changing New Zealand’s tax system to just two thresholds. Luxon said while National would have a fully costed tax policy available before the election, he currently advocating adjusting the tax thresholds in line with inflation.
“We obviously had a pretty good policy, which is we think adjusting the taxation threshold by the amount of inflation, just a very simple pragmatic, not ideological, just a very basic idea, would help the most amount of people the easiest way,” Luxon said.
One tenet of Act’s plan that Luxon did reject was the proposal to scrap numerous ministries and departments. “Things like the Human Rights Commission I believe has a really important role to play… National will not be abolishing the Human Rights Commission.”
My Food Bag’s founder Nadia Lim has received a brief, two-line apology from DGL’s Simon Henry for “inappropriate language” used about her.
In case you’ve somehow missed the saga, rich-lister Henry referred to Lim as “Eurasian fluff” in an NBR profile about a week ago. He also commented on Lim’s “cleavage” and suggested she was using her sensuality to sell My Food Bag shares.
What followed was a media frenzy that, as The Spinoff reported on Saturday morning, saw Henry later claim he had reached out to Lim to apologise. Except the celebrity chef never actually received that apology.
Until now: Lim has confirmed to The Spinoff she last night received an apology from Henry via DGL’s office manager. She has not spoken to Henry directly.
“I have tried calling you several times on your cell phone to make an apology but was unable to get through,” the letter begins. “Please take this letter as my sincere and formal apology for my inappropriate language in relation to you used used in the interview.”
Lim told The Spinoff her phone “doesn’t show any missed calls or voice messages on Friday”, the day Henry purportedly tried to make contact.
The arrival of this note via email is slightly confusing considering a DGL spokesperson had previously told media Henry had “couriered” his apology when he could not reach Lim over the phone. Maybe it got lost in the post.
A comment from Deborah Pead, Lim’s spokesperson, said that Henry’s apology note was “accompanied by an offer for Nadia to call him which will not be acted on”.
“In my opinion his acknowledgement adds further insult to injury and one has to wonder why he even bothered,” said Pead.
In an internal memo leaked to The Spinoff, Henry said that he had learnt “a lot” from the recent events. “I am fully committed to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he concluded.
The future owner of Twitter, billionaire Elon Musk, has indicated he’ll reverse the ban of ex-US president Donald Trump.
Trump was barred from the social media site in the wake of the January 6 insurrection. He subsequently launched his own social network, Truth Social, which by all accounts has flopped.
At an event overnight, Musk said he thought it was a “mistake” to ban Trump. “It alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice,” he said. “I think it was a morally bad decision, to be clear and foolish in the extreme.”
Trump has so far declined to comment and the former president has previously said he would never reappear on Twitter.
Here’s an extract from today’s edition of The Bulletin, written by Anna Rawhiti-Connell.
Tomorrow is International Nurses Day. It’s marked each year on the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Here in New Zealand, nurses won’t be celebrating, as four years of pay equity negotiations drag on. New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) members (40,000 of them) were set to vote on an agreement with DHBs last month but, on Monday night instead voted to take the offer to the Employment Relations Authority. A legal review commissioned by the NZNO found the proposed settlement to be contrary to the Equal Pay Act. Speaking to RNZ’s Morning Report yesterday, NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said “Nurses are sick of it and want to get on with their jobs but they have a deep sense of injustice around gender discrimination”.
Back pay still the sticking point
The NZNO and the Public Service Association (PSA) lodged pay equity claims for nurses in 2017 and 2018. At the crux of it was an assessment of whether nurses, a predominantly female workforce, had received less pay than men in comparable roles. A settlement was announced in early April this year but many nurses were disappointed that new pay rates would not be back-paid to December 2019 as previously agreed. The NZNO is now asking the ERA to rule on the back pay issue, rates for senior nurses and look at a review of the mechanism to ensure pay equity is maintained in the future.
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The full reopening of the border, and the return of all international tourists, is expected to be moved forward by a few months.
Jacinda Ardern will today speak at a Business NZ event hinged on the theme of “reconnecting New Zealand”. As she’s in self-isolation, the PM will appear via video link while senior ministers Kris Faafoi and Chris Hipkins attend in person.
Little is officially known about what will be unveiled, but the fact that the PM and two of her most prominent Covid-related ministers will be speaking suggests a fairly large announcement. A press release inviting media described the event as being about “the next steps in reconnecting New Zealand and rebalancing immigration”.
According to the Herald, the full border reopening will be brought forward from October to July. The final step in the border reopening plan involves allowing all visa categories back in the country, meaning more workers, tourists, and international students who have all been barred from our shores for over two years.
Yesterday New Zealand passed the one million Covid cases milestone, with roughly 998,000 of those being registered in the past 12 months. Auckland cases appear on the rise, however, with yesterday’s total being the highest for the super city in over six weeks.
The Spinoff will be live at the PM’s speech this afternoon and I’ll have all the details for you.