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Live UpdatesJun 14 2022

A meeting of two prime ministers

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 14, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • Jacinda Ardern has met with her Sāmoan counterpart for a “productive” meeting in Wellington.
  • The foreign ministers of China and New Zealand have held a virtual meeting, with Beijing saying it “stands ready to work” with Aotearoa.
  • The price of going to the supermarket has risen once again, with a major spike for fresh produce.
  • National’s not convinced that replacing Poto Williams as police minister will be enough to see change in the portfolio.
  • Covid-19 latest: 23 deaths, 377 hospitalisations and 6,133 new community cases.
blog-upd-jun-14.jpg

A meeting of two prime ministers

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 14, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • Jacinda Ardern has met with her Sāmoan counterpart for a “productive” meeting in Wellington.
  • The foreign ministers of China and New Zealand have held a virtual meeting, with Beijing saying it “stands ready to work” with Aotearoa.
  • The price of going to the supermarket has risen once again, with a major spike for fresh produce.
  • National’s not convinced that replacing Poto Williams as police minister will be enough to see change in the portfolio.
  • Covid-19 latest: 23 deaths, 377 hospitalisations and 6,133 new community cases.
Jun 14 2022

Ministry of Health responds to criticism of its ‘look after yourself’ message

Last week, The Spinoff published an opinion piece in which our staff writer Charlotte Muru-Lanning criticised the government’s campaign to encourage people to look after themselves over winter to alleviate pressure on the health system. The messaging included self-care tips to boost immunity, and encouraged people who weren’t seriously ill to seek advice from their local pharmacist.

There’s something deeply unsettling about our national health body urging us to second-guess whether we really need primary healthcare and hinting that we should perhaps rethink our planned GP visit,” wrote Muru-Lanning. “Asking people to alleviate pressure on the healthcare system will lead to people not seeking care when they need it.”

In a response to the piece, Dr Joe Bourne, the Ministry of Health’s health system preparedness clinical adviser, said the message “hits the mark for many” but acknowledged “it may not work for everyone”.

This kind of public messaging is routine in winter months, said Bourne, as it’s a busy time for the health and disability system. “This year, this message is particularly important as our health and disability services are experiencing one of our most challenging winters yet, and health care services in some areas at times are finding it challenging to meet the needs of everybody.”

The sector needs “to utilise every public health lever available to try to manage the demand on our ambulance services, community based healthcare providers (like urgent-care centres and general practices) and hospitals”, said Bourne. “That includes ensuring New Zealanders have the information they need to protect themselves from illness, to care for themselves and their whānau – and to know when to seek help.

“This does not mean the health system is expecting people to solely look after themselves, but rather that people should take measures to manage their health and wellbeing, including seeking medical care when they need it, and that they are equipped with information and tools to do so.”

(Image: Getty Images)

A message from senior writer Alex Casey

Earlier in the year we published When the Lessons End, an in-depth examination of one woman’s experience at the hands of her private music teacher, and the impact it had on the rest of her life. Stories like these take months of rigorous reporting, travel costs and hefty legal fees to get to publication stage, all of which was only possible thanks to our members.

I feel so lucky to work for an organisation that encourages long-form investigative journalism, but the reality is that this work is impossible without the ongoing support of our readers.  If you can, please support our work by donating today.

Air NZ boss warns rising petrol costs will push up fares

The boss of our national carrier has warned customers that prices will rise in the aftermath of Covid-19 and ongoing global tensions.

In an email sent to customers, Air New Zealand chief Greg Foran said the rise in living costs had also hit the airline. “It costs twice as much to fuel our Dreamliner from Auckland to Los Angeles as it did when I started at the airline in 2020, and other costs are going up too,” wrote Foran. “This, combined with high demand for flights, means you will see higher fares than usual across our network.”

Over 100,000 domestic fares were still available under $100, said Foran, and 40,000 international seats per week would be added in July. However, Foran suggested customers book early and recommended travelling outside of peak times to try and get the best price. “Travelling in the middle of the day or looking a day or two on either side can make a big difference,” he said.

Air New Zealand and Qantas planes together on runway
An Air Zealand plane at Sydney International Airport (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

PCR testing backlog ‘predictable’, review finds

Four “areas of concern” have been identified in an independent review into the major backlog in PCR testing during the peak of the omicron outbreak in late February.

Released today, the review said the backlog “should have been and was to some degree predictable”.

“The ministry’s testing modelling did forecast single test capacity being exceeded and modelled scenarios that forecast PCR testing capacity with pooling would also be exceeded.”

But failures in the design of the testing system as well as how it was managed meant by March 1, there was a backlog of 32,000 test samples older than five days, which were almost destroyed due to no longer being viable. Nine thousand samples ended up being sent to Queensland to be processed and rapid antigen tests were urgently rolled out.

The four “areas of concern” identified in the review, carried out by public sector advisers Allen + Clarke, are lab capacity, planning, reporting of lab capacity, and organisational design.

“We could and should have done better on both estimating the capacity and communicating clearly,” said Bloomfield in response to the review in a press conference today.

The review proposes nine recommendations, including developing a plan on the future use of PCR testing and establishing greater transparency and national coordination in the country’s laboratory services. “Work is well under way to implement all the recommendations in the report,” said Bloomfield.

In a statement, Terry Taylor, president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science (NZIMLS), said “the testing capacity situation in February was always going to happen” due to “background issues that have plagued the provision of all diagnostic laboratory services since the first initial DHB contracts in 2006”. Lab scientists and technicians “bore the brunt of being caught in between political expectation and real-time system failures”, he said.

“It is imperative that the learnings from the pandemic testing response are used to formulate the future diagnostic laboratory system within Health NZ governance,” said Taylor, calling for “an expert specialist medical laboratory expert” to be in a senior governance role at the new health body. “For too long our expert opinions have been swept under the carpet and have directly led to the perilous situation our profession is now in.”

Beijing ‘stands ready to work with NZ’ in Pacific – Chinese minister meets with Mahuta

After a tense few weeks which saw Beijing issue a blistering warning to New Zealand over a joint statement signed by Jacinda Ardern and president Joe Biden, the foreign ministers of China and New Zealand have held a virtual meeting to smooth the waters, which left Wang Yi trumpeting Wellington as “the standard-bearer of true multilateralism in the region”.

According to a report on Chinese newswire Xinhua, Wang Yi and Nanaia Mahuta caught up in a teleconference overnight, with Wang stressing that “China has always viewed New Zealand as an important partner with strategic and cooperative significance, and stands ready to work with New Zealand to implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries”. China “stands ready to work with New Zealand to carry out more three-party or multi-party cooperation to jointly build an open, inclusive, united and cooperative South Pacific region”.

Relations became strained as part of wider friction between China and the US in the Pacific, with Beijing striking a security deal with the Solomon Islands and Wang’s tour of 10 island states in an effort – which fell short – to get 10 islands states to sign up to a trade and security pact. China was particularly concerned about the elements in the US-NZ communique chiding China’s “Pacific ambitions”. 

In comments that sharply contrast with suggestions – including those in Chinese media in recent weeks – that relations between the two countries are in peril, Wang is reported by state broadcaster CGTN as saying: “As Ms Foreign Minister has indicated for many times, the relations between China and New Zealand have become increasingly mature and resilient.” New Zealand was reportedly considered “the standard-bearer of true multilateralism in the region that has always been committed to regional peace and stability”.

According to a China Daily report, Wang noted the 50-year anniversary of diplomatic relations, stressing that “the two countries adhere to non-interference in others’ internal affairs and have never imposed their will on other sides during interactions over the past half-century” and that China “is willing to work with New Zealand to enhance political mutual trust, expand mutually beneficial cooperation, and consolidate public opinion foundation for bilateral ties”. He indicated that the countries would work together to implement the free-trade agreement upgrade and on climate change initiatives. In a reference to the position on Taiwan, China Daily reported that “Mahuta said that New Zealand abides by the one-China principle while appreciating that China respects that New Zealand follows an independent foreign policy”.

The NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs readout of the meeting is here. Mahuta’s office has been approached for comment.

Wang Yi and Nanaia Mahuta hold a virtual meeting. Image via Global Times

Ardern holds ‘productive’ talks with Sāmoan PM in Wellington

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has met with her Sāmoan counterpart Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa in Wellington, with the bilateral talks described as “warm and productive”.

The visit by Mata’afa was timed to coincide with the 60-year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between Sāmoa and New Zealand. It also marks Mata’afa’s first bilateral meeting since taking office last year.

Speaking at parliament, Ardern announced a fellowship in Mata’afa’s name to celebrate the diplomatic relations between our countries. “The visit has been an opportunity to reflect on the deep social, cultural and familial ties,” said Ardern.

Issues discussed between the prime ministers included climate change action in the Pacific, economic recovery after Covid-19, and the importance of regional unity.

Sāmoan PM Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and Jacinda Ardern pose for a photo (Photo / Getty Images)

Mata’afa said she was “very honoured” to be a guest of the New Zealand government. “I was very touched by the ceremonial welcoming of us,” she said.

An invitation was extended for a New Zealand government delegation to visit Sāmoa in return.  “We look forward to welcoming the New Zealand delegation and I’m hopeful that you might find time to come too,” Mata’afa said to Ardern.

A “lot of ground” was covered during today’s bilateral meeting, said Mata’afa. “We have convergence on what are our regional priorities and have ongoing commitment to ensure that we live in a peaceful, secure, prosperous, and resilient blue Pacific.”

She added: “We firmly believe in regional unity and the importance of a strong collective voice.”

Read more: Meeting Sāmoa’s first female prime minister

Covid-19 latest: 23 deaths, 377 hospitalisations and 6,133 new community cases

Twenty-three people have died with Covid-19 in the past 24 days, the Ministry of Health has reported. This takes the total number of publicly reported deaths with Covid-19 to 1,348 and the seven-day rolling average of reported deaths to 15.

One of the people who died was from Northland, five were from the Auckland region, three were from Waikato, one was from the Lakes DHB region, four were from Taranaki, two were from MidCentral, one was from Hawke’s Bay, two were from the Wellington region, one was from South Canterbury and three were from Southern.

One person was in their 50s, three were in their 70s, 11 were in their 80s and eight were aged over 90. Of these people, 15 were women and eight were men.

Meanwhile, 377 people are currently in hospital with Covid-19, seven of whom are in ICU.

There are 6,133 new community cases today, and the seven-day rolling average of community case numbers is 5,983 – last Tuesday it was 6,202.

Omicron cases and deaths declining internationally

Speaking from the Ministry of Health today, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths is continuing to decline internationally. “A number of countries have reduced testing, which would flow through to lower case numbers, but there has also been a significant drop in deaths, which would suggest the drop is real,” said Bloomfield. He added that a key factor in this was that the northern hemisphere was going into summer.

Northern hemisphere countries are watching Australia and New Zealand closely to see how the omicron outbreak tracks over winter, said Bloomfield, especially with the rollout of the second booster shot for vulnerable people.

Two-thirds of NZ cases being picked up by testing

Bloomfield said it was believed two-thirds of total cases were being picked up by testing currently, which is up from a month ago, when it was thought only about half the number of actual cases were being reported. While overall case numbers are declining, case rates in over-65s are increasing. The current rolling average of around 6,000 cases a day is still around double what was originally predicted.

Hospitalisations decreasing very slowly

Hospitalisations are averaging at 350-450 on any given day – about twice the number that was modelled a couple of months ago.

Only about 20% of people currently hospitalised with severe acute respiratory infection have Covid, with more than half instead having influenza A.

Watch: Bloomfield gives omicron update

Costco, Night ‘n Day bosses meet with government as food prices soar

The government has been in talks with grocery providers, the week after it announced plans to tackle the existing duopoly.

It was revealed today that food prices are up almost 7% on this time in 2021, with fruit and vegetables soaring by 10%. Consumer affairs minister David Clark said New Zealanders pay “too much” and he was committed to seeing change.

“The Minister of Finance Grant Robertson met last week with Costco executives in Sydney to talk about its possible expansion into Wellington and Christchurch, and as recently as this morning I met with New Zealand’s third biggest grocery provider Night ‘n Day, where we discussed government’s ongoing action to increase competition in the sector,” said Clark.

(Did anyone else know Night ‘n Day was the third biggest grocery provider?)

Clark said a lack of access to wholesale groceries had been a barrier to Night ‘n Day expanding, though it already operated 57 stores.

”I am reiterating my call on the supermarket duopoly to strike good-faith deals with their competitors to provide access to wholesale groceries, or regulatory measures will be put in place,” Clark said.

Cost of living crisis: Food prices up nearly 7% in a year

The price of going to the supermarket has risen once again, with a major spike for fresh produce, according to the latest Stats NZ figures.

The annual price of food has risen 6.8% between May this year and 2021. That’s up from an annual increase of 6.4% in April.

Fruit and vegetables saw the biggest price hike, up 10% over the past 12 months, with grocery food prices up 7.4% and meat, poultry and fish up 7%.

“Average prices for grocery food items like yoghurt, milk, and cheese were all notably higher than they were in May 2021,” said Stats NZ’s consumer prices manager Katrina Dewbery.

“The increase in restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food was influenced by rising prices of eat-in lunch/brunch meals at restaurants.”

The government’s drawcard budget policy of a $350 cost of living payment for middle income earners will kick in from early August.

After Poto Williams’ demotion, National not convinced Hipkins will bring change

National’s not convinced that replacing Poto Williams as police minister will be enough to see change in the portfolio.

A so-called “minor” reshuffle yesterday saw Williams demoted, though kept in cabinet. Her police responsibilities have been transferred to minister Chris Hipkins.

The reshuffle came about a week after a concerted campaign by National’s leader Christopher Luxon to see Williams dropped from the role, claiming she was out of her depth.

But Mark Mitchell, who is National’s police spokesperson, still has concerns. “If he’s passionate about it and he really believes in getting behind the police, and I hope he does, then we might see some changes but fundamentally the risk is that it’s window dressing for the public,” he told RNZ’s Morning Report. 

Hipkins was often rolled out to “try and fix” portfolios, said Mitchell. After the ousting of David Clark as health minister early on in the pandemic, Hipkins was brought in to take on the new Covid-19 response role.

Bernard Hickey: Global market meltdown

Bernard Hickey, writing for his newsletter The Kākā, explains the overnight market meltdown. 

Concerted selloff – Chinese, European and US stocks and bonds cratered overnight on growing investor concern that faster-than-expected US and European inflation figures could force the world’s two biggest central banks to rapidly hike their official interest rates much-more-rapidly than previously assumed in coming weeks. As of 6.30 am NZT, the S&P 500 was down 3.7%, the Nasdaq was down 4.5% and the US 10 year Treasury bond yield had jumped 25 basis points to 3.40%, which is its highest level since 2011. The fall in stocks puts the US market into bear market territory, which is down 20% from a peak. Earlier European stocks closed down 2.4% and Hong Kong stocks closed down 3.3%. CNBC

100 bps Fed hike? – Financial markets are now pricing in the chance the US Federal Reserve could decide on Wednesday night to put up its Federal Funds Rate by 75 basis points to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%. Previously, the consensus was that only a 50 basis point hike was necessary. One or two outliers are even suggesting a 100 basis point mega-hike is possible when the Fed’s decision is announced on Thursday morning NZ Time. Reuters

Crypto meltdown – Bitcoin’s price crashed as much as 20% this morning to under US$24,000 for the first time since December after, a crypto-currency lender, blocked withdrawals and Binance, the world’s biggest crypto-currency exchange, suffered a ‘stuck transaction’ outage for several hours. The total market value of crypto-currencies fell below US$1t and is now US$2.2t below its November 2021 peak. Reuters

(Photo: Getty Images)

So what? – Markets are going into meltdown mode now over the fear that higher inflation will stop the usual central bank response to a downturn or market slump of lowering interest rates. The crypto-currency world is in even worse shape, with an effective run on crypto banks now a regular thing. Last night’s collapse of Celcius does not bode well. There is a growing risk now of some sort of GFC version 2.0 that is driven by collapses in the crypto sector, emerging market crashes and severe stress on Europe’s banking system as investors dump their Italian, Greek and Spanish bonds.

Buckle up. This matters here because a big markets meltdown and bigger chances of a global recession may force the Reserve Bank to pause its own rate hikes, which would see mortgage rate hikes slowing down or stopping. See more in quote and chart of the day below.

Read more from Bernard on The Kākā here

Leader of new public health agency announced

Dr Andrew Old, the associate chief medical officer for the Waitematā DHB, will move into a new role as head of the new public health agency.

DHBs will be scrapped and replaced by the new agency, called Health New Zealand, alongside a new Māori Health Authority, from the start of next month.

Alongside his work in Waitematā, Old became a visible face of the Covid-19 response in Auckland and held many of the livestreamed 1pm press conferences.

Outgoing health director Ashley Bloomfield said he was very pleased with Old’s appointment. “The public health agency will provide system leadership for public health and advise the director-general of health on achieving better and more equitable health outcomes.”

As leader of the agency, Old will become deputy director general of health.

The Bulletin: Fletcher’s to meet on Gib supply issue

Gib has become a kind of three-lettered shorthand to sum up the challenges of the construction industry in these not quite post-pandemic times. There is a nation-wide shortage of Gib and Winstone Wallboards (owned by Fletcher Building) has 94% of the New Zealand plasterboard market. Last week, Kiwisaver provider Simplicity took issue with Fletcher Building’s stronghold on the crucial building supply, cancelled all contracts to purchase Gib from the company and is instead importing foreign plasterboard. Simplicity says it’s cheaper and quicker.

In a development, Simplicity will meet with Fletcher Building and the NZ Shareholders Association to discuss the shortage this week. Simplicity owns 0.8% of Fletcher Building through its KiwiSaver schemes and is concerned about the supply issue’s impact on investor returns.

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.  

Greens launch petition calling for pedestrianisation of Queen Street

The Greens have called on Auckland’s mayor to fully pedestrianise Queen Street.

A petition launched by Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick, in partnership with the City Centre Residents’ Group, says that clearing cars from the main street would “transform the area into a cultural hub”.

“Ten years ago, Auckland Council signed off on the City Centre Masterplan,” said Swarbrick. “Ten years on, we’re yet to see much action, including on the common-sense commitment to prioritise pedestrians on Queen Street.”

Making Queen Street a car-free zone would not just help visitors to the city centre, the MP said, but also the 40,000 people who live nearby.

A model for the move to pedestrianisation would be Sydney’s George Street. “If Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland wants to be the world’s most Liveable City, we need the city centre to reflect the needs of people on the ground,” said Swarbrick.