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Live UpdatesJun 16 2022

Suspected arson at Rainbow Youth clinic

It’s Thursday June 16, welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

Jun 16 2022

Mahuta meets Australian counterpart Penny Wong

Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta has met with her Australian counterpart Penny Wong at parliament today.

Wong is in the country for the biannual meeting between the Australian and New Zealand foreign ministers. It’s her first trip to New Zealand since taking on the role, and follows a series of engagements around the Pacific over the past month.

According to a statement, the pair discussed the trans-Tasman relationship as well as a wide range of global issues. “The ministers discussed their concerns at the growing strategic competition in the Pacific region,” said the statement. “They noted the long traditions within the region of working collectively to meet security needs.”

Other issues on the agenda included the post-Covid economic recovery of the Pacific, the shared value of equality, and the role of First Nations peoples in foreign policy.

At a press conference, Wong said the Pacific was a “priority” for the new Anthony Albanese-led government. “We share a view about the importance of the Pacific family and a region that is respectful of sovereignty, where the Pacific family provides its own security, where peace and prosperity and predictability of rules can be observed,” she said.

“You have a unique and powerful voice, your country in the Pacific. And it’s a very important one.”

Climate change was also discussed by the two ministers, with Mahuta acknowledging Australia’s commitment to tackling it.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern is due to travel to Australia next month for her second meeting with Albanese.

One million flu vaccines already administered

A million New Zealanders have already been vaccinated against the flu this year – almost as many as were vaccinated for the entirety of 2020.

In the last week, according to the Ministry of Health, over 33,000 people received a flu vaccine.

Health minister Andrew Little said New Zealanders had “stepped up” to protect themselves and the community. “With international travel ramping up again and new flu strains entering the country this winter is already turning out to be a tougher flu season than usual,” he said.

Flu currently makes up around a third of hospital admissions, said Little. In the most vulnerable age group of those over 65, about 64% have received a flu jab. “This is the group most likely to end up in hospital so it would be great to get that number even higher,” said Little.

Health minister Andrew Little (Photo / Getty Images)

Pre-departure testing has ‘outlived’ its usefulness, says Covid modeller

A prominent Covid-19 modeller has backed the government’s move to ditch pre-departure testing for international arrivals.

From 11.59pm on June 20, those arriving from overseas will not need a negative Covid-19 test to exit out into the New Zealand community.

Michael Plank from Canterbury University said, in comments to the Science Media Centre, that border testing to stop the spread of infection was not needed anymore since the virus was so widespread. “They were a useful extra layer of defence in the past when prevalence of the virus in New Zealand was very low, but they have outlived their usefulness now,” he said.

The focus of testing should now be on monitoring potential new variants, Plank said. “Pre-departure tests are costly, onerous, and don’t provide any useful information about new variants. They’re also not that effective at preventing infected people from travelling because anyone testing in the incubation period is likely to return a negative result.”

RAT testing for arrivals was important, however, as it could provide samples for genomic sequencing of cases.

The decision to stop the testing requirement was quickly welcomed by the political opposition, though they said it should already have happened. The Greens, on the other hand, said it now meant upping domestic protections against the virus was more important than ever.

Covid-19 update: 15 deaths, including two in their 30s, another 5,435 cases

Another 15 people with Covid-19 have died, including a pair in their 30s.

It brings New Zealand’s pandemic death toll to 1,374 and the rolling average of reported deaths to 12. Seven deaths were women and eight were men. Most – six – were in their 80s.

There are now 377 people in hospital with Covid-19, while six are in intensive care.

The number of new community cases being reported remains fairly low today, with 5,435 new cases. It brings the rolling average of reported cases over the week down to 5,451. Last Thursday, it was 6,059.

Auckland recorded 1,602 cases overnight.

TVNZ’s newest dating show? FBOY Island.

Yup, you read that right – a local version of HBO’s reality show FBOY Island (short for, yes, Fuckboy Island) will launch on TVNZ+ later this year.

First announced at a swanky event in Auckland last night, the reality show follows three women searching for “the guy of their dreams”. They’ll be joined by 20 men – 10 self-proclaimed “Nice Guys” and 10 self-proclaimed “FBoys.” Shavaughn Ruakere will host.

FBOY Island launches later this year (Image / TVNZ)

FBOY Island was the only new show unveiled by the broadcaster at last night’s event, which largely took place as a launch for the rebranded TVNZ+ streaming service. The event, attended primarily by executives with a smattering of TVNZ talent, showcased TVNZ’s plans to take on major streamers through its updated service.

Also announced was a streaming deal with Sony and a content partnership with TikTok.

Matilda the Musical heads to the big-small screen

Tim Minchin’s beloved stage musical Matilda has been given the film treatment.

A starry Netflix adaptation will premiere later this year and the first trailer has just been released today. It gives a glimpse at Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull (yes, Emma Thompson) along with Lashana Lynch as Miss Honey.

The stage show played Auckland’s Civic Theatre in the glorious pre-Covid days and while I can barely think back that far, I remember loving it.

Check out the first look at the film below.

New episode of Going Global with Karen Walker

Together with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the second episode in The Spinoff Podcast Network’s new series Going Global, is out now.

This week co-hosts Brianne West, founder and CEO of international beauty brand Ethique, and Business is Boring’s Simon Pound talk to New Zealand fashion industry icon Karen Walker.

For more than 30 years, Walker has built her brand and business globally, known for clever design, adventurous collaborations, imaginative storytelling and constantly redefining approach to retail.

Listen to Going Global on The Spinoff Podcast Network.

Rainbow Youth clinic targeted in suspected arson attack

A Tauranga building that functions as a mental health clinic and Rainbow Youth drop-in centre has been burnt down in a suspect arson attack, in a move that’s been called a “disgusting attack” on the rainbow community.

The Gender Dynamix clinic was one of 60 buildings in Tauranga’s historic village. It was the only building to be targeted.

The fire broke out before 1am this morning and is being treated as suspicious by police. Nobody was in the building at the time of the fire.

Tauranga City Council said police have remained on-site overnight and is continuing to investigate.

“The affected building is on the outskirts of the village away from other buildings. The area has been cordoned off from the rest of the village, which will be open for business as usual today,” said a statement.

Shock at the attack has spread rapidly online since the news was made public. “Our heart breaks for rainbow communities in Tauranga waking up to this news this morning,” wrote Auckland Pride on Twitter. “We’ve reached out to [Rainbow Youth] to offer our support in any way.”

A Givealittle page has been launched to help raise funds for Rainbow Youth.

Small GDP drop after December rise

The economy has shrunk by 0.2% in the March quarter, according to Stats NZ figures. It follows a 3% rise in December of last year.

The main drivers of the drop in GDP were primary industries, which fell 1.2% over the quarter. Goods producing industries also experienced a slight decline, down by 0.1%.

Stats NZ’s Ruvani Ratnayake said there was lower output in the food, beverage, and tobacco manufacturing sub-industries and the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries.

“These declines corresponded to falls in related exports categories, including dairy products, meat products, agriculture and fishing products, and other food, beverage and tobacco products.”

It’s a worse result than what was predicted by economists, including the Reserve Bank. It had widely been expected that the economy would remain static or even grow slightly.

While the government has framed it as a reflection of “global challenges”, opposition MPs said it showed New Zealand was heading for recession.

Nanaia Mahuta heading to Rwanda amid criticism over slim travel schedule

The foreign minister is travelling to Rwanda this weekend for the meeting of Commonwealth heads of government.

It’s the first time the CHOGM conference has been held since 2018, and Nanaia Mahuta will represent New Zealand at the event.

Mahuta has faced pressure as foreign minister for perceived lack of drive to get out of New Zealand to meet counterparts abroad. Just this week, Act’s foreign affairs spokesperson Brooke van Velden criticised Mahuta, saying she had only made three trips overseas over the past two-and-a-half years.

In a statement, Mahuta said reconnecting New Zealand was a government priority in the post-Covid world. “The biennial CHOGM meeting provides us with a unique opportunity to engage with 54 member countries from across the globe, and set the agenda for the Commonwealth for the next two years,” she said.

The foreign minister will be out of the country from this coming Sunday until June 28.

Meanwhile, Mahuta will today meet with Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong in Wellington. Earlier this week, she met with her Chinese counterpart via Zoom and the Sāmoan prime minister at parliament.

A vital message from The Spinoff’s publisher, Duncan Greive

If you’re reading this, you’re hopefully getting value out of The Spinoff. Yet like many publishers, The Spinoff has suffered a significant drop in members, despite our costs continuing to increase. On one level I understand why our membership has dropped away. There’s a cost of living crisis, and inflation has made life hard for many of us. It’s totally normal to feel like you don’t need to support your local media organisation at a time like this.

The promise we’re making to you is that we’re actually better-suited to times like this than the pandemic itself. Our plan is to return to something more of what made us – coverage of culture, politics, te ao Māori and more with heart and humour. We will do that with features, essays and opinion pieces, but also podcasts, comics, video and newsletters. We are here to help walk you through this fascinating new era, and feel well-suited to being your guide.

But we can’t do it without you. The Spinoff has been cut out of the government’s enormous $100m plus Covid-19 campaign, which has been a boon to the big media companies and social media platforms. We returned the wage subsidy, unlike almost every other media organisation. The public interest journalism fund was narrowly targeted and is winding down. The big tech companies are refusing to do what they did in Australia and make meaningful deals with local media. And the recessionary drums continue to beat loudly, impacting the commercial spend we rely on, along with you, our members.

All of which is to say that we need your support more than we ever have. So please, if you can, click here to support The Spinoff by becoming a member today.

Confirmed: Pre-departure testing requirement to drop next week

International arrivals won’t need a pre-departure test before after next Monday, it has been confirmed.

The new Covid-19 response minister Ayesha Verrall has confirmed the requirement will drop at 11.59pm on June 20.

“We’ve taken a careful and staged approach to reopening our borders to ensure we aren’t overwhelmed with an influx of Covid-19 cases. Our strategy has worked and as a result it’s safe to lift pre-departure test requirements much sooner than planned,” Verrall said.

Before today, it had been signalled that pre-departure testing would be ditched by, at the latest, July 31. “But with cases continuing to decline despite over 387,000 arrivals since borders reopened there is evidence this measure can now be lifted,” said Verrall.

“Around 90% of international arrivals undertake their required testing once they are in the country, with only a 2-3 percent positivity rate. So we don’t anticipate a significant increase in border cases once the requirement is lifted.”

Covid response minister Dr Ayesha Verrall (Photo: Getty Images)

Verrall added that the challenges that pre-departure tests posed to visitors were no longer outweighed by the public health benefits. “Factors such as the availability of and cost of getting a test are increasingly becoming a barrier for people intending to travel here, especially as other countries wind back testing availability or the requirement for a test on entry themselves,” she said.

Tourism minister Stuart Nash said it was positive that the testing requirement had been dropped ahead of the winter tourism season and Australian school holidays. “I know this news will be welcomed by tourism operators across the country.”

The move was also welcomed by National Party Covid spokesperson Chris Bishop, although he said it should have happened earlier. Australia, he said, had ditched pre-departure testing weeks ago.

“It’s a vital step in reconnecting with the world after two years of isolation,” he said. “The only question is why it has taken so long for the government to act. Chris Hipkins admitted weeks ago that the value of pre-departure testing was low, including saying that its ‘days were numbered’.”

The Bulletin: The deal with milk

Big read from Stuff’s Charlie Mitchell this morning on proposed legislation that will increase Fonterra’s market share and make it harder for smaller entities in the market to compete. As Mitchell writes: “Sometimes, the Government wants to fight the climate crisis, improve freshwater quality, and address the rising costs of household essentials. Then there are other times, where it enthusiastically supports a move that would expand the power of our largest near-monopoly, increase the dairy industry’s environmental hoofprint, and, for good measure, likely raise the price of dairy products.”

Milk production is flatlining and will fall while Fonterra’s market dominance has been slipping. The government’s logic is that a strong Fonterra is a good thing during times of economic uncertainty.

NZ still loves Ed Sheeran

Pop star Ed Sheeran has just announced two more giant stadium shows as part of his forthcoming Mathematics Tour (obnoxiously officially named the + – = ÷ x Tour)

Sheeran is playing Auckland’s Eden Park and Wellington’s Sky Stadium next February, with two dates at each venue now confirmed.

Whatever you make of Sheeran’s latest record, the tour does look undeniably spectacular. Sheeran performs in the round on some sort of insane rotating stage thing.

Tickets for the newly-announced shows will go on sale next Thursday.

PM Ardern ‘not feeling well’, recovering at home

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern isn’t feeling well and will be taking a rare sick day. That means she’ll miss planned engagements in Auckland and an event in Tauranga tonight.

A spokesperson for Ardern said the prime minister would be “staying at home to recover”.

The main event on the prime minister’s calendar was a City Rail Link visit in Auckland.

Ardern recently recovered from Covid-19, the week before she jetted to the United States for a busy week of meetings and an address at Harvard. While reinfection is possible, as explained by Siouxsie Wiles for The Spinoff yesterday, it would be very unlucky.

Jacinda Ardern fronts to media after her recent White House meeting (Image / Getty Images)