updatesapril18

Live UpdatesApr 19 2022

Climate change new focus of NZ-Singapore partnership

Kia ora and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 19, 2022. Our usual updates editor Stewart Sowman-Lund is having an extended Easter holiday, so today and tomorrow you can expect a pared-back updates brought to you by deputy editor Alice Neville and a selection of other Spinoffers.

What’s happened today:

  • A new round of sanctions has been announced targeting Russian banks.
  • Jacinda Ardern is leading a trade delegation to Singapore, where she and her Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong announced climate change as the new focus of the countries’ partnership.
  • Three more fast-tracked RMA projects have been confirmed.
  • Five people have died with Covid-19, and there are 572 people in hospital, 19 in ICU. There are 8,270 new cases in the community.
  • Finance minister Grant Robertson says inflation is expected to rise even higher when the official figure is released later this week. National finance spokesperson Nicola Willis says he should be doing more to rein it in.
  • The principal pastor of the New Zealand mega-church Arise has stepped aside following a string of allegations from former interns and parishioners.
updatesapril18

Climate change new focus of NZ-Singapore partnership

Kia ora and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 19, 2022. Our usual updates editor Stewart Sowman-Lund is having an extended Easter holiday, so today and tomorrow you can expect a pared-back updates brought to you by deputy editor Alice Neville and a selection of other Spinoffers.

What’s happened today:

  • A new round of sanctions has been announced targeting Russian banks.
  • Jacinda Ardern is leading a trade delegation to Singapore, where she and her Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong announced climate change as the new focus of the countries’ partnership.
  • Three more fast-tracked RMA projects have been confirmed.
  • Five people have died with Covid-19, and there are 572 people in hospital, 19 in ICU. There are 8,270 new cases in the community.
  • Finance minister Grant Robertson says inflation is expected to rise even higher when the official figure is released later this week. National finance spokesperson Nicola Willis says he should be doing more to rein it in.
  • The principal pastor of the New Zealand mega-church Arise has stepped aside following a string of allegations from former interns and parishioners.
Apr 19 2022

New round of sanctions targets Russian banks

Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta has announced a new round of sanctions against Russia’s largest banks and financial institutions.

Including Russia’s central bank and sovereign wealth fund, 18 institutions, making up around 80% of Russia’s total banking assets, are the target of the latest sanctions.

“These sanctions are designed to impose an economic and political cost, specifically targeting organisations that finance the continued invasion of Ukraine,” said Mahuta in a statement. “With this latest round of sanctions, New Zealand is joining countries around the world who have imposed heavy penalties on President Putin and the system financing his illegal invasion.”

Sanctions announced to date have targeted Putin and members of his security council, politicians, military leaders, oligarchs, defence companies and militias, and a 35% tariff being applied to Russian imports to New Zealand.

Climate change new focus of NZ-Singapore enhanced partnership

A fifth pillar is being added to New Zealand’s “enhanced partnership” with Singapore, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced in a joint press conference with her Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong.

Both leaders spoke of the existential threat posed by climate change and said the two countries would collaborate on a range of sustainability initiatives ranging from low-carbon technology to sustainable aviation and waste management. “We look forward to the shared insights gained by these initiatives,” said Ardern, who added that the private sector would play a key part. She said she had spoken with the New Zealand business representatives she was travelling with about there being “considerable scope for our companies to partner on sustainability initiatives”.

“We have entered an age of action,” the New Zealand prime minister added, saying the world couldn’t return to the “high-carbon-emissions business-as-usual approach”.

During the press conference, which followed New Zealand’s delegation being officially welcomed to the presidential palace Istana and a one-on-one between Hsien Loong and Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister reflected on the two countries’ history of cooperation, and the contact the pair had maintained over the pandemic.

“They say that during tough times you’re reminded who your friends are, and it’s clear that Singapore is a very close friend of Aotearoa New Zealand,” said Ardern. 

Trade was also discussed, with the two countries sharing a “determination to strengthen some of our trading infrastructure”, said Ardern, as were regional and international developments. Both countries were “staunch supporters of the rule of international law and the UN charter”, the pair said, which is why both were quick to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On the two nations reopening their borders to each other, Ardern said, “We look forward to welcoming our Singaporean friends back to New Zealand.”

She also welcomed the return of Singaporean armed forces to Waiouru for training exercises, and extended an invitation to Hsien Loong himself. “Prime Minister, you would be very welcome to visit New Zealand, we would love to reciprocate the warmth and hospitality Singapore has shown us.”

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern shakes hands with her Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong during a meeting at the Istana presidential palace in Singapore (Photo: THEN CHIH WEY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Union calls for national inquiry after death at Ports of Auckland

The death of a worker at the Ports of Auckland this morning has prompted the Maritime Union to demand an inquiry. National secretary Craig Harrison said the incident, which would be “devastating for family and workmates”, underscored “the dangers faced by port workers everyday throughout New Zealand”. The number of injuries and deaths in recent years was cause, he said in a statement, for “a national inquiry into port safety”.

The worker, an employee of the stevedoring company Wallace Investments that operates at the port, reportedly fell from a height while working on a container ship. Felix van Aalst of Wallace Investments confirmed the death “with deep sadness”, saying they would cooperate with authorities’ investigation. “The company and staff are devastated by today’s incident and our immediate thoughts are with family and friends of the deceased,” he said in a statement. Police have confirmed the incident was reported shortly after 9am.

An independent review published last year identified “systemic problems” at the port in health and safety risk management.

Three fast-tracked RMA projects confirmed

Deputy prime minister and finance minister Grant Robertson has announced the approval of three more infrastructure projects under the government’s fast-tracking of the Resource Management Act process.

At this afternoon’s post-cabinet press conference, Robertson, who is standing in for prime minister Jacinda Ardern while she’s on a trade trip in Asia, said part of the government’s approach to the economic rebuild has been through addressing infrastructure deficits and creating jobs, including via the RMA fast-track consenting process.

The three new fast-tracked projects announced today are expanding the existing wind farm in the Tararua range southeast of Palmerston North; the Waimarie Street residential development in St Heliers, Auckland; and the Flint’s Park West project in the Lake Hayes area. They bring the total of fast-tracked projects so far to 50.

Robertson said the boom in house construction combined with the apprenticeship boost initiative is driving up the number of skilled New Zealanders available to work on these projects.

Asked about the government’s plans for tackling rising inflation and whether it would rein in spending, Ardern reiterated earlier comments that the biggest drivers in cost-of-living pressures are generated offshore. “It is important we don’t cut our nose off to spite our face and take away spending in important areas like health, education and housing,” said Robertson, adding that “the job of making sure we carefully balance spending is one I take seriously”.

“We have to look carefully at all our initiatives to make sure they’re value for money.”

On Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr’s comments about central banks needing more targeted fiscal policy, Robertson said, “He made those comments in the context of all central banks around the world. I agree that we have to make sure our spending is targeted and goes to the right places.” This is why the April 1 cost-of-living package was targeted at those on low and medium incomes, rather than “untargeted tax cuts that benefit the biggest earners” as National was offering, he said.

Robertson said new fiscal rules will be set. “I think it’s really important we use fiscal policy sensibly to keep a lid on debt and invest in right things such as infrastructure long term.”

Watch: Grant Robertson holds post-cabinet press conference

With the prime minister Jacinda Ardern in Singapore on her first trade trip in two years, deputy PM Grant Robertson is holding today’s post-cabinet press conference. Watch below.

572 people in hospital with Covid, 19 in ICU

The nationwide Covid hospitalisation numbers have now been released, after they weren’t included in the Ministry of Health’s initial 1pm press release.

There are 572 people in hospital with Covid-19 today, a slight increase on yesterday. ICU numbers are down slightly, with 19 people requiring intensive care.

 

Submissions open for proposed changes to Auckland Unitary Plan

Public consultation is now open for Auckland Council’s proposed changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan following the Resource Management Amendment Act (RMA), which passed just before Christmas last year. 

The new legislation mandates intensification of urban areas and is aimed at increasing housing supply and affordability across New Zealand. 

Six-storey or higher residential developments must now be allowed within “walkable catchments”, which are identified by the local councils. Auckland Council is seeking feedback on the definition of these “walkable catchments”, which are currently set as areas within a 15-minute walk of a major urban centre, such as Newmarket, Henderson and Albany, or a 10-minute walk to a major metropolitan area and rapid transit stations, such as stops along the Northern Busway. 

The new legislation also requires medium-density housing – including terrace houses and low-rise apartments of up to three storeys – to be allowed in most of Auckland’s suburbs. 

Although intensification of urban areas is mandatory under the RMA, the legislation does allow for building heights and density to be limited in some zones which apply for “qualifying matters”. This may include special character areas or areas with significant infrastructure constraints or natural hazards. Exceptions to the building height and density requirements are expected to be limited, and will only be granted if sufficient evidence is provided for a certain area. 

Auckland Council is seeking public feedback for the proposed size of the walkable catchments where six-or-more-storey buildings will be enabled, and the “qualifying matters” where exceptions might be made to the new height and density requirements. They’re also seeking feedback on areas where additional height and density of buildings are proposed, and what the limits on those areas might be. 

Draft maps, information on the proposed changes and the form for feedback submissions can be found on the Auckland Council website. Feedback can be submitted in English as well as Chinese, Korean, Samoan, Tongan and Hindi; submissions close May 9. Feedback will be reviewed in the months before public notification of changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan on August 18. 

PM announces refreshed working holiday scheme with Singapore

Young New Zealanders will soon be able to travel to Singapore for a 12-month working holiday under a refreshed scheme this afternoon announced by the prime minister, who is visiting the island nation on a trade trip.

The existing scheme allows people from New Zealand aged between 18 and 25 who have recently been in tertiary education to spend six months in Singapore, and vice versa for young Singaporeans who want to come to Aotearoa. The age range will now be extended to 30 and the time frame to 12 months, while the tertiary education requirement will be changed to having undertaken tertiary education in the past two years. The number of people allowed to participate in the scheme will be increased from 200 to 300 per 12 months on either side.

Singaporeans will be eligible to apply for the scheme from May 5.

Asked what would be top of the agenda during her meeting with Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong this afternoon, Jacinda Ardern said it would be “the importance of our relationship with Singapore as our fifth biggest export partner”, as well as the global environment  – “the war in Ukraine, and continued geo-strategic pressures in our region”.

Five deaths and 8,270 new community Covid cases

Five people have died with Covid-19 since yesterday, the Ministry of Health has reported. This takes the total number of publicly reported deaths to 602 and the seven-day average to 12.

Of the people who died, one was from the Auckland region, one was from Waikato, two were from MidCentral and one was from Tairāwhiti. One was in their 70s, three were in their 80s, and one was over 90. One was female and four were male.

Meanwhile, there are 8,270 new community cases today, an increase on daily figures from the past few days. “The number of reported community cases is expected to continue to fluctuate day to day, but the overall trend remains an overall reduction in reported cases,” said the ministry in a statement. Today’s seven-day rolling average at 7,585, compared to 9,731 last Tuesday.

Nationwide hospitalisation figures are unavailable at this stage, said the ministry, but there are 305 people in hospital and seven people in ICU in hospitals in the northern region.

Of today’s new cases, the largest proportion, 1,842, is across the Auckland district health boards. Canterbury and South Canterbury are close behind on a combined total 1,635. The region with the next biggest proportion of new cases is Southern, with 989.

Covid numbers due after long weekend in orange

Today’s Covid-19 case and hospitalisation figures are expected via Ministry of Health statement at around 1pm, following an Easter break that saw looser restrictions as many travelled around the newly “orange” country.

Case numbers are often low over weekend and holiday periods, and Easter Monday saw 6,242 new cases, slightly up on the figures for Saturday and Sunday. The seven-day average continues to fall, dropping to slightly under 8,000 yesterday.

Hospitalisations and ICU numbers were also up slightly yesterday compared to the weekend, with 553 people in hospital with Covid, 23 of those in ICU.

Yesterday, 11 people were reported to have died with Covid. Age and location breakdowns were not available.

Robertson should do more to control inflation, says National

National’s finance spokesperson Nicola Willis says finance minister Grant Robertson should listen to the governor of the Reserve Bank and do more to control rising inflation.

In an interview with the International Monetary Fund reported by Interest.co.nz, Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr said New Zealand’s central bank was “not in a great place now” as it worked to get inflation under control. Central banks needed support in the form of “more targeted effective fiscal policies”, he said.

“It’s not credible for Grant Robertson to keep claiming inflation is a mysterious visitor from overseas over which he has no control,” said Willis in a statement.

“He must do his bit to remove inflationary pressure in the domestic economy: stop adding costs to business, quit wasteful spending and remove bottlenecks to productive growth.”

Willis expanded on this on RNZ’s First Up this morning, saying the immigration issue of skilled workers should be reviewed, saying fruit was rotting on trees because of a lack of labour.

Willis said Robertson should “rein in his extravagant spending plans”, rather than putting “fuel on the fire with the biggest budget spending allowance in history, which he has foreshadowed for his May budget”.

“New Zealand is in the midst of a cost of living crisis and the government needs to support efforts to bring things under control, not make things worse,” she said.

On Morning Report this morning, Robertson inflation was expected to continue rising, and pointed to the changes that came in on April 1 as examples of what the government was doing to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. “We’re doing a significant amount to support New Zealanders through this and we’ll always look for further ways that we can do this.”

Taika Waititi lauded for ‘gay Thor’ trailer

The trailer for New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s new Thor film, Love and Thunder, has chalked up about a squillion views since it was posted early this morning, and the Guns N’ Roses-lacquered promo has social media in raptures. Of particular excitement is an amorous exchange between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), which has prompted an outpouring of oh-my-god-Taika-has-made-Thor-gay and roughly the same outpouring of what-are-you-talking-about-Thor-has-always-been-gay?

The teaser has prompted several observers to recall, eyebrow raised, Elliot Page’s rebuke of Pratt for attending Hillsong, an “infamously anti-LGBTQ church”.

Tessa Thompson’s character in the Thor films, Valkyrie, is bisexual, though a scene that made it explicit in the last film ended up on the cutting room floor. Korg, played by Waititi, is also “canonically gay”, but his current status is heartbroken, so he “doesn’t feel brave enough to find love again”. Waititi, meanwhile, starred as half of a pirate couple with Rhys Darby in the recent sleeper hit HBO romcom Our Flag Means Death, which broke new ground in Hollywood for its depiction of an intimate relationship between two New Zealanders.

Three of PM’s trade delegation heading home after positive Covid tests

Three members of the prime minister’s 50-strong trade delegation won’t be able to continue on to Japan after returning positive PCR tests in Singapore last night, reports the Herald.

They are understood to be historic infections, according to the Herald, but Japan’s tough entry rules mean they still won’t be allowed in the country. They won’t have to isolate in Singapore, however, and can fly back to New Zealand when the rest of the group heads to Tokyo tomorrow.

It’s not clear who the three are but Jacinda Ardern is travelling with the trade minister, Damien O’Connor, her partner Clarke Gayford, various ministry officials and 12 trade and business representatives.

All members of the group did PCR tests last night, and will require further negative results before being allowed to fly to Japan.

Centre-right ticket endorsement for Auckland mayoralty imminent

A decision on who, if anyone, the centre-right ticket for Auckland local body elections will formally endorse for the mayoralty is expected any day now. A spokesperson for the C&R group, which broadly echoes the ideological approach of the National Party, told The Spinoff they are currently selecting candidates for wards and local boards, during which “C&R will formally discuss its mayoral strategy (if any) and confirm an endorsement of a mayoral candidate, or not”. C&R has not endorsed a candidate in the super city mayoral race since the first region-wide contest in 2010, when it backed John Banks.

Viv Beck, in an interview with The Spinoff published today, said of C&R, “I do have their support.” She shared the sentiment of Efeso Collins, who has been endorsed by the Labour Party (and subsequently also by the Greens), that backing from such an organisation was critical to a successful campaign. “I’ve had similar advice, that it’s important to have some sort of machinery behind you, which gives you support and endorsement.”

The Labour machine is a more formidable one than C&R, says political commentator and Gone By Lunchtime savant Ben Thomas. “It’s got not just a more established brand, it’s got more activists, more organisation between elections, it can turn out more volunteers, and that gives the left – as we’d call it – a huge structural advantage in terms of the super city,” the former National government press secretary tells BusinessDesk today. It’s a daunting task for the centre-right, he reckons: “Barring an enormous scandal or spending of unprecedented and probably illegal amounts on the campaign, I don’t see how they can close the gap.”

In Wellington, meanwhile, former Green Party chief of staff Tory Whanau remains the only hat thrown in the ring, with incumbent Andy Foster yet to announce his plans and Labour MP Paul Eagle, rumoured to be on the verge of declaring his candidacy, still schtum.

Pressure mounts on Arise Church leader John Cameron

The principal pastor of the New Zealand mega-church Arise has stepped aside following a string of allegations from former interns and parishioners. David Farrier, who broke the story on his Webworm newsletter, told RNZ this morning that over six months he has received more than 400 pages of stories from people detailing their experiences and concerns about internships, tithing, expenditure and the broader culture of the operation. Cameron responded by saying the experiences documented on Webworm had left him “broken and devastated”.

An independent panel has been appointed to assess the claims and the culture of Arise. “John Cameron has voluntarily stepped aside from his pastoral duties, and [his brother] Brent Cameron is currently on leave. They have also resigned from their positions on the Arise Board,” said the church in a statement, though according to Farrier it was not so much a resignation as an interim stand-down. “Whilst he has stepped away from the board … he still had the final decision on who replaced him on that board,” said Farrier. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him back on the board in the future.”

Farrier’s latest post on the story is here.

NZ is open for business: PM’s agenda on first trip abroad in two years

Jacinda Ardern has arrived in Singapore ready to sell Aotearoa to the world. The RNZAF Boeing 757 carrying the prime minister, along with her partner Clarke Gayford, trade minister Damien O’Connor, ministry officials and a 12-strong trade delegation, landed at Singapore’s Changi airport last night NZ time.

The delegation is set to spend two nights in Singapore before flying to Japan for a three-night trip. Today they’ll be officially welcomed to the country at the presidential mansion Istana, before before a sit-down and media conference with prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.

They’re expected to discuss the trans-Pacific trade agreement (CPTPP), reports RNZ. Ardern has already flagged that she is keen to discuss the possibility of enticing the United States to join the pact.

Both prime ministers will also discuss matters of regional security, including China’s proposed security pact with Solomon Islands, which Ardern has described as “gravely concerning”.

Later this evening, Ardern will address Singaporean entrepreneurs and business leaders at a gala dinner promoting NZ trade and tourism.

Speaking to Morning Report this morning, deputy prime minister Grant Robertson, who is acting as PM in Ardern’s absence, said the trip was “an opportunity to talk trade, to talk tourism, it’s a great opportunity to get out there and sell New Zealand. A big part of this is making sure we develop up those tourism markets.”

Japan and Singapore are visa waiver countries, so their residents can fly to New Zealand from May 2 without any isolation or MIQ requirements.

Ardern told the Herald New Zealand’s successful Covid response was a tourism selling point. “They are aware of New Zealand’s Covid response, and the majority view New Zealand more positively as a result of it. Now’s the time to leverage that.

“This is an opportunity for us to be out there talking about the fact that New Zealand’s borders are open.

“Come to New Zealand and you’ll have a great experience because we look after our people – and those people who visit us too.”

PM Jacinda Ardern is greeted on arrival in Singapore (Photo: Craig McCulloch/RNZ)

Nude Tuesday: The local comedy with a gibberish script and nude hiking

The first trailer’s been released for an upcoming New Zealand comedy film that, wait for it, was shot entirely in an improvised and nonsensical language.

Nude Tuesday, which stars Jackie van Beek and Jemaine Clement, had no script and features exclusively gibberish dialogue. The story is told via subtitles that were later written by British comedian and writer Julia Davis.

It’s set for release on June 16 and you can watch the full trailer, in all its rude and nude glory, here.

Image: Supplied

Finance minister expects further rise to inflation

The official inflation figure is expected to rise when it’s released on Thursday, the finance minister has said.

In January the figure hit a 30-year high of 5.9%, and some commentators predict it will hit 7% this week. Speaking to Morning Report, finance minister Grant Robertson said it’s clear the rate is yet to peak. “This is a global phenomenon. It’s driven by supply chain constraints, the impacts of Covid, the war in Ukraine. Everywhere around the world, we’re seeing this. The UK and the US are up over 8% now. So this is something that the whole world is dealing with.”

Asked whether New Zealanders struggling with the cost-of-living crisis could expect relief in the upcoming budget, Robertson indicated that there wasn’t much in the pipeline following the changes to household incomes that came in on April 1, plus the fuel price and public transport fare cuts.

“We’re doing a significant amount to support New Zealanders through this and we’ll always look for further ways that we can do this.”

He again ruled out removing GST from some food items.