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Chris v Chris as PM delivers first parliamentary address

It’s Tuesday, February 21 and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates – made possible by our members. Today: the ongoing recovery after Cyclone Gabrielle and the return of MPs to parliament.

I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, reach me on

The agenda


Chris v Chris as PM delivers first parliamentary address

It’s Tuesday, February 21 and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates – made possible by our members. Today: the ongoing recovery after Cyclone Gabrielle and the return of MPs to parliament.

I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, reach me on

The agenda

Feb 21 2023

Watch: Elements of Truth goes behind Jami-Lee Ross’ 2020 campaign

Jami-Lee Ross at a 2020 anti-lockdown march along Queen Street (Photo: Elements of Truth)

The Jami-Lee Ross saga is one of the most explosive in New Zealand’s political history.

After a dramatic falling out with the National Party he had represented for close to a decade, Ross sought a return to politics as co-leader of Advance NZ – a new party formed alongside rising conspiracy theorist Billy Te Kahika Jr. In 2020, director Tony Sutorius (Campaign) was with Ross on the campaign trail every step of the way as he attempted a parliamentary comeback that seemed doomed from the beginning.

But how does a former senior MP reconcile working with an outsider like Te Kahika? And how much of the misinformation Advance NZ promoted did Ross himself actually believe? In Elements of Truth, those questions, and more, are finally answered.

Elements of Truth is made with the support of NZ On Air.

Chris and Chris set out their stalls for the year in politics

Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon.

Toby Manhire at parliament:

In his first appearance in the House of Representatives as prime minister, Chris Hipkins said today that in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle “the worthy will sometimes have to make way for the urgent”. He reiterated his focus on the “basics”, saying that included the pledge to “build back better” after the natural disaster of last week, saying there was “nothing more basic and critical for the government”. It was, said Hipkins, “not the time for austerity”.

In what was perhaps a jibe at National MP Maureen Pugh, who earlier today appeared not to believe the scientific consensus on climate change, Hipkins said: “We are well past the point where we should question the impact of human beings on climate change.”

The speech delivered today has almost certainly undergone numerous rewrites since Hipkins became prime minister. His first month in the job has seen two of the most devastating weather events in New Zealand’s history, resulting in a national state of emergency and a potentially billion-dollar clean-up effort.

Christopher Luxon responded by pledging to be “supportive and constructive” in the post-Gabrielle response, but adding that he was “deeply, deeply sceptical” of the government’s ability to deliver what was required, citing Kiwbuild, light rain in Auckland, the polytech merger and Three Waters as examples of failures. Luxon, and all leaders who spoke this afternoon, paid tribute to those who had joined the emergency response after the devastation across the North Island. He singled out the forestry industry as requiring regulatory overhaul.

Lead ministers assigned for cyclone-stricken regions

Chris Hipkins and Carmel Sepuloni leave a press briefing during Cyclone Gabrielle (Image: Toby Manhire)

A team of ministers will form a new “Extreme Weather Recovery Committee”, the prime minister has confirmed.

It was revealed yesterday that Grant Robertson would be the new minister for cyclone recovery. That means he will chair the new cabinet committee that includes “lead ministers” tasked with overseeing the cyclone response in regions affected by the devastating weather.

The ministerial leads are:

  • Northland: Kelvin Davis
  • Auckland and Coromandel: Michael Wood
  • Waikato: Nanaia Mahuta
  • Tairāwhiti and Bay of Plenty: Kiri Allan
  • Hawke’s Bay: Stuart Nash
  • Tararua and Wairarapa: Kieran McAnulty

” I want to acknowledge the work of mayors and regional council chairs to date in the response to Cyclone Gabrielle. They will continue to play a leading role in the recovery,” said Hipkins.

“A key lesson from the Christchurch earthquakes was the importance of local knowledge and input into decision-making. Working alongside mayors and chairs, these local leads will ensure local voices are heard and acted on.”

Other senior ministers, including the PM, will sit on the cabinet committee. Megan Woods will be responsible for infrastructure and housing and Carmel Sepuloni will be responsible for the social sector. Willie Jackson and Meka Whaitiri will also be members.

The Olympics of kapa haka kicks off today in Tāmaki Makaurau

Te Matatini opens in Auckland (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Ōkahu Bay Reserve is humming with bustling piupiu, the sound of pūtātara and bobbing yellow umbrellas. This morning, Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrākei, hosts of this year’s Te Matatini, welcomed over 1,000 manuhiri, through a constructed waharoa to mark the beginning of the competition – often described as the Olympics of kapa haka.

Forty-five groups will take the stage at Eden Park over the next three days in the hopes of making it to the finals on Saturday.

Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrākei chair Marama Royal said they were anticipating around 20,000 guests each day for the competition at Eden Park. “For us it’s a huge honour to be the host of Te Matatini,” she said. “The last time we did this was in 2002.”

Te Matatini opens in Auckland (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

For the Auckland iwi that’s also been responding to the January floods and Cyclone Gabrielle, it’s been a massive job. “Logistically it’s absolutely huge,” Royal said. Around 400 volunteers will work across this week to ensure the event runs smoothly and that manuhiri are fed.

For today’s pōwhiri, they’re keen to make a statement through kai. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei ringawera will be preparing “multicultural kai” to serve the kapa haka teams, whānau, tutors and more in a celebration of the diverse food culture in Tāmaki Makaurau.

“When you go to the marae you always remember what you get fed, you don’t remember much else,” she said. “Your reputation hangs on your kai.” TVNZ Te Matatini presenter Matai Smith underscored the importance of the competition to The Spinoff, saying, “it’s like an elite sport”.

Te Matatini opens in Auckland (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

This year’s competition marks 51 years since the festival’s inception, and the last event planned in 2021 was cancelled because of the pandemic. Te Matatini event organisers have been helping teams affected by last week’s cyclone get to Auckland with extra travel support, as well as offering a $10,000 koha. “The feeling ahead of Te Matatini is always exciting,” Smith said.

But the circumstances surrounding the last four years, along with the Eden Park location, “just adds to the excitement and adrenaline”. The pōwhiri today is a culmination of years of hard work and dedication. And tomorrow at 8.15am, the competition commences. “From the first strum of the guitar, from the first blow of the conch, it’s game time.”

Read more: A beginner’s guide to Te Matatini 2023

Streaming tonight: New short doco Elements of Truth

Jami-Lee Ross (Photo: Elements of Truth)

It’s one of the most explosive moments in New Zealand’s political history. Now, director Tony Sutorius (Campaign) lifts the lid on the Jami-Lee Ross saga in Elements of Truth. After a fallout with National that threatens to bring the entire party down with it, Jami-Lee Ross seeks a return to politics as co-leader of Advance NZ. As Ross leads a campaign that seems doomed from the start, Sutorius is with him every step of the way – from public meetings, to the Newshub Nation studio, and inside his own home.

Streaming tonight here on The Spinoff, Elements of Truth provides exclusive insight into a former senior MP turned political outcast as he attempts to stage a dramatic political comeback.

Elements of Truth is made with the support of NZ On Air.

National MP ‘waiting on evidence’ of man-made climate change


A National MP has told reporters that she’s still “waiting on evidence” that humans have contributed to climate change.

Maureen Pugh, who is a list MP based on the West Coast, made the comments as politicians returned to parliament this morning.

“I have yet to see the response from [climate change minister] James Shaw where one of our local councils wrote to him and asked him for the evidence,” Pugh said, as reported by Newshub. “I am waiting on the evidence from the minister… I have yet to see what the evidence is that they are providing about that.”

In case you have somehow missed it, there is international consensus (e.g. “evidence”) that humans have impacted climate change.

Pugh did say she believed in climate change, but implied it was something of a cycle. “If I think back to the two cyclones that we had that impacted Tasman and the West Coast in 2018, back-to-back cyclones, they are just things nature throws at us,” she said.

The remarks were quickly rebuffed by National’s own deputy leader, Nicola Willis, who said she would be “raising” the issue with Pugh directly – and offering her a lot of resources. “She’s going to be doing a lot of reading,” Willis said, according to Newstalk ZB’s Aaron Dahmen.

Pugh was once infamously described as “fucking useless” in leaked comments by ex-National leader Simon Bridges. She also once claimed not to believe in pharmaceutical drugs and – albeit briefly – publicly supported the Convoy 2022 movement that descended on parliament last year.

Big news: Harry Styles did a shoey


Pop superstar Harry Styles will be in New Zealand early next month for one mega show at Mount Smart Stadium.

He’s currently in Australia where, as was reported across all of Twitter, he did a “shoey” live on stage.

That’s the update – and here’s the damning footage.

NZ’s biggest stars line up for charity concert

Neil Finn performs with Crowded House at Spark Arena on March 19. (Photo by Dave Simpson/WireImage)

Lorde is among headliners for an upcoming charity concert to benefit those impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle.

The Christchurch gig, which will be MC’d by Mike McRoberts, will also feature the likes of Neil Finn, Marlon Williams and L.A.B. Many of the acts will already be in the city for the Electric Avenue festival.

All profits from the $129.90-a-head concert will be donated to the Red Cross.

Finn, in comments reported by Stuff, said it was “natural and fitting” that people should gather to listen to music and raise money for those whose lives have been upended. “I am grateful to have this opportunity to lend a hand,” he said.

Tickets go on sale from 2pm today via

Neil Finn performs with Crowded House at Spark Arena. (Photo by Dave Simpson/WireImage)

Rumoured ‘truancy officer’ scheme confirmed

Jan Tinetti speaks to reporters (Getty Images)

It’s been widely picked since before the news cycle was dominated by Cyclone Gabrielle – and today the government has confirmed a plan to curb declining school attendance numbers.

The $74 million package includes 82 new attendance or “truancy” officers and more support for the attendance service.

Education minister Jan Tinetti said it will also make sure there is “better data” that is less likely to be misconstrued. “The decline in school attendance began in 2015, but the pandemic has exacerbated the issue. We need to be doing more to help schools and kura support students who are not attending or engaged in education,” Tinetti said.

The new attendance officers will work with students who have low or declining attendance rates to ensure they are going to school every day unless they are sick, the minister added.

“This is a complex issue that will require the whole community, including parents, to fix but the government is committed to doing everything it can turn attendance and engagement in school around.”

Minister Jan Tinetti (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Parliament kicks off properly for the year today

Previewing the day ahead and recapping the announcements on cyclone recovery yesterday, Toby Manhire writes “The storms of last week will rightly permeate almost every exchange in parliament in the days to come.” By chance, the first three government orders of the day relate to natural hazards, climate change and emergency services.

The third reading of the bill to replace the Earthquake Commission Act and rename the Earthquake Commission to the Natural Hazards Commission feels especially pointed.

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.  

Hipkins pushes back at lawlessness claims

PM Chris Hipkins fronts a press conference (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

The prime minister has asked anyone concerned about reports of rising crime in cyclone-stricken regions to report it directly to the police.

There have been claims circulating in the media of people threatening checkpoint guards with guns, looting and issues with gangs.

Chris Hipkins told Newstalk ZB that the police had looked into many of the reports and so far hadn’t been able to substantiate them. For example, the sound of gunshots had turned out to be fireworks and a reports of people filming (ostensibly so they could later loot) turned out to be “disaster tourism”.

Police had only received a “third or fourth hand account” of the allegations a gun was pulled on a worker. “They haven’t actually been able to speak to anyone who might’ve witnessed that directly.”

About 145 extra police have been dispatched to Hawke’s Bay, said Hipkins. There had been a rise in domestic violence, but the overall crime rate had declined since Cyclone Gabrielle. (You can read more in today’s Bulletin about why women are more vulnerable after a disaster)

Earlier, police commissioner Andrew Coster reiterated that the crime rate was “below normal”.

He added: “Our people are incredibly visible there at the moment. They have done hundreds of reassurance patrols. They are doing an incredible job not only dealing with impacts on their families but the community.”

Hipkins told RNZ that there was now a “much smaller number” of people that were still uncontactable in the worst impacted regions. He did not have an exact number. On the new support package announced last night, Hipkins defended the time it took to get it rolled out when compared with previous disaster responses. “We have to acknowledge that the extent of the damage will be highly variable,” he said. A wage subsidy had not been ruled out.

Meanwhile, in an entirely unrelated line of questioning, the prime minister ruled out a snap election (as rumours continue to swirl) when asked on Newstalk ZB.