Live updates, July 31: Defence chief ‘deeply sorry’ for Burnham failings

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 31. The latest on New Zealand news, politics and the Covid-19 crisis, updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

5.45pm: The day in sum

An inquiry found serious failings by the NZ Defence Force in the wake of 2010’s Operation Burnham raid which killed a number of civilians, but judged its actions in Afghanistan as lawful.

There were no new cases of Covid-19.

Auckland’s Sylvia Park shopping centre shut its food court for cleaning after it emerged a South Korean man who later tested positive for Covid-19 had visited on July 16. The rest of the centre will undergo the same deep cleaning overnight.

The volume of returnees was vastly underestimated by the government, documents relating to the pandemic response revealed. A maximum of 32,000 were expected by October; in reality 33,000 have already arrived.

Judith Collins said she was “not at all worried” about the 1 News-Colmar Brunton poll that showed National more than 20 points behind Labour.

2.55pm: Financial advisor jailed over Ponzi scheme

A former financial advisor will spend at least five years behind bars, for defrauding investors of more than $15 million through a Ponzi scheme.

As RNZ reports, 57-year-old Barry Kloogh appeared in Dunedin District Court today where he was jailed for a maximum of eight years and 10 months.

He had pleaded guilty to 11 charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office in March.

2.25pm: Burnham report – defence chief ‘deeply sorry’ for failings 

Following the release of the inquiry into Operation Burnham this morning, Air Marshal Kevin Short, chief of the defence force, has apologised for providing inaccurate information to the public.

In a press conference this afternoon, Short said he was pleased the inquiry’s report found that personnel operated lawfully, but said it demonstrated that, “we let our frontline service people down through a series of organisational and administrative failings that saw incorrect information provided to ministers and the New Zealand public. And for that, I am deeply sorry.”

“The errors resulted in a number of mistakes over several years and saw inaccurate information about the possibility of civilian casualties given to ministers and New Zealanders. The mistakes were compounded when the inaccuracies were repeated,” he said.

“If we are to maintain the trust and confidence of the people we serve, we must be accountable. We must be better at the way we record, store and retrieve information, and then subsequently present that information to ministers and the public. I will ensure this happens.”

He said he accepted the recommendations made by the report and would work with ministers and other agencies to adopt them. 

More information on the report’s findings is available in the 11am update below.

2.00pm: Māngere candidates’ debate sees clash of values

Four of the candidates vying for votes in South Auckland today took to the stage in front of about 200 people. Our reporter Justin Latif was there, and filed this report:

On a stage normally reserved for midday zumba classes, the Māngere electorate candidates strutted their stuff before a crowd of around 200 people in the suburb’s dilapidated town centre. Labour’s Aupito Su’a William Sio, Minister for Pacfic Peoples, and electorate MP since 2008 appeared alongside National’s Anges Loheni, the Green’s Reverend Peter Sykes and Fuiavailili Ala’ilima from the New Conservatives.

The two-hour long candidates debate began with each candidate trying to establish their unique link to the community. Sio highlighted his local connections as a resident and someone who’s family have grown up and been schooled in and around the area. Ala’ilima and Loheni focused on their Pacific roots, given they both grew up elsewhere, with the New Conservative candidate a relatively new migrant, having been born and raised in Los Angeles, while Loheni grew up on the infamous McGehan Close, Mt Albert, before settling in west Auckland with her family.

Sykes, the only Pakeha on the stage, had in fact lived in the area the longest, having moved to Māngere in the early 90s to undertake community work, a role that has seen him become quite well-known as a prominent advocate for families doing it tough. The discussion got particularly lively during the quickfire Q and A time, as candidates were asked to state their position on cannabis law reform, euthanasia and abortion law reform, and there were plenty of jeers and cheers from the crowd, as candidates expressed their views. Despite all candidates stating their Christian beliefs, all held quite different views on these contentious conscious issues. Sio and Sykes are both supportive of abortion law reform, with Sio stating afterwards that as a Christian, he believes the allowing women the right to choose is an intrinsic value for his faith. He also raised that having led a funeral service for an abandoned baby a few years earlier, the issue of unwanted pregnancies in the Pacific community was something he was looking to address.

Both Ala’ilima and Loheni took the opposing view, citing that changes to abortion, euthanasia were part of a continued eroding of Christian and Pacific values, which as Ala’ilima expressed, was a continuation of Labour’s reforms around marriage equality and prostitution law reform during the early 2000s.

Overall all the candidates had essentially the same goals and aspirations for Māngere, which was for the community to be a place where young people could grow up to reach their potential, through receiving a quality education and securing a meaningful job – with each candidate promising their party could deliver the infrastructure the area so badly needs. While Sio made the claim his party was best placed to deliver on those shared aspirations, Loheni’s final pitch was for people to ‘vote with their values’, a sentiment all the candidates essentially agreed on, with the only differentiation being in what those values were and how they would be applied.

Watch more below:

1.10pm: No new Covid cases; Sylvia Park shuts food court

Updated

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, the Ministry of Health has announced. It’s now been 91 days since the last case of potential community transmission in the country.

Four previously reported cases have now recovered, which brings the total number of active cases in New Zealand’s managed isolation and quarantine facilities to 20.

Meanwhile, Auckland’s Sylvia Park shopping centre has shut its food court after advice from the Ministry of Health. It’s in connection to the man who tested positive after travelling from New Zealand to South Korea. He had travelled there from Auckland, via Christchurch. The ministry said there is still no evidence of community transmission as a result of the traveller. All domestic contacts have returned negative test results.

Full statement from Sylvia Park:

At 10.45am today, we were contacted by the Ministry of Health and advised the man who tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in South Korea visited the Sylvia Park food court on Thursday 16 July, between the hours of 11am to 1pm.

The Ministry has advised this event, which took place over two weeks ago, poses a very low risk but as you’d expect, we’re taking it extremely seriously.

The health and safety of our customers is our top priority, so as a precautionary measure and to help give people piece of mind, we immediately closed the food court and undertook a deep clean of the area. We’ll do the same for the rest of the shopping centre overnight.

On testing

The Ministry of Health has announced targeted testing this weekend, in locations connected to the South Korean case.

This person was in Manurewa and Takanini in South Auckland on June 20 – July 20, Queenstown on July 1-4 and in and around Christchurch Airport on July 20-21.

The DHBs and public health units will be providing community specific information around where and when testing can take place. Information will be available on their websites and on social media.

12.45pm: Ministry to update Covid-19 case data

At 1pm this afternoon, the Ministry of Health will be providing the latest information on new Covid-19 cases. It is expected via press release, which realistically means it could come anytime.

Yesterday, there was one new cases of the coronavirus, in managed isolation. Meanwhile, in Victoria, more than 700 cases were detected.

11.00am: Operation Burnham report released

Updated

The conduct of the NZSAS in Afghanistan was both professional and lawful, the Operation Burnham report has concluded, going against the main allegations made in the book Hit and Run. NZSAS troops, aided by the American military, raided villages in Afghanistan’s Tirgiran Valley in August 2010 after an attack on a NZDF patrol. A number of civilians were killed in the raid, including a child and at least seven men.

Read more: Our political editor Justin Giovannetti has filed this report

Attorney-General David Parker told media that New Zealanders will be shocked at some of the conclusions reached by this report.

“They should have confidence in the fact that the New Zealand SAS on the ground did the right thing, acted completely lawfully, did nothing that was a revenge attack, acted in accordance with international law and did nothing wrong on the night [of the raid] … But in respect of command structures and transparency through to government they will have proper questions,” he said.

Nicky Hager, who co-authored the Hit and Run book, has welcomed the findings in the report. “After nearly ten years of denials, the inquiry has confirmed the main allegations in the book,” Hager said.

Former defence minister Wayne Mapp said he “completely forgot” he had been briefed on the possibility of civilian deaths occurring during Operation Burnham. Speaking on RNZ’s Midday Report, Mapp said, “I’d actually completely forgotten about the briefing when I made those official information answers… I believe it went out of my memory as a result of the death of Leon Smith [the New Zealand soldier killed in Afghanistan in September 2011] and I only have a sketched memory now of receiving the briefing from Colonel Blackwell.

“I should have at that time then spoken to the chief of the defence force and the prime minister’s office and I didn’t do that so I never allowed the opportunity for a proper consideration of that briefing, so that was a failing on my part.”

Asked how he could forget something so significant, Mapp said, “I’ve asked that question of myself a huge amount of times since the issue came up during the inquiry but the reality is I did.”

“You can talk to Jon Stephenson, I never mentioned the briefing to him, and the reason that I didn’t is that I’d completely and totally forgotten about it. I would never do an official information reply knowingly untruthfully, but the reality is I’d forgotten about the briefing. That’s what happened.”

9.00am: Another Friday Covid document dump

This will continue to be updated

The government has released more documents relating to its Covid-19 health response. They are publicly accessible on the Covid-19 website.

This release includes the papers, minutes and key advice for the decisions the Government has made relating to the pandemic up to 29 June, with some additional relevant material from up to 7 July.

Volume of returnees vastly underestimated

Figures released in one of the documents, dating from May 5, show the Ministry of Health expected just over 32,000 New Zealanders to return home by October this year. That was the worst case scenario, with the lowest option being just 13,000 returnees.

However, as of yesterday, almost 33,000 people have returned home – more than two months ahead of when the ministry expected we’d hit that figure.

In May, it was predicted that a roster of approximately 18 hotels and facilities would be used to manage isolation and quarantine. There are currently 32 being used across the country, with 19 in Auckland alone. In determining how the country would handle the volume of returnees, cabinet based the likely flow of travellers on levels seen in the first week of April, which averaged 190 returnees a day. It was expected this would continue for “the next six months”, or until around October. Yesterday saw 415 land at the border.

Fines and prison sentences considered for failing to display QR codes

The lack of uptake of the government’s Covid tracer app has been the subject of discussion in several of Ashley Bloomfield’s media briefings over the last few weeks. But at one stage, the government considered making the display of QR codes at businesses mandatory.

A cabinet document reveals that while the prime minister favoured the voluntary system of displaying QR codes that we have at the moment, there was “a choice to be made about whether the best way to encourage businesses and organisations to download and display a QR code is a voluntary approach, or one that involves a legal requirement and enforcement.”

If the use of QR codes had been made mandatory, the government considered bringing in six-month prison sentences or $4000 fines for “intentional non-compliance.”

Financial assistance to New Zealanders overseas and foreign nationals in New Zealand

Documents in the dump identified two groups of people overseas who need financial assistance: people who left temporarily for holiday, study, or temporary work (such as recipients of the youth mobility visa in the UK), and people living in Australia on special category visas (SCVs). Some New Zealanders temporarily overseas in March were receiving a benefit payment. Usually, main benefits cease if someone’s out of the country for longer than 28 days (or longer than 26 weeks for those on superannuation or a veteran’s pension).

In April, people on benefits who could not return to New Zealand because of Covid-19 were told their benefits would continue to be paid until they could return to the country (although this extension currently only runs through to October). The document notes financial support may be made available to New Zealanders in the UK, that consular support was available to New Zealanders overseas, including the offering of loans for short term financial assistance.

In June, a paper from the office of Poto Williams, minister of the community and voluntary sector, estimates that around 20,000 foreign nationals in New Zealanders were in need of voluntary assistance. An assistance programme was established as a result, offering financial aid to people in New Zealand on temporary work, visitor, and student visas.

The air freight crisis

On March 23, a document details Cabinet’s decision to address the shortfall in airfreight capacity by funding $1.5 to the ministry of transport to administer a funding scheme, not including the $600 million aviation package announced by government. According to the documents, around 80% of air freight was brought into the country via the bellies of passenger aircraft, and prior to the pandemic there were 550 passenger flights coming into the country every week. During March there were around 12 per week. At the time, airfreight capacity was vital for bringing in medicine and PPE, but longer-term airfreight assistance will allow export goods to keep bringing money into the country. The average amount seafood exports alone bring in is $580 million per year.

The pork surplus

In May, the government was buying 2,000 pigs a week (price redacted) in a bid to stop the problem of too many pigs. A decrease in exports meant pig farms were overflowing. Pigs grow quickly, and cramped conditions were a growing animal welfare concern; first for ethical reasons, but the government describes in its report that logistical and “reputational risks” were also an issue. Porcine goods were safely processed and given to foodbanks and charities. Meat importers were told to put goods on ice so we could eat all our local pigs as quickly as possible.

New Zealand’s maritime border strengthened

A cabinet document released as part of the dump reveals the decision-making behind strengthening our maritime border restrictions. It was determined in June that crew or passengers intending to leave a vessel will be subject to managed isolation or quarantine as appropriate – unless they can self-isolate on-board for 14 days after arrival in port.

Time at sea will not be counted toward the 14-day quarantine requirement, unless the vessel has been at sea and has not had contact with another vessel, or any other persons, and crew have not exhibited Covid-19 symptoms, for longer than 28 days.

The document reveals that no longer counting less than 28 days at sea toward the 14-day isolation/quarantine requirement, was proportionate to the objective of preventing the spread of Covid-19 and preventing a re-escalation of alert levels.

Peters wanted more money for racing industry

Winston Peters’ “make racing great again” package gave horse racing industry players a hefty $72.5 million, but he wanted more. The package’s size was determined by what was needed to keep the racing industry transition agency (RITA), which runs the TAB, from shutting down and losing its thousands of employees. Peters’ draft policy asks for up to $75 million to keep RITA from closing down the TAB ($56 million), supporting racing codes ($14 million), and national sporting organisations ($5 million). The final package allowed $2 million for campaigning to attract punters back to racecourses.

8.00am: Simon Bridges on his tenure, politics, and yaks

Just over two months ago, Simon Bridges was rolled as the leader of the opposition. This week he opened up about his tenure, the state of politics in New Zealand and, of course, the baby yaks.

This from The Spinoff’s editor Toby Manhire

Simon Bridges did not hide his disappointment when the National Party caucus turfed him from the leadership. He was visibly angry. But in the weeks that followed something fascinating began to happen: like a man who had emerged from a suit of heavy armour, he seemed suddenly full of spring, unburdened. In a series of social media posts – most notably a stroll with a baby yak – Bridges was rejuvenated, relatable, at ease.

“Being in leadership, and being in opposition, is hard,” said Bridges in a candid hour-long conversation with Danyl Mclauchlan at Meow in Wellington on Wednesday night as part of The Spinoff Members / Verb Wellington Politics in Pubs series.

You can read more and watch the full interview on The Spinoff right now

7.55am: Battle of the minor parties; Act comes out on top

While TVNZ’s new poll brought good news for Labour, it was a different story for its coalition friends. The Greens are sitting on about 5% – the exact threshold required to see them return to parliament if they don’t win any electorate seats. New Zealand First is languishing on just 2%, meaning they’d be gone in September.

On the flipside, David Seymour would be twerking his way back to parliament with five friends, based on the current poll. It has the Act Party on 5%. That is the party’s highest polling in 17 years. Seymour told RNZ the poll is simply a “snapshot in time” and there is still a long way to go until election night. “What the election is really about is ‘how does New Zealand adapt to a completely changed world?'”

He said his party has taken principled stands on issues like free speech and gun law reform in the last parliamentary term.

Seymour said that if he had the chance to be a minister in a centre right government come September, he’d be prepared to turn it down – like he did under John Key.

7.50am: Collins not worried by new poll

Another poll means another morning of media for Judith Collins as she attempts to defend its result

The TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll has Labour on 53%, with National languishing more than 20 points behind on 32%. That’s an improvement on the “rogue” Newshub poll from the weekend, which had the party on just 25%. But it’s still not enough to form a government in September.

Collins told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking she was “not at all worried” about the 1 News-Colmar Brunton poll. “It’s only two weeks in [to my leadership],” Collins said. “I think people are saying at least Judith gets on with the job and that’s what you want.”

As if on cue, Collins trotted out the usual line about the polling being significantly lower than internal polling. Those results leaked earlier in the week, and show National a few points higher on roughly 36%.

Collins reckoned that the tide would turn in her favour when the current tranche of the wage subsidy ends at the start of September.

Read TVNZ’s full coverage of the poll here.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The latest poll for National is much better than how they started the week, but they’re still down in a couple of crucial ways. First of all, their result of 32% in the One News Colmar-Brunton poll is much better than the 25% they got in Newshub’s poll to start the week. But it’s also down 6 points on where National were in the last ONCB poll, and also below the internal polling that leaked out of the caucus room during the week. And most importantly of all, National are still miles away from catching up to Labour, who have risen in the ONCB poll to 53%. The last one of these was taken in June, during the brief National leadership of Todd Muller, and before the several weeks of chaos we’ve just seen.

The poll also revealed an important point for National going into the election – the base is firmly behind Judith Collins as leader. She scored 20% in the preferred PM stakes, which is much higher than either Simon Bridges or Muller achieved. She also had a better general approval rating than either of her two predecessors. But on the question of trust, she’s still trailing behind PM Jacinda Ardern by a huge margin. That once again highlights the difficulty she’s going to face, as a polarising figure for the wider country.

Two other parties had significant figures in last night’s poll: Act are now up to 5% for the first time in well over a decade, meaning that even in the vanishingly unlikely circumstances of party leader David Seymour losing Epsom, they could theoretically still cross the threshold needed to automatically get MPs. And NZ First haven’t moved at all from 2%, with party leader Winston Peters rated as the least trustworthy leader of a parliamentary party in the poll.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

The 1 News-Colmar Brunton poll offered slightly better news for National than Sunday night’s bleak Newshub numbers.

The leaking of private Covid-19 patient data was politically motivated, a new report found.

There was one new case of the coronavirus, in managed isolation. Meanwhile in Victoria, there were more than 700 new cases.

Another person absconded from an isolation hotel in Auckland, only to be arrested 100m down the road.

A New Conservative candidate criticised vandals for graffitiing his election hoarding – to later find out it was Photoshop.

National’s housing spokesperson claimed the party built 30,000 state homes, when they really built 3,000.

Read yesterday’s live updates here



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