Live updates, February 1: Zero new Covid-19 cases; NZ ‘deeply concerned’ about Myanmar coup

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 1. Contact us at info@spinoff.co.nz. Keep The Spinoff ticking by donating  here. 

5.45pm: NZ ‘deeply concerned’ about Myanmar coup

The minister of foreign affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, has issued a statement in response to events in Myanmar (see 1.45pm). Here it is, in full:

“Aotearoa New Zealand is deeply concerned by the military’s seizure of power in Myanmar. New Zealand is a long-standing supporter of Myanmar’s democratic transition.

“We call for the swift release of all those political actors detained, including State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, and for a rapid return to civilian rule.

“An election has taken place and the democratic will of the people must be respected. We confirm our support for Myanmar’s democratic institutions and the rule of law.

New Zealand officials continue to closely monitor the situation in Myanmar. Consular advice is for New Zealanders in Myanmar to avoid any unnecessary travel for the time being and to monitor media reporting for the most up-to-date information.”

4.30pm: Rules that curb council power to create Māori wards to be binned

New legislation to uphold council decisions to establish Māori wards will be introduced, local government minister Nanaia Mahuta has announced.

The first part of the reform would see transitional measures introduced to enable the establishment of Māori wards ahead of the 2022 local elections. Under the existing law a council decision to introduce a Māori ward can be overturned by a local poll, with only 5% support needed for a poll to be demanded.

“The process of establishing a ward should be the same for both Māori and general wards. These are decisions for democratically-elected councils, who are accountable to the public every three years,” said Mahuta in a statement. “Polls have proven to be an almost insurmountable barrier to councils trying to improve the democratic representation of Māori interests. This process is fundamentally unfair to Māori.”

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer cheered the announcement. “I’m stoked that we will be getting rid of this racist provision in our electoral laws. Today’s announcement is a huge win for all of us who have stood up against racism and who have fought for Māori wards in local government,” she said.

3.30pm: Bill Hammond has died

Some sad news from the art world: painter Bill Hammond has died in Christchurch, aged 74. One of the greatest painters of his generation, he was probably best known for the Placemakers series, which featured his extraordinary, bewitching human-bird characters. RNZ has more here. Meantime watch this Sam Neill narrated account of his Fall of Icarus (1995).

 

1.45pm: Aung San Suu Kyi detained in Myanmar

The leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been detained by the military, along with other senior figures in the ruling party, Reuters reports. A spokesperson for the National League for Democracy told the news wire service, “I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law.”

There are concerns that a military coup is under way, following a week which saw the military challenge the government over the legality of the recent election.

1.30pm: No new Covid cases

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in the community and no new cases at the border, the minister for the Covid response, Chris Hipkins, has announced.

All but five guests who were staying at the Pullman when the latest cases were believed to have been transmitted have now returned negative tests. Those five, in two family bubbles, are being tested today.

Overall 3,017 tests were completed yesterday. There is one case deemed recovered, while the case recorded yesteday is now considered historic. That means the total number of current cases is now 69.

Asked about the impact of the Perth situation (see 11am) on plans for a trans-Tasman bubble, Hipkins said he did not believe it changed anything. He said he was not going to “pass judgment” on any Australian state’s decisions but that a similar scenario may not require a lockdown if it happened in New Zealand.

The last returnee should leave the Pullman by the end of the week, and it would remain closed until at least February 15. While it was empty, systems including CCTV will be upgraded, and all processes at the hotel reviewed.

The New Zealand government had no reason to believe that the arrival of vaccines in New Zealand would be affected by the current dispute over supply in Europe, said Hipkins.

Asked whether New Zealand should be looking to manufacture its own supply of vaccines, Hipkins said the necessary infrastructure to do so at scale did not exist for the “immediate challenge”, but they were exploring “whether we should be developing the capacity to do that in the future”.

Watch the briefing here:

12.05pm: National to ‘work towards’ standing in Māori seats

After a six-election absence, the National Party intends to field candidates in the seven Māori electorates in 2023, the party has confirmed.

“National has been absent from the Māori electorate contest for too long,” said Collins, who made the announcement alongside the party president, Peter Goodfellow, at the summer caucus retreat (see 10am). “We are a party for all New Zealanders. Everything we do, we do with the aim of making New Zealand a better, more prosperous country for everyone.

She added: “At the core of this is giving every New Zealander a voice in parliament – making sure their interests and aspirations are at the heart of every political decision we make. With this in mind, the National Party believes we should be doing everything possible to represent every New Zealander, and will work towards having candidates in as many of the Māori seats as possible going forward.”

National has not had a candidate on the ballot in the seats since 2002, and later installed a policy calling for the abolition of the seats. In 2014, John Key said that while that remained policy, they could never do so without the support of Māori. It would otherwise invite, said the then leader, “hikois from hell”.

11.00am: Perth goes into lockdown as Uber driver tests positive

Parts of Western Australia will go back into lockdown for five days from 6pm today after a positive test was returned by a security guard was reportedly also working as an Uber driver. The lockdown covers the Perth metropolitan region, Peel and South West regions. Overnight there were reports of panic buying in the city.

Schools, most workplaces, pubs, gyms and places of worship will close. Residents will only be able to leave home for grocery shopping, exercise, medical needs or to care for the vulnerable.

State premier Mark McGowan said: “This is a very serious situation, and each and every one of us has to do everything we personally can to stop the spread in the community. We have acted decisively and swiftly in these circumstances. In effect, for a short period of time, we are going back to what we experienced in March and April of last year.”

Meanwhile, the suspension of green zone entry for New Zealanders travelling to Australia, prompted by the community cases that emerged from the Pullman hotel, has now been lifted.

Face masks will be compulsory when outdoors as part of Perth’s lockdown, beginning this evening. Photo: Getty Images

10.00am: Don’t play and miss, Collins tells National MPs

The National caucus summer retreat is under way at – where else? – the world’s greatest cricket ground, the Basin Reserve in Wellington. And party leader Judith Collins has taken the opportunity to warn her MPs not to waft their bats at balls outside the off-stump.

Stuff’s Henry Cooke reports that Collins urged them to resist “taking the bait” and avoid being derailed from their own policy priorities. “Being in Opposition, you can get very reactive to what’s going on,” she said.

“One of the problems with that is that we can lose track of our own line of work, what we’re doing, and we can end up getting very diverted, and distracted, by things that are thrown across the line for us to pick up and run with.”

And 2021 was a rebuilding for the party year, she said. “This is our opportunity to really rebuild. To work together. To enjoy each other’s company and to learn to trust and respect each other for everything that we do.”

Read the full story here.

8.00am: The weekend’s Covid news

The good news is there wasn’t much of it. There was one new case reported in managed isolation on each of Saturday and Sunday. Critically, there have been no positive tests in the community, with all contacts of the three cases that were recently detected in the community returning negative results.

As Auckland residents enjoy a long anniversary weekend, there is increasing confidence that the cases have not led to community transmission, more than 45,000 tests processed in the seven days up to and including Saturday.

The worries remain, however, about transmission within MIQ facilities. The Pullman, which is gradually being wound down for a reassessment, has introduced new requirements for returnees. The main points:

  • After having having had their 11 or 12-day test, they will be required to stay in their rooms until they get a negative test result and are advised they can depart the facility.
  • Returnees departing the Pullman will be required to have a day 5 post-departure test and stay at home until a negative test result is returned.

A reminder:

7.30am: The Bulletin today

This morning’s Bulletin leads with yesterday’s Climate Change Commission report. Read the Bulletin in full here – get it in your inbox every morning by subscribing here.

The Climate Change Commission has released a major report setting out the changes that will need to be made for New Zealand to meet international emissions obligations. Commission chair Dr Rod Carr described it as “ambitious but achievable.”  There will now be a period of consultation, and at a certain point the government will be legally required to respond to the plan, either accepting it and implementing it as policy, or setting out one of its own. An exceptionally useful wrap of it all has been put together by Justin Giovannetti, who read the massive text while it was under embargo, and I’d highly encourage you to read his piece.

The key points are this: Using existing technology, and without requiring high tax increases or a painful contraction in economic activity, the policy settings of the country can be changed so that we achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. But the swathe of changes needed is vast, and has to happen quickly. The list of actions is comprehensive, rather than a pick and choose grab bag. Moreover, carbon neutrality is only one target over what will be needed over the coming century – at some stage we’re going to have to start reducing carbon levels.

Climate scientists have come out positively to the report. The Science Media Centre collected reactions, and there was a pretty common theme. As Associate Professor Anita Wreford from the Deep South Challenge put it, “the report emphasises the fact that our current direction is not enough to meet the net-zero target, and we need to change course in the next few years to be able to achieve the target (which we must, to play our part in the global effort to avoid the worst impacts of climate change). That last point about the global effort is potentially more relevant to business than it appears – with the US swinging back towards trying to take an international leadership position on the issue, New Zealand exporters may find themselves pariahs if we don’t follow suit.

A few key changes required stand out. Stuff’s climate team reports a lot of it will revolve around carbon emissions for transport. They’ll need to come down quickly, with an import ban on new petrol cars considered necessary at some stage in the coming years. Similarly, jobs are likely to be lost in the oil and gas sector, though many of those people are likely to be skilled and able to find work in emerging energy industries. On Radio NZ’s news this morning, the vehicle lobby described the changes as too ambitious, and said incentives for EVs will be required.

Agriculture faces lower stocking levels, and land use change towards native forests, rather than necessarily plantation forests. One thing that will need to be tidied up is the current policy, according to a farmer quoted by Stuff in the days before the report was released, who said that currently native bush is sometimes being felled to make way for pine – a poor outcome for a range of reasons.

So far, PM Jacinda Ardern has indicated support for the advice given, reports the NZ Herald. “The Commission’s draft advice sets out an achievable blueprint for New Zealand to become a prosperous, low-emissions economy. The positive news is that the government’s actions to date have laid much of the groundwork for the transition but that more is now required,” said Ardern. The term “groundwork” is arguably doing a lot of work there, given important and probably tougher political decisions are now required. In a Morning Report interview, climate change minister James Shaw suggested that various sectors might end up pointing the finger at others, in order to reduce the burden on themselves – a difficult challenge for the government to navigate. The politics of it all are very sharply analysed by Stuff’s Henry Cooke. Activist groups like Generation Zero, and the school strikers, have also come out in support for the Commission’s report, provided urgent action is actually taken.

To give my own opinion on the matter: There are likely to be people who think the timeline will be too hard and fast to bring everyone along, and suffering will be created as a result. One has to wonder whether anyone who over the decades delayed action, or denied a need for it to take place, is feeling responsible at all right now. The world effectively took out a loan against the future, and the interest payments have been building. If only we hadn’t left paying the bill so late.


A terminally ill man has been granted a managed isolation place so that he can see his family one last time, after a public appeal. Stuff reports Trev Ponting’s case was reviewed when it hit the headlines, however no reason for the change was given. It follows several similar stories with the different outcomes, such as The Wiggles being granted places for a tour, and a cruise ship being denied after appearing to brazenly push towards New Zealand waters, despite not having places organised for much of the crew.

On the story of Ponting, it’s a complicated one. On the one hand it’s only human to be happy for his family that they will have this, and it’s hard to begrudge either the reversal, or the efforts made to publicise his case. But it also raises questions. Are MIQ decisions being made on the basis of media attention? And with places limited, is there truly any fair way to allocate them, or measure one need against another?

Meanwhile, some foolish funny business has been going on in a managed isolation facility. Stuff’s Steve Kilgallon reports an MIQ staffer has been sacked, after having a 20-minute (not my euphemism) “encounter” in the bedroom of a returnee. Both parties have since returned negative tests, so it is believed that there is a low risk of an outbreak as a result of the… well, whatever it is that happened in there.


The UK will apply to join the CPTPP trade bloc, which includes New Zealand. The BBC reports it’s one of the bigger post-Brexit trade moves made by the country, and if successful, the UK would become the second largest economy in the bloc. Trade negotiations are currently underway between NZ and the UK. For the UK, the gains from joining may be somewhat limited, but there’s the outside chance the US will decide that once again it wants in, which would represent a big prize for the Brits.


The Waitaki District Council will be meeting today to discuss a potential rates increase, reports the ODT. That’s not exactly a massive story in and of itself – councils do it all the time. But a particular quote from mayor Gary Kircher about increased costs on councils, “many coming from decisions by central government that impact council. The most significant of these is the Three Waters review programme”. Expect to see more stories like this over the course of the year.

Sticking with rates (please, bear with me) this is a fascinating piece about councils hitting commercial forestry with increases. Farmers Weekly has reported on the moves taking place in predominantly rural districts, generally far higher than what applies to rural (farming) land. There’s an element of it that feels like rural political machines flexing their muscles – farmers are more numerous and politically dominant at the local level, and many have raised concerns about land conversions. The justification given for the higher rates on forestry is the increased costs of road maintenance from forestry trucks, and the lower economic benefits provided to regions by forestry.


An interesting business story about one of our low-key most important exports – kiwifruit. It’s a knotty story, concerning the regulation of monopoly Zespri, and their patented brand of kiwifruit being grown by counterfeit operations in China. As Stuff’s Thomas Manch reports, Kiwifruit New Zealand has declined to approve a deal that would allow Zespri to buy up one of the counterfeiters, in a bid to stop the flow of unlicensed fruit. The full proposal Zespri made to KNZ hasn’t been made public, but the bid was turned down on the grounds of creating potential risk for New Zealand growers.


The NZ Herald’s Georgina Campbell has covered the chances of congestion charging coming to the city – central government isn’t keen, but something of an alliance is forming in Wellington local politics around the idea. Here’s an excerpt:

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster campaigned on congestion charging. He’s more interested in it as an alternative revenue tool to rates, while [GWRC chair Daran] Ponter is focused on mode shift. 

But Foster was caught on the hop in the first months of his mayoralty, discovering the Government had quietly ruled out congestion charging for Wellington during Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) negotiations he wasn’t a part of.

The new mayor claimed the first he’d heard of it was when the Herald approached him for comment in response to the Government’s position. Foster said at the time that taking away the option of congestion charging in Wellington would be a “literal roadblock”.

7.00am: White rabbits

It’s February already.




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