Live updates, June 1: Collins responds to criticism of ‘head butt’ tweet; just 13 active Covid cases in NZ

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 1, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

In Canterbury and want to find the latest information? Click here.

3.15pm: Ex-MP calls for limit to parliamentary terms

Former National MP Chris Finlayson has argued there should be a limit to the number of terms an MP can spend in parliament.

It comes after Nick Smith announced he would be stepping down on June 10 after 30 years in parliament.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB, Finlayson said MPs can become institutionalised after too long in the beehive.

“There should be term limits of about 15 years and then you should have a compulsory sabbatical,” he said. “If you want to come back, it’s over to you, but you’d be pretty stupid to.”

Finlayson said that after being out of politics for a while, the “rituals of parliament” seemed boring and he’s pleased to be free from them.

“You get away from that petty adversarial rubbish and you can get on and do something creative,” he added.

2.20pm: Will climate change mean flooding becomes more common?

While the weather is beginning to ease in Canterbury, the impact of the recovery is only just beginning.

Victoria University climate scientist James Renwick told the Science Media Centre that as global warming continues to worsen, we could see more examples of the heavy rainfall and floods that we’ve seen over the past 72 hours.

Here’s an extract from his comments: 

As the climate warms, there is more moisture in the air on average, so when it rains it is likely to rain harder than it used to. That’s why we expect the occurrence of heavy rainfalls and floods to increase over time as it continues to warm up. At the same time, the very heaviest rains are getting heavier, so records will be broken and the once-rare events will become more commonplace. Unfortunately, the terrible damage we’ve seen done in Canterbury over the past couple of days is something we are likely to see more often in future.

Increased flooding leads to increased ponding of water and the need for bigger stormwater drains. If water is unable to drain away safely, there is the danger of stormwater mixing with sewage or other pollutants, which can lead to the contamination of water supplies and the risk of disease, on top of the direct damage that flooding does. One important way to adapt to climate change is to build stormwater and drainage infrastructure that is more able to cope with extreme flows.

Read more expert comments here

2.00pm: National MPs ‘surprised’ by Nick Smith’s sudden resignation

A number of National MPs claim to have been blindsided by Nick Smith’s resignation announcement – and say they had no idea about a “verbal altercation” in the outgoing MP’s office.

Smith will quit politics on June 10 after announcing his resignation yesterday, citing an imminent media report about an employment issue involving him. So far, no media report has eventuated.

National’s deputy leader Shane Reti told Stuff the first heard of Smith’s resignation when it was announced in a press release.

“I was surprised, then I pondered for a moment, and then I got on with my work,” Reti said. “I’m not making any comments on the issue between Nick Smith and Parliamentary Service, that’s an employment-related matter.”

Chris Bishop also told media he was only aware of Smith’s resignation when the press release arrived, and Simon Bridges said he was not aware of an investigation into Smith when he was leader last year.

The party’s chief whip Matt Doocey was the only MP who admitted being aware of the investigation prior to yesterday – but did not reveal any further details.

1.10pm: Five people still being sought by health officials after returning from Melbourne

Five people who returned to New Zealand from Melbourne at the time of the recent outbreak have still not been contacted by health officials.

The Ministry of Health said that 4539 people flew from Melbourne between May 20 and 25. All of those people were required to self-isolate until testing negative for Covid-19. The remaining five people have been referred to people-finding services, the ministry said.

“Anyone who has been in Victoria since May 11 needs to keep checking the Victorian government website as locations of interest are being continually added,” said a spokesperson. “If they have been at a location of interest, they should call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for further information.”

The ministry said around 1,200 individuals have already returned to Australia, while others are infants who are not required to be tested. “We are now matching testing records with passenger departures… We expect to be able to provide a fuller picture on testing numbers tomorrow.”

Under the current section 70 health notice, travellers wanting to return to Melbourne are not permitted to do so until they have returned a negative test result.

Meanwhile, there are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand in either managed isolation or the community.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand today is just 13.

12.15pm: Canterbury flooding declared an ‘adverse event’, extra support announced

Half a million dollars has been made available for farmers and growers impacted by flooding in Canterbury.

Agriculture minister Damien O’Connor said the flooding has now been declared a “medium-scale adverse event”, with funding subsequently “unlocked” to help speed up the recovery of farming businesses.

“The money will be used for recovery grants, to enable the region’s three Rural Support Trusts to provide extra help to farmers, and for other flood assistance where needed,” O’Connor said.

Further funding could be made available as the “full extent of the flooding becomes clearer,” he added.

O’Connor is in the region along with the civil defence minister Kris Faafoi and prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who is set to speak in about an hour’s time.

A state of emergency is still in place in Canterbury, with O’Connor saying the “scale of impact” is beyond the communities’ ability to cope.

Other recovery measures being considered include an “enhanced taskforce green work programme” to assist with clean-up and recovery, rural assistance payments to help farmers with essential living costs, and flexibility through the income equalisation scheme.

11.20am: Collins responds to criticism of ‘head butt’ tweet

Judith Collins has denied conflating “hongi” with a “head butt” after responding to a tweet that appeared to make that connection.

After Collins said she was looking forward to meeting Australian prime minister Scott Morrison yesterday, a user told her to “treat him like a civilised human being” and not to “head butt him”.

Twitter users widely interpreted the tweet to be racist, and Collins faced criticism after replying: “Indeed…”

Judith Collins’ tweet of May 31.

A National Party spokesperson told The Spinoff the tweet – which has not yet been deleted – was simply a misunderstanding.

“Ms Collins took the Twitter comment in question to mean that she should not be rude to the Australian prime minister when meeting him. She did not interpret this as a reference to hongi,” the spokesperson said.

After The Spinoff asked why the tweet had not been deleted, and why Collins had not clarified her view publicly, the spokesperson said there was no further comment to make.

National’s deputy leader Shane Reti told Stuff he did not know what was being referred to in the tweet and directed questions to Collins.

10.45am: NZ to remain part of Jordan-based intelligence mission

New Zealand has extended its involvement in a multinational information sharing mission based in Jordan.

Operation Gallant Phoenix was launched in June 2013 with the aim of tracking the flow of foreign terrorist fighters in and out of Iraq and Syria.

Defence minister Peeni Henare said cabinet had agreed to renew New Zealand’s deployment – of fewer than 10 people – for a further two years.

“Participation in Operation Gallant Phoenix began in late 2014, as part of our response to the global threat posed by ISIS,” said Henare.

“Our deployment to Operation Gallant Phoenix provides New Zealand with valuable information. It helps us to build relationships with international partners, contribute to global efforts to counter violent extremism, and gain experience in a way that cannot be achieved elsewhere. New Zealanders are safer because of it.”

10.20am: So, is there a Nick Smith story about to break…?

National MP Nick Smith announced his resignation from politics last night after 30 years in parliament.

He’ll formally step down on June 10, but said in a statement that he was announcing his resignation ahead of a story due to break today about an inquiry into a “verbal altercation” in his office last year.

Smith’s statement said: “I was advised on Friday that the inquiry and its details have been leaked to the media for release [today]. It is inappropriate for employment disputes to be litigated in public. I will put on the record that I regret the incident, I apologised at the time and I apologise again today. I have decided the best course of action for the parties involved, the National Party, my family and myself is to retire now.”

As of this morning, no such story has eventuated. It’s possible a political journo is holding onto the story for the 6pm news rush tonight, but that’s a fairly risky choice to make. It could also just break with little warning sometime during the day. Or, possibly, nothing will come of it at all.

9.50am: Weather eases in Canterbury, but roads remain closed

Conditions in Canterbury have eased this morning, with a “red warning” by MetService being downgraded to orange. However, locals are being warned that rivers will remain swollen for some time after two to three months of rain fell in the past 72 hours.

The latest data from MetService showed that Mount Somers recorded as much rain over the past three days as Timaru gets in a typical year – 539 millimetres. Average rainfall for May would normally be just 74mm.

Culverden, that recorded 109mm over the past three days, had previously recorded just 37.4mm of rain for the entire year.

While the weather is starting to improve, locals are hoping for roads to begin reopening today. As this tweet below demonstrates, if you wanted to drive from Timaru to Christchurch today it would take you more than 13 hours due to the number of closures on the East Coast.

8.00am: Ashburton shut off to the south after main bridge ‘slumping’

Ashburton has been cut off from the south this morning after the main bridge out of town was closed due to “slumping”.

The occupants of a vehicle travelling across the Ashburton bridge this morning reported the bridge sagging under their weight, with the district council moving to shut the access route immediately. In an update this morning, the district council confirmed the bridge had been “compromised” due to severe weather and closed since 6.50am.

“There is currently no alternate route south as all other road options are closed,” the update reads. “Council contractors continue to investigate road conditions and will provide updates when available.”

Speaking to RNZ, Ashburton mayor Neil Brown said it will be a long road ahead for the town’s recovery. “I don’t think it’ll be an easy fix,” Brown said of the bridge. “This is the last thing we need right now,” he said.

It’s another blow for the flood-ravaged town that last night managed to open one of its bridges, over the Selwyn River, for just three hours to allow people to conduct essential travel. That bridge was closed again overnight.

17 roads and four bridges were cut off by flooding yesterday making Ashburton only accessibly by air.

However, one source of relief for locals: the threat of evacuation has passed after what the council described as an “uneventful” night.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

National MP Dr Nick Smith will be retiring in the near future, after an announcement that included the disclosure that he’s under investigation over a “verbal altercation.” Smith was a list MP, having lost his long-held seat of Nelson in 2020. He indicated that he would have been likely to retire this year anyway, after being in parliament since 1990. Our live updates carried his statement as of yesterday afternoon – the key paragraph of which was:

“Parliamentary Services have been conducting a confidential inquiry into a verbal altercation in my Wellington office last July that has not concluded. I was advised on Friday that the inquiry and its details have been leaked to the media for release tomorrow. It is inappropriate for employment disputes to be litigated in public. I will put on the record that I regret the incident, I apologised at the time and I apologise again today.”

In terms of that story, it appears to relate to an allegation of bullying from a young male staffer. That is what One News understood to be the case last night, while the NZ Herald’s story had a line that “it is understood the altercation was with a young staff member who had worked there for less than a year prior to the incident.” It appears to be only one reason Smith is leaving politics, with Newsroom reporting that a change in his family circumstances meaning that he needs to “provide them with greater support”. Smith also said it would give the party – which had their ranks of emerging talent decimated at the election – a chance to renew.

The new National MP will be Harete Hipango, who lost the seat of Whanganui at the last election, and was the highest placed unsuccessful list candidate. She increases National’s Māori caucus by half, and told Stuff “I do bring the fact to the party that I am a Māori woman, I am a New Zealand woman. I will articulate that as I have before.” She did not comment on National’s recent campaign around the He Puapua report, saying she hadn’t read it. Hipango served one term as an MP during her last stint, and returned to practicing law while out of parliament.


In news about the flooding down south, the Press reports people have been told to avoid all floodwaters on the assumption they are contaminated with sewage. That became particularly dangerous after a wastewater treatment pond was overrun, and the contents mixed with the water. Plenty of the water will have also swept through paddocks, picking up whatever the animals left behind on the way. Some people have been unable to return to their homes overnight, while others have had to be ready to evacuate at short notice. And in breaking news, the Ashburton SH1 bridge has been closed amid fears it has been compromised, and motorists reported feeling it sagging.

And it could have been significantly worse for Timaru, had the drought not left Lake Opuha so low, reports the Timaru Herald. That story includes pictures that show how much the volume of water in the lake has increased. It’s a stark contrast to Lake Taupō in the North Island, which is currently at “dangerously low” levels, reports One News. To sum up the meaning of these stories: the country hasn’t had nearly enough rain recently, it hasn’t often fallen where it is needed, and the weekend’s deluge won’t have been as helpful as it might seem.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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