Live updates, June 2: Vaccine roll-out 9% ahead of schedule; Aspiring National MP quits party amid allegations

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 2, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

3.30pm: Massive $185b infrastructure bill for water could be reduced with move to three big providers

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports: 

Councils alone can’t afford a price tag for rebuilding New Zealand’s water infrastructure which could reach $185 billion by the century’s midpoint, according to local government minister Nanaia Mahuta.

Three reports released by the minister today highlight the cost of needed repairs and upgrades. According to Mahuta, the reports confirm the need for the government’s planned amalgamation of the country’s water system into a few large publicly-owned entities.

The reports forecast that without changes to the current decentralised system of water providers, the average annual household bill for water could reach $13,900 by 2051.

The most savings would be derived by reducing the country to only three water providers, increasing the average bill by $1,600 annually at most.

There are currently 67 council-owned water providers across New Zealand. The government has yet to release its final plan for how many systems it would like. Auckland Ccouncil has indicated it’ll attempt to block any plan that removes the supercity’s water supply from council control.

“It is clear the affordability challenges facing our water infrastructure are too great for councils alone. This research underscores the overall benefits of reform reducing future costs on households,” said Mahuta in a statement.

While Wellington’s water supply is a shambles that commands headlines, the reports are clear that the problem is nation-wide. Increasing population, increasing health and environmental standards, along with decades of underinvestment mean that much of the national water supply, waste water and stormwater systems are leaky and need a fix.

3.00pm: Cider company admits alcoholic drinks ended up in non-alcoholic packaging

A New Zealand cider company has apologised after alcoholic cans of their apple cider ended up in non-alcoholic packaging.

Zeffer, based near Napier, has recalled the incorrect products after some made it to supermarket shelves.

“The cans themselves are correctly labelled as 5% Zeffer crisp apple cider, but should not have been placed in the 4-pack holder and we want to avoid any confusion given the exterior cardboard packaging is for the 0% product,” a company spokesperson said, as reported by TVNZ.

“When we became aware of the issue, we immediately initiated the recall process with retail customers and consumers for all Zeffer 0% alcohol crisp apple cider 4-packs that may be affected.”

Refunds are on offer to anyone who has ended up with the wrong product, the company said.

2.25pm: Melbourne lockdown extended; regional Victoria to loosen restrictions

Melbourne will remain in lockdown for another week – but restrictions in regional Victoria are set to be lifted.

There are now more than 60 active cases and 350 Covid-19 exposure sites in the state after an outbreak of the Indian variant of the coronavirus.

“If we let this thing run its course, it will explode,” said acting Victoria premier James Merlino. “We’ve got to run this to ground because if we don’t, people will die.”

In regional Victoria, the five reasons to leave home will be removed, and there will be no limit on the distance people can travel from home. Regional Victorians can travel to Melbourne, but they are bound by the city’s lockdown restrictions once there.

The next week of lockdown – and the lifting of regional restrictions – kicks in at 11.59pm tomorrow.

Earlier today, Ayesha Verrall confirmed that a review of the quarantine-free travel pause with Victoria will take place tomorrow. With the city-wide lockdown extended, it seems likely travel restrictions will remain in place too.

First: How Teeks discovered his voice

It’s Wednesday which means there is a brand new episode of our webseries/podcast First – this week featuring the incredible Teeks.

Teeks tells us about the importance of kapa haka, learning a valuable money lesson, the Adele album that holds a special place in his heart and more. Ps is anyone else going to his concert in Auckland this Saturday and unbelievably excited? See you there.

Read more here or watch the episode below:

Teeks’ Something to Feel NZ album tour is this month. For more information visit thisteeks.com

1.00pm: Vaccine roll-out 9% ahead of schedule; 235k people fully vaccinated

Updated

More than 235,000 New Zealanders are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The vaccine roll-out, though being criticised by some for its pace, is now tracking at around 9% ahead of schedule.

Speaking at today’s 1pm press conference, associate health minister Ayesha Verrall said last week was the “biggest week of vaccinations so far” with more than 100,000 doses given out. As of midnight, more than 668,000 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine. On Friday last week alone, more than 20,000 people received the jab – the biggest day so far.

Verrall said that a further delivery of the Pfizer vaccine arrived yesterday, meaning there is now enough to fully vaccinate more than 400,000 people. That’s well short of what would be required to get group three vaccinations completed.

It’s been confirmed, Verrall said, that the vaccine can be stored at regular temperatures for 31 days which means it is easier to transport it around the country than previously thought.

Meanwhile, Ashley Bloomfield confirmed there are no new community cases today and six in managed isolation. The total number of active cases in New Zealand today has risen to 18.

Addressing the situation in Victoria, Bloomfield said it was a reminder to all New Zealanders to be vigilant. Heading into winter, it won’t be uncommon for people to get sick and display possible Covid-19 symptoms. Bloomfield said anyone who is sick should contact Healthline and get a test if needed.

“We need everyone to continue playing their part and that includes continuing to scan assiduously the QR codes and being vigilant for symptoms,” he said.

The pause of quarantine-free travel with Melbourne will be reviewed tomorrow, Bloomfield said, although if the lockdown continues it is unlikely there will be any change. Verrall said “no decision” has been made yet as health officials are waiting for the most up to date information.

A public health alert has also been issued in New South Wales after an individual returned a positive Covid-19 test after returning to Melbourne. The person visited Jervis Bay, Goulburn, Hyams Beach, and Vincentia while potentially infectious on May 23 and 24.

12.50pm: Bloomfield, Verrall, to give vaccine update

Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be giving this week’s vaccine update at 1pm.

In addition to this week’s vaccine figures, we’ll get the latest Covid-19 numbers and an update on the situation in Victoria. Overnight a further six cases were detected in the community with speculation the week-long lockdown could continue for longer.

Watch below:

12.10pm: Nearly a third of teens suffering ‘housing deprivation’ – survey

Nearly a third of secondary school students in the upper North Island experience at least one form of housing deprivation, according to a new survey.

More than 7000 students were questioned by Youth19 for the report, which found that one in 10 were living in inadequate accommodation such as sleeping in a garage or on the floor.

Children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft said the findings were unacceptable. “Every child should have their own bed, in a safe, warm dry house they can call home,” he said.

“Incomes for both low paid households and beneficiaries have fallen behind what it costs to run a family these days, and accommodation costs are rising so fast that families can’t keep up.”

The survey also found 2% of children reporting “serious housing deprivation,” a sub-category that included sleeping in cars, marae, hostels or emergency housing. 15% said their families “often or always worried” about paying the rent or mortgage.

“It’s hard enough navigating life as a young person without worrying about how your parents are going to pay rent, or even not knowing if you’re going to have somewhere to sleep that night,” Becroft added.

10.10am: Aspiring National MP quits party after allegations from ex-girlfriend

Updated

A National Party candidate in last year’s election has been accused of impersonating his ex-girlfriend online and on dating sites.

Jake Bezzant, who last year stood in the Upper Harbour seat vacated by veteran MP Paula Bennett, has resigned from the National Party after the allegations came to light earlier in the week.

The claims were made by a woman named Tarryn, an ex-girlfriend of Bezzant and one of the hosts of a new podcast titled Whips, Chains and Brains.

“Jake Bezzant who is involved in the National Party in New Zealand used to impersonate me online and would make Snapchats and dating sites and things and would engage in, like, online sex as me and would send nude images and videos of me,” she said on the podcast.

“That was happening throughout the last two-and-a-half years but then we obviously split up and then I found out in the last few weeks that he’s still doing it, so we kind of want to talk about it.”

A National Party spokesperson told The Spinoff they were first made aware of the podcast and the allegations made on it late yesterday morning.

We looked into the matter, and Mr Bezzant is no longer a member of the National Party,” they said.

Asked by the Herald whether there was any truth to the allegations, Bezzant said: “No, there’s not, but I haven’t listened to [the podcast].”

In a statement to Newshub, he added that there were “two sides to every story” and that “personal relationship break ups sometimes get messy”.

“There is more than just her and I involved so I am not going to discuss it. This needs to be seen in the context of a relationship break-up,” Bezzant said.

Before last year’s election, a report on BusinessDesk claimed Bezzant had quit his job parking technology company ParkHelp under questionable circumstances. The co-founder of the company, Paul Collins, said that Bezzant left “following disagreement with the board regarding his management of contracts and representation of their value”.

Today’s allegations levelled at Bezzant are the latest in a string of difficult circumstances for the National Party this week, following the resignation of Nick Smith following a “verbal altercation” and Judith Collins’ response to a racist tweet yesterday.

9.50am: Māori Party allege racism after police ‘minimise’ threat from white supremacist YouTube video

The Māori Party has lodged a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority after it failed to “adequately respond to” a threat against the party’s co-leaders.

It followed a white supremacist YouTube video that made violent threats against Māori and marae, and specifically targeted co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi.

Ngarewa-Packer said the complaint to the IPCA was made after the police “minimised” the threat from the video. “We were sent from pillar to post as we tried to understand who was in charge of the case and nobody could give us a straight answer,” she said.

A complaint was first made about the video on May 24. Ngarewa-Packer said no response was provided until two days later, and that was the only time the party heard from police until they started to raise questions about what was being done.

“We then look at the way in which Simeon Brown’s case has been handled. A Pākehā MP, who ends up with what looks like the full weight of the police force urgently responding to the threats made against him by a Māori,” Ngarewa-Packer said.

“We understand the perpetrator of the video threat against us is a white supremacist who admitted to the creating and uploading the video. He was spoken to but not seen as a threat due to mental health issues.

“In Simeon Brown’s case on the other hand, we understand that two Māori have already appeared in court and charged for threatening to kill. It reeks of racial injustice and white privilege.”

Ngarewa-Packer said there has been “heightened levels” of hate speech and harassment and claimed it had increased “significantly” since Judith Collins started on her “apartheid warpath”.

8.00am: Collins responds after report suggesting she ‘forced’ Nick Smith to resign

Judith Collins has responded to a media report that suggested she may have pushed long-serving MP Nick Smith – but provided little detail to deny the story.

Let’s briefly recap: Smith announced on Monday afternoon that he would be stepping down on June 10, citing an “inquiry” into an alleged “verbal altercation” in his office. He also claimed that the media were aware of the matter and a story would be published yesterday. So far, no story has eventuated aside from reports that likely would not have happened without Smith announcing his retirement first.

Speaking to RNZ this morning, Collins said she found out on Monday that Smith would be quitting politics – just a few hours before his statement was made public. “He’d spoken to me last year and said he didn’t think he was going to see out the rest of the term, he certainly wasn’y happy being a list MP,” Collins said.

“He indicated then he would be going at some stage [but] I didn’t realise it would be on Monday.”

Asked when she was first made aware of the parliamentary services inquiry into the alleged altercation, Collins said that would have been toward the end of last year in November or December. She had not been fully briefed on the matter but said she understood a “draft report” had been given to Smith himself.

“Nick has made it clear to me he wants to go on his own terms. I’m very happy to say that Nick has been a very good MP fo 30 years, I support his decision.”

Collins said she would not discuss the details of any conversations she had with the outgoing MP.

Asked about the reporting in Politik this morning that suggested Smith was pushed out, Collins said: “If I hear that any of my MPs are going to be subject to media stories, I will always let them know. I will not stand by and let them stumble into a situation because they have no prior warning.” When questioned on the subsequent lack of media stories, Collins cited a Newshub report last night that focused on Smith’s “verbally abusive” behaviour in parliament.

It’s unknown whether that is the “story” at the centre of this saga but it seems more likely it was produced in response to Smith’s resignation, meaning the report that forced Smith to quit is yet to be published (if it exists).

This morning’s Politik report also claims that Collins had warned her MPs about a “scandal” that was due to break. Collins said she would not reveal any “confidential details” from caucus and certainly would not be the one leaking information to the media.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The story around an alleged verbal altercation between Dr Nick Smith and a staffer has unravelled in a particularly odd way. The outgoing MP himself has gone to ground, and it isn’t clear if he’ll return to parliament. What is known though is that there is an investigation currently underway by parliamentary services, believed to involve a recording of said altercation, which Stuff reports is understood to have been overheard and recorded by another National party staffer, who made the complaint that led to the investigation. As I say, the story behind the story is really unusual, and somewhat confusing given Dr Smith’s resignation statement strongly implied a full story would be coming out yesterday.

It is possible the situation was engineered by the party leader Judith Collins. That is certainly one reading of this timeline provided by (paywalled) Politik, which also names Collins as the person who allegedly warned Smith the story would be coming out on Tuesday. The party leader is also alleged to have known about the alleged incident pretty much ever since it happened last year. If this is all true, then it would be a remarkable political play, with the upshot that Collins ally Harete Hipango would become an MP in Smith’s place, and allow Collins to remove someone who might represent a risk of bringing the party into disrepute.

Because more has come out though about what Smith was like as an employer, and several accounts would suggest he was not a good one. Newshub’s Jenna Lynch collected accounts from unnamed former National staffers, who described an MP with tendencies towards highly volatile rage. This sort of behaviour was also considered to be common knowledge around parliament – “Dr Smith’s behaviour was well-known by every National leader dating back to Jim Bolger,” was one particularly telling line in the story.

Radio NZ reports National MPs denied prior knowledge of the alleged altercation. On the face of it, that seems like nonsense – on the one hand we’re expected to believe these are highly well informed insiders who pick up constant gossip, and on the other hand we’re expected to believe that this explosive and highly shareable allegation never reached them. But this is not really unique to National, rather it’s just what any MP in our wider political culture would say when put on the spot about a potential scandal.

It also puts a spotlight on alleged bullying within the wider parliamentary culture, something addressed by the recent Francis Report. In some cases the MPs themselves are the problem, but they can’t be removed in the same way people could be in a normal workplace. That question of accountability gets covered in this analysis by Marc Daalder on (paywalled) Newsroom.




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