Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 3, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
4.15pm: Another Olympic gold for Carrington and what to watch tonight
4.00pm: PM doesn’t have Covid-19
Jacinda Ardern’s Covid test has come back negative, according to her office. The prime minister’s case of the sniffles is only a threat to tissue boxes and not a sign of the coronavirus.
3.45pm: DOC starts crackdown on pre-bookings by Great Walks tour operators
The Department of Conservation has sent letters to tour operators instructing them to cancel speculative reservations for DOC-operated huts on the Great Walks. The letters came with a warning from DOC’s chief compliance officer that such bookings are disallowed under its terms of service and that the huts can only be booked “for actual people”, reports Stuff.
The crackdown comes a few weeks after DOC opened bookings for the 2021/22 season. Hut beds on popular walks like the Milford Track were snapped up in “record time” according to DOC, and thousands of would-be trampers missed out. On The Spinoff, Fiona Farrell wrote that despite being “poised to strike on the dot of 9.30am when bookings opened” she and her family weren’t fast enough. It was galling, she wrote, to then see places in those same huts offered as accommodation on private guided tours.
She wrote: “The question I was left asking is just how many of those ‘eager Kiwis’ preparing to make their bookings were in fact ‘eager Kiwi companies’ making a substantial private profit from the huts and tracks we as taxpayers pay to maintain and operate? Is DOC enabling private companies to exploit the affordable fees that were clearly intended by the government to enable New Zealanders of all ages and income levels to enjoy their national Great Walks?”
2.55pm: Robertson refuses to confirm Auckland harbour cycle bridge will go ahead
The deputy prime minister Grant Robertson has declined to give the government’s full backing to Auckland’s planned cycle and pedestrian bridge, offering only that it is “the proposal we are working on”, the NZ Herald reports.
Since its announcement earlier this year the cycle bridge has come under sustained criticism from both sides of the political aisle, with even cycling advocates arguing the $785 price tag is too high.
Today Robertson appeared more interested in talking about the planned second harbour crossing, likely a tunnel, work on which will not begin until the 2030s.
1.15pm: No new Covid-19 cases as vaccine rollout creeps towards two million doses
There are no new cases of Covid-19 in either managed isolation or the community. Seven previously reported cases have now recovered, dropping the number of active cases in New Zealand down to 30.
Meanwhile, the number of vaccine doses administered has moved even closer to the two million milestone. As of midnight last night, more than 1.979 million doses have been given out, with 757,000 people fully vaccinated.
More than 110,600 Mâori have received their first vaccination, and nearly 76,300 doses have been administered to Pacific peoples. Yesterday, almost 35,000 doses in total were administered made up of 25,500 first doses and nearly 9400 second doses.
Australian returnee update
Contact tracing teams have identified 4884 people who’ve travelled back from Queensland since last Monday and have made contact with 4681 people, the Ministry of Health said.
Contract tracing staff have also identified 2,997 people who returned on managed flights from Victoria between July 25 and 30 and have been required under a section 70 notice to isolate until a negative day three test. “This number has reduced by two from yesterday, as people have been contacted and their travel history amended,” said a ministry spokesperson.
Of those, 1885 have so far returned a negative test; 526 tests results are due within the next couple of days and the remainder are currently being assessed for follow-up.
12.40pm: Act raises ‘serious concerns’ with conversion therapy bill
Act will support the government’s pledge to ban conversion therapy at first reading, but have raised “serious concerns” with the bill in its current form.
Announced on Friday, the bill would impose possible five year prison sentences on anyone convicted of administering a conversion practice.
Act’s justice spokesperson Nicole McKee said nobody should be forced into treatment to try change their sexuality – but the bill overreaches. “In its current state it says parents are unable to have a say in whether their pre-pubescent children take hormone blockers if they want to change their gender,” McKee said.
“Justice minister Kris Faafoi has been unable to say whether parents will be criminalised if they stop their own child from taking medication that would take a huge toll on their bodies.
“Parents should be able to parent their children without the threat of being criminalised.”
The comments have faced some criticism from advocates and legal experts online. Victoria university law lecturer Eddie Clark claimed that Act was simply “wrong” with its interpretation of the bill. “My reading of the act is that ‘conversion practices’ require an active course of conduct on the part of the person doing it. Failing to seek affirming therapy of any given type wouldn’t reach that threshold by itself,” he tweeted.
Auckland Pride executive director Max Tweedie argued that preventing a child from taking puberty blockers is “textbook” conversion therapy and should be outlawed.
11.50am: Tighter restrictions coming for mortgages after Reserve Bank finds too much risky lending
Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports:
Stricter limits on new mortgages are coming from the Reserve Bank after restrictions made earlier this year to riskier lending hasn’t had enough of an effect.
Finance minister Grant Robertson has approved new tools to allow the reserve bank to restrict lending, the bank said in a statement this morning. “We haven’t seen a sufficient reduction in risky lending,” wrote deputy governor Geoff Bascand. “If house prices were to fall, some buyers could face the possibility of negative equity – which means the value of their property is below the outstanding balance on their mortgage.”
The bank is expecting to cut in half the number of large mortgages that banks can make to perspective owners in the short term, while implementing new limits on how much debt people can take out based on their income.
It’ll be looking to figure out how both moves will impact first home buyers and investors.
While the Reserve Bank is independent of the government, the Treasury can guide its actions through the language used for the bank’s policies. The finance minister said in a seperate statement that while it’s up to the bank to introduce these restrictions, he’s made it clear that they “should not unduly impact first home buyers”.
11.15am: Hilary Barry ‘anti-vaxxer’ comments not found to breach broadcasting standards
The Broadcasting Standards Authority has not upheld a complaint about comments TV host Hilary Barry made about “anti-vaxxers”.
The comments, made on Seven Sharp, included a suggestion those who do not want to be vaccinated could “jump on a ferry and go to the Auckland Islands for a few years…then when we’ve got rid of Covid…come back”.
It was alleged that Barry’s comments breached a number of broadcasting standards, including good taste and decency, discrimination and denigration, balance, accuracy and fairness.
In its decision not to uphold the complaint, the BSA found the comments were unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards. “We note the safety of the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine (the subject of the comments complained about) has been established by medicine safety authorities and health science authorities in New Zealand and around the world.”
10.35am: NZ-filmed Lord of the Rings series sets premiere date
The first official image from the New Zealand-shot Lord of the Rings series has been released by Amazon, more than a year out from the premiere date.
The highly anticipated series will launch on September 2, 2022 exclusively on Prime Video.
In a statement, Amazon confirmed the release of the picture was timed with filming for the first series wrapping up.
“I can’t express enough just how excited we all are to take our global audience on a new and epic journey through Middle-earth,” said Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios. “Our talented producers, cast, creative, and production teams have worked tirelessly in New Zealand to bring this untold and awe-inspiring vision to life.”
9.30am: Ardern tested for Covid-19 after picking up ‘seasonal sniffle’
Parliament is returning today after a three week recess but the prime minister won’t be there after her office confirmed that she’s “picked up the seasonal sniffle”.
In a turn of events that the parents of most children can relate to, the most likely culprit is three-year-old Neve and her mates at day care. Instead of heading to parliament, the PM will work up the road at Premier House and join this morning’s caucus meeting via Zoom.
Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson will take her spot in the house, bridge run and all other prime ministry things. It’s since been confirmed to The Spinoff that Ardern was tested for Covid-19 this morning.
8.00am: Peters claims success despite losing latest court battle
Winston Peters has made a rare post-politics media appearance after losing a court battle over the leaking of details about his superannuation overpayments back in 2017.
According to Stuff, the Court of Appeal dismissed Peters’ claim, with the former deputy prime minister ordered to pay over $300,000 in legal costs. Peters had already lost a High Court case against ex-cabinet ministers including Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley.
Speaking on Newstalk ZB, Peters said that despite losing his case – he had succeeded. “Before I even got to court MSD had changed the form that I used because it was erroneous and ambiguous,” he said. “If that’s not the mission, I don’t know what is.” In the High Court, Peters said, Tolley admitted she had told both her husband and sister about the overpayments. “If that’s not a leak, I don’t know what is,” he said.
Asked what he was going to do next, Peters said he would take his time and consider his legal options. “Standing up for what is right in this country… doesn’t come easy,” he added.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
The seasonal workforce is expected to be significantly larger next summer, with the announcement of a one-way bubble from several Pacific countries. The NZ Herald reports the corridor will open next month, and will allow workers to come in without a stay in managed isolation. Conditions will be imposed on employers who bring workers in, including paying the living wage, and providing suitable accommodation for the workers. The countries which we’ll be welcoming people from – Sāmoa, Tonga and Vanuatu – have not had any community transmission of Covid for ages, and so ironically the workers would probably have had the most chance of getting Covid if they had to spend time in MIQ on their journey.
Growers are thrilled at the news. A few weeks ago there was a piece on Farmers Weekly about how nervous they were about the upcoming season – “panic” was one word used – with the expectation it would continue to be extremely difficult to find enough labour. “It was a dreadful season for us, last season growers were stressed and distressed and were facing the uncertainty of what next season might look like,” said Apples and Pears CEO Alan Pollard. While undoubtedly true, that can be taken with a grain of salt, because one reason seasonal labour has traditionally been hard to find is that the pay hasn’t been good enough. But under this scheme, the living wage could effectively be a floor for the industry.
Among the public, there may also be a developing perception that the hard border is simply too hard. That’s one conclusion that can be drawn from the data point of a Newshub poll, which found 61% believed more exemptions should be created to allow split families to be reunited. It’s not necessarily a like for like comparison, but it is relevant.
And what about the people from the Pacific countries? The remittance economy is important to all three of them, and the pandemic has hurt that – though perhaps not to the degree that might have been expected, according to this report on the Dev Policy blog. A more recent report by the Samoa Observer concludes the same, but also reports the economy has recorded basically zero income from tourism for more than a year. So this move will undoubtedly help people in those countries make money. But as Politik (paywalled) notes, it is quite pointedly not an amnesty for overstayers, as some in those communities have asked for.
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