Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 4, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at email@example.com
3.55pm: Calls for National Party president to quit over Bezzant scandal
National’s president allegedly shut down concerns raised about Jake Bezzant during the 2020 election campaign, prompting calls for him to quit.
Bezzant, who stood in the Upper Harbour seat for National last year, has been accused of impersonating an ex-girlfriend online.
A Newshub report last night claimed party president Peter Goodfellow rejected concerns raised about Bezzant by those working on the election campaign. Leader Judith Collins has so far remained coy: “You’ll have to talk to the party about that,” Collins said. “He was selected well before I became the leader and I think… the party acknowledges and has acknowledged that they’re redoing the way that they vet.”
In a column for the NZ Herald today, political commentator Matthew Hooton said it’s time for Goodfellow to call it quits.
“In my opinion it is time for him to take responsibility and go, and for the party membership to elect a new board of competent people willing to deal with the current crisis — if they can find any,” he wrote.
2.10pm: New Covid-19 variant detected in Melbourne; no link to existing cluster
Melbourne is on high alert after the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19 not linked to the existing cluster of cases.
As Newshub reports, Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said the new variant, discovered overnight, was of “significant concern”.
“[It is] the Delta variant. It is infamous in India and in the United Kingdom,” he said.
“It has not been linked to any sequence cases across Australia from hotel quarantine or anywhere else that it is not linked in Victoria or any other jurisdiction.”
Last night marked the start of Melbourne’s second week in lockdown, while restrictions in regional Victoria lifted slightly.
There are now 67 active cases in Victoria.
1.20pm: Air NZ workers to remain in self-isolation after confirmation they were not wearing PPE
A pair of Air New Zealand workers will remain in self-isolation after revelations they were not wearing PPE when coming into contact with someone who later tested positive for Covid-19.
The workers are casual contacts of a positive case and initial advice provided to the Ministry of Health said they had been wearing full protective clothing. That’s now been confirmed to be incorrect, the ministry said in a release.
“We have also been informed that they are both fully vaccinated, and both have returned a negative test result,” a spokesperson said. “As an additional precaution the two staff will be remaining in isolation until they return a further negative test result at day five.”
Meanwhile, 400 people who returned from Melbourne between May 20 and 25 still need to be tested for Covid-19. All 4767 who returned to the country during that period have been contacted by health officials.
“Of those 4767 travellers, we know that 93% of travellers have either already been tested or are exempt from testing,” the ministry said.
There are no new Covid-19 cases in the community today with one in managed isolation. The total number of active cases sits at 17.
12.40pm: Government ‘forcing people out of cars’ and ‘out of touch with modern NZ’, says National
The government’s been accused of forcing New Zealanders out of their cars, following today’s announcement that a second Auckland harbour crossing will be built just for walking and cycling.
The project, set to total almost $700 million, is expected to be completed within five years. As I reported earlier (see 9.30am), the government has also pulled the plug on the long-awaited Mill Road upgrade – instead planning a smaller project focused on safety upgrades.
National has since sent out a pair of scathing press releases – one focusing on the harbour bridge and the other criticising the government’s transport plans altogether.
“Cancelling Mill Road will leave South Aucklanders fighting gridlock for decades to come, all because the government is pushing ahead with a half-baked add-on to the Auckland Harbour Bridge,” said leader Judith Collins. “People in Northland and the Bay of Plenty will now also miss out on much-needed transport projects in their regions because of the ideological whim Labour has for a separate cycleway-bridge across the Waitematā Harbour.”
Collins claimed that the government “hates cars” and that its fixation on walking and cycling is “forcing people out of their cars and is out of touch with modern New Zealand”.
She added: “Grant Robertson should try cycling across the harbour with groceries, sports gear and the kid’s netball team and see how that goes.”
Meanwhile, the party’s transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse has questioned why the government did not focus its intention on a second harbour crossing that incorporated access for cars, public transport and freight – as well as cyclists and walkers.
“We should be thinking for the future and investing in a bridge that will support the needs of all Aucklanders in 20 or 30 years’ time,” he said.
“It’s unclear why Labour is opting for a piecemeal solution when we know the current bridge has serious structural issues.”
11.35am: Person who recorded Nick Smith’s ‘verbal altercation’ no longer works at parliament – Collins
The person said to have recorded a “verbal altercation” involving outgoing National MP Nick Smith no longer works at parliament.
RNZ managed to interview party leader Judith Collins after an event yesterday, where she confirmed the person no longer worked for the National Party or Parliamentary Service.
“I don’t know the person myself. I probably would if I were to see the person,” she said.
Smith has not returned to parliament since announcing his resignation on Monday afternoon, but Collins said she hoped he would make a visit next week.
“As to the discussions I’ve had personally with Nick I can say he’s feeling good and we’re looking forward to hopefully having him come back next week.” He will officially leave office on Monday.
9.30am: ‘NZ Upgrade Programme’ gets post-Covid financial boost, but some projects to be downgraded
The long-touted Mill Road upgrade south of Auckland will now become a smaller project focused on safety upgrades.
More money is being pumped into the government’s New Zealand Upgrade Programme in the wake of Covid-19, but some projects will not be going ahead as planned.
An additional $1.9 billion will be invested, with 26 out of the 32 signposted projects to go ahead unchanged. The remaining six will face some modifications, including Mill Road.
“If we had proceeded with Mill Road as originally scoped, it would have cost up to $3.5 billion and at peak produced six tonnes of CO2 emissions a day,” said transport minister Michael Wood. “Instead, we’ve focused on delivering important safety improvements to Mill Road, upgrades to state highway one and rail, and new rail stations connected to public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure.”
Finance minister Grant Robertson said fully funding the new estimated costs for every project would have cost up to $6 billion extra on top of the original $6.8 billion. “Instead we’ve taken a balanced approach with a mix of additional investment and a handful of projects being re-scoped while also keeping a lid on debt,” he said.
“We are using an additional $1.9 billion set aside in the multi-year capital allowance to support our targeted investments – this is being used so we can keep delivering projects and creating jobs across the country to support our recovery.”
8.00am: New Auckland harbour crossing confirmed – for cycling and walking
Less than a week after “liberating” a lane of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, cyclists are set to get what they wanted.
The government has confirmed plans for a standalone walking and cycling bridge. The $685 million structure, which will form part of the northern pathway, will take about five years to complete.
Transport minister Michael Wood said the bridge will be a “purpose-designed quality option” and an “outstanding piece of tourism infrastructure.” It will sit to the east of the existing bridge, with viewing screens and seating for its entire length to allow panoramic views of the Waitematā.
“[The NZ Upgrade Programme] is supporting our economic recovery but due to Covid-19 increasing construction costs globally and the need to further reduce emissions, we’re rebalancing the programme to increase investment in rail, public transport and walking and cycling,” said Wood.
The new bridge replaces original plans for “Skypath” – a walkway attached to the side of the existing bridge. Waka Kotahi said earlier this year that adding weight to the existing bridge was unfeasible. “We need this transport connection to move ahead but it isn’t technically possible to attach it to the existing bridge without putting the whole structure at risk,” said Wood. “A standalone structure is the safest option.”
With the bridge still five years away, Wood confirmed he had asked Waka Kotahi to present him with options for a dedicated cycling and walking lane on the current bridge now – an idea previously rejected by the agency.
“Waka Kotahi will continue to work on how to provide safe temporary trials of using lanes on the existing harbour bridge for cyclists and pedestrians,” Wood said.
Today’s announcement does not replace plans for an additional vehicle crossing, Wood said. “Work is also continuing on planning for an additional Waitematā Harbour crossing. An initial business case was finished last year, and work is being done on enhancing the Northern Busway and developing an additional crossing that includes rapid transit.”
Given the next crossing is likely to be a tunnel, Wood said it be unsafe to have a walking and cycling link as part of that, further justifying the need for a standalone structure.
Construction of the new bridge could start as soon as mid-2022.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
Over the last few days, we’ve started to get a picture of the damage done by the flooding around Canterbury. Some of the numbers on this will come through in the subsequent stories, but seeing is believing, and the stories collected by One News in particular show how bad it has been. This story by Thomas Mead is a great example, about the Upper Rakaia being completely cut off. The rain came down so hard that it literally changed the landscape.
Rural areas have been hit particularly hard, and will now face high costs of recovery. Radio NZ reports about 300 claims have been made through to rural insurer FMG, with the expectation of that figure tripling once the damage is fully assessed. And it goes beyond property damage, to complete disruption of the rhythm of the farming calendar. RNZ’s Katie Todd reported on one farming family that had lost all of their winter feed and straw, which could leave them in a hugely difficult position in the coming months. One aspect that might not be widely understood is the damage flooding does to paddocks, and how it can make them dangerous to drive around even after the water recedes. The Timaru Herald’s Esther Ashby-Coventry had a story that illustrated this, after the Ōrari River ripped through a farmer’s field, leaving a giant scar behind.
Earlier in the week the government declared an “adverse event”, which unlocks disaster relief funding, in this case to the tune of $500k. Agriculture minister Damien O’Connor said more would be considered when the scale of the damage is clearer. But as Stuff’s Amber Allott reports, that figure is seen as woefully insufficient by some farmers, with one farmer saying it might do the job for his farm alone. None of this is to mention the immense infrastructure damage that has also been done by the flood, particularly around Ashburton.