Live updates, August 4: Ardern turned down offer to guest judge RuPaul’s Drag Race

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 4, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

3.35pm: PM asked to guest judge RuPaul’s Drag Race, but declined due to scheduling

Documents released under the Official Information Act confirm Jacinda Ardern was approached to be a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under – but declined due to her schedule.

The Australasian edition of the popular reality show was shot in Auckland in January after Covid-19 forced production to move from Sydney.

According to the documents provided to The Spinoff, Ardern’s staff were first approached in mid-December with an email from a casting director asking Ardern to be a guest judge on the premiere episode of the show. “I really don’t want to have to ask Judith,” the email concluded.

A follow-up message included a personal request from the host. “RuPaul herself wanted to convey how much of a fan she is of our prime minister and all the work she has done, as well as her support for the rainbow community.”

However, by mid-January, Ardern’s staff had formally rejected the offer due to scheduling. “The start of the year is very busy for the prime minister with various events being juggled,” said a staffer.

It was long rumoured the PM would appear on the show, but ultimately the list of local guest judges included Taika Waititi and Rena Owen. The show was won by New Zealand queen Kita Mean who took home a cash prize of $30,000.

What could have been

 

2.50pm: National proposes new plan to stop skilled migrants leaving NZ

National wants to introduce a “Covid contribution visa” in an effort to stop skilled migrants leaving the country due to a residency backlog.

Leader Judith Collins said the country is losing skilled workers who moved to New Zealand before lockdown with the promise of a pathway to residency. Immigration NZ recently suspended the expression of interest programme that allowed skilled migrants to apply for residency to stay in the country.

“We can’t afford to lose any more doctors, engineers, teachers and IT workers because they have no certainty around when they can become a resident,” said Collins.

National’s plan:

  • Clear the residency backlog: National will unfreeze the residency pool and streamline and fast-track residency processing to clear the backlog of more than 30,000 applications;
  • Offer migrant workers a pathway to residency: These are our dairy farmer workers, aged care workers, truck drivers, construction workers and hospitality staff who are in New Zealand because there was a skills shortage.
  • Decouple visas from a specific employer to stop migrant exploitation: A smarter approach is bonding people to sectors and regions which would make sure the right skills are in the right regions.

The proposed Covid contribution visa would, Collins said, give migrants the ability, time and surety to apply for residence.

“We expect this to affect around 35,000 essential skills workers and their families that will be processed in the next few years once we have cleared the current residency backlog. In the meantime we will offer all of these workers a three-year work visa so they do not have to keep reapplying while they wait.”

2.00pm: Lucy Blakiston’s repressed first phone memories

The Shit You Should Care About co-founder tells us about being the subject of high school gossip, being followed by Ariana Grande, her first phone and more in this week’s episode of FIRST.

1.05pm: Vaccine rollout surges past two million doses

Updated

More than two million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been given out, with 770,000 people fully vaccinated. The milestone was crossed yesterday, where a record 42,000 doses were administered.

Just over 1.25 million people have received the first dose, including around 113,000 Māori and 77,500 Pacific peoples.

Speaking at a press conference, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins acknowledged the support of major employers that have asked to vaccinate their staff onsite. More than 250 businesses have applied, Hipkins said, with Mainfreight and Fonterra set to be pilot businesses.

Those in the 55+ age group will be invited to book in for a jab from Friday this week, said Hipkins.

Joint head of MIQ Megan Main was also at today’s press conference where she defended the managed isolation system amid criticism over its inefficiency. “Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet,” she said. “We want everyone to be able to get home when we can fit them in. We know that won’t be when people want to but that’s the reality in a global pandemic.”

Main used the analogy of a sports event to explain the way MIQ bookings are organised. “People understand when they’re booking for a sports event it happens in a venue with a set capacity and once tickets sell out it’s because the venue’s full. That’s disappointing for people who miss out but they understand there’s finite capacity,” she said.

Acknowledging the growing pressure to improve the MIQ system, Main said: “we’re working hard on making the system as fair as possible given the difficult circumstances we’re in.”

Officials had considered a waitlist, said Main, but when you’ve got more people wanting to book than there are places a waitlist could move the problem to a different place. “We would still have people who miss out,” she said. “What we want to balance is the people who need to come back urgently… and the people who can wait longer.”

A ballot was also a possibility, added Main, but Hipkins said this would not change the number of spaces available overall and some people would continue to be disappointed.

Asked why the government would not increase the overall capacity of MIQ, Hipkins said there was a limited workforce and more returnees could increase the risk of Covid-19 breaching our border.

While the government today trumpeted its success with the vaccine rollout, the Act Party has criticised the slow pace. In a press release, David Seymour labelled two million doses a “pathetic” milestone.

“To put this into perspective, that’s 40 doses per 100 people. That milestone was met in Israel in January, the UK in mid-March, US in late-March, Singapore in April and Canada and Germany in early-May,” he said.

Today’s case details

There are no new community cases of Covid-19 to report today with two new cases in managed isolation. Two previously reported cases from Monday have been reclassified as “under investigation”. As a result, these two cases have been removed from the tally of confirmed cases.

Three previously reported cases have now recovered. The number of active cases in New Zealand has dropped to 29.

12.35pm: MediaWorks inquiry reveals ‘serious allegations’ of sexual harassment or harm

A damning review into the workplace culture at MediaWorks has revealed six “serious allegations” of sexual harassment or sexual harm at the business.

In one incident, at a 2019 promotional event hosted by the company, it was alleged that a senior MediaWorks employee engaged in sexual activity with a young woman who did not work for the company. The woman was a guest at the event and heavily intoxicated at the time.

“He was more than twenty years older than her. Some reported, during this review, feeling uncomfortable with the overly familiar physical contact between them. However, no other senior MediaWorks employees intervened to prevent the conduct,” said the report.

Since the time of the event, the woman has reported suffering with “serious psychological harm” and needed specialist counselling over a lengthy period.

One of the prevailing themes of the report was the presence of a “boys’ club” culture at the business. “Yes, it was a boys ’ club. I was disturbed at the way younger women were talked to. They were not given the same opportunities as males,” said one former employee in the report.

Maria Dew QC was called in to conduct the external report in March this year after allegations of a toxic workplace culture at MediaWorks began circulating in the media.

Read more: What’s the tldr on the report?

11.20am: Unemployment drops, government claims victory

The rate of unemployment has fallen to 4%, below where it was two years ago.

The sharp fall, down from a peak of 5.3% in the September 2020 quarter and a 0.6% drop since earlier this year, is “largely in line” with other labour indicators, said Stats NZ.

“Growth in the working-age population has slowed since the June 2020 quarter, as travel restrictions have resulted in large reductions in net migration. The number of people employed has increased faster than the total population, contributing to the increase seen in the employment rate,” Sean Broughton from Stats NZ said.

The total number of people unemployed fell by 17,000 over the recent three month period to 117,000. That’s a 12.4% drop – the largest since the Department of Statistics began the household labour force survey in the 1980s.

Finance minister Grant Robertson said the drop in unemployment was a result of government action following Covid-19.

“This positive result shows the government’s plan is delivering, giving households and businesses the confidence to spend and invest and accelerate the recovery. An extra 63,000 people are in jobs since September 2020, when unemployment peaked at 5.2%,” Robertson said.

10.30am: Olympics morning wrap

New Zealand has moved up to an incredible 11th on the medal table, thanks in part to the two (yes TWO) gold medals won by Lisa Carrington yesterday. The star canoeist is back in the boat today – here are some more of your daytime highlights.

  • 11.41am: Women’s golf – Lydia Ko is up for round one of the tournament.
  • 1.40pm: Canoe sprint aka my new favourite sport. Gold medal winner Caitlin Regal is up first in the women’s K1 500m heats, following by Carrington.
  • 5.33pm: Sailing – Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox in the men’s 470 medal race.

9.50am: ‘At least’ two alleged sexual assaults at MediaWorks – report

At least two complaints of alleged sexual assault were made at MediaWorks, according to an external inquiry ordered after claims of sexual harassment within the business.

The report was commissioned last year after reports online of a toxic culture at the company.

According to the Herald, “dozens” of complaints of harassment, bullying and inappropriate behaviour have also been revealed in the report.

8.00am: Wellington vaccinations on schedule despite earlier claim

Updated 9.20am:

Wellington health officials say the region will finish group four vaccinations by the end of the year despite an earlier claim they would be continuing into next year.

The government’s goal has been to offer every New Zealander a Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the year.

But earlier projections, reported by RNZ, showed Wellington’s Capital Coast and Hutt Valley DHBs continuing to vaccinate through until February.

National’s Chris Bishop – the opposition spokesperson for Covid-19 response – said that would be “completely inconsistent” with what the government has been telling people. “The government’s been very clear that the goal of the vaccine program is for everyone to be offered a vaccine by the end of the year,” he said.

Despite the DHB’s clarification – which may see vaccinations completed even earlier than December – Bishop still sent out a press release alleging the vaccine rollout was not on track.

“Labour is planning to fail, signing off DHB plans that don’t ensure everyone eligible gets a vaccine in the stated timeframe. This is particularly concerning given the most recent Budget is predicated on a vaccinated population by the end of the year,” he said.

He told The Spinoff that the government still had something to answer for. “Labour need to explain why [the DHBs] weren’t planning on making the end of year target in April, well after the PM gave her commitment that this was the plan. The government developed and published plans in April based on the Wellington DHBs plans – which were plans to fail.”

The prime minister is expected to reveal details of a roadmap for reopening the border next Thursday.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

An MOU has been signed between the Reserve Bank and finance minister, giving the RBNZ new powers to restrict mortgage lending. The NZ Herald reports it will take the form of debt-to-income restrictions, which the RBNZ will develop. The balancing act for them will be tricky, because on the one hand there’s fears of too much risky lending going on, with some owners likely to have a significant chunk of negative equity if prices fall. But on the other hand, minister Grant Robertson is very keen to ensure first home buyers aren’t affected by new restrictions.

You may have noticed that house prices have got rather inflated recently, so should this have happened sooner? Interest reports Robertson has defended the timeline, saying there was a need to move at a responsible pace. The target of the policy is investors, whose activities in the market have been what has fueled the extreme price rises, coupled with a lack of supply.

What’s at stake here? Basically, the stability of the financial system, so it’s kind of a biggie. Having a lot of risky lending raises the prospect of a lot of mortgage defaults happening all at once, which could have a cascading effect through everything else. This is something the RBNZ has been warning about this year, particularly because of the increase in debt being held. Also on Interest, David Hargreaves has an analysis post about the technicalities of what the RBNZ could do from here.


A major class action lawsuit over leaky buildings has ended abruptly, with no compensation for homeowners. Logan Church of One News reports the end of the James Hardie suit came with a settlement, after the London-based funders of the class action are understood to have pulled the plug. James Hardie will not have to make any admission of liability as a result of the settlement. The NZ Herald’s John Weekes reports a representative of the homeowners described it as a “terrible day”.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here



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