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PoliticsMay 5, 2021

Live updates, May 5: Covid case in Sydney community; Ardern expresses ‘serious concern’ over Mallard

blog upd may 5

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for May 5, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at

Top story: Cloud of doubt surrounds Trevor Mallard after big night in parliament

5.30pm: New Covid case in Sydney

A Covid-19 case with no known link to the border has been identified in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. The man is reported to have a high viral load, and is believed to have been infectious since Friday. Other cases are expected to be identified, according to New South Wales health authorities

“If there is one case and there’s no direct connection [to the border], we have to assume there’s other cases. Our response will be proportionate as it always has been in NSW,” said state premier Gladys Berejiklian.

There has been no announcement yet on what impact, if any, this new case will have on the trans-Tasman travel bubble. Recent cases in Western Australia have led to a pause in travel between New Zealand and the state under the “traffic light” system. 

3.45pm: Labour bars use of ‘genocide’ in China parliamentary motion

New Zealand’s parliament has voted unanimously to express grave concerns “about the possible severe human rights abuses” against China’s Uyghur minority but stopped short of joining other democracies in calling it a genocide.

The motion put forward by the Act Party had asked for the genocide label, but the Labour majority pushed through a change removing the word. The parliaments of Canada, the UK, the Netherlands and the US government has used the word genocide to describe the campaign being waged against the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.

Act deputy leader Brooke van Velden, who brought forward the initial motion, was joined by the Green Party in asking parliament to add the word genocide, but was stopped by a procedural objection.

“The world is looking to us now to see what standard we are going to set. Can the [Chinese Communist Party] play us off as the weakest link in the western alliance? Will we abandon our longest standing ally across the ditch if enough carrot and stick is applied,” said van Velden.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said it was “callous and morally indefensible” for both Labour and National to cite trade interests in why they refused to use the word genocide. Ghahraman called on the government to stop buying products made using Uyghur slave labour in Chinese-run internment camps. Wellington may have purchased buses made by Uyghur slave labour, according to a Stuff report this week.

This is the final wording of the motion approved by parliament:

“That this House is gravely concerned about the possible severe human rights abuses taking place against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and that it call on the Government to work with the United Nations, international partners, and to work with all relevant instruments of international law to bring these abuses to an end.”

1.35pm: Mallard’s behaviour ‘did not meet the standards I expect’ – PM

Trevor Mallard will remain in the role of speaker, but Jacinda Ardern has expressed “serious concerns” around the speaker’s behaviour in parliament last night. During a fiery exchange between Mallard and members of the National Party, the speaker of the house made allegations of sexual assault at parliament, under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

In a statement, Ardern said the debate was “poorly managed and inappropriately politicised”.

“Any investigation of claims of sexual assault should be in a manner that takes a victim-centric approach. It also needs to include principles of natural justice for the person allegations are made against,” she said.

“I have expressed serious concerns to [Mallard] about the manner in which he conducted himself in the house last night. It did not meet the standards I expect. Nor do I consider it to have met the needs of the victim in this situation.”

Ardern also criticised the behaviour the opposition MPs involved in last night’s debate. “Issues of this serious nature should not be litigated in parliament in such a manner. It was wrong,” she said.

Jacinda Ardern’s statement is in full below:

“The serious issue of alleged sexual assault and harassment at Parliament was poorly managed and inappropriately politicised last night. The tone of the debate did not reflect well on Parliament as a whole,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“Any investigation of claims of sexual assault should be in a manner that takes a victim-centric approach. It also needs to include principles of natural justice for the person allegations are made against.

“I have spoken with The Speaker this morning. He retains my overall confidence, however I have expressed serious concerns to him about the manner in which he conducted himself in the House last night. It did not meet the standards I expect. Nor do I consider it to have met the needs of the victim in this situation. The Speaker acknowledges he did not meet his own standards either.

“I also believe the behaviour of opposition members was inappropriate. Issues of this serious nature should not be litigated in Parliament in such a manner. It was wrong.

“Parliament rightly needs to set standard for others to follow. The Francis Review and its recommendations, including the introduction of specific Behavioural Standards for all who support the work of Parliament, offer a blueprint for best practice and I believe Parliament should be focused on that.

“Today I am writing to The Speaker and Deputy and Assistant Speakers asking them to reconvene the cross-party working group to consider how the Behavioural Standards can be given practical effect when Members of Parliament are dealing with sensitive staff conduct matters such as sexual assault.

“Parliament must continue to maintain its right to hold Government Ministers and the Speaker to account for actions. However, this can be done in a robust and appropriate manner.

“I urge all parties and MPs to adopt a bipartisan approach to ensure Parliament is a good and safe place for staff to work,” Jacinda Ardern said.

1.10pm: Vaccine roll-out still ahead of schedule

The latest vaccine data from the Ministry of Health has revealed 304,900 doses of the Pfizer jab have been administered in New Zealand.

Breaking that down: 217,603 have received the first dose with 87,297 having received both and therefore are considered fully vaccinated.

It means the overall vaccine roll-out is about 3% ahead of the schedule.

According to the cumulative vaccine plan for each DHB, the mid-central region is the furthest ahead of schedule. It has given out 50% more vaccines than anticipated.

Meanwhile, in contrast, Northland is about 30% behind.

1.00pm: 32 advised to self-isolate after Brisbane green zone breach

32 people in New Zealand have been advised to isolate in relation to a green zone breach at Brisbane Airport last week.

All will have to receive a negative day five test before they are able to leave self-isolation, the Ministry of Health said. At this stage, just three have tested negative.

“Remaining passengers who weren’t at the locations of interest at the specified times should continue monitoring their health and if symptoms develop, call Healthline and get a test,” a spokesperson said. “The risk from this event continues to be assessed as low.”

Meanwhile, there are no new community cases of Covid-19, with three historical cases and three reported in managed isolation.

Five previously reported cases have now recovered, taking the total number of active cases in New Zealand today to 25.

The total number of confirmed cases is 2,273.

12.30pm: Ardern set to break silence on Mallard

Trevor Mallard is expected to remain as the speaker, but Newshub is reporting Jacinda Ardern is very unhappy with the events of last night.

According to Tova O’Brien, the PM will release a statement on the matter at about 1.45pm. It’s unlikely Mallard will be sacked, the report claims, with Ardern said to be standing by him.

11.40am: Ministry vaccine update pushed back a week

This week’s planned vaccine update has been delayed by a week, due to “late unavailability and ill-health,” the Ministry of Health said.

A press release is still due out today with updated data from the vaccine roll-out, but no officials or ministers will front at the podium until next Thursday.

Despite the lack of an official press conference, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins will likely be questioned on the matter during his stroll into the house today.

10.55am: Unemployment rate drops, but still up on previous years

The unemployment rate has dropped to 4.7% in the March 2021 quarter, Stats NZ has revealed. It’s a drop from the 5.2% peak in September last year, but Stats NZ said it is still high compared with recent years.

Unemployment rates for men and women have converged at 4.7%, as the male rate rose from 4.5% last quarter and the female rate fell from 5.3%.

“There have been some gains in labour market outcomes, especially for women, over the past two quarters,” said Stats NZ’s Sean Broughton. “However, annual changes indicate the labour market still hasn’t returned to pre-Covid-19 levels for men or women.”

The seasonally adjusted number of people in unemployment fell by 5,000 over the quarter, with the number of unemployed women falling by 8,000 – offset by an increase of 3,000 men. Over the year, 13,000 more people were unemployed: 9,000 more men and 4,000 more women.

Meanwhile, the underutilisation rate jumped up by 0.4% quarterly and 1.8% annually to 12.2%. Underutilisation measures the “spare capacity” in the labour market.

Over the year, 56,000 more people were underutilised – equal numbers of whom were men and women – bringing the level up to 366,000.

10.20am: PM confirms wedding date… almost

Jacinda Ardern has confirmed she’ll be having a summer wedding – but is keeping the details to herself for now.

Speaking to the Coast radio station, Ardern said her and partner Clarke Gayford have decided on a date.

“That doesn’t mean we’ve told anyone yet, so I feel like we should probably put some invites out,” she said. A bridal party may not be on the cards, however, with Ardern saying she felt too old.

“I don’t know if it’s just me, for some reason I feel like because I’m getting on a bit I just need to forgo it,” Ardern said.

9.55am: Chris Hipkins weighs into Mallard debate, says it didn’t ‘reflect well’ on parliament

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins will be talking to Trevor Mallard after a fiery debate in parliament last night. 

Hipkins told the Herald the debate was a poor reflection on parliament as a whole and did not uphold a victim-centric approach.

“I don’t think it reflected well on pretty much everyone that was taking part in that debate. I don’t think the debating chamber of parliament is the best place to deal with these types of issues,” Hipkins said. “Continuing down this road isn’t the appropriate course of action for anybody at parliament.”

However, Hipkins said the Labour Party still backed Mallard in his role as the speaker. He said prime minister Jacinda Ardern would make further statements about the issue later today.

9.25am: Government thanks public service for beating Covid, freezes pay for three years

Political editor Justin Giovannetti writes:

New Zealand’s public service just received something of a confusing job review from the Labour government.

They delivered “an exceptionally successful health and economic response” to Covid-19, said finance minister Grant Robertson. The economy is doing well, unemployment is down to 4.9% (update: it’s now dropped to 4.7%), rent and mortgages are out of control, but New Zealand is the envy of the world. “The public service is doing a good job implementing the government’s Covid-19 response and we ask they lead the way in supporting the government,” added a cheery public services minister Chris Hipkins.

The public service’s reward for the hard work: we’re going to need you to take another three year pay freeze.

If you earn less than $60,000 a year, you might be able to argue for an exception. “We want to see those on lower wages be the focus of any increases in pay,” said Hipkins.

The Public Service Association has called the announcement a “betrayal” of its 80,000 members who have worked long hours during “a year of sacrifice” to protect the country from Covid-19. Their median salary is $59,000, which will make four years of freezes tough while living costs are growing rapidly, the association said.

“It seems like governments always find an excuse to undervalue public servants and restrict their pay, whether it’s Covid-19, the global financial crisis or the great depression,” the association’s national secretary, Kerry Davies, said in a statement.

This morning’s announcement is a taste of what’s coming in two weeks when Robertson tables his recovery budget.

9.10am: Fonterra enters trading halt ahead of announcement

Fonterra has announced it’s entering a trading halt.

The dairy giant said the halt was effective from when the markets open today and comes ahead of an announcement being considered in relation to “a consultation process on our capital structure”.

“Following tomorrow’s announcement, the trading halt will remain in effect until the market opens on Friday May 7, to provide Fonterra shareholders and unit holders a full day to review and consider the materials before trading recommences,” the company said in a statement.

8.05am: Cloud of doubt surrounds Trevor Mallard after big night in parliament

Today feels like it’s going to be a big one in parliament, after what can only be described as an extraordinary night in the House yesterday.

If you missed it: the ongoing saga surrounding speaker Trevor Mallard’s comments alleging someone working at parliament was a rapist continued last night, with Mallard using the protection of parliamentary privilege to outline why those comments were made. As explained in The Bulletin, the speaker amended his comments to accuse the individual of sexual assault, with National – in particular Chris Bishop – criticising Mallard’s process and attitude toward the proceedings.

This morning, Mallard’s enemies in the National Party have continued to push for his resignation. In a statement, Bishop said that Mallard had failed to justify his actions. “Taxpayers deserved straight answers after he cost them more than $330,000 but those answers never came,” Bishop said.

“The big question Trevor Mallard repeatedly dodged is: why did he not just apologise once he knew he had wrongly accused the Parliamentary staffer of rape, which in his own words was within 24 hours, rather than letting this drag for 18 months at taxpayers’ expense?”

Speaking on RNZ’s Morning Report today, deputy prime minister Grant Robertson chose not to embroil himself in the matter, saying he did not wish to discuss what happened. So far, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has also been quiet.

Judith Collins, on the other hand, relished the opportunity to criticise Mallard. “I saw the behaviour last night… [Mallard] seemed temperamentally unfit. What we saw was a speaker who seemed to lose all control of his behaviour and his emotions,” Collins said. “The point is the speaker of the house should be someone who is a calm and measured person who doesn’t want to exact utu on someone.”

During the RNZ interview, Collins was pushed on why she remained angry about Mallard’s behaviour when he was, effectively, defending the alleged victims of sexual assault. “We are championing process and we are championing the speaker not behaving as we saw last night. Utterly bullying, at times almost incoherent with anger at being questioned,” Collins said.

There will undoubtedly be more on this today, stay tuned.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The political deadlock in Sāmoa looks unable to be broken, and a controversial decision has been made to hold fresh elections. The Sāmoan Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Sualauvi Va’aletoa II, made the call on the grounds of both the deadlock, and the allegations that have been made about the neutrality of the courts, which are currently hearing dozens of petitions about particular results, reports the Samoa Observer. If the elections go ahead, they will happen very quickly, with a date of May 21 set down.

I say if, because the opposition leader is challenging whether the HoS has the power to declare the last election void. “In short, I do not consider that the Head of State has the constitutional power to call new elections at this time”, said F.A.S.T. leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, reports the Sāmoa Observer. One of the live issues right now is the addition of a seat for the governing HRPP, on the grounds that Sāmoa’s gender quota for women MPs hadn’t been met in the original results. That decision left the two parties deadlocked at 26-26, and the opposition leader said any decision on whether a new election should be held should have waited until after the Supreme Court ruled on that. Fiame also accused the HoS of acting unlawfully by “interrupting the proper process of election under law.”

Perhaps more troubling is that the two major party leaders aren’t on the same page. RNZ Pacific reports caretaker PM (and long-time incumbent) Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi is understood to be supportive of fresh elections. Fiame alleged the HoS “is clearly taking the advice of the caretaker prime minister is to pre-empt and undermine the decision of the Supreme Court”.

What happens next? No idea. And even if I had any sort of deep understanding of Sāmoan politics, I still couldn’t tell you. Because right now the country appears to be in uncharted waters, with an unprecedented constitutional crisis looming. If the election does go ahead, there’s no telling who would win, and if it doesn’t, there’s no telling how the pending court cases on individual seats will fall. In short, Sāmoa is facing a long and protracted period of not having an elected government firmly in place.

An extraordinary evening in parliament, in which speaker Trevor Mallard has outlined why he made the comments he did alleging that a parliamentary staffer was a rapist. You can watch the start of the statement here and subsequent contributions on that same site, including that from National’s Chris Bishop, and an important legal note – what was said in the house was said with parliamentary privilege, which means that the MPs who made the comments are largely immune from defamation proceedings. But in simple terms, Mallard has accused the man of committing sexual assault, reports Radio NZ. Mallard denied that he had “ruined a man’s life”, saying that in contrast “that man’s life was destroyed when he sexually assaulted a woman. That’s what did it… I will support the woman and what she said, I will support the investigation that found that he seriously assaulted her… and I will support the police and their investigation and the results of that.”

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