Live updates, August 5: Victoria to go into seven-day lockdown; National refuses to back conversion therapy bill

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 5, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

6.30pm: Victoria to go back into lockdown

The Australian state of Victoria will go into lockdown for the sixth time later tonight (10pm NZ time) after new positive Covid-19 cases with no clear link to existing cases emerged. The lockdown will run for at least seven days. Eight new cases were reported earlier today.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am to have to be here doing this again,” said state premier Daniel Andrew. “But with so few in the community with one vaccination, let alone two, I have no choice but to accept [public health] advice … The alternative is we let this run … away from us and our hospitals will be absolutely overwhelmed.”

4.10pm: ‘Normal steps occurred’ – Little defends Larry Page visit 

The health minister has been questioned over the news that Google billionaire Larry Page entered the country despite Covid-19 restrictions. During parliamentary question time, Act’s deputy leader Brooke van Velden asked Andrew Little for the “grounds” on which Page was allowed to enter New Zealand.

In response, Little said that the Ministry of Health received a request from a DHB to medevac a child from Fiji back in January. “The application included an adult family member, as is usual in cases involving children,” he said.

“Ultimately, approval must be obtained from a medical officer of health with regards to precautions to protect the community against Covid-19. I’m advised that all of the normal steps occurred in this case.”

Watch Andrew Little’s full response here

3.35pm: Carrington scores third Tokyo gold medal

Lisa Carrington has become New Zealand’s most successful Olympian of all time, scoring her third gold medal in Tokyo.

It’s her fifth gold overall, after winning in London and Rio.

3.20pm: National responds to criticism it won’t back conversion therapy ban

The National Party has responded to critics – including the Young Nats – who are angry it won’t back proposed legislation to ban conversion therapy.

The Young Nats said they were “deeply disappointed” in the party for choosing to vote down the bill, which has its first reading today.

The Spinoff asked Judith Collins’ office for comment but was passed onto National’s justice spokesperson Simon Bridges.

“The National Party indicated a few months ago that we would support a ban on conversion therapy pending the details. Having now received the legislation the caucus has found they cannot support the bill as it is,” he said.

“We understand the disappointment that the Young Nats have expressed. We share their disappointment as we too expected to be able to support the bill. It is disappointing that Minister Faafoi has presented legislation that even he himself cannot answer hypotheticals about.”

Bridges said the party supported the Young Nats’ right to express a different opinion. “Unfortunately it would not be responsible for us to support flawed legislation and so we have had to oppose it at first reading. We are hopeful that the government will be able to amend the legislation to fix the issues and allow us to support it in the future.”

1.55pm: Record number of new Covid-19 cases in New South Wales

New South Wales has hit another bleak milestone in its battle with Covid-19, with a record number of new cases overnight.

The state registered 262 new cases of the coronavirus, with 45 of those infectious while in the community. There were also five new deaths.

Acknowledging the latest deaths, state premier Gladys Berejiklian said: “We extend our deepest condolences to all of their loved ones at the tragic loss. It’s horrible that, during this time, families are losing their loved ones.”

1.15pm: No new Covid-19 cases as record number of daily vaccines administered

There are no new community cases of Covid-19 with just one reported overnight in managed isolation. The number of active cases in New Zealand is 30.

Meanwhile, a record 45,802 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine were given out yesterday. Of those, 32,230 were first doses and 12,852 second.

More than 780,000 people are now fully vaccinated, with roughly 2.06 million doses of the vaccine administered overall.

Regarding the ongoing suspension of quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel, the Ministry of Health have identified 132 returnees from Victoria that still require a negative Covid-19 result. Under a section 70 notice, 2995 people who returned on managed flights from the state between July 25 and 30 were required to isolate until a negative day three test.

And on that note, I’m off to get my first jab.

12.35pm: Google billionaire travelled to NZ despite Covid restrictions

Questions are being asked about how Google billionaire Larry Page was able to enter New Zealand amid Covid-19 restrictions.

A Stuff report this morning revealed that Page visited the country after his child fell ill in Fiji. Page is the sixth richest person in the world, worth about $121 billion USD.

Immigration officials won’t provide details on Page’s visit, but a spokesperson confirmed the billionaire “met relevant requirements” to be approved entry to the country.

During parliament’s question time this afternoon, Act’s Brooke van Velden will ask health minister Andrew Little for “the grounds” on which Page was able to travel to New Zealand.

11.35am: Covid-19 leads to ‘sharp drop’ in marriages – new stats

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a “sharp drop” in the number of marriages, civil unions and divorces in 2020, new stats show.

There were just 16,779 marriages or civil unions last year compared with more than 19,000 in 2019. However, Stats NZ said, the latest figures are in line with an ongoing downward trend. Almost 21,000 marriages were celebrated in 2018.

The divorce rate was also lower last year with 7.6 per 1000 married couples compared with an average of 8.4 over the previous five years.

10.40am: Young Nats and National at odds over conversion therapy ban

Updated

The National Party has been criticised by its own youth wing over claims it will vote against a proposed law to ban conversion therapy.

The bill would see a possible five year prison sentence imposed on someone convicted of administering a conversion practice, and has seen support from Labour, the Greens and Act.

On Twitter, the Young Nats said they were “deeply disappointed” that National would be voting against the legislation. “We acknowledge that the bill is not perfect. However, we believe it should proceed to Select Committee and be given the chance for a full and frank debate,” they said.

“We… believe [National] should commit to supporting it through the first reading and follow through by proposing workable amendments to the concerns raised.”

Conversion therapy “does not work,” the Young Nats add, saying it causes “irreparable harm” to those within the rainbow communities. “The Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill seeks to address this harm and is worthy of further consideration and debate before the House.”

Earlier this week, National’s justice spokesperson Simon Bridges said the party backed the “core intent” of the conversion therapy bill but wanted amendments made. “If minister Faafoi is willing to tighten up some of the loose definitions and add in a parental exemption clause that would protect parents from being prosecuted, National will be able to give the bill our support,” he said.

Act’s Nicole McKee expressed similar concerns but said the party would back the bill through its first reading.

The Spinoff has approached Judith Collins’ office for confirmation of the party’s stance. On Twitter, however, Collins said: “National [was] very clear that we must not criminalise parents for offering advice to their children, nor for objecting to puberty blockers being given to their children. Labour needs to amend its legislation before we will support.”

If National does indeed vote against the bill, it would go against Collins’ earlier position on the matter. In February, she told Stuff that banning conversion therapy was “the right thing to do” and said the entire caucus was onboard.

She added: “I used this thing called Google to find out all about it, then I also listened to people about it, the Young Nationals, who are very progressive on such issues, and they were very helpful.”

10.20am: Olympics morning wrap

New Zealand remains static at 12th on the medal table, but there are a few more podium chances coming up today.

Here are some of your daytime highlights:

  • 12.58pm: Canoe sprint – Caitlin Regal is up in the k1 500m semi-finals ahead of Lisa Carrington a little later.
  • 1.36pm: Golf – Lydia Ko in round two of the women’s tournament.
  • 2.05pm: Shot put – Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill are in the men’s final.
  • 3.29pm: More canoe sprint (hopefully) – Carrington and Regal will hopefully be up for medals.

9.20am: Call for voting age to drop heads to appeals court

Make It 16 – the youth-led group calling for the voting age to be lowered – will today appear in the Court of Appeal for their latest legal battle.

The group are contesting a decision by the High Court to decline an application for a “declaration of inconsistency” with the Bill of Rights Act.

“In its judgment on October 7 2020, it was clear that the High Court agreed that the current voting age is in fact discriminatory to 16 and 17 year olds,” said Make It 16 co-director Cate Tipler. “Unfortunately they incorrectly believed that level of discrimination to be justified.”

The group’s goal, said Tipler, is to have the voting age lowered in time for next year’s local elections.

8.00am: Kris Faafoi planned to quit parliament last year – report

Justice minister Kris Faafoi reportedly planned to quit parliament at last year’s election before being persuaded to stay by his Labour Party colleagues.

Faafoi was seen by many as a rising star in Labour during Jacinda Ardern’s first term as PM. He was initially given ministerial roles outside cabinet before later moving into the more prominent broadcasting portfolio. Last year, he also picked up immigration and, after the election, became justice minister.

According to Newsroom’s Jo Moir, Faafoi wanted to leave parliament to spend more time with his family.

The trouble is that since deciding to stay, Faafoi has faced scrutiny for being “out of his depth” in his prominent new roles. In recent weeks, Faafoi has been forced to answer questions on hefty topics like hate speech, conversion therapy and immigration pathways. His appearances on shows like Newshub Nation have been widely criticised by the opposition.

In her report, Moir claimed that Faafoi’s weak performance has not gone unnoticed by senior government officials, and his office was offered an additional political adviser to manage the workload. That offer was rejected.

Earlier this year, Kris Faafoi joined Duncan Greive on media podcast The Fold. Listen here.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The National party has launched a policy aimed at keeping skilled migrants in New Zealand, and giving them certainty about their future. Stuff’s Henry Cooke reports it would take the form of a “Covid Contribution Visa”, which would involve clearing the hefty backlog of residency applications currently in front of Immigration NZ. The other aspect of the policy would be de-coupling migrant worker visas from specific employers, instead people would be bonded to regions. “We need to offer our migrant workers here 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,” said party leader Judith Collins. Decoupling migrant workers from employers is something migrant rights activists are desperate to see, as a mechanism to prevent abuse.

The government will be under pressure to look hard at the policy, if for no other reason than it’s a good idea. It would solve several seemingly intractable problems, massively improve the lives of countless people, and be good for the economy. Collins didn’t go all the way in proposing simply giving residency to all migrant workers already in limbo in the country, but was open to discussing it. It’s refreshing to see this kind of work taking place from the opposition, especially as National’s week has so far been dominated by some bizarre culture-war nonsense.

The way the government has been handling this issue so far has been to repeatedly just kick the can down the road, and extend temporary visas. But on issues like split families who aren’t being reunited, or the migrant workers in limbo, current government policy is ruining lives. A question was asked in parliament yesterday of minister Kris Faafoi about why the backlog in residency applications had blown out so much, and he put it down to a combination of Covid and an increase in demand. Faafoi also indicated the government is “looking at options available to us” on the issue. Well, here’s one option.

But it seems unlikely to be adopted, because it also highlights wider questions around the current approach to immigration with the closed borders. Earlier this year, a record drop in migration was recorded, which can largely be attributed to closed borders – but it’s not at all clear this government would ever choose to go back to high migration settings. That’s in contrast to Canada, which the Globe and Mail (paywalled) reports is still pushing for record high immigration levels despite their closed borders, as part of a wider country consensus that high immigration is desirable.



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