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PoliticsMay 6, 2021

Live updates, May 6: Watch: Quarantine-free travel with NSW paused as Sydney cases investigated

blog may 6

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for May 6, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at

5.40pm: Quarantine-free travel with NSW paused in response to Covid outbreak

Quarantine-free travel with New South Wales has been paused in response to two new cases of Covid-19 in Sydney.

In a statement, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said flights will be paused from 11.59pm tonight while the source of infection is investigated. The pause is expected to last for 48 hours, but the period may be shortened or extended depending on what information is received.

People who have travelled from New South Wales in the past six days will be contacted and asked if they’ve been to any of the locations of interest on the New South Wales health website. If they have, they’ll be asked to isolate and get tested.

Whole genome sequencing has linked the first case to a recent returnee who arrived in Australia from the United States, said the statement, but how the virus was transmitted is unknown. “The advice that we have received is that there’s possible there’s an intermediary,” said Hipkins in a press conference this evening. The second case is the first case’s wife.

“We’ve weighed this up very carefully, it’s a finely balanced decision,” Hipkins said. “This isn’t a decision we take lightly.”

5.20pm: Court dismisses Queen Street injunction

The High Court has declined a request for an injunction to halt work in widening pavements on lower Queen Street. The Save the Queen Street Society (SQSS), a group of business owners and the Heart of the City organisation, asked the court to suspend the project, scheduled to begin next week, pending a ruling on its legality.

“I’m pleased that this interim decision enables the planned improvements to go ahead according to schedule,” said the mayor, Phil Goff. “We will continue to work with all stakeholders to progress improvements to Queen Street that will help make it a great place for the thousands of Aucklanders who live, work, study and shop there.”

“While the interim injunction request was declined, there was acknowledgement in the judgment that the ’emergency’ works installed by Auckland Council in April 2020 are of unacceptable quality, limited functionality and indisputably unappealing aesthetics,” said SQSS in a statement.

“Notwithstanding the result the society is continuing to work collaboratively with Auckland Council to reach a resolution to the main issue which is the removal of the emergency works in the balance of the street.”

Ten further challenges from SQSS are yet to be heard at a substantive hearing expected in July.

5.05pm: Hipkins to give update on Sydney flights as Covid restrictions announced

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has been in talks with Australian health officials about a potential pause on flights between Sydney and New Zealand, and will provide an update at 5.40pm. Discussions were held this afternoon as new restrictions were announced for Sydney following the detection of an unexplained Covid-19 case.

In the greater Sydney region, from 5pm local time this evening, no more than 20 people can gather at a home, face masks will be compulsory at indoor venues, singing and dancing inside is not allowed and patrons must be seated while drinking in hospitality venues.

The restrictions come as a second Sydney person tested positive for Covid-19 today – the wife of the man who was confirmed to have the virus yesterday. While the man’s virus has been linked genomically to an overseas traveller, it’s not clear how the transmission occurred.

3.35pm: Building consents at all-time high, new stats show

The government is patting itself on the back after new figures revealing building consents are at an all-time high.

Figures from Stats NZ show the number of new homes consented in the year ended March 2021 is up to 41,028, due to an increase in consents for higher-density housing.

Building and construction minister Poto Williams said the figures reflect the government’s commitment to addressing increased demand for housing.

“In March 2021 alone, 4,128 new homes were consented – the highest number since the 1940s. A decade ago, in the year ended March 2011, the annual number of new homes consented was 14,611. Ten years on, in the year ended March 2021, the annual number of new homes consented is 41,028. This represents a 181% increase from the same point 10 years ago,” Williams said.

3.05pm: Spinoff readers vent after pay freeze announcement

In this morning’s Bulletin, Alex asked to hear from disgruntled public servants disappointed at the three year pay freeze announced yesterday.

Unsurprisingly, there was a tidal wave of responses. Read the full piece here and check out one piece of feedback below:

From anonymous at government agency in Wellington:

“Getting up and going to work this morning was tough. We don’t need more proof that Cabinet hates public servants. That’s been clear for a while now. Life in the public sector means constantly being asked to do more for less. A sense of fulfilment from serving the public is somehow meant to help pay our rent and bills.

“The best we can hope for, through our work, is that we prevent things from getting worse for people in New Zealand. Forget transformational change. It’s all we can do to combat the slide towards degradation in public services.”

2.15pm: Two million anti-vax leaflets dropped in mailboxes nationwide

A group that has previously argued against lockdowns has organised a massive, nationwide pamphlet drop spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine.

Up to two million flyers containing allegations about the vaccine have been distributed by the group Voices For Freedom, according to RNZ.

The group’s co-founder Claire Deeks said a “fundraiser outreach” had been organised to get the flyers produced.

“This had been planned in advance and was well timed to coincide with the government’s new vaccine campaign,” Deeks said. “The resulting funds enabled the printing and distribution of two million flyers nationwide.”

The Advertising Standards Authority told RNZ it had received four complaints about the flyer so far. The authority has asked for a response from Voices for Freedom.

1.00pm: No change to trans-Tasman bubble after mystery Sydney Covid-19 case

The Ministry of Health is still in contact with its Australian counterpart following the detection of an unexplained Covid-19 case in New South Wales.

The wife of the new case has now tested positive and anyone who visited locations of interest at Sydney specified times has been advised not to travel to New Zealand.

“The ministry has requested airlines communicate this message to anyone before flying to New Zealand from New South Wales,” a spokesperson said. “At this stage, our public health assessment is that the risk remains low.”

Meanwhile, there are no new cases of Covid-19 to report in the community, with one new case in managed isolation. Three cases are being investigated as possible historical infections.

One previously reported case has now recovered taking the total number of active cases in New Zealand to 28. Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,277.

In lieu of a previously announced vaccine update by health officials, Ashley Bloomfield will now instead be doing a Facebook Live this afternoon. No media briefing is planned until this time next week.

12.00pm: Economy beating expectations and private sector workers getting pay hikes – new Treasury figures

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports from parliament:

A day after announcing a three year pay freeze for the public service, the government’s latest financial accounts show better than expected improvement in the economy over a year after Covid-19 hit.

The new data is the latest chapter in the country’s rapid recovery from the deepest economic contraction in its history.

Unemployment is down to an enviable 4.7%, the economy is growing, companies are posting fatter profits and wages are increasing.

The trade-off for so many people keeping their jobs has been a rapid increase in debt as the government hosed money into the economy. Overall crown debt has increased from 24.1% of GDP last year to 33.3%. That’s up $38.9 billion in a year. It’s a substantial increase, due to the government’s deficit and the Reserve Bank’s money-printing programme.

While the opposition will point to the size of the debt, it remains one of the smallest among advanced economies. America’s debt is more than three times as large, while Canada and the UK are more than twice as indebted compared to their economies.

New Zealand’s path back to balance is also clearer. According to the March crown accounts, tax revenues are up 6% from forecasts late last year, led by a 13% surge in corporate taxes. The Treasury said a combination of “higher profitability” a stronger labour market and lots of spending was to thank.

There was also a growth of 8.4% in source deductions over the period due mainly to wage hikes, as well as employment growth.

There have been suggestions in response to the public sector pay freeze announced yesterday that most private sector workers have not seen increases in recent years – IRD’s data would strongly reject those anecdotes.

11.50am: Teachers outraged by decision to freeze public servants’ pay

The education institute has spoken out against the government’s decision to freeze public servants’ pay for three years.

The move, announced yesterday, has sparked wide criticism from those impacted – including teachers and other school staff.

“Over the last year we’ve already seen the impact of this policy on our learning support staff members, who provide individualised support for school children with specific needs,” said NZEI Te Riu Roa president Liam Rutherford. “They are currently negotiating their own collective agreement – and these pay restrictions have made it incredibly difficult for them to make headway with their legitimate claims.”

Rutherford said it’s “unacceptable” to leave public servants behind after the work they did during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’ve all seen that our educators have really gone the extra mile to support our tamariki and our communities during the pandemic – working extra hours, innovating quickly, and emotionally supporting and reassuring children and their whānau,” he said. “To be thanked like this, with an announcement that they shouldn’t expect even standard pay progression in their upcoming negotiations, is truly shocking.”

11.15am: Fonterra suspends trading, proposes overhaul of capital structure

Business editor Michael Andrew explains:

The dairy co-operative Fonterra has temporarily suspended halted trading as it consults its 10,500 farmer shareholders on changes to its capital structure, which would make it easier for new farmers to enter the cooperative and ensure its sustainability into the future.

The consultation is the result of a review over the past 18 months into Fonterra’s structure, introduced in 2012, which many consider not fit for purpose or financially sustainable as New Zealand’s milk supply declines.

While an option is to maintain the current structure, Fonterra’s directors have indicated the best option would be a structure that reduces the number of shares a farmer would need to buy to be a part of the cooperative, thereby helping retain farmers, attract new ones, and keep control and ownership in farmers’ hands. To do this, NZX-listed Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund would be removed or capped from growing further.

To be a member of the cooperative and have their milk collected, farmers currently have to buy one share for every kilogram of milk solids supplied. The proposal is to change that to one share for every 4kg.

To allow farmers to consider these options during consultation, the co-operative is temporarily capping the size of the Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund by suspending shares in the Fonterra Shareholders’ Market (FSM) from being exchanged into units in the fund.

This would prevent the size of the fund from increasing during the consultation process, and then being too unaffordable to buy back.

“The decisions we’ve already taken in response to the findings of the review – like temporarily capping the size of the fund – haven’t been made lightly,” said Fonterra chairman Peter McBride.

“We appreciate they will have come as a surprise, but they are necessary to keep all our options open while the co-op’s farmer shareholders have a free and frank conversation about our capital structure.”

10.35am: $200m package to boost tourism recovery announced

The government is set to roll out a $200 million tourism recovery package to address the impacts of Covid-19.

Announced today by tourism minister Stuart Nash, the funding will invest in new programmes like small business support, tourism infrastructure, Māori development and mental wellbeing support.

Some businesses will be eligible for a $5000 grant to help them plan for the future and will be able to claim a further $5000 to help put those plans into action.

“The economic impact of the loss of international visitors is felt beyond the tourism workforce and businesses,” Nash said. “Whole communities, especially in five South Island regions, are facing new challenges to their way of life.”

Part of the package includes nearly $50 million set aside to “kick start” businesses that have gone into hibernation due to Covid, and $26 million for regional tourism organisations.

$20m which will be used to “diversify” the Queenstown-Wanaka region’s economy: “the area is over-reliant on international tourism, and needs support to improve its resilience to global economic shocks,” said Nash. “Government support will be through an underwriting role. Potential projects include a digital innovation hub and a film studio.”

9.45am: Risk to travel bubble ‘low’ after mystery Covid-19 case in Sydney

The public risk from a new Covid-19 case in New South Wales is low, the Ministry of Health said.

A man in his 50s tested positive in Sydney for the coronavirus yesterday, despite having no links to the border. 

“The ministry does not at this stage recommend any change in quarantine free travel between New Zealand and Australia,” a spokesperson said last night.

“Anyone in New Zealand who has been at any of the locations of interest at the specified times should contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453, self-isolate and be tested as soon as possible.”

An update is expected later today following further testing in New South Wales. “The ministry will remain in close contact with its Australian counterparts as the situation evolves.”

9.20am: ‘Mallard possesses none of the tact and sensitivity good speakers need’ – ex-MP Peter Dunne

Former MP Peter Dunne has called on speaker Trevor Mallard to quit, following a dramatic night in parliament on Tuesday.

Yesterday, Jacinda Ardern expressed “serious concerns” about Mallard’s behaviour after he made allegations about sexual assault at parliament, under the protection of parliamentary privilege. However, the PM said she is standing by Mallard.

In a statement, Dunne said that Mallard’s behaviour demeaned parliament as a whole. “For the sake of parliament’s reputation, if not his own rapidly diminishing credibility, he needs to go, and quickly,” he said. “Because of the nature of the role, the speaker needs to demonstrate impartiality, good judgement, and fairness, topped off by a calm temperament, and an extraordinary level of patience and good humour.

“The speaker also needs to maintain the confidence of the house as a whole, not just the government majority, to be able to operate effectively, and gain the co-operation of members.”

National has been strongly opposed to Mallard remaining in the role. Yesterday, Judith Collins said Mallard was temperamentally unfit to be speaker, with MPs Chris Bishop and Michael Woodhouse also vocally challenging the speaker.

“Despite being a very long-serving member of the house, [Mallard] possesses none of the tact and sensitivity good speakers need to gain the respect and co-operation of all parties in the house,” said Dunne. “Mallard’s political style has always been brutal, confrontational and uncompromisingly partisan, useful attributes for the cut and thrust of normal government/opposition politics, but never desirable qualities in a person chosen to be speaker of the House of Representatives.”

8.05am: Hutt Valley High students challenge MPs over funding after classroom closures

Students at Wellington’s Hutt Valley High School are outside parliament today, protesting the loss of classrooms at their school due to dangerous levels of toxic mould.

The discovery, revealed last month, has forced 500 students at the school across years 12 and 13 to work from home, for half a week, every week, for the rest of the term.

“It’s clear to see that the education of young people in New Zealand is not as much of a priority as it should be,” head boy Patrick Maslen said. “Hutt Valley High School is representative of many schools around the country struggling with lack of funding.”

Head girl Charlotte Leach said the situation should have been avoidable in the first place. “For the year 13s this is our final year at school. We never expected that we would be forced to spend it at home rather than in our classes, learning in the same rooms as our teachers and our friends,” she said.

“The next few months are going to be unsettling for many students.”

Last month, RNZ reported that Hutt Valley High’s principal was blaming the Ministry of Education for allowing the situation to get out of hand.

Leach is concerned that it won’t just be this year’s students impacted by the move out of the classroom. “We want to leave school knowing that the Ministry of Education is committed to funding full replacement of the affected buildings, so that all students in the future will have safe, healthy and fit-for-purpose classrooms,” she said.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

It’s not often governments make the decisions that are genuinely surprising to observers, but what happened yesterday might come close. Finance minister Grant Robertson told the public service that in many cases, they will not get any pay rises for three years, and for those earning more than 60k a year, raises will only be offered in “exceptional circumstances”. It is being justified on the grounds of fiscal prudence. As our political editor Justin Giovannetti reports in the live updates (9.25am) the statement opened with a voluminous statement of thanks to those same public servants for getting the country through Covid. Thanks indeed, you might say.

Some public servants will avoid the pay freeze. The NZ Herald reports about a quarter of those employed in the public sector are on less than 60k a year at the moment, and raises will be targeted towards them. But as a point that illustrates where this will kick in, many categories of border workers are on slightly more than that. For clarity, the decision applies far more widely than just to those who work in offices on Lambton Quay in Wellington.

Other political parties quickly came out against the pay freeze. National’s Mark Mitchell cast it as a case of the government allowing “the number of Wellington bureaucrats to swell up to an unsustainable size”. And the Green MP Jan Logie said it was morally wrong that “the Government is choosing to ignore our essential workers by suppressing their wages, all for the sake of the bottom line.”

And it’s quite possible the Public Service Association is the angriest it has been towards the Labour Party in literally decades. In a warning shot of a press statement, PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk said it is neither sensible nor acceptable to punish today’s public servants along the way. We expect better from this government. We do not expect our members will quietly accept pay restrictions in perpetuity.” With about 20,000 PSA members involved in collective bargaining over the coming year, expect that process to be more fractious than it otherwise would have been. Angry statements were also released by the Police Association, and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists. The latter point about health workers was picked up more widely in this Radio NZ story, with suggestions people in desperately needed professions will up sticks and go to Australia.

There’s a lot of ways this could go politically. Some will of course be happy to see a marginally smaller wage bill being put on the taxpayer. But bigger picture, it seems likely to be self-defeating for the government. High workforce churn and job-switching looms for the sector, right at a time when the government is trying to drive through big, transformative projects. For those public servants working in Wellington, the costs of living will keep going through the roof while their pay falls further behind. On a more intangible level, you’ve got to wonder what this will do to workplace morale, and the willingness to go above and beyond if another great crisis hits.

And it may well be that the government has simply misjudged how warmly people feel towards public servants. A fascinating Colmar Brunton survey released just yesterday found that steady increases in public trust and respect for the public service are continuing and solidifying.

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