Election Live, August 7: Muller’s ex-consultant spent just ’15 minutes’ with him

Welcome to Election Live for August 7, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other breaking news. For key dates in the election season click here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Policy launching soon. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.30pm: The day in sum

The National Party pledged $20m towards protecting women from gynaecological cancer.

The party’s deputy leader, Gerry Brownlee, questioned the timing of new mask advice.

The Bulletin’s Alex Braae explained the mysterious lack of Labour hoardings in the Waikato.

There were no new cases of Covid-19.

The Ministry of Health announced numerous pop-up testing clinics nationwide for this weekend.

Work started on the third main line of Auckland’s rail network.

3.00pm: Braae-king news – latest from the road

An update from roving reporter Alex Braae, who is touring the country in a Jucy van, on the mystery of why Labour has so few signs around the Waikato:

It turns out it really has been too early in the campaign for Labour to get their signs up.

However, party volunteer Dave is on the case today, with a trailer load of Labour signs to put up around Matamata. He’s expecting about 10 volunteers to join him in Morrinsville tomorrow for more.

Waikato is not a likely swing seat for Labour to pick up, said Dave, even though the towns of Huntly and Ngaruawāhia are deep red. But he is at least expecting a few of Jacinda Ardern’s former colleagues from the Morrinsville Fish and Chip shop to chuck her their vote.

Alex Braae is taking The Bulletin on the road over the election campaign. He’ll be filing semi-regular updates here for Election Live.

2.45pm: Muller’s ex-consultant spent just ’15 minutes’ with him

Political commentator turned National consultant turned political commentator Matthew Hooton has revealed he only spent 15 minutes face to face with Todd Muller, during the former leader’s 53 days in the job. Hooton was hired during the coup by Muller against Simon Bridges.

In an appearance on Magic Talk this afternoon, Hooton said he mainly dealt with political staffers during his time in Wellington. He said Muller preferred to work alongside his deputy Nikki Kaye, and number three Amy Adams. Together, they referred to themselves as “the triangle,” Hooton said.

Hooton, who recently quit his role within the National Party to return to punditry, told the programme he “jumped ship” and definitely wasn’t pushed.

2.30pm: Step forward for third main Auckland rail line

Auckland’s rail upgrade has taken another step forward today. The deputy prime minister and transport minister have marked the start of enabling works on the third main rail line project at the Southdown rail terminal in Onehunga today.

The third main line is between Wiri and Quay Park, at a cost of $315 million. The work is part of the NZ Upgrade Programme, to get shovel-ready projects underway post-Covid.

Winston Peters said the Government is building a strong platform for recovery after going hard and early on the health response to the pandemic.

“We’re getting rail back on track and that’s good for businesses, communities and commuters.

“We are investing more than $1.1 billion to make sure Auckland’s rail network is fit-for-purpose through constructing the new third main rail line, extending track electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe, building new train stations to meet growth in Drury, and doing crucial upgrades across the 100 kilometre network.”

KiwiRail’s chief executive Greg Miller said the third main rail line is a significant part of the $1 billion Auckland metro rail programme. “The work will prepare the metro rail network for the expected start of the City Rail Link in 2024, and to cope with demand for more freight and commuter services in New Zealand’s biggest city,” he said.

1.20pm: No new cases of Covid-19

There are no new cases of Covid-19, the Ministry of Health has confirmed. It’s the second day in a row without new cases to report. There are no new recovered cases, meaning the number of active cases remains at 23, all in managed isolation facilities.

Pop-up testing:

The ministry said pop-up testing centres continue to be popular and are playing an important part in ruling out any community transmission of Covid-19. A number of pop-up testing centres will be open over the next few days, for members of the public who want to be tested.

  • The Taranaki DHB is holding a pop-up in central New Plymouth today from 1-3pm at the New World carpark for members of the public to get swabbed.
  • Mid Central are running two testing stations in Palmerston North today – one in the carpark of New World Pioneer and the other at an event at the Pasifika Community Centre at Bill Brown Park.
  • In South Auckland: The metro Auckland DHBs will be providing free swabbing at a pop-up surveillance testing site in Manurewa this weekend. The drive-thru/walk-thru testing centre will be set up at the Southmall car park, entrance via Weymouth Road, Manurewa, on Saturday August 8 starting at 9am until 4pm.
  • There will be a pop-up testing clinic for Canterbury people without symptoms who wish to be tested, again on Saturday. The clinic will be open from 10am to 4pm at 170 Orchard Road near Christchurch Airport and has been provided by Christchurch International Airport Ltd (CIAL).
  • If you’re in Christchurch and can’t make it to the airport, or have symptoms but don’t need to see a doctor, you can attend the testing centre run by Whânau ora at 250 Pages Road between 9am-1pm 7 days a week. You do not need an appointment to attend.

1.10pm: Ministry still set to provide Covid update

The 1pm update has still not arrived.

12.50pm: Ministry to provide Covid update

The Ministry of Health will be providing today’s Covid-19 case update via press release today, theoretically at about 1pm. Yesterday, there were no new cases to report. However, Ashley Bloomfield revealed update advice on the use of face masks in New Zealand.

He said that people would be encouraged to wear face masks in public if the country moves back to alert level two. Bloomfield said all New Zealanders should have a face mask in their emergency kit. More information on this is available below.

11.45am: Ashley Bloomfield answers questions on face masks

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has done what all public servants have to do once in a while: make an appearance in a Facebook live video. It follows conspiracy theory-esque media comments from senior National MPs about the Ministry of Health’s updated advice on face masks, which calls for all Kiwis to have a mask in their emergency kit in case Covid-19 returns to the community.

Earlier this morning, National’s deputy Gerry Brownlee questioned why the new advice on face masks had come “out of the blue” (spoiler: it was because the World Health Organisation updated their advice) and called on the government to “come clean” over what they know about the current state of Covid-19 in New Zealand.

Watch below (Note – If you’re reading this on The Spinoff app, this video may not work)

11.15am: Alex Braae – life on the road

The Bulletin’s Alex Braae has started his long election campaign journey around the country in a Jucy van, and he filed this update from the Matamata-Piako district. 

When you think about how an election campaign looks, it almost always conjures up images of a country absolutely blanketed in hoardings and signs. You’d think you could hardly turn your head without being confronted by a politician. But in parts of the Waikato right now, you’d be forgiven for not realising that there’s actually an election on at all.

Labour signs are few and far between, and even they outnumber the scarce NZ First and New Conservative billboards. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but there may not be a single Green Party sign in the whole district. The only politicians seen with any regularity are Judith Collins and Gerry Brownlee, who loom ominously over cars speeding by on the rural roads.

It has been far, far more common to see hoardings advertising real estate agents, who all seem to have a much stronger and more specific pitch than those running for office. For a brief moment, I thought I might have stumbled across an exciting insurgency campaign in the town of Matamata, after pulling over to get a picture of an intriguingly mysterious sign that said only “Who is Michelle Palmer?”

Alas, after a bit of googling it turns out she’s probably just a property broker.

11.00am: The slow demise of a central Auckland backpackers

The sad reality of the Covid-19 pandemic is that businesses primarily targeting international visitors are bearing the full brunt of the crisis. The Spinoff’s business editor Michael Andrew has written an excellent piece about the struggle one backpacker in Auckland is facing following the lockdown.

Here’s an extract from his piece:

It was one of the most acclaimed backpackers in New Zealand.

Perched at the top of the Elliot Stables building in central Auckland, it was voted by Hostelworld as the city’s most popular backpackers four years in a row and the third most popular backpackers in the world in 2019. Most New Zealanders would have never heard of it, but if you were a young international traveller it was the place to be – the first stop and bustling home base for thousands of tourists embarking on journeys throughout New Zealand. With every one of its 100 beds booked solidly for months on end, it was a lucrative and valuable business, fully capable of affording its hefty $360,000-a-year lease.

Today The Attic Backpackers is quiet. Most of its beds are bare. A full team of three staff attend to a handful of guests: mostly idle stragglers awaiting visas or their flights home. “No events scheduled” is written on the chalkboard by the reception area, and the large communal kitchen is empty except for a solitary guest making pasta. Emptiness and silence are not features you’d equate with a youth backpackers. But they’ve become the common symptoms of the withering atrophy that has beset many New Zealand tourism businesses since Covid-19 emerged.

Read the full article here

10.30am: National pledges more money to fight cancer

$20 million will go towards protecting women from gynaecological cancer, if National is elected at next month’s election. That’s in addition to the party’s pledge to fund an independent cancer agency and set up a $200 million fund dedicated to cancer drugs.

The extra funding will go towards greater awareness, improved clinical guidelines, increased testing and greater access to clinical trials.

Leader Judith Collins said too many women are going untested and undiagnosed at the moment. “The sad reality is that most New Zealand families will be affected by cancer. Cancer doesn’t discriminate when it chooses its victims and people shouldn’t have reduced access to treatment just because they live in the country.”

9.50am: Regions see boost in housing sales

Reports this morning that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the property market might not be as disastrous as predicted.

The Reserve Bank’s forecasting the house prices index to fall by 1.38% by this time next year – much lower than its previous prediction of a 5.49% drop.

Its believed the rather minor drop could be caused by the vast number of returning New Zealanders. Nicki Cruickshank, sales director at Tommy’s Real Estate in Wellington, told RNZ sale as performing better than pre-lockdown.

In the main centres, the latest QV house price index reports flat movements. However, all provincial centres (except Queenstown) have seen an increase in values.

Read the full RNZ report here.

8.10am: Even after the law changes, NZ still sucks for renters

Right now on The Spinoff, our political editor Justin Giovannetti has contrasted the law for renters in New Zealand with that of his native Canada. It comes after the government passed new renting regulations earlier this week, aiming to make things fairer in the renting market.

Here’s an extract from Justin’s piece:

“Our national sport is real estate.” I’ve heard some version of that phrase over a dozen times since my arrival in New Zealand three months ago. If property is the sport, we learned this week that landlords are the reigning champions. And they are aggrieved.

Property commentator Ashley Church called Jacinda Ardern “the most anti-landlord government probably in the history of our nation.” National leader Judith Collins said the prime minister had turned landlords into the country’s “whipping boys”. Their fury was prompted by a number of small law changes this week, that fundamentally make little difference to the relationship between tenants and renters in New Zealand.

As a recent arrival to New Zealand’s shores, let me take a step back to assess what seems like hyperbole from the landlord lobby. Because while I can’t reliably compare Ardern’s treatment of landlords to that of her predecessors, I can compare it to the situation for renters in North America.

Read the full article here

7.50am: Brownlee questions timing of new mask advice 

Just a day after telling the government to “come clean” over what they know about the current state of Covid-19 in New Zealand, Gerry Brownlee has questioned the timing of new advice on face masks. As detailed in today’s Bulletin (more below), the health minister has asked for all Kiwis to have a mask in their emergency kit, in case a second wave of the coronavirus hits out shores.

Today, National’s deputy leader told RNZ it’s not what he was expecting: “It’s an interesting development, but it’s somewhat out of the blue.” Brownlee said National’s been accused of “scaremongering” for raising questions about issues like this, but “it seems pretty scary that we’ve been told after such a long period of time that [masks] might be necessary after all.”

He said he’s seen very little evidence to back up the reason for making masks compulsory at alert level three. “Why is it now when we’re 94 days with no community transmission, and apparently secure borders, that they’re suddenly wanting to bring this up?

“I think it’s a bit of a squirrel running up a tree, so we’re not looking at the teetering employment situation.”

The Spinoff looked at the “teetering employment situation” here, here and here.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A call from health minister Chris Hipkins for people to have masks at home. The NZ Herald reports that these don’t have to be medical grade masks, and could be reusable. In fact, they could even be homemade, provided they’re worn correctly. The point of mass-masking would become a lot more relevant if we were to move up to level two or higher, because it would mean that a lot of activity could continue more safely. As the NZ Herald reported this morning, large businesses are also investing in worksite temperature testing kits, which would allow them to assess if someone is safe to be at work.

There will also be a trial of the Covid Card in Rotorua. Stuff reports this is basically a bluetooth device, worn like a lanyard around the neck, which sends and receives a signal to other cards. This isn’t the same as tracking, if you were wondering – it would be more about assessing close contacts. The card has been found to work under controlled conditions, but that needs to be stepped up before its viability can really be assessed, so about 250-300 people will take part in this trial. A decision on whether to roll it out further will be made later in the year. In the meantime, the Science Media Centre has compiled a useful list of expert views on this trial.

Testing will also be ramped up again, both in a targeted and more general community based way. An example of this came earlier this week in Queenstown, where there was heavy testing of people because of a person who had been in New Zealand later testing positive in South Korea. Radio NZ Tessa Brunton was down there, and reports thousands of people went through – none have as yet come back positive.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

A CovidCard trial will take place in Rotorua, the government has confirmed.

The government has pushed through a series of law changes, in the final sitting day of this parliamentary term.

Parliament adjourned, with MPs getting a final chance to throw barbs at one another.

Homemade explosives were used to try and blow up an ATM in Hamilton.

A new poll found the majority of Kiwis want the border restrictions to stay in place.

There are no new cases of Covid-19, but the Ministry of Health said everyone should have masks at home.

Read yesterday’s Election Live here



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