For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level one – read about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.
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6.30pm: The day in sum
Chris Hipkins, the minister of health, announced that a man who had recently arrived from India had tested positive for Covid-19 – then revealed the man had absconded from managed isolation and visited a supermarket in Auckland CBD.
The minister responsible for isolation facilities, Megan Woods, said non-compliance is on the rise.
Fallout from National MP Hamish Walker’s outing as the leaker of Covid-19 patient details gathered pace: party leader Todd Muller said the board would decide his fate, but Walker fell on his own sword, announcing he would stand down at the election.
Former National Party president Michelle Boag, who gave the details to Walker, stepped down from Auckland Central MP and National deputy leader Nikki Kaye’s campaign.
The pair charged in connection with the killing of police officer Matthew Hunt during a routine traffic stop in west Auckland last month pleaded not guilty.
MediaWorks CEO Michael Anderson announced he was stepping down from the role.
6.15pm: Isolation absconder ‘taking selfies’ in supermarket
Kiri Hannifin of Countdown Supermarkets has told RNZ Checkpoint that staff at the Victoria St West store in Auckland, visited by the man who absconded from hotel isolation and later received a positive Covid test, would be tested in the coming days. She said the 32-year-old had not engaged with other customers as he browsed the aisles for about 10 minutes, that he was wearing trendy clothing and purchased body lotion and razors.
There was one other detail: as he wandered around the shop, the man took a series of selfies on his mobile phone, said Hannifin, having viewed the CCTV footage.
5.30pm: Non-compliance in isolation facilities on the rise – Woods
The minister responsible for border isolation and quarantine, Megan Woods, has condemned the actions of the Covid-positive man who absconded from an Auckland hotel for longer than an hour for “an incredibly selfish act”. She told Lisa Owen on RNZ Checkpoint that non-compliance in the government-run facilities has been increasing over recent weeks, in marked contrast to the more compliant behaviour of earlier groups of arriving citizens.
“In the beginning, we had a very compliant population who came in … and we didn’t have people who were attempting to climb fences or slip through gaps when they saw an opportunity.” Why the change? “One thing I would observe is that they are probably looking out their windows and seeing a level one world operating when they are living in level four, which is quite different.”
Woods said among the changes being considered as a result was the role of police, rather than security guards, in monitoring facility perimeters. “We’ve been working through that this afternoon,” she said.
What of the missing minutes, beyond the visit to the city Countdown? Woods said they had interviewed the man and viewed CCTV footage to piece together his actions, but details had not yet been passed up the chain to her. “Please be assured that is work that is being carried out at pace.”
4.20pm: No place for Boag on RNZ Panel
Responding to listener concerns about the regular appearances on the RNZ afternoon current events discussion programme by National Party operative Michelle Boag, host Wallace Chapman has just said she “will not be appearing on The Panel any time soon”. Boag, who has admitted being the source of private medical information leaked to the media by MP Hamish Walker, had been invited on today’s programme, Chapman said earlier, but to be “explain herself” rather than take pontificate on the issues of the day.
Boag was a guest on yesterday’s Panel, immediately prior to the story breaking. At one point she excused herself to write an email. Among her recent contributions to the public broadcaster’s marquee discussion programme was reminding listeners that “this is Covid-19. Presumably there’s been 18 other coronaviruses, on the way to get to 19.”
4.00pm: Extra $32m funding for addiction services announced
The government has announced an extra $32 million in funding for drug and alcohol addiction services over the next four years. Making the announcement in Napier, the prime minister said district health boards had worked together to determine where the money could best be spent, reports RNZ. “Alcohol and drug addiction recovery services around the country have been under pressure, fragmented, and lacking consistency for a long time,” Jacinda Ardern said.
3.50pm: NZ records biggest GDP quarterly fall in 30 years – economist
A University of Otago economist analysing the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global economy says New Zealand has recorded its biggest quarterly fall since 1991, contracting by 1.6% in the March quarter of 2020. Dr Murat Ungor came to the conclusion by analysing recent data releases from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s quarterly national accounts. He also found that China, one of New Zealand’s major trading partners, had recorded a “historic slump”, as its GDP fell 9.8% in the March quarter. In comparison, Australia’s GDP stayed resilient, dropping 0.3%, Japan fell by 0.6%, and the US fell by 1.3%.
3.30pm: Helicopter trust says Boag didn’t have access to patient details
The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, from which Michelle Boag resigned as acting CEO yesterday, has released a statement saying she never had access to any clinical or patient data held by the trust, and it is confident there was no privacy breach.
This appears to contradict Boag’s statement, in which she says the information “was made available to me in my position as then acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust”, but sent to her private email address.
2.45pm: Muller announces plan for $1.5bn road investment, says Walker stepping down ‘only option’
The National Party may be embroiled in scandal amid MP Hamish Walker’s outing as the leaker of Covid-19 patient details and subsequent decision to stand down, but leader Todd Muller is pressing ahead with the announcement of a major transport investment should the party be elected come September.
A National government would build a 60km, four-lane expressway that would link the northern end of Ashburton to the Christchurch southern motorway extension, which is currently under construction at Rolleston, as well as the western corridor to the southwest of the city, Muller has announced. Construction would start after 2023 and the cost of the project is estimated to be $1.5 billion.
At the press conference announcing the proposed investment, Muller also spoke about Walker’s decision to stand down, saying it was the right decision. “This was the only option because as we have well-traversed, the events of the past few days have not reflected the appropriate National Party behaviour and values,” said Muller.
“Unfortunately for Hamish, he has had to make the decision that he has. The board has confirmed the process will begin to replace him, to find a national candidate for the Southland electorate.”
2.30pm: Walker tried to stop Muller from outing him as leaker – report
Back to the day’s other big news story: the fall of National MP Hamish Walker. It has emerged that Walker, who today announced he would be standing down at the election, attempted to stop National leader Todd Muller from revealing that he was the leaker of confidential Covid-19 patient details, citing, somewhat ironically, privacy concerns.
According to the Herald, after Walker admitted to Muller on Monday that he was responsible for the leak, Muller told him he needed to own up publicly. “It’s understood later that afternoon – after the government announced the inquiry – Muller received a legal letter on Walker’s behalf,” says the Herald. “It asked the National Party leadership not to out Walker citing concerns about his privacy.”
1.05pm: One new case of Covid-19, who last night left managed isolation for 70 minutes and went to supermarket
Today’s new case of Covid-19 left managed isolation last night to go to Auckland central’s Countdown supermarket, health minister Chris Hipkins has announced.
The man, in his 30s, arrived in New Zealand from New Delhi on July 3. He was tested yesterday for Covid-19 and a positive result came in this morning. The man is asymptomatic, said Hipkins.
“There was an incident last night when the man left his managed isolation facility at the Stamford Plaza and went to a Countdown supermarket on Victoria Street West,” said Hipkins. “The Auckland Public Health Service has conducted a thorough interview with the person as well as viewed CCTV footage from the facility, the CBD and Countdown to understand the risk posed to the public posed by this incident.
“While investigations are ongoing, the current assessment of the risk is low,” said Hipkins. “The person did not come into close or casual contact with anyone else during the time they were away from the facility, which was between 7 and 8 o’clock last night, that we have been able to identify.”
Hipkins said the man wore a mask while he was out but indicated it was removed for short periods of time. He visited “a small number of aisles” and used a self checkout. The Countdown remained closed today for a thorough clean. Hipkins said the risk to staff had been assessed as low, but they would be provided with health information and Covid-19 tests.
Hipkins said the incident was being followed up by the all-of-government team overseeing managed isolation facilities. “There are fences and security arrangements in place at these facilities,” he said, “but we also rely on those New Zealanders returning home to follow the rules.
“It is completely unacceptable that we have now had two people let everybody else down by breaking the rules, leaving facilities and putting others at risk. These are acts of selfishness that we intend to use the full weight of the law to stop.”
Hipkins said security arrangements and smoking arrangements were being reviewed, as he understood the man left through a smoking area where fences were being replaced. He said it was only a matter of minutes before people noticed the man was missing.
Air Commodore Darryn “Digby” Webb said the man would face charges, with a potential six-month jail sentence or fine of $4,000. Everyone who goes into these facilities is well aware of the rules, he said. “It starts with individual responsibility. These aren’t prisons. Fundamentally, they are hotels.”
Concerns around the Stamford Plaza’s suitability as a managed isolation facility have been raised in recent days. Webb said the smoking area was under observation by a security guard 24/7, but as contractors were on site replacing the fence, the guard may have thought the man who escaped was one of them.
Webb said it would now be considered whether a police presence was required on site.
Webb confirmed the man was away from the Stamford Plaza for 70 minutes, of which about 20 minutes was spent in the supermarket. CCTV footage would be reviewed to determine whether he went anywhere else. According to Google Maps, the Countdown on Victoria St West is a six-minute walk from the Stamford Plaza. Webb said it appeared it had been a spur-of-the-moment decision rather than a planned escape, and Hipkins said the man came back of his own volition.
Asked why the man was tested only yesterday, when day three of his stay would have been Sunday (or generously Monday, as the man arrived late on July 3), Hipkins and Webb said the stipulation had always been to test “around” day three and day 12 of managed isolation.
1.00pm Hipkins to update case numbers – watch live
Health minister Chris Hipkins is about to give a Covid-19 update to media. You can watch below.
12.20pm: Hamish Walker standing down at election
National MP Hamish Walker, who leaked confidential Covid-19 patient details to media, has released a statement saying he will not be seeking re-election come September.
Here is his statement in full:
National leader Todd Muller has released a statement saying he accepted Walker’s decision. “Rachel Bird, the National Party’s southern regional chair, has received a letter from Hamish confirming he will withdraw as the National Party candidate for Southland.
“There was a clear breach of trust, which goes against the values National holds as a party.”
The board will still meet today to discuss the selection of a new candidate, Muller said.
12.15pm: Hipkins giving Covid update at 1pm
With director general of health Ashley Bloomfield on holiday, interim health minister Chris Hipkins returns today to provide media with an update on the Covid-19 case numbers at 1pm. We’ll bring you the live stream and rolling updates.
11.25am: National Party board meeting at midday to decide Walker’s fate
A National Party spokesperson has told RNZ the board will be meeting remotely on a secure online platform from midday today. They could not confirm when a decision would be made.
10.45am: Michelle Boag stands down from Nikki Kaye’s campaign
Michelle Boag, who gave confidential Covid-19 patient details to National MP Hamish Walker, which he then leaked to media, has removed herself from working on Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye’s electoral campaign. Initially RNZ and the Herald reported that Boag stepped down from chairing the campaign, but it appears that while she was on Kaye’s electoral and campaign committees, she was not actually chair.
Kaye told RNZ she has known Boag for many years and said she was ” absolutely gutted” and “hugely disappointed” that she was behind the leak to the MP.
“It’s a very terrible situation, she has obviously resigned from her position from the [Auckland] Helicopter Trust and I think it is also appropriate that she has also given up her positions within the National Party,” said Kaye.
“My thoughts are with those people who have been impacted by this information breach.”
10.00am: MediaWorks CEO resigns
MediaWorks CEO Michael Anderson has stepped down from his role and will leave the company at the end of the year.
Anderson, an Australian, has been in the role for four years. In announcing his departure, Anderson said, “Things are looking positive for the sale of TV and we hope to make an announcement in the coming weeks.”
MediaWorks, which owns TV station Three and radio stations including The Edge and The Rock, last year admitted its TV arm was for sale.
As Duncan Greive reported last month, like all businesses with large exposure to the commercial advertising market, MediaWorks has struggled to cope with a major reduction in advertising. Under the Covid-19 lockdown, volumes and rates crashed, and while the company recovered somewhat as New Zealand reopened, it remained below prior levels, with a deeply uncertain prognosis as the recession came into view.
MediaWorks staff were asked to take a voluntary 15% pay cut in April, while 130 redundancies were proposed at the end of May.
9.55am: Police minister points finger at other National members
Stuart Nash, the police minister, has said he believes other National Party MPs or members are implicated in the leaking of Covid-19 patient details to media. Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker has admitted leaking the details, which he was given by former National Party president Michelle Boag. Walker’s fate will be decided by the party’s board today (see 7.45am update).
“I simply can’t believe that this is just Michelle Boag and Hamish Walker,” Nash told Newstalk ZB this morning. “There’ll be other’s fingerprints all over this. Bill English and John Key would have handled this completely differently. This is a National Party problem at this point.”
9.45am: Pair charged over police shooting plead not guilty
The pair charged in connection with the killing of police officer Matthew Hunt during a routine traffic stop in west Auckland last month have both pleaded not guilty. A 24-year-old man is charged with murder, attempted murder and dangerous driving, and a 30-year-old woman is charged with being an accessory to murder.
In a brief hearing in Auckland’s high court this morning, both defendants entered not guilty pleas through their lawyers. They were remanded in custody to trial next year. Hunt will be farewelled in a private funeral at Auckland’s Eden Park tomorrow.
9.15am: Kim Hill gets last word in baffling interview with Shane Jones
RNZ’s Kim Hill, filling in on Morning Report for Susie Ferguson today, took on NZ First’s Shane Jones in a bewildering interview this morning that included references to Greek mythology, a lot of talk of sniffing, and a smattering of French.
Clocking in at just under six minutes, the interview focused on the release of a report favouring Manukau over Northland for a new location for Auckland’s port. NZ First has long backed Northland, which was favoured by the original government-commissioned report that has been labelled a “shoddy opinion piece” by Auckland mayor Phil Goff.
Jones has slammed the new report, saying Manukau is “the worst harbour in New Zealand”. This morning he told Hill “all I’ll say about Manukau Harbour is Orpheus. Orpheus, the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand’s history”. The MS Orpheus was a Royal Navy warship that sank attempting to cross several dangerous bars in the Manukau Harbour to deliver reinforcements to the crown in the New Zealand Wars in 1860, with the loss of 189 crew.
Orpheus was also a Greek prophet, as Jones continued this morning, “And I will prophesy 1,000 years will pass before the new port will ever be located in Manukau Harbour.”
Hill then moved on to ask Jones whether British Brexit campaign bankroller Arron Banks was headed to New Zealand, as UK newspaper the Telegraph reported yesterday, following The Spinoff revealing Banks’ connections with NZ First.
“Our leader has addressed that issue,” replied Jones. “I think to sniff around like some feral animal doesn’t add anything to the story.”
“What are you calling me?” interjected Hill. Jones reiterated his view that asking the question was “feral political behaviour”.
Asked if he was happy with Banks’ description of Winston Peters as “a more seasoned version” of notorious former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Jones repeatedly refused to answer the question and accused Hill of “sniffing”.
After another attempt at asking if he had any discomfort with the comparison of Peters and Farage, Jones said, “My leader, Winston Peters, is living proof that the National Party does leak against politicians and has no concept of the privacy of individuals.”
After a split second’s pause, Hill responded, “I have no idea what you’re talking about but plus ça change,” and the interview ended.
Meanwhile, Christopher Hope, the journalist who wrote the Telegraph story, is sticking by it, telling Kim Hill on RNZ this morning he’d reconfirmed everything with Banks and his offsider Andy Wigmore (he’s the one the story quotes as saying “I’m going to be on ground in New Zealand causing trouble – mischief, mayhem and guerrilla warfare in the New Zealand election”).
7.45am: National board to decide Walker’s fate today, Boag may have breached Privacy Act
The National Party board will meet today to decide what to do with Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker, who leader Todd Muller says “displayed an extraordinary lack of judgement” in leaking Covid-19 patient details to media. Speaking to both Newstalk ZB and RNZ this morning, Muller stopped short of saying he wanted Walker gone, but had written to the board last night “stepping out the concerns that I have in respect to his judgement”, he said.
Asked if Walker had lost his confidence, Muller responded “yes”. Asked whether he should go, Muller said, “Ultimately that’s a decision for the board.” He said he hadn’t asked Walker directly to consider standing down, but had “certainly requested that he reflect deeply on what sits in front of him and I was very clear about my disappointment”, and his advice to Walker was to “think deeply about what the honourable next step is”.
Muller said he found out about Walker’s actions on Monday lunchtime, and intended to make public the information at the time but, after receiving letters from a QC acting for Walker, was required to check his legal position.
“I am hugely angry,” said Muller. “It’s not the politics that reflects who I am as a person, and it doesn’t reflect the National Party.”
Meanwhile, privacy commissioner John Edwards told Morning Report that Walker, as an MP, was not covered by privacy legislation, but he believed Michelle Boag and the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust were. Asked if former National Party president Boag, who leaked the patient details to Walker, was in breach of the Privacy Act, “Without a very good health-related or business-related reason, I would say yes.”
Asked if he was surprised the helicopter trust had access to those details, Edwards said he was. “I’m very interested in understanding the breadth of distribution of that information,” said Edwards, who added there was already an inquiry under way. “We expect a very thoughtful process of deliberation about who really needs access to this information.”
Minister Megan Woods, meanwhile, who has oversight of the managed isolation and quarantine facilities, told Morning Report that “emergency services across the board were supplied with the names of anyone who was Covid positive” as standard operational procedure in case they needed to come into contact with any of those patients.
7.30am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin
We now know exactly how the leak of private information of all active Covid-19 patients happened. National MP Hamish Walker, representative for Clutha-Southland, has admitted to being the person who tried to take that private information to media organisations – all of which made an ethical judgement not to publish it. A breaking news report on this all was filed last night by our political editor Justin Giovannetti.
Walker received the information from former National Party president Michelle Boag, who got it in her capacity as the (now resigned) CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust. Boag apologised to her former colleagues at ARHT, and said she “did not anticipate that Hamish would choose to send it on to some media outlets but I am grateful that the media involved have chosen not to publish the 18 names that were contained within it”. It isn’t exactly clear why she chose to share it with Walker, but BusinessDesk has a report including some of the pair’s links in the past.
And just to reiterate: An MP attempted to use the private information of very unwell people for political gain. Walker put out a statement and apology denying that he ever intended for the patient details to be made public, and did so to “expose the government’s shortcomings so they would be rectified”. Essentially, Walker claimed to be a whistleblower – but if that were the case, he could simply have blown the whistle, rather than attempt to create an embarrassing story for the government.
National MPs in recent days have been gleefully jumping on this story as a blunder to be exploited – for example health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said “this is unconscionable and unacceptable that those suffering from the incredibly dangerous virus now have to suffer further with their private details being leaked”. As commentator Ben Thomas argued on The Spinoff this morning, it is unlikely that senior MPs had any idea it was about to blow up like this. Party leader Todd Muller issued a statement yesterday saying that it was an “error of judgement” from Walker, and that he had been stripped of his portfolios.
For what it’s worth, that is about the extent of the direct powers Muller holds as party leader. Speaking to the AM Show this morning, Muller said he found out on Monday at lunchtime, and said he made it clear to Walker that he expected the inquiry to be given that information. He delayed going public so that Walker could “connect with our chief press secretary and chief of staff”, before it became clear that an inquiry would happen, and all involved would need legal advice. He also said that he had written to the National Party board “outlining my concerns” – the subtext of that is that it is the board that has the power to deselect him. He also said that Boag’s actions are “appalling”, and that was “another question the board could reflect on”.
Privacy commissioner John Edwards put out a very simple statement in response. “Outrageous, unbelievable, indefensible,” he tweeted. But is it also potentially a criminal matter? Walker said he had received legal advice “that I have not committed any criminal offence”. Edwards made further comments to the NZ Herald, and while he couldn’t comment on that legal advice, it may be in breach of the Privacy Act. “There is a Queen’s Counsel appointed to investigate the whole circumstances of the matter and he will be able to consider some of those questions more, whether there are charges that can be pursued and I look forward to his report.”
And what about that investigation into how the confidential data came out in the first place? That will continue, health minister Chris Hipkins said last night. Radio NZ reports he described the situation as “disappointing”, and said it had the “whiff of dirty politics” about it. But apart from that, it was fairly straight down the line, saying “it’s important that Michael Heron [the QC running it] has the opportunity to complete that investigation”. Anyone with further information has been urged to come forward.
That news yesterday afternoon took a lot of focus off a major border decision from minister Megan Woods. Because the managed isolation facilities are basically full, New Zealanders won’t necessarily be able to book a flight back, under an agreement between the government and Air NZ to manage the flow of arrivals. We had a report on this in our live blog yesterday, and PM Ardern argued that it didn’t create any issues with the Bill of Rights, as people were still had a right of return – they just needed to wait. Todd Muller by contrast said it did breach their rights, reports One News, as “New Zealanders if they want to come home should be able to come home full stop.”
Meanwhile, there was an update on the issue around those in the country on temporary visas. The Indian Weekender reports that those in such a situation whose visas were due to expire this year will get an automatic further six month extension. Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway says it is a short term change “to support temporary migrants already onshore in New Zealand and their employers, while also ensuring New Zealanders needing work are prioritised”.
The Islamic Women’s Council has presented evidence that their warnings of growing danger were ignored for years before the March 15 attacks, reports Josie Adams for The Spinoff. In particular, the group noted that the government and public service had blithely brushed warnings aside – in some cases nobody bothered to take minutes at meetings between the group and government officials. They also spoke about how those at the top contributed to a climate of harassment and suspicion of Muslims, for example when former PM John Key made false and damaging claims about so-called ‘jihadi brides’ – a statement that he has never apologised for.
Another old rubbish dump has been exposed, with debris now seeping into a river, reports Radio NZ. Gisborne District Council staff have been out at Te Araroa, next to the Awatere River, in an area that has seen heavy rain over the past two weeks. It is still too early to say how much got into the river, but it is not expected to be as significant as the Fox River debacle last year.
A sad bit of news for our cousins in Australia: Melbourne is going back into a six-week lockdown, because of an alarming explosion of community transmission in the city. The Age has reported the views of experts, which are that infection rates were on track for 3,000 a day by the end of July if a lockdown wasn’t put in place. There are currently 772 active cases, and dozens of hospitalisations – the public is also being warned that new deaths are unfortunately inevitable.
A new report on Auckland’s port has recommended that it move south to Manukau, rather than north to Whangārei. Newsroom has covered the reaction to the report which is currently before cabinet, and Auckland mayor Phil Goff says some of his concerns about the move north have now been vindicated. On the other hand, others involved in the original Upper North Island Supply Chain report have absolutely gone in against this one, with chairman of that taskforce Wayne Brown providing some particularly spicy quotes.
Yesterday morning two leading Brexit campaigners claimed they’d be campaigning at the election on behalf of NZ First, with the aim of “mischief, mayhem and guerrilla warfare”. As this was quite an explosive claim, and had been reported by the political editor of the Telegraph (one of Britain’s papers of record) naturally our political editor Justin Giovannetti picked up on it. That drew the ire of Winston Peters, who issued a statement disavowing any and all prospect that his party had hired people from this group, or that any would be turning up in New Zealand to campaign – that statement can be read here.
A note on the title of Peters’ release: They’re not ‘Spin-off allegations’ as he puts it – they’re direct quotes from leading Brexiteer Arron Banks, a man with whom Peters has been “happily sharing thoughts and ideas on international matters” since 2016, according to a recent tweet. The inconsistency there was elaborated on in this follow-up story.
7.00am: Yesterday’s key stories
National MP Hamish Walker admitted he had leaked personal details of Covid-19 patients to the media, and party insider Michell Boag admitted she had been the source. Both apologised for their actions.
There were two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation.
Air NZ has put a temporary hold on new international bookings to NZ, and will allow the government to manage in-flow to the country to ensure all arrivals can be placed in managed isolation facilities.
Health minister Chris Hipkins said he was unhappy with the amount of testing in the community, and was investigating why it had been allowed to fall to less than half the recommended daily levels.
Melbourne is to return to lockdown on Wednesday at midnight, and will remain there for six weeks.
People in New Zealand with work visas due to expire by the end of 2020 will have their visas extended by six months, the immigration minister announced.
The government launched a 10-year primary sector plan aimed at creating jobs and boosting exports earnings by $44bn, while also protecting the environment.
A decision on the Port of Auckland’s proposed move has been postponed until after the election, the government said.
The Islamic Women’s Council said it had “continually forewarned” the government about the risks the Muslim community faced prior to last year’s mosque shootings, but its warnings were repeatedly ignored.