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PoliticsFebruary 9, 2021

Live updates, February 9: Political contact with Myanmar suspended; Collins backs ban on conversion therapy

blog upd feb 9 2

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 9. Keep The Spinoff ticking by donating here.

6.45pm: The day in sum

Following the military coup in Myanmar, New Zealand suspended political contact with the country.

National’s leader Judith Collins confirmed her support for a proposed ban on gay conversion therapy.

National missed the deadline to present a motion of no confidence in the speaker. They will try again tomorrow.

Speaker Trevor Mallard kicked MP Rawiri Waititi out of the House following his refusal to wear a tie.

There were two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation.

The Reserve Bank put in place stricter loan-to-value ratios.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and supporters led a hīkoi to Auckland’s High Court today in a bid to assert land rights.

Grant Robertson pledged to cracked down on property speculation with a proposal set to go before cabinet shortly.

4.30pm: Ardern unimpressed by tie edict

With geopolitics out of the way, the prime minister has responded to a question about severing ties closer to home: the requirement for men to wear a long bit of cloth around the neck in parliament. The rule saw the speaker of the house, Trevor Mallard, eject Rawiri Waititi from the chamber earlier today for sporting a pounamu hei-tiki in lieu of a necktie (see 2.25pm). “It’s not something I have a particularly strong opinion on,” she told media at her weekly Beehive press conference. “There are much more important issues. I’m sure this can be resolved … I don’t think most New Zealanders care about ties.”

4.15pm: NZ announces new Myanmar measures

Jacinda Ardern has announced “important, fundamental changes to New Zealand’s relationship with Myanmar following the military coup”. Those changes include:

  • Suspension of all high-level political and military contact.
  • Suspension of aid programmes delivered through or that benefit the military.
  • A travel ban on military leaders.

New Zealand is also “joining with other countries calling for a special session at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Myanmar to raise concerns regarding the military coup and the impact on human rights”, said Ardern, speaking at her post-cabinet press conference.

“Our strong message is we will do what we can from here in New Zealand,” she added.

While some might not think New Zealand’s position “particularly relevant”, she said, “one of the lost occasions that I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Aung San Suu Kyi, she specifically mentioned some of her representatives from New Zealand in Myanmar. They were well regarded and well respected, and I think it played a really constructive role at a critical time for Myanmar in their transition.”

3.35pm: Judith Collins (finally) commits to conversion therapy ban

National’s leader Judith Collins today confirmed her support for a proposed ban of gay conversion therapy.

The government has promised to abolish the harmful practice, though has yet to pass any legislation on the issue. Last year, Collins pledged to research the matter before confirming a stance, saying last week that she was still yet to do this.

Speaking to reporters today, Collins confirmed she had been briefed on the topic by the Young Nats (the youth wing of National had already argued for a ban) as well as doing some research via Google.

Read more: While the ban on conversion therapy is delayed, queer people are being tortured

3.15pm: The National Party’s attempt to remove Speaker Trevor Mallard is over – for today

Political editor Justin Giovannetti explains:

The opposition had planned to present a motion of no confidence in the speaker, but it missed the deadline to do so. Instead, National house leader Chris Bishop asked the House today whether he could go around the rules to attempt to remove Mallard.

Labour’s Chris Hipkins tried to argue that the correct procedure needed to be followed, but Mallard overruled him: If the House wants him gone, the House is the master of the House. Bishop’s motion, which needed unanimity, was greeted by a few boos and nays.

Mallard gets to stay on until at least tomorrow, when Bishop has said he’ll try again. National leader Judith Collins has pledged to keep trying to remove the speaker every week, or something like that, into the future.

2.55pm: Government to debate Māori wards bill under urgency

Parliament is back and the government is getting straight down to business with a plan to abolish the public referendum on Māori wards. However, today’s order paper shows the amendment bill as “business not available for debate”.

But, as lawyer Graeme Edgeler explains, it can still face scrutiny in the House:

Normally the government doesn’t need to use urgency to get a bill to select committee, it would just put it high up the order paper to make sure it got debated. But that doesn’t apply today because the bill was only introduced on Friday, and bills introduced on non-sitting days have to wait until the third sitting day before they are available for debate.

Using urgency gets around this restriction because a 2011 change to standing orders means the bill can be debated under urgency despite the bill not having waited three sitting days after introduction.

Governments used to have to introduce the bill itself under urgency, which meant other MPs wouldn’t even get to see what was proposed until 10 minutes before they were asked to speak to it. We’ve at least had the chance to consider it since Friday.

2.25pm: Māori Party co-leader ejected over lack of tie in House


Speaker Trevor Mallard has kicked MP Rawiri Waititi out of the House following his refusal to wear a tie.

Last year, Mallard took feedback from MPs over whether they wished to remove the requirements for formal attire in the House. The speaker said, overwhelmingly, MPs wished to keep the rules in place.

After lodging a point of order, Waititi today said he was wearing “Māori formal attire” – no tie, but a pounamu around his neck.

Mallard said he was not convinced by this explanation.

Waititi’s co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer was wearing a tie despite not being formally required to, as a woman.

Later on, Waititi attempted to raise further points of order and supplementary questions on the matter, prompting Mallard to eject him from the house.

As he left, Waititi said: “It’s not about ties it’s about cultural identity mate.”

1.55pm: First question time of 2021 about to get under way

Let’s check back in with Labour’s Vanushi Walters and National’s Chris Penk ahead of the first question time of the new year. 

Chris Penk and Vanushi Walters
Chris Penk and Vanushi Walters (Image : Supplied)

Labour’s Vanushi Walters writes:

One of the things I’ve frequently been asked in the halls of parliament buildings since October by many of the wonderful staff who work here is “are you lost?”. She’s a maze! Beautiful and filled with markers of our legislative history, but also a maze.

My solution last year was to have one set route to get from my office in the parliamentary library to the particular locations I needed to be. I’m branching out this year and trying to establish shortcuts via new corridors. I made it to two caucus committee meetings in the beehive, across to full Labour caucus meeting and back down to my office using some back corridors this morning without getting lost.

A few photos from the morning: Papers ready for review before our 8am meetings and the cell phone cubbies outside the Labour caucus room. Caucus meet together every Tuesday morning in weeks the house is sitting. Other than the PM we all leave our phones in these cubbies, the doors are closed and it’s an opportunity for us all to have a robust and open discussion about key issues in front of us. Every member of caucus is given an equal opportunity to be heard at these meetings and we keep these discussions confidential to caucus.  I’ve just been delivered a batch of papers for our first Regulations Review committee meeting of the year so that’s my next half hour until a meeting with my electorate team via zoom.

Papers for review and Labour MPs' cubbies
(Image : Vanushi Walters)

National’s Chris Penk writes:

Following all parties’ respective caucus meetings there’s a period of relative quiet in parliament around lunchtime on a Tuesday, prior to Question Time. For some it will represent an hour of calm between those proverbially stormy events, depending on how things are going.

Caucus meetings should be covered in the same discreet, almost quaint fashion as romantic encounters in novels of yesteryear.  A bedroom door simply closes at the end of one chapter to be followed by a new chapter beginning elsewhere. In that spirit, I’ll demurely note that, behind the closed door of the caucus room, MPs always have an opportunity to discuss the affairs of the day. Naturally these include legislation that will require a vote in the House and other issues of topical interest to a political party.

There’s always a sense of anticipation about Question Time in this place but all the more so today, being the first encounter of the new parliamentary year. Reputations are won and lost in that place, a reality to which generations of MPs past and present will attest.

Some interesting questions have circulated in advance of today’s sessions, so some post-lunch popcorn looks to be in order.

1.25pm: Two new Covid-19 cases in MIQ

There are two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation today, the Ministry of Health has announced.

It includes someone in the same travel bubble as the case announced Sunday – an arrival from Zambia who tested positive while in hospital for a non-Covid-related condition.

The other new case arrived from France via the United Arab Emirates.

Following Sunday’s case testing positive in hospital, the Auckland DHB has moved to assure New Zealanders that the city’s hospitals have “robust protocols in place” to care for people with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19. “Hospitals in Auckland are safe to visit,” the DHB said.

One previously reported case has now recovered, the ministry said, taking the total number of active cases to 67. The total number of confirmed cases is 1,966.

Neither of today’s new cases are connected to the managed isolation facility at the Pullman Hotel, the ministry said.

1.00pm: Landlords kicking out tenants before new rental rules come into force, advocacy group claims

New rental regulations come into force from this Thursday (read more here) giving tenants more power over the property they call home.

Now, a tenant advocacy group has alleged that landlords are choosing to prematurely end tenancies ahead of the law change.

“We’ve had a lot of tenants at the moment receiving notice, right up until the 11th [of February] we are seeing it,” Tenants Protection Association director Penny Taylor told RNZ. “We just had one this morning, who, she is a little bit behind in her rent, but not massively behind, and it is something she has been re-paying.”

Taylor said the number of renters coming for advice after being given a no cause notice was up 60% on last year.

Meanwhile, real estate agent Nicky Cruickshank told RNZ she’s noticed a number of landlords who were looking to sell their rental properties. But, it’s mainly landlords with just one property.

“The serious investor that owns a few rental properties isn’t selling – they’re on top of it, they’ve got their healthy homes assessments, and they won’t sell,” Cruickshank said.  “It’s more unfortunately probably the mum and dad investors that may have a second property as a rental [who are selling].”

12.00pm: Parliamentary check in with… Chris Penk

It’s day one back at parliament for 2021 – so today we’ll be catching up with a couple of MPs ready for the new year. Now, National MP (and self-published author) for Kaipara ki Mahurangi Chris Penk writes:

It’s a bit surreal being back in parliament for the year. I had all last week to get used to the idea, admittedly, spending a few days back in Wellington and then being surrounded by politicians of all parties up at Waitangi.

National MPs had descended on the capital for our annual caucus retreat, the venue for which was the Basin Reserve. News coverage had mostly revolved around a pick-up game of backyard cricket at the boundary. You might have got the impression that we merely held a caucus meeting in the lunch break of the cricket, rather than the other way around.

But here we are, this week, back in the corridors of power rather than power plays. Going forward I’ll try to use fewer cricket references (unless I really get stumped etc etc) in describing life in these hallowed halls.

The weekly caucus meeting is coming up shortly so it’s time to turn our minds to that agenda, along with everything else going on here. More soon.

11.30am: Reserve Bank reintroduces harsher LVR restrictions

The Reserve Bank is putting in place stricter loan-to-value ratios to reduce the risks to financial stability caused by high-risk mortgage lending.

As 1 News explained, from March 1, LVR restrictions for owner-occupiers will be reinstated to a maximum of 20% of new lending at LVRs above 80%.

Meanwhile, LVR restrictions for investors will be reinstated to a maximum of five% of new lending at LVRs above 70%.

“We are now concerned about the risk a sharp correction in the housing market poses for financial stability. There is evidence of a speculative dynamic emerging with many buyers becoming highly leveraged,” Reserve Bank deputy governor Geoff Bascand said.

10.20am: National plans vote of no confidence in Mallard; MP to face questions on Air NZ Saudi scandal

It’s going to be a busy day for the opposition, with a planned “vote of no confidence” in speaker Trevor Mallard expected to face scrutiny this afternoon.

National had touted the idea of a vote late last year, after Mallard apologised for wrongfully implying a staffer had been accused of rape leading to $330,000 in taxpayer-footed legal costs.

While the motion will almost certainly fail – Labour has an absolute majority in the house – Stuff’s Henry Cooke posits the move will keep pressure on the speaker.

Meanwhile, new National MP Christoper Luxon is almost certainly set to face questions today over a scandal involving his former workplace Air New Zealand.

It was revealed last night that the airline helped the Saudi Arabian military in a move that may have indirectly caused human rights abuses in Yemen.

Air New Zealand’s CEO Greg Foran today said the policy predated his time in the top job, leading many to point the finger at Luxon who left the CEO spot last year to pursue his political ambitions.

9.45am: Parliamentary check in… with Vanushi Walters

It’s day one back at parliament for 2021 – so today we’ll be catching up with a couple of MPs ready for the new year. First up, Labour MP for Upper Harbour (and first term MP) Vanushi Walters writes:

There’s a beautiful generosity in a thoughtful question. En-route to Wellington from Auckland yesterday I raced from a Tamil Pongal event sari-clad and crossed my fingers through security as I beep beeped walking through the metal detectors hoping I wouldn’t have to remove the 50+ pins that held said sari in place. Thankfully I didn’t. The beeping did however lead to some lovely brief conversations and a question – “do you think our expectations for 2021, that it’ll be ‘a foil to 2020’, will serve us well?”

It’s 6am and I’m just up getting ready to walk in for day one of the first parliamentary sitting block for the year, drinking hotel instant coffee (while deciding where to stop for a second coffee), remembering some of the many thoughtful questions I’ve been asked over summer and making a mental note to stop wishing people a happy new year. I’ve had some quizzical looks in response this last week. Despite it being the first week back at parliament, we’ve been back on the ground for a number of weeks. Planning, setting up electorate offices, recruiting our teams and for us newbies reading all things parliamentary procedure. Yes – it’s definitely time to stop wishing people a happy new year, we’re now well and truly within it.

Hotel coffee
Mm, hotel coffee (Photo : Vanushi Walters)

8.55am: Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei leads hīkoi to Auckland High Court

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and supporters have led a hīkoi to Auckland’s High Court today in a bid to assert land rights.

“The hīkoi is a walk to the High Court, past Judge’s Bay an old Pã site called Taurarua and Waipapa in Parnell, a former fishing village of Ngāti Whātua,” Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust deputy chair Ngarimu Blair told the Herald.

The court battle is against the Crown’s proposals to give those two sites to a “collective of iwi from Hauraki/Thames region to settle their Treaty grievances,” Blair said.

“We do not agree that land from [the] heartland should be given to iwi from elsewhere without our express permission. To do so will breach tikanga Māori or lore and law.”

(Photo : Jett Pihema)

8.00am: Robertson teases Covid-focused 2021 budget; pledges first home buyer support

Grant Robertson has pledged to cracked down on property speculation with a proposal set to go before cabinet shortly.

Finance minister Grant Robertson made the announcement during a BNZ breakfast speech in Wellington, where he laid out his priorities for this May’s budget.

New figures reveal our net debt is now forecast to reduce to 36.5% of GDP by 2034/2035, Robertson said, representing about $60 billion less debt than before the election.

“While these are only projections they show the progress that we are making,” Robertson said of the new numbers.

The finance minister indicated that more support for prospective home owners could be in the pipeline.

Anyone who tries to tell you that there is a single silver bullet for addressing the housing crisis is not facing reality (or is speaking from the safety of opposition),” Robertson said. “What we do know is that now is the time for bold action. The market has moved quickly and rapidly in a way that is not sustainable. We have to confront some tough decisions, and we will do that.”

He added: “the government will announce a rolling series of measures to build on what we did last term to address the crisis in housing.” The first of these is set for later this month.

“At budget 2021 I will continue my focus on making sure spending is targeted at the areas and people that need it the most. We will manage the books carefully including ensuring we are getting value for money in all areas of government spending and reprioritising spending where appropriate,” Robertson said.

This year’s budget will focus on the government’s overarching objectives for this parliamentary term, Robertson said, singling out the Covid-19 recovery and addressing key issues like climate change, housing affordability and child poverty.

Budget investments this year will fall under four high-level priorities, Robertson stated. They are: continuing the Covid-19 response, delivering priority and time-sensitive manifesto commitments, supporting core public services through managing critical cost pressures, and continuing to deliver on existing investments.

“New Zealanders trusted us to keep them safe last year, and we will continue to make the tough decisions required to do that, while also keeping the economy moving in the right direction,” Robertson added.

7.45am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A strange and shameful story erupted last night: Air New Zealand has secretly been supporting the Saudi military in their blockade of Yemen. This story, from One News political reporter Benedict Collins, outlines what happened. An Air NZ business unit called Gas Turbines, “which specialises in servicing military marine engines and turbines”, had been doing work for the Saudi Navy. After a long period of stonewalling media enquiries, Air NZ finally admitted it and put a stop to the work.

One major issue with that is that Air NZ are not a normal company – they are half-owned by the NZ government. This therefore has the potential to create diplomatic repercussions. When finance minister Grant Robertson was told about it (he found out from media) he initially said it was an operational matter. But as Radio NZ reports, by later on Monday night Air NZ was apologising, and Robertson was saying he had been given assurances it wouldn’t happen again. An internal review is now underway, and in an interview with Morning Report today, CEO Greg Foran said he only found out about it ten days ago, and took immediate action.

For context, the Saudi war and blockade against Yemen has created one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century. UN report issued at the end of last year put the death toll at 233,000, with less than half of those caused by actual fighting. Malnutrition, starvation and lack of access to medicine has taken an appalling toll. Children are being particularly hard hit, and millions more are at risk of death. This New York Times article summed up the horror of it, and I’ll quote an excerpt:

Since the war began five years ago, pitting the Houthis [rebels] against a government backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Yemenis have endured doomsday after doomsday: relentless airstrikes against hospitals and schools by the Saudi-led military coalition using American-made weapons, a severe cholera outbreak, the ever-present threat of famine, a health care system in collapse and now the coronavirus.

To give a sense of just how diplomatically unseemly the Saudi war effort now is, even the US government isn’t comfortable with it any more. The new Biden administration announced recently that it would be ending support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen. This Al-Jazeera piece outlines how it isn’t quite clear what that will mean in practice, but the diplomatic message is clear – that governments that aspire to respect on the world stage can no longer be seen to be involved with this war.

Keep going!