Live updates, June 10: Nick Smith apologises for gay marriage vote in valedictory; Victoria travel pause extended

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 10, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

5.25pm: Halt on quarantine-free travel from Victoria extended

The travel bubble pause between New Zealand and Victoria will continue for another seven days, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

Despite the lifting of lockdown restrictions in greater Melbourne as of tomorrow, “today’s advice from New Zealand public health officials is that the travel pause should continue” despite the “overall risk to New Zealand” being low, said Hipkins in a statement.  “The government is taking a precautionary approach in continuing the pause, which will be reviewed again next Wednesday.”

There are now 93 cases associated with the outbreak in greater Melbourne, spread over four clusters.

“Green flights” will continue, meaning new Zealand residents and others who can provide a negative test can return without having to go into MIQ.

5.00pm: Nick Smith apologises for gay marriage vote in valedictory

As he completes a 30-year parliamentary career, National MP Nick Smith has delivered his valedictory speech to the House of Representatives. Smith suddenly announced last week that he was leaving less than a year into the term, prompted by a mysterious media story that he believed was imminent relating to an “altercation”. The story is yet to materialise.

In his address, Smith said he “got wrong” his 2013 vote against the marriage equality bill. “The error is all the more personal with my 20-year-old son being gay,” he said. “I wish to put on record today my apology to New Zealand’s LGBT+ community. I pay tribute to Louisa Wall, Fran Wilde and Amy Adams for their leadership that has improved the lives of my son and thousands of other New Zealanders. I also acknowledge Jenny Shipley’s courage as the first PM to attend a Gay Pride parade in 99.”

Smith began by saying it had “been a blast and an enormous privilege to be part of governing this amazing little country we share. My time here has had as many ups and downs as our Southern mountains that I studied in my PHD thesis.” He made particular mention of his two stints as conservation minister. “Conservation is the best job in the Cabinet room. To get it once is lucky; twice is to be truly blessed.”

He also paid tribute to his colleagues in the “brat pack”, the youngsters of the National caucus in the 90s: Roger Sowry, Bill English, and Tony Ryall. “Many wrongly assume the strong friendships between the four of us meant we agree politically,” he said. “We have been on opposite sides of many of National’s policy, conscience and leadership debates. Our annual week-long shared holidays rotating between the upper and lower and North and South islands over 30 years have enabled us to enjoy watching our 16 children grow up together.”

12.35pm: Don’t drink the water at parliament!

Our dehydrated political editor Justin Giovannetti reports:

Wellington’s water woes have now hit the centre of government.

The water being served to MPs in the house today won’t be from the taps, after an announcement that the water at parliament house and the parliamentary library isn’t safe to drink at the moment. The two buildings hold the main debating chamber as well as the offices of many MPs, parliamentary staff and the press gallery.

“This is a precautionary measure due to an external issue,” staff were told in an email at midday. Bottled water will be brought to parliament if the issue can’t be solved quickly.

It’ll be a blow for Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins, who only recently traded in his faithful plastic mini Pump water bottle for a metal model refilled at parliament’s taps.

Despite the frequency with which the capital’s pipes spontaneously bust, showering water and less pleasant things through neighbourhoods with million dollar villas, The Economist ranked Wellington as the world’s fourth most liveable city yesterday.

12.10pm: Queensland, New South Wales, at ‘serious risk’ of Covid spread

There are concerns Victoria’s Covid-19 outbreak could have spread to other states, with health authorities in both Queensland and New South Wales on high alert.

According to Newshub, Queensland has recorded two new local cases of Covid-19 after a couple travelled to the state from Melbourne.

The couple’s trip took them via New South Wales, with health minister Brad Hazzard saying there was now a “serious risk” of an outbreak.

“I am very concerned that we’ve had people leave the lockdown and travel across our state and into Queensland, putting everyone at risk,” Hazzard said.

“What we need to understand is why that was done and there’s no clarity on that at this point.”

11.50am: ‘Everybody should have the right to participate’ – Robertson on transgender athletes

The starting point for a discussion about transgender athletes is that anyone should be allowed to play sport, said Grant Robertson.

The sports minister has weighed into the issue after a letter co-signed by a group of former Olympians called on the government to widen Sport New Zealand’s consultation on the participation of transgender athletes in sport.

Robertson told RNZ that the matter was a complex one. “I applaud Sport New Zealand for the fact that they’ve gone out particularly firstly to the Rainbow community and to the trans community and said ‘how can we support people to participate and be involved and included in sport and recreation’. To me, that’s the starting point.”

The approach to the issue should be one of inclusion, said Robertson.

11.15am: More migrant dairy workers, vets allowed into the country

Another 200 dairy workers will be allowed into the country under a border class exception – but it might not be enough.

The government announced the exception this morning. It will also see another 50 veterinarians enter New Zealand.

“It is clear from conversations with the dairy and veterinarian sectors that they are facing workforce pressures. These border exceptions will go a long way towards relieving those pressures,” said the agriculture minister Damien O’Connor.

But Federated Farmers said it will go no where near far enough. “We thank the Minister of Agriculture for trying on our behalf, but we do need to do more,” the group’s employment spokesperson Chris Lewis told Stuff.

The dairy sector was short between 2000 and 4000 workers, Lewis said.

O’Connor said that the announcement showed the government recognised immediate expertise was needed in some sectors. But, he said New Zealanders needed to upskill in these areas too. “What we have also made clear to sector leaders is that we need to ensure there is a strong incentive for New Zealanders to take up entry level roles and develop careers in dairying,” he said.

10.00am: Climate report should be ‘binned’, says Act

A bit of political reaction to yesterday’s finalised report by the Climate Change Commission.

Both National and Act have come out against the report, with David Seymour calling for it to be shredded and binned.

“If the rest of the world wants to decarbonise, then we should track them. It is dangerous for a small trading nation to get out of sync with its trading partners for reasons of diplomacy, trade, and consumer preferences,” said Seymour.

“It would be foolish for New Zealand to ‘lead’ the world. Whether we like it or not we are a passenger on this journey, our emissions alone will not change the climate.”

Meanwhile, National has given a slightly softer response with the party’s climate change spokesperson Stuart Smith saying the report leaves unanswered questions.

“We still have questions on why farmers are being asked to do more than the targets set out in the Zero Carbon Act,” he said. “We still have concern with some of the policy interventions being proposed to achieve out emissions targets, such as the car tax.”

Both Labour and the Greens took up the report’s call to action, with climate change minister James Shaw saying it showed we need to act immediately.

“They have set out a pathway that would need every part of the Government to come to the table and commit to further action to bring down emissions in their sector. If we can do that, then we can reverse the current trend and finally bring emissions down in line with what science requires. There will be work for everyone to do, so from now on nearly every minister will, in some ways, be a climate change minister.”

MORE: ‘We need to move faster’: Climate Commission lays down challenge in final advice

9.05am: Paula Bennett ‘hurt’ by Muller leadership coup, reveals call that made her quit politics

Former deputy prime minister Paula Bennett has revealed more details about the behind the scenes turmoil within the National Party that saw her leave politics.

Bennett was bumped as deputy last year when Todd Muller replaced Simon Bridges as leader.

Speaking to RNZ on the new episode of Matangireia, Bennett said she was “hurt” by how the leadership coup played out. “At some level I just thought well, Simon and I are just going to be constantly kind of undermined from within, and caucus will decide its own destiny,” she said.

Following the leadership change, Bennett said she received an early morning call from the Muller. “At that point he said to me, ‘I’m going to rank you really poorly, I don’t see a role for you’ and that was incredibly tough,” Bennett said. “I deserved a degree of respect.”

Listen to the full podcast here

Paula Bennett at the press conference to announce her departure (Alex Braae)

8.10am: Thousands of foreign workers given visa extension to ease labour shortages

About 10,000 foreign workers will be allowed to stay in the country for longer after new visa extensions announced this morning.

Working holiday visas and seasonal work visas due to expire between June 21 and the end of the year will be extended for another six months to help manage ongoing labour shortages caused by border restrictions.

The immigration minister, Kris Faafoi, said the move will provide assurances to both employers and visa holders. “We will continue to monitor the border and labour market situations and will extend these visas again if necessary,” he said.

Essential skills work visas for those earning below $27 per hour median wage would be increased from six months to 12 months.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

National MP Nick Smith is returning to parliament today, to formally end his 30 year political career. Smith will give his valedictory speech this afternoon, in the presence of the National caucus including leader Judith Collins. It’s almost two weeks since Smith announced he would be leaving parliament amid an inquiry into a “verbal altercation” that took place in his office. Of course, there was also that tip-off that a media story about him was going to break – something that never happened.

So, what do we know now about Smith’s resignation? The circumstances remain fairly sketchy, with Judith Collins still refusing to confirm or deny whether she is the one who gave Smith a heads up about the media story that never was. As Newsroom’s Jo Moir wrote earlier this week, there’s something of a contradiction in Collins’ statements about Smith. As Moir writes: “Collins denies she told Smith to leave while at the same time insisting she warns her MPs when she thinks a media storm is coming their way.”

Then there’s the role of Newshub’s Tova O’Brien in the whole thing. Allegedly, Smith thought it was O’Brien who had the mystery story about him. It makes sense, as Newshub are never far from a big political scoop. And yet, O’Brien said last week she never had a story on Smith in the works. Judith Collins has continued to maintain she does not disclose the contents of conversations she has with her MPs – a statement that is simply not true – and therefore will not reveal whether she did indeed tip-off Smith.

What’s going to be in that valedictory then? According to Newshub, not much. Or at least, not much if you were hoping for answers to the big questions surrounding Smith’s mystery resignation. Newshub understands his focus will be on his three decade long political career rather than how it all ended.




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