Election Live, October 12: New border exception for students; advance voting numbers top a million

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for October 12, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other NZ news. The essential campaign dates are hereFor all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Explore the parties’ pledges at Policy. I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7pm: The day in sum

There were no new cases of Covid-19. There have been no active cases in the community since last week.

An agreement to purchase 1.5 million Covid-19 vaccines was signed by the government.

A new border exception to allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students into the country to continue their studies was announced by the government.

National has promised a PhD scholarship scheme worth up to $10 million for international candidates studying STEM subjects.

The Green Party has hit back at claims by Labour that a wealth tax is off the table if the two parties form a coalition after this weekend’s election.

More than a million votes have already been cast five days out from election day, according to the Electoral Commission.

3.35pm: Small number of international students allowed into NZ under new border exception

The government’s announced a new border exception to allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students into the country to continue their studies.

Education minister Chris Hipkins said the new exception is a “balanced decision” that recognises the vital role international education will play in our Covid-19 recovery.

“It will enable us to welcome back a good portion of those PhD and Masters students who are caught off-shore, and who need to be in New Zealand to complete their work,” he said.

“These are students who hold or held a visa for 2020, and whose long-term commitment to study here was disrupted by Covid-19. Priority will be given first to those who need to be in the country for the practical components of their research and study.”

The first set of students will arrive as soon as next month, with the majority arriving on our shores next year, Hipkins said.

Only a small number of students are allowed into the country under the new rules, but Hipkins said the approach is “pragmatic”.

“I acknowledge that other international education providers, such as schools and Private Training Establishments, will be disappointed that their students are not a part of this border exception group,” he said.

As with all arrivals into the country, all international students allowed to travel will be required to spend 14 days in a managed isolation facility and undergo Covid-19 testing.

3.25pm: Collins doubles down on wealth tax claims

Judith Collins wants voters to believe National won’t bow to pressure and adopt Act’s tax policy if elected – but is doubling down on her claim Labour will implement the Greens’ wealth tax.

The possibility of Labour bringing in the Green Party’s policy was repeatedly rejected today by Jacinda Ardern.

That’s not enough for Collins, however, who has told media Labour will be “bullied” into a wealth tax if the two parties form a coalition.

“We know the Greens have been able to bully Labour in the past – just think about the Green School,” Collins said. David Seymour wouldn’t be able to bully her, however. Collins said voters can believe what she says. “I’m not someone who takes a box of chocolate biscuits to the negotiating table to show subservience.”

Ardern used her word of the moment when asked about Collins’ comments – calling it “misinformation”.

“My view is that they should be courageous enough to debate real issues and fact, not fiction,” Ardern said.

2.40pm: Government signs Covid-19 vaccine purchase agreement

The government has signed an agreement to purchase 1.5 million Covid-19 vaccines – enough for 750,000 people – if the treatment passes clinical trials and regulatory approvals.

Research, science and innovation minister Megan Woods said the agreement means vaccine delivery to New Zealand “could be as early as the first quarter of 2021”.

“This is just the first tranche of work in a multi-pronged approach to ensuring we secure vaccines for New Zealanders,” Woods said.

The deal would secure the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, who have previously said they are in the home stretch for clinical trials of a vaccine.

“Pfizer have said they are making good progress with the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. Subject to clinical and regulatory success, and provided the vaccine is approved for use here in New Zealand by Medsafe, it is possible that some doses will be available to us in the first part of 2021,” Woods said.

The agreement with Pfizer is complementary to other aspects of the Government’s Covid-19 Vaccine Strategy, such as the global COVAX Facility that could provide up to 50% of our population’s needs.

Decisions on who would receive access to the first available vaccines have yet to be made, but health minister Chris Hipkins said a number of factors will influence who will receive vaccines first.

“We have set aside $66.3 million for medical supplies and infrastructure to ensure New Zealand is ready to launch a Covid-19 Immunisation Programme as soon as we have a safe and effective vaccine,” Hipkins said.

2.00pm: Advance voting numbers top a million

Over a million New Zealanders have already headed to the polls, five days out from election day.

That number is well above where advance voting was at this time last election, and in 2014.

The total cumulative figure – 1.153 million – represents about 43% of the total votes cast in the 2017 election.

Yesterday alone, just short of 200,000 votes were cast.

(Image : The Electoral Commission)

Read more here

1.40pm: Charge dropped against convicted white supremacist

A convicted white supremacist has gone on an expletive-laden rant at the media outside court, after having a charge against him dropped at a hearing.

Philip Arps was arrested during the trial of the Christchurch terrorist’s sentencing in August, for allegedly breaching his parole conditions and walking near the Linwood Mosque.

He was on parole after being jailed for 21 months last year for sharing the video of the terror attack online.

Today, as he entered the courtroom in Christchurch, Arps made anti-Semitic comments towards journalists and directed abuse at the Department of Corrections’ lawyer, according to RNZ reporting.

After having the charge dismissed, Arps reportedly continued to make abusive comments outside the courtroom, including making anti-semitic remarks about Jacinda Ardern and John Key.

1.00pm: No new cases of Covid-19

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, the Ministry of Health has announced. Today marks the start of the first full week of alert level one for the whole country since the return of Covid-19.

The total number of confirmed cases remains at 1,515 and with no additional recovered cases, the total number of active cases remains at 45 – all imported cases. No one is in hospital with Covid-19 either.

Yesterday, 2,026 tests were processed, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 1,002,790.

12.55pm: Ardern briefly rejoins Twitter

While we wait for the latest Covid-19 update – Jacinda Ardern has sent just her second tweet of 2020, in response to political reporter Jason Walls asking whether the Labour leader would rejoin the social media site before Election 2020.

Unsurprisingly, Ardern’s brief message was a call to arms for Labour supporters.

By contrast, National’s Judith Collins is an avid tweeter, and even Winston Peters has been somewhat active online over the past few months (perhaps thanks to a pair of certain “bad boys”).

12.50pm: Ministry to provide latest Covid update

Today marks the start of Auckland’s first full week at alert level one, after the shift down last Wednesday night.

As usual, the Ministry of Health will be sending out a handy Covid-19 press release around 1pm. I’ll have all the latest information for you here as soon as it arrives in my inbox.

12.40pm: National promises PhD scholarship scheme

National’s leader Judith Collins has pledged to add expertise to the country’s technology sector through a PhD scholarship scheme worth up to $10 million.

The scheme would target 200 top PhD candidates from major universities around the world studying STEM subjects, and offer them up to $50,000 to spend six months or more conducting research at a New Zealand university.

“As part of this programme we are encouraging global talent to engage and connect with our business community. We hope to establish strong cultural and professional ties with the world’s best and brightest,” Judith Collins said in a statement.

Collins said the policy formed part of National’s “ambitious goal” to double our country’s tech sector by 2030.

11.10am: Too early to rule out wealth tax – James Shaw

The Green Party’s hitting back at claims by Labour that a wealth tax is off the table, if the two parties form a coalition after this weekend’s election.

Jacinda Ardern today repeatedly ruled out enforcing the Greens’ policy, saying the biggest party in government should control tax policy.

But Green Party co-leader James Shaw said he’d expect to have negotiations with Labour if they form a government.

“I don’t know how those negotiations are going to go of course, that depends on the election on Saturday … you’ve got to give voters a chance to have their say,” he told RNZ this morning.

“I don’t think that it is credible not to have a conversation both about the fairness within the tax system, and the amount of revenue that government needs to raise in order to be able to get ourselves through this crisis and then to be able to pay back the debt that’s associated with that.”

9.30am: Down the Billy TK rabbit hole

A fascinating documentary’s been released this morning by Stuff Circuit that I thought I’d draw your attention to.

“False Profit” (spelling intentional) investigates the world of Billy Te Kahika Jr, co-leader of Advance NZ and leader of the Public Party. He’s been accused repeatedly of being a conspiracy theorist, a charge he denies despite hosting anti-lockdown protests which went against the government’s strict Covid-19 orders.

You can watch the full documentary and read more about Billy TK here.

On the campaign trail

Here’s where our political leaders are today:

  • Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern has just wrapped up two hours with Mike Hosking. I don’t know where she’s heading next but presumably she’s not staying in the ZB studio all day.
  • National Party leader Judith Collins is in Christchurch, phone banking with local candidates and later visiting Tait Communications and speaking with media.
  • New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is in Whanganui, where’s delivering a speech titled “Senior Lives Matter”.
  • Act Party leader David Seymour is in Katikati, Tauranga and Mount Maunganui today, meeting locals and speaking to media. Tonight, there’s a public meeting in Otumoetai.
  • Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson has just wrapped a morning webinar before a Manukau walkabout this morning. Later, she’ll be holding a meeting in Mount Eden and campaigning on K Road with Chlöe Swarbrick. James Shaw is in Hamilton today, visiting Eco Emporium at Waikato University.

Also today:

  • We’ll have the latest Covid-19 figures through, as usual, at 1pm.
  • The Electoral Commission will release the latest advance voting numbers at 2pm.
  • Anything I’ve missed? Hit me up on the email.

7.45am: Ardern emphatically rejects Greens’ wealth tax

Jacinda Ardern is being questioned on a wide range of topics by everyone’s favourite interviewer Mike Hosking this morning, as part of Newstalk ZB’s “leaders breakfasts”. I’ll keep an eye out for any other big stories breaking this morning, but for the most part I’ll be tuning in to ZB until 9am (or until the St Pierres jingle ruins me).

Wealth tax ruled out once again

Asked about the Green Party’s wealth tax policy, Ardern repeatedly ruled out implementing this if re-elected.

“We have ruled it out. And I’ve done it multiple times,” she told Hosking.

The biggest party in government should be the one setting the tax agenda, not the coalition partners, Ardern said, acknowledging that National has also ruled out bringing in Act’s tax policies if they form a government together.

Beyond the announced tax policies – a higher top tax rate and a digital services tax – no new taxes would be brought in under her government, Ardern confirmed.

MMP to blame for Ihumātao impasse 

Ardern diplomatically placed blame for the lack of movement on Ihumātao at the feet of the MMP political system, rather than just her coalition partner Winston Peters.

However, she acknowledged New Zealand First had stopped some progress being made. No secret deal had been made, she said. “We have to find a way through.”

No regrets on KiwiBuild 

The Labour Party leader has said she has no regrets about starting the KiwiBuild scheme, despite it never even coming close to its lofty aspirations.

Ardern has said the main reason the scheme failed was simply scale – the target was too high. However, Ardern said there were now more first-time buyers in the market. “It has created an extra trigger for affordable housing,” she said.

No lack of talent around the cabinet table

Jacinda Ardern has defended her cabinet team, after criticism from host Mike Hosking about a lack of talent in the Labour Party.

Hosking said the only three competent ministers were Megan Woods, Chris Hipkins and Grant Robertson. However, Ardern said Kelvin Davis has done great work in the Corrections portfolio and Andrew Little has performed well in Justice. Kris Faafoi, Nanaia Mahuta and Damien O’Connor were also singled out by Ardern.

Ardern wouldn’t rule out keeping on Chris Hipkins as both minister of education and health after the election, saying he was given the dual portfolio during the Covid-19 crisis because he is a solid performer.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

With a week to go before election day, hundreds of thousands of people have already got their vote done and dusted. As Stuff reports, more than 585,000 people had cast an advance vote as of the update last Thursday. By some estimates, that total could crack a million when we next get an update (likely to be today) which would be close to the total advance vote in 2017. It’s part of a changing culture of voting that has now been seen across several elections, with increasing numbers choosing to do it well before the actual official election day.

Who is voting, and who are they voting for? We won’t know the second part of that question until election night, but some suggestions have been made about the first. As Radio NZ reports, a higher percentage of voters aged 18-25 are enrolled for this election compared to the last one. As well as that, the referendums going on at the same time are seen by Auckland University politics lecturer Lara Greaves as a force to drive people to the polls. It could be that we end up seeing higher overall turnout as a result of those factors. Anecdotally as well, it has been suggested that a lot of people simply want to get it over with, and aren’t worried about something happening in the final days to change their minds.

Parties are certainly pushing hard to get their supporters to vote early. Radio NZ reports Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has spent the weekend encouraging people to lock their vote in – as her party currently has a huge poll lead, a surge in early voting will likely be to Labour’s advantage, because it will prevent other parties from rallying late. The Green Party also held a rally in Auckland on Saturday, and quite literally marched en masse down to the polls afterwards. NZ First meanwhile, are encouraging supporters to wait until election day itself, reports One News, saying people should see the whole campaign play out before making their decision.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.00am: Yesterday’s headlines

There was one new case of Covid-19, in managed isolation.

Trump considered a ‘superman’ moment (yes really) after leaving hospital.

Billionaire owners of international America’s Cup teams could be allowed into the country.

Read yesterday’s Election Live here



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