Live updates, May 13: PM to lead trade trip to Australia; two people linked to Melbourne Covid case

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for May 13, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

On The Spinoff: Immigrants plead for end to family separation

When the borders closed in March 2021, immigrants who were cut off from their families never imagined they’d still be waiting to be reunited more than a year later. Now many are at their breaking point, they tell Branko Marcetic.

Here’s an extract:

Johan Steyn’s story is by now a familiar one. Having just barely squeaked through the closing doors of the border, he went straight into lockdown with no income for more than a month. After initially being given what he calls “false hope” from Immigration New Zealand (INZ) they’d let families through case by case, he says, what followed was a year of stonewalling.

He and Sumari spent untold hours on hold with immigration, only sometimes getting through. By November, they’d sold all their South African assets, including their home and two businesses. Through racked with anxiety over his family’s safety — besides a rampaging virus, he says, they had to stay in a bed and breakfast near a dangerous area — they were repeatedly rejected for border exemption, told that “humanitarian grounds” meant only matters of life and death.

By the end of 2020, after running two households on a single income for months, they were feeling the financial sting. In New Zealand, Johan was refused a credit card because he was only a visa holder. In South Africa, with no more assets to her name, Sumari couldn’t take out a loan.

He says they’ve spent the majority of their life savings now. And his daughters are struggling. His eldest has seen her grades suffer, while his youngest was told by her classmates her dad would find another wife while he was gone. All the while, hopes raised by the government’s serial assurances that things would happen soon have been repeatedly dashed.

Read the full story here

2.50pm: Political fundraising rules should be reviewed, says PM

Justin Giovannetti has the details:

It might be time for a serious overhaul of the country’s campaign finance rules, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said today after speaking at Eden Park.

The Serious Fraud Office filed criminal charges this morning against six people for donations made to the Labour Party in 2017.

Ardern said she didn’t know much about the situation, but with ongoing or recent investigations into four of the country’s political parties, a review of fundraising rules to make sure they work is necessary.

“Clearly, it’s not currently [working],” she said.

A number of the recent situations have arisen not from party misconduct, according to Ardern, but because of issues with the people who made donations to them. “This isn’t a good environment for anyone,” she concluded.

1.50pm: Mahuta raises concerns over growing violence in Israel

Senior officials have met with the Israeli ambassador to express New Zealand’s “grave concern” at the escalation of violence in Israel.

Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said officials discussed the concerning loss of life and strongly urged Israel to deescalate to prevent the prospect of a widening conflict.

“The growing death toll and the large numbers of casualties, including children, from Israeli airstrikes and Gazan rockets is unacceptable,” she said. “[Officials] also raised their concern at the continued violation of international law and forced evictions occurring in East Jerusalem.”

She added: “The launching of rockets towards Israel by Hamas is unacceptable and must stop. At the same time any response from Israel should be restrained and must avoid civilian casualties. All sides have a responsibility to de-escalate, stop the violence and prevent further suffering and loss of life.”

New Zealand stands ready to assist with the situation in anyway we can, the minister said.

1.45pm: ‘Let’s get on with it’ – PM outlines next phase of Covid recovery

Jacinda Ardern has confirmed her first overseas trip since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – and teased more could be announced in the near future.

The prime minister was speaking to a business audience in Auckland ahead of next week’s budget when she made the announcement.

Ardern will be leading a trade and promotional delegation to Australia in July in order to showcase New Zealand as a great place to do business. “I will be looking to further strengthen business ties with our trans-Tasman partners,” Ardern said.

In addition, trade minister Damien O’Connor will be travelling across the world to both London and Brussels next month, Ardern announced, in order to progress negotiations for New Zealand’s free trade agreements with the UK and EU.

“Securing high-quality, comprehensive and inclusive FTAs with the EU and UK expands our market opportunities, playing a big part in our Covid-19 trade recovery strategy and building on what have been longstanding traditional relationships,” said Ardern. 

“As with all returning New Zealanders, minister O’Connor will undertake 14 days of MIQ upon return, and will be vaccinated ahead of departure.”

Ardern also signalled that she will lead further trade delegations once border restrictions allow, naming Europe, the United States, China and the wider Asia-Pacific.

“These trips may not have been overly notable pre-Covid, but they are hugely significant in light of the domestic realities we’ve been experiencing, and the global ones that still persist,” she said.

A stronger relationship with the US under Joe Biden is also on Ardern’s mind. “I intend to actively pursue an enhanced trade relationship with the US over the coming term,” she said. “We will also continue to rollout the $216 million funding boost for NZTE to help kiwi firms retain and grow their global connections.”

The PM concluded her speech by saying that she is proud of where New Zealand is now. “And now together, we need to keep going. So let’s get on with it.”

1.10pm: Two people in NZ linked to Melbourne Covid-19 case

Two people in New Zealand have contacted Healthline and identified themselves as casual contacts of a recent Melbourne Covid-19 case, the Ministry of Health said.

Despite this, the Ministry of Health said its assessment remains that the public health risk to New Zealand from the Melbourne community case remained low.

“At this stage the ministry is recommending that quarantine free travel, between New Zealand the state of Victoria can continue with certain additional precautions in place,” a spokesperson said.

There is just one new case of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, in managed isolation. Once again, there are no new community cases.

There are now 18 active cases in New Zealand with five people recovering since yesterday’s update. Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,288.

12.30pm: Child poverty remains stubbornly high, shows little improvement

While we wait for the PM to give her pre-budget speech – this from our political editor Justin Giovannetti:

New figures from the government show little improvement across a number of measures of child poverty and an admission from the prime minister that more is needed.

One in five children across New Zealand were in households over 2019 and 2020 where food ran out sometimes or often, according to the child poverty related indicators report.

For Māori and Pacific children, the rates were 30% and 46%. “Many of the issues facing children, young people and their families are complex, stubborn and intergenerational, so we know change will take time, and will require sustained action across government and across our communities,” said Jacinda Ardern in a statement.

The prime minister is also the minister for child poverty reduction. Some improvements were measured about the number of potentially avoidable hospitalisations and regular school attendance, but they were small.

Housing conditions also improved marginally, while housing affordability fell slightly.According to the report, 65% of kids attended school regularly in 2020. Regular attendance was defined as being in class 90% of the time or more. For Māori, only 48% hit that target.

The full impact of Covid-19 is uncertain in the report, but the prime minister acknowledged that it had created “major challenges in the lives of our most vulnerable”.

12.00pm: PM delivers pre-budget address from Eden Park

The prime minister Jacinda Ardern is in Auckland today to give a pre-budget speech focused on reopening New Zealand.

Titled “Reconnecting to the World”, the PM will likely discuss issues such as trade, immigration and the ecomomy.

We’ll have more details soon but you can watch the speech here.

12.20pm update: It hasn’t started yet.

11.30am: Charges filed over donation to Labour Party

The Serious Fraud Office has filed criminal charges against six people in relation to a donation to the Labour Party in 2017.

As there is name suppression in place, no further details are currently available about the six defendants.

In a statement, the SFO confirmed that “none of the defendants are sitting MPs or current or former officials of the Labour Party”.

Labour’s general secretary Rob Salmond said that the party has complied with the law. “Labour has not sought any suppression orders from the courts,” he said. “As the matter is before the Courts, we won’t be making any further comment.”

The SFO began its investigation in July last year. At the time, Labour said it had not received any specifics into the investigation and would fully co-operate with the SFO investigation.

10.05am: House prices rise… again

National house prices have once again risen, skyrocketing by almost 20% in the year to April.

Real Estate Institute figures, as the Herald reports, show Auckland has gone one step further: house prices in our biggest city are up by 21.6%.

That means the average house price nationwide is a whopping $810,000, and more than $1.1 million in Auckland.

Wendy Alexander from the Real Estate Institute said she was surprised to see Auckland reach yet another milestone.

“We were… surprised by the strength of some of the rises in places such as Gisborne, Manawatū-Wanganui, Marlborough and Otago which have all seen annual price rises in excess of 45%,” she added.

9.20am: Worksafe called in to investigate unexplained absence of private school principal, deputy

Worksafe is investigating why the principal and deputy of a private school have been absent since the last school holidays.

No reason has been given for why Dale Burden and deputy principal Yevette Williams, a married couple, have not been back at St Peter’s School in Cambridge.

According to Stuff, WorkSafe has been “notified of concerns” about the wellbeing of some of St Peter’s staff and is making inquiries.

“Following a board representative meeting with WorkSafe, the board subsequently and immediately began an independent investigation which is ongoing. The school continues to work with WorkSafe,” said John Erkkila, the chairman of the St Peter’s Trust Board.

“Naturally, this matter will take time to work through and the board will do what it can to keep you informed. It is important that the board complies with its legal obligations and I would respectfully ask for your understanding in relation to this matter.”

8.00am: ‘Trumpish’ rhetoric by Judith Collins inciting hatred against Māori – Rawiri Waititi

Policies are allowed to called racist during debates in parliament – but not people.

That’s the ruling of speaker Trevor Mallard who was forced to intervene during a rowdy debate last night that saw Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi evicted from the house.

As I reported in yesterday’s live updates, Waititi had objected to Judith Collins’ questions about He Puapua and said that he was unhappy with the “barrage of insults to tangata whenua”.

After leaving the debate, Mallard clarified his reasons for booting Waititi out. “There is a difference between calling an individual a racist and criticising either a policy or a view as being racist,” he said. “Some people have the view that other members’ views are racist. In my opinion, ruling that out would be excluding the rights to free speech, which we value substantially.”

Speaking on RNZ this morning, Watiti said that he believed Judith Collins has been “inciting” racists to come out on social media through her “Trumpish” political rhetoric around issues such as He Puapua, Māori wards and the Māori Health Authority.

“It feels like it has gone back to the Don Brash leadership days,” he said. “When [National] talked about Māori wards being apartheid, the Māori Health Authority being separatist… they can use words like that in parliament [and] when we question them we get kicked out.”

Collins herself, Waititi said, was not racist – but he believed her rhetoric was fuelling racist activity. “It is unacceptable and I think we need to have a mature conversation in this country around how we do politics because Māori are sick and tired of being political football,” he said.

If people want to have a national conversation around Te Tiriti, Waititi said, it must include Māori.

Yesterday in the house, both Act’s Nicole McKee and Labour’s Kelvin Davis expressed differing views to Waititi around what should be debated in the house. Waititi said he would not speak for Davis. “He is a Labour Party MP, he is not a Māori Party MP,” he said. “He represents Labour and everything Labour stands for.”

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A high-powered international panel has castigated governments and supra-national organisations for allowing Covid-19 to become the pandemic it is today. The panel, co-chaired by former PM Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has been at work for the last eight months, and found significant failures in the early stages of Covid-19. You can read their full report here, after it was released overnight. In particular, the report highlighted the length of time it took from cases of an unknown pneumonia appearing until the World Health Organisation declared a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (this Bulletin from late January 2020 conveys a sense of that time, much of the science has changed since then) along with a description of February 2020 as a “lost month” for preventing a pandemic.

What’s more, there are warnings that the same would happen again in a new virus outbreak. “The Panel finds that the system as it stands now is clearly unfit to prevent another novel and highly infectious pathogen, which could emerge at any time, from developing into a pandemic,” said a release accompanying the report.

Vaccines play a major role in the panel’s recommendations for bringing the pandemic to an end. One point in particular addresses a very relevant current topic of debate – who gets to control the science behind the vaccine. To quote:

“Major vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers should convene, under the joint auspices of the WHO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) to agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfer. If actions on this don’t occur within three months, a waiver of intellectual property rights under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights should come into force immediately.”

Individual countries have also been encouraged to invest heavily in making sure Covid-19 is knocked off, and future pandemics prevented. In perhaps an overly optimistic quote, Helen Clark said “the tools are available to put an end to the severe illnesses, deaths, and socio-economic damage caused by COVID-19. Leaders have no choice but to act and stop this happening again.” She’s right, but as her panel’s report shows, leaders can and in many cases have chosen not to act.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.