Live updates, March 16: Papatoetoe wastewater testing clear of Covid-19 after ‘weak positive’ on Friday

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 16, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

3.10pm: Lack of travel bubble could see ‘death of Queenstown’, says Collins

The matter of a trans-Tasman bubble has continued to be today’s biggest political talking point, with the government questioned relentlessly by the opposition in the House this afternoon.

Grant Robertson stepped in to represent the prime minister Jacinda Ardern in a Question Time dominated by discussion of a possible travel arrangement with Australia.

Earlier today, National’s Judith Collins told reporters the lack of Australian tourists in New Zealand could lead to “the death of Queenstown”.

“The Australians have given up on us, and have simply said New Zealand needs to get its act together and start opening this up,” she said. “We have, at the moment, Queenstown and other towns dependent on tourism which are actually dying. And if the prime minister doesn’t pull finger and get on with this [she is] going to end up with the death of Queenstown on her.”

2.00pm: Hollywood stars advised to snub Golden Globes over lack of Black members

Hollywood publicists are advising their clients not to participate in the Golden Globe awards until the group fixes the “discriminatory behaviour, unprofessionalism, ethical impropriety and alleged financial corruption endemic to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association”.

The Globes – which took place earlier this month – have faced growing criticism (even from this year’s hosts) over the fact its organising body has no Black members.

According to Variety, the HFPA refused to comment on the letter.

Earlier this week, The Spinoff published a piece by New Zealand film maker Chelsea Winstanley calling on the HFPA to make a stand, change its membership criteria and allow journalists from each nation to participate.

1.15pm: Papatoetoe wastewater testing clear of Covid-19 after ‘weak positive’ on Friday; no new community cases

Wastewaster testing in Papatoetoe recorded a “weak positive” trace of Covid-19 last Friday – but it’s now been given the all clear by health officials.

Once again, there are no new community cases of Covid-19. In its daily coronavirus update, the Ministry of Health said there are two new positive cases in managed isolation. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 95, with 2,076 cases overall.

The ministry said that four wastewater testing samples — three from a site linked to Papatoetoe and one from a wider wastewater collection point, which includes Papatoetoe — last night returned negative results for Covid-19 detection.

“This follows a weak positive test result detected on Friday in routine wastewater sampling at the site linked to Papatoetoe, which has been assessed as not posing a risk to the community,” a spokesperson said. “The most likely explanation for the weak positive detection is continued shedding of the virus from the recovered Covid-19 cases from the February cluster who have returned home from the Auckland quarantine facility.”

The ministry added: “We know that people who have recently had Covid-19 may continue to shed fragments of the virus for some weeks after they have recovered, without being infectious to others. Wastewater sampling can detect these fragments, which are not infectious and their presence is not considered a risk to the community.”

“This is supported by results from geospatial mapping linking the homes/residential addresses of the individuals to the catchment area where the sample was taken. The new negative wastewater testing results also provide good evidence to support this. The recovered cases are no longer infectious and there is no evidence that the wastewater is infectious.”

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,824,252. On Monday, 2,822 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 5,364 tests processed per day.

1.00pm: Government knew ‘some weeks ago’ about deported teen

The foreign affairs minister has confirmed she was notified about the deportation of a 15-year-old from Australia to New Zealand “some weeks ago”.

That’s despite the prime minister Jacinda Ardern saying yesterday afternoon that she had just found out about the situation.

Speaking to reporters today, Nanaia Mahuta said: “We were notified that the minor would be returning to New Zealand on March 10. I was notified some weeks ago about the situation. At that point, noting that there were some complex family issues around this matter and that he was a minor, we ensured Oranga Tamariki and relevant agencies would be engaged.”

It’s understood he travelled to New Zealand on his own.

Mahuta wouldn’t be drawn on the boy’s circumstances, but confirmed he has connections to Aotearoa. “Some of the circumstances around his living situation links him to Australia and New Zealand,” she said.

Scratched: Lee Ralph reached the peak of skateboarding – then he disappeared

Right now on The Spinoff: check out a new episode of our acclaimed web series Scratched!

In the late 1980s, New Zealand skateboarder Lee Ralph had the world at his feet. But right when he seemed poised to join the sport’s elite, he was kicked out of the US – and out of the limelight for good.

Watch below or check out the complete season here

11.40am: Government-wide plan to combat modern slavery announced

The government has released a 28 stage action plan to combat modern slavery – but there are no plans yet to create a new law addressing the issue.

As I reported this morning, an 85-strong open letter from the business community was published today, calling on the government to investigate developing a Modern Slavery Act. The letter said that New Zealanders deserve more transparency about where their products come from.

Workplace relations minister Michael Wood has now released an all-of-government plan for tackling the issue, confirming the government is still exploring some form of legislation down the track.

The actions in the plan fall under three key pillars: prevention, protection, and enforcement – and cut across a wide range of themes, including:

  • awareness raising and training;
  • the elimination of modern slavery from supply chains;
  • the effective and efficient delivery of support services to victims;
  • the strengthening of operational, policy and legislative settings to enhance enforcement and prosecution; and
  • international cooperation to support effective prevention and enforcement responses.

“Any form of exploitation is not acceptable,” Wood said in a statement. “While the plan is focussed on more extreme forms of exploitation, it includes changes that we are progressing to address exploitation across the spectrum. This includes $50 million in funding over four years to address temporary migrant worker exploitation, and our pre-election commitment to exploring the implementation of modern slavery legislation in New Zealand”.

11.00am: Housing package coming next week, says Robertson

The finance minister has revealed his long touted housing package is – finally – coming next week.

Grant Robertson had previously announced government support for first home buyers would be coming in February, before Covid-19 returned to the Auckland community and the package was delayed.

What exactly Robertson will announce remains to be seen – but it’s been a long time coming. Speaking to a business crowd in late February, Robertson promised that we should expect “a package of further measures” and “coordinated and enduring action”. He said: “We have to confront some tough decisions and we will do that in the coming weeks”.

Whenever it does arrive, however, it won’t be a moment too soon. Just last week it was revealed the national median house price had increased by 22.8% to a record high of $780,000, from $635,000 in February last year.

9.55am: National launches travel bubble petition

National has launched a petition calling on the government to set-up a trans-Tasman travel bubble.

The opposition has been pushing the issue for weeks, saying a travel bubble with Australia would help local businesses and tourism operators.

“There’s no good reason why we can’t have quarantine-free travel with Australia right now. Australia did it for New Zealanders last October, but our government won’t return the favour,” said Judith Collins.

“Australia has proven it can be done safely, but after nine months and 12 rounds of talks our government still hasn’t moved.”

Collins said that they believe people arriving from Australia should have to provide a negative pre-departure Covid-19 test, but not have to spend 14-days in managed isolation.

“Australia prime minister Scott Morrison says he’s keen for Australians to come to New Zealand and support our tourism sector, so what are we waiting for?”

Yesterday, we reported in our live updates on the government’s tepid confidence in pre-departure testing. Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said: “Pre-departure testing will not identify those that are incubating the virus but not infectious at the time of testing. We know that people can also be exposed to Covid-19 during their journey to get to New Zealand, both internally within their country of departure, and during international travel.”

8.30am: 126 border exemptions offered for Lion King production

Immigration NZ has confirmed 126 foreign workers can enter the country to stage a production of The Lion King in Auckland from June.

Opening at Spark Arena in late June, this is the first time the acclaimed musical has been staged on our shores.

As reported by the Herald, just five locals will fill on-stage roles – but more than 300 New Zealanders will be hired to work behind the scenes.

Border and visa operations general manager Nicola Hogg confirmed the visas are “under the ‘other critical worker’ category”.

8.00am: Cross-party condemnation after Australia deports teen

The deportation of a 15-year-old boy from Australia is facing condemnation from MPs across the political spectrum.

As you may have read in this morning’s Bulletin, the PM Jacinda Ardern has asked for more details on the teen’s situation, but he is currently being held in a quarantine facility and is receiving support from Oranga Tamariki.

“I do want to go back and look at the circumstances under which this deportation happened, because we do want to make sure particularly when we are looking at young people that is being dealt with appropriately, regardless of the circumstances of their deportation,” Ardern told reporters, according to RNZ.

The case is facing strong criticism from all corners of parliament; the Green Party’s Golriz Ghahraman called it “heartbreaking” and said it risks destroying the relationship between New Zealand and Australia. “They need to know they are now damaging their relationship with us, that being a traditional ally and trading partner doesn’t mean that we will continue to be an ally and partner to them as they treat us with absolute disdain in this way.”

National’s foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said it’s “pretty appalling”.

He added: “If the young child has family support here that is stronger than in Australia that might be understandable, but if it is just a case of ‘here is an offender, we want him out’ and so he is off on the next plane to New Zealand, that is a different matter.”

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Judith Collins is under severe pressure as National leader over low polling. In the first One News Colmar Brunton poll of the year, National is up slightly – but only to 27%, well below levels Collins suggested were deal-breakers before she became leader. Not only that, her personal ratings are now down to 8%. A trio of other figures on the right make up almost that amount among them – Act leader David Seymour, National aspirant Christopher Luxon, and former leader Simon Bridges, in order of their ranking.

In the party vote, Labour is still well ahead. The Greens have nudged up to 9%, with Act on 8%. NZ First and the Māori Party were both on 2%, and TOP and the New Conservatives registered, but not much more. If it were all translated to seats, little would change in the overall balance of power in parliament. It follows a recent poll which had Labour and the Greens staying at very high cumulative support. The Roy Morgan poll tends to show higher levels of support for the Greens, and in this one had them on 13.5%. It also had Labour below 50%, and National below 30% (by a smaller margin.)

For Collins, this result isn’t unsurvivable – but questions about her future are now inevitable. But she might hang on partly because nobody else wants the job right now – as the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Claire Trevett writes in an extended America’s Cup metaphor, “the reason there are no enthusiastic challengers is because nobody wants to take over the boat when it is off its foils and there is precious little in the way of a wind coming to lift it up again.” All the while, a review into the party is being shared around the upper echelons – Stuff reports it is understood to focus heavily on making the party much more diverse.

The biggest drop in personal support came for Jacinda Ardern, who went down 15 points to 43%. It’s a curious stat in some respects. Firstly it’s below Labour’s party vote, which dropped to 49% – still enough to govern alone. But a huge number of people have moved into the ‘don’t know’ category on this question, which makes one wonder if those people are still available to Ardern. Despite all this, Ardern remains easily the most popular politician in the country.

Meanwhile on poll news generally, One News is ditching landlines. Political editor Jessica Mutch McKay wrote about why the firm was moving to a combination of cellphones and online polling – simply put, it’s where they will best reach people. An important point about this to note is that sampling is still weighted for demographics, much like it would be were landlines used. It’s also something of a coda to a long-running theme in New Zealand politics, of wistful partisans excusing their poor polling on the presence or otherwise of landlines.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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