Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Kevin Stent - Pool/Getty Images)

Live updates, July 16: Australian Covid-19 cases still surging, 3.5% rates rise for Auckland

Hello, and welcome to The Spinoff’s Live Updates for July 16. If you want to get in touch about anything, flick me an email at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.15pm: The day in sum

National MPs Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams both announced they were quitting politics. Simon Bridges and Todd Muller are back on the National front bench, after a reshuffle.

There was one new case of Covid-19 reported in managed isolation, the child of two people previously reported as having the coronavirus.

$242 million is going towards maternity services, the associate health minister announced.

Some of Twitter’s biggest names were hacked, with tweets published asking their followers for bitcoin payments.

The Australian state of Victoria registered its highest daily increase in new Covid cases, with 317 confirmed overnight.

Auckland councillors voted through a 3.5% rates increase as part of an emergency budget to address a huge funding gap post-Covid.

7.00pm: Auckland Council approves 3.5% rates rise

Auckland property owners face a 3.5% rates increase after Auckland Council voted through its emergency budget this afternoon. Councillors had been debating whether to approve a 2.5 or a 3.5% increase, with the revenue aimed at addressing the council’s $750m deficit and funding repairs to the city’s water infrastructure. The budget, which passed 18-3, also includes a plan to cut a total 1100 staff across council and services, reports RNZ.

Speaking after the vote, finance and performance Committee Chair Desley Simpson told reporters that “there wasn’t really a choice. It had to be 3.5%. I know it’s painful. It’s painful for everyone.”

3.30pm: Man buys house for son

Reports in the media today suggest a rich person, who happens to be former prime minister John Key, has bought a house for his son. The Mount Albert villa sold for $1.4 million, about 22% above the capital value. According to Newshub, Key and his wife Bronagh attended the auction to support their son.

The property listing describes the house as having three double bedrooms, a trendy bathroom and a well-lit formal sitting room.

3:00pm: Australia’s Covid-19 numbers continue to surge

As New Zealand records just a single new case of Covid-19, the situation across the ditch is continuing to look perilous. The state of Victoria has registered its highest daily increase in new cases, with 317 confirmed overnight.

Premier Daniel Andrews said two men in their 80s have died, bringing the state’s death toll to 29. “I am not in a position to provide any further information about those cases but we of course, send our best wishes, our thoughts, our prayers to each of those families,” he said.

2.50pm: Today’s Covid-19 data


1:00pm: One more case of Covid-19 confirmed

New Zealand has just one new case of Covid-19, in quarantine. It’s the child of two people previously reported as having the coronavirus. They arrived in New Zealand from Italy on July 4 and are in quarantine at the Commodore Hotel in Christchurch.

The number of active cases remains at 27, as one person has recovered overnight. It’s been 76 days since the last possible case of community transmission in the country.

Health minister Chris Hipkins said there’s been another 11,000 registrations on the government’s Covid tracer app overnight. The government’s keen to push the app, despite uptake plateauing in recent days and an abundance of shops no longer displaying the QR code. Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said he was pleased with the burst of new registrations.

Bloomfield said there’s been some concern on social media about being charged for Covid-19 tests. He reiterated that there is no cost for an individual to be tested.

12.45pm: Exclusive – Nikki Kaye has been in Ponsonby

The Spinoff can exclusively reveal that former National Party deputy leader Nikki Kaye has been seeking some retail therapy, following her decision to quit politics this morning.

An eyewitness, who was leaving a dentist appointment, spotted the Auckland Central MP after she’d reportedly visited Storm and Mecca.

Nikki Kaye waiting for a cab

“She looked fine, if a bit cold,” the eyewitness said. “She looked at peace as she waited for her taxi.”

It’s not known where Kaye’s corporate cab was taking her, but the MP told media this morning she’s excited about a new life post-politics. “I’m looking forward to being a hippie on Great Barrier Island,” she said.

12.30pm: WorkSafe files charges over massive gas explosion

Two defendants have been charged under the Gas Act, following a huge explosion in July last year that left a Christchurch home in tatters. Five people were badly injured in the blast.

The first court appearance will be next month.

12.15pm: Judith Collins has a big job ahead

Judith Collins thinks she’ll be prime minister after September’s election, and reckons her team is stronger than the incumbent government. The Spinoff’s editor Toby Manhire has written a piece this afternoon, saying the challenge for Collins is to pull off a superhuman repair job on the party’s core reputational strength.

Meanwhile, Collins has doubled down on her assertion that diversity didn’t come into the picture when putting together her front bench. She told RNZ’s Midday Report that her new front bench were all there on merit alone.

“I believe it is important to have someone of Simon [Bridges’] work ethic and intelligence in the role,” she told the programme.

12:00pm: $242 million boost for maternity services

The associate health minister has announced a major maternity package this afternoon.

$242 million will go towards maternity service providers, women and their babies. According to the government, this is the largest ever funding boost for primary maternity services, and is targeted to recognise the work midwives do when caring for women living rurally, and those who have high-needs pregnancies.

“This Government wants kids to have the best possible start in life – I am pleased to see women get the significant investment they need to thrive during pregnancy, birth and in the early postnatal period,” Julie Anne Genter said.

11.55am: Yes, Jian Yang is also quitting politics

Earlier today we reported on the National Party reshuffle and provided a list of MPs who will not be contesting the 2020 election. As was pointed out by an eagle-eyed reader, that list did not include Jian Yang, the publicity shy MP who admitted to training Chinese spies.

To clarify, the list we provided below was cut and pasted from the official National Party press release from Judith Collins’ office. Yang is also not mentioned in the new reshuffle. So, rather than retiring or un-retiring, it appears Yang has simply vanished. The invisible man is invisible once more.

11.35am: Opponents of proposed dump launch hīkoi

A campaign against a huge new dump north of Auckland has drawn together a coalition of iwi, local residents and local government, as reported on by Alex Braae for The Spinoff.

Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish (Ngāti Whātua) will be leading a hīkoi in Auckland this Friday against the construction of the new rubbish tip in the Dome Valley on a 1,000-hectare site at the northern end of the Super City. The dump will sit near the Hōteo River which starts around the Wayby Valley, flowing through Dome Valley and out to the Kaipara Harbour – a precious ecosystem for many vulnerable species. It’s set to hold not only household rubbish, but industrial and construction waste as well.

10.40am: Big name Twitter accounts hacked

Kanye West, Jeff Bezos, Barack Obama. Either a deeply worrying boy band or some of the famous faces who have had their Twitter accounts hacked this morning. The social media giant has stopped any blue tick verified accounts from tweeting as it tries to work out what’s gone on.

The hack has caused numerous famous Twitter accounts to ask for bitcoin (a type of digital currency), in return for an increased repayment.

And if you were missing some high brow political commentary about the National Party chaos (see below), that’s because news outlets and some journos, even in New Zealand, with blue checks have been unable to tweet for roughly the last hour. Won’t somebody think of Jason Walls?!

10:00am: Bridges and Muller back on National’s front bench

National Party leader Judith Collins has just unveiled her new National Party line-up – revealing the return of former leaders Simon Bridges and Todd Muller to the front bench.

It follows the shock departure of Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams this morning and a chaotic 48 hours for the opposition. “I feel extremely affectionate towards Nikki because she has put her heart and soul into her role,” Collins said.

“I’m really pleased that both Amy and Nikki are making decisions that they feel happy with. I’m not so happy that they’re leaving but I understand it – this is an incredibly difficult role, and it’s right that they make the right choices for themselves. I respect that and they have my eternal gratitude and respect.”

Todd Muller will take up the trade portfolio, and drops to position eight on the list – two days after quitting as leader. Collins said he’s taking the next couple of weeks off before returning to parliament. Bridges retains the foreign affairs and justice portfolios, and slips into the fourth spot on the list.

Quick to shake off the drama of the past week, Collins said she’s “moved on” and that Muller “will be the trade minister in the next government.”

Nikki Kaye will be replaced in the education portfolio by Nicola Willis. Collins said Kaye recommended her for the role – and she was happy to give it to her.

“The education portfolio will be in safe hands with Nicola Willis who has shown a tremendous work ethic and aptitude in other challenging portfolios. I’m confident she will continue to contribute to the high standard that we all expect.”

Other changes include Hutt South MP Chris Bishop taking on the extra role of shadow leader of the house – and moving up to the front bench. He’s shot up the list to number seven.

“[Bishop] has been a standout performer in Parliament and as the MP for Hutt South. I have full confidence that he is up to this demanding role.”

The reshuffle follows the announcement yesterday that Michael Woodhouse would be stripped of the health portfolio, to be replaced by Dr Shane Reti.

“As a senior medical practitioner, he is the right choice at this time to hold the government to account in the demanding health portfolio. Dr Reti takes the position of number five on the front bench of the National Party.”

“This refreshed line-up showcases the diverse range of talent and wealth of experience among the National Party ranks,” Collins said.

Mark Mitchell has dropped six spots, but Collins denied this was a penalty for him running against her for the leadership.

Collins and Gerry Brownlee took up the top jobs late on Tuesday night. Brownlee picks up the Covid-19 border response portfolio in this reshuffle. Earlier this morning, Amy Adams said part of the reason for her decision to quit was that she wasn’t offered the Covid-19 response portfolio she’d held under Todd Muller.

While she hoped no other MPs would resign between now and the election, Collins said it allows new talent to come through the ranks. “It doesn’t matter how good someone is, there’s always someone else coming through.”

Before finishing her press conference (and inviting media to enjoy a sausage roll), Collins teased a big policy announcement coming tomorrow. “You’ll want to turn up,” she said. And turn up we will.

Here’s the new National Party top 20:

  1. Judith Collins Leader, National security 
  2. Gerry Brownlee Deputy leader, NZSIS, GCSB, Covid-19 border response 
  3. Paul Goldsmith Finance, Earthquake Commission 
  4. Simon Bridges Foreign affairs, Justice 
  5. Shane Reti Health 
  6. Todd McClay Economic development, Tourism 
  7. Chris Bishop Infrastructure, Transport, Shadow leader of the house 
  8. Todd Muller Trade 
  9. Louise Upston Social development, Social investment 
  10. Scott Simpson Environment, Climate change, Planning (RMA reform) 
  11. David Bennett Agriculture 
  12. Michael Woodhouse Regional economic development, Pike River re-entry, Deputy shadow leader of the house 
  13. Nicola Willis Education, Early childhood education 
  14. Jacqui Dean Housing and urban development, Conservation 
  15. Mark Mitchell Defence & disarmament, Sport & recreation 
  16. Melissa Lee Broadcasting. Communications and digital media, Data and cyber-security 
  17. Andrew Bayly Revenue, Commerce, State-owned enterprises, Associate finance, Small business and manufacturing 
  18. Nick Smith State services, Electoral law reform, Drug reform 
  19. Alfred Ngaro Pacific peoples, Community and voluntary, Children and disability issues 
  20. Barbara Kuriger Senior whip, Food safety, Rural communities, women 

Retiring at 2020 Election 

Amy Adams 

Maggie Barry 

Paula Bennett 

David Carter 

Nathan Guy 

Nikki Kaye 

Anne Tolley 

Nicky Wagner 

Sarah Dowie 

Alastair Scott 

Hamish Walker 

9.35am: Judith Collins to announce National reshuffle

Following (another) tumultuous morning for the National Party, new leader Judith Collins will be addressing the media at 10am to announce details of a list reshuffle. She’d earlier said it would be “minor”, but following the departure of MPs Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams this morning, and Michael Woodhouse being stripped of the health portfolio yesterday, it’s likely to be a bit more than just a subtle adjustment of the rankings.

We’ll have all the information as it comes to us this morning. There’s more on the resignations of Amy Adams and Nikki Kaye below.

9:00am: (More) chaos in the National Party

It’s been another massive morning for the National Party.

Here’s political editor Justin Giovannetti:

Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams, National’s second and third ranked MPs at the start of this week, are now leaving politics. Both women could have been credibly touted as possible leaders only days ago and were moderate voices in the caucus. A minor shuffle of the opposition’s ranks this morning has turned into a larger renovation.

Kaye told RNZ’s Nine to Noon programme that she only wanted to stay in politics if she felt she could do good things for people. “I didn’t feel that I could stand at the election and do that, and I realise that’s hard for people to understand given the deputy leader situation.” 

She said she’s looking forward to “getting her life back.”

“I don’t know what the future holds… I’ve spent my whole adult life serving the public. I’m looking forward to being a hippie on Great Barrier Island.”

New leader Judith Collins, facing a growing tempest as New Zealanders sip their first coffee of the day, has moved up the time of her shuffle announcement by half an hour. For the second time since her selection as leader, Collins’ careful choreography has been ruined by leaks. Her ascent to the leadership itself was leaked, as was that of deputy Gerry Brownlee, before either could leave the caucus room where they were elected. In a statement, Collins thanked the two women for “their incredible contributions at very senior levels.”

Kaye told RNZ that Collins didn’t try and convince her to stay.

Kaye also held the central Auckland seat, beating off prime minister Jacinda Ardern and other progressive rivals in recent elections. Her departure throws the future of that blue electorate in doubt. The loss of the two respected female MPs is a blow for a party that also lost Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley in recent weeks. The departures leave the National ranks older, more male-dominated and more conservative.

8.40am: Amy Adams quits politics

Updated

As if the news of one high profile National MP quitting wasn’t enough, this morning there’s a two for the price of one special. It’s now been confirmed that Amy Adams will be stepping down today, following closely behind her colleague Nikki Kaye. Adams had previously announced she wouldn’t be contesting the September election – before u-turning on that decision when Todd Muller took over the party’s leadership.

In a statement, Adams said she will not take up the offer of a list position for National for the 2020 election.“Last year I made the decision that I would retire at this election and accordingly I did not seek nomination for the seat of Selwyn that I have held for 12 years. In May I was asked to stay on as a list only candidate and take on the role of co-ordinating our Covid-19 Recovery policy framework.”

 “As I said at that time I decided to stay because with the scale of challenges the country was facing, I saw being able to contribute in this way as an honour and a role I could not turn down.

“With Todd Muller’s decision to resign the leadership the most important issue for our party was to get a strong and effective leadership team in place without delay and I am proud at the way in which the caucus managed this.  I am in no doubt that in Judith Collins we have the right leader for the challenges ahead and Judith and the team have my full support.”

Adams told RNZ’s Morning Report that Collins had offered her a position, but it wasn’t the same Covid recovery role she decided to come back for. “[Collins] has every right to do that and I support her fully.”

She denied her decision to quit was any reflection on Collins’ leadership, or the fallout from the scandal involving Hamish Walker and Michelle Boag.

Both Adams and Nikki Kaye were close allies of Todd Muller, who resigned as National leader just 48 hours ago.

7.45am: Nikki Kaye quits politics

Updated

It’s been confirmed that Auckland Central MP and former National Party deputy leader Nikki Kaye is quitting politics. It follows a dramatic week for the party, with the shock resignation of Todd Muller, revelations of leaking of private information, and the rise of Judith Collins and Gerry Brownlee into the leader and deputy leader slots.

In a statement, Kaye said she advised the party president and leader Judith Collins of her decision yesterday. “I made the decision not to stand for Leader or Deputy on Monday and I offered my support to Judith prior to the caucus vote. While Judith made it clear to me that I would be part of her Senior leadership team and Education spokesperson, I am ready to retire.”

“I believe Judith is absolutely the right leader for the Party at this time and I will be supporting Judith and the Party to win this election. New Zealand needs National.”

Kaye cited her brush with cancer as one of her reasons to quit. “I have spent most of my adult life serving the public and the National Party. This is personally the right time for me to leave. Cancer has taught me that life can change in a moment and I am ready for the next chapter.”

Speaking on Newstalk ZB this morning, Kaye said her decision to leave “felt absolutely right.”

“I’m sure people will try and speculate, but… it’s time to leave and I’m ready for the next chapter.”

Collins is expected to unveil the ranking of her MPs this morning, which would have revealed how far down the list Kaye dropped after being ousted as deputy on Tuesday night. Kaye joins a massive list of high profile Nats who aren’t returning after the September 19 election, including Paula Bennett and David Carter.

This could also have major implications for the race in Auckland Central. Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick is contesting the electorate, and paid tribute to Kaye on Twitter.

Kaye told Newstalk ZB she thought long and hard about the race for Auckland Central. She said she’ll be campaigning hard for whoever replaces her.

Collins will be announcing her reshuffle at 10.00 this morning. For more analysis on Kaye’s shock departure, check out The Bulletin below.

7.35am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

The most prominent liberal in the National Party is expected to quit politics today, in what will be a massive shakeup for the party. The front page of today’s NZ Herald carries a report from political editor Audrey Young that says Nikki Kaye, MP for Auckland Central and deputy leader of the party at the start of the week, is set to announce her immediate departure from politics. Along with Amy Adams, she was an incredibly important figure under Muller’s leadership – according to various reports, she was effectively the key decision-maker in that team.

The decision to go could have something to do with the handling of Michael Woodhouse receiving confidential information from former party president Michelle Boag. According to allegations made last night on Newstalk ZB by former National press secretary Rachel Morton, Kaye pushed Woodhouse to delay putting out a statement on the issue, which then blew up in everyone’s face. It could be entirely unrelated, but Boag was also until recently a key figure in Kaye’s Auckland Central campaign team.

Is Kaye being pushed out by new leader Judith Collins? It’s always difficult to know these things from a distance, but Young’s report would appear to indicate that is not the case. The key paragraph is this: “It is understood several people have tried to dissuade Kaye from quitting or at least to put more distance between the decision and the events of the past 10 days but she is adamant.” And in case you’re wondering if this is simply one report that could turn out to be wrong, the speculation is also carried by Politik this morning – a very well informed newsletter that is written the night before.

For the National Party, losing Kaye would clearly be a blow. While her constituency was very different, she had a similar strength to Paula Bennett – an MP who could draw support from people who might not otherwise consider voting National. In Kaye’s case, it is urban social liberals. If she goes, it will narrow the breadth of ideological diversity within National, at a time when many are suggesting that the change in leadership is primarily aimed at ensuring the conservative base turns out. She has also been widely regarded as an effective local MP, and would almost certainly have been education minister under a future National government – likely along with other portfolios.

It also throws the race for Auckland Central wide open. Kaye famously held the seat twice against Jacinda Ardern, even if the margin was narrow. After falling short by about 1500 votes last time around, Labour’s Helen White has been confident of picking it up. However, The Spinoff understands the White campaign has also been very nervous about the vote being split by Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, who announced last month that she’d be explicitly running to win the seat, unlike most other candidates in her party. Now the race is likely to be a straight fight between the two of them, as it is difficult to see who National could draft in at short notice that could hold such a tightly contested seat.

Meanwhile – and depending on your point of view, Collins has either reprimanded or rewarded Woodhouse. Arguably, it’s both. Radio NZ reports he has been stripped of the health portfolio, while also picking up Regional Economic Development and Pike River Recovery. Dr Shane Reti continues his rapid rise up the ranks this year with a move into the health portfolio. It also looks like Amy Adams will be sticking around – she had been planning to retire before Todd Muller got the leadership, but said yesterday the 2nd change of the year hasn’t altered her decision to stay. A full caucus lineup is likely to be released today.

And over the course of several interviews yesterday, Collins gave some indications on what sort of policies she’d be running on. The NZ Herald reports that she has ruled out any sort of push for a quick trans-Tasman bubble with Australia – as that country’s outbreak worsened, the prospect has been looking more and more remote by the day. She also signalled a shift to the right on economic policy if National are elected in an interview with Nine to Noon, including “hints at corporate tax breaks and a halt to massive public spending in favour of schemes to grow businesses”, the possibility of asset sales and privatisations, and changes to climate change legislation.

We got a clear picture yesterday of what the plan is, should community transmission of Covid-19 re-emerge in New Zealand. Justin Giovannetti reported on the press conference from PM Ardern, which would involve swift regional lockdowns, a range of heavily policed chokepoints, and the possibility that individual cases would be moved to managed isolation. The government has also expressed concern that people aren’t using contact tracing apps as much as they should, meaning that if an outbreak does occur, it will be much harder to keep track of. The context for this is two-fold: Firstly, Ardern said businesses had been looking for some indication of what they should expect in such a situation. And secondly, the situation overseas is looking pretty bad for a lot of places that previously had the virus under control, with new lockdowns being brought in.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

New National leader Judith Collins gave her first round of media interviews in the role.

Her deputy Gerry Brownlee said the National Party wouldn’t cave on the issue of diversity.

National health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse was stripped of the role, with Shane Reti being promoted to the front bench.

Two new cases of Covid-19 were reported in managed isolation, health minister Chris Hipkins announced.

Regional lockdowns could be on the cards if Covid-19 spreads outside of our quarantine facilities.

Mike Hosking apologised to John Tamihere over defamatory remarks made in 2018.

Read yesterday’s live updates here



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