Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 17, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
- No new community Covid-19 cases; 27,000 NZers have received vaccine
- Almost 10% of border and MIQ workers yet to get vaccinated
- Greens bring back capital gains tax argument as house prices skyrocket
5.45pm: Funding for next America’s Cup campaign hinges on ‘expectation it will be defended in NZ’
The prime minister has issued a statement congratulating Team NZ on its successful defence and committing funding “to support the team to stay together to build for next defence”.
“On behalf of all of Aotearoa I congratulate Grant Dalton, Peter Burling and the whole team, those on the water and off it, for their achievements,” said Jacinda Ardern.
The minister responsible for the America’s Cup, Stuart Nash, said: “We want to see it all over again in 2023. The government has already agreed that the successful America’s Cup team will be supported to stay together while it plans its next defence of the Auld Mug. Cabinet has agreed to invest in the team from within existing budgets. It would be subject to a number of conditions, including an expectation the Cup will be defended in New Zealand.”
According to recent reports, Team NZ representatives had been exploring staging the next defence offshore, with potential locations includin Qatar, Europe, Singapore and China.
He added: “Although no request for support has yet been made, Team New Zealand has received government assistance following every America’s Cup since 2003. I anticipate a similar request will be made this year. $136.5 million was set aside in Budget 2018 for Cup-related infrastructure and activities and not all of that funding has been spent. Cabinet has agreed in principle to use that under-spend, should it be required, to keep the successful team together while it plans and regroups for AC37.
“The final details are still subject to negotiations, however it is likely to be a similar sum to that paid after AC35 in Bermuda in 2017, when $5 million went towards the team to help it prepare for AC36 this year.”
5.15pm: Team NZ takes America’s Cup
Peter Burling and his team are celebrating victory in the America’s Cup, winning the first of today’s races and so the regatta, beating Luna Rossa 7-3.
“Four years ago, team, the AC75 yacht was a pipe dream,” said TVNZ helmsman Scotty Stevenson as Team NZ and Te Rehutai closed in on the finish line.
“A dream made real by the boaties and the boffins, and the sailors and the scientists, the saltiest of sea dogs and the biggest brains in the game. Together, this team has bent the laws of physics, and they are about to break Italian hearts.
“Twenty-one years ago, Team New Zealand sailed to an America’s Cup defence right here in Tāmaki Makaurau. And now, this eclectic crew of Kiwis has shown the sailing world how to fly. Today, it will be Team New Zealand and Te Rehutai making history on the Hauraki.”
And as the AC75 foiled across the line: “The Auld Mug is Aotearoa’s again.”
4.15pm: Important America’s Cup news
We haven’t been covering the America’s Cup much in these updates, but with Team New Zealand potentially on the cusp of glorious victory, we thought it would be remiss not to share the important news that a New Zealand-supporting goat sporting a fedora has been spotted at the race village on Auckland’s waterfront. In other news, the start of race 10 has been delayed until at least 4.30pm owing to a lack of winds.
— Newshub (@NewshubNZ) March 17, 2021
4.00pm: Simon Bridges kicked out of parliament over sexism spat
National’s Simon Bridges has been ejected from the house by speaker Trevor Mallard during Question Time this afternoon, after he accused the speaker of making personal comments about National MPs.
Several opposition MPs objected as Labour minister Megan Woods was speaking, prompting Mallard to suggest attention had been focused on shouting down only women members of the house. “I don’t want to reflect on some of the reasoning behind that but it doesn’t look good.”
National’s Chris Bishop then raised a point of order to suggest it was hypocritical for Mallard to accuse the opposition’s front bench of sexist behaviour when Labour’s Peeni Henare had “made an animal noise” yesterday, which had gone “completely unpunished”. Mallard responded that he didn’t recognise the noise as an animal noise but Henare’s act did result in National gaining a question.
Bridges then raised a point of order, saying Mallard had repeatedly “made personal marks about members on this side of the house”. “It’s simply not right, and I am asking him to stop doing it,” he said forcefully. Mallard responded with, “Well I’m going to ask the member to leave the house.”
3.30pm: Wellington’s mayor loses chief of staff after 11 months
Wellington’s mayor has lost his chief of staff less than a year after she started in the job.
According to the Herald, Sarah Owen will return to the Department of Conservation in April. She started working for Andy Foster last May.
It’s reported that the mayor’s office has struggled to find staff in the past, such as a public affairs adviser role that was advertised on several occasions.
2.20pm: Open letter asks Covid Plan B to stop support of anti-vaccine group
More than 40 people – including the likes of Siouxsie Wiles and Des Gorman – have signed an open letter calling out “Covid Plan B” for promoting anti-vaccine group Voices for Freedom.
According to the open letter – distributed by FACT (Fight Against Conspiracy Theories) – Plan B has supported the ideas of Voices for Freedom on “several occasions”, including promoting its online events.
“Dr Simon Thornley [a prominent member of Plan B] was recently the keynote speaker at a VfF event in Auckland and Plan B has also provided speakers for VfF’s social media content,” the letter reads.
The letter asks Plan B to:
- Issue a statement which unequivocally rejects harmful conspiracy theories and those who promote them; and
- Stop working with Voices for Freedom and promoting it as a reputable source of information.
Speaking to Stuff, Thornley said there were similarities and differences between Plan B and Voices for Freedom. “We don’t endorse the government’s elimination strategy and tight border restrictions,” he said. However, he said Covid Plan B promoted science. “We don’t engage in conspiracy theories,” he said. “We just share science. They share science as well. There is certainly some scientific stuff on their page … but I can’t take responsibility for what this group promotes.”
1.55pm: New graph shows planned vaccine roll-out
As Chris Hipkins discussed in the 1pm press conference, the government and the Ministry of Health have prepared a new graph showing the anticipated Covid-19 vaccine roll-out.
You can check that out below and more information is available on the ministry’s website, here.
There are no new Covid-19 cases in the community, with three new cases in managed isolation. One previously reported case has been reclassified as ‘under investigation.’ The total number of confirmed cases is 2,078.
Speaking from parliament, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said nearly 27,000 people have now received at least their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, with around 60% of those in Auckland and about a quarter Māori and Pasifika.
“To date, more than 1100 vaccinators have completed the vaccine training required to administer the vaccine,” added Hipkins.
As noted in the 12.10pm update, around 90% of our border and MIQ workforce have already received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Brigadier Jim Bliss – the head of MIQ – said he’s very proud of how the roll-out has operated so far.
Questioned on why the government has no target for the number of New Zealanders to be vaccinated, Hipkins said work still needed to be done how the under 16 cohort would be handled. The target remained, Hipkins said, to get “as many” people vaccinated as possible.
Earlier today, it was noted that 20,000 vaccines would be need to be given out daily to reach the entire population by the end of the year. Hipkins said that, by the middle of the year, health officials will be doing “more than 20,000” a day when the public campaign is ramped up.
Ashley Bloomfield is not present for today’s update due to having a cold.
Questioned on the vaccine roll-out, Hipkins said it will soon “ramp up” and there will be a paid campaign to counter misinformation. He justified the decision not to publicise the vaccine too much as most members of the public are not yet able to get the jab.
Two of NZ’s best are joining The Spinoff
The Spinoff’s welcoming back one of our most revered writers and launching a new podcast!
Alex Casey is rejoining The Spinoff as features editor. Alex was there in September 2014 when she and Duncan Greive launched what was then a TV and culture site publishing a piece or two a day. In the years since she’s won a load of acclaim and awards. After spending a stint working in the world of television itself, we’ve persuaded her to return, and we’re very happy about it.
Plus, as if that news wasn’t exciting enough – welcome to The Spinoff, Bernard Hickey. He arrives with one of the most formidable resumés in Aotearoa journalism: digital editor at Stuff; co-founder and editor of Interest.co.nz; managing editor at Newsroom Pro; creator of the Kākā newsletter. Bernard will be launching a new weekly podcast and writing for The Spinoff. Made with the support of Kiwibank, the When the Facts Change podcast will see Bernard sit down with a range of smart people at the intersection of politics, business and economics in New Zealand.
Around 91% of our border and managed isolation workers have received their first Covid-19 vaccine, the Ministry of Health has reported. Now, the second round of vaccine doses is under way for those working in MIQ, as the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses to be effective.
Jet Park operations manager Drew Leafa and the head of MIQ Brigadier Jim Bliss are among those receiving their second dose this week.
“It’s good to have the second shot and to be at the Jet Park with some of our frontline staff,” said Bliss. “It’s important for them to get the vaccine and to add another layer of protection for them and their families and our community.”
Leafa said he felt “so much better” for having had his second dose. “I know there is a lot of scepticism and theories out there, but I know it is going to save you, save your family and save your life,” he said.
More than 500 of the estimated 15,000 border and MIQ workers have received the second dose of the vaccine already.
11.45am: Covid-19, one year on
A daily look at where we were in the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand one year ago:
On March 17 2020: Three new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in New Zealand. The country was still coming to terms with how it would be handling the pandemic and the tiered alert system had not yet been introduced.
Meanwhile, the government announced a $12.1 billion package, equating to 4% of the country’s GDP. The package included a $500m boost for health, $8.7b in support for businesses and jobs and $2.8b for income support and boosting consumer spending.
On the same day: a Dunedin school was closed for two days, after a pupil became the country’s 12th case of Covid-19.
11.10am: Fonterra releases strong half year results based on China demand
Business editor Michael Andrew reports:
Fonterra has today reported significant gains in its financial performance for the six months to January, driven largely by “stand out” growth in China.
The dairy cooperative reported normalised Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) up 17% to $684 million and normalised Profit After Tax up 43% to $418 million.
It announced its decision to pay an interim dividend of 5 cents, after opting not to pay one in the previous corresponding interim period. “Despite the major impact Covid-19 is having around the world, the co-op is staying focused on what it can control – looking after our people, making progress on our strategy to drive sustainable value for New Zealand milk and remaining committed to our 2021 priorities,” said CEO Miles Hurrell.
“As shown through our results today, Greater China continues to be one of our most important strategic markets. We remain committed to growing the value of our Greater China business, which we’ll do by bringing the goodness of New Zealand milk to Chinese customers in innovative ways and partnering with local Chinese companies to do so.”
Hurrell reaffirmed the co-op’s commitment to the updated forecast Farmgate Milk Price range of $7.30 – $7.90 per kgMS and forecast normalised earnings guidance of 25-35 cents per share. While he said New Zealand dairy is proving to be resilient in a Covid-19 world, he expected the higher price to put “significant pressure” on Fonterra’s earnings performance in the second half of 2021.
10.45am: No target for vaccine rollout – just as many jabs as possible
Health officials aren’t going to set a target for how many people should get the Covid-19 vaccine. Instead, the goal is to get as many people as possible vaccinated.
Ashley Bloomfield and director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre Nikki Turner have been grilled by MPs at a sitting of the health select committee this morning.
Pushed on whether it would be possible to vaccinate the willing population by the end of the year, Bloomfield said he was “confident”. More than 1000 people have now been trained to administer the Pfizer vaccine, he said.
National MP Chris Bishop raised concerns around the lack of a messaging campaign encouraging vaccine uptake, to which Bloomfield said the plan is to approach All Blacks and other sports stars to help promote the jab. The campaign would be focused on using “trusted” members of the public, he said.
The Greens want property investors to pay a capital gains tax whenever they sell a house. The party has released a four-point housing plan that it says will help ease the skyrocketing housing market.
The party’s finance spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said it’s time for bold action on housing, such as removing tax incentives for investors by scrapping the five-year cap for the bright line test.
“Anyone selling a residential investment property that is not their primary home should have to pay tax on profits,” the party’s finance spokesperson Julie Anne Genter told RNZ. “Any cap extension, to 10 or 15 years for example, just kicks the can down the road a few years, while property investors will hold on to their properties until the day after the bright line test is over.”
Genter said this involved “tweaking the current rules” – and was questioned on whether it was a way around formally labelling it as a new tax. “It’s a way of enforcing the existing law,” said Genter. “If you have a cap then there’s an incentive to hold onto a property for an arbitrary amount of time. Just get rid of the cap.”
Under Jacinda Ardern, the Labour-led government has pledged not to introduce any “new” taxes.
Pushed on whether rent prices could rise as a result, Genter said it would still be important to have incentives for housing supply: “if you are sitting on land, banking it for capital gains at the moment you pay no tax if you hold onto it long enough. In this scenario, you would have to pay the tax on it. [But] if you built the houses, you could deduct that so you wouldn’t pay any tax on the increase and the value and the land.”
Finance minister Grant Robertson is expected to announce a housing supply policy next week.
The other three branches of the Greens’ plan are:
- Regulating investors’ access to mortgages (this would include requiring cash deposits for mortgages on investment properties, not just equity from other homes).
- Direct economic stimulus from the government in the form of income support, instead of relying on the Reserve Bank.
- A massive urban redevelopment and home building programme led by Kāinga Ora, until supply matches demand and prices stabilise at affordable levels.
8.00am: Immigration minister defends Lion King cast border exemptions
The immigration minister is defending the decision to allow 126 cast and crew from The Lion King into the country ahead of an Auckland production in June.
It comes while some – including critical health workers – have complained that their families can’t join them in New Zealand.
Speaking on RNZ, Kris Faafoi said The Lion King production met the requirement for a critical worker border exemption. “The application from a New Zealand-based company to bring the show into New Zealand was met – they were able to get visas,” he said. “The other challenge was MIQ space… they went through the process as everyone does. The 126 cast and crew are going to be staggered between April and when pre-production needs to start.”
Pushed on why cast from The Lion King and RuPaul’s Drag Race meet the critical worker criteria, while the crew from the Le Lapérouse didn’t, Faafoi said that was because the boat was to enter New Zealand for maintenance purposes but wished to bring hairdressers and bar staff with them.
Faafoi denied that it was easier to enter the country as a performer than as a healthcare worker. “It is categorically wrong. While there have been a small number of entertainers who have come in… we have let 4,500 critical health workers come into the country while the border have been closed,” he said.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
Widespread agreement is forming that a trans-Tasman bubble would now be a good thing for the country – but how to get there is another matter entirely. The first part of this hasn’t always been the case – some of the outbreaks Australia had last year were seriously frightening, and if a bubble were in place could have caused similar problems here. But the pandemic is well in hand over the ditch now, and their vaccination programme has seen well over 100,000 people get a first dose. So what’s the hold up?
According to the NZ government, it almost got over the line last month before Australia pulled out. Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins told parliament yesterday that Australia had changed some of their key terms, which Radio NZ reports has been blamed for setting back progress. The fact that such a setback couldn’t be overcome diplomatically is a worrying sign for the overall relationship, which as Stuff’s political editor (and Aussie politics expert) Luke Malpass writes is under heavy strain. This is not least because of the continued deportations being pushed by the Australian government, including a recent case of a 15 year old boy, and a note on this – contrary to earlier reports, that deportation did not take place under the ‘501’ programme.
The National party says the bubble should be opened now, and the economic damage from closed borders is the fault of the government. The NZ Herald reports Judith Collins has accused the government of “dragging their heels” on it, and that tourism towns like Queenstown are dying without international visitors. There are legitimate questions to be asked about that narrative and the economic model Queenstown previously ran, but it’s undeniable that many tourism businesses are now at the wall. Australian PM Scott Morrison took a dig last week at the NZ government, saying that if the government didn’t want Australian tourists spending money in Queenstown, “that’s a matter for them”.
It’s probably also important to remember that a trans-Tasman bubble isn’t purely an economic issue. Thousands of families will have been split as a result of the closed borders, with hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders living on the other side. And a year is a long time to go without having any prospect of seeing your loved ones.
Meanwhile, progress on a bubble with the Cook Islands continues. RNZ Pacific reported last week that progress was being made on that country’s contact tracing system – a “key element” in getting the bubble off the ground. PM Mark Brown is expected to arrive in New Zealand next week for discussions, despite currently facing fraud charges – a full rundown of which can be found on the Cook Islands News.
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