Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Digby Webb heading to a press conference (Photo: Radio NZ, Dom Thomas)

Live updates, July 17: One new Covid case, Dunedin might take returnees

Hello, and welcome to The Spinoff’s Live Updates for July 17. If you want to get in touch about anything, flick me an email at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

5.30pm: The day in sum

Simon Bridges revealed he wanted Mark Mitchell to lead National.

Judith Collins unveiled a $31 billion transport plan, including rail to Auckland Airport.

The blogger once known as Whale Oil, Cameron Slater, was in court to defend defamation claims.

A range of magazines including the Woman’s Weekly and the Listener will be back in print soon, following the sale of Bauer NZ titles to Mercury Capital.

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

4.55pm: Operation Burnham inquiry over

The government inquiry into Operation Burnham today submitted its final report to the attorney general, David Parker. “Consequently, the inquiry itself has now ceased,” the authors wrote in a statement released to media this afternoon.

The $7 million inquiry, launched in April 2018, has been examining the circumstances of a 2010 military operation undertaken in Afghanistan by NZSAS troops alongside other nations’ forces. In a 2011 Metro article and subsequent 2017 book Hit & Run, the investigative reporter Jon Stephenson alleged that NZDF personnel had taken part in a botched raid on two villages that killed six civilians, including a three-year-old girl.

As to what happens next, “while the inquiry has worked hard to create a report that can be publicly released, the inquiry has no authority to release its report to anyone other than the attorney general,” the inquiry’s authors wrote today.

3:00pm: National backers love rail – but only if it’s heavy

Judith Collins made her first big appearance as National leader in front of a crowd today, announcing her party’s $31 billion infrastructure policy. There’s loads about it earlier in today’s updates. I’ve written about the four parts of her announcement that got the biggest reaction from the business audience she was addressing.

2.35pm: $16 million investment in local drama TV

Following a high-rating first series earlier this year, NZ on Air has announced the return of the popular One Lane Bridge. It joins two new series, which the company says will create around 350 jobs.

The Panthers dramatises the founding of the Polynesian Panthers during Robert Muldoon’s rise to power. The Auckland street-gang turned political revolutionaries fought against the racial discrimination sweeping New Zealand in the mid 70’s. It will screen on TVNZ 1. Vegas will screen on TVNZ 2 and follows a determined mother and a young gang leader caught in a deadly pincer between dangerous forces – a local Māori gang, a posse of fascist bikies and an Asian drug cartel. The story is based on the novel Inside The Black Horse, and will be filmed in Rotorua.

NZ on Air’s head of funding Amie Mills says the three dramas commissioned in this round will reflect different communities, and feature diverse New Zealand backdrops.

2.15pm: Another record day of new Covid cases in Victoria

There’s been 428 new cases of Covid-19 in the Australian state of Victoria – another record rise.

It’s the largest daily increase across all of Australia, and comes a day after the state reported 317 cases. There are 122 people in hospital and 31 in intensive care, with another three deaths overnight. The state’s death toll is now 32.

2:00pm: Our Covid data, tracked

1.30pm: Government critical of National’s new transport plan

Finance minister Grant Robertson has accused National of ignoring big holes in its $31 billion infrastructure plan (see 10.30am update). Robertson said the plan includes $6.2 billion in reallocation of existing projects from the current National Land Transport Fund, so National needs to say what projects it will cut. “They are cutting Auckland’s transport funding but not identifying which projects will go. The axe is hanging over projects like Skypath that Aucklanders want and that will create jobs in the next year, in order to fund projects that are over a decade away.”

The minister said the opposition are in a shambles, following a dramatic fortnight of leaks and reshuffles. He said National are being contradictory when it comes to debt.

“On the one hand, Paul Goldsmith is saying he will cut net debt to 30% of GDP within 10 years while at the same time saying he will spend more and take on more debt to pay for Judith Collins’ wish list,” Robertson said.

1:10pm: Another case of Covid-19

There’s just one new case of Covid-19 today, in managed isolation. It’s been 77 days since the last case of the virus was acquired locally from an unknown source.

Today’s case is a man in his 30s who arrived in New Zealand on July 10 from Pakistan via Dubai. He is in quarantine at the Sudima Hotel in Rotorua.

Seven people previously reported as having Covid-19 are now considered to have recovered, bringing the number of active cases in New Zealand down to 21.

The total number of confirmed cases now sits at 1,199. 

Recovery criteria strengthened

The clinical criteria for recovery from Covid-19 in New Zealand have now changed following a review, which includes ensuring alignment with our Australian counterparts.

People must have had no symptoms for at least 72 hours (up from 48 hours currently), and it must be at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms or positive test if the person was asymptomatic.

1:00pm: Queenstown and Invercargill won’t take Covid returnees

Air commodore Darryn Webb and the minister in charge of managed isolation Megan Woods told media today that Queenstown and Invercargill would not be used for returnees. Dunedin, however, is being looked at as a possible location. “We’re continuing to appraise Dunedin as a suitable location,” Woods said.

She said Queenstown and Invercargill had been ruled out because of “health capacity issues … and the ability for critical mass”.

It’s now been a month since Webb and Woods were put in charge of overseeing the managed isolation and quarantine process. Webb said of the 17 recommendations made in the review released on June 28, 12 had now been completed, including increasing resourcing. There were now 31 managed isolation and quarantine facilities across five regions, and 29,631 people have returned home since March 26.

The daily fact sheet showing inflows and outflows of people in managed isolation would now include incidents, such as someone absconding, as they occur, said Woods.

12.35pm: Bauer Media is back – these are the magazines returning

A number of New Zealand’s most popular magazine titles will soon be returning to shelves and letterboxes across the country.

Mercury Capital said it has officially taken ownership of the “iconic” Bauer New Zealand magazine titles and will resume publishing immediately. Bauer Media NZ closed its doors back in April as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

In a statement, Bauer ANZ CEO Brendon Hill said, “I am delighted to see the return of some of New Zealand’s most loved titles and thrilled that this allows us to bring back a talented group of editorial and advertising staff to resume the publishing of these brands.”

The New Zealand portfolio will consist of flagship titles Woman’s Day, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, and The Australian Women’s Weekly NZ, along with home category leader Your Home & Garden, current affairs weekly NZ Listener and Air New Zealand’s award-winning magazine Kia Ora.

Mercury Capital has sold additional titles to a variety of publishers, with North & South going to independent publishers Konstantin Richter and Verena Friederike and Metro to Simon Chesterman. Both magazines will resume publication as soon as possible. The future of the remaining titles, NEXT, Taste, Fashion Quarterly, HOME and Simply You are currently being assessed including a sale to interested parties.

12.15pm: Cameron Slater in court to defend defamation claim

The blogger formerly known as Whaleoil is appearing at Auckland High Court today to answer a defamation case brought against him by health experts Boyd Swinburn, Shane Bradbrook and Doug Sellman, in relation to a series of blogposts that appeared on the site between 2007 and 2017.

The claim was prompted by revelations arising from leaked emails published in Nicky Hager’s 2014 book Dirty Politics and has been winding its way through the courts since 2016. The trio are also suing PR man Carrick Graham and former National MP Katherine Rich, who they say facilitated payments to Slater to run the posts attacking their research work on junk food and tobacco.

Today Slater denied being paid by Graham, claiming the payments were for “PR, social media strategy and media advice”. Slater is representing himself in court after his lawyer Brian Henry succeeded in his drawn-out bid to be allowed to withdraw from the case.

12:00pm: Meet Auckland Council’s new CEO

Auckland Council has new leadership, following the resignation of Stephen Town. Ex-ACC and Westpac chief Jim Stabback will be moving into the role from the start of September.

“I know I am coming into this role at a challenging time for not only Auckland Council but also the people, businesses and communities of this city,” he said in a statement.

“I am excited to get started and working on meeting the challenges, as well as finding and supporting the opportunities that will ensure the continued growth and success of this amazing city.”

According to the Herald, Stabback will earn almost $100,000 less than his predecessor – a tidy $600,000 a year.

10.30am: Roads the focus as Collins promises to ‘get Auckland moving again’

There was no light rail in sight at this morning’s infrastructure announcement by new National Party leader Judith Collins. Instead, there were a lot of roads, tunnels, and busways. In what National is calling the biggest infrastructure package in New Zealand’s history, $31bn would be spent across the country – with more than half of that in the top of the North Island alone.

Collins pledged it will bring the “congestion crisis to an end” and “get Auckland and the Upper North Island moving again” as part of speech in which the word “transformational” featured heavily.

At its core, the multi-billion dollar package will see a lot of Labour’s 2017 election promises fulfilled – minus light rail and Skypath. Collins, however, said it will go much further. National would connect Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga with four-lane expressways – including tunnels under the Brynderwyn and Kaimai mountain ranges – to create an integrated region of 2.5 million New Zealanders.

“National’s vision is to transform the four cities to be one economic powerhouse, unlocking their potential so the upper North Island becomes Australasia’s most dynamic region.”

There will also be rail to Auckland airport, an expansion of the city’s rapid bus links, and work towards an additional harbour crossing. The East West Link, or the most expensive road in New Zealand history, is back. The Auckland fuel tax would be gone within 100 days of the September election.

The projects will be sequenced over the next decade and beyond, but work will also begin immediately on $300 million worth of digger-ready projects in Auckland. The $31bn price tag will be covered by the current government’s Covid fund.

Todd Muller, Collins’ predecessor as leader who quit on Tuesday morning, had announced an infrastructure speech for the same Auckland location on the day he left the top job. And yet, while this is probably the same policy announcement we would have got from Muller, Collins has put her stamp on it. “Her” government, she said, would be different to the incumbent. “Her” plan would end congestion. Perhaps the most Collins-esque part of the plan: the Resource Management Act would be gone, not simply amended. It’d be replaced with two pieces of legislation that allow for all of the changes detailed above to be made.

“It’s time for boldness and a long-term vision. Infrastructure takes time. In New Zealand, it takes far too much time,” Collins said.

National leader Judith Collins (centre) announces the party’s $31bn infrastructure plan in Auckland, July 17 2020 (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

9:00am: Man wanted over card skimming operation at hospitals

The public are being asked to help identify a man following a spate of card skimming incidents at both Auckland and Waikato Hospitals.

The incidents took place in May and June, after people reported amounts of money being taken out of their bank accounts after using Wilson Parking machines. 

8.00am: Simon Bridges didn’t want Collins for leader

It was another busy day yesterday for new opposition leader Judith Collins. Two senior MPs, Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams, quit ahead of a portfolio reshuffle that saw Simon Bridges and Todd Muller return to National’s front bench. But in media interviews this morning it was revealed that Bridges had backed Mark Mitchell for leader. Collins told RNZ’s Morning Report that wasn’t awkward for her. “It’s a free vote in our caucus and there are no ramifications for anybody… I’ve got him at number four.”

Collins denied that Bridges voting for another leader meant the caucus wasn’t unified, instead saying she thinks Bridges is “very happy” with her in charge. “I think he’s going to do a great job.”

There were also questions about Collins’ decision to put the housing portfolio down the list at number 14, with MP Jacqui Dean taking on the role from Nicola Willis. Collins said 14 is still a cabinet position and that it’s a reflection of how much Labour values the portfolio.

“Jacinda Ardern had Phil Twyford with housing, so how could you take it seriously when Labour hasn’t?”

Meanwhile, Collins will be making a major infrastructure announcement this morning at the same Auckland location her predecessor, Todd Muller, was planned to speak on the day he quit the leadership. Collins wasn’t giving anything away, telling RNZ we’ll just have to “wait and see”.

We’ll be covering the announcement live this morning.

7.45am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

So, there was a bit of incorrect information in yesterday’s Bulletin about departures from National. It turns out Amy Adams will also be quitting, meaning both of former leader Todd Muller’s key lieutenants are gone. It precipitated a much wider reshuffle for new leader Judith Collins, the details of which can be found in our live blog. Nobody would deny that it has been an extraordinary political week for the party, but even so, there are a lot of questions to be asked about the ‘strong team’ part of what was their slogan on Monday – Toby Manhire has an excellent analysis of what it means for them.

On that reshuffle, Collins has kept both former leaders in the inner circle, and has promoted other liberals to replace Kaye and Adams. Simon Bridges has the justice portfolio to go with foreign affairs, and Muller will take trade. Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis – two strong supporters of the Muller coup – have both been moved up, and Bishop will become the shadow leader of the house. Dr Shane Reti is now all the way up to number five in the caucus after a remarkable run this term. And Harete Hipango will become shadow attorney general – she’s a first term MP from Whānganui, who came to parliament after a distinguished career in law.

Perhaps the only real loser in the reshuffle is former justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell. As Stuff’s Henry Cooke put it in a very useful analysis piece, Mitchell put his hand up for the leadership again this time around, forcing a contest at a time when party power-brokers wanted a coronation. But on Mitchell’s demotion, “many suggest this has more to do with work ethic than vindictiveness,” wrote Cooke. The reshuffle will perhaps bring an end to the months of chaos that have engulfed the party, and certainly National MPs are talking unity (they were talking unity last time too of course.) Bridges went on Newstalk ZB to make it clear that Collins had his support, though there was also a hint of off the record friction in this story by Newshub’s Tova O’Brien, in which MPs reflected on the fact that an MP who had been disloyal in the past was now demanding loyalty from them as leader.

Meanwhile, we’re expecting a major policy speech on infrastructure to be delivered today by Collins. A similar version was planned for earlier in the week by Muller, but had to be pushed back slightly for obvious reasons. One policy was pushed out yesterday by finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith – the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Hamish Rutherford was at a speech in which he announced National would suspend contributions to the Super Fund, as a way of holding down debt. It was also a move taken by Bill English in 2008, before contributions were resumed by the current government’s Grant Robertson. There was no such policy clarity in an oddly combative interview given by deputy leader Gerry Brownlee to Checkpoint, in which he repeatedly refused to give answers because of which show was asking the questions.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

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.

Read yesterday’s live updates here.



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