Andrew Falloon at a National Party roading announcement several weeks ago (Radio NZ, Nate McKinnon)

Live updates, July 21: Police reopen inquiry into Andrew Falloon

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 21. The latest on New Zealand news, politics and the Covid-19 crisis, updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.30pm: The day in sum

Andrew Falloon resigned, after pressure from leader Judith Collins to do so immediately.

Two more women came forward with allegations that Falloon sent them unsolicited sexual images.

The police have reopened their investigation into Falloon.

About 20 police officers faced off with protestors in Avondale, over the felling of native trees.

There’s one new case of Covid-19, and $300m more funding for the government’s health response.

Labour MP Raymond Huo announced he’s retiring from politics.

3.10pm: Labour MP Raymond Huo quits politics

Another MP has gone – but this time it’s from the Labour Party: Raymond Huo has announced he’ll be stepping down at the election.

The list MP has been in Parliament since 2008 and was Labour’s first Chinese-born MP. He had planned to run again and filed the necessary paperwork with the party, but after spending time with his family during lockdown he had a change of heart. “For too long my family has been secondary and the recent lockdown provided an opportunity for me to reflect on my future,” he said in a statement.

As chair of the justice select committee over the past term he oversaw public hearings on the end of life bill. Huo’s decision follows a series of resignation announcements from the National Party in recent weeks, following a change in the opposition leader’s office and scandals in the opposition bench.

The Labour MP said one of the highlights from his 12 years in Parliament is the establishment of New Zealand Chinese language week. As his political career ends, he said he’s hopeful a new generation of Labour MPs from the Chinese community will follow. “I am proud to be leaving politics with a new Chinese candidate Naisi Chen gaining a strong list position and with a real chance of entering parliament after the election,” he said.

2.55pm: Police reopen Falloon investigation after more allegations

Police are asking for more information following further allegations made against National MP Andrew Falloon. At least three women have claimed they received unsolicited sexual images from the MP.

Police had earlier confirmed a complaint was made at the beginning of July, but that it did “not meet the evidentiary threshold for prosecution.”

However, police say they have today been made aware of “further allegations” raised by the leader of the National Party. “We are now seeking more information in relation to these matters.”

2.40pm: Positive news in race for Covid-19 vaccine

As the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 approaches 15 million, with more than 600,000 deaths around the world, there is at least some positive news on the vaccine front.  Siouxsie Wiles has written a piece for The Spinoff explaining what the results of two early-phase vaccine trials could mean.

2.20pm: Collins takes on PM in first question time as National leader

After a busy first week in the role (filled with policy announcements, reshuffles, and more MP departures), Judith Collins has finally gone head to head with prime minister Jacinda Ardern. And it didn’t take long for the shots to be fired.

Collins questioned whether Ardern was satisfied with her Government’s record of delivery for new transport projects across the country, highlighting the lack of development on the light rail project. Ardern hit back, telling Collins she knows more than most “sometimes, it takes a little longer than you’d like to get what you want.”

Collins continued to press Ardern as to why Auckland still doesn’t have light rail, to which the prime minister placed blame on being in a three-way coalition. She said the previous National government didn’t have that excuse as to why some of their projects never took form.

2:00pm: Our Covid data, tracked

1.20pm: Podcast – Judith Collins and the hot air Falloon

Gone by Lunchtime is back for another week! Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas discuss the Andrew Falloon scandal and its implications for a beleaguered National Party, a big weekend for Winston Peters and NZ First, and the chorus calling to charge arriving New Zealanders for their hotel isolation.

Listen to the podcast and read more here

1.05pm: One new case of Covid-19, in managed isolation

Updated

There’s just one new case of Covid-19 in New Zealand, detected in mandatory isolation. The number of active cases is now sitting at 27.

The new case is a woman in her 30s who arrived in the country last Thursday from London, via Sydney and Doha. She was staying at the Novotel Ellerslie and tested positive following day 3 surveillance testing. She has now been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.

It’s now been 81 days since the last known case of community transmission.

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is now 1,205. There is no known Covid-19 in the country beyond our border facilities.

The government is looking to increase testing, with only eight tests conducted in the community nationwide yesterday. Anyone going to the doctor with respiratory symptoms from now on should be tested; tests should always be free; and people should always accept getting a test.
Ashley Bloomfield said he’s aware of people with symptoms that have been offered tests, and refused.

1:00pm: $300m boost for Covid-19 health response

The minister of health and director-general of health are about to address media with the latest Covid-19 case data. There’s also a funding boost for the government’s Covid-19 health response.

Here’s political editor Justin Giovannetti. 

The government is increasing spending on medicine and the Covid-19 health response as prices increase due to supply shortages caused by the worsening global pandemic. The new money also follows a warning from prime minister Jacinda Ardern last week that New Zealand needs to be ready for cases spreading beyond the border. Over $300 million in additional spending for medicine, protective gear and ventilators had been approved, health minister Chris Hipkins announced today.

Half of that funding is earmarked for Pharmac over the next two years to counter rising drug costs. The price of a number of standard medicines used in intensive care wards, including the painkiller fentanyl, have increased by 70% since the start of the pandemic. The government already boosted the drug agency’s budget by $255 million over the past year, but Hipkins said more funding was needed. “With the virus now spreading faster than ever it’s clear that disruption to supply chains will continue and more investment is needed,” the health minister said in a statement.

The additional funding is coming out of the government’s Covid recovery fund. The finance minister announced yesterday that nearly three-quarters of that $20-billion fund is unspent and will be saved for future use. Today’s new spending doesn’t impact that decision. The government is also spending $23 million on a new national immunisation strategy to prepare the country for a mass vaccination programme when a Covid-19 response is ready.

The country’s current vaccination system isn’t built to handle a programme as large as the one anticipated in response to the coronavirus, Hipkins said. There’s also $50 million for new personal protective equipment, as well as $35 million for more oxygen and ventilators. Finally, $30 million is being allocated to build more capacity in the country’s contact tracing service and to finance more development of the government’s tracing app.

12:35pm: Wendy Petrie leaving 6pm news

It’s been confirmed that Wendy Petrie will be leaving TVNZ’s 6pm news, as the state broadcaster shakes up its current affairs offering. Simon Dallow will continue to front the weeknight programme on his own. Petrie and Dallow have hosted the nightly news since taking over from Judy Bailey 14 years ago.

The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive has written a piece today analysing the situation, asking why Petrie was the one to lose her job.

11:00am: Dramatic scenes at Auckland native tree protest

Protestors are in Avondale this morning, trying to save a number of native trees from being felled for development at the Canal Street reserve.

The Spinoff’s Alex Braae is at the scene, and said five protestors have scaled trees to stop them being ripped down, including longtime environmental activist turned Green Party candidate Steve Abel. 

Braae said there’s a 20-strong police presence forming a perimeter around the reserve. Meanwhile, there’s a meeting of Auckland Council’s environment and climate change committee this morning, which is being attended by some of the protestors. Braae said those in attendance are asking the council to buy the plot of land rather than opening it up for development. 

While a number of trees are still standing at the site, Braae said there are many which have been brought to the ground.

Another Green Party candidate, Luke Wijohn, is at the site and has posted some dramatic footage online showing what’s been going on this morning.

The legal owner of the land, Dave Raymond, told The Spinoff he just wants to sell-up. “These tree huggers have never paid rates, if they wanted to save the trees they should pull their money together and buy the land,” he said.

Raymond said there are several potential buyers who are interested in the land, and that there’s been land in the area in his family for 105 years. The houses on this particular site were bought by his family in the 1950s, but burnt down about 40 years ago, he said.

Activist Steve Abel told The Spinoff that he’s been coming to this site for 13 days. He said today was different, however, as about a dozen police officers came in first and “blockaded the community from getting onto the site.” While that was happening, Abel alleged three more trees were felled by contractors. About 18 are still standing.

Abel said these are heritage trees, and both local and central government have failed to protect urban trees. “They’re such a wonderful asset to the city and we’ve lost so many.”

If a negotiated truce can be reached, to say that no more chainsaws will be used today, Abel said he’s willing to come out of the trees. He’s also open to negotiating directly with the Raymond family. Previously the Raymond family were the kaitiaki of these trees, Abel said, which makes the felling something of a tragedy.

And as if things couldn’t get more dramatic, Abel said he was almost hit by a falling tree today – until it was, amazingly, caught by a dead branch. He told The Spinoff his life flashed before his eyes.

10.55am: Police might reopen Falloon investigation – Collins

It’s less than 24 hours since we first heard of Andrew Falloon’s intention to step down from politics (and less than 24 hours since many of us heard the name Andrew Falloon for the first time). The Spinoff’s editor Toby Manhire has prepped a timeline showing just how we got to where we are right now.

Meanwhile, National’s leader Judith Collins has told media that police are likely to reopen the investigation into Andrew Falloon. The Spinoff’s approached the police for confirmation.

9.40am: Claims of another woman contacted by Andrew Falloon

There are reports emerging of a third woman being sent sexually explicit content by disgraced National MP Andrew Falloon. Newshub’s reporting that this incident involves a different young woman than the 19-year-old at the centre of the first allegation, which led to Falloon’s resignation. It follows a Stuff report this morning of a second woman being contacted by the MP.

Newshub’s claiming the young woman, who is in her mid-twenties, was contacted on two separate occasions about two weeks apart. “We are concerned there is a pattern of behaviour here,” a spokesperson for Collins said. “We suspect there could be more people coming forward.”

7.50am: Andrew Falloon resigns, will stand down immediately

National leader Judith Collins said Andrew Falloon confirmed his immediate resignation in a message this morning. Collins told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking that the Rangitata MP had also alerted parliament’s speaker Trevor Mallard.

She told Hosking she had “lost all confidence” in her MP after his story continued to change over the past 24 hours. There were reports yesterday that Falloon claimed he was not responsible for the explicit images being sent, but had left his phone unattended at a party when the incident occurred. Collins told Newstalk ZB this was “clearly a lie.”

Falloon’s immediate resignation follows pressure from his leader Judith Collins to do so earlier this morning. She told Newshub it was the right thing to do.

“It has since emerged that the story has now changed from Andrew Falloon and I have reached the view this morning that it would be in his best interests, the best interests of the young woman – who is my first priority – and for his family if he were to resign from Parliament immediately.”

Collins told media this morning her chief of staff was notified of the incident on Friday, and she found out on Saturday. When questioned on TVNZ’s Breakfast about why it took until Monday for her to address this issue, Collins said she wanted to deal with it in person instead of over the phone. “It was important that I confronted [Falloon] face to face with this issue,” she said.

7.45am: Further allegations against Andrew Falloon

There’s reports this morning that National MP Andrew Falloon did not just send sexually explicit imagery to a single woman. Stuff is reporting that it has obtained screenshots which suggest he was sending the content to more than one person.

Stuff is claiming this is separate to the alleged incident which has been the focus of media attention overnight. They are reporting this young woman is not a teenager and did not get her parents involved.

7.40am: Falloon should resign “immediately” – Judith Collins

National leader Judith Collins has been doing the media rounds this morning, following a scandal involving Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon. There’s heaps of info on what happened yesterday in this morning’s Bulletin (below). Fronting to media this morning, Collins cleared up the timeline regarding when she was first notified of the alleged incident. She said she was personally first notified on Saturday and that it was agreed she would meet with Falloon yesterday morning.

Collins also said that Falloon confirmed to her that he had sent it, and said the party had ensured he was receiving professional mental health support. She claimed that Falloon had been drinking heavily at the time the incident took place and said that MPs need to remember they are professionals and not buy into drinking culture.

Collins also suggested that Falloon should resign from parliament immediately, rather than continuing to receive pay until the election. She said it was in the best interests of the party, the country, and Falloon’s family that he does not return to parliament.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The National party has lost yet another MP to scandal, with the latest casualty being first term representative for Rangitata Andrew Falloon. Multiple outlets have reported that it is because he allegedly sent an unsolicited image of a pornographic nature to a teenage girl in her first year of university – a development first broken by the NZ HeraldRadio NZ also reported that, with the additional information that the pictures are understood to have not been of Falloon himself. Falloon will remain as an MP until the election, at which time he will retire. Stuff has reported that police investigated the matter, but concluded it did not meet the threshold for prosecution.

It is very important to note that the above version of events may not be the correct version. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, significant elements and details of the story changed, or were contested, or turned out to be wrong. One very important change to the story came from this NZ Herald report, in which it was understood that Falloon’s version of events was “that acquaintances at a party sent the offensive message.” In other words, he insisted that he did not personally send the message, but offered his resignation to Collins regardless, and she accepted it.

How did it come to light? Initially, information about the incident was sent to the office of PM Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday last week. At a press conference yesterday, she said that her chief of staff sought the permission of the complainant to send it on to the leader of the opposition Judith Collins. That then took place on Friday. Collins is then understood to have met with Falloon on Monday, at which time it was agreed that he would leave politics at the election. In the intervening time, there was no indication from the party about the news that was about to break, and Falloon continued to attend events in his capacity as Rangitata MP – and he presumably will until the election. As this biography on the Timaru Herald suggests, he was widely regarded as an effective local MP.

Very little of this information was included in the initial press releases, from Falloon and Collins respectively. Those statements focused significantly on mental health issues being faced by Falloon, with his statement also referencing significant grief at the recent suicide of a friend. “I have made a number of mistakes and I apologise to those who have been affected,” was his only reference to what subsequently came to light. “Andrew is suffering from significant mental health issues and his privacy, and that of his family, must be respected,” said Collins in her much briefer statement.

All of that is no doubt true, and mental health issues must be treated with caution and sensitivity. But there has been significant disquiet about the fact that this was the angle taken by National to introduce the issue, rather than discussion of the actual incident that forced the resignation. As Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper concluded in his daily column, “to muddy the mental health waters in his way is simply unacceptable.” On Newsroom, political journalist Laura Walters argued that “using one of the country’s biggest social and health issues as a tool for political management further erodes public trust in the party.”

Speaking on the AM Show this morning, Judith Collins said she was personally first notified on Saturday. She also said that Falloon confirmed to her that he had sent it, and said the party had ensured he was receiving professional mental health support. She also said that Falloon had been drinking heavily at the time the incident took place. Collins also suggested that Falloon should resign from parliament immediately.

Finance minister Grant Robertson has closed the purse strings on $14 billion worth of the Covid recovery fund for the foreseeable future. Initially an envelope of $20bn had been put towards that fund, but he now says that much of it won’t be spent unless needed, to avoid having net debt blow out. More details can be found in our live blog, including the quote that sums it up – “If it’s not needed the money will not be spent. It will not be borrowed and we will have less debt to repay. This is the fiscally prudent thing to do.” He also appeared to take a dig at other parties who appeared to want to spend that money on other projects, saying the fund had been set up for very specific uses.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s top stories

National MP Andrew Falloon announced he would not be standing in this year’s election after reportedly sending a sexually explicit image to a young woman.

Almost three quarters of the Covid recovery fund will be put “in reserve”, the finance minister announced.

More than 700 jobs at The Warehouse are on the line.

Facebook data shows Judith Collins is the most popular National leader since 2018.

Winston Peters challenged David Seymour to a fight – and reckoned he’d win.

There is one new case of Covid-19, in managed isolation.

Read yesterday’s live updates here.



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