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Live updates, July 22: David Seymour denies role in leak, accuses Winston Peters of dead cat flounce

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 22. The latest on New Zealand news, politics and the Covid-19 crisis, updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

6.00pm: The day in sum

Judith Collins disclosed she’d revealed a tip-off alleging “inappropriate behaviour” about a Labour minister.

That minister was later revealed to be Iain Lees-Galloway, who was sacked by the PM and won’t stand for re-election.

Lees-Galloway apologised for being engaged in the 12-month affair with a former staffer.

Winston Peters was questioned over revelations the taxpayer covered a trip to Antarctica for two of his mates.

Peters named the people who he claimed had leaked his superannuation details in the leadup to the last election, including David Seymour and a former National press secretary.

The claims, which were strongly denied, were made using the protection of parliamentary privilege, and Peters refused to repeat them outside the house.

David Seymour was thrown out of parliament after saying Peters had told a lie.

There were no new cases of Covid-19, and Dunedin was ruled out for mandatory isolation.

New plans for flight quotas were outlined, with the isolation and quarantine capacity “close to being exhausted”.

Victoria saw a massive spike in new coronavirus cases, with rumours of an impending full lockdown

5.30pm: Seymour accuses Peters of ‘dead cat’ strategy

Speaking on Newstalk ZB, David Seymour has repeated his categorical denial of Winston Peters’ allegation that he was part of a convoluted chain of people that leaked the NZ First leader’s superannuation details in 2017. Seymour said it was a “desperate” claim by Peters, which he believed was “a dead cat story”, intended to distract from the headlines today (see 7.45am) about his role in a trip to Antarctica taken by two women on the public tab. “He’s tried to drag me into dirty politics for the simple reason he’s got no other options,” said Seymour

ACT has meanwhile issued a press release demanding that Jacinda Ardern release paperwork around the Antarctica trip. “If the real reason Winston Peters’ friends got a taxpayer-funded trip to Antarctica was philanthropy, the prime minister should release the paper trail to back it up,” he said.

4.20pm: David Seymour lets rip at Peters, gets expelled from house

In one of the last speeches in parliament’s general debate this afternoon, Act leader David Seymour had angrily responded to Winston Peter’s allegation that he and his former partner, Rachel Morton, were involved in the leaking of his superannuation details ahead of the last election.

“This is the kind of sleazy, base behaviour that people up and down the country have got used to,” said Seymour of Peters’ claims, which were made under the protection of parliamentary privilege and unaccompanied by any evidence. Seymour went on to use the L word (lie), which is verboten in parliament, prompting the speaker of the house, Trevor Mallard to, respectively, demand an apology, eject Seymour from the house, and send the sergeant in arms to bring him back to the house to apologise.

Meanwhile this from Rachel Morton:

3.55pm: Reporting of Antarctica trip a ‘racist attack’, says Peters

Reporting that foreign affairs minister Winston Peters gave two personal friends seats on a government-funded trip to Antarctica is only a “racist attack” by the media, Peters repeated at least five times today. Bee Lin Chew and her daughter Su Arn Kwek travelled to Scott base, at taxpayer expense, in February after Peters ordered Antarctica New Zealand to make room for the two, according to reporting from RNZ.

The two women are linked to one of the richest families in south east Asia and have described themselves as close friends of Peters and his partner Jan Trotman. According to Peters, the two women travelled to the icy continent as part of his programme to raise $50 million from private sources for the rebuilding of New Zealand’s Antarctic base. “That’s what it’s about. I’ve asked countless people from around the world to join this programme. The Swiss ambassador. Other people as well. And I despise this racist attack on innocent people,” Peters told the media.

The only problem is that Peters said little of the $50 million has been raised. No fundraising effort has been publicly announced. Chew and Kwek have both said they were never asked to provide any money for the base.Asked questions about the trip in the house, Peters again called it a “race attack”. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said she understood that Peters asked for the two women to travel as part of his fundraising effort. She said she didn’t know of it at the time. She declined to say whether it was appropriate for public money to fund the trip.

Peters would not explain what was racist about the reporting. “Here I am doing my best to help my country and I’m being pilloried on a racist allegation. You should all be, if you’re defending this behaviour, collectively ashamed with yourselves,” he told nearly the entire press gallery.

3.45pm: Winston Peters names alleged leaker of superannuation details

Winston Peters has revealed the alleged leaker of his superannuation details during general debate in parliament this afternoon. He’s claimed former National press secretary Rachel Morton was responsible for the 2017 leak, which led to a high court trial. Morton was Simon Bridges’ press secretary up until he was rolled by Todd Muller earlier this year.

Peters called it “dirty politics” and said it was an “Act-inspired hit job”.

Peters was this week ordered by the High Court to pay nearly $320,000 in costs after his failed court action over details of his superannuation payments being leaked. His claim against former government ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and its former chief executive Brendan Boyle was dismissed – due to a lack of evidence.

As Peters made the claim in the house it’s protected by parliamentary privilege. However, has not provided any evidence to back it up. He would not repeat his allegation outside the house, saying he’s instead taking the fight back to court.

3.25pm: Collins denies playing politics over Lees-Galloway tip

National’s leader has rejected claims she was playing politics by choosing to go public with an allegation about a then unnamed Labour minister. Judith Collins told media this morning she had received a tip-off about a standing Labour MP, but refused to name them or provide further details around the content of the allegations.

Speaking at parliament this afternoon, Collins said she only revealed that she’d received the tip after being asked a question about it in an interview on the AM Show. “Duncan Garner asked me a straight question, I gave him a straight answer.”

When pressed as to whether she was politicising the issue by choosing not to remain quiet, she said that was “complete rubbish.” She also denied that one of her staffers had told Garner to ask her the question.

2:00pm: Victoria Covid crisis deepens

Updated

The Covid-19 outbreak in the Australian state of Victoria has hit a new low, with a record 484 new cases in the state, according to media reports. With much of the state including Melbourne returned to lockdown, triple-figure daily tallies have been recorded for more than a fortnight. There are concerns, too, around emergent clusters in New South Wales.

Victoria’s previous high was 428 new cases recorded last Friday. There’s now talk of Victoria facing a “New Zealand-style” lockdown, where all but essential services would be forced to close.

1:55pm: Our Covid data, tracked

1.30pm: Dunedin ruled out for managed isolation

Updated

Air commodore Darryn Webb and the minister in charge of managed isolation, Megan Woods, are providing an update to media on managed isolation and quarantine in New Zealand.

Last week, Invercargill and Queenstown were ruled out as possible locations for managed isolation. Woods today confirmed that, at this stage, Dunedin will also not be used. “We’d like to personally thank the leaders we spoke with across the Otago and Southland regions for their positive and proactive support during our planning and feasibility assessments,” she said.

“The safety of New Zealanders is paramount; managed isolation facilities must meet certain criteria to accommodate people for a 14-day stay.”

Webb said that the options available for managed isolation in Dunedin presented too many issues. “The community spirit and health capacity certainly supported the concept,” Webb said. “Unfortunately… the available options in Dunedin presented complex safety and logistical challenges that simple exceeded the benefits that they would provide.”

There have been 30,475 New Zealanders return home and go through managed isolation and quarantine since March 26, Webb said, and we are now close to exhausting our nationwide capacity for isolation and quarantine. There are currently 32 facilities being used across five regions.

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today (details below).

Changes made to compassionate exemption process

Webb said important changes have been made to the managed isolation exemption process. A new website and web application form will be going live in the next fortnight, Webb said, but in the mean time people can contact isolationexemptions@mbie.govt.nz

“We do recognise that there are some exceptional circumstances, but they are just that, exceptional,” Woods said.

1:00pm: No new cases of Covid-19

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today. The ministry of health provided the information in a statement, promptly at 1.02pm.

It’s now been 82 days since the last case of the coronavirus was acquired in the country through an unknown source. The total number of active cases remains 27, all in quarantine.

There is, however, one new case of a disgraced politician.

Air commodore Darryn Webb and the minister in charge of managed isolation, Megan Woods, will be providing an update to media at 1.30pm.

12:55pm: Ministry set to update Covid case numbers

The ministry of health will be updating the number of new Covid-19 cases in a statement. It’s expected to be sent out at 1pm, but based on recent history it’s likely to be many, many minutes late.

12:37pm: Community transmission of political disgrace escalating

Whip out your contact tracing app and make sure you haven’t been in close contact with, basically, any MP in recent weeks.

Toby Manhire’s written a (disclaimer: satirical) piece for The Spinoff breaking the news that there’s one new case of a disgraced MP, with the number of active cases still… huge.

11:00am: PM sacks immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway

Updated

Iain Lees-Galloway has been dismissed as a minister following allegations of “inappropriate behaviour,” it has been confirmed. He will not be standing at the next election, but remains an MP until that time.

The prime minister said Lees-Galloway had been engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a former staffer over a period of 12 months. He has lost her confidence as a minister and Ardern said his behaviour did not befit the minister for workplace relations.

Ardern received the information yesterday afternoon when someone reached out to opposition leader Judith Collins. That information was then passed directly to Ardern.

“My chief of staff subsequently contacted the leader of the opposition’s office to pass on contact information should that be required by the correspondent,” Ardern said.

“At around 3pm [yesterday] my office received an email directly from a third party alleging that the minister had an inappropriate relationship with a former staffer who worked in one of his agencies. This was the first time I had heard such allegations.”

“At around 5.45pm last night I sat down with the minister and put a range of questions and allegations to him. He confirmed that a consensual relationship had occurred, that it involved someone who had previously worked in his office and had been based in one of his agencies. I want to be clear upfront, I wish to protect the identity of the person so will avoid providing any details over and above those necessary to explain my decision that may reveal who they are.”

It’s understood the relationship ended several months ago, Ardern said.

Ardern said Lees-Galloway has shown a lack of judgement, and opened himself up to accusations of improperly using his office.

“He has not modelled the behaviour I accept as a minister that is in charge of setting a standard, a culture of minister of workplace relations and safety. His actions have ultimately led me to lose my confidence in him as a minister.”

Carmel Sepuloni will become minister for ACC, Andrew Little for workplace relations and safety, and Kris Faafoi will take over the immigration portfolio.

“I’ve taken into account a range of circumstances in this decision,” said Ardern. “This is the minister for workplace relations and safety. I expect behaviour to be modelled here that is appropriate. Obviously we’re talking about a minister and someone who worked in one of his agencies.”

“Politicians should pay the price for mistakes, their families should not,” Ardern said.

Asked whether Lees-Galloway had to break the news to his family, Ardern said she ensured the minister had leave from parliament to return to be with his family, which was behind some of the the sequencing of announcing the decision.

Ardern said she’s been advised the incident did not involve any inappropriate use of funds: “But I still think the minister has opened himself up to the question of whether or not he has inappropriately used his office to sustain a relationship.”

It’s not expected that Lees-Galloway will front to media, with Ardern saying it’s appropriate that he spends time with his family.

Asked what she thought of the way Judith Collins had handled receiving the allegations about Lees-Galloway, compared with how she had handled receiving the allegations about National MP Andrew Falloon, Ardern said, “there are clear differences” in how they chose to deal with the information.

“It is up to everyone else’s judgement as to what is appropriate or not.”

Full statement: Iain Lees-Galloway responds

“I accept the Prime Minister’s decision and apologise absolutely,” Iain Lees-Galloway says.

“I have acted completely inappropriately in my position and can not continue as a Minister. I have apologised to my family for letting them down. Please appreciate their privacy.”

“I also apologise to anyone who has been hurt by my actions.”

10.40am: Reports Iain Lees-Galloway has resigned

We’re hearing reports immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway has resigned. The prime minister will be updating media at 11am.

Earlier this morning, National leader Judith Collins told media she had received reports of “inappropriate behaviour” by a standing Labour minister. She passed the report onto the prime minister yesterday. Lees-Galloway has deleted his Twitter and Facebook accounts following the claims.

More to come.

10:30am: Iain Lees-Galloway subject of Collins’ tip-off – reports

Various media are claiming that Labour minister Iain Lees-Galloway is the subject of alleged “inappropriate behaviour” being reported on this morning. The prime minister will be holding a press conference in about half an hour’s time.

The claim first surfaced when National leader Judith Collins said she’d received a tip-off about a Labour MP, which she passed on to Jacinda Ardern directly. Collins did not disclose the name of the MP, or details of the allegations.

1News is claiming that Lees-Galloway has resigned, however this has not been verified.

9:00am: PM to hold unscheduled press conference

The prime minister will be holding an unplanned press conference at 11am this morning at parliament, following allegations made about one of her ministers. The claims were first made by National leader Judith Collins this morning, who told media she’d received a tip-off about a standing Labour minister. She said it alleged “inappropriate behaviour.”

Collins told media she had immediately passed the complaint on to the prime minister, whose office had no comment for media today.

We’ll bring you all the latest live.

7.45am: Taxpayers paid for Peters’ friends to visit Antarctica

RNZ’s reporting this morning that deputy prime minister Winston Peters directed Antarctica New Zealand to give two spots on a trip to Antarctica – to two women closely linked to one of South East Asia’s richest families.

It’s claimed that Bee Lin Chew and her daughter Su Arn Kwek travelled to Scott Base, at taxpayer expense, in February after Antarctica New Zealand made room for them at the insistence of Peters’ office. RNZ’s obtained emails under the official information act, which show Antarctica New Zealand pushing back at the request as only one spot was available on the trip, which had been reserved for a government minister.

7.40am: Collins claims she received tip-off about Labour minister

As if the week couldn’t get any wilder, National’s leader this morning casually revealed she’s received a tip-off about a Labour minister, which has been passed on to the prime minister.

Collins revealed the tidbit on the AM Show, saying “I have advised the Prime Minister and I have asked for anybody who has that information to send it directly to her.” She would not reveal what the tip-off was. “I am not going to be indulging in any attacks on Labour on these things,” Collins said.

Health minister Chris Hipkins later told the programme it was a “matter for the prime minister” when asked if he knew what Collins was told.

Collins told RNZ she received an email yesterday from a member of the public with information about a Labour minister. “I spoke straight away to the prime minister… and advised her I was not going to go back to the informant asking for further details or anything.”

She said the complaint alleged “inappropriate behaviour” by a current Labour minister and MP who is intending to stay on after the election – but would not disclose anything more. “I’m not going to do anything other than to treat this matter as something for [the prime minister] to deal with.”

The allegations follow two busy days for the leader of the opposition, as Collins had to deal with the fallout from revelations her former MP Andrew Falloon had sent explicit images to at least four women (more below).

The prime minister’s office won’t comment on the allegation.

7.30am: Fallout from Falloon scandal

Judith Collins has defended the timeframe in which she dealt with allegations against former National MP Andrew Falloon.

She told RNZ she’s spoken to former National leaders Simon Bridges and Todd Muller, as well as ex-deputy Nikki Kaye, since the story broke. They have confirmed to her they knew nothing about the matter until stories broke in the media.

Collins said her main concern when she first heard about the allegations against Falloon was that he might take his own life, so she arranged for him to get back to his family safely. “I was very concerned, so I arranged for the chief whip to drive him to the airport and put him on a plane to Christchurch… and the deputy whip, who has a background working in mental health, to collect him from the airport and then to drive him to his family home in Ashburton.”

She denied using mental health as a smokescreen to protect the party, saying his behaviour was “despicable” but that he’s still a human being.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Much more emerged on the scandal around outgoing National MP Andrew Falloon yesterday. The police will now be reopening their inquiries into the matter, after previously finding that there was insufficient grounds for a prosecution to proceed. Falloon has also given his resignation from parliament – effective immediately – after pressure from party leader Judith Collins to do so.

The catalyst for all of this happening was further women coming forward with allegations they had also received deeply inappropriate messages from the MP. Stuff’s Henry Cooke reported on screenshots showing Falloon had been sending such messages to a second different woman, and over the course of the day Newshub’s Tova O’Brien brought the number up to four. National’s leadership teams – both current and former – have both confirmed that they were unaware of any such conduct from Falloon until this story broke, though Collins has said that she now believes that she was lied to by the former MP, and that such messaging was a “pattern of behaviour”. According to the NZ Herald, Collins says she was told by Falloon that there was nothing further she needed to know about, when she confronted him about the initial allegation.

For National, it raises more serious questions about who is being selected as candidates. Falloon is now the third MP to recently display a significant failure of character, while holding onto a safe National seat. Previous examples include Todd Barclay and then Hamish Walker in Clutha-Southland, and you could probably make a similar case for Jami-Lee Ross in Botany, with the caveat that he had been in parliament since 2011. This piece on Politik goes into the issue in depth – National has now established a pattern by which men who have grown up embedded in politics end up showing themselves to be unsuitable as representatives of the people.

Significant damage has been done to infrastructure around Tairāwhiti from heavy rain, along with the flooding that hit Northland. Around the East Coast, the scale of the damage was put by the lead story in the Gisborne Herald on Monday – on Tuesday a particular focus was put on Waiomatatini Valley, which has suffered a significant slip. Tolaga Bay has also been hit hard by logging debris once again, as One News reports, it’s an issue that has plagued the beachside community for years.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

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 reopened their investigation into Falloon.

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

There was 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.

Read yesterday’s live updates here.




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