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Hamilton’s Distinction Hotel
Hamilton’s Distinction Hotel

PoliticsJuly 25, 2020

Live updates, July 25: No new cases of Covid-19; mother who absconded ‘wanted to give children closure’

Hamilton’s Distinction Hotel
Hamilton’s Distinction Hotel

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 25. The latest on New Zealand news, politics and the Covid-19 crisis, updated throughout the day.

6.30pm: The day in sum

After a major police search, a 17-year-old boy who absconded from a managed isolation facility in Hamilton was apprehended by police in Auckland this morning. He and three family members appeared in court, and it emerged they had been trying to attend the children’s father’s funeral.

The Greens launched their election campaign with a new policy platform entitled “Think Ahead, Act Now”.

There were no new cases of Covid-19.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield scored a try for the Centurions XV in a rugby match against the Parliamentary XV in Wainuiomata.

4.20pm: Mother who absconded from isolation gives interview

The 37-year-old woman who absconded from a Hamilton managed isolation facility with her children last night has told Stuff her son managed to spend a few hours with his father’s body before handing himself in.

The 17-year-old boy was detained by police at a house in Auckland early this morning, after absconding with his mother and three siblings last night (see 11.05am update and earlier for details).

After being declined leave to attend the funeral of the father, who had suffered a stroke and died on July 20, the mother eventually arranged with authorities that the family would be able to view the body for one hour, she told Stuff. But the plan was dependent on approval from the Ministry of Health, which she says kept delaying giving her an answer.

“I was running out of time,” she told Stuff. If I’ve got all these people backing the plan, and we’ve tested negative for Covid-19. Why haven’t I got an answer?”

The woman, who can’t be named, said she used a fork to pop the locks off a window, helped her children out and over a fence and ran.

“I was doing what any other mother would have done for their children,” she said. “The lasting effect it would have on them if they didn’t get to say their goodbyes. That was my drive for this. I wanted to give my children closure.”

Read the full story on Stuff

4.00pm: Bloomfield and co take the win over Parliamentary XV

Ashley Bloomfield’s thrilling first-half try set the scene for the Centurions’ victory over the Parliamentary XV in Wainuiomata today. I’m assured a last-minute try brought the full-time score to 19-10, but the scoreboard on the livestream said 14-10. One thing’s for certain, however: rugby was the winner on the day.

Ashley Bloomfield keeps an eye on proceedings from the sidelines, after being subbed off post-try (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)

3.30pm: Bloomfield dots down in star-studded rugby game

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield, who became something of a cult hero during lockdown with his soothing 1pm updates, is not just a champion curve flattener – turns out he’s a handy openside flanker too.

Bloomfield is playing at number seven for the Centurions XV, alongside the likes of Stephen Bachop​, Jason Eaton​, Norm Hewitt​ and Rodney So’oialo. They’re taking on the Parliamentary XV – which includes National’s Mark Mitchell and Michael Woodhouse, former All Black Piri Weepu and his brother, former league player and cameraman Billy Weepu, and former Blues and Hurricanes player Ofisa Tonu’u – at William Jones Park in Wainuiomata as we speak.

Bloomfield scored the first try of the game 25 minutes into the first half, dotting down under the posts. Five minutes later, veteran Wellington loose forward Thomas ‘The Tank Engine’ Waldrom followed suit.

We’re at the beginning of the second half and the score is currently 14-5 to the Centurions. You can watch a livestream on the Pick up the Pace podcast’s Facebook page and follow updates over on Twitter from The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti – what he lacks in rugby knowledge he makes up for in enthusiasm and bird-watching skills. 

2.05pm: Greens kick off election campaign with new policy platform

The Greens have unveiled their policy platform and with it a catchy new slogan: “Think Ahead, Act Now”. At the party’s AGM in Wellington today, co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw launched a 52-page policy document that will form the basis of potential post-election negotiations with Labour. and

The title of the document, “Think Ahead, Act Now”, is inspired in part by the “Beyond Tomorrow” message the Values Party, a precursor to the Green Party, put out in 1975. Jeanette Fitzsimons, the Greens stalwart who passed away in March this year, was an early member of the Values Party.

Launching the policy platform, Davidson spoke of a system that worked against people trying their hardest to get by, referencing housing unaffordability and poor-quality housing, wage stagnation and an inadequate social safety net.

While the document represents the party’s “broad vision”, in the coming weeks more detailed policy priorities will be announced, focused on “climate action, healthy nature and equality”. “Those announcements will be the driving force of what we want to achieve in the next term of government,” said Davidson in a press release.

The document’s introduction includes a subtle dig at Labour, with the line “the Green Party is the only party with a transformational plan to ensure all of us, and our planet, are looked after” – a clear reference to prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s claim, when Labour was elected in 2017, that the government would bring radical transformation.

The document is broken into three key areas: healthy nature, fairer communities and a clean economy, and under each pillar are the Greens’ various pledges.

1.50pm: Isolation-absconding family appear in court

The 37-year-old woman who allegedly fled managed isolation at the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton with her children last night has appeared in the city’s district court via video link, reports the Herald. The woman is charged with breaching the coronavirus health act notice. The court heard the family was trying to get to Auckland to attend the funeral of the children’s father, and had fundraised in Australia, where they had lived for a long time, to fly back to New Zealand for that purpose.

Judge Noel Cocurullo granted the woman – who cannot be named to protect the identity of her children, two of whom are minors – bail to a managed isolation facility in Auckland. Two of her children, an 18-year-old woman and 16-year-old youth, also appeared via video link in Hamilton, and were granted bail under the same conditions, which include another Covid-19 test.

The woman’s 17-year-old son, who remained on the run last night after his family was apprehended and was caught this morning in Auckland, appeared via video link from Waitākere District Court, and was remanded without plea and under the same bail conditions. He will be remanded at the same facility as the rest of his family. A fifth family member, a 12-year-old child, will not face charges.

The judge extended his sympathies to the woman over the death but added, “I need to make it plain to you that the community I serve, the New Zealand public, are sick and tired of people breaching the strict quarantine rules.”

Meanwhile, Gerry Brownlee, National’s Covid-19 border response spokesperson, says “the situation is a sign that Labour has failed to secure the border”, and is calling for the absconders to be forced to repay the cost of their apprehension.

1.15pm: No new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, according to the Ministry of Health, which means the total number of confirmed cases remains at 1,206. It has now been 85 days since a case of Covid-19 was acquired locally.

Yesterday, 2,307 tests were completed, bringing the total to date to 453,923.

11.05am: Family who absconded from Hamilton isolation had lost relative, waiting for leave approval

The five people who absconded from managed isolation in Hamilton last night were a family and had returned to New Zealand following the loss of a close family member, Megan Woods, the minister who oversees the facilities, has announced.

“We can understand their grief, but we cannot allow one tragedy to turn into a tragedy for hundreds,” she said. 

Air Commodore Digby Webb said the family arrived from Brisbane on July 21. On arrival, they requested an exemption to spend time with a family member and attend a funeral. The request at that time was declined as the group had not yet been tested.

A further request was made to view the body ahead of the funeral, which is to be held this afternoon, and a detailed plan was being considered, said Webb, which involved discussion with iwi, Māori wardens and the funeral home in question. 

At 6.15pm last night, the family was advised that things were looking positive for the request to be approved, said Webb, and they were told they would be given a decision at 8pm that night. But at 7pm, they absconded.

The group forced a window open, breaking the security latches, then scaled a six-foot fence. Four of the group were found in a nearby park. The teenager who absconded in Auckland was picked up by someone in a car. Whether the person who drove him would be charged was a matter for police, said Webb.

Webb confirmed the group was a mother and her four children aged 12, 15, 17 and 18. Four of the five are now back at the Distinction Hotel, with extra security, and the teenager who absconded is in custody in Auckland. “We’re working out a plan to ensure they’re one family unit,” said Webb.

10.55am: Woods and Webb front up over latest isolation escape – watch

Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Digby Webb, who oversee the managed isolation and quarantine facilities, are about to hold a media conference about last night’s incident in Kirikiriroa (see 8.30am and 9.00am updates). We’ll bring you all the details here.

The Herald is reporting that the group of five absconded to attend a funeral, for which they had been refused compassionate leave.

10.45am: KiwiBuild ‘took a strip out of my hide’, light rail not a failure – Twyford

Minister Phil Twyford, known for overseeing the failed KiwiBuild and Auckland light rail projects, was grilled on the shemozzles on Newshub’s The Nation this morning. Asked by host Simon Shepherd if he regretted staking his job on KiwiBuild, Twyford said no, but admitted “the problems we had with KiwiBuild in those early months took a strip out of my hide, but made me more determined than ever that we’ve got to tackle the housing problem”.

Asked if he and those involved lacked the skills to deliver such a bold policy, Twyford said, “I wear my fair share of responsibility for the problems we had with KiwiBuild. The government as a whole simply didn’t have the capability to do something governments haven’t done in New Zealand for 40 years.”

To the suggestion that light rail was “KiwiBuild 2.0”, Twyford said he rejected the idea that the government hadn’t delivered on light rail. “We remain committed to building light rail. I hope it will be on the top of the list for the new government coming in.

“It’s important we get this right. We took time to give serious consideration to the Super Fund’s pitch, which I think was the right thing to do. We are committed to it, and we will go on to deliver it. Good things take time.”

Asked about the newly released national policy on urban development, which stops councils imposing minimum parking requirements for new developments, and ensures they can’t restrict building heights to fewer than six storeys in town centres of major cities (see Hayden Donnell’s report for The Spinoff here), Twyford said most councils and mayors he’d spoken to welcomed the change. “We have to allow our cities to grow up and grow out.”

10.20am: Greens to launch policy platform, leaders challenged on coalition achievements

The Green Party is today launching its policy platform and a new ad for the election campaign, as well as holding its AGM in Wellington. Co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson appeared on Newhub’s The Nation this morning, saying today’s policy platform would act as a guide for post-election negotiations.

Having earlier in the week been openly scathing of NZ First, calling the coalition partner “a force of chaos”, Shaw was this morning slightly more cautious,  saying Winston Peters’ party had been a “chaotic and disorganised partner in government sometimes”. It’s safe to say the Greens are hoping Winston Peters and co are sent packing by New Zealand voters, however. “Ultimately I think the people of New Zealand will decide who makes up the next government. I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to form a government with Labour.”

Challenged by host Simon Shepherd on what the party had achieved as confidence-and-supply partner in the coalition government, Shaw said, “We have done an enormous amount in the last three years. Yes, there have been things we didn’t get over the line, but we got things through as result of partnership.”

Shepherd suggested the Greens had “sold out on agriculture”, with farmers still not having to comply with the emissions trading scheme, and pointed to the lack of universal free counselling for under-25s, which was another of the Greens’ policy goals. Davidson said she was proud of what the party had been able to get done, such as extending mental health funding, adding, “We are very clear we need to go further and faster, and that’s why we’re asking people to give us more support. There’s absolutely more work to do.”

Asked whether the Greens’ proposed wealth tax would turn Auckland Central voters off Greens candidate Chlöe Swarbrick, Shaw said the electorate had an “enormously diverse range of people”, including students, immigrants and refugees. “We’ve also heard from a number of people whose net worth is over $1 million who are happy to eliminate poverty.”

Shaw said the party was “throwing everything at” Swarbrick’s campaign, saying she had the highest name recognition of all candidates and “we think she can win it”.

9.00am: Isolation absconders charged, teen had made it to Auckland

The 17-year-old who spent the night on the run after absconding from a managed isolation facility in Hamilton had made it all the way to Auckland. He was “detained without incident” by police at about 4.40am this morning at an address in the Waitematā police district, which comprises west Auckland and the North Shore, according to a statement form assistant commissioner Scott Fraser.

The teenager was one of five people who absconded from the managed isolation facility at the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton at around 7pm last night. Four of them, a 37-year-old year woman and three young people, were detained in Hamilton less than an hour later.

Four of the group, including the teen who spent the night on the run, have been charged with breaching the Health Act notice. Arrangements are currently being made for him to appear before a youth court in Auckland today, say police, while the other three will appear before the Hamilton district and youth courts today.

“Locating these people was a priority for police,” said Fraser. “We committed a considerable number of resources, including the Eagle helicopter, to our search for the young man overnight.”

8.30am: Teen isolation absconder detained after night on the run

A 17-year-old boy who absconded from a managed isolation facility in Hamilton was apprehended by police this morning after a major police search overnight, according to a statement from Air Commodore Digby Webb.

The boy, along with three other children and an adult, had absconded from the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton at 7pm last night. A person was seen leaving over the fence by the onsite police officer, who “immediately took action to locate and apprehend them”.

Four of the group were found and detained by 7.50pm, but the 17-year-old remained on the run overnight.

All five people had returned negative day three tests. Last night, Megan Woods, the minister who oversees managed isolation and quarantine facilities, said they will be retested. Woods condemned the escapees in a statement, saying, “This is incredibly irresponsible behaviour by this group.”

The Distinction Hotel is the same facility from where a man absconded by cutting through a fence on July 9. On the same day, the government announced there would be a permanent police presence at all managed isolation facilities, after it was revealed a man who later tested positive for Covid-19 had the day before absconded from an Auckland city hotel and gone to a supermarket.

Woods and Webb will hold a media conference this morning.

8.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

Five people absconded from a managed isolation facility in Hamilton. Four were apprehended within the hour, while the fifth, a teenage boy, remained on the run.

The Greens and National were first to announce their support of the new parliamentary code of conduct.

Winston Peters hosted a “save Tiwai” rally, nobody chanted, and Marcus Lush was there.

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

The royal commission into the mosque attacks was delayed, yet again.

The government launched its progressive home ownership scheme.

Behrouz Boochani was granted refugee status.

Read yesterday’s live updates here

Keep going!