Live updates, August 26: America’s Cup probe clears Team NZ; mosque gunman won’t address court

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 26, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and Covid-19 as it returns to the community. Auckland is now in alert level three and the rest of NZ is in level two. More details here. Official information here. Contact me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.15pm: The day in sum

There were five new cases of Covid-19, and a new “mini-cluster” based around a Mt Roskill church was revealed.

Victim impact statements concluded in the sentencing of the Christchurch mosque shooter, and it was announced he would not be addressing the court.

An audit into into allegations levelled against Team New Zealand and the America’s Cup organisers found “no evidence of financial impropriety or misappropriation of funds”.

Median weekly incomes fell for the first time on record as a result of Covid-19.

National leader Judith Collins said if her party won the election, the government’s freshwater regulations would be “gone by lunchtime”

Collins also said the wage subsidy should be extended to cover the extra four days of Auckland’s lockdown.

Police said the heritage building at 128 Abel Smith St in Wellington that caught fire last night would be demolished.

6.25pm: Mosque terrorist won’t address court

In news that will come as a relief to many, the man currently facing sentencing in the high court at Christchurch for the murder of 51 worshippers at two mosques on March 15, 2019, will not address the court in his own defence.

After a final day of moving victim impact statements, it was confirmed the man would not be making any personal submissions tomorrow before his sentence is handed down. He has admitted 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

The man is representing himself, but a lawyer instructed to act as stand-by counsel will make “brief” submissions after being instructed by the shooter, the Herald reports. The sentencing will start at 10am tomorrow.

Close to 90 victims have delivered impact statements to the court over the week. Among the speakers today were a 15-year-old girl, who cannot be named, who confronted the terrorist directly this afternoon, reports RNZ.

“Why did you kill my dad? Why did you take the most important person away?” she asked him. “He will always be in my heart and the hearts of those who love him. But you, you will be alone in prison. The only one who lost everything was you. Congratulations Mr Terrorist, you have failed.”

Meanwhile, Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah, who picked up a discarded firearm and tried to fire it at the gunman at Linwood mosque, before chasing and throwing an Eftpos machine at him, had his bravery acknowledged by the judge today. “I saw the fear in his eyes when he was running for his life, your honour,” Wahabzadah said during his testimony. He repeatedly called the shooter a coward, ending his statement by addressing the gunman: “Never forget these two eyes you ran from.”

Justice Cameron Mander stopped Wahabzadah as he left the courtroom, reports the Herald. “Before you go,” the judge said, “I’ve seen the video and I want to acknowledge your courage.” It prompted a spontaneous round of applause in the courtroom’s public gallery.

5.05pm: America’s Cup investigation finds ‘no evidence of financial impropriety’

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has completed its audit into Team New Zealand and the America’s Cup organisers, finding “no evidence of financial impropriety or misappropriation of funds”.

The groups were being investigated over the spending of public money, including allegations of a “reclassified” $3 million loan and claims of fraud involving a Hungarian bank account.

In a statement, MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain said, “While it’s excellent to confirm that there has been no financial impropriety and the escalation process has concluded, the Beattie Varley report had raised some concerns around record keeping relating to several historical matters.”

The report noted that a contractual disagreement over costs is outstanding and the parties will go to mediation on the issue.

4.15pm: Incomes fall for first time on record

Median weekly incomes have fallen for the first time on record, down 7.6% on last year, according to Stats NZ data.

Labour market statistics manager Andrew Neal attributed the fall – down to $652 a week for the June 2020 quarter – to Covid-19, with more people away from jobs without pay and receiving government transfers.

While hourly or weekly wages and salaries increased over the year, there was also a sharp rise in paid employees who reported no hours worked and no income. Neal said they were more likely to be younger and from the retail trade and accommodation industry. “Both these groups tend to have lower incomes,” he added.

3.45pm: Ex-Bauer magazine titles find new publisher

Two magazines formerly published by Bauer Media have found a new home. Parkside Media has announced it will be taking over Home and Fashion Quarterly magazines.

Parkside Media’s Michael White said: “The brand recognition, reach, and cultural relevance that Home and Fashion Quarterly provide means we can now service enthusiast audiences that span a full New Zealand–wide demographic, which will be a great benefit to what we can offer as a media company.”

Planning is already underway for new issues of the two magazines, which includes “encouraging anyone that used to work on the titles to get in touch and see what they might be able to offer in the new mix”.

3.00pm: Wellington heritage building to be demolished – police

A Wellington heritage building that went up in flames last night will be knocked down before a proper investigation into the cause of the blaze can take place.

Police say the building, at 128 Abel Smith Street, is currently “too unsafe” to enter. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

“The building will need to be demolished before any further investigation can take place,” a police spokesperson said.

“Police will be in touch with the building’s owners to discuss next steps.

“Inquiries are ongoing to determine the circumstances of the fire, including whether there may have been anyone in the building.”

2.55pm: Freshwater regulations would be ‘gone by lunchtime’ – Collins

National’s leader has pledged to “repeal or review” the government’s freshwater regulations, that aim to improve freshwater quality by controlling certain farm practices and setting higher standards around swimming spots.

Judith Collins initially made the pledge in a Facebook live video in which she also accused the government of “destroying the country”. A press release, sent out to media today, instead suggested a Collins-led government would take a closer look at the regulations.

According to the release, National will work with farmers and environmental stakeholders to put in place alternatives that are practical, science-based, and achievable.

“We all want improved fresh water outcomes but we have to back farmers to farm their way to better outcomes as they have been doing. Farmers must see a pathway to improve while being profitable, our rural communities and economic wealth as a country depends on it,” said National’s agriculture spokesperson David Bennett.

“While the country was focused on the worst economic downturn in 160 years, [environment minister] David Parker was busy rushing through new rules that will enforce impractical restrictions on farmers with no consideration for regional variances.”

1.00pm: Five new Covid-19 cases; ‘mini-cluster’ linked to church

Updated

New Zealand has another five cases of Covid-19, Ashley Bloomfield has announced, with three in the community. The remaining two are imported cases.

There are now 1,344 confirmed cases of the virus. The total number of active cases is now 134 – just 21 of which are imported.

Of the three new community cases, two are contacts of known cases and one is under investigation. One confirmed case from yesterday that was described as a household contact has been reclassified as under investigation. Today’s imported cases include a woman in her 50s and a man in his 30s. Information on their travel routes will be announced later today, Bloomfield said.

Auckland’s Mount Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Church, on Stoddard Road, is now a location of interest. Five people associated with the church have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in recent days. The director general is asking anyone who attended services at the church on the 8th, 9th or 11th of August, or a wedding on 7th August, to self-isolate at home and get tested.

Bloomfield concluded that the Mt Roskill group was a “mini-cluster”, but said, “We fully expect that it will link to the existing cluster.”

As of this morning, the contact tracing team had identified 2,422 close contacts of cases, of whom 2,368 had been contacted and were self-isolating and being tested, Bloomfield said.

Today there are nine people receiving hospital care, all linked to the Auckland community outbreak. There are two in Auckland hospital, three in North Shore hospital (one of whom is in the ICU and in a critical condition), and four in Waikato hospital (two of whom are in the ICU there).

QR codes to be mandated on ‘most’ forms of transport 

Health minister Chris Hipkins has said that QR codes will be required on “most” forms of public transport from Thursday next week. “That will include buses, trains, taxis, ferries and ride-share vehicles,” he said. It follows the move to make face coverings mandatory on transport services from Monday.

QR codes are “less burdensome” than physical record-keeping, Hipkins said, and are a better way of contact tracing than the AT Hop or Wellington’s Snapper cards. Uber announced earlier this week that it will be displaying QR codes.

Transport operators are not, however, required to enforce the wearing of masks or scanning of codes.

When questioned on whether masks will be mandatory on school buses, Hipkins said the finer details are being determined. “Secondary school students should be wearing a mask,” he said.

There are now 1,834,000 people registered on the Covid Tracer app, and an average of 1.4 million daily scans over the past week.

Roche-Simpson group in operation

The Roche-Simpson group that is providing oversight of testing and surveillance is in operation now, said Hipkins. Led by Helen Clark’s former top adviser, Heather Simpson, and Brian Roche, who has reviewed the ministry’s contact tracing measures, the group was announced as part of the government’s response to problems occurring at the border.

Three new members have been appointed to the group: Dr Api Talemaitoga, Dr Rawiri Jansen and Professor Philip Hill.

The group will focus on ensuring cases are rapidly identified, monitoring high-risk communities and any unidentified community spread, and “ensuring Māori and Pasefika people gain effective and equitable access to testing”, Hipkins said. “No system is foolproof, but the work of this committee will strengthen the extensive testing that we have already done.”

Asymptomatic people encouraged to get a test

The government announced yesterday it hopes to test 70,000 people over the next week – or 7000 each day. 8,559 tests were processed yesterday, bringing the total number of tests to 710,063.

As part of the government’s surveillance programme, DHBs are encouraging people without symptoms to start being tested around the country “to help ensure we have identified the full extent of the current outbreak”, Bloomfield said.

When pushed on the revelation that not everyone has been tested on day three of their stay in managed isolation, Hipkins said it was not always needed. “We do not routinely test very young children [on day three],” Hipkins said.

Hipkins said that in managed isolation facilities, 20,065 day three swabs had been taken between June 8 and yesterday, and 19,473 day 12 tests. Over that time, 15 adults have refused a day 12 test and their stay has been extended as a result. Fourteen people have tested positive at day 12 in managed isolation, 12 of whom had tested negative at day three.

Data from Covid-19 testing would not be used for immigration purposes, Hipkins said, encouraging anybody who needs a test to seek one out. If someone was in the country on an expired visa and gets a test for Covid-19, “we will not put those two dots together”, Hipkins added.

High school students won’t automatically pass NCEA – Hipkins

The Māori Party wants all students to be given passes in this year’s national exams because of the disruption caused by Covid-19. Co-leader John Tamihere said all senior students “must all be given pass marks to NCEA”.

Today, Hipkins – who is also the education minister – said this is something the government will not be considering. He said the integrity of our education system needs to be maintained.

12.45pm: Bloomfield, Hipkins to update on Covid-19 cases

The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be providing today’s 1pm Covid-19 update, alongside health minister Chris Hipkins.

Yesterday, there were seven new cases of the coronavirus, all linked to the existing Auckland cluster.

Meanwhile, health officials are dealing with the latest breach in the country’s managed-isolation facilities after the government has reported that a man broke into the Sudima Rotorua around 11pm on Sunday.

The man pushed sections of fencing apart and entered an exterior staff area, walked around for a bit and left. The outside area was not accessible to returnees and the health risk is considered low, according to officials. Staff at the facility didn’t see the man, but a member of the public saw him leave through the fencing and called police. He’s been warned by police.

The government has faced criticism in recent weeks because of the weak fencing around the facilities. It had promised that all the fencing would now be stronger and taller. Officials said the fencing at the Rotorua facility has now been further reinforced.

12.15pm: OfficeMax closing all retail stores

Stationery supplier OfficeMax has announced it will be shutting all 14 of its retail stores by the end of October, due to the impact of Covid-19.

The announcement was made in an email to customers this morning, where the company said it has made the “difficult decision” to close the stores, as “we adapt to the changing market”.

The company will continue to operate online.

11.35am: Spike in Covid deaths in Victoria

It’s been another deadly day in the Australian state of Victoria, with 24 more deaths overnight. That makes it the second worst day for coronavirus deaths in Victoria since the pandemic began. On August 17, 25 people lost their lives.

Meanwhile, there has been another 149 cases of the virus overnight. There are now 18,612 confirmed cases in Victoria alone. New South Wales has the second most confirmed cases in Australia, with just under 4000.

11.20am: More Covid reinfection cases come forward

Questions remain around how long immunity to Covid-19 actually lasts, according to a report in the Telegraph today. The World Health Organisation is claiming that a number of reinfected Covid-19 patients have now come forward, with the organisations Dr Margaret Harris telling the BBC: “we have seen very clearly two different versions of the same coronavirus”.

It comes after researchers at the University of Hong Kong sequenced the virus in a healthy man, who tested positive twice at airport screenings four and half months apart, and found he had been infected with two different strains. He did not, however, display symptoms for his second bout of the virus.

A patient in Netherlands and a patient in Belgium were also confirmed to have been reinfected with the virus, according to local media reports.

10.05am: Bonus bonds to end by October, ANZ says

ANZ’s bonus bonds saving scheme is set to end by October, the bank said today. No new investments into the scheme will be accepted, effective immediately.

As the Herald reports, Ben Kelleher, managing director retail and business banking at the ANZ, said low interest rates had reduced the investment returns of the scheme affecting the size of its prize pool.

“It has now become apparent those trends are likely to continue in the medium term. The official cash rate, currently at a historically low 0.25 per cent, may fall further in early 2021 as the global economy grapples with the impacts of Covid-19,” he said.

“The ANZIS [ANZ Investment Services] Board decided it is no longer appropriate to accept new investment into Bonus Bonds with immediate effect, and intends to start winding up the scheme no later than the end of October.”

9.25am: Robertson defends not extending wage subsidy

The finance minister has responded to calls from National Party leader Judith Collins to extend the wage subsidy for the extra four days of Auckland’s level three lockdown. Collins said that, if she were leader, the subsidy would end on Sunday night at the earliest – and might even go on for a few days longer.

Grant Robertson told RNZ this morning a further extension wasn’t necessary.

“We’ve already had about $108 million go out to about 30,000 businesses,” he said. “It would be an entirely different process and different regime if we were to look to try to cover this.”

Collins said that if it was too difficult to extend the subsidy for just four days, the government should go further and extent if for another week. She cited the government’s track record of borrowing for the existing subsidy, and said there was more money available.

“We have the money available because the government has been borrowing big on this, and we understand like every country in the world that we’re having to borrow through this time,” Collins said.

Robertson, however, said “context” is important. “We’ve had 22 weeks worth of payment for some of these affected businesses,” he said.

“More than half of that – 12-and-a-half weeks if you’re in Auckland – has been paid out when the country’s been at level 2 or level 1.

“We are borrowing every single dollar that we are paying out, and we have delivered 22 weeks of payment… we know it’s tough but you do have to look at this in the total level of support.”

8.25am: New poll – are people complying with the alert level rules?

A new poll published on The Spinoff this morning reveals compliance has dropped compared with the last time New Zealand was in a lockdown.

Back in April, in the second week of the alert level four lockdown, we asked people how they were complying with the rules. Then, 79% said they were “entirely” meeting the requirements. In the Stickybeak poll conducted last week, with Auckland in level three and the rest of the country in level two, the corresponding figure was 65%, a drop of 14 percentage points.

When you combine those who answered “entirely” and those who said “mostly”, the drop was less dramatic. In April, it was 86%. Now it is 80%.

The full poll results can be found here

8.15am: Mosque gunman to address court

The mosque gunman will today have the opportunity to address the High Court in Christchurch. It’s the third day of sentencing for the man convicted of killing 51 people, and injuring countless others, in March last year. The gunman has chosen to represent himself in court, firing his lawyers earlier this year.

Victim impact statements are expected to conclude today, and the sentencing will likely wrap up tomorrow. It’s possible the gunman could become the first person in New Zealand history to be given a sentence of life without parole.

8.00am: Investigations ongoing into massive Wellington fire

Emergency services are today investigating the cause of a large fire in a Wellington heritage building overnight. The building, at 128 Abel Smith Street, had been the premises of the Lebanese Society. Stephen Wakem, secretary of the Wellington-based society, said: “many of our members are children or grand-children of the original 1946 membership in Wellington, and we’re
sad to lose a piece of our local legacy.

In those early days, the building was a hub for bringing together Lebanese in shared identity, which is something we have been trying to achieve since we reinstated the society’s membership a couple of years ago.”

The building is also well known as the former home of Wellington’s anarchist movement. Wellington police told The Spinoff they will be back at the scene today along with fire and emergency to help determine the cause of the blaze.

7.45am: Collins continues push for extended wage subsidy

National Party leader Judith Collins said that, if it were up to her, the wage subsidy would be extended until at least the end of the weekend – or maybe even longer. Currently, the subsidy is expected to end tonight. That’s when the level three lockdown was initially expected to end in Auckland, before being pushed out for an extra four days.

“We think that the subsidy should be extended for the next four days,” Collins told RNZ this morning. “We would extend it out for another week, if we had to,” Collins said. The idea that for some workers the lockdown extension only took up two extra “working was” was rejected by Collins, who said that people in retail or hospitality will be working the weekend as well.

“We’ve heard the government say it’s too hard to work out the admin on it, so if it’s that bad, we’d give it a week,” Collins said.  “This wage subsidy is only helping to pay wages, it’s not helping to pay all the other costs that people in business have.”

Collins said the money is available because the “government has been borrowing big”.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

To lead us off today, a roundup of a few stories taking place at local government level. It keeps going while the rest of the country prepares for an election, and under the radar, some reasonably significant changes are being made to the architecture of many councils.

The biggest and most recent is a vote by the Tauranga City Council to establish Māori wards, and give tangata whenua reps on council committees voting rights. The Waikato Times has a comprehensive story on what the decision means. In a shorter story, the Bay of Plenty Times reports the decision came as something of a shock to many in the room, because the debate had made it seem like the council vote would go the other way. Like with the recent moves by the New Plymouth District Council, the vote could end up being challenged in a referendum if a petition gathers enough signatures. Meanwhile, Stuff reports Wellington City Council will today decide on whether to give mana whenua members voting rights on all committees except the full council. The underlying idea behind the proposal is that under the Local Government Act, Māori are required to be included in decision-making.

Meanwhile a rash of councils have been adopting the Single Transferable Voting system for their future elections. We’ve covered a few in recent months, but the more recent ones include the Far North District Council, the Nelson City Council, and the Gisborne District Council. The idea behind STV is that it is a more proportional electoral system than first past the post, in an electoral context where a system like MMP wouldn’t make any sense. Voters are asked to rank candidates rather than simply having one vote to cast as under FPP, meaning the preferences of greater numbers of voters are reflected in the final results.

Finally, Local Government NZ held their annual conference recently, with a series of policy remits debated. You can read about all of them here, including a series of interesting ones on water bottling. But in keeping with the theme of this being about the architecture of local government, one in particular jumps out: “To advocate for central government to conduct a referendum on a proposal that the electoral terms of both central and local government be extended from three to four years.” It passed overwhelmingly, and could put momentum behind an idea that has been kicking around for years.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were seven new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, all linked to the Auckland community cluster.

National Party leader Judith Collins called for the wage subsidy to be extended until the end of the weekend.

The health minister wants 70,000 people tested for the virus this week as part of an “aggressively targeted” approach.

Accommodation for certain patients in two mental health units breached a UN convention on torture and degrading treatment, according to the chief ombudsman.

A $65,000 donation was given to Jami-Lee Ross’ Advance NZ party by its own co-leader, Billy Te Kahika.

Jetstar won’t be operating in New Zealand until at least September 6 due to the level two restrictions, the airline announced.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates.



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