Live updates, August 27: Christchurch mosque shooter sentenced to life without parole

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 27, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and the return of Covid-19. Auckland is in alert level three until 11.59pm on Sunday. The rest of NZ remains in level two. More details here. Official information here. Contact me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.00pm: The day in sum

The Christchurch mosque shooter was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the murder of 51 people.

There were seven new cases of Covid-19, one of which was linked to the border.

Trading on the NZX was halted again after its website went down for a third day in a row as a result of a sustained cyber attack.

The mother who escaped a Hamilton MIQ facility along with her four children was sentenced to 14 days in prison.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars” is being put aside to ensure New Zealand can access a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available, the government said.

A poll found that 62% of Chinese New Zealanders would vote for the National Party, and just 21% would vote for Labour.

5.35pm: Auckland Council votes to merge its venues and events arms

Auckland Council has agreed unanimously to progress all 64 recommendations made by an independent review of its five council-controlled organisations (CCOs). The report, released two weeks ago, included a recommendation that two CCOs – Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) – be d cmerged into a single entity to be established by 1 December 2020, which the review suggested could save up to $67 million over the next decade.

Many of the savings will come from the creation of a single management team and a single board, reports the NZ Herald. Regional Facilities Auckland currently spends about $3.5m a year on executive salaries and board fees. Ateed spends about $1.9m.

5.20: Everything you need to know about the new face mask rules

From Monday, all New Zealanders will be required to wear a face covering on public transport. But what are the details? Will you get fined if you don’t? Can you use a scarf? And what about on the school bus? We’ve answered all your burning questions on the new rules – read the explainer here.

4.30pm: Isolation escapee sentenced to two weeks’ jail

The mother who absconded a Hamilton isolation hotel along with her four children to view the body of the children’s father has been sentenced to 14 days’ imprisonment, Stuff reports.

She appeared at Auckland District Court for sentencing, having previously pleading guilty to breaching an order under the Covid-19 Health Act. Appearing with her was her 18-year-old child, who also pleaded guilty and was today discharged without conviction.

The woman’s lawyer said she had been “panicked, stressed, grieving and not thinking properly” when she planned the breakout. However, while he accepted that grief had clouded her judgement, Judge Noel Sainsbury said the offending was serious enough to warrant a prison sentence.

2.00pm: Life with no parole – Christchurch mosque shooter sentenced

Updated

The man responsible for the murder of 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch will never walk free again. He’s become the first person in New Zealand to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Despite it being his legal right, the terrorist chose not to speak in court. Instead, a lawyer spoke briefly on his behalf.

According to media reports, the shooter did not oppose the life sentence, accepting the crimes he committed were a terror attack. He claimed in a pre-sentence report that he was not racist or xenophobic, rather that his political and social views at the time weren’t real as he had been in a “poisoned emotional state”. He said he felt ostracised and had wanted to damage society.

There are reports of celebration from outside the Christchurch High Court where the sentencing occurred. Asked what response there was from the terrorist at the verdict, RNZ reporter Conan Young said “there was absolutely nothing”.

Dozens of students are holding signs with hearts and supportive messages outside the court. It’s the first thing victims will see when they step outside at the end of the four-day sentencing hearing.

Justice Mander, who presided over the sentencing, told the shooter: “Even if you are detained until you die it will not contain enough punishment and denunciation.”

‘Relief’ – Ardern reacts to sentencing

The prime minister has paid tribute to the “the strength of our Muslim community”, following today’s sentencing.

“You relived the horrific events of March 15 to chronicle what happened that day and the pain it has left behind,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Nothing will take the pain away but I hope you felt the arms of New Zealand around you through this whole process, and I hope you continue to feel that through all the days that follow.

“The trauma of March 15 is not easily healed but today I hope is the last where we have any cause to hear or utter the name of the terrorist behind it. His deserves to be a lifetime of complete and utter silence.”

In tweet, National’s leader Judith Collins said she was “so pleased for the victims and their families”.

Terrorist will remain in a prison cell for ‘the rest of his natural life’

“I don’t think there could have been any other outcome, and the judge handled it incredibly well,” Anjum Rahman of the Islamic Women’s Council told RNZ this afternoon. The process had been “incredibly harrowing”, for those involved, she said.

Criminal law expert Warren Brookbanks confirmed that the shooter will remain in a prison cell for “the rest of his natural life”, unless he requires hospitalisation. He said the longest non-parole sentence he could remember before today was 30 years.

In a statement, police commissioner Andrew Coster paid tribute to the victims and survivors of the attack. “While this will be recorded as an historic sentence, it is the impact on victims and their stories of survival, strength, humility and forgiveness that we must remember,” he said.

Those who had spoken in court were “elated” at the sentence, said Feroze Ditta, Muslim Association of Canterbury general secretary.

The process had been “daunting” but “dignified”, said Feroze, a survivor of the attack who still has bullet fragments in his leg. There was “a sense of release” in the outcome, which “gives some closure and an opportunity to move on”.

1.00pm: Seven new Covid-19 cases; Contact tracing system working well

Updated

There are seven new cases of Covid-19 today, with just one linked to the border. The remaining six new cases are all linked to the Auckland community cluster, with five household contacts of existing cases and the sixth a workplace colleague. One of the new cases is a student at Mount Albert Grammar School, director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said, but they have not been at school since August 12.

Ten people are currently hospitalised with Covid-19 in New Zealand, McElnay said. Two are in intensive care. There are now 1,351 confirmed cases of the virus. The total number of active cases is 126 – 11 of which are imported – with 15 people having now recovered.

There are now eight people linked to the “mini-cluster” at a Mount Roskill church, McElnay said. They all have epidemiological links to one another, but just three of these cases have been genomically linked to the large Auckland community cluster. The epidemiological link to the main cluster remains under investigation.

Yesterday 9,257 tests were processed, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 719,320. Despite the boost in daily tests, that still falls a few hundred short of the government’s goal of 10,000 tests each day for the next week.

The one new imported case is a woman in her 20s who arrived in New Zealand on August 22 from Turkey via London and Hong Kong. She has been staying in MIQ at the Sudima in Christchurch and tested positive for Covid-19 around day three of her time in managed isolation.

More detail on mandatory public transport face coverings outlined

Those under the age of 12 will be exempt from the government’s call to make masks on public transport mandatory from next week. For everyone else, it will be compulsory to wear a type of face covering on public transport while in alert level two or above, health minister Chris Hipkins said. There will be certain exemptions for health, disability and practicality reasons.

“I know this is big change and will take some getting used to but it is a small thing we can all do that helps us get back to the freedoms of level one,” Hipkins said.

“The advice from health officials is clear – the use of face coverings can reduce the risk of people spreading Covid-19, particularly where it is hard to maintain physical distance from others. Masks and face coverings do not replace physical distancing – they complement other public health measures.”

Masks will not need to be worn on school buses, chartered tours, inter-island ferries or private flights, or by private contractors of air services, Hipkins confirmed. Drivers of taxis or rideshare services (like Uber) will be required to wear masks, but passengers of these services will not.

Hipkins said we do not have a “mask wearing culture” in New Zealand, so this will take some getting used to. He wants it to become a bit like “buckling up” when getting into a car. “We ask people to be kind and cooperative with one another while we all get used to these new requirements,” he said.

The government is investigating the possibility of distributing reusable masks, Hipkins said, but “if you don’t have a mask you can use a scarf or bandana”.

“We encourage everyone to get three or four washable masks each,” Hipkins said.

“A breach of this requirement without reasonable excuse could be subject to an infringement of up to $300 or a fine imposed by court of up to $1,000,” explained Hipkins.

The government is releasing a further three million masks from the national stock as a “one-off boost to the immediate supply that’s available”, Hipkins said. “This will be distributed amongst iwi, social services groups and community food banks and services in regions where there is public transport.”

Contact tracing system working well, concludes Roche report

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports:

Contact tracing is working well in New Zealand and most cases are being found quickly, concludes a new investigation of the system. However, more work is required to prepare the country for long-term vigilance. The Roche report, released today by health minister Chris Hipkins, is a check-up on an earlier look at the tracing system.

“Considerable progress has been made by the ministry of health with respect to the implementation of the Verrall Report. New Zealand is in an increasingly strong position as a result of that effort. The ministry is to be commended, given the multiple pressures the staff have been under,” wrote Brian Roche, the head of the committee that penned the latest effort.

Roche’s team reviewed the recommendations made by Ayesha Verrall’s audit of the tracing system in the April. Verrall had called for 80% of close contacts being traced within 48 hours and less than 20% of those contacts testing positive. The government has exceeded both benchmarks in this recent Auckland cluster. “Further optimisation is now the goal,” wrote Roche.

The former executive was recently asked to be part of another group looking at ways to increase testing at the border. To ensure the contact tracing system works in the future, the report said there needs to be a stress-test of the system and a look at how contact tracing would function in an outbreak, along with the possibility of regional level changes. The report was written before the current Auckland outbreak, which would seem to have filled this purpose.

The report also said that there needs to be clearer management and accountability for the border and contact tracing systems. It concludes that a czar should be empowered to act quickly in case of an outbreak to make sure things happen. The health department could use a new structure as part of the long-term response and there needs to be a lot more Bluetooth and other technology to aid tracing, the report concluded. “The ministry is innovating and responding quickly and I expect this culture of constant improvement will continue,” Hipkins said in a statement.

12.45: Does NZ have more cases of Covid-19?

There’s no Ashley Bloomfield today, but the 1pm Covid-19 media briefing goes on. Today, the health minister Chris Hipkins and director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay will be providing the update on new Covid-19 cases.

Yesterday, there were five new cases to report. Bloomfield also confirmed that a “mini-cluster” of cases had been linked to a church in Mount Roskill.

Watch below:

12.15pm: Trust in government falls just 3% after Covid resurgence

A new poll reveals just how little the second wave of Covid-19 appears to have dented the government’s popularity.

The Horizon Research study shows that overall trust and confidence in the Ministry of Health and government’s response to managing Covid-19 has dropped to 79% in late August, down from 82% in mid-July.

It peaked at 91% during the alert level four lockdown back in April.

However, the study shows that while trust and confidence has largely held up across all adults, among business proprietors and the self-employed it has fallen drastically – from 71% in mid-July to 49% now.

11.30am: NZX website crashes for third day in a row

In news just to hand, the New Zealand Stock Exchange website is down for a third day in a row. The NZX was hit by a cyber attack on Tuesday afternoon, halting trading for about an hour.

It’s expected trading will be halted again today.

While you ponder what this could mean for your stocks, check out The Spinoff’s explainer about what exactly this all means.

10.30am: Mosque gunman sentenced today, will not address court

The man convicted of shooting 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch last March will today know his fate, and whether or not he’ll become the first person in our country’s history to be locked away for life with no parole.

More than 90 victim impact statements have been delivered in the Christchurch High Court this week – far more than the 66 expected to speak. It’s now been confirmed that the gunman himself will not be addressing the court, despite having the option available to him.

Instead, the court will today hear from the Crown, followed by a brief submission from the lawyer assisting the gunman. The judge will then lay down his sentence and put this grim piece of New Zealand history to bed.

10.00am: ‘Hundreds of millions’ going to Covid vaccine research in NZ

The government’s putting “hundreds of millions of dollars” toward accessing a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

But, because of commercial sensitivity, the precise amount cannot be disclosed. The funding, which is in addition to the $37 million vaccine strategy released in May, comes from the Covid-19 response and recovery fund.

And a new “vaccine alliance” has also been created to help lead efforts to secure a treatment. The group comprises The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, the University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said she’s been in touch with a number of world leaders, including Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Scott Morrison, to talk about global vaccine development.

“We are working particularly closely with Australia to ensure we are connected to all parts of vaccine development, distribution and use, as well as our Pacific neighbours to elevate their voices,” she said.

In perhaps a veiled dig at US president Donald Trump, Ardern has criticised what she calls “vaccine nationalism”, saying that only helps the virus. “Collaboration is our strength and when we find a vaccine, it must be available to everyone,” Ardern said.

Research, science and innovation minister Megan Woods said the funding would enable the Government to secure access to promising vaccine candidates, alongside joining initiatives such as the global COVAX Facility.

Meanwhile, the new vaccine alliance will be rapidly progressing New Zealand’s capability and capacity to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, working with a range of local and international collaborators.

Director of the alliance, Professor Graham Le Gros from the Malaghan Institute, said: “we’ll be making use of the abundant expertise and capability across the country and our global links to find the best vaccine options for New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours.

“The aim is to secure access to a safe, effective, scalable Covid-19 vaccine,” he said.

9.05am: Air NZ profits tumble due to Covid crisis

The absence of international travel, and a drop in domestic tourism, has resulted in a crushing loss for the country’s national carrier Air New Zealand.

The airline’s reporting an underlying loss of $87 million for the 2020 financial year, compared to earnings of $387 million in the prior year. As the Herald reports, Covid-19 has wiped out Air New Zealand’s first half result and statutory losses before taxation  were $628m, compared to earnings of $382 million last year.

8.45am: New poll: Have you seen Covid conspiracies online?

A new poll this morning on The Spinoff takes a closer look at the impact of social media and Covid-19 conspiracies. As our editor Toby Manhire writes: “With a third of New Zealand under alert level three lockdown, recent weeks have seen false claims around the source of the re-emergence shared widely.”

The latest Stickybeak poll for The Spinoff, conducted between August 16 and 21, asked respondents if they had personally seen conspiracy theories related to Covid-19 shared on social media in the last week or so. Almost three in four had.

Read the full poll results here

8.35am: ‘Some of them would need to be repealed’ – National take aim at freshwater regulations

As explained in today’s edition of The Bulletin, National has promised to review or repeal the government’s new freshwater regulations, if they form a government in October. Judith Collins, in a Facebook Live video, initially went as far as to say the regulations would be “gone by lunchtime”, before later softening this stance in a press release.

The regulations put controls on farming practices such as winter crop grazing and set limits on nitrogen pollution.

National’s environment spokesperson Scott Simpson told RNZ this morning that he had no problem with water quality improvements, but it was the “impractical pettiness” of some of these new standards that took issue with.

“What we want to do is have a look at these nine regulations… they’re incredibly prescriptive in terms of their application,” Simpson said. He said while it was no surprise work was being done around freshwater standards, some of the “detail” came as a shock.

“Some of them would need to be repealed,” he said.

When questioned on the fact that Fonterra backed a number of the new regulations, Simpson said the concern was the “practical implications” for farmers, rather than what a company like Fonterra said from their “plush corporate offices down by the Viaduct in Auckland city”.

8.05am: Speeding fines surged during level four lockdown

The nationwide lockdown earlier this year saw more people speeding on our roads, according to new police statistics.

More speeding fines were issued during alert level four than during the same period a year before. It’s probably a result of traffic congestion dropping by 80%, and with overall traffic down almost half.

In April, during alert levels four and three, 21,077 speeding fines were given to motorists by officers, up almost 1000 on the same time in 2019. In May, during alert level two, 33,320 speeding tickets were issued by officers, more than 13,000 more than the previous year.

Police say the empty roads led some drivers to think speeding was okay.

7.50am: Chinese NZers would still back National over Labour – poll

There’s good news for National and Act, according to a new poll of Chinese New Zealanders. Just 21%, or roughly one in five, Chinese New Zealanders said they would vote for Labour in the upcoming election. That’s far short of the party’s overall results in recent polls, which were closer to the 6o% mark.

Meanwhile, 62% of Chinese New Zealanders said they would vote for the National Party, a decline of 9.1% from the 2017 version of the poll – but still a significant lead over Labour. And it’s the Act Party that’s managed to pick up most of that decline.

More than half (52.2%) of those surveyed said they would prefer National Party leader Judith Collins as the Prime Minister,  with support for Jacinda Ardern at just over a quarter – 26.5%.

What’s interesting, however, is that roughly 75% of respondents said they were satisfied with the government’s response to Covid-19.

Read more about the poll here

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

National leader Judith Collins has told a Facebook live chat that the government’s freshwater regulations will be “gone by lunchtime” if National wins. As Stuff’s Henry Cooke reports, she also said that the current government is “destroying the country” in the video, alongside agriculture spokesperson David Bennett. Well, that’s what they said on Facebook at least – and it really was quite an unequivocal statement. A press statement put out later in the afternoon used much softer language, but still promised to “repeal or review” the regulations that came into law earlier this month. National also pledged that “unlike Labour, National will work with farmers rather than against them.”

The irony of that statement is that the freshwater regulations themselves were significantly modified over the course of the development process. Politik reported yesterday morning that they were likely to be further relaxed. And then subsequently, Farmers Weekly reported that amendments had in fact been made, just three weeks after the regulations were put in place, particularly around winter grazing rules. Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor even addressed rural sector opposition by hinting that other farmer-friendly changes could also follow. To match National’s example of sending different messages to difference audiences, environment minister David Parker hit the headlines by saying National’s comments were “stupid” and “reckless”.

Meanwhile, farming sector groups are urging their members to basically get on with working out what they need to do under the new rules. Farmers Weekly reports Beef+Lamb and Dairy NZ have been out and about talking farmers through the technical details of it all, with B+LNZ’s environment manager Corina Jordan saying “all farmers and all lifestyle block owners should take a good look and understand what they mean for them.” Federated Farmers have also welcomed the change in the government’s position, reports Rural News Group, saying the previous winter grazing regulations were going to be “entirely unworkable for Southland farmers, and many others around the country during cold, wet winters.”

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

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.

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




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