Election Live, September 28: Man escapes MIQ using bedsheet ‘rope’; new political poll released

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 28, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other NZ news. The essential campaign dates are here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Explore the parties’ pledges at Policy. I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

The day in sum

No new cases of Covid-19 were announced. And for the first time in more than a month, the number of active imported cases has overtaken those in the community.

A man escaped from a managed isolation facility in the morning from the fourth-floor of an Auckland hotel. He’s believed to have tied a number of sheets together to climb out the window.

Labour is slightly down on 47% and National is slightly up on 33% in the latest TVNZ/Colmar Brunton poll. Act is on 8% and the Greens are on 7%.

Labour promised to negotiate an extended closure time for Southland’s Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter – with bottom lines on jobs and site remediation.

National released its mental health policy, promising to implement a minister for mental health and offer 100,000 free counselling sessions to provide relief after Covid-19.

National also announced it would give tertiary providers $4,000 for every unemployed person they retrain and get back into full-time work within a year.

Limited travel between Australia and New Zealand could reopen earlier than expected, according to reports out of Australia.

6.20pm: Man escapes managed isolation facility in Auckland

An investigation is underway following an absconding incident at an Auckland managed isolation facility, according to Air Commodore Darryn Webb, head of MIQ.

This morning at approximately 8:20am, on-site security staff at the Ramada Federal Street located a number of sheets tied together hanging from a window of a fourth-floor room at the rear of the building.

Then, at approximately 8:24am as the matter was being investigated, the occupant of the room presented himself at the front gate. He was immediately taken into custody by police and currently remains at the facility under questioning. Authorities have been unable to establish what time the man absconded the facility.

The man returned from Australia on a deportation flight on September 16 and tested negative following his day three and day 12 tests. He is on day 12 of his stay and has been asymptomatic throughout.

Police enquiries are now underway, including a review of CCTV to establish the man’s movements in the time he was outside the facility.

6pm: Labour down to 47%, National up to 33% in new poll

In the latest TVNZ/Colmar Brunton poll following last week’s first leader’s debate, Labour is on 47% (down 1%), National is on 33% (up 2%), Act is on 8% (up 1%), the Green Party is on 7% (up 1%), and NZ First is on 1% (down 1%).

These results would give Labour 59 seats, National 43 seats, Act 10 seats, and the Green Party eight seats.

The number of undecided voters has gone down from 14% to 11%.

For preferred PM, Jacinda Ardern is on 54% (no change), Judith Collins is on 23% (up 5% – the highest since Bill English), David Seymour is on 2%, and Winston Peters is on 1%.

Last week’s TVNZ/Colmar Brunton poll had Labour riding high on 48% and National on 31%. Act was on 7%, the Green Party was on 6%, and NZ First was on 2%.

TVNZ/Colmar Brunton poll, September 28, 2020

3.35pm: Labour compare Nat’s latest promises to Fyre Festival

It wouldn’t be an election without some hyperbolic accusations being lobbed back and forth between the main parties, and a new press release from Labour is a prime example.

Labour’s health and education spokesperson Chris Hipkins has compared National’s latest promises to the famously disastrous (and fraudulent) Fyre Festival.

In a statement, Hipkins took aim at National’s promise to provide $116 million in funding for mental health and $225 for retraining, saying National needs to explain where in its fiscal plan that money is coming from.

“These two policies cost way in excess of the $200 million it has set aside for all its unannounced announcements since releasing its plan,” Hipkins said.

“It’s hopeful over-promising on an epic scale, much like the planned Fyre Festival in the West Indies, which billed itself as the best music festival the world had ever seen, but ended up delivering a ‘squalid collection of soggy tents on an abandoned building site’.”

3.10pm: Trump paid just $750 in tax during first year of presidency

During the brief reprieve from local political news, I thought I’d make note of one of the biggest international stories from today.

It’s been revealed president Donald Trump paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the past 15 years, according to an exclusive New York Times report.

The president paid just US$750 in taxes to the federal government in 2016 – the year he was elected – and the same amount in 2017.

Trump has never released his tax returns during his presidency, despite intense pressure before his inauguration. Today, when questioned by media, he repeated his claim that he would proactively release the documents when they had finished being audited by the Inland Revenue Services (IRS).

He said the IRS had treated him “very badly” and, unsurprisingly, criticised the media reporting of his tax returns, calling it “fake news”. However, when pushed, he would not indicate how much he had paid – only saying it was much more than the report claimed.

The full New York Times piece paints a picture of Trump as a businessman “who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes” – a strong contrast with the image he cultivated before entering the White House.

Meanwhile, the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden will take place on Wednesday our time, and we’ll have rolling coverage here.

Read the full New York Times investigation here

On The Spinoff: 100 Year Forecast – all episodes out now

Aotearoa is getting warmer. How do we know this, and what will happen over the next 100 years?

100 Year Forecast explores what Aotearoa might look like in the next 100 years if we don’t take climate action now – and how much of a difference we can still make if we do.

Each of its five episodes focuses on a different topic, from rising temperatures to rainfall and droughts and the effect on animal habitats, and projects a range of potential futures for New Zealand depending on what decisions we make now.

Watch all five episodes of 100 Year Forecast on our special interactive website HERE.

1.00pm: No new cases of Covid-19, active case numbers drop

There are no new cases of Covid-19 to report in New Zealand today, the Ministry of Health has announced. And for the first time in more than a month, the number of active imported cases has overtaken those in the community.

There are currently 28 imported cases in managed isolation facilities and 27 community cases, totalling 55 active cases.

There are 18 people isolating in the Auckland quarantine facility from the community, which includes 9 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.

One person is in hospital, at Middlemore. The patient is in isolation on a general ward.

Since August 11, contact tracing team has identified 4,075 close contacts of cases, of which 4,072 have been contacted and are self-isolating or have completed self-isolation.

Our total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 remains 1,477. Yesterday, 3,539 tests were processed bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 951,954. The ministry reaffirmed that lower testing figures over the weekend are “not unusual”, but said we cannot be complacent.

An update on the three cases reported on September 23

There are now a total of 44 close contacts associated with the three cases reported last week, who were linked to a chartered flight from Christchurch to Auckland. All are now self-isolating, the ministry said. All but two have returned negative test results and the remaining two results are pending.

Public health services continue to contact trace, test and isolate close contacts of the three community cases.

12.55pm: National aims to get Kiwis upskilled and back into work

National’s unveiled its plan to get New Zealanders back into a job following the Covid-19 crisis. The party would give tertiary providers $4000 for every unemployed person they retrain and get back into full time work within a year.

The “SkillStart” package forms one arm of the party’s announcement, which also includes small business “builder” and “accelerator” programmes to help develop our country’s SMEs.

An “under 25 job coach” would also be positioned within WINZ offices, tasked with working with young New Zealanders to develop personalised plans to get them back into the workforce.

“National knows that training providers, properly incentivised and working with the employers in their regions, are in a much better position to identify where the new jobs are going to come from and what skills are necessary to fill them,” Judith Collins said in a release.

“This package is about getting New Zealanders back to work and developing a stronger economy and this plan will be the difference for New Zealanders, providing them with choices.”

12.45pm: Has the Covid-19 cluster grown?

We’re expecting a new Ministry of Health Covid-19 update about 1pm today, where we will hear whether or not the community cluster has grown.

Yesterday, there were two new Covid-19 cases, both reported in managed isolation.

I’ll have all the latest information here as soon as it comes.

11.45am: Tiwai smelter will get second life, Labour promises

Labour’s promised to negotiate an extended closure time for Southland’s Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter – with bottom lines on jobs and site remediation.

That means the party has joined New Zealand First and National in promising to halt the smelter’s planned shut down.

Rio Tinto had previously announced the smelter would be closed by August next year, with more than a thousand jobs on the line.

Jacinda Ardern said Labour will seek to extend the life of the smelter by three to five years while a locally led transition for Southland is developed.

“By providing an extended time frame for the closure of the smelter we protect jobs now and give the community time to consider and plan for future opportunities, looking at new jobs for the region, and building support for key projects that will ensure a vibrant future for the Southland region,” said Ardern.

The party’s energy spokesperson Megan Woods said the transition plan would be supported by the “Just Transitions Unit” within MBIE.

“Labour will negotiate a way forward to keep the smelter operating and prevent extra costs falling on other consumers. We’ll do this by supporting Transpower to form an agreement with the smelter that preserves jobs in the medium term and gives Southland time to build a new economic future,” said Megan Woods.

There’s no indication the party will be able to successfully negotiate the delayed closure, but, if it’s possible, the terms will include conditions that ensure the smelter would:

  • Continue operating for agreed period of time;
  • Work on remediation of the site;
  • Maintain employment at the site;
  • Work with government on the future use of the site.

11.15am: National pledges 100,000 free counselling sessions

National’s released its mental health policy, promising to implement a minister for mental health and offer 100,000 free counselling sessions to provide relief after Covid-19.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health. One in five Kiwis experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, and nearly 9% of adults experience psychological distress every month,” the party’s mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey said.

National would also established a $10 million mental health support package for small and medium businesses, and require schools to deliver mental health training from years one to 13.

A nationwide “zero suicides” multi-sector suicide prevention strategy would also be committed to, the party said.

Health spokesperson Shane Reti said New Zealanders deserve “world class mental health care”.

9.30am: Australian travel bubble ‘within weeks’ – but not for all

Travel between Australia and New Zealand could reopen earlier than expected, but it won’t be available for everyone and travel won’t be allowed between all regions.

Reports out of Australia suggest the bubble would initially only be one-way, allowing New Zealanders to travel to Australia, and be restricted to those living in the South Island.

However, New South Wales residents may be able to travel here by Christmas, it has been suggested.

9.00am: Robertson targets National swing voters in business speech

Labour thinks it can lure some disillusioned former National voters over to its side as a result of the opposition’s fiscal plan fumble.

In a speech delivered to business leaders today, Labour’s finance spokesperson Grant Robertson said National is in disarray and its economic plan is “riddled with basic errors”.

“I am putting to you today that as business people, you should be voting Labour,” he said. “For some of you that might be a first time endeavour, so hear me out. Off the back of our stable, consistent and careful leadership, there is a contrast.”

Robertson highlighted the flood of National MPs who have exited the party since the 2017 election, including Bill English, Steven Joyce and Nikki Kaye. With decades of experience between them, Robertson said, “it should come as no surprise that they are in no shape to lead us through this pandemic or run the economic recovery.

Robertson said National has “flip-flopped” on important decisions made on the border, alert levels and the whole elimination strategy. “Consistency breeds confidence and they have been totally without it,” Robertson said.

Of course, he also continued to take aim at the party’s finances (more info in the 8.10am update), saying National had boxed itself into a “fiscal Bermuda Triangle”.

“The total cost of their errors is now larger than the estimate for an additional Auckland Harbour Crossing,” he said.

8.10am: National, Labour continue fight over fiscal plan

Labour is continuing to throw accusations at National over its fiscal plan and an alleged $8 billion hole, as RNZ reports.

National has admitted to two errors totalling about $4 billion, but continues to deny that it double counted money for transport by tagging $3.9 billion to the non-existent NZ Upgrade Programme, as well as including it in the sum it’s allocated to capital spending.

Jacinda Ardern said her party would be putting out its own to follow on from this month’s Treasury update.

“What I will say is: ours stacks up; what I’m deeply concerned about is that the National Party’s has a significant hole – you cannot promote tax cuts, as well as spending, as well as debt reduction and claim that you’re not going to cut services,” she said.

Judith Collins rejected Labour’s claim about multiple mistakes, saying there was “only one error, and the rest simply a different name for something, it’s been explained by the economists”.

“It’s just a typical thing from the Labour Party finance spokesperson [Grant Robertson] the ‘Minister of Misinformation’,” said Collins.

7.40am: Ardern remains cagey on possible coalition options

Jacinda Ardern isn’t getting too excited about a new poll that showed Labour could govern alone after the election. The Newshub-Reid Research poll had Labour on 50.1%, compared to National on 29.6%. Albeit a 10-point drop for Labour in the same poll, it would mean Labour could form a government without its handbrake, New Zealand First, or the Greens.

Ardern told RNZ that a single party government hasn’t happened under MMP and there’s no reason for that to change this year.

“It’s not a prospect I’ve entertained… it’s not been something that MMP elections have delivered,” Ardern said. “We’re certainly not complacent.”

Over the past three years, Ardern said her leadership has been about trying to build consensus “regardless of whether we needed those numbers”, citing the zero carbon legislation that got backing from National.

Of the parties polling above 5%, the Greens are the only party Ardern said she’d work with – ruling out a possible left-right deal with the Act Party.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A new poll has set the scene for the likely outcomes of upcoming referendums on social issues. The One News Colmar Brunton poll has found the cause of cannabis legalisation is going backwards, with only 35% saying they’ll vote for the Cannabis Legalisation and Control bill – that’s down from 40% when the same question was asked in June. Meanwhile the End of Life Choice Act looks much more comfortable – 64% told the pollsters that they intend to vote for the legislation to come into force. We have explainers on what both involve – euthanasia is here, and cannabis legalisation is here.

On the cannabis one particularly, a lot of the discussion has revolved around how the campaign has taken place. As Newshub reports, Green Party list MP Chlöe Swarbrick has accused those of opposing the referendum of “seeking to cast fear and doubt, to basically try to tell people that to vote yes to implement a sensible, mature, adult framework – to reduce harm, to increase community wellbeing, to ensure our kids are not using this substance –  is conflated with the idea of whether you support cannabis or not.”

Which is all well and good as a point to make, but it’s also sort of just describing politics and campaigning. Creating fear and doubt about a change is how groups against that change win their preferred outcome through democratic means. For more elaboration on this, I went along to see Family First leaders speak in Gore, and wrote this about a campaign machine which has ruthlessly outperformed legalisation advocates.

And how are political leaders responding to it all? Stuff reports former PM Helen Clark has come out as a yes on both referendums. Radio NZ reported last month that Judith Collins and the National caucus as a whole had opted to vote against cannabis legalisation. Meanwhile the PM Jacinda Ardern has been open about voting for the euthanasia referendum, but is refusing to say how she’ll vote in the cannabis referendum. It’s hard to know at this late stage whether an endorsement would make a difference or not, but had it been made earlier in the piece it probably would have changed the dynamics of the issue, given her extremely high levels of personal popularity. Stuff’s Henry Cooke has called for her to come out and say which way she is voting, one way or the other.

Read more and subscribe here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were two new cases of Covid-19, both imported cases detected in managed isolation.

Labour pledged to phase out single use and hard to recycle plastics such as polystyrene packaging and to establish a $50m business innovation fund to develop new plastic alternatives.

A magnitude 5.2 earthquake shook the central North Island.

Labour are on 50.1%, National on 29.6% and Act on 6.3% in the latest Newshub Reid-Research poll.

Read yesterday’s top stories here.



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