Live updates, April 29: Three new MIQ Covid-19 cases; NZ won’t choose China or the west, says Ardern

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for April 29, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.10pm: Brisbane arrivals advised to monitor health following ‘green zone’ breach

Passengers arriving in New Zealand today from Brisbane are being advised to monitor their health for the next 14 days following a Covid protocol breach at Brisbane Airport.

Two passengers from a “red zone” country – one that requires a quarantine period on arrival in Australia – were reportedly in the Hudson Café in Brisbane Airport at the same time as “green zone” passengers – those flying to or from New Zealand. The risk has been assessed as low, according to the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

The two red zone passengers returned negative results prior to departure from their home country. A second test today returned a weak positive for one and a negative result for the other. They were wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and are not symptomatic

The three flights affected are Air New Zealand NZ 202 from Brisbane to Christchurch which arrived around 4.30 pm today; Air New Zealand NZ 146 from Brisbane to Auckland which arrived at 5.30 pm and Qantas QF 135 from Brisbane to Christchurch.

3.25pm: Regional check-in – Nelson

What’s happening in: Nelson

Earlier today, I checked in on the news in Queenstown. Now, let’s head a little further north and see what’s happening near the top of the South Island.

  • Migrant workers in Nelson met with National’s Judith Collins this week to express their concerns around the border keeping them separated from their families. As reported in the Nelson Mail, computer technician Ilya Shchukin arrived in the country back in July 2019 to study NMIT. As the borders shut in early 2020, his family were unable to join him and it’s now been almost two years since they were together. “Right now I just want to know what the forecast for the foreseeable future is, when my family can come here – with all the uncertainty I cannot predict what should be the next step,” he said.
  • Nelson’s first Covid-19 vaccination station has opened this week, as the top of the South continues to lead the way in the vaccine roll-out. The Nelson site was the first to open in the Tasman area, with Blenheim’s opening yesterday and a site in  Richmond planned for next week.

2.30pm: Rent controls were considered by government, new documents show

The government considered implementing temporary rent controls ahead of its decision to extend the bright-line test back in March.

The latest report from Stuff’s Henry Cooke revealed housing minister Megan Woods asked for advice on possible rent controls, but was told by officials that the costs of these changes would largely not be passed on to renters who were already paying about as much as they could.

According to the paper provided to the minister, officials believed the government’s proposed housing package would see “most” landlords consider rent rises. “This would be moderated by the ability of renters to pay and any potential rent controls,” the paper noted.

Despite the possibility of rent rises, officials said it was unlikely the full cost could be passed on to renters.. “Property investors will weigh up their willingness and ability to pay for any increased up-front costs against the returns to the investment, including rents and untaxed capital gains,” they said.

“If investors choose to sell, sales to first home buyers could increase. We note, however, that only some current renters are in a position to become first home buyers… a generous estimate is that up to 25% of renters could afford mortgage repayments, however many of this cohort may not be able to save a deposit.”

Read the full report here

1.20pm: Regional check-in – Queenstown

What’s happening in: Queenstown

We’re now almost a fortnight into the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble which has seen a flood of international tourists and returning New Zealanders explore our divine country. It’s also school holidays at the moment, hopefully delivering a nice wee boost of energy to regional New Zealand.

Let’s check in with what’s happening around the country, starting with Queenstown:

  • According to the Herald, Queenstown is actually seeing very few Aussie tourists but is awash with locals visiting the city for the school holidays. Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ruth Stokes said that most of the Australians who have arrived appear to be expats or people visiting family. “We have huge demand for the ski season so we are certainly looking forward to a bumper July and August,” she said.
  • Meanwhile, in incredibly important news, Auckland’s creepy Santa could be up and creeping again for the holiday season… in Wānaka! As Isobel Ewing reported for Crux, the terrifying Santa was acquired by Wānaka’s National Transport & Toy Museum at the end of last year. But, while we may call him “creepy”, new owner Jason Rhodes said the oversized Santa is simply maligned. “I feel it’s without just cause because on the whole, he’s brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.”

A close upp, flattering low-angle shot of our favourite Giant Santa.

1.00pm: No new community Covid-19 cases, three reported in MIQ

There are no new cases of Covid-19 to report in the community today, with three detected in managed isolation.

Two of the new cases travelled from Pakistan but arrived in New Zealand before the restriction on travel from the country came into effect yesterday.

Seven previously reported cases have now recovered taking the total number of active cases down to just 23. Our total number of confirmed cases is now 2,257.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 2,013,539.

On Wednesday, 5,340 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 3,654 tests processed.

11.50am: NZ Rugby votes in favour of US deal

New Zealand Rugby has voted to sell a 12.5% stake in its commercial interests to the US private equity firm Silver Lake.

As detailed in this morning’s edition of The Bulletin, the deal will be worth $387.5 million to the NZR, with Silver Lake gaining a 12.5% share of a new entity which would control NZR’s commercial interests.

As RNZ reported, New Zealand Rugby needed the backing of more than 50% of the the country’s provincial rugby unions at this morning’s AGM in order for the deal to be approved.

The new entity – tentatively named Commercial LP – will control NZ Rugby’s commercial interests, with $39m of the sale price committed to provincial unions. There will also be a legacy fund established to ensure the sustainability of rugby at all levels.

But, the support of the New Zealand Rugby Players Association is still needed for the sale to proceed.

11.30am: Greens call for migrant amnesty programme in open letter

The Greens have released an open letter calling on the government to introduce an amnesty programme for migrants.

The letter, sent to the minister for immigration, asks for a pathway to residency for temporary visa holders and a “broad amnesty” for people who overstay.

Green Party immigration spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said migrants deserve to have their dignity, rights and humanity honoured in New Zealand. “We have an immigration system that discriminates and separates, treating migrant workers as cheap labour and second class citizens,” he said.

“Migrant communities are an important part of the tapestry of Aotearoa. Migrant workers played a key role in our response to Covid-19 and we have an opportunity to ensure they have the ability to fully participate in society by granting them residency.”

The open letter calls for seven changes to the immigration system, including:

  • Create pathways to residency;
  • Decouple work visas from single employers;
  • Remove salary criteria for the skilled migrant category and parent reunification category visas; and
  • Devolve resources to hapū, iwi and whānau to link between migrants and local communities

10.40am: NZ won’t choose China or the west, says Ardern

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports:

New Zealand’s independent foreign policy means that it won’t seek a partnership with either China or its traditional allies in the west, prime minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters this morning.

“We have never chosen partners, we have always chosen to stand on our values,” Ardern said after an hour-long Zoom call with the US chamber of commerce. “Over decades we have never been in a position of choosing sides,” the prime minister continued, stating that New Zealand is instead proud of its independent foreign policy.

New Zealand’s relationship with China was one of the central themes of her appearance with the chamber. She was asked whether the foreign minister’s recently disclosed discomfort with criticism of China through the Five Eyes intelligence alliance was due to her government disagreeing with the criticism, or fear of economic retaliation like that faced by Australia and Canada.

“I’d respond with two comments there: We have been utterly consistent on issues around human rights,” said Ardern. “I’ve even taken the opportunity face-to-face in Beijing with the leadership directly to raise those concerns…regardless of economic ties, we will raise them and continue to do so.”

New Zealand has refused to sign onto a number of statements put out by the alliance in recent months that have criticised China’s treatment of its Uighur ethnic minority as well its crushing of Hong Kong’s independent institutions. The country has in most cases put out a separate and weaker statement later.

Despite some suggestion in recent days that New Zealand might look to leave the intelligence alliance, Ardern said: “Five Eyes continues to be very strategically important for New Zealand.”

Instead of criticism, the prime minister told her American audience that face-to-face dialogue between the US and China was important and she “viewed positively” recent meetings between the two countries. The chamber did not ask whether she meant high-level talks in March that saw China’s foreign minister and the US secretary of state engage in a rare heated public showdown as the cameras were rolling.

PM Jacinda Ardern meets Chinese President Xi at the Great Hall of the People on April 1, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo: Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Getty Images)

Gone By Lunchtime: The end of DHBs, local government and Selena Gomez

In today’s special pink moon edition of Gone By Lunchtime, Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas discuss the government’s recently announced health reforms, National’s race-baiting response, Nanaia Mahuta’s China speech and big hopes for her review of local government. Ben also goes in big time on the major celebrity beef (allegedly) between Jacinda Ardern and Selena Gomez.

Subscribe and listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

9.50am: Winter energy payment to kick in – but is it enough?

The government’s winter energy payment for beneficiaries and pensioners will kick in from this Saturday, but some advocates are concerned it won’t go far enough.

Grey Power Central Otago president Margaret Hill told RNZ that some older locals are already working out what they can give up in order to pay their power bills over the winter months.

“A lot [of people] that I have been talking to, the doctor will probably be the first to go and the food will be cut back also,” she said.

“People are going to just either stay in bed or wrap up in a dozen layers if they can get them on. And it does make it very for stressful for some of them, particularly the ones that are living alone.”

The winter energy payment will see single people with no dependent children get an extra $20 a week. Couples and those with dependent children will get just over $30 more.

Read the full report here

8.00am: Ardern says no plans for repatriation flights out of India

There are no plans “at this stage” for repatriation flights for New Zealanders stuck in India, as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to skyrocket.

While the travel ban on flights from India has now lifted, reports suggest that it is increasingly difficult to find a flight travelling back to New Zealand. Some commercial operators, such as Emirates, have suspended flights to and from India as more than 350,000 Covid-19 cases are recorded in the country each day.

Speaking on RNZ, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said that the government had organised charter flights for citizens stuck abroad early on in the pandemic, but commercial flights were now able to fill that gap.

“At this point we have not made those plans [for repatriation flights],” she said. “We will keep watching what the situation is on the ground, what happens with those commercial flights… what we have to be mind of is risk across the whole board,” Ardern said.

The government’s understanding, Ardern said, was that any difficulties in accessing commercial flights would be temporary.

Ardern said the government has been “very clear” that it couldn’t always bring people back. “We may not be able to go in and rescue people, they need to take every precaution they can even when they’re travelling in desperate circumstances.”

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The stakeholders of an enormous, multi-million dollar business will vote today on a controversial buy-in offer from a private equity firm. That business has extremely deep roots in New Zealand, and much of the opposition to the offer revolves around the idea that something intangible and unique will be lost if it goes ahead. I’ve framed the issue like that because I reckon a lot of readers will be turned off by the idea of leading with a rugby story, but really, it’s a story about business, globalisation and culture all rolled into one.

So, what are the key details? Radio NZ reports that NZ Rugby will today ask their AGM to confirm a buy-in deal from Silver Lake Partners, a US-based private equity firm which manages assets in the high tens of billions of dollars. What they’re proposing is a $387 million buy-in, for a 12.5% share of a new  entity which would control NZR’s commercial interests. For those who have followed the story for a few months, those numbers recently came down from 15%. Out of that buy-in, tens of millions would be paid out to struggling provincial unions, and a ‘legacy fund’ would also be created – sort of like how Norway’s oil revenue gets put into a fund that keeps the welfare state going.

The numbers being thrown around are staggering, but are they really believable? For example, Stuff reported in February that Silver Lake has valued the commercial opportunities at $3.1bn, and believes there are 60 million potential fans of the All Blacks who could be tapped to spend money. The All Blacks are apparently seen as being close to on par with truly global sporting brands, like football club Manchester United. How would those opportunities actually be obtained? That’s less clear, but it is clear that nobody at NZ Rugby is currently capable of making it happen, and outspoken supporter of the deal Sir John Kirwan argues that Silver Lake knows what they’re doing here.

But hear me out here – maybe offers from monster-sized private equity firms actually can be too good to be true. For example, big private equity buy-ins have certainly ruined plenty of once-great newspapers, which get bled dry in an effort to extract value for their new owners. And that in turn raises questions about whether extracting value really is the right thing for custodians of a national game to be trying to do. Many of the current players appear to be concerned about what they’d be signing up to, if the excellent reporting of the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Liam Napier is anything to go by.

And the Player’s Association has a veto over the deal, even if the provincial unions vote in favour. Part of the issue appears to be the share of revenue that goes into a pool for players. But at other points the players have expressed wider cultural concerns – you can read excerpts of the letter setting out their position on Rugby Pass – including that taonga like the haka could be hijacked, in a bid to monetise the culture surrounding the All Blacks. Stuff reports NZ Māori Rugby Board boss Dr Farah Palmer has put a stake in the ground on that particular point, saying it won’t happen.

There are two other important points when the wider position of rugby is considered. The first is that the game is arguably in trouble, having fallen from a place of being a pre-eminent sporting superpower within the country, to being merely a major power. Kids don’t play at remotely the same rates as they once did, club rugby for adults is dying, and the entertainment options now available to punters are endless. NZ Rugby sees this money as crucial to turning all that around – but the counterpoint is that if handled poorly, it might accelerate the process. Because the other point is that many people simply see big money in sport as grubby and unattractive. That case is put very persuasively by Stuff’s sports crank Mark Reason, who raised the recent spectre of the fan backlash against the bid by major football clubs to form a European Super League. The AGM and voting will take place today, but don’t expect to hear the final whistle on this quite yet.




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