Election Live, September 29: Two new Covid-19 cases; two charged in NZ First Foundation case

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 29, 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

7.00pm: The day in sum

The Serious Fraud Office announced it had charged two people in connection with its investigation into donations and loans made by the NZ First Foundation. No NZ First MPs, employees or candidates were charged, and leader Winston Peters said the party had been fully exonerated.

However Peters vowed to take legal action against the SFO, arguing that the timing of the announcement so close to the election was deeply unfair to the party.

Meanwhile National said it would rename the SFO the ‘Serious Fraud and Anti-Corruption Agency’ and double its funding if elected next month.

In a raft of health policy announcements, Labour said it would raise the emergency dental grant to $1000 for people on low incomes, make mental health support available to all primary and intermediate school students, and increase funding to Pharmac by $200 million.

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

The man who escaped managed isolation by means of a bedsheet rope spent around eight hours exploring different parts of Auckland on foot, it was revealed.

Advance NZ filed an injunction against Mediaworks over the party’s exclusion from Saturday morning’s minor party debate.

Public transport would be free nationwide for those under 18 or over 65, and half price for students, under the Greens’ transport policy.

5.10pm: NZ First ‘exonerated’, plans to sue Serious Fraud Office

Stewart Sowman-Lund reports from Winston Peters’ media conference:

After a quiet chat with Newstalk ZB’s Barry Soper about whether he got caught in Auckland Harbour Bridge traffic, Winston Peters waited for the clock to strike 5pm. That was the time the Serious Fraud Office officially revealed that Peters had not been charged for donations given to the New Zealand First Foundation (see 5.00pm update). Addressing a packed, un-socially distanced room, Peters said New Zealand First had been “exonerated” along with all its MPs, employees and candidates.

“We have been fully cleared, unlikely the recent National Party donations scandal,” he said, before claiming the timing of the announcement represented a “James Comey level error of judgement”, a reference to the former FBI director’s decision to reopen the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails just days before the US presidential election in 2016.

“The SFO cannot justify the timing of its decision… one day away from overseas voting opening,” Peters said.

NZ First has instructed its lawyers to initiate proceedings in the High Court against the SFO, Peters said, labelling the SFO’s investigation unfair. He said he was pursuing legal action against the SFO for “honour and integrity and a fair go”.

The SFO’s statement is brief, but Peters said he was pleased with the clarity around the exoneration for the party and its MPs.

“I’m absolutely delighted that you are pleased to see me exonerated,” Peters told reporters, with a smile, as he left the room.

Winston Peters addresses the media (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

5.00pm: Two charges in NZ First fraud case

The Serious Fraud Office announced in a 5pm statement that two people have been charged with “obtaining by deception” following its inquiry into the New Zealand First Foundation and donations and loans provided to the New Zealand First Party.

The SFO statement reads:

The SFO has filed a charge of ‘Obtaining by Deception’ against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case. The charges were filed on 23 September.

The defendants have interim name suppression and so cannot be named or identified at this time. We note, however, that neither defendant is a Minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party.

The SFO has no further comment.

Read more here

4.30pm: Bedsheet escapee went on eight hour walk

The man who escaped managed isolation by means of a bedsheet rope spent around eight hours exploring different parts of Auckland on foot before returning to his hotel, head of managed isolation Air Commodore Darryn Webb said today.

The man left the Ramada hotel around midnight on Sunday night and turned up on CCTV footage in Aotea Square at 1am on Monday. From there he headed further afield, said Webb. “The man has been viewed on CCTV walking in parts of Auckland, from the central city to Newmarket, Epsom, Onehunga and Mt Albert before returning to the facility on Federal Street.”

The man’s bedsheet rope, used to scale the four storey drop from his window, was discovered by on-site security at 8.20am yesterday. The man presented himself to hotel staff about four minutes later, prompting many to assume he never left the hotel grounds at all.

The man arrived from Australia on a deportation flight on September 16. He has twice tested negative for Covid-19 and it is believed that he posed a low risk to the public.

4.00pm: SFO’s NZ First findings expected shortly

The Serious Fraud Office is expected to release the results of its investigation into the NZ First Foundation at 5pm today. The SFO has been investigating whether the foundation had made donations and loans to the party itself, and if so, whether the payments were properly declared.

NZ First leader Winston Peters has called a media conference to coincide with the SFO release (see 2.30pm update), and we’ll have details of both here on The Spinoff at 5pm.

3.05pm: Advance NZ files injunction against Mediaworks

Advance NZ has filed an injunction against Mediaworks over its exclusion from an upcoming television debate, Stuff’s reporting.

Newshub is hosting a minor-party debate on Saturday morning featuring Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, Act leader David Seymour and Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere. However, no representative from Advance NZ has been invited to participate.

The party will be included in TVNZ’s multi-party debate, because co-leader Jami-Lee Ross is a sitting MP. Newshub, however, has not followed the same criteria.

Ross, in a statement provided to Stuff, said Advance NZ had taken the “urgent action” as the decision to exclude the party from the debate would cause “serious harm”.

The Opportunities Party took TVNZ to the High Court in 2017 after it was excluded from its election debate and lost. However, the Conservatives (under Colin Craig) won against TV3 three years earlier.

2.30pm: Winston Peters calls ‘important’ media stand-up

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has called an unexpected media conference in Auckland this evening.

It’s not yet known what the purpose of the stand-up is, as the press release sent out to media provides no information. It is, however, labelled as “important”.

We’ll be in attendance and cover off anything Peters reveals.

2.10pm: Māori Party promise to establish Māori parliament

The Māori Party launched its Mana Motuhake policy today at Waitangi, promising to establish a separate, Māori parliament if it makes it to parliament next month.

The policy was launched by co-leader John Tamihere, who said it was a 25-year strategy, and the party’s policies were aiming to break Māori out of welfare dependency and build a Māori middle class.

“We must move from poverty to employment. Only we Māori can bring that change,” he said.

In addition, the party would establish a Waitangi Parliamentary Commissioner to be jointly appointed by tangata whenua and the Crown, return conservation land to iwi, and make Waitangi Tribunal recommendations binding on the Crown.

1.30pm: Greens promise free public transport for under 18s, over 65s

Regional economies would be “rebooted” by the Green Party’s policy to invest in rapid, intercity transport, co-leader James Shaw has announced.

Public transport would also be free nationwide for those under 18 or over 65, and half price for students,

“As we recover from Covid-19, we have a once-in-a generation opportunity to rebuild our communities in a way which tackles the climate crisis and makes our communities healthier in the long-term,” Shaw said.

The party’s 10-year plan – priced at $13.6 billion – is the boldest transport plan released by a political party, Shaw said.

“We will connect our major cities through a major new investment in inter-city passenger rail. This new network will transform how people move throughout our country, making getting out to the regions faster, easier, and better for the planet,” Shaw said.

“Rail will carry thousands of people a day from Auckland to Hamilton, from Wellington to Masterton and Palmerston North, and from Christchurch to Rangiora and Ashburton, eventually including Dunedin and Timaru.”

A new rail crossing to Auckland’s North Shore is also in the Greens’ plan, along with a $1.5 billion “cycle super highway fund” to to create separated school and commuter cycling routes across the country.

1.00pm: Two new Covid-19 cases, both in managed isolation

Updated

There are two new cases of Covid-19 today, both in managed isolation. The last community case was on September 25 – a household contact linked to the existing cluster.

Today’s new cases were both on the same flight from the United Arab Emirates on September 23, but the pair were not travelling together. One had come from Pakistan while the other from Ukraine.

Both individuals tested positive as a result of tests done around day three and have been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.

There are 18 people isolating in the Auckland quarantine facility from the community, which includes nine people who have tested positive for C0vid-19 and their household contacts.

One person remains in Middlemore hospital, in isolation on a general ward.

Since August 11, contact tracing has identified 4,079 close contacts of cases, of which 4,079 have been contacted and are self-isolating or have completed self-isolation.

The total number of active cases is 55, with 29 imported cases in managed isolation facilities and 26 community cases. The total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 is 1,479.

Just 3,636 tests were processed yesterday, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 955,590.

Ministry reminds people to remain ‘vigilant’ over school holidays

The Ministry of Health said Covid-19 “exploits any opportunity to spread” and the school holidays is no exception.

People are being reminded not to wait to get a test, even if you’re on a break. “If you’re advised to get a test… don’t wait until you get home,” the ministry said.

12.45pm: Ministry to provide Covid-19 update

The Ministry of Health will be sending out its Covid-19 press release in about 10 minutes time.

Yesterday, there were no new cases of Covid-19 and it’s now been four days since the last community case – a household contact linked to the Auckland bereavement group.

I’ll have all the latest here when it arrives.

10.40am: Labour confirms dental policy, announces Pharmac boost

Labour’s confirmed it would raise the emergency dental grant to $1000 for people on low incomes, and make an additional 20 mobile dental clinics available.

In addition, Labour’s pledged to double the number of cochlear implants available, make mental health support available to all primary and intermediate school students, and increase funding to Pharmac by $200 million.

“Our plan will expand the workforce of social workers, counsellors, teachers, youth workers and psychologists who will go into schools to help, support and build resilience for our school children equipping them with skills which will help them for the rest of their lives,” Labour’s health spokesperson Chris Hipkins said.

“A central focus of a returned Labour Government will be the roll out of our plan to improve the public health system to deliver high quality services, fewer DHBs, an increased focus on equity, a Māori Health Authority that will focus on Māori health, an aged care commissioner and a Public Health Agency that will more closely link the country’s 12 public health units.

The policy was announced by Hipkins alongside Jacinda Ardern in Auckland today.

While announcing an increase in maternal mental health care capacity and the nationwide rollout of their nurse in school initiative, Ardern shared how her mother needed to stay in a Plunket home for a couple of days, due to being a difficult baby.

“I do believe we will look back on this period of time, and say that was the moment that we started doing things differently for our mental health,” Ardern said.

“This will give mums that might need a little bit of extra support after having a baby for however long that is required. I was one of those difficult babies and my mother went into what was the equivalent of a Plunket home for a few days and a few nights to get a bit of extra support.”

10.10am: National wants SFO renamed, funding doubled

National’s announced it would rename the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and double its funding, if elected next month.

Leader Judith Collins said: “the SFO takes very few prosecutions, not because there isn’t fraud, bribery and corruption in New Zealand, but because the office doesn’t have the resources to do its job properly”.

It’s possibly intentional timing that this announcement comes when an announcement is expected regarding the SFO’s investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation. The SFO said earlier this year a decision would come before the election.

The SFO’s budget would increase up to $25 million, Collins said, and take on the name of the Serious Fraud and Anti-corruption Agency.

“We would change the office’s name because we think New Zealand needs to better understand the types of crime fighting it is responsible for,” Collins said.

“The SFO will continue to work alongside the likes of the NZ Police’s Financial Intelligence Unit, but it will have the funding it needs to do the job it was established in 1990 to do.”

On the campaign trail

Here’s where our political leaders are today:

  • Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern is in Manukau today for a policy announcement, followed by a visit to Douglas Pharmaceuticals in Henderson.
  • National Party leader Judith Collins has launched her party’s law and order policy this morning. Tonight, she’ll be participating in the Papakura candidates debate.
  • New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is in Auckland today. But where, who knows?
  • Act Party leader David Seymour is also campaigning in Auckland today.
  • Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson is (also) in Auckland, visiting the Ōtara Kai Village, before making a policy announcement. Later, she’s participating in the RNZ Māori policy debate. James Shaw is joining Davidson at today’s policy announcement.

8.20am: Shaw, Davidson could be queen maker on election night

With New Zealand First basically invisible in the latest polls, it’s possible the Greens could wield the most power come election night. Last night’s TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll had the party on 7%, with Labour down to 47% – meaning they could not govern alone.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw told RNZ anything is on the table after the next election. “One of the things that we are hearing from people… is that they want to make sure that Labour has to talk to somebody and not be able to make those decisions by itself.”

Shaw wouldn’t rule out aiming for a Green deputy PM, saying it’s “not out of the realm of possibility”. However, something outside the realm of possibility would be a Green coalition with National, with Shaw agreeing that a vote for the Greens is a vote for a Labour-led government.

Each possible role within a government would be assessed on its merits, and depend on how the numbers fall on election night, Shaw said.

Asked why the Greens have been bouncing back in the polls, while New Zealand First drops away, Shaw said it reflected the party’s “track record” over the past three years.

7.50am: Labour expected to announce increase in dental grant

Reports this morning that Labour will be announcing an increase to the emergency dental grant for low income people.

RNZ’s claiming the party will be pledging to up the Work and Income grant from $300 to $1000.

The party’s health spokesperson Hipkins has previously ruled out offering free dental care, and that was not a feature of National’s health plans earlier this month earlier. Currently, free check-ups are available up to the age of 18.

National’s policy included an extra $30 million for improving services, including a free toothbrush, toothpaste and information pack each year for children.

Furthermore, Labour’s set to promise additional mobile dental clinics for school-aged children living in remote and hard to reach areas.

7.40am: Auckland Harbour Bridge shut in both directions

It’s not exactly within the purview of “election” live (although it’s becoming a politicised issue), but I thought I’d highlight this for any Auckland readers this morning. Auckland’s Harbour Bridge is shut in both directions, during rush hour, due to high winds overnight.

It follows a major truck crash on the bridge more than a week ago.

The Transport Agency said bridge lanes will re-open as soon as possible once wind gusts ease, and motorists are advised to either delay their journey or use the outer Western motorway.

If you can work from home this morning, and the bridge closure impacts you, I’d recommend it.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Another poll is out, and this one is telling a story of a very different parliament after the election compared to other recent polls. The One News Colmar Brunton survey still has Labour a long way ahead on 47%, with National back on 33% – that suggests the vast gap is closing up slightly. Act came third on 8%, and the Greens were next on 7%. No other party was within touching distance of the 5% threshold, with NZ First falling as low as 1%.

There’s a significant detail within those numbers: All of a sudden, the Greens have leverage over Labour. Because Labour would only have 59 seats, that leaves them a few short of actually commanding a majority. That would give the Greens the option of providing confidence and supply to a minority Labour government, or going into coalition with them.

But in raw political terms, that means power. You’ll note that I’ve been banging on a lot recently about what the Green party bottom lines are in negotiations – to date, they don’t have any – rather they have a list of ‘top priorities’. These include issues like sweeping welfare and tax reform, their ocean protection plan and their housing policies. But it’s for precisely this scenario that knowing what they intend to push for – and how strongly they intend to push – matters a great deal. And as two of Stuff’s top political people write, the Greens holding the balance of power in this way could change the whole dynamic of the race, and make some National supporters who don’t like the Greens consider switching to Labour to keep them out.

For National and Act, there is still a long way to go before those numbers look remotely like enough to govern with. But Act especially have been doing particularly well in the polls recently by the standards they’ve endured over the past decade, and Radio NZ’s Jo Moir had a good story on how they’re finding the change.

Yesterday’s key stories

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.

Read yesterday’s top stories here.



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