Live updates, March 30: Cabinet ministers to get early vaccine, line-up announced

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 30, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

Top stories:

3.50pm: Two ‘immunity witnesses’ in trial of prominent businessman named

An exceptional story I thought I’d flag to you all this afternoon: the Herald’s Sam Hurley has done an extraordinary report about two key witnesses who played a major role in the trial of a prominent New Zealand businessperson, who still has name suppression.

For the first time, the names of those witnesses can be revealed – and one of them may be familiar to you. Hamish Jevan Goulter and his business associate Allison Edmonds both gave evidence with the protection of immunity from the Crown at the High Court. 

How exactly the pair became embroiled in this high-profile court case is a story worth reading, and (if you have a Herald premium subscription) you can do that here.

3.15pm: Union calls for Ports of Auckland chief to quit

Following on from this morning’s revelations about health and safety at the Ports of Auckland, the Maritime Union has called on  Ports chief executive Tony Gibson to resign.

The report (see: 11.30am update) revealed systemic problems relating to health and safety risk management at the port.

Maritime Union national secretary Craig Harrison told RNZ the report confirmed everything the union had been saying about the failure of management.

Earlier today, seven Auckland councillors signed a joint letter calling for “significant improvements” at Ports of Auckland.

“Councillors are the custodians of the port on behalf of the people of Auckland. As shareholders, we are outraged at the findings of this report. We find it disgraceful that the Board has not provided a safe workplace for its workers,” the letter said.

“We find this damning report a reflection of unacceptable health and safety practices.”

1.40pm: Back on track? Auckland light rail announcement on the way

The government is set to reveal new details of its long-awaited light rail project tomorrow.

According to Stuff, a plan has finally gone to cabinet and will be a “clean break” from the previous proposal.

Advocates for light rail have been waiting eagerly since the project was first announced by then-Labour leader Jacinda Ardern in 2017. It fell victim to New Zealand First in the last term of government and has since become one of National’s go-to jibes when criticising Ardern’s ability to deliver.

1.15pm: Chris Hipkins first minister to get Covid-19 vaccine – and it’s a Jab a’ the Hutt

The first group of government ministers to get the Covid-19 vaccine has been announced.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins is first in line and will receive the jab in Lower Hutt tomorrow morning, along with associate health minister Ayesha Verrall.

Early next month, ministers Andrew Little, Peeni Henare and Aupito William Sio will also get the vaccine.

The first ministers in line are those with a health or Covid-19 focus, a media statement said.

“The government is aware there are groups who might be initially reluctant to receive the vaccine because of questions related to safety and science, and the ministers are receiving the vaccine to publicly reinforce its safety and effectiveness. It is also a show of support for our frontline health workforce, which has recently begun receiving vaccinations.”

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield have not yet received the vaccination.

1.00pm: Two new Covid-19 cases in MIQ; Brisbane community cluster grows

Two new cases of Covid-19 have been detected in managed isolation today, both new arrivals who travelled to New Zealand from India via the UAE.

Almost all of the latest MIQ cases of the coronavirus have arrived on the same route, with 10 recorded yesterday. However, the Ministry of Health said these recent positive cases do not necessarily indicate an issue with pre-departure testing, since people may not have been infectious at the time of pre-departure testing. “They may have been incubating the virus at the time or be exposed to the virus after being tested,” a spokesperson said.

“The ministry does not consider these recent cases from India as entirely unexpected, given India is reporting the highest number of daily Covid-19 cases worldwide at present. These cases again underscore the value of having the day 0/1 testing in place.”

There are no new Covid-19 community cases to report.

Meanwhile, an investigation into the day 12 case at the Grand Mercure managed isolation facility in Auckland continues. The Ministry of Health said the total number of returnees in this group has increased to 344 as it includes the last returnees who needed additional monitoring to leave the hotel. They are now isolating at home until they return negative test results. “The assessment was that this additional step was needed until yesterday, and it has now been lifted for anyone leaving the facility from today.”

As at 9am this morning, a total of 340 of the 344 returnees to have left the Grand Mercure have been contacted. Of those, 315 have returned negative results, one returned a positive result which is classified as a historical infection on the basis of further testing and serology results.

Over in Brisbane, there have been eight new community cases of Covid-19 overnight. The city is today spending its first full day in a 72-hour lockdown.

Of the new cases, six were close contacts of confirmed cases and another two are under investigation.

Brisbane’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she believed there to be two distinct clusters.

On The Spinoff

It’s a busy Tuesday at Spinoff HQ. Here is some of what you can check out on the site today:

  • Frustrated at the spread of liquor stores across South Auckland, local advocacy groups and health officials say an urgent review of licensing laws is needed, reports Justin Latif. 
  • Amanda Thompson ranks and reviews some of the chocolate rabbits on offer this Easter. I might disagree with her winner, but that won’t let me stop you from advising to read her thoughts immediately.
  • One of AUT’s Pacific research centres has been without a director since the end of last year and a lack of clarity around its future is causing division among staff and supporters. Teuila Fuatai reports.

An artist’s impression of the Regelein Confiserie Milk Chocolate Easter Bunny spilling its dragees (Image: Tina Tiller)

11.55am: Ministry apologises after running out of Covid-19 vaccine

The Ministry of Health was forced to apologise to people who missed out on getting the Covid-19 vaccine, despite having an appointment, due to “walk-ins”.

According to the Herald, a South Auckland woman and her son were two of those who turned up to the Highbrook Vaccination Centre on Saturday for their Covid-19 vaccine, only to be told there was none left. “They said ‘sorry you’ll have to re-schedule as we’ve run out of vaccines because we’ve had too many walk-ins’.”

Another reported he was forced to wait more than two hours before he left without getting the jab.

The Northern Region Health Coordination Centre has apologised over the incident.

11.30am: Ports of Auckland review finds systemic health and safety problems

Systemic problems relating to health and safety risk management have been revealed at the Ports of Auckland, according to the city’s mayor Phil Goff.

A new review found the Ports’ approach to health and safety didn’t reflect the level of risk inherent in port operations and that it needed to be addressed, according to RNZ.

“Health and safety rules that keep people safe are not ‘a nice to have’. They are a vital component of good management in any workplace,” Goff said. “When someone goes to work, they should go back home to their families and loved ones.

He added: “I have made it very clear to the chair of the ports that changes need to be made to the way the ports run and it is my expectation that he and the board will hold management accountable for these changes. Council in turn will hold the board accountable.”

10.50am: Entertainer named in trial of prominent businessman

The New Zealand entertainer who helped a prominent businessman attempt to stop an indecent assault complainant from going to court can be named for the first time.

Mika X, also known as Mika Haka, has been sentenced to 11 months’ home detention after an appearance in the Auckland High Court today. He admitted two charges of attempting to dissuade and bribe an indecent assault victim from giving evidence in a trial against a prominent businessman.

You can read a comprehensive account of the court proceedings and sentencing by Sam Hurley of the Herald.

As reported, Mika’s lawyer Barbara Hunt said her client has expressed remorse to the community, to the court and to the complainant he tried to dissuade.

“He accepts he made a mistake and will continue to make amends as he serves his sentence,” she said.

The details of the Auckland businessman at the centre of the trial, who was recently found guilty, remain suppressed.

Read more here.

10.15am: National’s deputy calls for shake-up of pre-departure testing

The National Party is calling for changes to our pre-departure testing requirement for arrivals into the country.

As explained below (in the 9.00am update), there has been heightened scrutiny of the pre-departure testing regime after reports of fake tests being offered to those travelling to New Zealand and, yesterday, 10 arrivals all testing positive after travelling on the same flight.

National deputy leader Shane Reti told RNZ that only Immigration New Zealand-approved laboratories should be able to provide pre-departure Covid-19 tests for people heading here. That would rule out the possibility of fake tests being acquired, he said.

Reti also questioned how returnees in managed isolation had previously been allowed to exercise together with people from different facilities. “How can any rational person think that’s the correct thing to do?” he said.

9.00am: Just four arrivals fined over lack of pre-departure Covid-19 test

Just four travellers entering New Zealand have been fined for arriving without a pre-departure Covid-19 test.

Since mid-January, people entering the country from most destinations have had to provide evidence they have tested negative for the coronavirus, or risk a fine of up to $1000.

As RNZ reported this morning, just four have failed to do that, with 33 warnings warnings issued. Most of those were given shortly after the rule was introduced.

Yesterday, pre-departure testing came under further scrutiny with the 10 arrivals on the same flight from India all testing positive for Covid-19 on their day 0/1 test in managed isolation. There were also reports of people being offered fake negative tests before travelling to New Zealand, although a Ministry of Health spokesperson said this was not “regarded as a significant issue”.

8.10am: MediaWorks radio host resigns ahead of harassment investigation

The high profile MediaWorks radio host facing allegations of harassment has resigned ahead of an independent investigation.

As reported by Stuff’s Alison Mau, the host has not been on air since the middle of the month and has had their image wiped from the MediaWorks website.

The man is one of two who had been stood down pending the investigation, but the other does not work on-air.

MediaWorks has confirmed the host tendered their resignation which was accepted effective immediately, but attempts by Stuff to contact the individual went unanswered.

The host who resigned on Monday did not work at The Rock, Stuff claims.

Speaking to Duncan Greive on this week’s episode of The Fold, MediaWorks head Cam Wallace said he is focused on making sure that anyone who has any issues feels that there is the right environment to confidentially come forward. “When we have issues we will investigate them… there will be no stone unturned,” he said, calling it “non-negotiable”.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Lines are being drawn over whether the government will be responsible if and when rents go up. And related to that, questions are being asked how they might prevent costs on renters getting out of control. It goes back to the housing reforms announced last week, coupled with minimum standard improvements that were required after a law change in the first term.

Finance minister Grant Robertson hasn’t ruled out putting some sort of rent caps in place, telling Newshub that he doesn’t think they will spike to a point that it becomes necessary. Radio NZ reports PM Ardern said there are currently no further plans for rental market reforms. Opposition parties National and Act are pushing hard for any sort of rent controls to be ruled out, with Judith Collins saying that when such policies have been tried elsewhere they have been a “disaster” and led to rental shortages. Is that view correct? Opinions vary. However, there’s a useful BBC explainer that explores the issue, which found roughly that it depends on what other policy measures rent controls are combined with.

And will rents actually rise? Will the sun continue to rise in the east and set in the west? Joking aside, there was a really good episode of When the Facts Change at the end of last week which covered this question, among others in more depth. One aspect of the government’s package is to keep incentives in place on new builds, which coupled with the (probably too modest) infrastructure grant funding could mean supply issues start getting sorted. But if that doesn’t happen, renters might end up with much less ability to control a market already tilted against them. See also, an explainer from last year by Stuff’s Henry Cooke that assessed whether it was possible to pick out specific legislative changes in the data. The key point: “The evidence suggests there is a significant risk law changes will drive rents up, but also that the increase is likely to be dwarfed or muted by other factors in the overall market.”


An update on yesterday’s story about timber supply issues: Business Desk (soft paywall) reports the Commerce Commission will be making inquiries, with Carter Holt Harvey halting deliveries to some customers, while keeping their own subsidiary supplied. The move has raised questions about whether CHH is abusing their market power, though according to a legal expert quoted in the story it is by no means a clear-cut case. Meanwhile, the New Zealand Timber Industry Federation put out a release, pointing to difficulties for sawmills to supply enough product to meet booming demand.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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