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blog final march 31

PoliticsMarch 31, 2021

Live updates, March 31: Watch – ‘Establishment unit’ to oversee next steps in light rail project

blog final march 31

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 31, bringing you the latest news throughout the day. Get in touch at

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3.55pm: The Spinoff recommends… Chemist Warehouse

Have you signed up to The Spinoff Rec Room yet? Each week, The Spinoff team tell you everything you should be watching/listening to/doing.

In this week’s edition: Tapu Te Ranga, Stonehenge Aotearoa, Hollywood Con Queen and more.

Here’s Eli writing about Chemist Warehouse: “Chemist Warehouse is my Costco, my Kmart, my place to see my money fly out of my wallet for vitamins I probably don’t need, cheap hair dye, and baby snacks you can’t find in any New Zealand supermarket. All whilst listening to some banging tunes with crazy rave cave CW store bumpers in between, complete with DJ airhorn sound effects. I love it so much.”

Alice adds: “I rec Dan Carter in the Chemist Warehouse ads – I think maybe the best sportsperson ad acting? I’ve never seen someone look so comfortable outside their field/arena/stage. Don’t even talk to me about Blair Tuke’s America’s Cup ad where he took two steps forward as though he’s never walked on land in his life.” (For more great DC ad acting, “check out the awesome Vortex Mega Howler”.)


3.00pm: ‘Establishment unit’ to oversee next steps in light rail project

The government is starting from scratch with its long-touted Auckland light rail project, announcing a new working group that will engage with Aucklanders.

Transport minister Michael Wood has announced the “establishment unit” will help progress the long-awaited Auckland light rail plan.

Wood has made the announcement at a media conference in downtown Auckland. He said the previous process for getting the light rail project on track didn’t involve Aucklanders enough.

“There’s wide-ranging support for rapid transit but Aucklanders felt shut out of the project. Today I’m drawing a line under that and involving Aucklanders from the get-go,” Wood said.

The establishment unit – which from the outside appears to be a working group – has been tasked with a six-month project that will involve:

  • Partnering with Māori;
  • engaging with stakeholders and communities;
  • developing a business case so evidence-based decisions can be made on mode and route, providing cost estimates, and funding and financing options which includes looking at value capture; and
  • determining the best form for the delivery entity, which will be either City Rail Link Limited or a new joint venture with Auckland Council.
Michael Wood speaking in Auckland
Michael Wood speaking in Auckland (Image / Alex Braae)

The unit will be led by a yet-to-be announced governance board, Wood said. “Involving Auckland Council is critical, so the mayor and the deputy mayor of Auckland will work with me and the minister of finance to oversee this work.”

He added: “once the Government receives the advice from the establishment unit at the end of the year, we will make the key decisions on route, mode, and delivery entity. We will then be able to give the public certainty on issues like cost and timeframes.”

Wood acknowledged that some people will be unhappy with today’s announcement; namely that it appears to suggest at least another six months without shovels in the ground. “I also want to be absolutely certain that the plan we move forward with is the right one,” he said. “That’s why this fresh start is involving Aucklanders and doing the work alongside them.”

Asked about when construction would actually be able to begin, Wood said that’s not a question he could answer.

Advocacy group Generation Zero has welcomed today’s news. “The news that light rail is back on track is both exciting and long-overdue. This project is key to creating a decarbonised, city-wide transit system sorely needed for Auckland to meet its climate obligations,” said spokesperson David Robertson. “Better yet, it will provide generations with a well-connected, future-proofed transit option.”

The Greens are also supportive of the new group and are pleased that it will be engaging with Aucklanders. “Light rail from the City Centre to Māngere will unlock new housing and jobs, and give Aucklanders better options for getting around the city, while taking cars off the city’s congested roads,” said the party’s transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.

“This project is about much more than travel to the airport – it’s about the liveability of Auckland. It will connect employment centres and places where people live, and enable more homes to be built near rapid transit.”

The Spinoff’s Alex Braae was live at today’s announcement and filed this report via email: “Haven’t written anything for live updates. There was literally nothing to add? There was really no mood of the room to speak of.”

2.45pm: Government poised to reveal new light rail plans

Four years ago, new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced a decade-long plan for light rail in Auckland. Work on the project would begin with light rail to Mount Roskill by 2021, followed by an expansion out to the airport within 10 years.

Of course, since then work has stalled, ex-transport minister Phil Twyford has been replaced by Michael Wood and we’re still not sure when or if Aucklanders will be able to take a train down Dominion Road. Light rail did not form a substantial part of Labour’s 2020 election campaign.

At 3pm today, we’re set to hear what the next steps are for the never-ending project. The Spinoff’s Alex Braae is standing by in downtown Auckland for the announcement and we’ll have everything you need to know as it drops.

Watch below:

2.20pm: Covid-19, on this day

Your daily look at where we were in the pandemic 12 months ago:

On March 31, 2020: The number of new Covid-19 cases continued to increase dramatically. 58 new cases were recorded on this day, bringing the total to 647. One year on and we’ve only just crossed 2,100 cases.

1.00pm: Two new Covid-19 cases in MIQ; Grand Mercure contact leaves country

A returnee who was part of a group that required additional monitoring after leaving the Grand Mercure hotel has left the country.

It follows a case at the hotel who tested positive on day 12 after guests were bussed across town for exercise.

The Ministry of Health said health authorities at this person’s destination country have been notified.

The total number of returnees who required additional monitoring has therefore reduced by one to 343.

Of these 343 returnees, 340 have been contacted. Negative tests have been returned for all but 12 people. One of these 12 people has refused a test, with appropriate management and advice being provided by public health staff. We are continuing to monitor the 11 outstanding results.

Meanwhile, there are no new community cases of Covid-19. Two new cases have been detected in managed isolation – both are returnees who travelled to New Zealand from India via the UAE.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand today is 72 and our total number of confirmed cases is 2,141.

12.40pm: Brisbane Covid-19 cluster grows

There’s been another three cases of Covid-19 detected in Brisbane overnight, as the city enters its second day of a snap 72-hour lockdown.

Two of the three cases were acquired locally and the third was detected in hotel quarantine. The result was “encouraging”, according to premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, as there were no unlinked community cases.

12.00pm: Auckland population could hit 2m by early 2030s

The population of our biggest city could grow to as much as two million at the start of the next decade, according to new Stats NZ data.

Auckland already has around 1.7 million residents. “Auckland will likely have the highest average annual growth of New Zealand’s 16 regions over the next 30 years, from net migration and natural increase (more births than deaths) in relatively equal shares,” population estimates and projections manager Hamish Slack said.

The super city is already home to more than a third of the country’s entire population, about 34%. By 2048, it could make up 37%.

11.30am: Breaking – Air NZ replaces in-flight cookie with… shortbread

In earth-shattering news just to hand, Air New Zealand has replaced its in-flight cookie with shortbread. While still Cookie Time branded, it feels like something of a betrayal from our national carrier.

The news came to me via TVNZ’s Matty McLean, who tweeted out his distaste.

Speaking exclusively to The Spinoff following the incident, McLean explained how he felt following the encounter. “I reached into the basket, pulled out a cookie, only to be assailed by a dry monstrosity of a ‘cookie’ – the shortbread,” the Breakfast weatherman said. “I’m writing to my local MP as we speak to take this matter further.”

It’s not the first time the humble chocolate chip cookie has been replaced. I had the harrowing experience of eating a Cookie Time gingernut on a flight last year, while a tweet would suggest that at one stage the airline served yoghurt cookies (???)

The Spinoff’s Matt McAuley has since come to the shortbread’s defence, saying he had it last week and “it was lovely. Great with a cuppa”.

On The Spinoff

Here’s just some of what you can read today:

  • One of the most fascinating and in-depth pieces you’ll read this month/year. From travelling the world interviewing business titans to defending himself from aggrieved investors, the story of Jake Millar and Unfiltered is a true jaw-dropper. He talks to Jihee Junn.
  • Chris Schulz chats to Jaquie Brown about how she kept her composure for the most hectic 12 minutes of live television ever filmed in New Zealand. At least once a year I am reminded that we never got a conclusion to The Jaquie Brown Diaries – so I am now using my platform to say #BringBackJaquieBrownDiaries. Trend it, people.
  • Two seasons of the Bachelor TV franchise just flew by in a few short weeks. Duncan Greive asked what those involved lost in the rush.
  • There’s a brand new episode of Gone By Lunchtime! Join Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas as they discuss Labour’s housing package, National’s caucus at odds over fluoride, travel bubbles, Police Ten 7 and more.
  • One year on, Metro editor Henry Oliver recalls the fateful Zoom call which ended Bauer New Zealand – and what came next.

11.00am: Group to oversee new public media entity announced

The eight experts chosen to oversee work on a potential new public media entity have been announced.

It includes former government minister Tracey Martin, who will chair the group, along with ex-MediaWorks head Michael Anderson and Broadcasting Standards Authority chief Glen Scanlon.

Sandra Kailahi, Bailey Mackey, William Earl John Quirk, and Dr Trisha Dunleavy round out the rest of the group.

Broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi said the governance group will seek feedback on what should be included in a charter for the new entity.

“A new public media entity would operate with a mixed funding model, drawing part of its revenue from commercial sources, and part from government funding,” he said in a statement. “It would provide content across a variety of platforms and have full editorial and operational independence from government, enshrined in legislation.

“A new public media entity would operate in a way that complements and collaborates with private media.”

10.15am: ‘Didn’t even feel it’ – Hipkins becomes first vaccinated government minister

Chris Hipkins has just received his Covid-19 vaccination, becoming the first government minister to get the jab. He was joined by associate health minister Ayesha Verrall, with other health-related ministers set to get the vaccine next week.

Speaking to media, Hipkins said he “didn’t even feel it” despite not being a big fan of needles. As of last night, about 66,200 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered, with around 16,000 people having received both the required doses.

Pushed on why the government is not releasing daily vaccine figures, Hipkins said “within the next week or so” there will be a much more regular release of numbers. Eventually, this should become daily.

Hipkins rejected a question that by getting the vaccine early he had taken it “out of the arm” of a border worker who needed it. There is enough vaccine to go around, he said. The right balance had to be struck, he said, as “none of us want to be seen to be jumping the queue”.

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield have still not been vaccinated.

Chris Hipkins shows reporters where he received the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine (Photo by Lynn Grieveson – Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images)

10.00am: Watch – Chris Hipkins to get Covid-19 vaccine

The Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins, along with associate health minister Ayesha Verrall, are set to become the first from the government to get the Pfizer vaccine.

Watch below:

9.50am: Onehunga locals unhappy with ‘low traffic trial’

I thought I’d suggest an interesting read from RNZ’s Checkpoint last night, regarding a “low traffic trial” in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga. I had noticed this over the weekend while driving through and was a little confused myself about what was going on.

Basically, several thoroughfare streets have been blocked to vehicles off in an attempt to curb traffic and reduce the number of crashes.

“This is a trial, it’s six to eight weeks of testing some things out, gathering public feedback – a truly open consultation process where people can see plans in real life rather than on a computer screen,” Maungakiekie-Tāmaki Local Board member Peter McGlashan told RNZ.

But, while the intentions are admirable, it’s drawn a lot of criticism from locals (Facebook community groups I’m in are not impressed).

Local resident Heather Bates said the project had made her commute worse. “My travel time has more than doubled, so getting home has gone from around 30 minutes to over an hour sometimes,” she said.

Check out the full piece here

On the agenda

There’s a few things happening today that we’ll be covering off here in the live updates.

  • Chris Hipkins is set to become the first government minister to get the Covid-19 vaccine. He will get the jab in Lower Hutt alongside associate health minister Ayesha Verrall.
  • Kris Faafoi will be revealing the people overseeing the business case for a new public media entity.
  • 1pm: After getting vaccinated, the minister will front his regular Wednesday press conference alongside Ashley Bloomfield.
  • 3pm: We’re expecting the long-awaited next steps in the government’s Auckland light rail project. We’ll have a reporter at the announcement and all the details, of course, right here.

8.00am: Collins and Reti not yet in line for early Covid-19 vaccine

The leader of the opposition has not yet been approached to get an early Covid-19 vaccination, but said she’d be happy to if asked by the government.

The weekly rivalry between RNZ’s Susie Ferguson and National’s Judith Collins continued this morning, with the opposition leader pushed over Covid-19 vaccinations and housing rules.

Yesterday it was confirmed that several government ministers will get the Covid-19 vaccine this week and next. The first ministers, starting today with Chris Hipkins, are all linked to health or Covid-19 portfolios.

Speaking to RNZ, Judith Collins said that she is currently in “group four” meaning she will not get the vaccine until the second half of the year. “I think I’ll probably get one later this year unless the government asks me to do it early because I would be setting a good example,” she said.

“I’m not going to do it unless I’m specifically asked to by the government as a specific mechanism to give people confidence in the vaccine.”

Collins said she did not know whether her deputy Shane Reti – a qualified medical practitioner – would be getting the vaccine early either. However, as a medical practitioner he qualified for it ahead of the general public. Collins had not discussed whether he would be getting the jab in public: “If Dr Reti wants to have his vaccination done publicly it’s up to him,” she said.

After some seemingly spontaneous laughter, Collins said: “What is funny is that you’re asking me about Dr Reti’s personal business when actually you should ask him. I am not his mother.”

Collins urges government to rule out rent cap

Collins said that New Zealand already has a rental shortage and the last thing we want is the government becoming the country’s biggest landlord.

“The government needs to rule out rent caps and actually mean it when they say it,” she said.

After claiming rent caps never work, Collins cited New Zealand in the 1970s and ’80s. “It’s been tried before and doesn’t work,” she said. Asked to provide further evidence of this claim, Collins added: “I don’t need to look at Colombia or somewhere else, I’m telling you it simply doesn’t work… Is there something wrong with giving you New Zealand as an example, in New Zealand?”

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Feedback on the Climate Change Commission’s proposals has started to come in, and it’s worth watching given the importance of how it could shape the country’s response. All up, more than 10,000 people or organisations have had their say, according to a release. And they run across a range of points of view, which will need to be considered by the commission in preparing the advice they then give to the government on emissions reductions. Feedback closed several days ago, with the final days seeing a flurry come in.

Some environmental groups are warning that the plans so far lack ambition, and need to be strengthened if targets are to be met. Radio NZ’s Hamish Cardwell reports those concerns lean towards the transport and agriculture sectors, which between them produce the vast majority of the country’s emissions. One point made by a Generation Zero spokesperson noted that New Zealand’s emissions are very high relative to our size and population. Many climate actions could have wide-ranging benefits, for example in reductions in pollution and congestion on the roads through greater public transport use. The Christchurch City Council have also weighed in with similar thoughts, reports Stuff.

Other views were also canvassed in the RNZ story – and it’s important to note that they did not involve climate change denial, but questioned the how and the how far of the proposals. Farming is particularly concerned, with the likelihood that milk production will fall. Fonterra will be releasing their submission later today. The farming concerns speak to wider noises being made in business, around disruption to business models that will dent earnings. The business-friendly NZ Initiative, for example, argue that existing tools like the Emissions Trading Scheme are already sufficient. The Act party are also getting steamed about the idea of the commission following the “most efficient pathway” – which they say would be better achieved through the ETS than government policy. And because a council was canvassed in the previous paragraph, it’s also worth sharing this story from the Taranaki Daily News, in which the South Taranaki District Council expresses fears over how climate action could hit their economy.

It sets up something of a battle over who can lay claim to realism in this scenario. Pro-business voices say the wrong climate action will cost many jobs, but there’s also a lot of truth to the environmentalist adage that there’s no jobs on a dead planet.

The public housing waiting list has hit ugly new highs, reports Stuff’s Henry Cooke. At the end of January, 22,803 households were waiting for a place to live – some of those will be single people, others will be families. That figure is thousands higher than it was a year previous. Meanwhile, more than a million dollars a day is being spent on motels to use as emergency housing, a policy that existed before this government took office.

Keep going!