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Nick Smith. Photo: Getty
Nick Smith. Photo: Getty

PoliticsMay 31, 2021

Live updates, May 31: Nick Smith quits parliament after ‘verbal altercation’

Nick Smith. Photo: Getty
Nick Smith. Photo: Getty

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

In Canterbury and want to find the latest information? Click here.

4.10pm: Nick Smith quits amid ‘inquiry into employment issue’

Veteran National MP and former cabinet minister Nick Smith has announced his resignation from parliament in 10 days’ time, on June 10. In a statement the list MP cited “personal and professional reasons, including a current Parliamentary Services inquiry into an employment issue”. The inquiry related to “a verbal altercation” in his office, and he understood details had been “leaked to the media for release tomorrow”, he said.

His departure is expected to see former Whanganui MP Harete Hipango offered a place in parliament as the next placed on the National list.

The statement in full:

“I have decided to retire for personal and professional reasons, including a current Parliamentary Services inquiry into an employment issue.

“I was disappointed to lose the Nelson seat at the 2020 election after 30 years representing the region. It was working for constituents and advocating for the region that I enjoyed most and I have come to realise that the role as a List MP is just not me. I had decided to retire earlier this year and the only question was when.

“Politics does place a significant burden on family and I am incredibly grateful for the support of my wife, children and wider family. There have been recent changes in family circumstances which require me to give greater support.

“Parliamentary Services have been conducting a confidential inquiry into a verbal altercation in my Wellington office last July that has not concluded.

“I was advised on Friday that the inquiry and its details have been leaked to the media for release tomorrow. It is inappropriate for employment disputes to be litigated in public. I will put on the record that I regret the incident, I apologised at the time and I apologise again today. I have decided the best course of action for the parties involved, the National Party, my family and myself is to retire now.

“This is an opportunity for National to renew. The leader, party and caucus will continue to have my full support. It has been a huge privilege to be a National member of parliament, serve as 15 different ministers under four prime ministers and to represent the Nelson region for 30 years. I am looking forward to re-joining the Smith family crane and construction businesses in New Zealand, Australia and in the Pacific.”

In 2012, Smith resigned from cabinet after it was revealed that as ACC minister he had sent a letter on ministerial letterhead to assist a friend in an ACC claim.

A cursed sign. Photo: Nick Smith, Facebook

3.40pm: Remember the last time Ardern was on 60 Minutes?

This morning Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand’s relationship with China and Australia had not been “accurately portrayed” by a 60 Minutes episode that went to air last night.

It’s not the first time she had spoken out about the tone of the story; she last week rejected the way the story “framed” our relationship with China.

But three years ago, Ardern’s relationship with 60 Minutes was very different. And quite weird. 

3.10pm: Ashburton cut off after flood water closes 17 roads

Ashburton has been cut off by flooding. The town is now only accessible from the air after 17 roads were shut and four bridges damaged.

Overnight, three people needed to be rescued from flood waters in Ashburton. One man, who was in a tree surrounded by floodwater in the vicinity of Darfield, was rescued after he jumped from the tree and attempted to swim and was swept away.

The crew scoured the water for about 30 minutes before locating the man and plucking him to safety. The crew also rescued an elderly couple from the roof of a car near Ashburton Forks.

Mayor Neil Brown said Ashburton locals are advised to avoid all non-essential travel. 

2.20pm: Ardern and Morrison front first joint press conference since start of Covid-19 pandemic


“We are much bigger than our differences and the last year has taught us that,” said Jacinda Ardern, concluding the first joint press conference between herself and Australian prime minister Scott Morrison in 15 months.

The last time the two prime ministers met face-to-face was in March last year, on the same day as New Zealand’s first Covid-19 cases.

While the focus during that press conference was largely on the issue of 501 deportees, today’s appearance comes after recent scrutiny over New Zealand’s relationship with China – a topic that largely dominated the Q&A with media but was barely touched on in a joint statement.

Speaking first, Ardern acknowledged the “significance” of Morrison being able to visit New Zealand during the pandemic, repeating her comments from yesterday that our two countries are “family”.

The PM once again celebrated the collaboration between New Zealand and Australia throughout the past year and during the period of securing vaccinations. “The supply chain dialogue is very important,” Morrison later added. “The Australia and New Zealand economy is fused together more than throughout my entire lifetime.”

Ardern is next set to met Morrison on his home turf during a tourism visit to Australia in July. She also extended an invitation to Morrison to visit New Zealand again during the APEC conference later this year. New Zealand is hosting the global summit but due to the Covid-19 pandemic it will be virtual.

“Wherever I happen to be in Australia or Jacinda happens to be in New Zealand we are always in close reach”, said Morrison. The two countries had ploughed a “very uniquely Anzac path through Covid”, he said, “and we must continue to follow an Anzac path through many other issues”.

Ardern and Morrison issue joint statement on Chinese relationship, 501 deportees

During the joint address, media were distributed a joint statement from the two leaders. Not until the 43rd of 51 points in the statement is China directly mentioned. It reads as follows:

“The prime ministers expressed deep concern over developments that limit the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermine the high degree of autonomy China guaranteed Hong Kong until 2047 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The prime ministers also expressed grave concerns about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and called upon China to respect the human rights of the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities and to grant the United Nations and other independent observers meaningful and unfettered access to the region.”

It appears the only development of substance from the latest talks is a change to the “unique pathway to citizenship” for New Zealanders living and working in Australia. The joint statement notes that from July “Australia will reduce the number of years in which applicants for the New Zealand stream of the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) permanent residence visa must reach the minimum income threshold (from four years to three).”

1.55pm: Partners of PMs visit local school during Queenstown visit

The spouses of Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison visited Remarkables primary school this afternoon, while the prime ministers were in bilateral talks.

Clarke Gayford and Jenny Morrison have accompanied the PMs on tour to Queenstown for this year’s annual leaders meeting.

Our man on the ground, political editor Justin Giovannetti, said Gayford was given a “self explanatory handful of chocolate fish” by children at the school. Gayford promised they “wouldn’t last long enough to get home”. Morrison, meanwhile, was given a bouquet of lollies due to biosecurity rules preventing her from taking flowers back to Australia.

Later, Gayford asked a cooking class for help with daughter Neve’s birthday cake in three weeks. “She’s set high expectations and I’m worried about the icing,” Gayford said. “How do you get it so smooth?” When he was showed how with a knife, he commented: “that’s a lot fancier than the baked potatoes I remember making.”

Ardern and Morrison will soon be fronting a joint leaders press conference before Ardern heads to Canterbury to survey damage caused by the extreme weather of the past few days.

(Image / Justin Giovannetti)

1.25pm: Officials scramble to find 13 travellers who were in Melbourne during Covid-19 outbreak

Health officials been unable to track down 13 travellers who returned from Melbourne between May 20-25.

All 4539 people who flew back into New Zealand from Melbourne during that five day period were ordered to self-isolate until testing negative for Covid-19.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said the 13 remaining people have been referred to people-finding services.

“Anyone who has been in Victoria since May 11 needs to keep checking the Victorian government website as locations of interest are being continually added,” a spokesperson said. “If they have been at a location of interest, they should call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for further information.”

As of today, 2,237 travellers and 178 air crew of the Melbourne returnees have tested negative for Covid-19 returned negative tests – or 49.3%. “Many of the remaining 2,302 test results are expected to be received today and will be reported on tomorrow. It’s important to note that not everyone in this group will be tested in New Zealand as some are infants and others have already returned to Australia,” the ministry said.

“Under the current section 70 notice, travellers wanting to return to Melbourne are not permitted to do so until they have returned a negative test result.”

Meanwhile, five new Covid-19 cases were reported in Victoria today – including a worker at an aged-care facility in Melbourne’s west.

Here in New Zealand, there are no new community cases of the coronavirus with one reported in managed isolation and linked to the border.

12.20pm: Health risk in Ashburton after flood water contaminated with sewage

Flood water in Ashburton has become contaminated with sewage, prompting a public health risk.

As TVNZ reports, anyone who has come into contact with flood water is being asked to wash as soon as possible. The council has also advised people to change out of any wet clothes and shoes and wash them.

There are also concerns of flood water contamination in parts of Akaroa, according to the local council.

“It is possible the water maybe contaminated… Wash skin that has come into contact with flood waters, and wash your hands as soon as you reasonably can – or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser,” said a post on Facebook.

12.15pm: Latest Canterbury updates available from Civil Defence

Just a quick PSA for our friends in Canterbury. All the latest information is available from the Civil Defence. You can find your most up to date and localised information from the links below:

11.30am: Road map to carbon neutral NZ given to the government

The government will today be given finalised advice on how to slash emissions in the battle against climate change – but the public won’t get to see it for another 10 days.

The Climate Change Commission’s recommendations are on the first three five-yearly emissions budgets under the Zero Carbon Act, as part of New Zealand’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

More than 15,000 public submissions were made on the draft advice provided by the commission earlier this year. In that, the commission proposed some radical shake-ups including phasing-out internal combustion engines after 2030 and stopping natural gas or LPG bottles being fitted to homes or businesses after 2025.

The government will officially unveil the commission’s advice on June 9.

10.55am: Ardern and Morrison begin official talks

Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison have laid a wreath at a war memorial in Queenstown, ahead of official talks between the pair.

Morrison is in the country for a quick 48 hour visit to promote the trans-Tasman bubble but also discuss subjects including the deportation of 501s and dealings with China.

Earlier today, Ardern denied any fractures between Australia and New Zealand and referred to our trans-Tasman neighbour as “family”.

“In this increasingly complex geo-strategic environment, family is incredibly important, and Australia, you are our family,” Ardern said. “And so I can’t imagine a more important time for us to just continue to build and strengthen those ties.”

Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison before laying a wreath at the Queenstown war memorial
Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison before laying a wreath at the Queenstown war memorial (Image / Justin Giovannetti)

9.30am: Pines Beach area asked to evacuate immediately

Residents of the low-lying Pines Beach area in Waimakariri are being asked to evacuate after a flood bank was stuck open causing a flooding risk.

People who need a place to stay are able to stay in the Rangiora Baptist Church.

“Residents on the higher sections of the Pines Beach can stay if they wish, but may be isolated for some time if Beach Road floods,” said the local council in an update.

“We will give updates on our Facebook page and website when it is safe to return, however it may be some time.”

Drivers are urged to travel slowly if they need to but, if possible, the council said people should avoid the roads. “The biggest risk to the Waimakariri remains the high level of the Ashley River at the potential for it to top over the stop banks. Civil Defence have identified three areas where residents are asked to be prepared to evacuate if ordered.”

People are being asked to keep their mobile phones switched on and at hand in case further orders are issued by Civil Defence.

More: Waimakariri evacuation zones live map

9.10am: Government gives ‘initial’ support of $100k to flood-ravaged Canterbury

The government has put $100,000 towards helping communities in Canterbury reeling from a weekend of devastating flooding.

A state of emergency is in place for the entire Canterbury region with thousands prepared to evacuate if needed.

Acting emergency management minister Kris Faafoi said the cost of the damage will be significant – and this is just an initial financial show of support.

“We will stay in contact with local councils to see what further assistance may be needed as site assessments are completed in the coming days,” he said.

“We know a big cleanup and recovery effort lies ahead for impacted communities, and I can assure you the government will be standing alongside them.”

The cash contribution will go towards a mayoral relief fund. Faafoi said councils and the local community are well placed to know how that fund can be used: “for example, to meet the needs of affected families and individuals, community organisations or marae”.

8.05am: Ardern criticises Australian media over analysis of China relationship

Jacinda Ardern has defended New Zealand’s relationship with Australia after a 60 Minutes documentary implied a fracture in our relationship.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison is in the country for talks today with Ardern in Queenstown. On the agenda: issues relating to the trans-Tasman bubble but also more serious discussions around refugees, the Five Eyes, and deportations.

Speaking ahead of today’s meeting, Ardern told RNZ that – despite what Australia media may claim – New Zealand’s views on China have not come between her and Morrison.

“When I think about the vast bulk of exchanges that PM Morrison and I have had in the last 15 months, this has not been an issue that has [impacted on] our relationship, at all,” she said.

“It’s for me to comment on whether or not New Zealand’s position and our relationship has been portrayed accurately or not. I have to say, by the Australian media, I would say it has not been accurately portrayed.”

Asked about New Zealand’s decisions to avoid signing Five Eyes statements relating to China, Ardern said there were just three in the past year that we had not signed onto. “Two of those we have joined with Australia and bilaterally signed,” she said.

“This idea that there is a large divide between us all, I totally dispute. What I will stand firm on though: we are an independent country [and] we will make our own foreign policy decisions,” she said.

Our political editor Justin Giovannetti is with the press pack in Queenstown and will have a full report on the bilateral meeting later today.

Read more: As Ardern welcomes Morrison in Queenstown, what are they seeking from one other?

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Serious flooding has swept through the Canterbury region, after weeks of rain fell in just a few days. Stuff reports that more than a hundred evacuations have taken place, amid a state of emergency being declared across the region. Selwyn, Ashburton and Timaru are particularly badly hit. Motorists are being asked to take “extreme care” out there, and many roads are closed, along with dozens of schools today. The damage from this flood will be lasting, not least because several bridges have been washed away. Looking ahead to today, live updates from One News report the Selwyn River could still break its banks, and thousands more people in Ashburton are waiting for a call on whether to evacuate.

The danger is particularly severe for farmers and their animals, who can end up cut off from help more quickly. Radio NZ reports some local farmers ended up putting their own lives on the line to rescue trapped animals, and get them to higher ground. Sometimes it has been the farmers themselves who have needed rescuing. In one instance, tweeted out by TVNZ reporter Lisa Davies, an Ashburton man was winched out of a tree by a helicopter. To date, it doesn’t appear that anyone has been killed by the flooding. But to give a sense of how unusual this event is, I’ll share this tweet from local Caroline Amyes, who took a video of the Selwyn at Coalgate, and said “this isn’t a normal event, please move stock as far away from rivers as possible. Areas that have never flooded before are flooding.”

The bad weather is not yet over. After a rare “red warning” was issued by Metservice over the weekend, their forecasters have kept a heavy rain warning in place until this evening. What makes the rain worse is that much of Canterbury has been in drought conditions this year – the rain will be welcome for water storage and reservoirs, but this sort of volume falling can be really bad for dry paddocks.

PMs Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison will today hold their first formal in-person talks for more than a year. You might recall last week there was a bit of concern that Morrison’s trip over the Tasman would be cancelled, but in the end he made it. Political editor Justin Giovannetti was there for the pōwhiri yesterday afternoon in Queenstown, and looked ahead to the issues that will be up for discussion. You probably already guessed it, but a major one will be Australia’s current trade tension with China, and where New Zealand stands on that.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

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