Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni (Photo: Radio NZ / Rebekah Parsons-King)

Live updates, July 1: No new Covid-19 cases for second day; PM says stay on guard

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level one – read about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.

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5.25pm: The day in sum

There were no new cases of Covid-19, but the prime minister urged vigilance in light of Victoria’s second wave of cases.

The allocation of the $3bn infrastructure fund was announced.

Further details of fraud claims against Team New Zealand and the America’s Cup organisers were revealed, but Team NZ countered that it had been the victim of a scam.

The Spinoff revealed that Brexit bankroller Arron Banks had spent much of the year in New Zealand and developed a close relationship with NZ First leader Winston Peters.

NZ First MP Shane Jones said neither he nor his party had slowed the rollout of cameras on fishing boats, after Newshub revealed a secret recording of fisheries minister Stuart Nash claiming such.

Auckland Airport announced it was planning further job cuts as it faces a hit of up to $90 million.

A screen sector recovery package was unveiled.

5.00pm: Screen sector recovery package unveiled

A package for film and television producers designed to support post-Covid recovery has just been announced at a parliament function. It includes $50 million of “reprioritised funding” to produce as many as five feature films or screen productions out of the Screen Production Fund. It includes funding targeted at Pacific, student and disability media.

A further $23 million will become available via NZ On Air and the Film Commission to help meet costs incurred by productions that were already under way and forced to shut down or adversely affected by Covid-19 restrictions.

“It means productions can resume, Kiwis can start working again, and the flow on effects for auxiliary businesses continue,” said associate minister for the arts, Carmel Sepuloni. “Part of the Screen Production Fund investment is for new content, which translates to new jobs for Kiwis, and enables a robust pipeline of local content for New Zealand audiences.”

Meanwhile the minister for economic development, Phil Twyford, has outlined criteria for the $10 million Domestic Events Fund. They are:

  • Existing events that are considered regionally or nationally significant, where support is needed to be able to sustainably re-start or re-scale the event, or
  • Where supporting the event will help retain sector-critical event organisers and suppliers for the long-term viability of the industry.

3.45pm: NZ joins global Covid-19 vaccine initiative 

New Zealand has joined a global initiative to enable all countries to access a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine, foreign affairs minister Winston Peters has announced via a press release.

“If and when a safe, effective Covid-19 vaccine is developed, global demand will initially outstrip supply,” said Peters. “It is vitally important that we are part of any global initiative to pool purchasing power and share the risk involved in investing in vaccines at this early stage, to ensure we don’t miss out.”

Called the COVAX Facility, the initiative incentivises pharmaceutical companies to produce more of any vaccine. Details, including financial contributions, are still being determined, but Peters says by joining the facility now, New Zealand will be able to help shape the way it works and how a vaccine is eventually distributed.

3.20pm: Team NZ responds to fraud claims, police confirm investigation

Team New Zealand has issued a lengthy statement in response to the Herald’s publication of details from a leaked letter that revealed aspects of the fraud claims levelled against the team and America’s Cup organisers (see 8.15am update).

In it, reiterating what Team NZ Grant Dalton told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning, a payment to a Hungarian bank account is admitted but blamed on an email scam the team’s management arm, America’s Cup Events, fell victim to.

The statement said this was reported to the police who alerted the relevant international authorities, and attempts were made to recover the funds. The Herald reports that the Auckland City Financial Crime Unit is investigating the scam, having learned of it in December last year, with the help of officers based in Europe and Hungarian authorities.

2.15pm: ASB closing nine branches

ASB has announced it is closing nine branches and reducing hours to three days a week at 25 others. The banks says the move is not a cost-cutting measure but to encourage a shift to online and phone banking.

No job losses are expected as staff can move to other branches or roles within the company, says ASB, and it will recruit an additional 150 staff to provide specialist support. Retail banking head Craig Sims acknowledged the closures “may be disappointing for some branch users” but said the bank was not cutting support for customers. He said the branches closing had very low customer numbers, and 109 branches remain.

The branches closing are Auckland Hospital, Parnell, Ronwood Avenue in Manukau City, Ellerslie and Mt Albert in Auckland, Waikato University in Hamilton, Papamoa in Bay of Plenty, Barrington in Christchurch and Mosgiel in Otago, all of which didn’t reopen after the Covid-19 lockdown. The new opening hours for the 25 other branches will begin on August 3.

2.00pm: Today’s Covid-19 data in chart and graph form

1.40pm: Stay on guard or we could end up like Victoria – PM

The prime minister has delivered a warning to New Zealanders – remain on guard, or we could end up like Victoria. While New Zealand is in a good position, with low case numbers and days with zero new cases, the Australian state was in a similar situation just a few weeks ago, she said, and has now seen a second wave. “It’s an example of how easily the virus can take hold and why vigilance is so important.”

At her daily press conference, Jacinda Ardern was asked if deputy prime minister Winston Peters had been entirely truthful about NZ First’s role in delaying the rollout of cameras on fishing boats. She avoided answering the question directly, instead saying, “For every policy, there will be work done across all three parties [Labour, NZ First and the Greens] to get consensus. Every policy takes work and negotiations.” She said cameras had been rolling out on boats.

Asked about why an Ihumātao resolution has still not been announced and whether NZ First had anything to do with the delay, Ardern said she would have liked to have been able to resolve the issue some time ago, adding, “With all of our discussions we’ll have different perspectives”.

1.30pm: Prime minister speaking to media

Jacinda Ardern is about to speak to media about the government’s Covid-19 response. We’ll bring you all the details of what she says.

1.00pm: No new cases of Covid-19 in NZ today

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today for the second day in a row, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced. That means our total case number remains at 1,178, and there are 22 active cases, all of whom returned from overseas recently. One person remains in hospital.

Yesterday 4,530 tests were processed, bringing the total number to 402,000.

Bloomfield emphasised that the pandemic is escalating overseas and reiterated that the Ministry of Health was watching the situation in Melbourne closely (see 8.00am update). He said measures such as staying home when sick and washing hands remained important, and encouraged people to continue keeping track of where they go via the NZ Covid Tracer app.

Bloomfield said he had met with Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran yesterday, who told him that some international air crew had been facing “hostility and suspicion” in their local communities. “Please show tolerance and support them,” said Bloomfield.

Regarding those who left managed isolation between June 9 and 16, Bloomfield said there were still 367 people who authorities hadn’t managed to contact. He said he had asked his team to look into why that may be, suggesting there may be language difficulties. Bloomfield reiterated that these people present a “very, very low risk” to the community as they had all completed the mandatory 14 days of isolation.

Told by a journalist that there had been reports of strangers sharing bathrooms in managed isolation, Bloomfield said he would be “very surprised” if that was the case. “This is something we’re very strict about,” he said.

Asked again about the flowers he received following a fundraising campaign on Twitter, Bloomfield said he wasn’t sure who had sent them, but they were now on the desk where his PA sits – “she certainly deserves them”. He didn’t know what kind of flowers they were.

He also said he was planning to have a holiday next week.

12.45pm: Bloomfield to update Covid-19 case numbers – watch live

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield is speaking to media at 1pm. Watch below and follow along for updates.

12.00pm: The Brexit bankroller and NZ First – what’s Arron Banks doing in New Zealand?

On The Spinoff today, politics editor Justin Giovannetti reveals that Arron Banks, a British entrepreneur who bankrolled Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign, has spent much of the year in New Zealand – where he’s developed a close relationship with NZ First leader Winston Peters. In numerous tweets over the past months, Banks and Peters have expressed strikingly similar opinions and concerns.

Read the full story on The Spinoff

11.30am: More job cuts coming at Auckland Airport

Auckland Airport is planning further job cuts as it faces a hit of up to $90 million in one-off Covid-related costs, having already reduced its workforce by 25% in recent months. In an announcement to the NZX, the airport’s chief executive, Adrian Littlewood, said the job cuts would mainly affect the company’s infrastructure team and its operations team. Passenger numbers are 5% of what they were six months ago, said Littlewood. “We are a resilient business, but this is a global shock to aviation the likes of which we’ve never seen, and our organisation continues to be materially impacted.”

11.20am: Bloomfield to speak at 1pm

The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, returns to give a briefing on the Covid-19 situation at 1pm today. We’ll be streaming it here and bringing you updates on all the key points.

10.15am: Jones denies NZ First has undermined new fishing regulations

Our politics editor, Justin Giovannetti, has just filed this from the Beehive:

NZ First MP Shane Jones says there’s no truth that he or his party have slowed the rollout of cameras on fishing boats. Yesterday, a secret recording of fisheries minister Stuart Nash was released where he grumbled about the heavy pressure he was facing from NZ First to delay the cameras.

“There’s a great deal of falsehood around this whole yarn,” said Jones at a media stand-up for the infrastructure fund announcement (see 9.00am update) this morning. “Any suggestion that I in particular or our party has somehow undermined the ability of Mr Nash to do his job is a barefaced lie.”

The monitoring cameras have been repeatedly delayed by the Labour-led government, now punted until late 2021 at the earliest. International experience has shown that the cameras allow for better reporting of seabirds and endangered dolphins caught in fishing nets. Jones has no official role related to fisheries, but has a long history as a vocal supporter of the industry. He and NZ First have also recovered significant financial backing from fisheries.

Jones was adamant that past donations to his campaign haven’t had an impact on the cameras policy. “Any suggestion that I have personally swung my fish-scaled taiaha and caused it not to pass is a bare-faced lie,” he said.

Jones has blamed Covid-19 for the latest delay to cameras, which were due to be installed by the end of June. He’s also said the government needs a new framework with the commercial fishing industry before the cameras can be installed. Jones called himself an “apostle of industry” four times in as many minutes. He said he represents a view around the cabinet table that ensures “the interest of industry and jobs and growth are always brought to the fore”.

9.00am: $3bn infrastructure fund carve-up announced

Finance minister Grant Robertson and infrastructure minister Shane Jones have this morning announced the carve-up of the $3bn infrastructure fund that forms part of the Covid Response and Recovery Fund announced in May’s budget.

Transport projects will receive the bulk of the fund, with $708m allocated to roads, ports, cycleways and walkways. Community and social development will be allocated $670m, with housing and urban development getting $464m and environmental projects receiving $460m. 

The Auckland region will receive the biggest share, with $500m, with $300m going to Canterbury, $260m to Otago and $170m to Bay of Plenty. Wellington is allocated $185m, Waikato and Northland each get $150m, Manawatu/Whanganui $140m and Hawke’s Bay $130m. The East Coast receives $106m, the West Coast and Southland $90m, and Taranaki and the top of the South Island $85m.

Robertson said the package is expected to deliver more than 20,000 jobs across New Zealand and “unlock investment with a project value of more than $5 billion”.

The Infrastructure Reference Group, which identified a pipeline of projects to support the economy during the Covid-19 rebuild, received a total of 1,924 submissions, and a short list of 802 projects were presented to ministers. 

More than 150 projects worth $2.6bn have now been approved in principle.

“We have focused on key sectors that are central to the government’s economic plan – housing and urban development, climate resilience, energy and community development,” Grant Robertson said in a press release.

“This package will provide Kiwis with confidence that the government is backing them in this challenging economic environment by creating new jobs and opportunities in communities around the country.”

The projects announced today include a $22m investment in the Auckland City Mission, with a new complex that will provide housing, health and social services with the construction of 80 apartments that will home more than 2,000 people over the next 25 years. It will also include 25 detox beds, a dental clinic, pharmacy, retail and community spaces as well as conference and events facilities and will provide 200 jobs during construction and 150 once completed, says the government. The project is under way but has been affected by Covid-19, and this will ensure it can progress.

In the Bay of Plenty, a partnership between Rotorua Lakes District Council and local iwi Ngāti Whakaue, also involving NZTA, will receive $55m to help facilitate the development of Māori land, provide housing and generate short and long-term employment. “The project comprises building roading and storm water infrastructure to enable housing development for up to 1,100 sections, as well as state highway upgrades and stormwater works,” according to a government press release. “Groundworks are currently being progressed on the site.”

In Canterbury, the final section of the Coastal Pathway will receive $15m. The post-earthquake project is now 80% complete and this project will finish the remaining section between Redcliffs and Shag Rock. Construction is expected to be able to begin within six months.

Other projects include the Rugby Park grandstand in Gisborne; the Whakatu Inland Port project, which will involve the construction of a 12-hectare offsite port between Napier and Hastings; the Whangārei Rejuvenation, “an investment in the social and community infrastructure of Whangārei”; the replacement of the Thermal Drying Facility (TDF) at the New Plymouth Wastewater Treatment Plant; the development of the Blenheim art gallery and library; the development of Invercargill’s CBD and Taupō’s town centre; the refurbishment of the Wellington district court; and a package of wharf and port infrastructure investments on the West Coast. 

You can watch Robertson and Jones discussing this morning’s announcement live here:

8.15am: Team NZ and America’s Cup organisers at centre of fraud claims

A confidential letter sent by Auckland Council and MBIE to Team New Zealand and the organisers of the America’s Cup has been obtained by the NZ Herald. It contains serious claims of fraud, including an alleged fraudulent payment to a Hungarian bank account.

The letter, written by council chief executive Stephen Town and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) chief executive Carolyn Tremain and sent to America’s Cup Events (ACE) and Team NZ, outlines “serious matters” raised by a financial investigation firm commissioned by the crown to look into the financial management of next year’s America’s Cup in Auckland.

In the letter, the council and MBIE say they are “extremely concerned” that taxpayer money paid by MBIE has been used for costs not related to the delivery of the event. “This includes the $3,000,000 loan to ETNZ [Emirates Team New Zealand] which was subsequently reclassified and the payment that was made to the Hungarian bank account through fraud”.

Talking to Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning, Team NZ boss Grant Dalton said the organisation had been defrauded by scammers, with money being paid into a Hungarian bank account. He denied there had been any $3 million loan to Team NZ and said no public money had been misused.

The MBIE investigation was revealed earlier in the week, when Team NZ announced it had fired “informants” who had made “highly defamatory and inaccurate allegations”.

8.00am: Suburban lockdowns an option for NZ – Bloomfield

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has told RNZ’s Morning Report he is watching closely the situation in Melbourne, where 36 suburbs have been locked down to control a Covid-19 outbreak, and would consider following a similar model here should the virus surge again.

“We’ve worked very closely with Australia so we’ll be very interested to see how this works,” Bloomfield said. “We would be looking to use exactly these approaches to avoid putting whole country under lockdown.”

Meanwhile, National leader Todd Muller is calling for more transparency around the government’s planning for when the borders will open. Speaking to Morning Report, he denied he was calling for the borders to open now, but said, “We must have capacity as a country to have a conversation around what the next phase looks like,” and questioned how New Zealand would engage with countries that have different strategies for managing Covid-19.”

7.45am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

Today is a big day for New Zealand, with a whole lot of previously announced policies coming into effect. July 1 is typically the date for these changes to happen, and this year is no different. Some changes are being trumpeted by the government, others less so.

In a release, PM Ardern said it was “a milestone day for the government as a host of key policies take effect, demonstrating the critical areas where progress has been made”. Among the key items cited was the extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks along with a $20 per week top-up, the opening up of the free apprenticeship scheme, and a pay boost for 17,000 qualified early childhood teachers. The paid parental leave boost was highlighted in particular, with Ardern saying the government has “increased the amount of paid time new parents get to spend with their babies by eight weeks, demonstrating our commitment to families”. The building levy rate will also be coming down, but by a fairly marginal figure – the average residential new build in Auckland will now be about $80 cheaper.

A really interesting change will be the Farm Debt Mediation scheme being brought into operation. This will require creditors to offer mediation to farmers who default on payments before they take any enforcement action, amid ballooning farm debt. There was wide support for this across the board – for example, the government earned some relatively rare plaudits from Federated Farmers for it, the Timaru Herald reported in February.

But as always, there will be tax increases the government won’t be so keen to talk about. The fuel tax is going up again, along with road user charges, reports the NZ Herald. National has criticised this in light of the increased economic pressure of Covid-19, but the AA’s Mark Stockdale says this year it will be “probably easier to swallow” because of the dramatically low global oil price. For those who like a bit of sinning, there’s good and bad news – alcohol excise taxes will go up, but tobacco excise taxes won’t rise this time around. The hospitality industry had been lobbying against the alcohol excise rise, but it doesn’t appear that they got their way.

And finally, Auckland motorists yesterday also saw a big change. A raft of streets will now have safer speed limits, particularly around town centres and the CBD. The NZTA has put out an interactive map of the changes, and the police say they won’t be cracking down ruthlessly and immediately on the new limits, reports Stuff, on the grounds that “people who use these roads frequently will be accustomed to the previous speed limits”.

Questions are being asked repeatedly – and not being answered – about whether a leading Brexiteer is getting involved in NZ politics. The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti reports that Arron Banks (the bankroller of Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign) has spent most of 2020 in New Zealand, where he became an ardent supporter of Winston Peters and the NZ First Party. And the feeling appears to be mutual. So is this simply a case of politically aligned people finding common ground, or is there something more to it?

Two competing polls on cannabis legalisation have been released, showing very different prospects of success. The NZ Herald reported on a Horizon poll, commissioned by medicinal cannabis company Helius Therapeutics, that found a growing majority was in support of the change. However, a One News poll conducted by Colmar Brunton found the margin was going in the other direction. Suffice to say, it’s way too close to call, and those currently undecided will make a big difference. If you want to go back and get a clear picture on what we’ll be voting on, have a read of my cheat sheet from May.

The major APEC summit will no longer be coming to town in 2021. A decision has been made early to hold a virtual meeting instead, amid concerns that even next year Covid-19 won’t be sufficiently under control to manage the event. As Radio NZ reports, it isn’t good news for Auckland businesses, who were expecting to cash in on the event. However, it also gives the government certainty around an event they would otherwise have had to devote significantly more resources towards.

Fisheries minister Stuart Nash has been caught in a moment of candour, after a secret recording of him discussing political pressure on policy was revealed. Newshub’s Michael Morrah has reported on the tape, in which Nash told an unnamed party that heavy pressure was coming from NZ First MPs against cameras being rolled out on fishing boats. The story also provides useful context for why this is newsworthy and in the public interest, such as the large donations made by fishing companies to the NZ First Foundation. Nash has since walked back the statements made on the tape, and Winston Peters put out a press release before the story even aired denouncing it as defamatory and tabloid clickbait. In case you were wondering, cameras still aren’t mandatory on commercial fishing boats.

Criticism is mounting against Meridian Energy, after water spilled from hydro dams caused thousands of tons worth of carbon emissions from electricity generation. I’ve reported on the reaction to an Electricity Authority preliminary decision on a complaint that they got rid of water from hydro dams, causing a coal power plant to be turned on instead in December last year. Electric Kiwi CEO said it was “a pretty extreme illustration of market power at the expense of the environment.” The move also imposed extra costs on retailers and consumers, a point picked up in a release from NZ First MP Mark Patterson.

Departing MP Paula Bennett has revealed that she was physically assaulted several times over the course of her political career. In an interview with the AM Show, she also revealed that she had been subjected to numerous death threats. Suffice to say, this is well outside the normal rough and tumble of politics, and any sensible person would utterly condemn it.

The story around Emirates Team New Zealand outing spies is starting to look decidedly more murky for the syndicate. Newshub’s Tom McRae reports that the contractors who were thrown overboard say they’re actually whistleblowers. They worked on the running of the event, rather than the sailing team, but did work out of the same headquarters. At some stage, information about alleged financial improprieties was provided to MBIE, which is now investigating – and on this point, the NZ Herald dropped an exclusive this morning outlining what those concerns are. It essentially relates to whether public money was improperly used.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

New Zealand recorded no new cases of Covid-19 for the first time since June 19.

The Apec leaders summit and surrounding events that Auckland was set to host in November 2021 will be replaced with an entirely virtual event, it was announced. New Zealand will remain the official host.

Drought-stricken Auckland’s application to the Waikato Regional Council to take an extra 200 million litres of water a day from the Waikato River will be fast-tracked by the government.

The EU announced New Zealand is on the list of 14 “safe” countries that will be exempt from Europe’s travel ban from July 1. Anyone travelling to Europe to from New Zealand would still need to complete a fortnight in managed isolation or quarantine upon their return.

Newshub published an audio recording of fisheries minister Stuart Nash blaming pressure from NZ First for the delay in putting cameras on fishing boats. In response NZ First issued a press release denouncing the report as “clickbait” – hours before the programme aired.

Chinese pigs have been discovered to be harbouring a new strain of swine flu, which “could mutate further so that it can spread easily from person to person, and trigger a global outbreak”, according to the BBC.

Read yesterday’s live updates here

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