Live updates, September 3: Ardern back on the campaign trail in Auckland

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 3, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole country is now in alert level two, with extra restrictions in Auckland. Official information here. Contact me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

8.00pm: The day in sum

There were two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand – one  in managed isolation and the other linked to the existing cluster.

New Zealand is one of the worst countries in the developed world to grow up in according to Unicef’s annual report card. It ranked New Zealand 35th out of the world’s 41 richest countries for child welfare.

The country experienced its warmest winter since records began, NIWA announced.

National unveiled its new parenting policy, including $3000 for expectant mothers.

Leaked video showed Green co-leader James Shaw claiming he was given a “verbal sign-off” for the Green School by education minister Chris Hipkins. However, Hipkins said this was a “mischaracterisation” of his conversations with Shaw.

5.55pm: 2020 was New Zealand’s warmest winter on record

The country has just experienced its warmest winter since national record-keeping began 111 years ago. According to NIWA’s Seven Station Temperature Series, a national climate report that has been under way since 1909, the 2020 winter was 1.14C above average, making it warmer even than the previous record-breaking winter in 2013.

Seven of New Zealand’s 10 warmest winters on record have occurred since the year 2000.

NIWA forecaster Ben Noll said the winter warmth can be attributed to several factors: More sub-tropical northeasterly winds than normal, warmer sea surface temperatures than average during winter; and higher air pressure than normal, particularly to the east which contributed a sunnier than normal winter in much of the South Island and lower North Island.

The other factor is climate change, Noll said: the winter warmth is consistent with New Zealand’s long-term trend of increasing air temperatures.

The highest recorded temperature of 2020 was 25.1°C on August 30 in Timaru. This was the highest winter temperature recorded there since records began in 1885 and the equal-4th warmest winter temperature on record for New Zealand as a whole.

The lowest temperature was  -12.3°C, at Middlemarch on 14 June.

3.40pm: Classification office ‘restricted’ on Twitter

In a moment of joyous irony, the New Zealand Classification Office has been “restricted” on Twitter. According to a disclaimer on the social media website, there has been some “unusual activity” from the office’s account. It’s not yet clear what this activity is, but, in the meantime, please continue to revel in the irony.

3.00pm: National unveils parenting policy, $3k for expectant mothers

Expectant mothers will be entitled to a $3000 payment under a National government, Judith Collins has announced. The party’s unveiled its seven tier “first 1000 days” policy, costed at $226 million.

“Studies have shown that countries that fail to invest in the wellbeing of women and children during this crucial time will suffer worse economic results in the future, through lower productivity and higher health costs,” Collins said in press release.

The package includes:

  • An entitlement worth up to $3000 for all expecting mothers that can be used to commission services to support their child’s first 1,000 days of development.  Mothers and babies who have higher needs will be entitled to up to $3,000 additional funding ($6,000 in total), along with the support to help them choose the services they need.
  • Enhanced screening: This includes pre & post-birth GP visits, and a revamped “B4 School” check at age three to identify developmental concerns and trigger early intervention services.
  • Three day postnatal stay: All new mothers will be entitled to a three day stay in their postnatal facility.
  • Child passport: An enhanced version of the current “Well Child/Tamariki Ora book” with electronic record-keeping, this will record needs identified through screening and track progress to key physical, emotional, developmental and education milestones. It will be used to ensure that, where required, early action is taken to address issues or additional needs.
  • Paid parental leave at the same time: Parents will be given a choice about when they take their leave – either one parent at a time, as they now can, or both parents at the same time if that’s what they prefer. We believe both parents should have the opportunity to bond with their baby during the first months of life, and we support parents to make the best decisions for their baby and family.
  • National Centre for Child Development: Headquartered at a university, the Centre will bring together the best of child health, neuroscience and education research. Its job is to improve best-practice for child development throughout the early childhood system.

2.30pm: Metro back as quarterly print magazine

Auckland’s Metro magazine will be back on shelves from November, after becoming a casualty of the Bauer Media closure earlier this year. The publication, which won magazine of the year at the 2020 Voyager Awards, will be under new independent ownership.

Henry Oliver, The Spinoff’s former music editor, will be returning as the publication’s editor, with Jean Teng as food editor.

Metro’s new form will be as a quarterly print magazine, with “with four bigger, fatter, more beautiful issues a year of the best (and sometimes worst) of Auckland”.

Metro will also have an online presence, with “several digital platforms giving Aucklanders new access to insider knowledge of their city”.

Subscribe here

2.00pm: Labour campaign gets back under way in Auckland

Updated

It’s day one of election campaign 2.0 for the Labour Party, and that means high vis vests and looking interested in things.

I’ve been on the campaign trail this morning with the prime minister, who was joined by education minister Chris Hipkins, finance minister Grant Robertson and building and construction minister Jenny Salesa at MIT’s Otara campus, to meet classes of Trades Academy students who attend local high schools.

Watching a group of students lay pavers gave ample opportunity for the ministers in attendance to speak of the “strong foundations” the government has provided, and the “road to the future” that was being built.

Chris Hipkins holds a hammer

Hipkins said “record numbers” of people are taking up free courses and strong signs are emerging of firms making use of government support for apprentices. It follows the government’s move, in the wake of Covid-19, to make targeted trades training and apprenticeships free for all learners.

Today’s campaign appearance also allowed for an announcement around two “centres of vocational excellence”. The centres, in the construction and primary sectors, are geographically-distributed groups that are a new type of partnership between the vocational education system and the two sectors.

It was announced today that the food and fibre centre will be hosted by the Eastern Institute of Technology, and the construction centre will be hosted at the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Jacinda Ardern fronts media in Otara

Today’s announcement highlighted the possible conflation of Jacinda Ardern’s role as Labour leader as well as the prime minister in charge of a Covid-19 response. Despite the education announcement, there were few questions for Chris Hipkins – the ones asked mainly focused on the Green School – and Ardern was pressed on a wide range of subjects other than the announcement. However, she denied any confusion by the public of her role on the campaign.

“For some time to come we will be continuing to manage our response as a government to Covid-19, it will be a part of the schedule up until election day.” The convention in New Zealand, Ardern said, is that the government continues to govern right up until polling day.

Ardern said she will predominantly be “out and about”, rather than fronting media from the Beehive, however she will be in Wellington on days when Covid decisions need to be made.

Campaigning under alert level two will look the “same as it does for any other New Zealander,” Ardern said, emphasising mask use, social distancing and a lack of gatherings. There won’t be many large town hall events, she said, and certainly no hugging babies.

1.05pm: Two new cases of Covid-19

There are two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. One is in managed isolation, and the other is a community case linked to the existing cluster.

The community case is a family member of a known positive case in the Americold cluster. Auckland Regional Public Health Service director William Rainger said that as a household member, they were in isolation when they tested positive.

The imported case is a woman in her 30s who tested positive on day three.

There are seven people in hospital, with two in ICU. With 16 cases considered recovered, the total active case count stands at 115. Thirty six are imported and 79 are community cases.

10,521 tests were processed yesterday. A single positive test in the community from more than 10,000 tests means this is the most encouraging day yet that the outbreak is being stamped out.

Rainger said that health authorities “can be fairly confident” that they’re on top of the outbreak, and that the epidemic curve is now “undulating downwards.”

Health minister Chris Hipkins paid tribute to Auckland health workers, saying 3162 close contacts have been identified over the course of the cluster, and Hipkins said the Auckland Regional Public Health service had “consistently been hitting the gold standard target” of contacting 80% of contacts within 48 hours.

In the last week 85% of close contacts have been spoken to within 48 hours.

Hipkins has stressed the message for Aucklanders to “take their alert level with them” if they travel outside of the region. He says while progress in keeping this outbreak under control has been heartening, it is still too soon to relax.

While under a barrage of technical questioning about investigations into genomic links between cases, Hipkins was given a brief respite when the lights in the building were turned off.

Vaccinations won’t be compulsory, says Hipkins

Hipkins has made it clear that the Covid-19 vaccine, if and when one becomes available, will not be compulsory.

He says that he has been “alarmed” at the amount of correspondence coming into his office from people who are worried that they will be, saying that such a perception is the result of “deliberate misinformation.”

Hipkins said that while the government would be strongly encouraging people to take up the vaccines, there are no plans to make any vaccine compulsory.

The minister also gave a brief update on mask wearing on public transport, saying that no enforcement action had yet been taken, and the vast majority of transport users had been “playing by the rules” and complying.

12.55pm: Watch live: Case numbers to be updated

We’re about to get another update on case numbers – you can watch it here.

Today we’ll be hearing from minister of health Chris Hipkins and Auckland Regional Public Health Service director William Rainger.

12.05pm: Leaked video shows Shaw suggesting Hipkins gave Green School verbal signoff

The Green School is back in the news for another day, after a video was leaked to Radio NZ of James Shaw speaking to a crisis zoom meeting of the party.

Shaw acknowledged that while education minister Chris Hipkins wasn’t in the group of ministers signing off on projects, “he did say that – assuming everything else being equal – as long as the funding partner is the [Taranaki District] Council, which it is, that he was okay with it.”

Hipkins himself has put out a statement, saying that he had made it clear to Shaw that the $11.7 million wouldn’t come out of the education budget, and that he said “apart from that, do what you have to do.”

The education minister has consistently said that the project was not one that he would have prioritised. At a subsequent press conference, when questioned by The Spinoff, Hipkins said that Shaw’s claim would “mischaracterise” the conversations the pair had.

“I think I’ve been very public about the comments and the conversations that I had with James,” he said.

You can watch the full 41 seconds of Shaw talking to the wider Green party here.

10.20am: Ardern and top ministers in Auckland today

The prime minister along with her top ministers Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins are in Auckland today, as the election campaign kicks off for round two.

Parliament was adjourned yesterday, for the second time, with a fiery general debate targeted at the government’s track record over the past three years.

I’ll be heading along to today’s media stand-up with the PM and will be filing live updates from the road.

9.35am: Unicef report ‘underscores’ work to break poverty cycle – Ardern

Jacinda Ardern has responded to this morning’s Unicef report card, which ranked New Zealand 35th out of the 41 richest countries for child welfare.

In a statement, the prime minister said the report “underscores” the government’s work to break the cycle of poverty.

“The report itself acknowledges in many cases data was missing or was several years old, largely painting a picture of the previous Ggovernment’s underinvestment in our families,” Ardern said.

“The report pre-dates our progress in rolling out the $5.5 billion families package, setting child poverty targets, lifting 18,400 children from poverty, and improving seven out of nine child poverty measures.”

The prime minister, alongside several of her top ministers, will be fronting a media conference in Auckland at midday.

Read more on the Unicef report here

8.30am: NZ given a fail grade on child welfare

New Zealand is one of the worst countries to grow up, according to Unicef’s annual report card.

It’s ranked us 35th out of the 41 richest countries surveyed, which includes OECD countries and the countries that make up the European Union.

New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is the second-worst at 14.9 deaths per 100,000 adolescents, or twice the average among the 41 OECD countries surveyed.

Unicef’s executive director Vivien Maidaborn told RNZ the result is entirely driven by inequality.

“I think that we normalise inequality. Somehow it’s alright that we have children whose families can’t afford homes and are living in emergency housing. Somehow it’s alright that many of our lower socio-economic families can’t access high quality early childhood education,” she said.

“And then we wonder why we finish up with a statistic like only 64.5% of 15-year-olds have got proficiency in reading and maths.”

8.15am: Shaw held up ‘at least’ 44 shovel-ready projects for Green School

It’s been revealed at least 44 shovel-ready projects were held at ransom by Greens’ co-leader James Shaw, in the political saga that keeps on giving. Shaw refused to sign-off on the remaining projects unless the now infamous Green School was included.

As RNZ reports, 118 shovel ready projects had already been announced by August 6, totalling $1.8 billion in government funding.

But, by August 28, a list of 162 projects had been announced – meaning that at least 44 projects were awaiting government approval when Shaw pushed the Green School.

On Tuesday, before it was revealed Shaw had refused to sign-off on the projects, he apologised for what he called an “error of judgement”.

7.55am: Former deputy PM Paula Bennett moves to real estate gig

Departing National MP and former deputy prime minister Paula Bennett has revealed her new career move: real estate. Bennett told the Herald she’s joining the senior management team at Bayleys Real Estate in the commercial property division two days after the general election next month.

She was recommended by her old boss John Key. Bennett said he praised her talents at a function with Bayleys’ managing director Mike Bayley.

“I wasn’t there. They were talking about me, not with me. There you go, sometimes when you’re talked about it’s not all bad,” she said.

7.45am: Fire crews battle massive Māngere blaze

Up to 70 firefighters are battling a massive fire in a car yard near Auckland Airport this morning. The Herald’s reporting that thick, black smoke is covering parts of the motorway.

Firefighters had to cut a wire security fence and shift up to 20 rental vans parked at the front to reach the fire burning in the back of the building.

It’s not believed anyone was at the site when the fire broke out and there are no reports of injuries.

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Alert level one could still be a long way away, according to the country’s top health official. Dr Ashley Bloomfield fronted the health select committee yesterday, and as One News reports, the ministry hasn’t yet started working on advice for taking the country down in alert levels. Rather, the priority is currently to get Auckland out of what is being termed ‘level 2.5’ – the sort of strict form of level two which is currently in place, which among other things has much lower caps on gathering numbers.

There’s no set date on either a move down from 2.5, or a wider move to level one at this stage. Nor – as we saw in the polling covered in yesterday’s Bulletin – is there really any public appetite to rush the move. As health minister Chris Hipkins told Newshub, it is possible that even without finding the source of the outbreak, the move could take place. A cabinet meeting will take place on Friday to discuss it, and as the NZ Herald’s Jason Walls reports, it could end up being a particularly tense meeting, with NZ First leader Winston Peters yesterday openly criticising Labour party ministers.

What about the rest of the country? As our live updates reported yesterday, there were some suggestions that the South Island be allowed to shift down, given there has been no community transmission in months. But with Aucklanders now allowed to travel, and no plans to change that, the risks are there that Covid might still spread. The ODT reports some experts have suggested a travel ban would be wise, particularly in the context of a conference in Queenstown that Aucklanders went to. In the meantime, Hipkins is confining his request to saying that Aucklanders should “take their alert level with them”, and continue to avoid large gatherings.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There are another five cases of Covid-19 today, with three in the community and linked to the Mount Roskill sub-cluster.

The government hasn’t yet started planning for a return to alert level one, Ashley Bloomfield told parliament’s health committee. Cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss the current levels.

Judith Collins called for Greens co-leader James Shaw to resign over the Green School funding saga.

Peter Ellis’ appeal against child sex offences will be allowed to continue, despite his death in September last year.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters returned to the campaign trail, and criticised the government’s Covid-19 response.

Labour MP Willie Jackson demand the opposition “apologise” to south and west Auckland, the areas worst impacted by the current Covid-19 outbreak.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates.




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