Live updates, November 10: Shane Reti elected National’s deputy; one new Covid-19 case

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for November 10, covering all the latest New Zealand news, updated throughout the day. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.30pm: The day in sum

There was one new case of Covid-19 in managed isolation.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced a breakthrough on a Covid-19 vaccine, with early trials suggesting it protects 90% of patients from contracting the virus.

The National caucus unanimously confirmed Judith Collins as leader and elected Shane Reti as deputy.

A massive voter fraud in favour of the kiwi was uncovered in the Bird of the Year competition.

A treasury update put the deficit at $6.8 billion and crown debt topping $94 billion – much better numbers than forecasted during the height of the Covid crisis.

3.05pm: National Party pollster goes viral after tweet about ‘dream’ Biden cabinet

This morning I spoke to Curia Market Research pollster David Farrar after a tweet of his went international overnight.

The tweet, a speculative list of who could be in Joe Biden’s cabinet, caught the attention of Hollywood actress Patricia Arquette, US politicians Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and has now become a global meme with people listing off their own “dream” cabinets. Newsweek.com have even picked it up, running through a list of the best cabinet line-ups the internet has to offer.

After speaking to Farrar, I wrote a piece about the viral tweet and the reaction to it which you can read on The Spinoff here.

Here’s an extract:

Why Mitt Romney for secretary of state? “Trump interviewed him and didn’t pick him, [and] he’s the one guy who voted honourably to convict Trump. But also, Russia would hate it. If you remember the Romney versus Obama debates, Romney said Russia is our number one geopolitical foe,” says Farrar.

Geoffrey Berman, Farrar’s pick for attorney general, was pushed out by Trump following an investigation into his attorney Rudy Giuliani – the man now most famous for a compromising scene in Borat 2 and for hosting a press conference in a parking lot.

“If you want someone who is actually going to hold Trump accountable for his crimes, who better than the guy who was so honourable that he actually refused to resign or drop investigations as a Republican-appointed US attorney, appointed by Trump,” Farrar argues.

Paul Ryan is another one who has “really set them off” on Twitter. Farrar’s put the former speaker of the US House of Representatives into the trade slot. “Trump was anti-trade, Biden and Obama negotiated the TPP. Ryan is about the only Republican I can think of who has intensive principles in terms of the free market,” says Farrar.

2.35pm: Some stability for National as caucus unanimously backs Judith Collins and Shane Reti

Political editor Justin Giovannetti writes:

Judith Collins isn’t going anywhere, the leader of the National Party made clear today at parliament. After being unanimously reconfirmed as leader by the opposition’s now slimmed down caucus of 33, Collins was fired up again today. “I’m not prepared to run the other way,” she said of her leadership of the party.

She’s here to win in 2023. Who knows if she’ll last that long, but Collins won’t go without a fight.

She’ll announce the party’s portfolios tomorrow alongside her new deputy, Dr. Shane Reti. They’ll be facing a Labour Party that has secured the largest share of the vote in a half-century.“Caucus has seen me as a safe pair of hands, as a trusted pair of hands and as a hard-working pair of hands,” said Reti.

A no-nonsense deputy, Reti is a physician who has brought back focus to the party’s health response in recent months. He’s a details man and will keep the opposition’s health job. He summed up his style as deputy today simply: “Say less and do more”.

Reti’s office walls are covered by white boards where he keeps ideas and works through problems. While the country’s border response to Covid-19 has dominated his walls in recent months, Reti will now turn his markers to the opposition’s larger problems as well.

National, with its smallest caucus in nearly two decades, has been shedding MPs and staff in recent weeks. The party will need to rebuild.

1.00pm: One new case of Covid-19 in managed isolation

There is one new case of Covid-19 today, in managed isolation. There are no new community cases.

The Ministry of Health said today’s new case arrived from India via Singapore on October 31. They were transferred from managed isolation at the Grand Mercure to the Auckland quarantine facility on November 5 after a family member tested positive for Covid-19.

There are currently 52 active cases in New Zealand, with the total number of confirmed cases rising to 1,631.

Yesterday, 2,960 tests for Covid-19 were completed, bringing our total number of tests completed to date to 1,142,938.

November quarantine cluster

The “nature of the contact” between Case A and two returnees is still being investigated, the Ministry of Health said. Genome sequencing revealed a direct link between the first case of this new cluster and the two returnees in isolation. In addition, a wide review of CCTV footage is being conducted to determine the exposure event for Case A’s infection.

The remaining close contact of Case A has returned a negative test result.

Of Case B’s 55 identified close contacts, 48 have returned a negative result, and the rest are pending.

12.45pm: Shane Reti chosen as National’s deputy leader

Updated

Shane Reti has been chosen as National’s deputy leader, replacing Gerry Brownlee who decided not to put himself forward for the role again.

The party’s remaining MPs, a much smaller group than before the October election, also voted to keep Judith Collins in the top job – for now – despite the party’s devastating election result.

Brownlee decided to step down as deputy and focus on the Christchurch area after losing his Ilam seat in the election. Both Collins and Reti were selected unopposed following today’s caucus. Earlier in the day, other MPs who had been tipped as possible deputies – including Michael Woodhouse and Todd McClay – ruled themselves out of contention.

“It is an enormous privilege to be reconfirmed as leader of the National Party,” Judith Collins said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to leading a strong, united and focused opposition that will deliver for all New Zealanders.”

Reti recently lost his Whangārei seat after the results of special votes but kept his spot in parliament thanks to the list. Politics is his third career, previously practicing family medicine and dermatology. He came to prominence at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic after replacing Michael Woodhouse in the role of opposition health spokesperson.

The National Party caucus also voted on two “whips”, with Matt Doocey selected as senior whip and Maureen Pugh selected as junior. Pugh recently had her position within the party saved after the special votes saw National lose two electorate MPs – Matt King and Denise Lee.

The party’s new leadership team will address media at 1.30pm.

Read The Spinoff’s feature interview with Shane Reti here

12.30pm: ‘Voter fraud’ in Bird of the Year competition

It’s the biggest political scandal since the election was stolen from Donald Trump: voter fraud has been uncovered by Forest and Bird in this year’s Bird of the Year competition.

More than 1500 fraudulent votes have been discovered for the kiwi pukupuku/little-spotted kiwi, cast from the same IP address using fake email addresses over a two hour period overnight.

(Image : Forest and Bird)

The illegitimate votes briefly pushed the bird to the top of the leaderboard, Forest and Bird said in a statement, but the votes have since been removed from the competition.

Manager for the kiwi pukupuku campaign Emma Rawson said, “voter fraud is not the kiwi way.”

The Spinoff’s interviewed some of the campaign managers for Bird of the Year here.

On The Spinoff: The quest to free Southland residents from a toxic liability

Here’s an extract from the supporting piece:

It arrived under the cover of nightfall in 2014: thousands of tonnes of hazardous chemical sludge surreptitiously trucked in and stored in the old Mataura Paper Mill. There it sat for the next five years, casting a long and menacing shadow over the small Southland town.

At first these nighttime deliveries were a mystery to local residents and authorities. But eventually they figured out the material – known as ouvea premix – had come from Tiwai Point aluminium smelter near Bluff, over 70 kilometres away.

Why it was being brought to Mataura was anyone’s guess – the town had no connection to the smelter. By the time the local council’s regulatory officials began to get involved, 10,000 one-tonne bags had already been stored in the mill.

Read more here and watch the short documentary below:

10.20am: Deficit nears $7 billion in last quarter, better than projections of worse Covid slump

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports from Wellington:

New Zealand’s finances are tumbling into a pit of red ink due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an update from the Treasury this morning, but things are looking much better than expected.

A statement covering the government’s finances for the first three months of the fiscal year, up to September 30, showed the deficit at $6.8 billion and crown debt topping $94 billion. Both figures are billions of dollars better than earlier forecasts, which had expected $8.1 billion and $97.6 billion by this point.

Debt is now 30.5% of GDP. Things have improved quickly from earlier forecasts. Revenues are higher than expected in the pre-election economic and fiscal update, which was only released in mid-September. Wages are also up. Expenses are down, largely because of less spending on the wage subsidy.

“Tax revenue was $2.1 billion above the PREFU 2020 forecast. $1.2 billion of that total came from GST showing consumers were spending, reflecting their confidence in the economy,” said finance minister Grant Robertson in a statement.

Unemployment in the September quarter hit 5.3%, which was substantially better than projections months ago that expected that figure could be in the double digits by now.

9.00am: National set to elect new deputy leader

The National Party is set to decide its new deputy leader today, following the decision of Gerry Brownlee not to contest the role.

The party is holding a caucus meeting today, where it will also farewell two departing MPs who lost their seats following the return of special votes: Matt King and Denise Lee.

It’s also expected that party members will vote on Judith Collins’ leadership but there is no sign she will be rolled.

According to a Stuff report, National’s health spokesman Shane Reti is a frontrunner for the deputy job. Michael Woodhouse – the party’s former health spokesperson who was embroiled in the Hamish Walker scandal – has also considered running for the job.

7.45am: Trump fires defence secretary, shows no signs of conceding

President Trump has continued to show no signs that he will concede the presidency, almost a week on from the US general election.

The president has today fired his secretary of defence Mark Esper, replacing him with Christopher Miller, who serves as director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Trump made the announcement via his favourite method of communication – Twitter – saying Miller’s appointment was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The PM has ruled out increasing core benefits before Christmas, disappointing anti-poverty campaigners. Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference (skip to 27 mins in the video) yesterday, Jacinda Ardern said that she had considered it, but said “this is not going to be an issue that gets resolved within one week or one month or indeed one term.” She said there had been a benefit increase earlier in the year (by $25 a week) along with a one-off doubling the winter energy payment. In general terms, Ardern suggested that low income families were on average $100 a week better off than when Labour came into office.

The context for this all is a call made yesterday morning by a range of NGOs, charities and activist groups. Stuff reported that the call was based on families being “pushed into poverty” by loss of jobs, coupled with a long period of stagnant wages and high housing costs. The impact of benefit rates on long-term beneficiaries was also made clear, with the letter saying “right now, hundreds of thousands of children are constrained by poverty, despite parents’ best efforts.” The Greens also threw their support behind the call, with co-leader Marama Davidson saying the “Christmas period should be a time of joy for families in New Zealand, not a time of exacerbated stress that it is for so many.”

From Ardern’s perspective, making such changes would be “substantial”, and “would have a knock on effect on budgets into the future.” She agreed with the premise of a question around improving the lives of beneficiaries also having positive flow-on effects on matters like improved health outcomes, but reiterated that it was a change that couldn’t be made at this time, on top of existing boosts in support. Changes were however announced to the small business loan scheme to make access to finance easier, covered in the back half of this NZ Herald story.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

Yesterday’s headlines

Four new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation were announced.

There were no new community cases, but there’s now a “November quarantine cluster” in reference to the Auckland quarantine worker who tested positive for Covid-19.

Jacinda Ardern announced government officials would be visiting the Cook Islands from November 14 with the goal of confirming a safe travel bubble.

Around 100 more rooms at managed isolation facilities will be made available ahead of Christmas Day.

Members of Trump’s inner circle have reportedly urged Trump to concede, including wife and US first lady Melania Trump, and son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner.

Read yesterday’s live updates here.




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