Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Live updates, June 15: Fast-track building projects announced; Ayesha Verrall wins high position on Labour list

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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5.30pm: The day in review

The government announced 11 infrastructure projects to be fast-tracked under the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track) Bill.

Labour announced its party list for the 2020 election, with contact tracing expert Dr Ayesha Verrall at number 18.

New Zealand marked a week without any active cases of Covid-19, and 24 days since the last recorded case.

E tū union called on the government to “stop dragging [its] feet” on a 2017 promise to pay contracted workers a living wage.

TVNZ announced it was expecting to make up to 90 job cuts due to a 30% downturn in revenue as a result of by Covid-19.

The Commerce Commission said it had received more than 60 complaints about products falsely claiming to cure or prevent Covid-19 since New Zealand entered lockdown in March.

4.20pm: PM won’t be drawn on Verrall’s potential as health minister, defends David Clark

At this afternoon’s post-cabinet press conference at which the 11 fast-track infrastructure projects were revealed, the prime minister was asked about Ayesha Verrall and her potential appointment as health minister (see 12.05pm). Jacinda Ardern said she had “absolutely no comment on what [any] future cabinet may look like”. She noted, however, the “confidence that [Verrall] has built among the wide range of people who made the decision on the list. She is an extremely competent candidate”.

Questioned about the timing of Verrall’s nomination for the party list, following which she had spoken in public on contact tracing and the government’s action, Ardern said: “I think you’ll find … Dr Verrall has acted with the utmost integrity.” She had acted professionally and objectively, said Ardern.

Asked whether current health minister David Clark would retain his role in a new Labour government, Ardern said, “We have just come through a one-in-100-year global pandemic in which the minister of health has been part of the leadership team that has led thus far to New Zealand being in an incredible position, and I do credit him with the role he has played in that.”

Referring to the breach of alert level four rules that saw him demoted, Ardern said, “So the question you’re asking me is whether or not his entire career should be determined by one mistake, as opposed to the many significant decisions he has made on behalf of New Zealand. My view is a little more emphasis on the outcome we have now experienced would be in order.”

On criticisms around proposals to create a single source of Māori news – see our story here – Ardern said, “Unfortunately that has been misinterpreted. Certainly it is not our intention to lose that range of voices when it comes to current affairs and new within Māori media.”

4.05pm: 11 fast-track projects revealed

The government has just announced 11 infrastructure projects to be fast-tracked under the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track) Bill. The legislation, to be introduced this week, will delegate the consenting authorities of the Resource Management Act for select projects to “expert consenting panels”.

1) Kaikohe water storage facility.

2) Unitec: high density housing on the Unitec site in Auckland.

3) Te Pā Tāhuna: residential units and retail space on an old school site in Queenstown.

4) Papakāinga Network Development – the delivery of papakāinga across six sites; in Kaitāia, Pt Chevalier, Raglan, Waitara, Chatham Islands and Christchurch. Up to 120 dwellings.

5) Britomart East Upgrade – upgrades to Britomart station to ensure the City Rail Link project can operate at full capacity.

6) Papakura to Pukekohe rail electrification.

7) Wellington Metro Upgrade programme – range of smaller projects aimed at increasing the passenger and freight capacity of trains between Masterton, Levin and Wellington.

8) Picton Ferry Dock and Terminal upgrade.

9) Northern Pathway – a cycleway and walkway between Westhaven and Akoranga in Auckland.

10) Papakura to Drury SH1 roading upgrade.

11) Te Ara Tūpuna – a cycleway and walkway between Petone and Ngāuranga in Wellington.

A number of concerns have been raised about the RMA fast-track measures, including the risk that environmental priorities might be bulldozed with the removal of the right of appeal to the highest New Zealand court, the Supreme Court.

Announcing the lucky 11, David Parker said: “Extraordinary times sometimes require extraordinary measures. However, positive environmental outcomes will not be sacrificed at the expense of speed. While these projects are being advanced in time, environmental safeguards remain. Part 2 of the Resource Management Act including the recognition of matters of national importance, will continue to apply. Furthermore, the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and Treaty Settlement obligations apply to all projects under this bill.”

At this afternoon’s post-cabinet press conference at which the announcement was made, Parker noted that “we are truncating rights of public participation and that shouldn’t last forever”, so the legislation would automatically repeal in two years. It did not form part of a wider review of the RMA.

He said there would be the opportunity for more projects beyond the above 11 to be fast-tracked. “We’re looking forward to a number of projects coming forward from a range of people and organisations, including district and regional councils, iwi authorities, NGOs and the private sector,” said Parker.

“Applications will be required to supply information to me as minister as to how it meets the criteria specified in the bill. The projects selected will be passed to the panel for consideration and that process will be given effect by an order in council.”

3.05pm: Lord of the Rings to resume filming in New Zealand

Amazon is set to resume shooting on Lord of the Rings in West Auckland, the NZ Herald reports. The $1 billion series – reportedly the most expensive ever made – is on track to resume pre-production next month, with filming to start up again in September.

The show was initially set to stream early next year on Amazon Prime Video, but shooting was halted during the lockdown, with hundreds of cast members and crew staying in Auckland after the hiatus was called on March 15.

It will join a number of high-profile productions resuming in New Zealand, including Avatar 2 in Wellington Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog in Queenstown. This follows the publication of new immigration rules published on June 8 (then backdated to June 2) which allows people working on a project of ‘significant economic value’ to enter New Zealand if they follow self-quarantine guidelines.

2.15pm: Commerce Commission receives complaints over Covid-19 products

The Commerce Commission says it has received 67 complaints over products falsely advertised as protecting against Covid-19 since the country went into lockdown in March. Commission chairperson Anna Rawlings told RNZ the products ranged from ozone therapy as a disinfectant for living areas, to chlorine dioxide-coated lanyards as a form of protection against the virus.

Last month a New Zealand based website promoted bleach as a Covid-19 cure. The website has since shut down, RNZ reports.

“Nobody should be claiming something can provide a complete protection or a complete cure to Covid itself,” Rawlings said. She said the Commerce Commission was working through the nature of the complaints, and that in most cases traders had removed misleading or unproven claims from their advertising.

Meanwhile, one high-profile proponent of unproven cures, Australian celebrity chef ‘Paleo’ Pete Evans, has caused controversy with an interview broadcast on TVNZ’s current affairs programme Sunday last night. In the interview, recorded for Australia’s 60 Minutes, Evans appeared to backtrack slightly on social media posts expressing skepticism as to whether or not Covid-19 really existed. “From all accounts, it seems to be that yes, it exists … at this point in time,” he conceded.

On social media, some viewers criticised TVNZ for giving Evans a platform for what they saw as unfounded, conspiratorial and potentially dangerous views. Evans’ opinions have long been a target of scorn from the scientific community, as this 2017 piece from Siouxsie Wiles shows.

1.50pm: Petition launched urging UK to declare war against NZ

Jacinda Ardern was once branded “the anti-Trump” (by leading political periodical Vogue) and centre-left people around the Anglosphere routinely say “why can’t we have her”, and so on.

An imaginative version of that appeal comes in the form of a petition to the British government, posted on Change.org, urging the nation’s leaders to “Declare war on New Zealand and immediately surrender”. It explains: “The British government has shown itself to be completely incapable of controlling the Covid 19 virus outbreak in the UK and has the highest death rate per head of population in the world. The New Zealand government has on the other hand carefully controlled the outbreak, presumably based on the same science as the British government and is now ‘Covid Free’.”

It continues: “Under international law if you defeat a country in a war you become the de facto government of that country until new arrangements are made. Therefore if the UK declares war on New Zealand and then immediately surrenders Jacinda Ardern and her government will have to take over running the UK and will do a much better job that the present bunch of clowns. I am sure they will treat us well in defeat and sort out a few other things while they are at it.”

The considered opinion of The Spinoff is that such a course of events is unlikely for a range of reasons, including that the petition has so far attracted only 195 signatures.

1.10pm: No new cases for 24th day

It’s been one week since New Zealand had an active case of Covid-19, and 24 days since the country’s last case was reported, the Ministry of Health has announced.

Yesterday laboratories completed 824 tests, bringing the total completed to date to 311,121.

The NZ Covid Tracer app has now recorded 557,000 registrations, an increase of 3,000 since this time yesterday.

The ministry also announced that the Marist College in Auckland is now closed. A cluster is considered to be closed when there have been no new cases for two incubation periods (i.e. 28 days) from the date when all cases have completed isolation.

There are now just five significant clusters still open.

12.05pm: Labour announces list, with Ayesha Verrall at No 18

The Labour Party has announced its list for the September general election and the big news is the appearance of one of the medical stars of the Covid-19 response, Ayesha Verrall. At 18th on the list she is near certain to be in parliament, and is a decent contender even to become health minister. An expert in infectious diseases, Verrall was early to raise the alarm around the contact tracing preparedness of New Zealand’s health system, and wrote a report for the Ministry of Health enumerating the shortcomings.

Others new talent with a good shot at becoming MPs include Camilla Belich, Ibrahim Omer and Vanushi Walters. Phil Twyford has had a bumpy ride over the last three years, but he rises to fourth. The current speaker, Trevor Mallard, leaps 22 places to 11th, but his placement last time round was designed as a conditional retirement: only if Labour were to achieve an unlikely surge would he make it in, and take the speaker’s chair.

Verrall is a senior lecturer at the University of Otago, Wellington, and since 2019 has been a member of the Capital and Coast District Health Board. She was president of the Otago University Students’ Association in 2001.

“On April 10, she had a day to audit New Zealand’s contact tracing system and recommend improvements,” wrote Nikki MacDonald in a Stuff profile last month. “On Easter Saturday, she emailed her report, which found problems with timeliness, incorrect contact details and staff numbers. The system could trace just 185 cases a day.

“As Verrall put it succinctly on Twitter: ‘Our contact tracing capacity is a fire extinguisher, we need a fire engine.’ Then she went back to parenting her six-year-old daughter Laila, whose care she had guiltily abandoned to her partner Alice for four days.

“This week, the Health Ministry accepted her recommendations and promised another $55 million and 300 staff, and her face and voice beamed around the nation as she did 10 media interviews in two days.”

Verrall told reporters this afternoon that she had put her name forward to join the list on the 5th of May, the day before nominations closed.

“It was a scramble to put my nomination in in the week before,” she said. “I was very busy in April.”

Labour’s new top 40 looks like this:

 

  1. Jacinda Ardern
  2. Kelvin Davis
  3. Grant Robertson
  4. Phil Twyford
  5. Megan Woods
  6. Chris Hipkins
  7. Andrew Little
  8. Carmel Sepuloni
  9. David Parker
  10. Nanaia Mahuta
  11. Trevor Mallard
  12. Stuart Nash
  13. Iain Lees-Galloway
  14. Jenny Salesa
  15. Damien O’Connor
  16. Kris Faafoi
  17. David Clark
  18. Ayesha Verrall
  19. Peeni Henare
  20. Willie Jackson
  21. Aupito William Sio
  22. Poto Williams
  23. Vanushi Walters
  24. Michael Wood
  25. Adrian Rurawhe
  26. Raymond Huo
  27. Kiri Allan
  28. Kieran McAnulty
  29. Louisa Wall
  30. Meka Whaitiri
  31. Rino Tirikatene
  32. Camilla Belich
  33. Priyanca Radhakrishnan
  34. Jan Tinetti
  35. Deborah Russell
  36. Marja Lubeck
  37. Angie Warren-Clark
  38. Willow-Jean Prime
  39. Tamati Coffey
  40. Naisi Chen

Read more about the winners and losers of Labour’s 2020 election list on The Spinoff

11.15am: Border figures hit 50 year low under lockdown

The number of people crossing New Zealand’s border in April fell to levels not seen since the 1960s, new data from Stats NZ shows. There were a combined 38,200 arrivals and departures in April 2020, compared with nearly 1.2 million in the same month last year. The total number of arrivals in April 2020 was 6,300, down 550,700 compared with April 2019; the total number of departures in April was 32,000, down 588,900.

New Zealand’s Covid-19 border restrictions came into place just before midnight on the 19th of March.

9.45am: TVNZ preparing for job cuts

National broadcaster TVNZ is expecting to cut between 70 and 90 jobs as it reckons with a downturn in revenue as a result of Covid-19. In a statement, chief executive Kevin Kenrick said revenue had dropped 30 percent during lockdown and he expected it would take another 18 months for it to recover. “TVNZ has already made substantial savings in areas of discretionary spending, executive remuneration, capital investment projects, and deferred content productions,” he said. “These actions have enabled TVNZ to offset revenue losses for this quarter, and we now need to resize our business to safeguard the future of TVNZ.”

8.50am: Essential workers call on government to honour living wage promise

Cleaners and security guards want the government to honour a promise made in 2017 and pay them a living wage. Auckland cleaner Rose Kavapalu told TVNZ 1’s Breakfast this morning that she works 65 hours a week at two jobs and still struggles to make ends meet for her family. One of those jobs is a government contracted cleaning position at Ōtāhuhu Police Station, where she’s paid the minimum wage of $18.90 an hour, despite having worked there for 15 years. 

E tū organiser Fala Haulangi called on the government to “please walk the talk and stop dragging your feet,” and pay essential workers like Kavapalu a living wage. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who publicly praised Kavapalu as an unsung hero of the pandemic during lockdown, told Breakfast the government was working on lifting wages, but were playing “a lot of catch up” due to underfunding from the previous government.

7.50am: Health minister’s job safe despite lockdown breaches

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern is standing by her decision not to sack health minister David Clark for flouting the rules of alert level four, even now that the country is out of lockdown. At the time, the prime minister said ordinarily the minister would have been sacked for his breaches, which included driving to a beach and going mountain biking, but that the middle of a pandemic was not the appropriate time for a change of health minister. On Newstalk ZB this morning Ardern said she still “deems it necessary” for Clark to be in the role. “I stand by the decision I made at that time,” she told host Mike Hosking. “We have had a very successful response [to Covid-19] and David Clark has been part of leading that.”

7.45am: Councils and KiwiRail get $60m to create jobs

The government has announced a $60 million injection from the Provincial Growth Fund to help councils and KiwiRail create employment for local workers. “This is made up of $27.2m for local roading projects, $26m for rail projects and nearly $6.8m for the Ministry of Social Development to support workers into training to take up these jobs,” said minister of regional economic development Shane Jones. “This means at least 800 New Zealanders most in need of employment due to the economic effects of COVID-19 can be employed into work in their own communities.”

7.35am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

The opposition leader gets precious few chances to try and define themselves in the public eye, and Todd Muller has had a bad run here so far. After being in the job just a few weeks following the coup, he has already had his share of blunders and controversies. At a major policy and vision speech in his home town of Te Puna over the weekend, Muller sought to put that right.

The pitch was very much one aimed at the middle of the electorate. Among the commitments, the NZ Herald reports he promised to never either raise taxes or cut benefits if elected, and signalled continued investment in social services and the welfare safety net. It’s not exactly stuff that will set the world on fire, and is arguably pretty indistinguishable from the sitting government, but it’s good to have on the record all the same. This quote-heavy Newshub piece picks up the theme, with Muller criticising the approach of previous governments in pushing through rapid economic reforms, or failing to address deep-seated societal problems. That included the Key/English government, which Muller was part of. The full text of the speech can be read here.

After the setup, Muller got to his main point – he argued that National will be much better at managing the recovery than the incumbent government. In the pitch, the reason for that was not so much ideological and being based on competency – Muller said that the government had a poor record of delivering on big projects. Of course, it’s debatable whether National really have been the party of better economic management in recent years, and voters will have their own memories there. Strong GDP growth under the last government was significantly driven by high migration levels, with the gains from that not necessarily being shared by the population at large. That’s obviously not a plan that’ll work right now, and we’re still yet to see anything like a full economic plan from National for this moment.

There was also something of an olive branch to Māori. Muller was clear that he saw the Treaty of Waitangi as the nation’s founding document, discussed the connections between tino rangatiratanga and his party’s view of the world, and talked up the work of Whānau Ora by the last government. In this area, the speech was in sharp contrast to previous efforts by National leaders to define themselves, such as Don Brash’s infamous Orewa speech in 2004. It may not necessarily matter though, as many of Muller’s early controversies have been pretty tone-deaf in this area, most notably the selection of an all-Pākehā caucus top-10. On Friday, the Māori Party launched a furious and extraordinary attack on National, with co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer describing Muller as “showing himself as a racist” after an intervention from Muller in a dispute around Mōtītī Island near Tauranga, and ruling out working with the party after the election, reports One News.

So Muller is going one way politically, but much of his party may be heading in a different direction. National has always been a coalition contained within a single party, but as Politik’s Richard Harman reports, the differences are bubbling up through the cracks right now. The centrist speech from Muller was contrasted with a candidate selection in Takanini, in which sitting MP Agnes Loheni was passed over in favour of a candidate who reportedly is more connected to the right wing of the party. It also comes after one of his MPs – Helensville’s Chris Penk – released an entire book which has widely been interpreted as a defence of former leader Simon Bridges’ approach to the Covid crisis, and includes a line about “political opportunists” – which Harman interpreted as being a “thinly veiled attack on Muller and his supporters”.

Further Black Lives Matter protests took place over the weekend in several New Zealand cities. Again, they drew thousands, with both Aotea Square in Auckland and Civic Square in Wellington full up, as these photos on Radio NZ show. The Wellington group marched to parliament, and the Auckland group took a knee outside the US Consulate in Auckland, in a gesture that will be noticed around the world – for example, major network France 24 carried an AFP wire report on that demonstration.

The protests come at a time of increasing heat around colonial monuments, with many of the same issues being discussed. There has also been quite a strong backlash to questions of monuments being altered or removed – for example Winston Peters took aim at the “woke generation” who wanted such questions to be asked, reports The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti.

Meanwhile, for the new police commissioner Andrew Coster, one of his biggest responsibilities will be to ensure Māori aren’t discriminated against. He sat down with The Hui to discuss whether the stark statistics around how policing is carried out against Māori was a question of unconscious bias or racism. Coster argued the former, saying there was no “intentionality” in how police approached that.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

  • Thousands turned out for Black Lives Matter marches in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. RNZ has a roundup here.
  • 43,000 people packed undistantly in to Eden Park to watch the Blues beat the Hurricanes 30-20.
  • There were zero new Covid-19 cases for the 23rd day in a row.
  • Todd Muller delivered a stall-setting speech at his local rugby club in Te Puna. The speech, which you can read here, used the word “love” 17 times.

Read the weekend’s live updates here




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