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SocietyJanuary 16, 2024

Switched off for the summer break? Here are 10 local stories you might have missed


If you’re just tuning back into the news cycle after a few weeks of rest and relaxation, let’s get you up to speed on the biggest New Zealand headlines.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman was accused of shoplifting

Possibly the only story that made me briefly consider tuning back into the news cycle while on holiday, the accusations against the sitting Green MP first made headlines last week – and it remains a major developing story. In short, Golriz Ghahraman was accused of shoplifting from upmarket Ponsonby boutique Scotties in late December.

After first being reported last week, the story later evolved to reveal that this had allegedly happened twice, with the value of the stolen goods said to be about $15,000. Ghahraman has not spoken about the allegations, which are being investigated by police, but has since returned to New Zealand after a pre-planned overseas trip. The Green Party revealed it was aware of the claims since before the new year, but did not make any public comments until media reports first emerged.

a woman wearing a striped top with long hair medium brown skin and holding a microphone
Golriz Ghahraman (Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

An MP’s maiden speech went global

New Zealand’s youngest MP has already had her fair share of attention since being elected last October. But Hana Rawhiti-Maipi Clarke’s fame has now gone global, with her maiden speech being picked up by numerous news outlets around the world. Intriguingly, many of the links I saw online were from Indian sources, but Maipi-Clarke’s powerful speech, in which she took aim at the new government for “attacking” her “whole world”, was also reported widely in Australia and the UK and racked up millions upon millions of views on TikTok.

I’ll be honest, the virality of this largely passed me by over the break – but I probably should have worked it out when I scrolled past a tweet about Maipi-Clarke from British broadcasting icon Carol Vorderman a few weeks back. Vorderman described it as the “best maiden speech” she had ever seen and said it gave her goosebumps. 

BNZ announced a leaseholding deal with an Auckland iwi

A funding collaboration between BNZ and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei will see 24 new homes constructed in Auckland for members of the hapū that meet the bank’s normal home lending criteria. Finance for housing on Māori-owned land has historically been a bit tricky, the bank noted in a press release announcing the decision. “The unique ownership structure and restrictions on land transferability often meant that it couldn’t be used as security for loans, creating a significant barrier for Māori home ownership,” BNZ said. 

Some progress was made on the long-touted Auckland waterfront stadium

Yup, we’re still talking about an Auckland waterfront stadium. But as the Herald’s Bernard Orsman reported over the break, developments for a new venue have actually progressed. A new proposal suggests a 55,000-seat waterfront stadium could be built alongside a new indoor arena and an outdoor amphitheatre for harbour sports as part of a refresh of the Wynyard Quarter precinct. It’s part of a plan to make Auckland into a “mini-Melbourne” by developing a comparable collection of inner-city sports and entertainment venues.

Don’t get your hopes up just yet, however – it’s just one of four possible proposals for entertainment venues being considered. Other options on the table include a major update to Eden Park and a stadium that would be partially submerged in the harbour.

Light rail was (finally) scrapped

The coalition government was quick to axe a number of projects implemented by the Labour government (more on that further down), but light rail was probably the biggest casualty. It’s no surprise the costly transport project was ditched, given not a single metre of rail had been built despite six years of talk about it happening. While National and its coalition partners will have to defend the decision to stop all work on light rail, it’s Labour that will be left pondering why it couldn’t deliver the project in the first place.

RIP light rail (Photo: Supplied)

Jacinda Ardern (finally) got married

After Covid hampered previous plans for the former PM to tie the knot with her partner Clarke Gayford, this weekend saw the long-awaited wedding finally take place. There was tight security at the Craggy Range winery in Hawke’s Bay, though nothing could stop the world’s media from broadcasting fuzzy images through a hedge of Ardern in her dress nor prevent invited guests from being papped leaving their accommodation.

Highlights from the Herald’s live blog included the arrival of some generators, while Newshub was potentially first to break the news that a large tent would be used as the reception venue. A side note: current Labour MP Kieran McAnulty got married on the same day, which the Daily Mail described as a “bizarre twist”.

Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford are married (Photo: Felicity Jean Photography)

Wellington faces a water crisis

The capital is facing a potential water shortage, with level two water restrictions to enter into force from tomorrow. That means limited outdoor water use (you can water your garden via hand, but not with sprinklers) but is not a full ban. However, as Stuff reported, level four restrictions could be implemented next month. That would mean no outdoor water use, very short showers and just a single washing machine load per household per week.

Meanwhile, residents in the capital have reported disruptive leaks across the city as the capital’s ageing water infrastructure continues to cause problems. Wellington Water reported it fixed 552 leaks in December, of which 42 were considered to be urgent and another 44 high priority.

New year, new (year’s) honours 

The annual list of honours saw two new dames and three sirs, including Pania Tyson-Nathan for services to Māori and business and, somewhat controversially, Trevor Mallard for services as a member of parliament and as speaker of the house of representatives. The full list can be found here.

Introducing Sir Trevor Mallard (Image: Archi Banal)

An end to the ‘ute tax’

The government ended the clear car discount – or the so-called “ute tax” – on New Year’s Eve. Launched two years previously, the Labour scheme introduced fees for buyers of newly imported petrol vehicles, with the cost going towards subsidising electric or plug-in hybrid cars. It was National election policy to scrap the scheme, a move that was ridiculed by Labour and the Greens, especially when it was revealed that Christopher Luxon may have claimed the discount himself when purchasing a new Tesla (Luxon has repeatedly said this was a car for his wife).

We reached the peak of our fifth wave of Covid-19 infections

New Zealand’s fifth Covid wave started in November last year, as numbers started to tick up just in time for the busy summer break. Ministry of Health figures reported by Stuff showed that 355 people were in hospital with Covid-19 in the week ending January 7, with Covid communicator Michael Baker saying the number of daily hospital admissions ahead of Christmas was the highest they had been all year. “You’re getting up to 60 admissions a day of people who are sick enough to go to hospital,” Baker told Stuff. The number of weekly hospitalisations had dipped slightly to 324 as at midnight Sunday.

The Herald reported yesterday that new wastewater data showed Covid-19 infections had peaked this week at their highest levels since the fifth wave began. “ESR’s most recent surveillance showed a national average of 8.59 million copies of the virus detected per person, per day in wastewater at January 7 – three times the levels observed in mid-spring, and higher than the largest values reported over December,” said the Herald.

Keep going!