National MP for Rangitata Andrew Falloon (Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon)

Live updates, July 20: Falloon reportedly sent ‘indecent material’; $14bn from Covid recovery fund put in reserve

Good afternoon, and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 20. The latest on New Zealand news, politics and the Covid-19 crisis, updated throughout the day. Get in touch at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

8.10pm: The day in sum

National MP Andrew Falloon announced he would not be standing in this year’s election after reportedly sending a sexually explicit image to a young woman.

Almost three quarters of the Covid recovery fund will be put “in reserve”, the finance minister announced.

More than 700 jobs at The Warehouse are on the line.

Facebook data shows Judith Collins is the most popular National leader since 2018.

Winston Peters challenged David Seymour to a fight – and reckoned he’d win.

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

7.55pm: Falloon ‘did not meet threshold for prosecution’ – NZ Police

Updated

In response to questions around Andrew Falloon’s conduct, a police spokesperson told RNZ that it investigated the National MP after receiving a report he sent an unsolicited image but found it “did not meet the threshold for prosecution”.

The NZ Herald is now reporting that the image was sent to young woman at university, not a senior schoolgirl as initially described. They are also reporting that Falloon claimed that he was at a party several weeks ago and briefly left his phone unattended, during which time acquaintances used it to send the sexual image in question. Despite this, he still offered his resignation to National leader Judith Collins.

5.10pm: ‘Indecent material’ allegedly sent by Falloon

Speaking on RNZ’s Checkpoint, political editor Jane Patterson reports that retiring National MP Andrew Falloon (see 2.05pm) sent “indecent material to a third party that was not his wife after he’d been drinking” on at least one occasion.

National leader Judith Collins is understood to have met with Falloon at parliament this morning. After their conversation, Falloon agreed to step down at the election.

5pm: Ardern on charging fees for managed isolation

Following the post-cabinet briefing, The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti filed this report from parliament:

The warning from the prime minister was clear in late June that any New Zealander looking to jet overseas for a trip in the coming months faced the risk of hefty fees for a stay in managed isolation on their return. She wasn’t comfortable with a wider fee.

Something changed recently. Speaking with reporters today, Jacinda Ardern’s script was different. Gone was the strong suggestion that border fees would be limited to vacation seekers.

Instead, the prime minister was vague. The distinction from a few weeks ago that tens of thousands of New Zealanders caught overseas would be spared the fee was gone. Many of them have yet to return due to border closures and the lack of flights. Making matters worse, the government directed airlines in recent weeks to stop selling new tickets.

Asked about why her language had changed, she said that she’d spoken about the distinction in the past. However: “The question is whether or not regimes can be fairly designed around these different circumstances. That’s the level of detail we as a cabinet and a government need to go through. It needs to be considered. We don’t make policy on the fly because there are significant legal ramifications when we make changes like this,” said Ardern.

Compare that to what she said on June 29: “One message I’m sending clearly to New Zealanders though, for anyone considering a non-essential trip, we will be looking at whether or not you end up being charged on your return, because you have choices.”

Cabinet looked over the options today and will need to decide by next week on what to do. There’s still a possibility that the border fees will be limited to a few arrivals, but that seems increasingly unlikely.

The prime minister said today there shouldn’t be a rush for people to come home before fees come down at the border. What she didn’t say is that for many New Zealanders stuck overseas it might already be too late to avoid a border bill.

4.25pm: Ardern questioned over Andrew Falloon resignation

Jacinda Ardern has been asked about the Andrew Falloon resignation, and the news that the news of the “incident” arrived via her office. “I was advised of the general nature of the correspondence,” said Ardern. After permission was sought from the sender, it was forwarded to the leader of the opposition. This was “now a matter for the leader of the National Party” and her office acted appropriately, she said. She emphasised she didn’t know who sent the correspondence or the personal identity of the MPs involved.

With mental health raised as a factor in the cases of both Falloon and Todd Muller, and Clare Curran’s recent revelations, was there evidence of a toxic political culture in New Zealand, Ardern was asked. “We all have a role to play in the tone of politics in New Zealand. Particularly leaders of political parties … We do have the ability to change the nature of debate in New Zealand by the way that we act and the way we conduct ourselves.”

On Winston Peters’ pugilistic tweet directed at David Seymour earlier today (see 9.50am), Ardern said that was a matter for the parties involved. But: “If one of my MPs said that, then it’s a matter for me. I would not expect that kind of exchange from one of my MPs, and if [there was] I would deal with it. But that’s because we have set a tone in the Labour Party. It’s up to everyone else to set their own tone in this election campaign.”

4.15pm: ‘This is the fiscally prudent thing to do’ – Robertson

At the post-cabinet press conference, finance minister Grant Robertson confirmed that the remaining $14 billion in the Covid Response and Recovery fund would not be spent prior to the election. Instead, it will be set aside to “make sure it is available in the case of any future rainy day related to Covid-19”.

“This means we have money in the back pocket if we need it, including if a future lockdown is required or the outlook for the international economy continues to get worse and further stimulus is needed for the economy,” he said.

“If it’s not needed the money will not be spent. It will not be borrowed and we will have less debt to repay. This is the fiscally prudent thing to do.”

Robertson said that as “responsible finance minister”, his job was to provide support for “the here and now”, not funding for “political projects that won’t be started for a decade”.

4:00pm: Almost three quarters of Covid recovery fund will be put ‘in reserve’

Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson are about to speak to media following today’s cabinet meeting. Here’s political editor Justin Giovannetti with what’s on the agenda. 

Nearly three-quarters of the $20 billion in New Zealand’s Covid-19 recovery fund hasn’t been spent yet and the money is now being set aside by the government in case the global situation worsens. Although billions have been spent on income supports and wage subsidies, along with millions more in increased health costs, about $14 billion from the fund hasn’t been allocated yet.

In a statement following today’s cabinet meeting, the government says it has spent money where it can but never intended to shower the fund on pet projects. Finance minister Grant Robertson says the government will now “keep our powder dry” and the money will not be spent before the election, but may be spent in the future if the situation worsens or New Zealand faces a second wave of the virus.

“We are doing everything we can to keep Covid-19 at our border. Nobody wants a second wave. The responsible course of action is to make sure we are prepared for the worst,” said Robertson.“The fund is not there to be used for any old project in the never-never. It is to provide support and stimulus to recover and rebuild from Covid-19.”

2.05pm: National’s Andrew Falloon not standing in election

Updated

Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon has announced he won’t be standing for the National Party at this year’s election, after just three years in the role.

He’s released an ambiguous statement, in which he references “unresolved grief” following the suicide of a friend. He also mentions that he’s “made a number of mistakes” for which he apologises.

Falloon joins a long list of National MPs who won’t be standing in September’s election, including Amy Adams, Nikki Kaye, Paula Bennett and David Carter.

Stuff’s reporting that the party was alerted to some of Falloon’s behaviour, which was “unbecoming of an MP’’.

National leader Judith Collins said, “The National Party was advised of an issue relating to Andrew late on Friday afternoon and we have dealt with it this morning.

“Andrew is suffering from significant mental health issues and his privacy, and that of his family, must be respected.”

Newshub’s reporting that the prime minister Jacinda Ardern was first alerted to an incident involving Falloon. Her office then passed on the correspondence to the leader of the opposition, Judith Collins.

Full statement from Andrew Falloon:

“Today I spoke to National Party Leader Judith Collins to inform her I will not be contesting the upcoming election.

“As I noted in my maiden speech three years ago, when I was younger I lost three close friends to suicide. It was an extremely difficult period in my life. Unfortunately, recently, another friend took their own life, which has brought back much unresolved grief.

“I have made a number of mistakes and I apologise to those who have been affected.

“Recent events have compounded that situation and reminded me of the need to maintain my own health and wellbeing. I have again been receiving counselling.

“I want to thank Judith for her support during this time and I look forward to helping a new candidate in the Rangitata electorate in any way I can.

“I apologise for this disruption to my colleagues and to those I serve in Mid and South Canterbury.”

2:00pm: Our Covid data, tracked

1.40pm: Peters ordered to pay nearly $320,000 after failed court action

The deputy prime minister’s been ordered by the High Court to pay nearly $320,000 in costs, after his failed court action over details of his superannuation payments being leaked.

Winston Peters was in court last November, seeking $1.8 million in damages from former government ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley, two public sector bosses, and a government department. Following the hearing, it was ruled Peters’ privacy was deliberately breached – but that Peters was unable to establish who was responsible for the leak.

Today, the Herald’s reporting Peters will have to pay Bennett and Tolley $101,897.26 – while a total of $215,921.11 is to be paid to the remaining defendants.

And it’s not over yet, with Peters planning to appeal.

1:20pm: One new case of Covid-19

Updated

There’s just one new case of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, in managed isolation. Today’s case is a man in his 40s who arrived in the country last Wednesday from Mexico, flying via Los Angeles.

He tested positive following testing on his third day and has been transferred, along with his family, to a quarantine facility in Auckland.

The number of active cases in New Zealand is now 26.

Meanwhile, a person was transferred from Auckland’s quarantine facility to Middlemore Hospital yesterday evening for an unrelated health condition. This person is in a stable condition. We’re seeking clarification as to whether they had tested positive for Covid-19.

“Members of staff treating the man were made aware that he had returned from overseas to a managed quarantine facility and appropriate protocols were followed, including the use of PPE. No members of staff are considered close contacts,” the ministry said.

“The patient was cared for in a separate room in the Emergency Department at Middlemore Hospital before being transferred to a separate room on one of the hospital wards.”

“Middlemore Hospital has considerable recent experience of treating patients with COVID-19. Members of the public can be assured that the hospital is safe for patients, visitors and staff.”

It has now been 80 days since the last case of Covid-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source.

12.25pm: Facebook data shows Judith Collins’ popularity online

It may come as no surprise, but a breakdown of data from Facebook confirms that National’s new leader is more popular than the last two. Judith Collins took over as opposition leader less than a week ago, but has had no trouble dominating the news cycle since then.

Wellington-based marketing team Aro Digital have crunched the number of positive, neutral, and negative comments from the National Party Facebook page, following each leader’s takeover.

  • Simon Bridges’ announcement post on February 27 2018 had comments with a sentiment of 26.1% negative, 33.2% neutral and 40.7% positive.

  • Todd Muller’s post on May 22 2020 had comments with a sentiment of 20.7% negative, 23.4% neutral and 55.9% positive.

  • Judith Collins’ recent announcement post on July 14 2020 has (at 5pm 16 July) a comment sentiment of 12.9% negative, 20.3% neutral and an overwhelming 65.8% positive.

12.15pm: Covid cases still surging in Australia

A New South Wales MP has told media “hundreds and hundreds” of people will have to self-isolate, following a new breakout of Covid-19. The cluster was detected at a venue in the town of Batemans Bay, on the south coast of Australia.

“This is obviously devastating news to our community and we have to make sure everybody isolates, everybody gets tested and sticks to the critical rules that are there to keep us safe,” Transport Minister Andrew Constance told Nine.

11.35am: Air New Zealand launches online credit tool

The national airline has unveiled its new online credit tool, to help customers affected by cancellations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Air New Zealand has come under fire in recent months for its policy around not issuing refunds to the thousands of customers who were unable to travel. It’s also been incredibly difficult for people to access their credit if they wanted to rebook their flights.

Consumer NZ had been fighting for all customers to be refunded over cancelled flights. Chief executive Jon Duffy said the organisation met with Air New Zealand to discuss the airline only providing credits for flights cancelled due to Covid-19.

Duffy said Air New Zealand maintained its position, stating it would only give refunds if required to by law.

“There are many loyal Air New Zealand customers who will be extremely disappointed by the response. The only way to fix the problem is to change the law so consumers aren’t left in this situation again,” he said.

10.15am: Up to 750 jobs to go at The Warehouse

Up to 750 jobs are on the line at The Warehouse, following a proposed restructure revealed to staff this morning. All stores opened an hour late this morning as workers were told of the news. Newshub’s reporting The Warehouse chief executive Pejman Okhovat said the company had asked stores to review proposed “revised rosters”.

“While there may be a reduction in roles, there will not be any reduction in team member pay, with all The Warehouse team members soon to receive another wage increase under the collective agreement signed last year to move team members to the living wage.”

The Herald is claiming it could be 900 jobs, according to a report from First Union. The union’s claiming the company told those gathered it planned to eliminate 782 roles, and an additional 137 jobs in store closures.

The Warehouse Group had earlier revealed plans to close several stores around the country: The Warehouse in Whangaparaoa, Johnsonville and Dunedin central, and Warehouse Stationery Te Awamutu. The Noel Leeming Clearance Centre in Henderson and the Noel Leeming store in Tokoroa.

9.50am: Seymour vs Peters?

Act and New Zealand First are both minor political parties fighting for political oxygen in an election year dominated by Labour and National. Now, the thought of a literal round of fisticuffs between David Seymour and Winston Peters has gained some credibility.

On Twitter, Seymour criticised Peters for his election promise to slash immigration. “Peters himself will soon be retired and will require a care worker to help him get dressed and go for a walk. He’ll discover that such facilities can’t function without migrant workers,” Seymour wrote.

But Peters wasn’t having it: “I’ve spent much of my career respecting and working for retirees. You seem to want to euthanise them. As for your nasty comments about my physical – I reckon you’d last ten seconds in the ring with me.”

“There’d be three hits – you hitting me, me hitting you, and the ambulance hitting 100. Thank your lucky stars I’m not into physical violence.”

Where do I get my tickets?

9:00am: Charging returnees a ‘complex’ issue – Woods

The National Party has this weekend signalled it would start to charge New Zealanders returning home for mandatory isolation – if elected into office this September. Deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said adults would be charged $3000 to help cover the costs of being put up in a hotel. Now, Labour has said it is considering a similar scheme. Cabinet will be discussing the matter today, but a final decision on any payment is unlikely.

The minister responsible for managed isolation and quarantine, Megan Woods told RNZ this morning, “There won’t be a final decision today but we’ve been signalling for many, many weeks now that charging for managed isolation and quarantine is something that we need to consider.”

“It’s very complex. There’s a range of legal equity implementation issues that we’ve had to work our way through.”

7.45am: Winston Peters launches 2020 election campaign

If recent polling’s to be believed, it’s going to be a tough battle ahead for New Zealand First if the party wants to return to parliament after September’s election. The party launched its campaign yesterday, with leader Winston Peters front and centre. Hayden Donnell went along for a close encounter with the New Zealand First faithful.

Meanwhile, Peters told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking this morning that immigration will be a bottom line for its support in any government formed after the election. The party wants to restrict immigration to a net growth of 15,000 people a year. Peters was also critical of his government partners Labour and the Greens. At the campaign launch, he said his party had opposed their “woke pixie dust.” Peters told Hosking that, while in government, his party had achieved everything they promised before the last election.

During an extraordinary interview on RNZ’s Morning Report, Peters was pushed on why New Zealand First had hired two political operatives who were involved in the Brexit campaign. Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore have been dubbed the “bad boys of Brexit” for their work on the campaign. Peters said National and Labour have also used international experts in their campaigns. “Why did the National party need Crosby Textor? Did I see you raising that at the last election. The Labour Party has got the international socialist [and] Labour arm helping them.”

Peters was questioned on the fact that the Brexit campaign was infamous for its misinformation, which could make some people concerned about the type of campaign New Zealand First planned to run. Peters said that line of questioning was “defamatory.”

“We have people helping us from all around the world, all legally, all above board. I just wish you’d focus on the others such as the National Party which has been financed by international governments and you’re not even asking questions.”

Peters said it was the New Zealand First Party paying for the services of Banks and Wigmore, not the elusive New Zealand First Foundation. He clarified that the Foundation, which is the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation, is not operating at the moment.

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The days of free hotel stays for all returning New Zealanders appear to be drawing to a close. With taxpayers having already stumped up more than $81 million in managed isolation and quarantine costs, the government is under increasing pressure to introduce some form of user-pays.

Yesterday National announced it planned to charge returnees $3,000 each, with children under three years exempt; those over three would incur a charge of $500. Deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said it all comes down to fairness. “Many Kiwis have only one or two overseas holidays in their lives. National won’t expect taxpayers to pay for other Kiwis returning from high-paying careers or expensive holidays in Europe.”

It’s very clear by now that the government has something similar in mind. Instead of the usual sniping at National’s policy, minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine Megan Woods simply said it was “encouraging” to see the opposition support “something the government’s been talking about for a number of weeks now”. The prime minister has previously said she wants to charge only those who chose to leave the country after lockdown, and Woods said yesterday the charges should be “fair and equitable”. But last night, Stuff’s Henry Cooke reported a cabinet paper was circulating proposing the exact same charge as National’s policy – $3k. Cabinet is set to discuss it this afternoon, though it’s not clear if an announcement will be made today. Either way, by getting out in front of the government, National is now in a position to claim the moral high ground on the issue.

So does that mean a “fees for returnees” policy will sail through parliament? Not quite, according to Victoria University of Wellington law lecturer Dean Knight. He told Stuff a payment scheme would likely require a new law, carefully calibrated to avoid breaching citizens’ legal rights. While the Bill of Rights protects the right of return to the country, it also allows the government to introduce “reasonable and proportionate constraints” on that right.

Another risk factor is the reaction of those forced to pay up, argued Knight’s Victoria University law colleague Eddie Clark in a tweet thread. “It feels inevitable that a charging regime will increase non-compliance with managed isolation. If people feel fine, are being charged an arm and a leg, and resent their detention, you think that encourages compliance? Yes the current regime is expensive. But with a very few exceptions, it seems to be working.”

7.30am: Yesterday’s top stories

There were three new cases of Covid-19, two men in their 30s and one woman in her 70s. All were detected in managed isolation.

All returning adult New Zealanders would be charged $3000 to cover a significant portion of the cost of their quarantine stay under National policy announced yesterday. The government has indicated it too is looking at introducing fees.

At the NZ First Party Conference, Winston Peters pledged an annual cap of 15,000 immigrants and said the immigration portfolio going to NZ First would be a “bottom line” for any post-election deals.

Defending National’s failure to mention climate change in its infrastructure plan, Judith Collins said the nuclear-free issue of this generation is not climate change, but “the economy”

Read yesterday’s live updates here.




The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.