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 two – read The Spinoff’s giant explainer about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.
The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is funded by The Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here.
7.05pm: The day in sum
The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, announced there were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand for the fifth day in a row, and no one was in hospital with the virus either.
The PM said the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group would present a blueprint to the New Zealand and Australian governments on how a trans-Tasman bubble could operate in early June.
National MP Judith Collins sparked a new controversy when she said she was “sick of being demonised for my ethnicity”
Looser border restrictions were under the spotlight, with existing exemptions for workers on big-ticket projects and proposed exemptions for students discussed.
The Ministry of Education and NZEI Te Riu Roa announced a settlement to a pay equity claim by teacher aides dating back to 2016
A Spinoff-commissioned survey found widespread failure to comply with level two hospitality rules.
Deputy prime minister Winston Peters said in an interview on Newstalk ZB that New Zealand had been in lockdown for “far too long” and needed to be at level one now, with a trans-Tasman bubble already operating.
The Green Party said they would push for an inquiry into the student accommodation sector
An RNZ investigation revealed more spending by the New Zealand First Foundation, namely $130,000 on a company run by the personal lawyer and close friend of Winston Peters.
A survey by the Commission for Financial Capability found 34% of households were in financial difficulty and 40% at risk of tipping into hardship.
The results of a survey measuring the reputation of 54 public sector agencies suggested the Covid crisis was inspiring positive feelings about government-controlled organisations of all kinds.
The Epidemic Response Committee was wound up.
Small business minister Stuart Nash announced almost $1 billion in interest-free loans had been paid out to small and medium-sized businesses since the scheme launched on May 12.
7.00pm: Chris Hipkins announces pay equity settlement for teacher aides is imminent
The Ministry of Education and NZEI Te Riu Roa have agreed to settle a pay equity claim made in 2016, to ensure teacher aides are being paid fairly for their work.
Over 20,000 teacher aides, majority of whom are women, will benefit from the announcement made by education minister Chris Hipkins tonight, who said the settlement was “a milestone for teacher aides and a significant step towards addressing pay equity for women in the education sector.”
“Teacher aides are frontline workers who work closely with some of our most vulnerable children. They play an important role in our schools as we respond to the challenges of Covid-19 and get the country back on its feet,” Hipkins said.
The cost of the settlement will be $348m over the next five years, and will boost teacher aide pay rates in the range of $21.20 to $34.68 per hour, backdated to mid-February 2020. It comes after an 18-month investigation last year by the Ministry of Education, working alongside NZEI Te Riu Roa and the New Zealand School Trustees Association that confirmed teacher aides were paid less than men doing work of an equal value.
6.00pm: Greens want inquiry into student accommodation providers
The Green Party is attempting to launch a select committee inquiry into the student accommodation sector in the wake of Covid-19. A number of student halls of residence have been criticised for their response to the crisis, most notably Victoria University of Wellington which announced it would charge a weekly $150 “placeholder fee” for rooms students were unable to access under level three. While the university backtracked on the fees following a public backlash, the incident shows how badly the sector needs fixing, according to Greens’ tertiary education spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick.
“During the Covid-19 lockdown, thousands of students were charged by providers for accommodation that they couldn’t stay in,” she said. “Many returned home to be near families and loved ones and were stuck with paying two lots of rent. Just today, I learnt of a student who has been given 72 hours to pay debt accumulated debt over lockdown or risk their graduation.”
Swarbrick said the pandemic had exposed a “Wild West in student accommodation where the normal protections in place for people who rent simply don’t exist. This includes a lack of access to the Tenancy Tribunal.”
5.10pm: Judith Collins ‘sick of being demonised for my ethnicity’
In our last update we ventured that National was trying to move on from yesterday’s “Māori MP who wasn’t” mess. How naive we were. Around the same time, a new drama was unfolding at the Finance and Expenditure committee: Judith Collins claiming angrily that she was “utterly sick of being demonised for my ethnicity”, thereby ensuring that controversy over the lack of diversity in National’s ranks rumbled on for at least another day.
According to RNZ, Collins’ comments were in response to questions by Labour MP Tamati Coffey about the treaty partnership and government procurement.
“Oh Jesus Christ, stupid questions”, said Collins, to which committee chair Deborah Russell (Labour) responded, calling it “a white girl comment”, a reference to Collins sarcastically asking reporters yesterday if there was “something wrong” with her being white.
Shot back Collins today: “Oh no, it’s actually someone who is utterly sick of being demonised for my ethnicity thank you very much.”
3.40pm: A frame-by-frame analysis of Tova O’Brien’s Nat-shambles story; National MPs try to change the subject
National had a mare yesterday, and Newshub took no prisoners, leading the 6pm bulletin with what Hayden Donnell describes as “one of the most confronting and visceral political TV stories of our time”. Donnell watched the two-minute piece at least a hundred times and felt Tova O’Brien’s “exhilarating, absurdist, dark comedy” deserved nothing less than a frame-by-frame analysis, its dramatic arc and sheer number of memorable vignettes – from Mike McRoberts’ wry “taihoa” to Paula Bennett’s barely contained schadenfreude – propelling it straight to the hall of fame.
Meanwhile, National this afternoon attempted to move on from its very bad day the only way an opposition party really can, by taking aim at the government with a few sharply worded press releases. Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith, unwittingly at the centre of yesterday’s omnishambles when he was mistakenly deemed tangata whenua by his leaders, used the Reserve Bank’s latest financial stability report (see 11.00am update) as a chance to point out that National is the only party that can get us through the economic crisis. He criticised finance minister Grant Robertson’s admission in the house today that the government wasn’t using CBAx, a Treasury tool to assess the effectiveness of proposals. Judith Collins, meanwhile, put out a release about economic development minister Phil Twyford not being able to name any new infrastructure projects that were under way in the house today, while social development spokesperson Louise Upston sent out a statement saying the government’s new welfare scheme was ill targeted and provided the most support to those who needed it the least.
2.10pm: PM ‘very relaxed’ about Peters’ level change criticism; trans-Tasman bubble blueprint coming
In a media briefing this afternoon, the prime minister said she was relaxed about comments made by her deputy on radio this morning. Winston Peters told Newstalk ZB New Zealand should already be in level one and a trans-Tasman bubble should be operating now (see 8.25am update), revealing a disagreement within cabinet. Jacinda Ardern, however, in a media briefing this afternoon, said the comments were “a reflection of what I shared publicly yesterday – we agreed we’d share a differing view in public. I’m very relaxed about it.” On Monday Ardern said cabinet would look at whether it was safe to move to alert level one on June 22, and this afternoon she reiterated the need to remain in alert level two for four weeks.
The prime minister also announced that the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group would present a blueprint to the New Zealand and Australian governments on how a trans-Tasman bubble could operate in early June. She said she spoke with Auckland Airport today and every aspect was being considered, including pre-flight eligibility and safety on flights. Ardern added that there was enthusiasm for the proposal to proceed as soon as it was safe to do so, which wouldn’t be “too long”.
1.45pm: Today’s Covid-19 charts
1.00pm: No new cases for fifth day in a row, no Covid-19 patients in hospital
There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, the fifth consecutive day of zero cases, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced. That means the total number of confirmed cases remains at 1,154, with the total confirmed and probable numbering 1,504. One additional person has recovered, bringing the total to 1,462, and leaving just 21 active cases. There is now no one in hospital with Covid-19, after a patient was discharged from Middlemore Hospital yesterday. This is the first time in a couple of months that there have been no Covid-19 patients in hospital, said Bloomfield.
There were 4,279 Covid-19 tests yesterday, bringing the total to date to 267,425. Bloomfield said there had now been 422,000 registrations on the NZ Covid Tracer app, an increase of 17,000 since yesterday. More than 17,000 QR posters have been downloaded for use by businesses.
During the briefing, Bloomfield encouraged people to build physical activity into their days to stay healthy over winter, and said some local councils were providing more space for walking and cycling.
Asked by a reporter why New Zealand needed to stay in alert level two for so long, Bloomfield said the cumulative risk of Covid-19 grew as we increased activity, and we also needed to be certain our border procedures were safe. In response to deputy prime minister Winston Peters’ assertion that we should by now be in level one and operating a trans-Tasman bubble (see 8.25am update), Bloomfield said, “we are working hard on what alert level one will look like”, but emphasised the decision was cabinet’s. “Our job is to provide really good advice on what needs to be in place.”
Bloomfield said updated advice on mask wearing was coming in the next day or two, but the official position would remain that widespread use of masks was not required. On proposed exemptions to border restrictions for certain students (see 10.00am update), Bloomfield said discussions were happening, but emphasised that anyone coming into the country would need to comply with the managed isolation or quarantine requirements, “except in very rare circumstances”.
Now it is clear there is not unseen transmission of Covid-19 happening in the community, Bloomfield said the focus of surveillance testing would shift to the border, with a “very specific plan” before cabinet that, if accepted, would come into operation on June 8. It would focus on testing people who are working at the border, he said.
12.50pm: Bloomfield to announce case numbers – watch here
12.35pm: Ministry of Health releases new Covid-19 app for health workers
Health workers will be able to access important information such as the latest case definitions and PPE guidance via an official government app released today. The app, called Āwhina (the Māori word for help), was developed by the Ministry of Health with feedback from people working in the health sector and by learning from approaches taken in other countries, according to a media release. “Information for health workers is frequently updated based on latest research, advice, and changes to alert levels,” said Shayne Hunter, the ministry’s deputy director general of data and digital, in the release. “Āwhina will notify health workers when new or updated content is available to them.”
Health workers can filter content to find what is relevant to them and can also save content in the app to give them quick access to it again later, said the release. Hunter said that when the Covid-19 crisis eases, the app will be used to share other information with health workers “to help us act in a more cohesive, collective, and collaborative style”.
Inconsistent communication and guidance around PPE and expected practice was one of the criticisms raised by a Waitematā DHB report into how several nurses at Waitākere Hospital contracted Covid-19 after treating patients with the virus.
The new app release comes a week after the Ministry of Health unveiled NZ Covid Tracer, its official contact tracing app. Both can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store and more information about Āwhina can be found here.
12.00pm: Bloomfield fronting 1pm update
Great news for those who like to structure their day around the soothing tones of Ashley Bloomfield at 1pm – today there will be a media briefing, again at the auditorium in the National Library, just up the road from the Beehive. The director general of health will be the only one speaking, and he’ll no doubt reveal today’s new case numbers. Will it be five days in a row of zero cases? You’ll be able to watch live here to find out and, as always, we’ll be summarising the key points as they’re made.
11.45am: Peters accused of breaking rules by revealing cabinet discussions
Act leader David Seymour is accusing the deputy prime minister of breaching the ministerial book of rules by discussing significant cabinet decisions on live radio, reports the Herald. Responding to a question on Newstalk ZB this morning about whether New Zealand had been in level two for too long, Winston Peters said, “My party made it very clear we thought that. And the prime minister has actually admitted that at the cabinet meeting – she said it.”
According to the Herald, the Cabinet Manual says, “Discussion at Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings is informal and confidential. Ministers and officials should not… disclose or record the nature or content of the discussions or the views of individual ministers or officials expressed at the meeting itself.” It’s up to the prime minister whether a minister is disciplined for breaking the Cabinet Manual rules.
11.30am: How does NZ’s contact tracing app compare to others in use abroad?
NZ COVID Tracer, which has been live for less than a week, has so far been downloaded by more than 400,000 users. From a technical perspective, the app is pretty simple, and from a privacy perspective, relatively benign, particularly compared to other digital contact tracing efforts that have emerged overseas in the last few weeks. So how does it stack up to some of those from our international counterparts? Jihee Junn finds that different laws dictate the limits of government, different cultures impact our willingness to trust leaders, and different histories affect how tolerant we are of relinquishing our personal freedoms for the public good.
11.00am: NZ banks can weather the storm, but another lockdown could be catastrophic – Reserve Bank
10.00am: Call to ‘reopen Auckland’ for students; border exemptions granted for ‘essential’ workers on movies
A joint submission being prepared by Auckland’s council and education sector will call on the government to “reopen Auckland”, reports the Herald. Mayor Phil Goff says he wants Auckland to be a prototype for a quarantine process that would safely allow high-value students to come to New Zealand for their education, telling the Herald “this presents an opportunity to capitalise on our advantages and inject billions back into our economy”.
Meanwhile, yesterday it emerged that hundreds of non-New Zealanders have already been allowed through our closed borders — including key production crew on the Avatar sequels – via a border-exemption category for foreigners deemed essential to a project of “significant economic value”, reports the Herald. Economic development minister Phil Twyford was granted powers by cabinet to oversee the special applications on April 21, about a month after New Zealand closed its borders to all non-citizens and residents.
9.40am: Widespread failure to comply with level two hospitality rules – survey
Still unsure about what you need to do in restaurants and bars under alert level two? You’re not alone, according to a new survey, which shows the majority of New Zealanders and businesses are trying to abide by coronavirus restrictions and contact tracing requirements, but many are falling short. Only about half of New Zealanders report using contact tracing forms in a survey conducted by Stickybeak for The Spinoff. While many of the rest reported using mobile tracing apps, such technology often doesn’t replace the need to give each hospitality establishment you visit your details with an old-fashioned scribble.
8.25am: New NZ First Foundation spending revelations; Peters says move to level one too slow
A new instalment of RNZ’s investigation into the New Zealand First Foundation, which has bankrolled NZ First using secret donations from wealthy business people, has dropped this morning. The latest report from Guyon Espiner and Kate Newton reveals the foundation spent more than $130,000 on a company run by Brian Henry, the personal lawyer and close friend of party leader Winston Peters, with donors’ funds spent on expenses, wages and bills for people closely associated with Peters. The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is formally investigating the foundation, after the Electoral Commission said it had received donations that should have been treated as party donations. The SFO said last month it was on track to determine whether or not charges would be laid in relation to the foundation donations before the September election.
8.00am: Muller grilled on National’s day from hell
Following yesterday’s comedy of errors, new National leader Todd Muller this morning faced a grilling from Corin Dann on RNZ’s Morning Report. Asked whether diversity was considered when working out the party list ranking, Muller attempted to minimise the importance of the ranking itself, saying “rather than loading up the shadow cabinet with all the portfolios, I spread the critical and substantive portfolios across the whole team”. Dann countered that “the symbolism is important here”, saying Māori saw it as a snub. Asked whether Paul Goldsmith, who yesterday was mistakenly labelled Māori by new deputy leader Nikki Kaye, was considered as such when the new shadow cabinet was being worked out, Muller said no, that was an error, adding that Kaye “obviously wasn’t 100% clear on his whakapapa”. Dann said it appeared as if the pair was attempting to justify the lack of Māori at the top end of the list, and Muller responded that he was “very comfortable with the team we have”.
Asked whether he’d spoken to list MP Jo Hayes following her public criticism of the lack of Māori in the top 10, Muller said he’d “had a great chat with her last night and stepped through with her my approach”. Pushed on whether he’d asked Hayes not to publicly air her disapproval of party matters in future, Muller said, “she was passionate and obviously had a view, and we talked about it last night. She understands that what counts is to focus on job at hand.”
Muller was also questioned on the MAGA hat saga, with Dann asking if he was aware the hats had taken on the symbolism of some of the extreme elements of far-right politics. “It clearly means different things for different people – for me it was a souvenir.” He said he decided to leave it in a box “because I’m focusing on jobs, not hats; political souvenirs are one thing but it was clear that it was getting more attention than it deserved”.
Asked about the future of the Māori seats, Muller said his personal view was “these are issues for Māori to resolve”, adding that changing them was “not a priority for me, far from it”. “Those sorts of decisions are best worked through by Māori.” Muller said National retained the position that it would not work with NZ First but when asked if he, like former leader Simon Bridges, did not trust leader Winston Peters, he said, “I am relaxed in terms of his trustworthiness from a personal perspective but it’s irrelevant because National does not work with NZ First; whether that changes in future, who knows.”
7.30am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin
They had all been doing so well at getting along, but that’s all over now. A cross-party consensus is emerging that it’s time to get back to the bruising business of bare-knuckle politics. We are now after all extremely close to the election, after a big chunk of the year was chewed up by the Covid crisis. In some instances, that impending deadline appears to be focusing the minds of politicians, and in others it appears to be causing panic.
National had another fairly shambolic day of avoidable mistakes yesterday. Newshub had a particularly cutting report on an incident in which the leadership team suggested that finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith was Māori, and therefore the party didn’t have an all-Pākehā top 10. He isn’t, and then had to clarify that. List MP Jo Hayes also aired criticisms of the party’s front bench in a Waatea News interview. And the Newshub story carried another poisonous detail for National – MPs are continuing to leak to the media. New leader Muller told his caucus meeting yesterday that under no circumstances were they to do so, because they’d be found out – within hours, that detail had made its way to Newshub’s political editor.
As for the actual sitting of parliament, new leader Todd Muller got his first crack at PM Ardern in Question Time. He asked about unemployment, the wage subsidy, and whether there had been sufficient direct support for small business. Amid the childish shouting from the backbenches, some useful points of discussion and debate emerged from it all.
Meanwhile, the government has its own problems amid divisions over stalled projects and watered down policies. You may not be shocked to discover that both examples involved NZ First getting one over Green priorities. In the first instance, the NZ Herald reports Winston Peters contradicted transport minister Phil Twyford over whether Auckland’s light rail will ever get rolling – Twyford was upbeat on the prospect in the morning, before Peters came out and said it wasn’t going to happen “in the immediate future”. And Politik reports this morning that NZ First is believed to have scored a win over freshwater standards, particularly around nitrogen limits which would have hit dairying pretty hard.
This also comes off the back of serious Green anger over the “two-tier” welfare proposals – not because they didn’t support additional money being given to those made redundant, but because they argue all beneficiaries should receive more support. Once again though – and I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened over the term – their anger around it has turned out to be meaningless in terms of driving political outcomes. It will be fascinating to watch the dynamic between the two parties on the campaign trail, and how hard the Greens end up attacking their frenemies in NZ First.
Finally, there is one parliamentary party that hasn’t been mentioned in this summary. The Act party caucus has proven to be totally united with itself. But there’s a danger looming – on current polling, they could end up with three to four MPs after the election, which as we can see from every other party would greatly increase the risk of division from their current caucus of one.
The economic toll of Covid-19 has been captured in poignant detail, in a new long read from a team of Radio NZ staffers. It is made up as a series of stories, collectively titled Collateral Damage, which examine the ways in which events rippled out into people’s work and lives. You can see that effect especially in the story of the West Auckland cleaning contractor, who is nervously waiting on whether the financial situations of other households will tighten to the point they cut her service. That in turn hits her income, and among other things, she hasn’t been able to restart her kids in music or swimming lessons again after lockdown.
Meanwhile, economists are warning that Treasury’s figures on how bad unemployment could get are “unrealistically rosy”, reports Stuff. The contention is that current forecasts don’t take structural changes in the economy into account, which because of the uncertainty of predicting the future right now is very difficult to do.
Travel routes are starting to move again in earnest after being largely halted over the lockdown. Stuff reports that an additional 100 flights will be added to Air NZ’s schedule over Queen’s Birthday (that’s this weekend, if you’d forgotten) around a range of regional airports. Radio NZ reports that Intercity buses will resume for the long weekend at a third of capacity, with the West Coast and Far North missing out on services.
For those who are interested in the forestry industry, Business Desk’s Gavin Evans (paywalled) is running an excellent series of reports on submissions for a new bill that would govern the industry. The bill – which is being rushed through parliament – would give the forestry minister much more power over forest management, and sales and exports – a prospect that is alarming many of those submitters. Questions have also been raised through the process of whether the government really understands the regional variations and considerations of the industry.
A couple of pieces about electorate selections that will be well worth watching: The Wairarapa Times-Age has looked at the lineup for Wairarapa, which has the potential to be a heavily contested three-way race. National currently hold the seat through the departing Alistair Scott, but Labour’s Kieran McAnulty and NZ First’s Ron Mark are both fairly highly regarded, and National is yet to confirm their candidate. Incidentally, since that piece was published, former Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown has been announced as the Green candidate for Wairarapa. Meanwhile on the NZ Herald (paywalled), former MP Marilyn Waring has weighed in on moves within Labour to deselect sitting MP Louisa Wall, with Waring arguing that such a move would be a big mistake.
6.05am: Covid-19 hits financial wellbeing hard
A survey by the Commission for Financial Capability published this morning presents a bleak picture of the financial vulnerability of New Zealanders following the Covid crisis.
Undertaken during the level four lockdown in April, the survey found 34% of households were in financial difficulty and 40% at risk of tipping into hardship. New Zealand is one of eight countries participating in the study, and fares worse than the two others that have so far reported results, Britain and Norway.
By comparison, in the UK, 28% of respondents were in difficulty and 37% at risk. In Norway, just 8% of people were in difficulty and 30% were at risk.
More details here.
6am: Public sector agencies’ reputations at record highs
New Zealand’s opinion of our public services has rarely been higher, according to a new survey released today. Colmar Brunton’s annual Public Sector Reputation Index, measuring the reputation of 54 public sector agencies, suggests the Covid crisis is inspiring positive feelings about government-controlled organisations of all kinds.
While a number of perennially popular agencies continue to dominate – Fire and Emergency New Zealand took out the top spot for the fifth year running, for example – the list features some surprising movers and shakers including the NZ Defence Force, which jumped eight places to number two despite its very minor role in the Covid-19 response.
The research was conducted between March 10 and 25 2020, just as the coronavirus began to seriously affect New Zealand.
5.30am: Scrutiny committee wound up
The National Party wanted it to continue but the parties of government voted to send the Covid-19 Epidemic Response Committee to the abattoir last night. “The Opposition-controlled committee served its role well and reinforced New Zealanders’ confidence in our democratic system during a difficult time. It was a unique and innovative accountability mechanism and I’d like to thank Simon Bridges for his chairing,” said the leader of the house, Chris Hipkins in a statement.
“With level two now operating, the ERC is no longer needed. As shadow leader of the house, National MP Gerry Brownlee, said on the decision to set up the committee, it would function during the time of a skeleton parliament and ‘fill a void that would normally be occupied by question time’. That void has passed. All MPs are able to return and the house will function largely as it did pre lockdown.
Disappointingly, there was no acknowledgment in Hipkins’ statement of the considerable aesthetic contributions of the Zoom committee.
5.15am: Small business loans set to hit $1bn
Almost $1 billion in interest-free loans to small and medium-sized businesses have been paid out since the scheme launched on May 12, small business minister Stuart Nash has announced. Of the over 55,000 businesses that have applied, 95% have been approved for loans, at an average loan size of approximately $17,300. Around 45% of applications are from businesses with only one employee.
Loans made under the scheme are interest free if repaid within a year; after that the interest rate is 3% for a maximum term of five years. Repayments are not required for the first two years and SMEs employing 50 or fewer staff are eligible to apply.
5.00am: Yesterday’s key stories
There were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Five further cases were recorded as recovered, bringing the total number of active cases in the country down to 22.
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said he was confident in the country’s contact tracing abilities ahead of changes to level two restrictions allowing gatherings of up to 100 people from this weekend.
The government announced its Covid-19 vaccine strategy, funded to the tune of $37 million.
Facing criticism for the lack of diversity in their shadow cabinet, new National Party leaders Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye wrongly claimed finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith was Māori, which he then denied.
Todd Muller reconsidered the controversial MAGA hat which has dominated the first few days of his National Party leadership, telling reporters today he has decided not to display it in his new office.
The WHO suspended its trial of the Donald Trump-endorsed hydroxychloroquine after it was linked to increased rates of mortality and serious heart problems among Covid-19 patients.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.