Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Questions over testing of border workers, decision on delaying election to be made today, and concerns for educational progress with new lockdown.
The first point to note about managed isolation facilities – we don’t necessarily know that was where this latest outbreak came from. Alternative theories are still being pursued, and one of them may turn out to be the correct one. Genome sequencing is currently being used to figure that out, reports One News. However, that doesn’t stop serious questions being asked about the country’s most important line of defence against Covid-19.
The particular concern here started with a story about testing, in which it was revealed that many staff working in and around these facilities had never been tested, Newshub’s Michael Morrah reported. That was followed up with another story in which some workers who had been face to face with arrivals say they either hadn’t been tested, or hadn’t even been offered tests. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is not what the public had been promised was happening.
Health minister Chris Hipkins said he too had been misled about the state of testing by health officials, reports the NZ Herald. He has also assured the public that such testing will now definitely happen, and that there were health checks going on for workers throughout the period – which while it isn’t a formal test isn’t nothing. Hipkins also said he “absolutely accepts responsibility” for those tests not taking place – it is unclear what exactly taking responsibility means in this situation, but he’s taking it, and presumably if these issues aren’t fixed immediately there will be resignations. Speaking on Newstalk ZB’s Weekend Collective yesterday afternoon, finance minister Grant Robertson also took pains to stress that tens of thousands of people had been through managed isolation – including some who were Covid-positive – without it getting out.
One particular scenario can be ruled out. A particularly vicious rumour had been doing the rounds about a young woman visiting her boyfriend in a managed isolation facility and then catching the virus – as Newshub reports, that has been definitively shut down by officials. You might have even come across the rumour – rest assured, it is simply not true. Hipkins launched his 1pm press conference yesterday with a spray against those spreading it, and fair enough – whoever made that rumour up did something truly vile by doing so, and it is inexcusable. But it does highlight something of a credibility problem, when it happens at the same time as we learn a key piece of information delivered by ministers in other press conferences also turned out to be not true.
A decision on whether or not to delay the election will be announced today. The PM said on Friday evening (while outlining the updated alert levels) that she’d take the weekend to assess the evidence as it emerges, as the situation is still evolving. The list of possible outcomes is still pretty long, and there has been little indication which way the decision might go. An analysis of all the considerations has been put together by Toby Manhire, who correctly predicted the last date – and now reckons he’s got the date it will be delayed until. As always, our live updates on The Spinoff will have all the information as soon as it is out.
Meanwhile, if you want to go really deep on this stuff: lawyer Graeme Edgeler points out why the considerations at play are really more political than constitutional. And professor Claudia Geiringer looks into the claims that some sort of ‘caretaker convention’ exists in the period running up to elections, by which governments must consult with the opposition, and argues that not only is that not true, it shouldn’t be true either.
A particular fear with the return to level three lockdowns is the impact it will have on education, particularly for those sitting NCEA exams. While the decision to move alert levels has been made for valid reasons, time away from the classroom seemed to be highly disruptive last time around. Stuff’s Josephine Franks has looked into the various issues at play, including the availability of devices for distance learning, and the fact that some parents are keeping their kids at home even in level two regions.
Among the various bits of news announced on Friday was an extension of the wage subsidy, until the end of level three restrictions in Auckland. Radio NZ reports that it has been welcomed by the retail and hospitality sectors, though they’re continuing to call for more targeted support. An interesting aspect of the decision is to extend it across the whole country, the rationale for that being that at the moment Aucklanders can’t leave to go and spend elsewhere, which will be a blow to many regions that rely on tourism.
Oranga Tamariki has been heavily criticised yet again for making life more difficult for children under their watch. Stuff’s Brad Flahive reports that four kids under 11 have been shunted from hotel to hotel over the past year, despite their father in Australia indicating that he would take them in. However, the father couldn’t afford the legal costs to move them overseas, and despite OT insisting that “money would not get in the way” of a solution, they refused to help pay for those. When you read through the story, you get a sense of how screwed up the lives of these kids have been, particularly through not being to bond with any sort of parental figure.
If you thought peace might have broken out around the Tauranga City Council table, the answer is no, absolutely not. The story that was wrapped in this Bulletin has had a significant update, from the Bay of Plenty Times’ (paywalled) Samantha Motion, who reports that mayor Tenby Powell and councillor Andrew Hollis continue to be at each other’s throats. Hollis has accused the mayor of regularly blowing up over minor matters, while Powell in turn says Hollis is one of many “smiling assassins” around him.
Hopes are high in South Wairarapa that an ambitious plan for household rainwater tanks will get funding. Stuff’s Piers Fuller has reported on the plan, which would install about 4000 tanks across the region, which earlier this year was stricken by drought. The potential benefits would be two-fold – it would both take the pressure off during times of drought, and also take the pressure off the stormwater system during times of deluge. We’re seeing more and more that the two go hand in hand, so it makes sense to increase capacity to deal with that.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Justin Giovannetti reports on how the decision was made to stick with the existing alert levels, and what the next week will tell us. Justin Latif reports on the South Auckland foodbanks who are now bracing for a massive rush of demand. Hayden Donnell reports on how newsrooms are trying to grapple with an explosive growth in conspiracy theories. Claire Hooker writes about talking to people who refuse to wear masks, and how to convince them rather than just shame them out. Tanisha Jowsey writes about epochs, and how moments like these mess with our sense of time. I interviewed Tania Tapsell, the National candidate for the East Coast who could play an important role in renewing the party. Michelle Langstone writes about the return to lockdown, and with it the slowed down focus on small tasks. And Josie Adams reviews the new novel from Murdoch Stephens, about a guy whose landlord is a literal rat.
For a feature today, a really interesting piece about rivalry between friends in politics. Writing on E-Tangata, veteran political campaigner Matt McCarten has written about John Tamihere and Willie Jackson – two kindred political spirits who used to host a radio show together, who now find themselves tasked with defeating the other’s campaign. Here’s an excerpt:
As co-chair of the Māori caucus, he’s been one of her main “go-to” people. At Labour’s Māori seats campaign launch this month, the PM praised Willie and referred to him as one of her surprising new friendships. Back in her time as prime minister, Helen Clark was complimentary too about her relationship with JT.
It seems like the stuff of a Shakespearean drama that any success either man has in this election will be at the expense of the other. If Willie keeps the Māori Party from winning any seats, then Jacinda Ardern surely must promote him into the full cabinet — and he’ll almost certainly be one of at least four Māori cabinet ministers.
On the other hand, if JT can pull off winning at least one seat against such a popular prime minister and her government, he’ll earn his place in history. Ironically, he’s standing as the co-leader of the Māori Party for Tāmaki Makaurau, which is the same seat he lost as a Labour MP to the then co-leader of the Māori Party, Pita Sharples.
Israel Adesanya will be fighting to defend his title in September, the NZ Herald reports. The UFC has confirmed that it’ll go on the line on the 27th, with the Herald saying it’ll probably be in Abu Dhabi, rather than in New Zealand as some fans had hoped. He’ll be fighting Paulo Costa, who also has an undefeated record and a reputation as a striker, so it’ll be a highly anticipated fight.
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