SFO–JLR is not just an unlikely long-haul flight from California to India, but the latest instalment in the dominant, engulfing New Zealand political story of 2020. With name suppression lifted yesterday afternoon, we learned that one of the four individuals being charged by the Serious Fraud Office in relation to donations to the National Party is indeed Jami-Lee Ross, the self-styled whistleblower who so dramatically turned on his own tribe late last year. The deception charges relate to donations of $100,000 in 2017 and $100,050 in 2018.
In a video statement provided to Newshub and the NZ Herald, Ross, now an independent MP, defended himself in characteristically declamatory style. He had been made a “scapegoat”; he was the victim of “dirty politics”. He said: “I was the whistleblower, and as a result, ever since, I have been attacked by the party and its supporters for bringing this matter to the attention of the nation. Some seek to make me out as the bad guy. While that may be convenient spin for the party, I will not be the National Party’s fall guy.”
(Ross, who sparked the entire episode when he laid a Police complaint, has effected “the most spectacular own-goal in our political history”, reckons Claire Trevett in this morning’s NZ Herald.)
The other three defendants, all Auckland businessmen, are Yikun Zhang, who is mentioned by Ross as a donor in the conversation he recorded with Simon Bridges, and Colin and Joe Zheng. A statement from the trio’s lawyers said they would be “defending the accusations made against them during unprecedented political infighting”. The men – “proud New Zealanders and philanthropists” – were “casualties of the turmoil created through mudslinging”, having been “dragged into Jami-Lee Ross’ controversial fallout with the National Party”.
For Simon Bridges, who will have enjoyed watching Winston Peters at the centre of donations controversy in recent days, the question is to what extent that ongoing fallout might billow into his party’s election year.
The four defendants are scheduled to appear at the Auckland District Court next Tuesday.
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In breaking news this morning, two of eight New Zealanders expected to return from Japan today have been prevented from boarding the chartered Qantas flight, after testing positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus. They had been among those aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. RNZ reports that they are being treated in hospital in Japan. Two other New Zealand passengers earlier diagnosed with the virus are already in treatment in Japan.
With more than 500 of 3700 passengers and crew aboard the ship having contracted the virus, there are growing criticisms of a “completely chaotic” quarantine process.
The New Zealand housing crisis is a “human rights crisis”, according to a visiting UN special rapporteur on adequate housing. Leilani Farha, who has been in New Zealand for 10 days, told a press conference in Wellington she was shocked at the number of people “living without dignity in New Zealand”, reports RNZ.
She said the root of the problem was the erosion of public housing in favour of the private sector. “What the government has done over successive years and successive governments is they have entrusted this fundamental human right in large part to private property owners and real estate investors. That’s pretty dangerous.”
“When I meet a family of six, with their belongings piled up, without a stove, with a teeny little bathroom, when I meet people who are afraid their rent will increase such that they won’t be able to stay in their place, when I meet Māori who’ve been dispossessed of their lands and resources, I know that what’s happening here is not actually a housing crisis – it’s a human rights crisis.”
The NZ Human Rights Commission welcomed the report, as did the housing minister, Megan Woods. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, however. “We basically paid to fly an activist to come here and lecture us,” said Kate Hawkesby on Newstalk ZB this morning. “That money would have been better spent finding a home for a homeless person.”
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Wellington’s pipes are creaking. Following a series of sewerage and wastewater pipe failures, an “urgent meeting” was held by the council and Wellington Water – with the public and media excluded. It’s the subject of the splash (sorry) on the front page of this morning’s Dominion Post.
Wellington Water, which oversees water infrastructure on behalf of councils in the region, apologised for shortcomings in communication but stressed that it was not simply a matter of past underfunding, but “that community expectations around pollution prevention and the quality of waterways has risen in the past decades”. That was the summary of Mayor Andy Foster, according to this RNZ report. Maybe so, but that will be little comfort to locals living above and around bursting pipes. As Foster acknowledged, a lasting fix will cost plenty.
SkyCity has cancelled a booking for an event starring moral philosopher Peter Singer, following complaints from the New Zealand disabled community over his remarks suggesting infanticide may be defensible in the case of severely disabled babies. In a statement to media SkyCity said: “Whilst SkyCity supports the right of free speech, some of the themes promoted by this speaker do not reflect our values of diversity and inclusivity.”
To get a sense of the objections to his views, check out Leonie Hayden’s article on The Spinoff, in which she speaks to several disabled New Zealanders. Notably, they’re appalled by his view, but not calling for him to be “deplatformed”. On The Spinoff today, Danyl Mclauchlan writes that Singer does not deserve to be put in the same category as alt-right trolls like Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. He argues: “Singer is a category of thinker we should pay attention to and whose ideas we should consider, even though we disagree with some of them … He’s definitely not someone who should have been cancelled (literally or figuratively).”
Last night Singer posted on Twitter: “I’ve already been offered another Auckland venue for my speaking tour in June, so the event is definitely on. Looking forward to speaking in New Zealand again, and speaking about effective altruism there.”
There is some hopeful weather news on the front page of this morning’s Waikato Times. Specifically, hope for rain. “Forecast rain could break one of the longest summer dry spells the Waikato region has recorded in the past decade,” writes Larwrence Gullery. MetService meteorologists say there’s an ‘optimistic’ chance of 10mm-15mm of rainfall covering Waikato and Bay of Plenty on Saturday … Just 9.4mm of rain was recorded for the Waikato for the entire month of January.”
Right now on Voyager Website of the Year The Spinoff: New research suggests we’ve underestimated the amount of methane humans are responsible for creating – and New Zealand creates a lot of it. Linda Burgess treks up the steps of the Opera House in Wellington to see a one-man show, and floats all the way back down. And if you haven’t yet, get into Catherine McGregor’s definitive rulings on airline etiquette, in which seat reclining is just the beginning. Do you agree with her, or are you a monster?
The brilliant and insufficiently celebrated New Zealand cricketer Ross Taylor will – all going well – grab his hundredth Test cap tomorrow against India at the Basin Reserve. In doing so he’ll become the first cricketer ever to play 100 matches in each of the three international formats. To mark the moment, Dylan Cleaver of the NZ Herald has interviewed him and surveyed his career and his record. The online version (paywalled and worth paying for) comes with some terrific data visualisation by Chris Knox.
Here’s a taste of the piece:
“He turns 36 next month. He wears the veteran status well because at heart, and although the outrageous shot-making might tend to contradict it, Taylor has always been an old-school type of cricketer.
“He’s not self-taught, but he has become self-reliant.
“Former Central Districts stalwart Dermot Payton spent hours during bitter Wairarapa winter nights standing on a chair feeding balls into a bowling machine, hoping the Samoan kid at the crease wouldn’t ping straight drives back at him. He marveled at Taylor’s timing at such a young age, but detected fragility. When [Martin] Crowe first saw him bat, he thought his future protégé was a ‘dirty slogger’ who would struggle to forge a successful first-class career, let alone test.
“What neither of those keen judges could have known then was that Taylor had a way of figuring stuff out for himself. It is a trait that has never left him.”
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