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Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins making the announcement of Wellington moving to level two (Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)
Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins making the announcement of Wellington moving to level two (Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

The BulletinJune 24, 2021

The Bulletin: Wellington waits nervously amid move to level two

Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins making the announcement of Wellington moving to level two (Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)
Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins making the announcement of Wellington moving to level two (Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Wellington waits nervously amid move to level two, Todd Muller leaving politics at next election, and banks making major profits amid big lending demand.

For the first time ever, Wellington’s Covid restrictions are more stringent than that of the rest of the country. The city moved up to alert level two yesterday, with the rest of the country watching on and remaining at level one. For those needing a reminder of what level two involves, our live updates had a guide. It is by no means a lockdown, but there are still some restrictions on daily life, particularly around events.

There are still no known community cases. However, a significant number of locations of interest have now been added to the list, with instructions for anyone who was there at the same time. The person who came through the trans-Tasman bubble and subsequently tested positive was reportedly a regular user of the tracer app (and by the looks of it, had a fantastic weekend in the coolest little capital.) But many will be affected by the need to self-isolate – for example, Radio NZ reports 2500 people who were in Te Papa alone will now face various degrees of restriction, let alone every other location of interest. And as Dr Siouxsie Wiles outlines, the person likely has the dangerous Delta variant of Covid, which makes it a very serious situation.

After a period of being largely moribund, Wellington’s testing centres had to lurch back into life. It perhaps could have gone a bit smoother, even if scaling up these sorts of responses is never going to be easy. One News reports visitors to the sole pop-up testing site were given the wrong 0800 number to call, while there was also a communications mix up over whether tests could be done at Kilbirnie Sports Centre (they cannot.) And the NZ Herald reports a Te Papa worker was turned away from the testing centre, despite presumably being a high priority. Stuff had a similar story, which suggests multiple people had frustrating experiences. For those needing a test today, the centre on Taranaki St is fully booked.

So what happens next? That probably depends a lot on luck, and if contact tracers are able to do their work quickly enough. Analysing whether an actual lockdown could be possible for Wellington, the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Derek Cheng argues that while the somewhat unusual move of going to level two without any confirmed cases might seem like overkill, the recent experience of Sydney shows how quickly things can move.

Former National leader Todd Muller has announced that he will not contest the next election, which is likely to be held a bit over two years from now. In a statement, he said he needed to prioritise his health and his family over the next phase of his life, and that an early announcement would give the BOP branch of the Nats enough time to find a suitable candidate. Muller also took care to highlight the work he did on the Zero Carbon act alongside climate change minister James Shaw. Once a rising star within National, Muller’s career took a hit after a short and disastrous leadership tenure, which ended in the sad circumstances of a mental breakdown. In terms of the way this could affect caucus dynamics, Politik suggests it could open up a gap between the caucus of MPs, and the more rural membership base, among which Muller is respected. Author Richard Harman also suggests the retirement is more of a “retirement”.

And on that point, a story emerged later in the day that cast a bit of doubt over what was in the release. Newshub reports Muller admitted to bad-mouthing colleague Harete Hipango for a Newsroom story last week, subsequently apologising to party leader Judith Collins and the rest of the caucus. Collins and other senior National figures have been extremely vocal recently about party discipline, at times urging leakers to leave the party.

Meanwhile, the next piece of National Party news: Newly returned MP Harete Hipango has been revealed as the target of allegations of inappropriate spending of taxpayer money. The Whanganui Chronicle reports “the allegations surround a purchase of some furniture, including a new television, which allegedly were delivered and kept in Hipango’s own home.” Previously, NZ Herald (paywalled) political editor Claire Trevett had reported on the swirling allegations, but noted that the story was surrounded by a cone of silence from Parliamentary Services.

Banks have been making record profits recently, driven by a massive increase in new mortgage lending. Radio NZ’s Nona Pelletier reports on a report which unpacks some of the figures and trends which make that profit happen. The report also considered some of the potential headwinds for banks, including the need to invest in the capabilities needed to comply with new anti-money laundering regulations.

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A powerful piece from someone who endured abuse as a child at the Centrepoint commune: Survivor Dr Caroline Ansley has looked at the recent rash of attention around the cult since a documentary aired on it. And she describes how it feels to have to hear the views of those who were adults, and either participated in or did little to stop the abuse. An excerpt:

While I may ask for accountability from the generation who were meant to protect us, I am not interested in hearing from a paedophile who cannot even admit that is what he is. Based on his interview, there appears to be no capacity there for the growth and reflection that is needed to look back over one’s life and see that one did serious, tragic harm. This self-examination is a task for a mature person with strength, courage and emotional resilience. Not many people have what is needed to own such devastating wrongs without their centre collapsing. 

A government bill has been introduced, aiming to prevent the government from having to pick up the tab to decommission oil and gas fields. Business Desk reports the law change was sparked by the collapse of an exploration company operating off the Taranaki coast – the cost of cleaning that up has since blown out. It will require extraction companies to hold more financial security, with the exact number to be set by the minister.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Laura Walters reports on the global discussion sparked by the selection of Laurel Hubbard for the Tokyo Olympics team. Josie Adams runs down the dubious winners of a competition to find Wellington’s worst mouldy rental. Rebekah Jaung writes about the role New Zealand can play in bringing true peace to the Korean Peninsula. Michael Andrew explores why self-employed people on good incomes have such a difficult time getting home loans. Leonie Hayden picks out the highlights of a brand new season of Matangireia, the show based around in-depth interviews with Māori former politicians. And Kura Forrester relives the horror of being the Eagle Boys mascot in the latest episode of First.

For a feature today, a truly wonderful read about prisoners learning to make yoghurt while inside. As Eva Corlett’s Radio NZ piece explains, this was absolutely not part of any rehab programme – they learned by watching TV show The River Cottage. But from such humble beginnings came a movement that went through the entire prison system, changing lives in the process. Here’s an excerpt from a story told with immense warmth and heart:

That night, with the temperature dropping close to zero, Wal worries about whether the life beginning in the carton on the pipes behind his head will survive. Through the quiet dark hours, he checks on it periodically and tenderly, as if it were a newborn baby.

As morning breaks, he unwraps his creation. Inside the carton, the once thin milk is as thick and creamy, as sweet and delicious as any yoghurt plucked from a supermarket shelf. He is astonished. Amped with anticipation, he and Dylan take their yoghurt to breakfast and smother it on their porridge. To Dylan, it tastes better than the original.

Their fellow prisoners watch on with envy from the neighbouring tables. Wal is excited and isn’t feeling modest. He parades their creation around the facility proudly, opening the carton to curious eyes and whetting the appetite of the other prisoners—many desperate for a taste of something new. Wal and Dylan are more than happy to oblige. They hold workshops around the microwave. Men gather, ready to learn—first, a few friends, then their wider unit and, increasingly, those living in other parts of the prison.

In sport, New Zealand are the first ever winners of cricket’s World Test Championship. I’ll be honest – I was completely wrong, thinking it couldn’t be done. But after an immensely composed and assured team performance, the Black Caps have beaten India by eight wickets. The man of the match was Kyle Jamieson, who took a big bag of crucial wickets across the match, and played an important cameo with the bat in the first innings. If you want to hear myself, Simon Day and Justin Latif try and process the emotion of this moment for New Zealand cricket fans, we recorded an episode of The Offspin, which will be up in the next few hours. Ross Taylor, who saw the chase home, said after the game that it was the highlight of his career as a player. Seeing him and Williamson win it is likely to be the highlight of many of our careers as fans too.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.

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