Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for July 30. The latest on New Zealand news, politics and the Covid-19 crisis, updated throughout the day. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
7.15pm: The day in sum
A new 1 News poll offered slightly better news for National than Sunday night’s bleak Newshub numbers.
The leaking of private Covid-19 patient data was politically motivated, a new report has found.
There’s one new case of the coronavirus, in managed isolation. Meanwhile in Victoria, there are more than 700 new cases.
Another person absconded from an isolation hotel in Auckland, only to be arrested 100m down the road.
Minister Megan Woods is defending the government’s plan to charge some returnees for their stay in isolation.
Businesses at Auckland’s new Commercial Bay precinct are being offered rent relief due to Covid-19.
A New Conservative candidate has criticised vandals for graffitiing his election hoarding – to later find out it was Photoshop.
National’s housing spokesperson claimed the party built 30,000 state homes, when they really built 3,000.
6.10pm: 1 News poll offers a (slightly) brighter outlook for National
The latest Colmar Brunton poll for 1 News has Labour on 53%, National on 32%, the Greens on 5%, and, remarkably, Act up to 5%, with NZ First on 2%.
The poll was in the field July 25-29. Judith Collins became leader on July 14.
For National, tonight’s numbers represent an improvement on Sunday night’s Newshub-Reid Research poll which had Labour at 61% and National at 25%. At the time, National’s leadership dismissed the poll as “rogue” and questioned the methodology used.
However Labour could still govern alone on these numbers, with 67 seats. National would have 41 seats, and Act and the Greens would each have six.
In the preferred PM numbers, Jacinda Ardern is on 54% and Collins is on 20%.
Read TVNZ’s full coverage of the poll here.
5.55pm: Poll time!
In a few minutes 1 News will reveal the results of a new Colmar Brunton poll. It comes after a bombshell Newshub poll put Labour over 60% and National languishing on 25%. The last 1 News / Colmar poll, published a month ago when Todd Muller was National leader, had Labour on 50%, National on 38%, the Greens on 6%, Act on 3% and NZ First at 2%.
5.05pm: New details of Crowne Plaza abscondment
The man who today briefly absconded from the Crowne Plaza Hotel in central Auckland had arrived from Brisbane yesterday and has not yet received his Covid-19 testing, reports the NZ Herald. The 32-year-old made it around 100m down Albert St before being apprehended, and will appear in court charged with breaching the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act.
Earlier this afternoon, Air Commodore Darryn Webb described the attempted escape: “Defence Force staff verbally challenged the man as he attempted to follow them out a gate, claiming he was a worker. When asked for identification he allegedly refused, and exited onto Albert St.
“[Aviation Security] and police were immediately alerted, and two Defence Force staff followed the man down Albert St, maintaining a safe distance while doing so until a police officer arrived.” The officer was wearing a mask and gloves and is following “all necessary precautions”, Webb said.
4.30pm: Updated Covid app promises an easier way to keep track of your travels
Political editor Justin Giovannatti writes: The government has pushed through a long awaited update to the NZ Covid Tracer app that fixes one of the most persistent issues raised by users. The updated app now allows people to manually record visits to locations that don’t have QR codes, including friends, family and transit. The update means New Zealanders can now maintain a digital diary on their phones, something the government has been asking people to do since the move to alert level one.
Businesses are asked to still display QR codes, because they’re easier to use. The health ministry can also send alerts to people through the app that have scanned at businesses and might have come into contact with Covid-19.
The update comes as the government has struggled to get New Zealanders to use the app. There are 621,400 registered users as of today and only 1,604,609 poster scans have been logged: that’s less than three scans per user. While registering to use the app helps the government, by providing officials with timely contact details, there’s little proof the app is being used consistently.
The health ministry also made the app work with older versions of the Android and iPhone operating systems with today’s update, which means 95% of smartphones in New Zealand should be able to use it now.
One of the government’s requests for alert level one is that New Zealanders can provide the health ministry with a full accounting of where they’ve been over the past 14 days. In the case of community transmission if the virus were to escape from border facilities, that information would do wonders for contact tracing.
If people aren’t using the app, they’ve been asked to keep a diary of their movements and who they’ve seen over the past fortnight. Let’s be honest, (almost) no one in the country is keeping a diary.
3.30pm: Another absconder – man arrested in Auckland
Another person has fled from an isolation hotel, and right into the arms of waiting police.
The man absconded from the Crown Plaza in Auckland about 1pm today. He made it roughly 100 metres before being apprehended by police.
According to reports, the 32-year-old man had only spent one day in managed isolation before making a run for it. It’s believed he managed to get outside of the facility by tailgating a staff member.
3.15pm: Clare Curran worried an MP could kill themselves
Content Warning: Suicide
Labour MP Clare Curran has told media she is afraid an MP will take their own life, before political journalists take a look at themselves. The comments follow National MP Sarah Dowie’s valedictory speech last night, where she spoke candidly of how news reporting had impacted her life. Dowie had been in an affair with former National MP Jami-Lee Ross, that was later splashed throughout the media.
Dowie said “compared with recent events, where media analysis lasted only a couple of news cycles, the speculation and rubbish for me continued for weeks on end”.
“The antithesis is the hypocrisy of the media calling for the ‘clean up’ of politicians,” Dowie said. “Yes, we are representatives and should take responsibility for poor behaviour, but we are not elected as angels.”
Today, Curran questioned what it would take for the media to reflect on their culture: “What is it going to take? Is it going to take somebody to die? That’s what I am afraid of.” Curran said.
Curran praised the speech on social media, saying it brought her to tears.
Sarah Dowie is a National Party MP. We sit on opposite sides. Tonight I cried and ached for her. Please watch, listen and can we try to change our political system and the way it is portrayed @nzsarahdowie #Vimeo https://t.co/TB623SnnsI
— Clare Curran (@clarecurranmp) July 29, 2020
The Labour MP experienced her own attacks in the media during her time as a minister, and recently opened up for the first time in an exclusive piece for The Spinoff.
“People say, ‘It’s politics’. But is that really what politics is? Is that really what it should be – such a gladiatorial sport that scalps are counted and you measure success by whether or not you survived or whether you got someone’s scalp? That’s not the political system that I aspire to,” she said.
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1.00pm: One new case of Covid-19, in managed isolation
There is one new case of Covid-19, the director-general of health has announced. Yesterday, there were two new cases both in managed isolation.
Today’s new case is a woman in her 20s who arrived in New Zealand from Ireland via Dubai on July 24. She tested positive on day three of her stay at the Rydges Hotel managed isolation facility in Rotorua, and has now been transferred to quarantine in Auckland.
It takes the total number of active cases is now 24. No one is in hospital. It’s now been 90 days since the last case of Covid-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, more than 700 new cases were reportedly confirmed overnight.
Health minister Chris Hipkins said testing numbers in the community are still not as high as the government would like. “One of the issues that we are facing is that people are reluctant to be tested,” he said. “If you are offered a test, you should take the test. If you are asked to be tested, take it.”
Hipkins said it is about keeping people safe. So far, there has been 460,000 tests taken in New Zealand – or about 9% of Kiwis. The health minister said that’s a pretty significant number of New Zealanders who have been tested.
Regarding the Covid Tracer app, Hipkins said there is a new update available that people should access. The government has had trouble encouraging people to continue using the app while at alert level one.
On the leaking of patient data
Chris Hipkins has labelled the leaking of patient data by Hamish Walker and Michelle Boag “grubby” and said today’s report confirms it was done for political gains. The report by Michael Heron QC confirmed the actions of Walker and Boag were politically motivated.
“This was a disgraceful and grubby act carried out by two National Party members for political purposes. They gave no thought to the stress and harm they may have caused to the individuals as they hatched their plan to gain political advantage,” he said.
Bloomfield said he wanted to acknowledge the 18 people whose data was leaked. “We have been in contact with them all to apologise, 17 of whom we spoke to in person, and to keep them informed.” He said the ministry has stopped sending information on case details out as widely.
“The immediate action was to cease sharing this information to external parties as there is not the same need to do so. At the same time, we have reviewed the list of organisations and people who would receive this information should it be required again in future, to ensure there is a clear reason for them to receive it,” Bloomfield said.
A breach of contract notice has also been issued to the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust. Michelle Boag accessed the information which she later leaked to Hamish Walker while she was acting CEO of the trust.
On the South Korean case
Earlier this week, a man tested positive for Covid-19 after landing in South Korea. He had travelled from Auckland, via Christchurch. Bloomfield said there is still no evidence the man contracted the virus in New Zealand, and therefore the risk to the public is low. There is no evidence of community transmission of Covid-19 in the country.
12.45pm: Victoria set for another record day of Covid cases
Early reports out of Australia suggest the state of Victoria is set to record more than 700 new cases of Covid-19 today. That would be not only a record for the State – but for the entire country.
According to one report, the exact figure revealed will be 723 new cases. Victoria’s last record was 532 new cases on Monday, before a drop to 384 on Tuesday and 295 yesterday.
In New Zealand, the ministry will be updating our new Covid-19 cases at 1pm. Yesterday, there were two new to report, both in isolation.
12.30pm: $40m to resolve commercial rent disputes
The government is putting $40 million toward helping New Zealand businesses and landlords resolve rent disputes – after promising a similar scheme in the midst of the pandemic.
Back in June, New Zealand First pulled support for a bill that would have meant relief could have been available much earlier. At the time, Winston Peters said the terms of the legislation did not match up to the terms that had been agreed to.
Justice minister Andrew Little said today’s announcement is not a legislative change, but instead a voluntary scheme of subsidised mediation. As no law change is needed, New Zealand’s First support wasn’t required.
“New Zealand First do not support the previously proposed legislation and they do not support this action. However I think we have reached a good solution that will be of assistance to many small business across NZ as they face the ongoing economic effects of Covid-19,” Little said.
“This funding will ensure that tenants and landlords, even if financially constrained, will be able to access dispute resolution services.”
11.45am: Roadside drug testing bill up for first reading next week
A planned new law would give police the power to conduct random roadside drug testing. It’s been introduced to parliament today and is expected to have its first reading next week.
Police minister Stuart Nash said the government is committed to reducing drug-related harm. “This new law will allow Police to test if drivers are under the influence of drugs anywhere, anytime, just as they do now for alcohol.”
Today, the police also announced its frontline staff will be trialling a new real-time drug screening service. It will allow officers to carry out testing for drugs including meth, with a handheld device. The device can also test for MDMA and cocaine.
“One of the biggest advantages of the Lumi Drug Scan service is that, unlike the current field testing kit, the device can screen through packaging, meaning that our officers will not have to open the bags of drugs they seize to test them and won’t be at risk of being exposed to the substances inside the package,” said superintendent Mike Johnson.
11.10am: Walker, Boag ‘politically motivated’ in leak of Covid data
An investigation has found outgoing National MP Hamish Walker and former party president Michelle Boag were politically motivated by the decision to leak private Covid-19 data.
The government ordered the State Services Commission to investigate in early July, after the data of 18 patients in quarantine were leaked to media.
The report’s author Michael Heron QC said: “Their motivations were political, their actions were not justified or reasonable. Each acknowledged their error publicly and cooperated fully with this enquiry and I commend them for that.”
The report confirmed that Boag had been emailed the information in her capacity as acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust. She then passed the information onto Walker, who passed them to media. No news organisations reported the private information.
“The Ministry of Health policy and process of notifying emergency services was a considered response to the pressures arising during the early stages of this crisis.
“Whether that policy was appropriate in the circumstances applicable in April will be subject of further review by the privacy commissioner,” Heron said.
“It’s my view the policy and process should’ve been reviewed once there were no longer cases in the community and the dissemination to emergency services of personal information like this ought to have stopped. In any event there should’ve been better protection of the personal information.”
Walker told the inquiry he chose to leak the information after being labelled racist for issuing a press release raising concerns about an influx of people arriving from India, Pakistan and Korea.
“One of the purposes of sending this information on to media people was to respond, while under distress, to accusations of racism,” Walker told the inquiry.
11.05am: Jacqui Dean claims National built 30,000 state houses
National’s new housing spokesperson has given a train wreck interview this morning, where she continued to double down on a false claim about the number of state houses her party delivered while in government.
Jacqui Dean appeared on the AM Show today to discuss housing issues, but the interview quickly derailed when she claimed her party built 30,000 state homes when they were last in power.
Dean also said her party now backs rental standards that they voted against and recently promised to scrap.
You can (and should) watch the full interview here.
A National Party spokesperson clarified to The Spinoff that Dean had simply got her numbers wrong, despite repeatedly making the claim of 30,000 state houses.
“Jacqui Dean made a mistake when she said the last National Government built 30,000 state houses. She meant to say National built more than 3000 state and community homes during our previous term in government.”
The Waitaki MP was famously caught out back in 2009 for asking the then-associate health minister to ban dihydrogen monoxide – or water.
10.35am: Right now on The Spinoff – a NEW podcast
From the rubble of 2020 comes the opportunity to create a new future. Conversations That Count – Ngā Kōrero Whai Take will examine what that could look like. It’s coming very soon to The Spinoff. You can subscribe here, and read host Stacey Morrison’s introduction here.
10.25am: Businesses at new Auckland mall struggling to pay rent
Rent relief’s been offered to some tenants at Auckland’s Commercial Bay precinct, as the impacts of Covid-19 on the economy are continuing to be felt. The $1 billion development on the city’s waterfront opened just over a month ago and is home to more than 100 upmarket retailers and restaurants.
Now, some occupants are struggling to pay rent.
Cali Press owner Chris Monaghan told RNZ it was an obvious decision to open a cafe at the shopping centre, due to its location. But he said sales were half those expected and the café has taken up the offer of a rent holiday by landlord, Precinct.
“It’s just the way the perfect storm has developed where we’ve now got a global pandemic, a recession and significant construction and disruption around us and borders closed so it’s a pretty challenging environment,” he said.
The precinct pitched itself to the public as more of a destination than simply another shopping centre. The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive called it “radical” and “the future of malls” in a piece you can read here.
10.05am: New Conservative candidate mistakes photoshop for real life
A New Conservative candidate has criticised vandals for graffitiing his election hoarding – only for it to be pointed out it wasn’t vandalised at all.
Rudi du Plooy is hoping to be the MP for Hamilton West after September’s election, and took to Facebook to slam the purported spray-painters for targeting his billboard.
I was 99 percent certain this was drawn on using a program and then I noticed the mouse cursor. I am in complete AGONY. pic.twitter.com/ATyOJJVWQY
— Bennett (@bennettLmorgan) July 29, 2020
What he missed, however, was the rather obvious cursor in the top left corner.
He claimed the ‘vandalism’ would be reported to the police.
10.00am: Megan Woods defends charging scheme for returnees
It was confirmed yesterday that certain returning New Zealanders will have to pay for the cost of their mandatory stay in isolation, from later this year. The bill will be rushed through parliament under urgency.
The cost for those required to pay will be $3100 per room and $950 for each extra adult and $475 per child.
The minister in charge of managed isolation, Megan Woods, told RNZ this morning the proposed charges reflect the cost of mandatory isolation to the taxpayer. She defended the exemption scheme that will be in place, whereby some people will be able to avoid charges if they are, for example, in the country to attend a funeral or visiting a sick relative.
8.00am: Greens, NZ First clash over waka jumping repeal
The Greens and New Zealand First have clashed for the second time in a day, this time over the repeal of waka jumping legislation introduced in 2018.
Yesterday, Winston Peters took aim at the Greens over its support for managed isolation fees that only apply to a small group of returning Kiwis. Then, later in the night, the party was back in Peters’ firing line for choosing to support a National Party member’s bill that would repeal waka jumping legislation.
That legislation, which means any MP who quits their party is forced to vacate their seat and leave parliament, entered into effect in 2018 – with the support of the Greens.
The party have always been against blocking MPs from jumping ship, but begrudgingly supported the government on it at the time. But co-leader James Shaw said supporting this bill doesn’t mean the party isn’t working in good faith: “We never said and never made any commitment that if a repeal bill came before the House that we wouldn’t also support that.”
But Peters was having none of it, claiming the Greens’ were breaking the coalition agreement – and can’t be trusted.
“They’re signed up to the coalition agreement on this matter for three years and that term does not end until the 19th of September.”
“You cannot possibly be going forward to the years 2020-2023 contemplating a party that can’t keep its word.”
Election season truly is in full swing.
7.45am: Kiwis in UK given visa extension
We reported earlier in the week on how New Zealanders living in the UK were in visa limbo, as they didn’t know whether their visas were going to be extended past the end of the month.
Now, the UK home office has confirmed all foreigners stuck in the country will been another month to sort out their situation. As RNZ reports, the home office instruction is still that those who benefit from the visa extension “are expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK before this date where it is possible to do so”.
But for many New Zealanders, leaving the country has been easier said than done, with widespread flight cancellations.
Meanwhile, more than 250,000 Americans have investigated whether they qualify to move to New Zealand since the Covid-19 outbreak started earlier this year, reports the Herald.
Last month 112,800 more Americans visited the Immigration New Zealand website compared with the same time last year. That’s a a 160% spike, equating to one US click every 30 seconds.
7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin
For a lead story today, a look at some of the benefits and challenges of a major potential infrastructure scheme being investigated. Some of this news will go back several days, but it’s a fascinating project that there hasn’t been a chance to cover yet in the Bulletin. The top line is this: Energy minister Megan Woods has put $30 million towards a business case to investigate whether the Lake Onslow pumped hydro storage scheme in Central Otago should go ahead, reports the ODT. A pumped hydro scheme differs from a dam in that water can be used depending on demand – when it is low, the water isn’t used, and when it is high, there’s plenty available.
The implications of this for renewable energy are huge. As Newsroom’s Marc Daalder writes in an analysis piece, it would mean the country’s electricity system could become purely renewable. No more coal power plants being flicked on during high demand – there’d be a storage scheme for that. In fact, it would likely generate so much clean electricity that a whole range of industrial processes could be electrified too, rather than relying on coal. You’d have to factor in some very high emissions to build the thing, but after that, it could have an immense impact in reducing the amount of carbon New Zealand pumps out. The storage would also help solve the ‘dry year’ problem that hydro schemes currently face.
Of course, it would also be colossally expensive. One figure thrown around in this piece by the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Grant Bradley is $4 billion, so you can assume in the final wash-up it would end up larger than that. It is described by an analyst in that story as an “overbuild” for what is needed, but would also have the effect of putting a long term mechanism in place that would keep electricity prices low. Other electricity industry stakeholders told Radio NZ that this particular scheme isn’t worth it, and that same money would be better spent on multiple smaller schemes instead.
7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories
The government revealed its plans to charge some returning Kiwis for isolation.
NZ First will support the law change, but Winston Peters labelled it dreadful public policy.
There were two new cases of Covid-19, both in managed isolation.
A review of the RMA recommended the law be scrapped and replaced.
Judith Collins backed the recommendations, saying that’s been National’s policy for three years.
The National Party unveiled its small business policy, allowing people to dig into their KiwiSaver for funding.
National MPs Sarah Dowie and Paula Bennett gave emotional valedictory speeches to parliament.
Four members of the family who absconded from Hamilton managed isolation pleaded guilty to failing to comply with an order under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.