Live updates, November 25: NZ soldier with rumoured connection to far right group facing espionage charges

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for November 25. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

6.00pm: The day in sum

A New Zealand soldier was charged with four counts of espionage, after being arrested at Linton Military camp late last year.

The Bloomberg review ranked New Zealand top in the best places to be in the era of Covid-19.

There were eight new cases of Covid-19, all in managed isolation.

Parliament returned, with newly elected MPs taking their seats together for the first time and Trevor Mallard being re-elected as speaker.

Siouxsie Wiles was given a prestigious placing in the BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women of the year.

The recent flood of money into the property market is a long-term risk facing the economy, the Reserve Bank warned in its financial stability report.

Despite rumours she was set to resign, Oranga Tamariki’s chief executive Grainne Moss dug in in the face of another scathing report being released this week.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service announced further information about Auckland sites visited by the Air NZ crew member who tested positive for Covid-19 in China.

3.45pm: NZ soldier with rumoured connection to far right group facing espionage charges

A New Zealand soldier has been charged 17 times, including four counts of espionage, after they were arrested at Linton Military camp.

It’s suspected the soldier has connections to a far-right extremist group, however the Defence Force would not confirm this as the matter is before the court.

The soldier has also been charged with attempted espionage, possession of an objectionable publication, accessing a computer for a dishonest purpose, negligently failing to perform a duty, failing to comply with written orders and one charge of doing an act likely to prejudice Service discipline or bring discredit on the Service.

Name suppression is in place and a date for the trial is yet to be revealed.

3.35pm: 12 languages spoken by MPs during swearing in ceremony

12 different languages were spoken by MPs being sworn into parliament today, it’s been confirmed.

Parliament’s official Twitter account said that, along with English and Te reo Māori, MPs spoke Mandarin, Samoan, Tongan, Rotuman, Korean, Dutch, Cantonese, Arabic, Sanskrit and Cook Islands Māori.

On The Spinoff: New Conservative deputy quits one week in

This afternoon on The Spinoff, our resident minor parties expert Alex Braae reports on the New Conservatives’ deputy leader and firearms spokesperson Victoria O’Brien quitting after less than a week in the job.

In a social media post, O’Brien said “this decision was made after careful deliberation and was due to a growing divergence between the direction of the party and my beliefs and values”. She also wished the party all the best for the future. But other tweets from O’Brien’s account appear to suggest otherwise.

Read Alex’s report here

ICYMI: You don’t have to use the dark web to be exposed to its dangers

In case you missed it: Russell Brown recently took a deep dive into the complicated world of data security, for a piece published by The Spinoff in partnership with NortonLifeLock.

Here’s an extract:

In New Zealand – and, indeed, in most places – it’s not clueless boomers who are most likely to suffer internet crime. According to NortonLifelock’s annual global cyber-security survey, it’s millennials, with Gen Z also coming on strong.“They come out quite strong whenever we do research,” says Mark Gorrie, NortonLifelock’s senior director for Asia Pacific. “We typically see the younger audience is suffering – they share a lot of data, they even share passwords. These are activities that compromise data.“One thing we note with the younger audience is this belief that it won’t happen to them, that these problems happen to someone else and that the data they have online is not of interest to hackers. That makes them vulnerable.”

Read the full piece here

3.00pm: NZ tops new ranking of best places to be during Covid

New Zealand has come out on top in a new ranking of the best places to be in the era of Covid-19.

The Bloomberg review has us ahead of Japan, ranked number two, and Taiwan, in third.

“New Zealand tops the ranking as of November 23 thanks to decisive, swift action,” the publication said.

“The small island nation locked down on March 26 before a single Covid-related death had occurred, shutting its borders despite the economy’s heavy reliance on tourism.”

Notably, the United Kingdom doesn’t even crack the top 20 – and the United States comes in at number 18.

(Image : Bloomberg)

Our elimination strategy is praised by Bloomberg, with the piece going on to say that New Zealanders are “basically living in a world without Covid”.

“The nation has seen just a handful of infections in the community in recent months, and live music and large-scale social events are back on. Though its tourism industries are suffering, New Zealand is also well-positioned for a vaccine with two supply deals in place, including one for the shot developed by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech SE.”

1.25pm: Eight new imported Covid-19 cases; Air NZ case confirmed

Updated

Test samples have now officially confirmed an Air New Zealand worker contracted Covid-19, however it’s still not known how they caught the virus.

A source investigation is underway and swabs have been sent to ESR in Wellington for genome sequencing, which is being done as quickly as possible.

The Ministry of Health said that further test samples were processed rapidly in the Auckland laboratory, and tomorrow’s case numbers will report the case.

This person, along with seven close contacts and six casual contacts from the flight, all arrived in New Zealand this morning and were all tested on arrival. They have been moved to quarantine.

“So far we also have test results on some of the 11 close contacts, all of which are negative. All close contacts are in self isolation or managed isolation,” the ministry said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have been following public health protocols and have already been investigating this case as if it were a confirmed case in New Zealand.”

The ministry yesterday sent a push notification to users of the Covid Tracer app who scanned in to Animates Manukau on Saturday November 21 between 1.22pm and 2.11pm and the ministry has recorded fewer than ten people who scanned in to the business at that time.

Eight new imported cases recorded today

There are eight new cases of Covid-19 today, all in managed isolation. There are no new community cases.

One person arrived on November 19 from Finland via Sweden and Qatar and tested positive at around day three of their stay in managed isolation.

Another arrived on the same day from Canada via Hong Kong and also tested positive on day three. Both are now in quarantine at our Auckland facility.

Six people also have been shifted to the Christchurch facility after arriving from the United States on November 19: one tested positive around day three of their stay in managed isolation. Additionally, five people – part of the same family – that came from Mexico via the United States all tested positive around day three.

There are two additional recovered cases, which means there are now 59 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. The total number of confirmed cases is 1,683.

Yesterday our laboratories completed 5,779 tests for Covid-19, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 1,243,518.

12.30pm: Parliament is back and new Green MPs have made oath to serve the Queen

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports from parliament:

Two days of pageantry are underway in Wellington as the newly-elected MPs take their seats together for the first time.

National leader Judith Collins described “a first day of school” like atmosphere as she headed into a meeting with her caucus. Most MPs have settled into their new offices over the past few weeks, shown their new staff around and tried out their seats in the green chamber.

A desk in the basement of Parliament that has been setting up new mobiles for MPs and getting the security settings right is just about out of work.

Today, MPs are swearing or affirming an oath of allegiance to the Queen and then getting down to their first order of business: electing a new speaker. There have been no missteps so far and even new MPs like Ricardo Menéndez March, who had signalled discomfort with the oath, have gone ahead with it.

Labour MP Trevor Mallard, who has spent the past three years sitting in the plush speaker’s chair is instead camped out in the very corner of parliament under a malfunctioning light that keeps blinking, ahead of being re-elected.

12.40pm: Mallard elected speaker

It wasn’t much of a surprise, but Trevor Mallard has been re-elected speaker. He promised to hold the Labour government’s executive to account from his perch in the house.

National leader Judith Collins said that she welcomed Mallard’s return to the speakership. She said he’s shown an ability to direct a “robust, rowdy, yet respectful debate” in the house.

“There are times Mr. Speaker over the years where you and I may have an odd clash,” she said. Mallard waggled his hand as she spoke. Yes, that might have happened a few times, he confirmed with what Collins called his “little cunning smile.”

Over the past three years Mallard has pushed through a number of changes to the workings of parliament, that prime minister Jacinda Ardern said have made the chamber better for people with families. He’s also helped create a new code of conduct for MPs.

Green co-leader James Shaw asked, only half in jest, if the speaker could look at relaxing the rule requiring men to wear ties.

1.15pm: Wikipedia celebrates swearing in of new MPs

The front page of Wikipedia is currently displaying a collage of nine of the newly sworn in MPs, including Labour’s Helen White and Ibrahim Omer. The front page also has links to the Wikipedia pages for the new MPs from all parties to mark the start of the new parliamentary term.

12.10pm: Queenstown land around Remarkables gifted to nation

Alex Braae writes:

900 hectares of land around the Remarkables in Queenstown has been gifted to the nation, to be protected in perpetuity.

The gift comes from Dick and Jillian Jardine, who own the Remarkables Station, and the land will be held by the QEII National Trust.

The land has been in the Jardine family for almost a century, and the owners say they’ve always endeavoured to maintain and improve it.

“Having QEII as the caretaker of this property gives us the comfort and assurance to proudly pass over this gift for all New Zealand to enjoy and appreciate.”

It’s an area of significant biodiversity and landscape value, in an area that attracts people with dramatic, wide open spaces.

QEII Chair Bruce Wills described it as “an extraordinarily generous gift to New Zealand and one that will endure long after we are all gone”.

The land will officially change hands in 2022.

11.45am: Siouxsie Wiles included in list of 100 most influential women of 2020

Siouxsie Wiles has been given a prestigious placing in the BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women of the year, alongside names like Jane Fonda and Michelle Yeoh.

In a tweet, Wiles – who has been a regular across The Spinoff this year breaking down Covid-19 developments – said the ranking was “an honour”.

The BBC praised Wiles for her work with Toby Morris to communicate the science of Covid-19.

11.15am: The country’s banks are stable, but housing debt poses a real problem warns Reserve Bank

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports:

New Zealand has weathered the global coronavirus recession better than expected, but the Reserve Bank’s governor cautioned today that the continued spread of the virus overseas means that risks of future economic downturns remain.

The recent flood of money into the property market is a long-term risk facing the economy, the Reserve Bank warned today in its financial stability report.

The release comes a day after the government asked the Reserve Bank to make housing costs a larger consideration in how it sets monetary policy. Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr said the country’s commercial banks are in a good state, but warned that more businesses will be failing to pay back their loans in the coming months as Covid-19 spreads and the government’s support programmes end.

After the direct risk of the coronavirus passes into the history books, New Zealand will still need to grapple with a stock of homes that a largely unaffordable to first-time buyers. The Reserve Bank plans to impose stiffer loan-to-value ratios in the coming months, a move that will make it harder to borrow money.

According to the Reserve Bank, too many people are carrying too much mortgage debt. “High leverage in the housing sector poses risks if house prices fall sharply or unemployment rises, reducing the ability to service loans,” said deputy governor Geoff Bascand in a statement.

10.05am: Wellingtonians describe ‘exhilarating’ ability to top up bus card via phone

Wellington bus users with iPhones are finally able to top up their Snapper cards without visiting a kiosk, causing unbridled joy from residents in the capital.

The incredible technological advancement arrives in the same week that Stuff’s Andrea Vance said Wellington’s good days were over, and that the city was flooded with literal shit.

The news of being able to top up your bus card via iPhone – an activity Aucklanders have enjoyed for years – was described by on person that RNZ talked to as “exhilarating” and a “revolutionary shift”. Another said it was “amazing”.

It’s possible, based on this one development alone, that Wellington’s best days have only just arrived.

9.50am: ‘Watch this space’ – Green MP won’t reveal if he’ll swear allegiance to the Queen

New Green MP Ricardo Menendez-March is remaining cagey on whether he plans to swear allegiance to the Queen during today’s swearing in ceremony.

Menendez-March first drew a mixture of criticism and support after ridiculing the oath in a tweet the week after the election.

Last night, in an interview on Newstalk ZB, Menendez-March said he wanted to have “enriching conversations” about whether the oath is fit for purpose.

“I guess you’ll have to watch this space. But I’m really heartened by the fact that other politicians, including people from the Māori Party, are having these conversations about the oath,” he said.

Meanwhile, Menendez-March has also been criticised on social media for referring to baby boomers as baby boomers.

This week he was announced as the Green Party’s spokesperson for seniors, and posted a tweet saying he was ready to ask seniors “are you okay, boomer?”.

8.10am: Oranga Tamariki boss expected to quit – report

Oranga Tamariki’s boss Grainne Moss is understood to be leaving the top job following a series of controversial incidents and inquiries involving the uplift of Māori babies.

Newsroom is reporting that several sources have told them Moss will quit, but that today she will front at a Waitangi Tribunal inquiry into the agency she leads, where she will apologise for failings under her watch.

Earlier this week, the children’s commissioner released a report calling for “total transformation” of the childcare system and for the transfer of Māori children and babies in state care to Māori groups.

Minister for children Kelvin Davis welcomed the report, but told RNZ he is “not into separatism” and that Oranga Tamariki should work in partnership with Māori while the Crown still retained a role.

Read more: Children’s commissioner calls to disestablish Oranga Tamariki 

7.30am: Resene shop closes, other sites of interest visited by Air NZ crew member revealed

This story came out about 9pm last night, but in case you missed it:

Auckland Regional Public Health Service has announced further information about sites visited by the Air NZ crew  member who is under investigation in China for Covid-19 prior to departing on a flight to Shanghai. As well as Animates Manukau (see 1.05pm) on Saturday November 21 between 1:20 pm and 2:11 pm being asked to get tested and to stay in self-isolation until they receive a negative test result, there are a handful of other sites “considered to be very low risk to members of the public”, said the service in a press release.

The person visited Resene Mt Roskill from 11.45am-12.45pm on Friday November 20. As with Animates, the advice is as follows: “Staff should get a test and self-isolate until they receive a negative test result. Shoppers should watch for symptoms. If symptoms develop, get a test and self–isolate.” Resene has announced that its Mt Roskill ColorShop will be closed for the next few days, and a deep clean carried out.

For the following sites, the advice is for staff and shoppers to watch for symptoms; should symptoms develop, get a test and self–isolate.

This includes a petrol station, two Auckland supermarkets and a pharmacy within a supermarket. Staff members in these stores at these times are being advised to watch for symptoms and to isolate at home and get tested if they develop them.

BP Connect 154 Coronation Rd, Mangere: Fri Nov 20, 9.28 am – 9.35 am

Countdown, Papatoetoe: Fri Nov 20, 2.45 pm – 2.51 pm,

New World, Papatoetoe: Fri Nov 20, 7.29 pm – 7.43 pm

Pharmacy at Countdown Greenlane: Sat Nov 21, 12.34 pm – 12.42 pm

Top stories from The Bulletin:

A shocking story from Auckland Women’s Prison that raises questions about whether prisoners are being treated humanely. Radio NZ’s Guyon Espiner reports that prisoners have spoken out about being forced to beg for food and sanitary products, spending far longer than they should have in solitary confinement, and being subjected to the practice of ‘bombing’ – the use of canisters of pepper spray to extract people from their confined cells. Above all, the story spoke to a culture of cruelty and punitiveness, at odds with measures taken by corrections minister Kelvin Davis to change that culture.

Davis said yesterday morning that he’d be asking officials for a briefing, in an interview on Radio NZ largely focused on Oranga Tamariki. He said he was unable to comment much more, because aspects of the matter are currently before the courts. On One News, Davis said he wasn’t aware of the practice of ‘bombing’, and said that he would expect all prisoners to be treated in line with the Corrections Act. PM Jacinda Ardern said that she found the report “disturbing”. Later in the afternoon, Davis put out a statement saying that Corrections had informed him that all force used was legal and proportional, with the department saying the use of pepper spray canisters was only a last resort.

However, a human rights lawyer picked up on the harsh use of solitary confinement, and said it may breach international law against torture. Douglas Ewen told Radio NZ that rules that set out how solitary can be used were not followed, and in court, the second in command at the prison “admitted she did not even know existed”. Ewen suggested that New Zealand might have a responsibility to report the incident to international monitoring organisations.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

Yesterday’s headlines

The Ministry of Health is investigating how an Air New Zealand worker managed to contract Covid-19. The worker tested positive after arriving in China from New Zealand.

There were two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation.

Donald Trump appeared to concede the election, and the formal transition process for the Biden administration began.

The government asked the Reserve Bank to include house price stability in its considerations for setting monetary policy. In a letter of response, RBNZ governor Adrian Orr said the bank already took house prices into consideration.

For the first time since February, the Australian state of Victoria had no active cases of Covid-19. The state hasn’t had a new case since October.

Nurses at managed isolation hotels are having to work overtime or take on double shifts to fill gaps in the system, according to a report from RNZ.

St John Ambulance strike action planned for today and Saturday was called off after a pay deal was struck.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates




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