Where’s the plan for Southland post-smelter?

Grant Robertson on the shutdown of Tiwai Point and loss of thousands of jobs – ‘too bad, move on’.

Jacinda Ardern on the shutdown:

While Tinto have just announced they will close their Tiwai Point aluminium smelter next year this was a well signalled possibility. The Government response (acceptance of the decision) suggested they were well aware this announcement was coming.

Grant Robertson said Government will support the people and economy of Southland:

The Government will support the Southland economy in the wake of multinational mining company Rio Tinto’s decision to follow through with its long signalled closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

“This day has unfortunately been on the cards for some time now, but nevertheless the final decision is a blow to Southland and all those who work at the smelter,” Grant Robertson said.

Stuff: Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt ‘absolutely shattered’ by news of Tiwai Aluminium Smelter closure

Labour list MP Liz Craig, who is based in Invercargill also said she was devastated by the closure news and said her thoughts were with the workers, families, and businesses affected.

Craig acknowledged it will have a huge impact on the Southland economy.

She spoke with prime minister Jacinda Ardern this morning about the impact this will have on Southland.

“I am pleased that [Finance Minister] Grant Robertson has already signalled the Government will support the Southland community in our transition, in areas such as agriculture, aquaculture and manufacturing.’’

Craig has invited Adern and Robertson to visit in Invercargill to discuss how the Government might help support those affected, grow local jobs, and create a sustainable Southland economy.

Ardern visited the smelter when they reopened a fourth potline in December 2018 – that was good news. Will she frobt up when the news is bad? So far she has left it to Robertson, who seems quite relaxed about.

Bernard Hickey: Newsroom: Why is Labour letting Tiwai Pt shut now?

Finance Minister Grant Robertson seemed much more philosophical and accepting of the news when he spoke a couple of hours later. It became clear that both the Government and Rio Tinto had called each others’ bluffs, leaving Southlanders incredulous.

“This is a blow for the people of Southland and I feel for them, but we need to look to the future,” Robertson said.

“There is a certain sense of inevitability about today’s announcement. Rio Tinto have been trying to sell Tiwai Point for about 10 years now,” he said.

The Government is spending $62b to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on the rest of the economy, including handing out over $12 billion to small to medium enterprises to keep often near-minimum wage jobs going for a few weeks.

But it appears unwilling to consider spending a few tens of millions to keep at least 2,600 highly paid jobs going in a region with few other alternatives for such high-wage jobs.

Robertson talked airily on Thursday about the prospects for agriculture and aquaculture, but in reality those jobs will be much lower wage and have yet to be invented.

He has talked repeatedly about his personal desire to avoid the mistakes made during the 1990-91 recession when manufacturing jobs were gutted in the regions and little was done to soften the blow.

The risk for the Government and those remaining high-wage jobs in the regions in the next three months is that the announcement of closures of Tiwai Point (2,600 jobs), Marsden Point (3,500 jobs) and the Glenbrook Steel Mill (3,900 jobs) could potentially all come in the next six months.

The worst recession since 1990-91 could easily be just as damaging for the regions as that one.

So far the Government response has basically been ‘too bad, move on’.

ODT editorial: Post-smelter plan must be readied

Southland does not need woolly promises of help and platitudinous pep talks. It needs a concrete plan to meet and then beat the economic and social destruction left when New Zealand Aluminium Smelters’ closes Tiwai Point.

The looming costs are hinted at in the figures most often pitched as reasons to move heaven and earth to keep the smelter online. Previous estimates suggest it accounts for more than 6% of the region’s GDP, and well over $400million to the region’s economy.

That cash keeps people in work and businesses in profit. It helps people pay their mortgages and their grocery bills, helps them support local schools and pay their sports club subscriptions, and keeps them working in and contributing to the South.

These people, families and communities do not have long to consider the effect of losing the smelter. NZAS will terminate its electricity contract with Meridian Energy in August 2021, when the wind-down is complete.

They have little time to decide what to do next and an uncertain time in which to do it. They need no reminding we face a prolonged pandemic-induced recession, and that finding good work and a strong income may be difficult.

But there has been plenty of time to prepare for the inevitability that Tiwai would be shut down.

There is little time to prepare for a post-smelter future but successive Governments have had the best part of a decade to ensure there was a plan to cope with, and then fill the gap left when Rio Tinto pulled the plug on its regionally and nationally significant operation at Tiwai Point.

Treasury, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Ministry of Social Development officials have had plenty of time, regardless of which parties were in Government, to forge all manner of strategies for a post-smelter future. They, and a succession of politicians, have had years to prepare for the inevitable.

As such, Southlanders have every right to expect Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson to outline robust, detailed plans when they take up Labour Invercargill List MP Liz Craig’s invitation to visit Invercargill and ‘‘discuss how the Government might help us support those affected, grow local jobs and create a sustainable future for the Southland economy’’.

If not, Southlanders have every right to feel let down by a multi-national company and by the governments that saw this coming.

Robertson seems untroubled by the problems faced by Southland.

What about Ardern? I can’t find any response from her on the shutdown announcement. Nothing since her good news PR money handout announcement on Thursday – NZ Herald: Government to bail out councils with $761m water services investment:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a $761 million investment to help councils upgrade “run down” water services across the country.

In a politically charged piece of symbolism, Ardern and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta chose the site of the water bore found to be the source of the fatal Havelock North campylobacter outbreak in 2016 to make the announcement on Wednesday.

“Investing in water infrastructure is about investing in the health of New Zealanders.”

Southlanders are New Zealanders. They received very bad news this week. Ardern was nowhere to be seen.

 

Official Government website used for campaigning

There is supposed to be, or should be, a clear demarcation between Government operations and party promotions and campaigning. Ministers frequently push boundaries this with self promotion and party promotion littering official Ministerial releases.

But I think that including a Labour Partyongress speech launching their election campaign is an abuse of intent and purpose, given that the beehive.govt.nz website is The Official website of the New Zealand Government.

Some of it is subtle, like this from last week:  PGF top-up for QE Health in Rotorua

The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) is investing $1.5 million to ensure QE Health in Rotorua can proceed with its world class health service and save 75 existing jobs, Under Secretary for Regional Economic Development, Fletcher Tabuteau announced today.

“This announcement today provides an additional much needed economic boost to the regional economy and complements all the positive investments this Coalition Government has made in this region of late, including last week’s announcements with the Deputy Prime Minister the Rt Hon Winston Peters,  and this week’s infrastructure announcements made by Ministers Grant Robertson and Shane Jones,” Fletcher Tabuteau said.

That managed to name drop for four NZ First MPs. Another from the same day:PGF funds tourism boost in Northland

The Provincial Growth Fund is investing more than $7.5 million in Northland ventures to combat the economic impact of the COVID-19 virus, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones have announced.

Why did Peters need to be mentioned in that other than for self promotion?

Similar in New investment creates over 2000 jobs to clean up waterways:

A package of 23 projects across the country will clean up waterways and deliver over 2000 jobs Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Environment Minister David Parker announced today.

It’s common to take subtle swipes at opponents, as in Keeping ACC levies steady until 2022:

“The previous Government increased levies during the global financial crisis only to find they were too high in following years. We are taking a cautious approach and ensuring we do not add to pressure on businesses and New Zealanders where it’s not necessary.

It’s hard to see why three party leaders are used to promote except to promote the three parties in government: Jobs budget to get economy moving again

Investments to both save and create jobs in Budget 2020 mean unemployment can be back to pre COVID-19 levels within two years and could see the economy growing again as early as next year.

The centrepiece of Budget 2020, Rebuilding Together, is the establishment of a $50 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund which will target stimulus investment at protecting existing jobs, creating new ones and provide support for workers to retrain and for business to survive as well as targeting support to those sectors most affected by the virus.

“The Government’s decision to go hard and early to defeat the virus means we are now in a strong position to quickly get our economy moving again,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“New Zealanders have made incredible sacrifices and suffered incredible loss in our collective battle against COVID-19. It is vital that Budget 2020 builds on restoring independence in every sense, to every day New Zealanders by creating jobs for those who have had them stripped away by this viral invasion,” Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said.

The Coalition Government is using every tool it has to meet the immediate needs of New Zealanders post-lockdown, while balancing the long-term goal of a vibrant future economy.

“This Budget will support the people most affected by the global downturn,” Green Party Co-leader James Shaw said.

Labour have frequently promoted a sledge of National with the meme “nine years of neglect” – their are 266 Google hits of the phrase on the Beehive website. Some date back to 2002, showing that the Clark Government used the same term about the previous National Government, but ten hits are from the last 12 months and 27 since the current Government took over.

Over the last 12 months:

  • Labour Party mentioned 58 times
  • New Zealand First mentioned 48 times
  • Green party mentioned 43 times

The Government website includes speeches made by Ministers, which if relevant to their portfolios and responsibilities is fair enough.

But I think it’s taking things too far including Ardern’s speech to the Labour Party congress/conference in the weekend: Speech to Labour Party Congress 2020

This speech was made to Labour Party members at a Labour Party event, and launched the Labour Party election campaign. It closed with Labour’s election slogan “Let’s keep moving”.

This is not Government business and I think it is an abuse of the intent of an official Government website to be used to specifically promote one party that happens to be in power.

‘Let’s keep moving’ and the Jacinda movement

The Labour Party are launching their election campaign this weekend. It’s no surprise to see it based on Jacinda Ardern – framed as ‘Jacinda and our movement’.

But their ‘Lets keep moving’ campaign slogan seems a bit uninspiring.

Today Jacinda Ardern announced our slogan for the 2020 election campaign. Our plan to rebuild New Zealand is already in action, so on September 19 let’s keep up this momentum, and let’s keep moving

Ardern’s personality and charisma drastically turned the Labour campaign around from pending disaster to recovering enough to be able to form a government in 2017, and her popularity kept the party polling up through this term, until both soared on the back of Ardern successfully fronting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Their Facebook launch promotes the slogan and Ardern:

As does their new pinned post:

 

The slogan has been spun off their Covid recovery promotion from last month:

Getting New Zealand moving again: June 2020

We wrapped up the first half of 2020 with a busy month, taking additional steps to support New Zealanders as we continue with our economic recovery. We rolled out targeted packages to support key industries like tourism and construction, helped create jobs in the environmental and  agriculture sectors, and set out our plan to support Kiwis to retrain and upskill with free trades and apprenticeships training.

Ardern was always going to be central to the Labour campaign. If Covid remains under control recovery from the effects of the lockdown will also continue to be promoted.

An unknown is how the New Zealand economy will look in two months as the campaign climaxes and an extended voting period begins.

If there is a surge in job losses after the wage subsidies run out that could impact but the effects of that may not be clear until after the election.

Ardern will give her conference/campaign opening speech this afternoon.

Taogaga, Wogistan, and do political candidates have to have faultless pasts?

A way to deter a lot of people from considering to participate in democracy and standing as a candidate is to dredge through everything a candidate has posted online and make a big deal about something minor from the distant past.

Like this:  Labour sacks candidate who praised racist ‘Wogistan’ column

Labour has sacked a candidate from its list after it emerged he once praised a column describing Islam as a “Stone Age religion” and its followers as a “sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan”.

Kurt Taogaga was ranked 68th on the party’s 84-strong list to contest the election in September – on recent polling an outside chance of making it into Parliament. Taogaga stood in Helensville in 2017 but lost to National’s Chris Penk.

In 2013 – before entering politics – Taogaga said on Twitter “we need to see Islam for what it truly is”. He linked to a news article about what he called a “brave” column by then-New Zealand First MP Richard Prosser in Investigate magazine.

In the article – written after he had a pocketknife confiscated by airport security – Prosser said Muslims threaten New Zealanders’ way of life and said young men who “look like a Muslim” should be banned from flying.

In response to another Twitter user saying Prosser was “only voicing what others are thinking”, Taogaga said “Hear hear. I get that feeling as well. Let’s debate this rather than shout him down. Islam is deserved of serious analysis”.

He then tweeted at scientist Richard Dawkins – an outspoken critic of religion, and particularly Islam – inviting him to come to New Zealand.

Asked about the comments on Newshub Nation, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wasn’t aware of them.

“It is not the belief system of the Labour Party, but I am happy to reflect on a column from, again, seven years ago, and take any steps that might be required as a result in terms of making sure our candidates are familiar with the values we hold as a party.”

At 68th on the Labour list this won’t make much difference to the election, but I wonder who searched back and discovered this fairly minor transgression (if it can even be called that) and outed Mr Taogaga.

And I wonder who was involved in the decision and who made the decision to dump him from the list.

There may be more to this than has been revealed, but on the surface dumping him seems like an over reaction, and is yet another example of how picky and petty and PC that politics has become.

This sort of thing will deter and discourage people from getting involved, and is likely to lead to more blameless and bland candidates and ultimately MPs.


Taogaga hs commented on Twitter:

What changed to prompt David Clark’s resignation now?

David Clark offered his resignation as Minister of Health in April, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern because of the Covid-19 pandemic it was necessary to retain him in the role.Clark said yesterday:

You will recall that I offered my resignation during the Level Four lockdown in response to mistakes I made in a personal capacity.

The Prime Minister made it clear at the time – that under normal circumstances – she would have accepted that resignation, but she did not want significant disruption to the health system in the middle of the emergency response.

As recently as last Friday she said Clark would stay on as Minister until the election. Clark had also said he would stay on.

But yesterday Clark resigned. What changed to prompt this?

There have been conflicting claims by Clark and Ardern.

Newshub: PM Jacinda Ardern was pushing David Clark out as Health Minister while publicly saying he’d stay until election

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was pushing David Clark out as Health Minister while publicly saying he would stay on until the September election. 

Dr Clark resigned as Health Minister on Thursday saying he had “made the call that it is best for me to stand aside” because he had become a “distraction”.

“He reached the conclusion his ongoing presence in the health role was causing too much distraction to the Government’s response to COVID-1 – an assessment I agree with,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

My guess is that internal polls indicated that Clark staying on was detrimental to Labour’s re-election chances.

The distractions have been abundant. The lockdown breaches: moving house, the drive to the beach with his family, and that mountain bike ride – prompting Dr Clark’s first resignation offer in April.

“It was bloody obvious to me at that point I felt like a complete dick,” he told The AM Show at the time.

The Prime Minister responded with a threat to Dr Clark’s job.

“Under normal circumstances I would sack the minister,” she said at the time.

With those eight words, the Prime Minister delivered Dr Clark a fate worse than sacking – stripping him of the authority to do his job.

Clark already didn’t seem to be acting authoritatively, and this emphasised that.

After that Clark seemed determined to stay on in the job.

“I am certainly very keen to get on with this,” he told Newshub Nation in June.

The Prime Minister doubled down in Queenstown last Friday when asked if Dr Clark would hold onto his job until the election at least.

“Of course, that is what I’ve continued to say.”

But we now know that around that same time late last week the Prime Minister was edging Dr Clark out.

That would mean that Ardern was deliberately misleading the public.

Newshub asked the Prime Minister if she in any way insinuated or suggested to Dr Clark that she wanted him to offer his resignation.

“No, it was a very open conversation,” she said.

And in that “very open conversation” the Prime Minister gave him the kiss of death – making it clear he was becoming a distraction so close to an election.

Ardern was asked if she had raised with Dr Clark that he was becoming a distraction.

“We had a general discussion around what was needed to put the country first and our COVID response first,” she said.

As for why she didn’t just sack Dr Clark, Ardern said: “My focus has been COVID all the way through – our response to COVID. Those early days, continuity was the most important thing.”

In yesterday’s prepared speech announcing “This morning I have formally tendered my resignation as Minister of Health” Clark defended his performance, praised his performance and electioneered.

The Prime Minister made it clear at the time – that under normal circumstances – she would have accepted that resignation, but she did not want significant disruption to the health system in the middle of the emergency response.

We still have a health emergency, and him resigning is still a significant disruption.

But it has not always been plain sailing and I wish to put on record again that I take full responsibility for the decisions made and taken during my time as Minister of Health.

It’s on the record that he didn’t take full responsibility, and again here he carefully avoids taking direct responsibility – “the decisions made and taken during my time as Minister of Health” implies decisions made by others, there is no personal ownership of his decisions and actions – and just as critical, his lack of decision making and oversight of his ministry.

I’ve always taken the view that the interests of the team must come first, and New Zealand’s COVID response is simply too important, so I have made the call that it is best for me to stand aside.

Now is the right time to hand over the reins, and move forward with new leadership.

The time is now right to hand over to another Minister …

So an already very busy minister and Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, has taken over as Minister of Health, one of the biggest jobs in Government at any time and especially during a pandemic.

Loading Hipkins with even more responsibilities has been deemed preferable to leaving Clark in the role.

Was Clark that inadequate? Perhaps he was.

But it seems that in saying “the interests of the team must come first” Clark may be referring to the Labour team, not the team of 5 million that Ardern keeps referring to.

It probably makes little difference whether Clark jumped or was dumped, but the explanations from him and Ardern have not been convincing.

Ardern’s ability to make tough decisions regarding poorly performing ministers is also not convincing.

 

Opening borders arguments

It’s probably almost universally accepted that New Zealand had to close our borders to non-citizens and residents to protect the population from the spread of Covid-19. Despite some mistakes and problems and with some luck that has been very successful, with Covid cases reduced to zero before returning New Zealanders started a dribble of cases – but these have been contained by isolation, quarantine and testing,

There is no doubt that keeping our borders closed is bad for business – especially tourism and international education, but it also affects many others trying to revive  or keep alive their business.

So when we open our borders again, how quickly and to whom is one of the biggest decisions to be made.

Yesterday National leader Todd Muller stirred things up – Todd Muller says keeping border shut ‘untenable’, but PM says opening up soon is ‘dangerous’

Muller was criticised but also what he said was misrepresented.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the idea of opening New Zealand up to countries where Covid-19 is “dangerous”.

Ardern was responding to comments from National leader Todd Muller, who said on Monday that keeping the borders shut until other countries are as free of Covid-19 as New Zealand was “untenable” in the long term.

Speaking to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Muller said New Zealand would be “on its knees” if it waited for a vaccine to be developed or for other countries to completely kill community transmission.

“A strategy that says we stay completely closed to everybody for the next 12 to 18 months is simply untenable. We won’t recognise this country in terms of economic impact,” Muller said.

Ardern said the idea of opening New Zealand up to Covid-19 any time soon was untenable and dangerous.

Ardern and Muller are talking past each other. Muller said “untenable” in the long term and “closed to everybody for the next 12 to 18 months is simply untenable”, but Ardern said “any time soon was untenable and dangerous”.

Unless Ardern sees 12 to 18 months as soon then they are talking about different timeframes.

And if the Government thinks it is untenable to open our borders in 12-18 months, then economically we are likely to have a big problem on top of the major problems we already have.

Some had hoped that a Tasman bubble may be possible in the short term but that has been put on hold after a surge of cases in Victoria – Virus resurgence in Victoria with another 75 cases

The Australian state of Victoria is experiencing a “concerning” upward trend in coronavirus infections, with 75 new cases identified overnight.

The latest cases were “overwhelmingly concentrated” in 10 Melbourne suburbs identified as community transmission hotspots, the state’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said.

Mikakos said the 75 new cases could be broken down into the following categories:

  • 14 cases linked to outbreaks (positive results in those tested as close contacts of existing cases)
  • 37 cases found by routine testing (general testing sites set up by health authorities)
  • 23 cases still under investigation (some were found late in the reporting day)c
  • One case is a returned traveller in hotel quarantine

So even inter-state travel in Australia is still restricted:

So even though Covid is under far better control in Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Territory any open travel across the Tasman looks unlikely at this stage.

But Europe has just opened their borders to a number of countries including New Zealand for economic/tourism reasons: EU to allow in visitors from 14 ‘safe’ countries

The EU has named 14 countries whose citizens are deemed “safe” to be let in from 1 July, despite the pandemic – but the US, Brazil and China are excluded.

UK nationals are still to be treated in the same way as EU citizens until the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December. Therefore, during that time UK nationals and their family members are exempt from the temporary travel restriction.

On the current “safe” list, still likely to be amended, are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

The UK is currently negotiating “air bridges” with several EU member states, so that coronavirus does not totally block summer holidays – the busiest season in Europe for tourism, which employs millions of people.

So Australians and New Zealanders will be able to travel to Europe but we can’t travel to Australia.

And Ardern has said that New Zealanders going to Europe for a holiday will still have to do 14 days isolation. and may not get that provided for free – Kiwis choosing to go overseas could get Covid-19 isolation bill

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern floated the idea at Monday’s post-Cabinet press conference. She has previously been asked about whether all arrivals could have to pay a share of the bill for isolation.

“One message I’m sending clearly to New Zealanders … for anyone who may be considering a non-essential trip, we will be looking at whether or not you end up being charged on your return, because you have choices.

“It’s just not fair to expect New Zealanders to pick up the tab on that.”

It’s not just the opposition calling for re-opening: Border reopening must be priority – Business NZ

The business community pinned its hopes on the border reopening as soon as possible and says the government’s failed to hold up its end of the deal.

Business leaders say billions of dollars of opportunities are on hold while the government and the army fix up mistakes most New Zealanders thought were being managed.

The government is frantically trying to plug those gaps, while at the same time the Opposition ramps up pressure for the border to open.

Almost four million international tourists typically cross New Zealand shores each year and BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said livelihoods depend on that window opening again.

But for now, the government isn’t even resuming compassionate exemptions let alone allowing international visitors in, because there isn’t enough confidence in quarantine and managed isolation facilities.

Ardern:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has thrown the Opposition leader’s own words back at him.

“It is untenable to consider the idea of opening up New Zealand’s borders to Covid-19 and in some parts of the world where we have had frequent movement of people they’re not estimating that they will reach a peak for at least a month or sometimes several months”.

Ardern said even considering opening the border right now was reckless.

“Any suggestion of borders opening at this point frankly is dangerous and I don’t think we should put New Zealand in that position”.

Apart from people whose businesses and jobs are at risk there is still probably widespread support for playing safe here.

It seems a risky political play for Muller to talk this side of the election about reopening the borders.

But the public mood can change quickly – going into lockdown was widely accepted, but once the case numbers dropped many people acted ahead of Government relaxations.

There are big and difficult decisions for the Government to make over border restrictions, but it’s something that should be openly discussed. There is a lot at stake, both in health and with the economy – and there will be many more people losing their jobs than their are getting sick from Covid.

I think it is too soon to reopen our borders now, as that risks losing a lot of what we have succeeded with over the last few months.  But we also have to look ahead at options and possible timings.

Just being told we can’t travel indefinitely is not a tenable option.

I certainly don’t want to catch Covid and risk dying from it, or risk the other health effects. But if our borders remain closed for a year or two my job will be at risk (it has been impacted already). Difficult times, difficult decisions.

Government crumbling?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seems to have been keeping a deliberate distance from the handling of Covid isolation and quarantining, and from most other things that are currently besetting her Government. But questions are being asked.

NZ Herald:  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responds to claims Government ‘tearing itself apart’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is shrugging off criticism that her Government is “tearing itself apart,” after New Zealand First killed any hope that light rail in Auckland would get underway this term.

“This is an MMP Government,” Ardern said this afternoon.

“This just happens to be one [area] where we were unable to form a consensus.”

Greens co-leader James Shaw said NZ First’s light rail moves were a “slap in the face of Aucklanders”.

But he insisted the policy was not dead.

Ardern admitted she was frustrated that the project won’t get underway before the election.

“That was a policy that we campaigned on that we have worked really hard on because we believe it will make a difference to congestion issues in Auckland.”

Light Rail was the first big policy announced by Ardern when she took over leadership of Labour leading into the 2017 election.

Labour made a commitment to the Greens in their governing agreement:

Work will begin on light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland.

But Ardern has not been able to prevent NZ First from delaying and then cancelling the project.

Stuff: James Shaw says NZ First are breaching their coalition agreement by axing light rail plan

Green Party co-leader James Shaw says NZ First are breaching their coalition agreement with Labour by axing Auckland light rail this term.

In some of his harshest ever words against the party, Shaw said NZ First’s killing off of Auckland light rail this term was a “slap in the face of Aucklanders” and breached the coaliton agreement between Labour and NZ First.

He also refused to say whether he would go into Government with NZ First again.

This is unusually strong words from Shaw, but the survival of his party is at real risk.

NZ First leader Winston Peterssaid it was his reading of the clause that his party would act in good faith with the Greens, but did not actually bind his agreement to theirs.

“It asks us to act in good faith using our best information to make judgements on matters,” Peters said.

Pushed on this point Peters asked that the reporter go to the Human Rights Commission to get an interpretation of the clause.

Good faith and Winston Peters? he is also fighting for political survival and is well known to put his interests first, his party isn’t referred to as Winston First for nothing.

He said NZ First had killed off the plans as it was worried about cost blowouts.

That’s from someone who, along with Shane Jones, are doling out billions to regions whiling claiming as much credit for themselves.

1 News Morning Briefing June 25: Ardern denies coalition is crumbling

Ms Ardern says hers is an MMP Government and “this just happens to be one [area] where we were unable to form a consensus”.

One of a growing number of ‘areas’.

Meanwhile, NZ First has also left business owners frustrated after putting the brakes on proposed changes to commercial leases, forcing Labour to turn to National for support for the bill.

NZ First leader Winston Peters denies he’s blocking the changes, saying, “We’re just making sure the policy is a sound, commercial proposition in fairness to the contractual laws in New Zealand.”

Peters is blocking changes on a number of things at least until the election.

The Spinoff  The Bulletin: Will the three-party government survive the term?

After several days of frantically knifing each other at parliament, you’d be forgiven for thinking the coalition government is on the verge of collapse. The highest profile incident was the news that the process on deciding how to get light rail in Auckland is now off the table…

As if to underline their independence from the wider coalition, NZ First have inflicted several more quick defeats on their frenemies this week. They’ve refused to support the proposal for hate speech laws. They put the brakes on proposed changes to commercial leases, in the wake of Covid-19. They stalled changes to how rape trials operate, based on concerns raised by defence lawyers. In each case, the party put up reasons for their opposition. But the cumulative effect of a barrage of similar stories creates the impression that they’re no longer interested in allowing anything else through before the election.

What’s driving all of this? Politik’s Richard Harman is particularly well informed on these matters, and has speculated that what we’re seeing right now is revenge from NZ First around one of their key projects – the movement of Auckland port operations to Whangārei – not making the speedy progress that they would have liked to see. Among the snubs in this area, the report noted that a proposal to build a floating dry dock in the north was not part of the recently announced list of 11 shovel-ready projects.

Peters reacting out of spite? Surely not.

Could all of this actually bring the government down? It’s not impossible that we’ll see an early election, even if it is deeply unlikely.

I think it is unlikely. Even if the Government collapsed now it would seem pointless bringing the election forward by a few weeks – it is currently three months away.

Peters should be very wary of bringing down another Government, he has a reputation for not going the distance and another failure would not be helpful for his re-election chances.

But an ongoing train wreck won’t help either.


RNZ: Casualties of the coalition government continue to grow

Labour and Green MPs have given up hiding their growing frustrations with New Zealand First vetoing their flagship policies.

Once again the confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens has taken a hit.

Justice Minister Andrew Little hasn’t had a good run negotiating with New Zealand First in the past.

While he’d work with them again, he also said “I might change the ground rules”.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw is less forgiving that yet another policy in the Greens’ confidence and supply agreement with Labour has been placed on the backburner.

“I have faith in the Green Party’s confidence and supply agreement with Labour, yes. I don’t have faith that New Zealand First are able to uphold their own coalition agreement.

“Their coalition agreement says that they will act in good faith to ensure all other agreements can be complied with,” he said.

But NZ First Leader Winston Peters brushed off the accusation.

“We’ve acted in good faith but the Greens’ three hours ago were telling you they’re responsible, and then two hours later they had an epiphany and now they’re saying we’re breaching some kind of agreement to which we were never a part.”

Sounds like a dysfunctional government.

David Clark – resignation or sacking?

David Clark has often been shielded from media and public scrutiny for good reasons. He has been widely regarded as out of his depth as Minister of Health, hapless (hopeless may be a bit strong).

But yesterday for some reason he did a number of media interviews – see Claytons responsibility Clark, Bloomfield, bus. Did he decide to repeatedly avoid any responsibility for the problems dealing with Covid, especially isolation and quarantine, and point the blame at his Ministry and the Director General Ashley Bloomfield? At one stage in front of Bloomfield?

Or was he let loose by his minders knowing he was likely to politically self destruct?

Notably fellow MP and Minister Willie Jackson joined in the dumping on Clark, as did Labour Party stalwart Greg Presland.

Perhaps Clark will be dragged back under cover, hoping the train wreck won’t be noticed amongst the rest of the bad news for the Government – it was confirmed yesterday that Light Rail was now officially off the tracks at least until the election, and Greens and NZ First traded blows.

Has the Government has been containing the shambles long enough for Colmar Brunton to finish their latest round of polling? That ended yesterday, results are expected tonight.

Clark seems intent on keeping his job, despite his reputation tattering even more.

A sacking would be a bit of a distraction from the onslaught of bad news, but is Jacinda Ardern up to dumping a long time colleague and friend of herself and Grant Robertson?


Toby Manhire: David Clark is not responsible

A minister of health with a humility bypass creates a problem for Jacinda Ardern – especially when he’s contrasted with Ashley Bloomfield, writes Toby Manhire.

With the cadence of a fingernail sliding down a blackboard, David Clark spent much of yesterday declining to accept responsibility.

No doubt Clark feels on thin ice after admitting to being “an idiot” and getting bounced down to the bottom rank of Cabinet for breaking the lockdown rules. That must have sucked. But accepting some ministerial responsibility doesn’t mean resigning – it is necessarily something that is proportional to whatever it is for which responsibility is being taken. And the principle of ministerial responsibility does not magically exclude “operational matters”. A 2013 Labour Party press release from then shadow leader of the house and now speaker Trevor Mallard welcomed a speaker’s ruling on parliamentary questions with the headline, “Ministers are responsible for operational matters”.

“Operational matters” aren’t a get-out-of-responsibility-free card. “Operational matters” can be substituted in most sentences for “things that happened”.

Usually invoked in relation to police or justice matters, the concept is useful to determine when a politician should stay the hell out of an “operational matter” to avoid inappropriate influence.

Turns out, in fact, Clark has not once – not once – visited an isolation facility in person. Truly he is unblemished by the operation.

For Clark, the writing looked mostly on the wall the day that prime minister said she’d have fired him if they weren’t in the middle of a crisis. It’s unimaginable that he’d get the health portfolio back were Labour re-elected. The more pressing question for the prime minister is whether he’s a liability on the campaign trail.

Quarantine debacle escalates as Woodhouse allegations confirmed

Widespread anger was expressed after it was revealed that tow women who were granted a compassionate exemption from quarantine travelled from Auckland to Wellington on Saturday before testing positive for Covid-19, breaking a 24 day run of no new cases in New Zealand.

In a show of no confidence in the Ministry of Health handling of quarantines Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appointed a military leader to review and oversee the quarantining.

A number of people came claiming poor procedures in quarantine.

It turns out that testing of people arriving in the country from overseas were not required to be tested, it was optional.

But it gets worse. It appears that the public have been misled after an allegation made by National spokesperson on health Michael Woodhouse that the exempted women didn’t travel from Auckland to Wellington with no contact with anyone has been confirmed.  Apparently they got lost on the Auckland motorway and met up with friends.

Yesterday Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield did not front up to media, instead emailing a statement (there was no update posted on the Covid website).

From The Spinoff live updates:

On yesterday’s cases, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said in an emailed update, “As director general of health, I have overall system responsibility for the health operations of our self-isolation facilities and exemptions.

“In this instance, these individuals should have been tested prior to leaving the managed isolation facility.

“I am taking responsibility for ensuring this does not happen again.

“We have put in place a number of actions to provide the public and government assurance that anyone arriving into New Zealand does not pose any risk from Covid-19.”

“There is one family member isolating with them who is being monitored daily by the local public health unit. The Ministry of Health is managing wider contact tracing from the National Contact Tracing unit.

“We are treating anyone on the flight or in the facility at the same time as the cases as if they are close contacts who have potentially been exposed. We are getting them all tested and isolated until a negative result is received.

“At this point, there are 320 identified close contacts. The majority of these will have been contacted by the end of the day. All of these people will be encouraged to get a test.”

The ministry is confident no contact was made with anyone on the women’s journey between Auckland and Wellington, the update said. “The actions of these two individuals have been exemplary in terms of following health advice and the agreed plan on departure from the facility. I want to thank them for their cooperation and ask that their privacy  continues to be respected during this time.”

Ardern did front up to the media:

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has addressed media on why yesterday’s two new cases, both New Zealand citizens, were allowed out of managed isolation before being tested.

She said it was “an unacceptable failure of the system”.

“From the beginning we have taken an extraordinarily cautious approach at the border … that is also why we required tests to be undertaken at those facilities – one at day three and one at day 12.

“That should have happened in the cases we learned about yesterday, it did not and there are no excuses. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated.”

Blame did not lie with the two New Zealand citizens returning from the UK, she added. “It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job now is to fix that.”

Ardern said she would leave it to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield to determine where responsibility landed and if anyone’s job would be threatened.

She said she was not considering sacking the health minister, David Clark. “The minister is in exactly the same position that I am, we both find what has happened here unacceptable, it is counter to what we were told was happening… He is part of fixing this issue, not part of the problem.”

Ardern was critical of the pressure she said was coming from “a wide range of quarters, not least from some of my colleagues on the other side of the house” to loosen the border. “We have always said that we needed to be cautious. I utterly stand by that.

“This is a growing pandemic, not a slowing one, and we should be extraordinarily careful, and I send that message to the opposition.”

But the Opposition responded with an allegation in Parliament.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Were the two individuals, confirmed with COVID yesterday, accompanied on their drive to Wellington, and, if not, how can he be 100 percent sure that they did not stop during the trip?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: They were not accompanied, and I am assured that they have been the kind of people, and have demonstrated, that they have followed the protocols in place with their self-isolation plan.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen reports that the two individuals went the wrong way on their journey to Wellington and came into close contact with the people who gave them directions?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No, I have seen no evidence of that.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was he aware that the good Samaritans who assisted them were rewarded with a kiss and a cuddle, and would he consider that to be a close contact?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I would be deeply concerned if that were the case. I have been assured that there was no contact on their journey to the place where they visited their relative in the Wellington region.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has he been advised of the details and facts behind the allegations in that last question?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have not. I have certainly asked the question about whether there was any contact at all, and I have been assured that there was no contact along the way. So I have certainly not heard that report, and if the member has actually heard that and not passed it on, that would be very deeply concerning.

Last night from Stuff:  Ministry of Health confirms women with Covid got lost and stopped on drive from Auckland to Wellington

The Ministry of Health has confirmed two women diagnosed with Covid-19 after leaving a managed isolation facility in Auckland did not drive non-stop to Wellington.

Health officials had insisted they did, but Stuff revealed the pair got lost, stopped and met someone.

Politicians had questioned the validity of the claims but the Ministry of Health responded to Stuff late on Wednesday to say that the journey between Auckland and Wellington, taken by two New Zealanders with Covid-19 who returned to New Zealand to see their dying parent had been confirmed.

“Upon leaving the Novotel in a private vehicle provided by friends, the women got lost on the Auckland motorway system.

“On realising this they phoned the same friends who supplied the vehicle, who met and guided them to the correct motorway, so they could go in the right direction. As part of this the pair were in limited physical contact with the two friends for approximately five minutes.”

In addition, health authorities had been informed of instances where friends have made contactless deliveries of food or care packages to the women while they have been in self-isolation in recent days.

The packages were contactless deliveries and the friends who had delivered the packages had taken all appropriate precautions to maintain physical distance, the statement said.

“As such there is no risk to the community from these interactions.”

A second interview with the sisters was conducted by the local public health unit on Tuesday evening and there were subsequent interviews on Wednesday.

The statement says the information was communicated to the Ministry of Health on the afternoon of Wednesday 17 June.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked for a comment on the revelation, she did not address the issue or that officials had been misled.

A spokesperson for the prime minister reiterated to Stuff what she had said earlier – that there had been an unacceptable systemic failure with the case.

“The government is focused on cleaning it up as quickly as possible and fixing the problems that led to it.”

Woodhouse was criticised on social media, I saw the usual ‘attack the messenger’ nonsense on Twitter, and also at The Standard, but there was also anger expressed there, see from here.

It appears that Woodhouse has been vindicated.

Also:

Something is up with this case.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/419252/ministry-confirms-women-with-covid-19-did-stop-on-trip

The Novotel Ellerslie is literally on top of the Southern motorway jammed hard up against the Greenlane interchange. Apparently they got lost between the hotel and the motorway, a drive less than 500m…yeah, right.

Someone is still lying.

There may be more to come out on this.

The Ministry and the Government should have fronted up with the correct information. This has turned out to be a further embarrassment for the Ministry of Health and the Government.

Stuff: Furious PM sends in military to review and oversee border controls after two new cases.

Ardern said the bungle was completely unacceptable and the “rigour” of the military was needed to sort out what was going at the border.

She appointed assistant chief of defence Air Commodore Darryn Webb to review and oversee border management from here on out.

“We need the rigour, we need the confidence, and we need the discipline that the military can provide,” Ardern said.

He would be able to use the military to make sure the border was being properly handled.

“It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job is to fix that.”

“There is no room for error.”

It appears to be a litany of errors and incompetence.

That looks like a major vote of no confidence in Ashley Bloomfield (or throwing under a bus), and in the Ministry of Health.

This isn’t quite hero to zero, but it is a major denting of public confidence in Government and Ministry handling of the pandemic. Minister of Health David Clark has had a poor public relationship, nothing more from him since he expressed ‘frustration’ and ‘disappointment’ over the quarantine debacle before the latest revelations.

I don’t trust the getting lost story. I think it’s more likely a deliberate meeting contrary to specified conditions of exemption.

So this is likely to require Ardern to front up and try to repair the damage.


NZ Herald: Woman who MP claims ‘kissed and cuddled’ Covid travellers attended Auckland gym class days later

An Auckland woman who an MP claims “cuddled and kissed” two Covid-19 infected British travellers attended a “hands-on” training at her local gym yesterday morning.

According to a Facebook post by Felicia Alkin, the owner and founder of Highland Park’s Lioness Gym for Women, the unnamed member was in contact with the two women on Saturday.

She did not know they were positive until yesterday afternoon, Alkin said.

Alkin says she has now cancelled her classes and appointments, and decided to self-isolate with her family, until the gym member – who underwent testing this morning – had tested negative.

Contact tracing will now be a headache for the Ministry.

And the flow on effects of quarantine incompetence and laxness by the women are significant.

Politicians distance themselves from Covid quarantine procedure failures

A lot of dismay and anger has been expressed after two people granted a compassionate exemption to Covid quarantine so they could travel from Auckland to Wellington to see a dying relative, including from politicians who accepted credit and praise  for successfully eradicating Covid, but don’t accept responsibility for this huge stuff up.

The Minister of Health has acted quickly – Compassionate exemptions temporarily suspended

Health Minister Dr David Clark says he has required the Director General of Health to suspend compassionate exemptions from managed isolation, in order to ensure the system is working as intended.

The ‘system’ simply wasn’t working as it should have been.

It will only be reinstated once the Government has confidence in the system.

“Compassionate exemptions should be rare and rigorous and it appears that this case did not include the checks that we expected to be happening. That’s not acceptable,” David Clark said.

“Our border measures are a key line of defence against COVID-19 and we must ensure they are as robust as possible.

It is obvious that border controls were critical. Measures should have been as robust as possible for months. Testing is a basic part of this.

“The Director General will be reviewing the processes around these latest two cases, noting that he has already made it a requirement that all individuals must return a negative COVID test before leaving managed isolation facilities from now on.”

According to RNZ that was only a few days ago.

Over the last week Clark has been praising himself for the Ministry handling of Covid.

On Facebook on 8 June:

#BREAKING We are moving to Alert Level 1 at 11.59pm tonight.
I couldn’t be more proud of overseeing a health system that has responded so well to the challenges of a global pandemic. Together, with the efforts of all New Zealanders, we’ve shown we can stamp out COVID-19. Now let’s keep doing this.

On Facebook on 12 June:

Yesterday (Newstalk ZB): Clark grilled over new cases as PM admits checks were ‘not adequate’

Health Minister David Clark told Heather Du Plessis Allan the system needs to be looked at.

“My request to suspend compassionate exemptions until we ensure the system is working as intended.”

He says that the two women did all that was asked of them.

When it came to them leaving without getting a test, Clark says that ministers understood that was what was happening.

du Plessis-Allan asked how the two teenagers had been able to run away from authorities after being granted an exemption. However, Clark was unaware of the case – learning about it live on air.

“I have not had a briefing on that. I will seek a briefing on that.”

Clark says he is disappointed that the measures he thought were in place weren’t in place.

A lot of people are disappointed in the laxness of systems and the re-introduction of Covid into New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has admitted health officials’ protocols failed to meet expectations after two new Covid-19 cases were revealed today.

In a Facebook Live post this evening, she said standards had not been met.

“This case is clear – our expectations … have not been met in this instance,” she said.

“The two cases that came in from overseas that were announced today were not announced under the circumstances that we would have expected at out border.”

Ardern acknowledged that the two women should not have been granted compassionate leave.

“That is something that we have taken incredibly seriously.”

Ardern said the Government had now halted the compassionate leave scheme for those in self-isolation or quarantine to attend an event such as a funeral.

“Ultimately, after taking a look at what has happened here there is already an expectation that no one leaves quarantine until they have completed their two weeks [isolation] and have been tested,” she said.

“Of course that was our expectation already, so that is where there is a failure in this case.”

So not her responsibility either.

ODT: Compassionate exemptions from quarantine halted

Clark told RNZ’s Checkpoint programme tonight that, as a result of the latest cases, he had asked Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to temporarily suspend all compassionate exemptions until he was confident that “things are happening as they should” at the borders.

“They followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people … but nonetheless I am disappointed to learn they were out of the facility without testing negative first, because that was my understanding that that would have happened.”

He said it was his understanding that one of the women had symptoms but dismissed them as part of a pre-existing condition.

Clark said it was his expectation that people were tested at three days and 12 days since their arrival, based on advice from the Ministry of Health.

“My understanding is that the Director-General himself was expecting they’d be tested before they left and so the system has clearly not worked as it was intended to work. I’m very disappointed about that.”

Expectations and understandings are not enough. I would have thought that all people entering the country should be tested as soon as they get here.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the two new cases of Covid-19 underline how important it is to have strict border controls.

But she would not be drawn on any details of the cases – the first in the country since May 22 – pointing instead to today’s press conference with Bloomfield.

Ardern fronted up with Bloomfield often over the last few months, so much so that she was criticised for using it for PR purposes.

“There are eight million cases worldwide. We still have New Zealanders returning home,” Ardern said. “What this does prove is the importance of a rigorous system at our border.”

That importance was proven months ago. We should have had a rigorous system at our border at least before lowering our Covid levels and allowing exemptions.

Hopefully these new cases will be contained and won’t spread further, but that would be more by good luck than god management.

But the problems may be bigger:

NZ Herald:  Two new New Zealand Covid cases from UK, Jacinda Ardern admits system ‘failure’

The women arrived in New Zealand on June 7 and applied for a dispensation on Friday June 12.

The application for leave was expedited because of the sudden death of their parent later that day, Bloomfield said, and they were allowed to leave for Wellington on the condition they were tested there.

They arrived on 7 June and were granted an exemption after 12 June without having been tested. Being asked to get tested when the got to Wellington is remarkable,.

The women, in their 30 and 40s, arrived on a flight from Britain via Doha and Brisbane.

Bloomfield wasn’t nervous that there would be a sudden outbreak because the close contacts – including people at the Novotel Ellerslie in Auckland where they stayed and on the Brisbane flight – were all being traced.

The pair were currently in quarantine at a Wellington property with a third family member – apparently the only person they have had contact with since leaving Auckland.