Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for June 3, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at email@example.com
10.35am: Government gets billions more unexpected tax revenue from fast-growing economy
Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports, while sitting on a delayed plane in Wellington.
New Zealand’s economy is outperforming expectations set only two weeks ago when finance minister Grant Robertson tabled the government’s budget, with billions more collected in taxes over the 10 months that ended in April 2021.
Treasury’s economic forecasts have been wrong since the country emerged from the first Covid-19 lockdown over a year ago, consistently doing better than expected. The result has been billions less debt than expected, more jobs and much healthier revenue.
Much of the improvement was due to more customer spending, seen through higher GST receipts, and fatter company profits resulting in $500 million more in corporate taxes.
Net government debt is now $107 billion, or 33.9% of the size of the economy. While substantially higher than it was only a year ago, it’s lower than the 34.8% of GDP that was expected at this point. Despite the rosy forecast, Robertson warned that he’s still worried about deficits and the country cannot “afford to be complacent.”
As a result, he’s sticking to a spending plan that will see many departments facing tough budgets with almost no new money over the next year.
One estimate from the Treasury that might also beat expectations is the forecast of home prices increasing only 0.9% by the middle of next year, although for many first-time home buyers, this might be bad news. CoreLogic data published earlier this week showed house prices increased by 7.7% in the three months after March, blowing through Treasury’s number.
10.10am: Ministry locates additional 48 people from Melbourne who need testing
The Ministry of Health has identified an additional 48 people who returned from Melbourne at the start of the recent Covid-19 outbreak – all should have been in self-isolation more than a week ago.
Anyone who returned to New Zealand from Melbourne between May 20 and 25 was required to self-isolate until they had tested negative for the coronavirus.
In a statement, the ministry said a “data reconciliation” meant it had found an additional cohort of 177 people in addition to the 4,532 people reported earlier. Of the group of 177 people, 129 have already returned to Australia. Of the remaining 48, just seven have not yet been contacted.
“These additional 177 people were identified after a detailed look back to confirm all quarantine free travel flights that had arrived during the period 20-25 May had been included in the testing and isolation requirements,” said a ministry spokesperson.
Of the 4,749 travellers:
- 2,733 have returned a negative test result;
- 213 are exempt from testing because they are under the age of 12;
- 1,292 require no further action as they have returned to Australia; and
- 511 have no test result as yet.
There is also 139 crew members who are yet to receive a negative test result.
9.40am: Facebook to appear before select committee; Greens call for accountability
The Greens want Facebook held accountable for spreading disinformation and are calling on the government for help.
The social media company is set face questions for the first time today before a parliamentary select committee.
Green Party electoral reform spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said Facebook needs to be held to account for its role in enabling behaviour which threatens democracy.
“Facebook has admitted it enables a range of harmful practices including foreign interference in elections, hate speech, and mass data privacy breaches – yet it remains largely self-governing,” said Ghahraman.
“If Facebook is going to continue to be such a powerful, non-neutral and self-governing force in electoral politics, it must urgently release a transparent, detailed standard to protect us against the very serious threat of disinformation.”
9.05am: ‘No action required’ after Air NZ workers possibly exposed to Covid-19
Two Air New Zealand staff members were in self-isolation after possible exposure to Covid-19 – but no action had to be taken.
While little detail is known at this stage, Newshub is reporting the pair were self-isolating at home after a potential exposure to a Covid-19 case.
However, a spokesperson for the airline confirmed they were later advised the health risk was low.
“ARPHS (Auckland Regional Public Health Service) reviewed the case yesterday and advised no action was required.”
The Ministry of Health has not yet responded to the reports but Ashley Bloomfield will be giving an unrelated health briefing at 11am today where he will likely give the latest information.
A previous version of this update incorrectly stated the pair were currently in self-isolation.
8.00am: Criticism after government MPs block Covid-19 scrutiny once again
Government MPs have come under fire once again for blocking a National Party motion to have health officials questioned about the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out in select committee.
During last year’s level four lockdown, the opposition-led Epidemic Response Committee was praised for allowing the government to be held to account regarding its efforts during the pandemic. That was disbanded when alert level restrictions were lifted.
National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said its been three weeks in a row that Labour MPs on the health select committee have voted against asking senior officials to appear for questioning.
“The vaccine rollout is one of the most important things the government will do during its term,” he said in a statement. “We must get this right and that means being able to ask questions of those in charge of rolling out the vaccine.
Yesterday, the associate health minister Ayesha Verrall confirmed the roll-out was about 9% ahead of schedule. Despite this, there remain concerns that not everyone will be able to get the jab before the end of year deadline.
“So far there are a number of issues with the roll-out, including its slow progress, the lack of a national booking system for vaccines and delays in obtaining Pfizer vaccines, as well as issues with MIQ, such as the lack of saliva testing, overdue MIQ payments and what the future of MIQ will be heading into 2022,” Bishop said.
“It is in the public interest for questions on the above to be asked and answered by officials. This was clearly demonstrated back in April when a question to officials elicited the information that Case B, the security guard at the Grand Millennium, had not been tested for five months.”
Bishop said a revamped Epidemic Response Committee should be created to allow for hard questions to be asked – but that calls for this have also been rejected by Labour.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
Hundreds of pages of advice to local government minister Nanaia Mahuta on the upcoming water reforms has been released, and it shows a spending bomb about to drop. Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan has a report on the key points of the advice, and the timeline with which the government intends to act. The costs attached to saving the country’s water infrastructure are immense – anywhere from $120-185bn over 30 years. The programme also proposes to slash the number of organisations that oversee water infrastructure, from the current mass of councils down to 1-4. Coughlan tweeted some of the geographical splits that have been suggested in the advice, and to my eyes they look like the sort of maps you’d draw if you wanted just one water organisation – similar to how the government has reformed the health and polytech sector. If you’re interested, the reports in full can be read here.
The ownership of however many entities get created will be a sticking point. Newsroom’s Jonathan Milne looked into that ahead of the advice coming out, and reported that Auckland mayor Phil Goff was unhappy with several aspects. He (and a fair few other councils) are concerned about any entity that could theoretically be privatised, and that he’s not sure if it’s fair Auckland ratepayers should subsidise areas that haven’t been able to keep up with infrastructure demands. Milne reports that under the advice, the entities “will be publicly-owned, but it’s not yet clear what that will look like.”
What could the reforms mean for the cost of water in daily life? For context, that’s a cost that is probably going to go up regardless. Justin Giovannetti wrote in our live updates that without the reforms, the average annual household bill is projected to reach $13k within 30 years. All sorts of places are going to see these sorts of cost increases – for example, LDR reporter Lois Williams recently covered the four-fold service costs the residents of Inangahua Junction are about to be hit with. So big picture, the government’s view is that those sorts of costs can be made a lot more manageable with centralisation, along with providing more expert oversight of the assets. Whether they can make that case to nervous councils is another matter altogether.