John Armstrong: Jacinda Ardern looked like she was no longer in control during Labour's week from hell

Forget about modelling for any more Vogue-style fashion shoots. Forget about being willing fodder for the cameras of Australian-produced current affairs shows which are anything but.

Forget about being forever labelled as New Zealand's "rock-star prime minister".

Source: 1 NEWS

It is high time that the music stopped. It is time Jacinda Ardern stopped selling herself short by fulfilling every request of those keen to exploit the hottest political property to emerge from the Southern Hemisphere since Nelson Mandela strutted the international stage with similar poise and ease.

Ardern will not have the enjoyment of being categorised as hot prop for much longer.

The international media will decamp for elsewhere in the hunt for things out of the ordinary with which to feed the appetites of their readers and viewers.

New Zealand's Prime Minister can once more concentrate exclusively on looking and behaving like one.

That is very good news for Labour. And right now that party is in somewhat desperate need of that commodity.

It is little more than a month ago that Ardern was carrying all before her. Waitangi Day was her zenith - a triumph which she made look effortless in its achievement.

Nigel Haworth spoke alongside Jacinda Ardern today after allegations of sexual assault from the youth camp emerged. Source: 1 NEWS

In politics, however, things can change in an instant. And change they have.

This has been the week from hell for Labour and its leader. For the first time since taking on the latter role last August, she has been less than convincing in her handling of the mayhem.

She should be banging a few heads together both within the Labour Party and the wider governing arrangement which she heads.

Andrew Kirton said an external person may be brought in to review the alleged assaults. Source: Breakfast

Her trademark grin needs to switch to grimace. Her tendency to give errant colleagues and allies only mild tickings-off when they are at fault should be replaced by the expectation they will be on the receiving end of severe tellings-off if not in public then in private at the very least.

So bad have things got that something which would be normally regarded as highly damaging has been completely overshadowed.

Jenny Salesa's first achievement as a Cabinet minister has been to run up $30,000-plus in taxpayer-funded domestic travel and accommodation expenses during her first three months in the job.

That sum is larger than what more than half of those who live in her socially-deprived South Auckland electorate get in income in a year. But Salesa was in luck — and not solely because her boss kept making excuses for her.

Jacinda Ardern said it was unacceptable alcohol was accessible at a Labour Party camp where a group of 16-year-olds were allegedly assaulted. Source: Breakfast

Salesa's apparent ignorance of the expense she was incurring had no hope of competing news wise with the revelation of alleged sexual assaults at a summer camp run by Labour's youth wing.

In its inept handling of this dreadful episode, Labour justifiably stands accused of putting self-interest and political convenience ahead of the welfare of the victims of the alleged assaults.

Just how big a price Labour ends up paying for its shoddy behaviour is hard to assess. Such incidents make a big splash then fade from the public's memory.

Wintson Peters' injudicious Russia remarks

If that was not enough on her plate, Ardern finds herself lumbered with a foreign minister crooning the theme tune of From Russia With Love.

Winston Peters' injudicious remarks of recent days have made it look like New Zealand is siding with Russia at the very time the regime in Moscow is being accorded pariah status by the rest of the civilised world.

His assertion that there is "no evidence" that Russia was responsible for the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine back in 2014 is something you might expect to hear at a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.

Well, here are the facts. A painstaking criminal investigation conducted by Dutch authorities at the request of Ukraine found that metal fragments in the bodies of the airliner's flight crew were consistent with materials contained in a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missiles.

Moreover, while the missile was fired from a field in Ukrainian territory held by pro-Russian rebels, the missile carrier had been transported across the border from Russia on the day of the crash and then returned to Russia soon after the missile was launched.

Russia may not have pushed the launch button. But the conclusion that Russia was complicit in bringing down the aircraft is inescapable.

To justify his stance, Peters needs to provide a cogent answer to the following question: If Russia was not responsible for the downing of the aircraft, why did that country exercise its veto to block a draft United Nations resolution which would have seen the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate the crash?

That obtaining satisfactory answers from Peters is politics' version of Waiting for Godot will cut no ice in London.

New Zealand will be expected to fall in line with Britain

Britain has embarked on a massive diplomatic push to get maximum level condemnation of Russia as being responsible for the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

New Zealand will be expected to fall into line and join such a chorus. So far, however, Peters' condemnation of the attack has avoided making any reference or connection to Russia.

Up to now, Ardern has tried to variously rationalise or downplay Peters' often contradictory perambulations around the foreign policy paddock.

That has only succeeded in making her look defensive. It has made her look weak.

Unless Peters shifts his stance, she is going to have to pull rank and go over his head. If she ducks the matter to avoid destabilising relations with Labour's coalition partner, she will be jeopardising New Zealand's chances of securing separate, but equally vital post-Brexit free trade agreements with Britain and the European Union.

In Peters' case, Ardern is well-primed to expect trouble. She got no such forewarning that the seedy behaviour at a Labour summer camp was about to hit the newswires.

Ardern looked like she was no longer in control

The party's officials kept her and others in the dark on the grounds that was the advice of experts in the handling of alleged sexual abuse. Those officials thus argued they were acting in the best interests of the victims who did not want others to be made aware of their hurt and humiliation.

Keeping everyone in the dark also suited Labour's best interests. Keeping Ardern in the dark came at a price, however.

Her inability to provide answers to the questions fired at her during Monday's press conference made it look like she was no longer in control.

What is truly mind-boggling is the stupidity exhibited by the party organisation in thinking that what occurred at the summer camp could be hushed up.

Given the current unrelenting focus on sexual harassment and the exposure of institutions where such behaviour has long been endemic, the Labour Party was deluding only itself if it thought it was somehow exempt from scrutiny.

It was only a matter of time before the media were tipped-off.

The question lingering in the wake of this fiasco is what does this all mean for Labour's honeymoon with voters.

The answer is that the grizzling has begun but not in a manner anyone would have predicted.

The grizzling has centred on Ardern handing out big dollars in aid and state pension rights during her meetings in Samoa, Tonga, Niue and the Cook Islands while Nelson region apple growers struck by flash floods have been ignored.

The Prime Minister need look no further than her Canadian counterpart for worrying evidence of how quickly things can change.

It is not so long ago that Justin Trudeau was enjoying sky-high approval ratings.

They have plummeted in recent months. He was deemed untouchable. No longer, however.

Ardern is deemed as untouchable. But for how much longer?

Jacinda Ardern has denied news of the sexual assault allegation were intentionally kept from her by Labour. Source: 1 NEWS



'Hobbies may help people with dementia,' says psychiatrist as Morris Minor enthusiast hits the road

It's World Alzheimer's Day, and as one Auckland man with the dementia told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp of his love of Morris Minor cars, a psychiatrist said hobbies may help people with the disorder.

Diagnosed with early onset dementia in his fifties, Jeff Atwell's 'Morrie' has also been his medicine, his wife Doreen Atwell said. 

"Wonderful medicine. It's better than any tablet you can take, the best medicine that Jeff could have had," she said.

Psychiatrist Dr Gary Cheung psychiatrist said hobbies may help people with dementia. 

"We are doing some research on a treatment called cognitive stimulation therapy at the moment," Dr Cheung said.

But hobbies don't only help the ill.

"I think there's plenty of research out there now showing doing activities with other people, or exercising with other people, is more beneficial than doing them alone," Dr Cheung said.

When Jeff and Doreen go driving, romantic memories ride along.

"We met at the old Papatoe Dance Hall. Bill Sevesi's band there was great," Jeff recalled.

They courted in Jeff's first 'Morrie Minor' and have been married almost 54 years.

"He sold it when he went into business before we got married to buy a van that was more practical," Doreen said.

We just did it. It's only recently that dementia and hobbies have been linked - Doreen Atwell

When Jeff saw a doer-upper Morris Minor convertible in the paper several decades later, it was irresistible.

Aged just 54, Jeff was diagnosed with young onset dementia, and 20 years on he moves slowly and needs a cane. 

He's had three strokes. But the bigger problems aren't so easy to see.

"Forgetfulness, that's one of the big things. Forgetting people's names," he said.

Jeff and Doreen made a decision to live for life and get the convertible back on the road.

"We just did it. It's only recently that dementia and hobbies have been linked," Doreen said.

The couple have thanked Dementia Auckland for helping them with Jeff's condition. 

And if you're in doubt about Dementia, as Doreen was when she noticed changes in Jeff 20 years ago, get in touch with your doctor. 

Jeff Attwell was diagnosed with the condition in his early fifties. Source: Seven Sharp

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Kiwi pilot and his interloping crew wow Reno Air Races at bone-rattling speeds

Graeme Frew admits he's got an addiction – one that gets him travelling at speeds of 580km/h just 15 metres off the ground.

The Blenheim pilot and his crew of Kiwi interlopers took on some of the world's best at the Reno Air Races in the US earlier this week with their Russian Yak Fighter plane called Full Noise.

The crew brought over their plane in a shipping container and assembled it again just two days before the first race – something organisers say have never been done.

The Americans fell in love with Frew and Full Noise so TVNZ1's Seven Sharp caught up with the adrenaline junkies to see how they pulled it off.

Watch the video above for more.

Seven Sharp’s Michael Holland was at the event in Nevada. Source: Seven Sharp


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Brexit could be good news for Kiwis wanting to live and work in the UK

Brexit could be good news for New Zealanders wanting to live and work in the UK.

Negotiations are on going between Britain and the European Union with Britain due the leave the EU on March 29 next year.

Cathy Allen is a speech and language therapist who is reluctantly heading back to New Zealand after being unable to extend a visa despite Britain's National Health Service's best efforts to keep her.

"I've been trying for the last six months every month and the reason it hasn't gone through is just that there's visa caps."

But the UK Government's own advisers are now recommending the highly skilled migrant cap should be scrapped.

Ms Allen said if that happens, "It'd be a lot easier, I'd be able to stay here 3-5 years."


There are just eight weeks to work through the deadlock on key issues. Source: 1 NEWS


Christchurch woman who built home for disabled brother 'astounded' at $23k consent bill

For years Kiwis have been putting up with council fees when building new homes, but one Christchurch woman thinks she has figures that shows it's getting out of control.

Liz Armon built a house for her retired, disabled brother David in south-east Christchurch – a one bedroom, open plan living house she wanted David to feel at home in.

The house cost $67,000 to build but then came Christchurch City Council's fees on top – an extra $23,000.

"I was absolutely astounded," Ms Armon said.

"Twenty-three thousand in total for consent costs when I had anticipated it being $1,500 after speaking to the council initially."

The hefty bill was made up of a development levy, consent fees, a flood level survey, with neighbouring Selwyn District Council carving some off the top as well.

"I can't understand why any council wouldn't want to support elderly people or families in need," Ms Armon said.

As it turns out, those main council taxes are made up of lots of smaller taxes for inspection fees, processing times and contributions for future parks and public transport in the area.

The council added the $12,500 development levy Ms Armon paid was actually a bargain with levies for houses in other subdivisions "typically" $20,000 to $30,000.

We take a look at a Christchurch woman’s eye-watering council bill. Source: Seven Sharp