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Morning Briefing April 29: D-day looms for NZ's national sport

New Zealand rugby is on the cusp of a major shake-up, the SFO is called in over political donations, and some regions fall behind in the race to vaccinate Kiwis against Covid-19.

All Blacks perform the haka - file photo. Source: Associated Press

A decision that could shake up New Zealand’s national sport rests in the hands of the country’s provincial rugby unions today.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) is seeking approval to sell a 12.5 per cent stake in its commercial assets to US private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, with close to $388 million on the table. 

Unions will vote on the recommendation during NZR’s annual meeting today. If it carries, it will mark the first time in more than 115 years that the All Blacks do not wholly belong to New Zealanders.

Rugby officials argue the sale to Silver Lake is necessary to secure the future financial sustainability of NZR after its finances were battered by the Covid-19 pandemic. 1 NEWS understands many of the 26 provincial unions are set to give the plan the green light

The Silver Lake deal has faced push-back from professional players who have sought assurances that important symbols such as the silver fern and the All Blacks’ haka won’t be sold and commercialised.

New Zealand Māori Rugby has reached out to Silver Lake to ensure comfortable levels of protection around such cultural sensitivities.

NZR says the deal will also establish a legacy fund for “longer-term strategic initiatives to ensure the sustainability of all levels of rugby in New Zealand”, however opponents say the American investors are unlikely to be interested in the grassroots level of the game.

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SFO called in over donations

Police have referred the Māori Party to the Serious Fraud Office after it failed to declare more than $300,000 of donations to the Electoral Commission on time.

Any donation over $30,000 must be declared within 10 working days of it being received.

Three such donations – from former party co-leader John Tamihere, Aotearoa Te Kahu, and the National Urban Māori Authority – were made last year but were only declared recently.

The referral of the matter to the SFO came as National received a warning about its own failure to declare a large donation within 10 days. The party filed a late aggregated donation from Garth Barfoot in March when it should have been declared in November. 

Meanwhile, National was making other headlines yesterday as recommendations from the party’s review into its disastrous 2020 election campaign appeared on their website.

Amongst other things, the report includes a proposal to change the rules around leadership bids and a stronger focus on diversity and Māori.

Collins told Stuff she doesn’t plan to introduce quotas to increase that diversity within the party. 

Regions fall behind on vaccines

New figures from the Ministry of Health show the nationwide Covid-19 vaccine rollout is slightly ahead of schedule, however, as RNZ points out, there is huge variance in progress between regions.

Northland DHB has fallen short of its target by nearly 4000 doses, while Lakes DHB has also missed its vaccination goal, delivering 76 per cent of the vaccines it was supposed to. 

Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall says there’s a plan for all Kiwis to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before 2022, with that plan on track to ramp up as the year goes on.

It comes as the Government says it anticipates the AstraZeneca vaccine could be available for use from June. 

Meanwhile, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the man who flew to New Zealand from Perth while the travel bubble with Western Australia was suspended over the weekend could face a fine or prison time.

The returnee has been moved to a managed isolation facility as investigations into the case continue.  

NZ joins aid for India

New Zealand has joined the group of nations donating help to India, where the country’s Covid-19 crisis is being described as “a horror story on repeat”.

Kiwi taxpayers will donate $1 million to the Red Cross for critical needs, such as oxygen. Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta says the Red Cross contribution “is the most practical assistance we can make to India at this time”.

The move comes as New Zealand’s travel ban from India lifts today, allowing citizens and their families to return home – if they can find a flight

Skilled migrants losing patience

Migrant workers say they’re stuck in limbo while facing significant delays applying for residency in New Zealand.

More than 25,000 people are currently in the queue for residency and that’s just for skilled migrants or people already working in the country.

There are now growing pleas for the Government to throw more resources at the issue. 

Meanwhile, the immigration status of a five-year-old boy has made headlines after his parents were told he could be declined a student visa because of his hearing loss.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) says all non-New Zealanders coming here must have an "acceptable standard of health" so as "not to impose undue costs", however the Green Party says the law fails to reflect our role as signatories on the UN charter for people with disabilities. 

Other news of note this morning:

- Satellites show the world's glaciers are melting faster than ever – but they’re shrinking fastest in New Zealand.

- Fiji has recorded a further two cases of Covid-19 in the community.

- Australian farmers are begging for help to end a mouse plague that’s troubling western NSW communities.

- The Government has announced $110 million will be allocated to a new spinal and rehabilitation unit in Auckland, while $40 million will also be spent on 30 new urgent care beds at Waitākere Hospital.

- The Environmental Protection Authority is "taking another look" at the controversial weed-killer glyphosate, the widely used ingredient found in products like Roundup.

- The Ministry of Education says all New Zealand teachers can now choose to use te reo classroom titles.

- 1 NEWS political editor Jessica Mutch McKay has reflected on her memories of the parliamentary press gallery as the institution celebrates its 150-year anniversary this weekend (albeit a year late). 

- And here’s a story for Kiwis of a certain vintage – find out why it might be time to dust off those old cassette tapes

And finally...

Laura Davis and Lolsy Byrne. Source: Seven Sharp

The NZ International Comedy Festival opens on Friday but with the current Covid restrictions and travel bans, how international will it really be?

Border Patrol wannabe Rhys Mathewson has managed to track down the two sole international acts currently stuck in New Zealand to give them a citizenship test and find out the best things about this fine country. (They include feijoas and the Topp twins – and they’re not wrong.)