Morning Briefing June 21: Is our national game hurting our brains?

TVNZ's Sunday takes a hard look at head knocks, the clean-up continues in Auckland after Saturday's tornado, and Winston Peters picks a new political fight.

Schoolboy rugby - file photo. Source:

A leading US neuroscientist has told TVNZ’s Sunday that children under the age of 14 shouldn’t be playing contact sports like rugby.

Dr Chris Nowinski has helped former American football players win $1 billion in compensation from the NFL for the impact of repeated head knocks and says rugby can reduce long-term brain damage by starting to play tackle after 14.

The main concern is a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is caused by repeated blows to the head or concussions.

CTE can only be diagnosed after death and it’s unknown at this stage if New Zealand rugby players have been diagnosed with the disease.

Sunday reporter Mark Crysell last night spoke to former All Blacks Geoff Old, who now suffers from dementia, and Ben Afeaki, who retired from the game at 27 after suffering a serious concussion. 

NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson says more research is needed into the effects of concussions and head knocks, adding that it’s “simply too early” to say there’s a definite link between them and CTE. 

You can watch Sunday’s full report on the issue here.

Sign up to get the Morning Briefing delivered direct to your inbox – here.

Weekend weather wreaks havoc

Residents in the Auckland suburb of Papatoetoe will be in clean-up mode for some time yet following Saturday’s deadly tornado, with more than 60 homes currently considered uninhabitable.

Council building inspectors assessed more than 240 buildings yesterday and found there were fewer homes considered uninhabitable than first thought, but say they were still struck by “the strength of Mother Nature”.

The Government is contributing $100,000 to a Mayoral Relief Fund to support the Papatoetoe community through the clean-up.

Family members have also named the man killed in the tornado as Janesh Prasad, a 41-year-old husband and father of two.

The mechanic was killed as the tornado hit a Ports of Auckland container yard where he was repairing a forklift. 

Meanwhile, other parts of the North Island are also in clean-up mode after heavy rain yesterday.

Downpours sparked flooding in Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast, with some residents forced to evacuate. Napier was also hit by heavy rain, causing some flooding along streets. 

And parts of Wellington and the Wairarapa are experiencing their own weather woes this morning, with strong wind and heavy rain watches and warnings in place. 

Immigration review moves forward

The Productivity Commission has today published its issues paper after being called on by the Government to examine New Zealand’s immigration system.

A major part of the review will be looking at Te Tiriti o Waitangi and whether the immigration system should reflect the values of tangata whenua.

Kiwis are being encouraged to read the issues paper and make a submission before December 24. The final report will be presented to the Government in April next year. 

Officials track Sydney cases

Sydney’s latest Covid outbreak remains at nine cases this morning, however the list of exposure sites continues to grow.

The swelling Bondi cluster has prompted new rules, with masks now mandatory indoors across several Sydney suburbs. 

Meanwhile, Fiji has recorded another new daily record of Covid cases, with 166 people testing positive for the virus yesterday. Officials there now admit community transmission of Covid-19 is “broad” in some parts of the country.

It comes as Australia sends another 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab to Fiji to help with their vaccination programme. 

Peters still in fighting form

Winston Peters has taken aim at his political rivals and what he calls “Ngāti Wokeism” in a speech to his party faithful at New Zealand First’s AGM.

Peters used his comeback speech to attack his former political adversaries, with barbs served up for Labour, the Greens, National, and ACT.

He also railed against “cancel culture”, the use of te reo Māori in daily life, cyclists, and the media. NZ First bowed out of Parliament last year, but Peters says his party will be back in 2023.  

Other news of note this morning: 

- Sir Michael Cullen has spoken to Q+A’s Jack Tame about his long political career – and facing up to his own mortality

- A growing number of schools are working to progressively remove streaming from their classrooms

- Trade Minister Damien O’Connor says he’s aiming for a better Free Trade Agreement with the UK than the one recently announced for Australia.

- Further arrests are expected to be made following a stabbing outside a Blenheim bar that left a man dead and two others in hospital.

- Mike Pero has abandoned his plans for a new airline servicing the Pacific Islands.

- New research has found work and school schedules that suit early risers could be the cause of more widespread depression among night owls.

- The Black Caps have fought their way back into the World Test Championship final, impressing with both bat and ball on day three.

- And TVNZ’s Good Sorts series celebrates a Northland woman whose beautifully painted rocks are bringing local kids joy. 

And finally...

Judith Collins. Source: 1 NEWS

Three more politicians – Judith Collins, David Seymour, and Chlöe Swarbrick - are about to be immortalised as puppets at the Backbencher.

The pub near Parliament is home to puppet versions of New Zealand’s most loved – and loathed – political figures, which are known for accentuating a politician’s features or policies.

So, what do this latest trio think their puppets will emphasise?

Collins has a feeling her puppet will be all about the eyebrow, while Swarbrick figures hers will reference cannabis reform. As for Seymour? He just hopes his puppet isn’t being euthanised.