Morning Briefing June 4: Hope for Kiwis stranded in locked-down Melbourne

There’s some good news for Kiwis stranded in locked-down Melbourne, and three Taranaki police officers have been acquitted of manslaughter charges.

Covid-19 testing in Melbourne. Source: 1 NEWS

The pause on quarantine-free travel between Victoria and New Zealand is being extended to June 9. Yesterday, Melbourne lengthened its Covid-19 lockdown for another week while restrictions were lifted for those in regional Victoria.

For Kiwis stranded in Melbourne, the Government has announced it is planning quarantine-free “green flights” to bring them home. 

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the flights will begin on June 8 at 11.59pm from Melbourne. It will only be offered to New Zealand citizens, Australian citizens that normally reside in New Zealand, people with humanitarian exemptions, and critical workers.

Among those breathing a sigh of relief is Lloyd Richardson, who can return home to New Zealand under the new arrangement.

Anyone boarding these flights will need to have tested negative for Covid-19 within the 72 hours before departure. Health officials regard the risk of returnees from Melbourne as "low" by June 9, as by then they would have spent 14 days in isolation. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health revealed that as of yesterday, it hadn’t yet made contact with seven people who had travelled from Melbourne to New Zealand. They were a part of a group of 177 travellers from Melbourne who weren’t immediately identified as being in New Zealand.

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Police officers found not guilty of manslaughter

Three Taranaki police officers charged with the manslaughter of a man who died in their care have all been found not guilty by a jury in the New Plymouth High Court yesterday. 

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Allen Ball died at Hāwera police station on June 1, 2019. Source: 1 NEWS

Sandra Shaw, Corey Waite and Craig Longworth were accused of being grossly negligent in their duty of care to Allen Ball, who died on the floor of a police cell in the Hāwera police station on June 1, 2019. Ball was arrested a few hours earlier in a highly-intoxicated state. A toxicology report states Ball died of an alcohol, tramadol and codeine overdose.

In closing arguments on Wednesday, the Crown described the attitude of the three officers accused as showing a lack of concern, care and laziness.

Defence lawyers argued the training the officers had received was “insufficient for them to be properly able to do what is required”, and that Ball would have been taken to hospital had the officers thought medical treatment was required. 

After the verdicts, Police Association president Chris Cahill said frontline officers’ training, generally, is lacking in areas like custody management. 

Whakaari/White Island court proceedings begin 

Legal action over the 2019 Whakaari/White Island eruption began yesterday at the Whakatāne District Court. 

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Thirteen parties are facing charges from WorkSafe. Source: 1 NEWS

Thirteen parties are facing charges, which include failing to keep health and safety procedures updated, failing to ensure the safety of workers and tourists on the island, inadequate volcanic alert communication, and failure to properly disclose risks. 

Only one party, the National Emergency Management Agency has entered a plea so far — one of not guilty. Others aren’t expected to enter pleas until August. 

Judge Evangelos Thomas remembered and honoured the 22 people who lost their lives after the eruption, and also acknowledged those who continued to be affected by the tragedy.

MIQ review into Auckland facilities 

A review released yesterday into Covid-19 transmission at two Auckland MIQ facilities — the Grand Millennium and Grand Mercure — found improvements were needed.

The review comes after three MIQ workers tested positive for Covid-19 at the Grand Millennium in March. Among the staff was a security worker who was found not to have been tested for months.

The review wasn’t able to conclude with certainty how transmission occurred in the facility. But, it notes the most likely mode of transmission to Case A from the index case was by aerosol transmission in a hallway, then between Case B and Case C by direct exposure from two workers on the same shift. 

The same review also looked into what improvements could be made at the Grand Mercure following two separate incidents. In the first incident, two positive returnee cases were genomically linked, indicating that transmission occurred within the facility. The second incident involved a breach in bus protocols when a person who tested positive was allowed onto a bus ride to travel for exercise.

A number of recommendations were made. The full reports can be found on the Ministry of Health’s website.

While we’re on the topic of MIQ, 1 NEWS first revealed in January computer programmers were creating bots that booked spaces in the facilities on behalf of people desperate to get home. Even after the Government said it would crack down on the practice, however, people continued to beat the system

Yesterday, emails between MBIE staff about the issue were released to 1 NEWS under the Official Information Act. It shows the scramble from officials to keep things contained

Pharmac: 'We're not just all about the money'

Pharmac is defending the way it funds New Zealand's drugs. Lisa Williams, the agency's director of operations, says it's working on better openness and transparency with Kiwis about those decisions.

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The agency's director of operations Lisa Williams says the agency is working to be more open and transparent. Source: Breakfast

"We're not just all about the money," she said after Breakfast host John Campbell suggested she was using an "emotive and manipulative phrase" to justify not having funded Spinraza. Williams called that treatment for spinal muscular atrophy "extremely expensive" but then refused to share the cost. 

Watch the full exchange here.

Other news of note this morning:

- Samoa Observer (paywalled) reports Samoa’s caretaker Prime Minister and Prime Minister-elect met for “secretly-held negotiations” about a transition to the next Government.

- The Fiji Times reports Fiji recorded 28 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, bringing the total number of active cases in its most recent outbreak to 349, all in isolation.

- There’s a long road ahead for some Cantabrians left to repair the damage caused by this week’s floods.

- The Race Relations Commissioner wants police to wear body cameras to address unconscious or racial bias in the force.

- A Tauranga man has been charged over an allegedly threatening video after a complaint from Te Pāti Māori.

- Discovery reports National’s political leadership wanted under-fire former candidate Jake Bezzant gone during last year’s election, but party president Peter Goodfellow shut down concerns after an investigation.

- RNZ reports the person who recorded outgoing MP Nick Smith's “verbal altercation” no longer works at Parliament.

- NZME reports a new dedicated cycling and walking bridge next to Auckland’s Harbour Bridge is on the way.

And finally…

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At just 32, Taurus owns a company with more than 40 staff. Source: Seven Sharp

It usually goes like this when you’re applying for a new job: you submit a CV, do an interview if you’re lucky, then get a few reference checks. If it goes your way, you’re up for a new role. But, does it really have to be this way? 

One Hawke's Bay business owner has decided to ignore the norm and hire people on one thing and one thing only — their attitude. 

“The person, the heart of the person and their family, that’s what I’m looking for. If they want change to be better — that's it,” Topline Contracting owner Taurus Taurima says.