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Morning Briefing Sept 16: PM urged to act over data collection

The Prime Minister is being called on to act following revelations a Chinese intelligence company has been collecting information on prominent New Zealanders.

Jacinda Ardern. Source: Getty

The leaked data set came from mass surveillance company Zhenhua Data, which is believed to have links to China's intelligence service and military.

It includes details on more than two million high profile people worldwide, including almost 800 New Zealanders. The aggregation of the mostly publicly sourced data includes details about Jacinda Ardern’s parents, Winston Peters’ daughter and Sir John Key’s son.

Chinese foreign policy expert Professor Anne-Marie Brady says the scope of the surveillance is disturbing and is Ardern's responsibility given she’s the minister in charge of national security.

Brady says it would be helpful for Ardern to speak clearly about the issue and what needs to be done. 

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Contacts slow to isolate

Ministry of Health figures show the close contacts of people with Covid-19 are still not getting into isolation fast enough.

RNZ reports that while contact tracing efforts have far exceeded targets, contacts are not isolating as quickly as authorities expect. 

It comes as a staff member at Auckland Prison at Paremoremo is in isolation after one of their household contacts tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. Two prisoners are also in isolation, along with nearly 30 Corrections staff and contractors.

Close contacts of the 89 gym users potentially exposed to Covid-19 last week are also being asked to get tested, as health authorities cast a wide net in their quest to contain the Auckland cluster.

There were no new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in the community yesterday. 

PM denies alert level politics

Jacinda Ardern insists Covid-19 alert level decisions are not influenced by politics.

Her comments follow suggestions by National’s Judith Collins that alert level moves are “starting to look very political".

Ardern says the decisions are based on Ministry of Health advice.

However, Ardern’s coalition partner, Winston Peters, says Cabinet’s decision this week to keep New Zealand at Alert Level 2 wasn’t based on science or medicine. He says Cabinet “cherry-picked” data to back up their call.

Meanwhile, epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says he doesn’t think there should be a straight drop to Alert Level 1 for all regions outside of Auckland next week.

He believes there should be an Alert Level 1.5 and is also calling for masks to be mandatory in the country’s schools to help stamp out the latest outbreak.

Treasury opens the books

Treasury will unveil its Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (Prefu) today, as is required by law before every New Zealand election.

Several important sets of economic data will be published, including the expected level of Government debt and tax revenue numbers.

The NZ Herald reports Finance Minister Grant Robertson said very little about Prefu at a business event yesterday, however he did say New Zealand is in one of the best positions in the world when it comes to economic hardship caused by Covid-19. 

New Zealand’s GDP numbers will be also be revealed tomorrow and are expected to show the economy in recession. 

Labour’s education promises

A day after the National Party released its education policy to mixed reaction, Labour outlined its own election promises for the sector.

Amongst other things, Labour is promising to extend its Free and Healthy School Lunches programme and will scrap the “blunt and outdated” decile system.

Labour is also pledging to close the pay gap for teachers working in early childhood education if elected. 

However, the party has ditched its 2017 election promise of three fee-free years of tertiary study.

They’re now promising to keep the first year of the fees-free programme and target the rest of their proposed tertiary education spend in areas “critical for the country’s economic recovery”.

New health pledges

National and NZ First both unveiled election policies relating to young Kiwis’ health and wellbeing yesterday.

National is promising a $30 million annual boost towards children’s dental care should they be elected to Government, while NZ First is pledging $10 million in funding over three years for Gumboot Friday, an initiative that aims to provide children and young people with access to mental health assistance. 

Other news of note this morning:

- Immigration New Zealand will resume processing overseas partnership visas today. 

- A seventh man has been charged in connection with alleged historical sexual offending at Dilworth school. 

- With borders still closed and a busy fruit harvest season on the horizon, regions that rely on foreign labour are staring at the prospect of being thousands of workers short.

- TVNZ’s Vote Compass tool has found most Kiwis support the idea of wealthier people paying more in taxes

- The dates for New Zealand’s two Bledisloe Cup matches have been confirmed.  

- And traffic came to a standstill in the tiny East Coast town of Tokomaru Bay yesterday as one of the last members of the legendary Māori Battalion was farewelled.    

And finally...

Rob Waldron. Source: Seven Sharp

Outward Bound has specialised in helping Kiwis discover what they’re made of for nearly 60 years now – and it seems it’s never too late to find out what that is.

At 84 years old, Rob Waldron has just become Outward Bound’s oldest graduate, proving adventure has no age limit.

He tells Seven Sharp he’s “just a human being trying something out for the first time” but I think you’ll agree he’s a pretty extraordinary human once you’ve seen this.