Watch: At least two Kiwi civilians have been fighting ISIS in Syria

In June, most Kiwis start daydreaming about a holiday in the tropics but last year Ashlee, a young Kiwi woman from a farming background, went to Syria to fight the Islamic State.

The 24-year-old had no military training and no real connection with the all-female Kurdish militia with whom she'd gone to fight – the YPJ.

Ashlee had simply wanted to "fight against the evil that is ISIS" and within the space of a few emails, she'd paid for a ticket to fly to the Middle East and joined the so-called Rojava revolution.

Five months later, we waited in the arrivals hall at Auckland Airport for hours to meet Ashlee when she came home.

Kiwi fighting ISIS in Syria.
Kiwi fighting ISIS in Syria. Source: 1 NEWS

We'd expected Ashlee to be detained, we just had no idea how long it would take – this was new for us. However, when customs officers see the word Syria on an arrivals card, they tend to want to ask a few questions.

Going to fight in a foreign war is not your typical O.E. But Ashlee doesn't see the fight against ISIS in Syria as a foreign war.

She told us: "If anyone has a problem with the London bombings, Manchester, Paris, Germany, and think that the fight should be taken to ISIS, well the YPJ are the people who did take the fight to ISIS."

Macer Gifford.
Macer Gifford. Source: 1 NEWS

She's not wrong. The female soldiers of the YPJ and their male counterparts in the YPG, backed by American air support, have had more success against ISIS than anyone else.

When Raqqa fell late last year the Islamic State lost its capital, and it was YPG and YPJ fighters who watched what was left of the ISIS forces leave on buses. Former London banker Macer Gifford was there, on the roof of a bombed out apartment building, filming the whole thing on his phone.

He's seen just how hard the Kurds are willing to fight for a new Syria – he fought alongside them on the battlefield and continues to fight for them politically.

He describes himself as "a microphone for a lot of Syrian people that didn't ask for this war and have been caught in the middle as world and regional powers fight amongst themselves. This is about solidarity, that's what the international volunteers stand for."

Soresh.
Soresh. Source: 1 NEWS

It might be an act of solidarity but, let's be clear, it's also incredibly dangerous. Dozens of international volunteers have died fighting for the YPG – Australians, Britons, Canadians and Americans among them.

It's a reality that Soresh, a 24-year-old from Christchurch who is currently in Syria with the YPG, tries not to dwell on.

"It's part of the risk that I took coming here. I mean you try not to think about it really, I guess it's kind of superstitious, but I feel if I think about it too much it's kind of willing it to happen," he said.

This is the first time that kiwis that've fought in Syria have ever gone on camera. These are not mercenaries; they're not getting paid to fight.

They are ordinary people who've volunteered for the most extraordinary tours of duty.

We're thrilled to bring you their incredible stories, and unbelievable footage, exclusively to Sunday, 7.30pm TVNZ1.

The man and woman in their twenties snuck through the Syrian border to be foreign fighters. Source: 1 NEWS


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Furore erupts after young kids wearing temporary moko told they couldn't perform at Christchurch Cultural Festival

A furore has erupted after young children wearing temporary moko were told they couldn't perform in the Christchurch Cultural Festival last week.

The festival decided to ban moko last year, following complaints about incorrect use.

The story got attention when a teacher from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whanau Tahi School made an emotional statement on social media about three children being told to take their moko off at the festival.

"The young boy, who was the original boy that had a moko on his face, he was our leader, it was him that was going to be stood down, told he couldn’t perform, the other two girls were to fix it," the teacher said in a Facebook video.

In 2016 children were allowed to perform with temporary moko, but last year the rules changed and schools signed an agreement that children wouldn't wear the facial tattoos.

Kapa haka leaders have told 1 NEWS the ban followed 30 complaints that the moko weren't authentic, but some are questioning the blanket ban.

"They go with absolute pride in their hearts and on their faces with the intent to showcase their culture and themselves and they potentially got shot down," Mokopapa organiser Huata Martindale told 1 NEWS.

Both the school and the Christchurch Primary Schools Festival Trust didn't want to comment, but said they're working through a process together.

The festival decided to ban moko after complaints about incorrect use, but it has left some in the school community upset. Source: 1 NEWS

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Meridian discards 'prompt payment discounts' for fairer treatment of struggling Kiwis

One of New Zealand's major power companies has replaced its so-called prompt payment discounts, saying they simply penalise people who struggle to pay their bills.

This move from Meridian Energy comes just days after a Government investigation into electricity prices, which questioned the fairness of the practice.

Budgeting advisers deal with the fallout from steep energy prices on a daily basis.

"We see many people who are constantly being disconnected who find power to be a very significant part of their spending," says Tim Bennett, chief executive of National Building Financial Capability Charity Trust.

This week, a government investigation found those who can't afford to pay their bills on time are being charged up to 26 per cent more for their power.

That's because power companies offer so-called "prompt payment discounts," which look like savings but are really just penalties for those who pay late.

Meridian Energy has now officially pulled the plug on the practice. 

"We're getting rid of the prompt payment discount because it's fundamentally unfair, especially to customers who struggle to pay their bills," says chief executive Neal Barclay.

The move has been welcomed by Energy Minister Megan Woods.

"I'm absolutely thrilled by the leadership that Meridian's showing today, that they've listened to what I think are really compelling arguments - that essentially we had a penalty for those who struggle to pay their power bills the most."

"It's great, I think really they were misleading and they were late payment penalty fees most impacting low income Kiwis and I urge other retailers to do it as well," says Green MP Gareth Hughes. 

"One company at least has seen sense and is going to treat people fairly regardless of how much income they've got," added Mr Bennett.

The Meridian logo Source: 1 NEWS

Other major power companies were contacted by 1 NEWS to see if they'd follow suit.

While Genesis, Contact and Mercury have no plans to ditch their prompt payment discounts, Trustpower is considering it.

Smaller retailers like Pulse Energy, who have already ditched the practice, call the payments deceptive and want them gone for good.

Meridian is set to replace the discount scheme with credits of equal value for all customers and says no one will be worse off. 

"The total cost to us is $5 million so that's money back into those customers' pockets," says Mr Barclay.

The government is now considering further actions to bring prices down. 

The move comes just days after government investigation into electricity prices questioned the fairness of the practice. Source: 1 NEWS

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1 NEWS political reporter Katie Bradford says recent scandals 'not a good look for the Government'

Recent scandals have "not been a good look for the Government" according to 1 NEWS political reporter Katie Bradford.

After news came out today that Derek Handley's offer of chief technology officer position has been retracted by the Government, Bradford says there may be more to come.

"The Government is back to the drawing board and there may still be more to come, as Clare Curran said earlier this week she may still have personal emails on her Gmail account, so this is not necessarily over yet."

It has been the drawn-out nature of the Clare Curran saga which has hurt the Government most, Bradford says.

"This has been going on for weeks now, and every week there has been a new development with this, it's not a good look for the Government."

Coupled with other issues, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has had a rough week in politics.

"This week has also seen questions around the stability of the coalition Government and that relationship with NZ First.

"The prime minister goes into this weekend having cancelled her media appearances on some big political TV shows including TVNZ1’s Q+A.

"She says that is because of a diary scheduling era, but on Sunday she is making a big speech on her Government’s first year," Bradford says.

When asked if she was not appearing due to a tough few weeks, Ms Ardern said "absolutely not". Source: 1 NEWS

When asked if she was not appearing due to a tough few weeks, which saw Clare Curran resign from her Ministerial positions and MP Meka Whaitiri stand down while an investigation is pending, Ms Ardern said "absolutely not".

"There's no question I remain very much available for comment on any issue of the day."

From the Clare Curran saga to coalition rifts, the pressure is on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Source: 1 NEWS


Elderly woman in critical condition after being run over by reversing car in Palmerston North

An elderly woman is in a critical condition after being run over by a reversing car in Palmerston North this morning.

Police say she was run over by a car reversing from a driveway on Grey St, Palmerston North at 11am.

She is currently in a critical condition at Palmerston North Hospital.

Police say members of the public and the driver of the car assisted the woman at the scene.

Source: istock.com