Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been quizzed about what she knew about an incident involving National MP Andrew Falloon, who quit today.
Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson have delivered today's post-Cabinet press conference at which they announced the Government was setting aside $14 billion of its Covid recovery fund in case the country faces a future Covid calamity.
Falloon, the MP for Rangitata, issued a statement this afternoon saying he will not contest September's election, citing concern for his "own health and wellbeing". He said he had made a "number of mistakes".
Ardern said this afternoon her office received correspondence about an incident involving Falloon and she was told about its "general nature".
"I know very little information. From my perspective it was managing the best way for it to be dealt with. Limiting the number of people involved was appropriate."
She said she did not know the person who sent the correspondence, nor did she seek to find out. She said she didn't seek to know which MP or MPs were involved in the correspondence.
She would not say if she knew if alcohol had been involved in the incident.
Ardern would not be drawn on whether it was the right call for Falloon to stand down.
"As far as I'm concerned, it is important to maintain the confidentiality ... my office dealt with it appropriately."
It was now a matter for the National Party and she shouldn't be involved with it, she said.
Asked if politics was a toxic environment, she said "we all have a role to play, particularly leaders of political parties".
"We do have the ability to change the nature of debate in New Zealand in the way that we act and the way we conduct ourselves. I believe for the most part we have done that."
But it remained a challenge, she said.
Earlier, Ardern's office has confirmed it was sent "a piece of correspondence" relating to the incident which was forwarded to National Party leader Judith Collins.
"With the correspondent's permission the letter was forwarded to the leader of the Opposition," the office said.
"We treat all correspondence confidentially. All matters to do with Andrew Falloon's resignation are a matter for the Leader of the Opposition."
The Herald understands the incident was not criminal but was deemed "inappropriate for an MP". It's also understood the incident is not related to an extra-marital affair or the leak scandal which engulfed the National Party last week.
RNZ understands the party was notified on late Friday afternoon of an alcohol-related incident.
$14bn for Covid recovery
The Government is setting aside $14 billion of its Covid recovery fund in case the country faces a future Covid calamity.
The $50 billion recovery fund, labelled an election fund by the Opposition, was the centrepiece of the 2020 Budget and the basis for ballooning future Government debt.
A large proportion of it - $20.2b - was unspent, and Robertson said today that only a further $3.2b will be allocated between now and the September 19 election.
"Cabinet has agreed that further support for ongoing health, border and economic response measures will require about $3.2 billion, with announcements to be made before the House rises.
That includes the $760 million already announced for Three-Waters reform.
"This will leave $14 billion in the Covid Response and Recovery Fund, which is now being set aside in the event, for example, New Zealand experiences a second wave," Robertson said.
Robertson said it was the responsible thing to do to set aside money in case of a future Covid-related shock.
"As we look around the world, it is clear that this global pandemic is continuing to grow. In the face of this, and ongoing uncertainty, now is the time to be cautious and keep our powder dry.
Treasury forecasts show by 2024, the Government would have borrowed close to $200b.
Since the Budget, the Government has announced $570 million for its income relief package, $700 million to extend the wage subsidy scheme, and more than $300 million for health services including more personal protective equipment.
That shrunk what's left of the fund from $20.2b on Budget Day to just over $17b at the start of July.
"We are doing everything we can to keep Covid-19 at our border – nobody wants a second wave," Robertson said.
"The responsible course of action is to make sure we are prepared for the worst. The fund is not there to be used for any old project in the never-never. It is to provide support and stimulus to recover and rebuild from Covid-19."
He said net debt in New Zealand would peak at 54 per cent of GDP, while average debt for other similar countries was closer to 80 per cent of GDP.
He said the $14b left unallocated in the Covid recovery fund would be for a "future rainy day related to Covid-19".
"If it's not needed, it won't be spent."
It would not be used for political projects that won't be started for a decade, he said, a subtle criticism of National's infrastructure plan announced recently.
He later said it was irresponsible to put money into building roads that wouldn't create jobs "for years and years".
He added that the $3.2b to be allocated before the election was not an election bribe fund.
He said the New Zealand economy was doing better than expected, but the rest of the world had not been as fortunate.
Robertson said "helicopter" payments were off the table for now.
Ardern said the Government had to be prepared for a "resurgence of Covid-19".
"We are one of the few countries not to experience a second wave."
She said some regions had been forced to go back into costly lockdowns.
Unfazed over Collins
Ardern appeared unfazed about going up against "leader number 4" Judith Collins in Parliament tomorrow.
Collins took over on Tuesday after Todd Muller announced his resignation after 53 days in the job.
Ardern wouldn't be drawn on the Twitter exchange between Winston Peters and David Seymour, but she added: "I would not expect that kind of exchange from one of my MPs."
Asked about Winston Peters' rallying against "woke pixie dust" in his speech at NZ First's campaign launch yesterday, Ardern said she had "absolutely no idea" what that meant.
"Whether it's 'stardust' or 'pixie dust', I notice these things tend to come up during election time," Ardern said.
$30,000 for flood damage
Ardern said damage assessments will continue this week for the flood damage in Northland, and she announced $30,000 to the mayoral relief fund.
Other support to be provided would also be considered.
Most local roads had reopened, but there were eight slips on one section of SH1 and alternative routes were available.
"In the meantime, I urge anyone affected by flood damage to contact those who are on the ground through local civil defence emergency response."
The Ministry of Social Development was also available to provide support, Ardern said.
On charging returning Kiwis for quarantine and managed isolation, Ardern said final decisions were yet to be made.
"But our first priority is making sure we have facilities that are well run and are protecting the health of New Zealanders and those within them."
She said she didn't want to do anything that would open up the facilities for legal challenge.
The National Party calling for a $3000 charge for returning Kiwis starting from October risked a rush of arrivals, she said.
She said any decision the Government made had to be legally safe.
"It cannot undermine our ability to require people to go into quarantine arrangements."
"Telling people to rush back to New Zealand, in my mind, is not a responsible approach."
One new Covid-19 case
Ardern said the number of tests at the moment was not good enough, even though the numbers were usually low at the weekend.
She said Cabinet talked about the new case definition from the end of June, and the Health Minister would work with the director general of health to bring those numbers up.
She said she was confident that symptomatic people were still being tested, but more testing was required to underpin confidence in the lack of any community transmission.
New Zealand has one new case of Covid-19 - a man in his 40s who traveled from Mexico.
It has now been 80 days since the last case of the virus was acquired locally from an unknown source, the Ministry of Health said in its daily statement this afternoon.
Today's case arrived in the country last Wednesday. He flew via Los Angeles.
He tested positive following day 3 surveillance testing and has been transferred, along with his family, to a quarantine facility in Auckland.
The number of active cases in New Zealand is now 26.
The total number of confirmed cases is now 1204, which is the number we report to the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, one person was transferred from an Auckland quarantine facility to Middlemore Hospital yesterday evening for an unrelated health condition. This person is in a stable condition.
Members of staff treating the man were made aware that he had returned from overseas to a facility and appropriate protocols were followed, the Ministry said, including the use of PPE. No members of staff were considered close contacts.
The patient was cared for in a separate room in the emergency department before being transferred to a separate room on one of the hospital wards.
Middlemore Hospital has considerable recent experience of treating patients with Covid-19, the Ministry said.
"Members of the public can be assured that the hospital is safe for patients, visitors and staff."
Yesterday, New Zealand laboratories processed 681 tests. The vast majority of these, 673, were swabs taken from managed isolation facilities.