Election 2020

From the Frontlines: Alert levels extended, National reveals education policy

Newsroom's political team reports on the day's biggest election news: The current alert level settings are extended at least a week, as National reveals education plans and the Māori Party and Greens call on politicians to do more for te reo

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the current alert level settings will be extended for at least a week, with Auckland's status to be reconsidered next Monday while the rest of the country moves to Level 1 from 11.59pm that day.

New Zealand has been at Level 2 or higher for more than a month, following the re-emergence of community transmission in Auckland on August 11.

The Government is facing pressure from businesses and unaffected parts of the country, such as the South Island, to move down from Level 2. However, health experts have urged caution at any move down the alert system for Auckland in particular.

Ardern said it was good that no Covid-19 cases had been found outside of Auckland, particularly because modelling indicated there was a 25 percent chance of this happening. However, she said the discovery of a new "sub-cluster" associated with a September 2 bereavement event raised the possibility of unseen transmission, although she was hopeful that officials had managed to ring-fence it.

She compared the decision ahead of her to the last time the country moved to Level 1, which was after days of no new cases nationwide and 26 days at Level 2. While no new community cases is not a requirement of moving down alert levels, officials want to be more confident that the virus is under control and to have time to make sure no undetected spread has occurred.

That is why the move to Level 1 for the rest of the country has been scheduled for the evening of Monday, September 21. The same day, Cabinet will consider moving Auckland towards a more normal Level 2 effective the following Wednesday.

Cabinet has also decided to lift social distancing requirements on planes and public transport, effective immediately, while the mask mandate remains in place.

National leader Judith Collins criticised the decision to keep the South Island at Level 2, saying there had not been a positive Covid-19 cases since the end of May and accusing the Government of "using a mallet to crack a nut when it comes to how we handle this disease".

"South Islanders have put up with the inconvenience of restricted gatherings, cancelled sports fixtures and half-empty businesses. They've had enough," Collins said.

Nats outline $1.9b education plan

The National Party has laid out a $1.9 billion plan to overhaul New Zealand’s education system, with greater support for children with special needs and a reversal of the Government’s school zoning reforms among the key planks.

National leader Judith Collins and education spokeswoman Nicola Willis announced the party’s education policy in Christchurch on Monday afternoon, with Collins saying National would increase spending annually over a four-year period if it formed government.

“We want all children to go on to achieve great things. With the right education we can overcome the challenges some children face purely because of the situation they were born into,” Collins said.

The party would boost funding for learning support by $480m over four years, with an additional $150m over the same period to pay for an equivalent of 1500 additional teacher aides. 

National would also reverse the Government’s decision to move the management of school enrolment zones away from individual schools in favour of a regional zoning agency, Collins said.

Asked about the decision to maintain New Zealand’s current alert levels for at least a week, the National leader claimed the Government’s moves were “starting to look very political”.

Government urged to take action on te reo Māori

Political parties have urged the Government to dedicate more resources to the preservation of te reo Māori, with the Māori Party proposing the creation of a Māori Standards Authority to measure government departments' cultural competency.

The party's te reo Māori policy was announced by Waiariki candidate Rawiri Waititi on Monday morning, coinciding with the start of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week).

Waititi said the changes would "elevate Te Reo Māori to its rightful place in a system that has long undervalued its significance”.

“It is unacceptable that only 20 percent of our people can speak their own language and that only three per cent of the country can speak its official language. We need to be doing more at a systemic level to protect and promote the reo of Aotearoa."

The party would change New Zealand's name to Aotearoa by 2026, while also replacing all Pākeha place names with their original Māori equivalents in the same timeframe.

It would also make te reo Māori and Māori history core curriculum subjects up to Year 10 at secondary schools, while requiring all primary schools to incorporate te teo into 25 percent of their curriculum by 2026, and 50 percent by 2030.

“Our people, our country are still feeling the impacts of our language being beaten out of us in our education system and it was successful. We intend to start back there in a much more inclusive and less cruel way," Waititi said.

The Māori Party would also create a Māori Standards Authority with the legislative power to audit all public service departments against cultural competency standards, which would ensure tikanga Māori was upheld across the state sector.

 “Having students learn te reo Māori up to year 10 would gift them the privilege of speaking our indigenous language and ensure it’s protected as the taonga it is."

The Greens made their own te reo Māori announcement, urging the Government to make the language a core subject up to Year 10 and include te reo courses in its targeted training and apprenticeships scheme.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said politicians needed to do "a lot more, and fast" if they were to properly protect the country's indigenous language.

“If the Government is serious about its commitment to integrate te reo Māori into schools by 2025, it must make it a core curriculum subject, and properly resource it," Davidson said. 

 “Having students learn te reo Māori up to year 10 would gift them the privilege of speaking our indigenous language and ensure it’s protected as the taonga it is."

As more teachers would be needed, the Greens believed te reo courses up to Level 5 should be added to the Government's free trades training scheme, allowing people who lost their jobs due to Covid-19 to retrain.

* This article was last updated at 3:05pm.

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