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Indonesia responds after claim official attempted to bribe RNZ Pacific journalist

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A Radio New Zealand journalist says an Indonesian government official attempted to bribe and intimidate him at the recent 22nd Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders’ meeting in Port Vila.

The Indonesian government has responded on Monday saying it will “surely look” into the claims.

RNZ journalist Kelvin Anthony was in Port Vila to cover the MSG Leaders’ Summit two weeks ago when he was offered “a gift” after an exclusive interview with Indonesia’s Ambassador to Australia, Dr Siswo Pramono.

The alleged bribe was offered between 1pm-1.10pm on Wednesday, 23 August in the carpark of the Holiday Inn Resort in Port Vila by Indonesian government representative Ardi Nuswantoro, Anthony said.

“I was offered an exclusive interview with the Indonesia’s Ambassador to Australia at the MSG meeting after being told earlier in the week by Ardi Nuswantoro that his government did not like what RNZ had published on West Papua and that it was not balanced,” he said.

“I advised the delegate that RNZ makes every effort to be balanced and fair and we want to get Indonesia’s side too, but we need the chance to speak on the record.”

After communicating face-to-face and online via WhatsApp – texts and call records seen by RNZ – Nuswantoro asked Anthony to visit the Holiday Inn Resort at 12pm for the interview on Wednesday, 23 August.

“I interviewed Dr Pramono covering a broad set of questions including human rights issues in West Papua, the MSG meeting, and Jakarta’s intentions in the Pacific, which lasted over 40 minutes,” Anthony said.

“I thought I had an exclusive interview that went well for a strong story out of the meeting that touched sensitive but pertinent issues involving Indonesia, the West Papua issue, and the Pacific.”

Anthony said he was escorted out of the reception area at the end of the interview and accompanied by at least three Indonesian officials.

He said Nuswantoro, who he was liaising with to set up the interview, “asked me several times if I had a car and how I was going to get back”.

“I told them that my colleague from a local media who was with me was driving me back to town. As we walked to the car park, the same official continued to walk with me and just as we were about to approach the car, he said, ‘The Indonesian delegation would like to offer you token of appreciation’.”

“I asked him, ‘What’s that?’ He replied, ‘A small gift’.

“I asked him again, ‘But what is it?’ And he replied: ‘Money’.

“At that point I was shell-shocked because I had never experienced something like that in my career.

“I declined to accept the money and told him, ‘I cannot take money because it compromises the story and my credibility and integrity as a journalist’.”

Anthony said the Indonesian official looked visibly withdrawn at the rejection and apologised for offering money.

Due to the incident RNZ chose at the time not to air the interview with Dr Pramono.

RNZ put the claims of bribery and intimidation to the Indonesian government.

In an email response, Jakarta’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Asia Pacific and African Affairs director general Abdul Kadir Jailani neither confirmed nor denied the claims.

“Bribery has never been our policy nor approach to journalists,” Jailani said.

“We will surely look into it,” he said.

Melanesian Spearhead Group flags

Melanesian Spearhead Group flags Photo: RNZ Pacific / Kelvin Anthony

‘I felt intimidated’

The offering of money happened while a local fixer was about five metres away “seeing everything unfold” waiting at the car, Anthony said.

“My local fixer saw and heard everything and as we drove off he said I should report on it but only when I am out of Vanuatu. I immediately communicated the incident to my superiors back in Wellington to put everything on record,” Anthony said.

The local Ni-Vanuatu journalist, who was present when the alleged incident occurred, said: “I saw what was happening and knew exactly what the Indonesian guy was trying to do”.

“My advice to the RNZ journalist was to hold the story until he was out of the country because I was worried about his safety.”

RNZ has seen communications sent by the Indonesian official to the journalist, asking him when RNZ was going to publish the interview.

“I did not respond to the messages or calls. I did, however, encounter the Indonesia delegation representatives and the official who offered me the money on Thursday, August 24 at the closing reception of the MSG leaders’ meeting at the Warwick Resort Convention Centre,” Anthony said.

He said the same official kept following him around and messaged him a video clip showing indigenous Papuans carrying out violent acts.

“I felt a little intimidated but I tried to stick around with the local journalists as much as I could so I could avoid the Indonesian officials coming up to me,” he said.

Another local media representative who was at the farewell function on Thursday, 24 August, said they could “see the Indonesian delegate moving around the RNZ journalist continuously and following him everywhere he went”.

“It seemed obvious that one particular Indonesian delegate was pestering Kelvin and following him around,” they said.

In Indonesia’s official response to the allegations, Abdul Kadir Jailani said “we have no interest in following nor intimidating any journalists covering the Summit”.

MSG meeting

RNZ was the only international media which had a journalist on the ground to cover the MSG meeting for its Pacific audience.

Indonesia's Ambassador to Australia Dr Siswo Pramono

Indonesia’s Ambassador to Australia Dr Siswo Pramono Photo: RNZ Pacific / Kelvin Anthony

The MSG is an important sub-regional bloc that includes Fiji, FLNKS – the umbrella group for pro-independence political parties in New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

The meeting had a packed agenda and the issue the full membership of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) as a big-ticket item.

Indonesia, an associate member of the MSG, had the largest delegation at the meeting and has been on record saying it does not support or recognise the ULMWP as a representative body of the indigenous Papuans.

Dr Pramono said Jakarta views the ULMWP as a “secessionist movement” and walked out of the meeting when the movement’s representatives made interventions.

The MSG meeting concluded with leaders rejecting ULMWP’s application to become a full member of the sub-regional group.

Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders drink Vanuatu kava after signing two declarations at the 22nd MSG Leaders' Summit in Port Vila. 24 August 2023

Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders drink Vanuatu kava after signing two declarations at the 22nd MSG Leaders’ Summit in Port Vila. 24 August 2023 Photo: RNZ Pacific / Kelvin Anthony

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Air NZ sorry for charging tourists $13,000 to change flight after terminal diagnosis

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Air New Zealand has admitted it made a mistake when it tried to charge two US tourists $13,000 to change their flights after one of them received a grave medical diagnosis.

Todd and Patricia Kerekes flew business class from New York to Auckland in January. The return tickets cost $37,500.

They intended to stay until April, but six weeks into their visit Patricia was diagnosed with cancer of the gallbladder. Their surgeon advised them to head home immediately, so Todd contacted Air NZ to have their flights moved up.

“Right away on the first call I told them my wife was gravely ill, and we were on holiday and we needed to go back home,” the 60-year-old told Checkpoint.

“And it was a whole series of long pauses, and I couldn’t tell whether they were conferring with co-workers or working at it on the computer, or what it was. But I would go through a whole series of 15- to 30-minute hold periods, and sometimes the people would come back and basically tell me something I didn’t want to hear, like it was gonna cost me NZ$13,000 to change my flight.”

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Housing Minister Chris Bishop sets ‘long-term’ price target of three to five times household incomes

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The new housing minister has set a target of having homes costing just three to five times household incomes – well below what they are now in most of New Zealand.

But Chris Bishop does not want too quick a fix to the country’s housing affordability crisis – saying a crash “tomorrow” would “cause enormous economic and financial instability to people”.

“What I want is for house prices to moderate over time, so that in 10 to 20 years’ time, we have essentially gone a long way towards solving our housing affordability problem,” he told Checkpoint on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day he outlined the first steps in his plan, saying most of the country’s biggest cities will be flooded with land for residential development.

In a speech delivered to Wellington’s Chamber of Commerce, Bishop confirmed councils will have to earmark 30 years’ worth of land for housing development.

They will be able to opt out of housing density rules that allow homes up to three stories high on most residential sites without the need for a consent – a bi-partisan rule that National signed up to in opposition. Instead, councils will be able to choose exactly where high density housing goes.

He also promised to make it easier to build granny flats or dwellings less than 60 square metres.

In his speech, Bishop said the status quo was costing the country the equivalent of 15 Transmission Gully motorways every four years “just on helping people to be housed”.

“The taxpayer subsidises rents for people in social housing, we pay for emergency housing grants, we pay for transitional housing, we help people with their bond payments and so it goes. A failure to reform housing has made it extremely expensive for government.”

And in a briefing to Cabinet, Bishop said housing affordability was arguably the single most pressing economic and social issue.

Speaking to Checkpoint, Bishop said New Zealand was not short of land, but rules “make it very difficult to use that land”.

“What we’re saying is we need to go out at the edge of our cities and we also need to go up inside our cities.”

Inside existing limits, Bishop said the coalition government would keep Labour’s policy of allowing up to six storeys “within walkable catchment areas of rapid transit stops”, and give councils more discretion over what areas had to allow up to three storeys.

Asked how councils would be prevented from pushing most of the intensification to certain suburbs and leaving others alone, he said: “There are natural limits on the intensification that would take place in suburbs. There are infrastructure limits, for example.

“But also, you know, over time suburbs will change and the nature of our cities will change. I mean, if you think about the Auckland CBD now, compared to say 50 years ago, it is much more dense, many more people live in apartments, they live in tower blocks in the CBD. The same is true to some extent of Wellington.

“But you know, the Wellington of today will look very different to the Wellington of 30 years’ time. Change will be gradual. It is not going to happen immediately, change will happen over many, many years.

“But what I am saying and what the government is saying is that we need more houses. We have an affordability problem in New Zealand and have done so for 30 years because we have designed a planning system that has made it very difficult to build more housing, and it is a social and economic problem we’ve simply got to grapple with.”

Pressed on how much he would like to see house prices drop, Bishop cited the internationally popular metric of prices to household incomes.

“In housing markets that we consider to be affordable, a house price to income ratio of between three and five is considered affordable. That’s not the case in most of our major cities right now.”

Current data shows that multiple nationwide is currently 6.6. In Auckland it is 8.1, Wellington 6.14, Christchurch 5.84, Hamilton 6.57 and Dunedin 5.7. In Queenstown-Lakes, the multiple is almost 15.

“Over time as you moderate house prices and incomes grow, [three to five] is what we would like to see things get to, but as I say, that is not going to happen immediately and it is not going to even happen in the next two to three or four years. This is something that has to happen in the medium- to long-term.

“And unless we do that, house prices will continue to go up and people will continue to be locked out of the housing market.

“I want house prices to be affordable, and a house price to income ratio of seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, in some cases 13 to one in some parts of New Zealand is not affordable, entrenching inequality and poverty in our cities.”

He refused to give an exact timeframe, saying that would be making the same mistake the Labour-led government did in claiming it could build 100,000 houses in 10 years.

“Land markets and the economy is much more complicated than that. What I am saying to you is that we have [an] extensive and comprehensive work programme based on evidence to make housing more affordable in the medium- to long-term.”

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Everton punishment reduced to six points

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Everton have had their points deduction for a breach of the Premier League’s profitability and sustainability rules reduced to six points from 10 after an appeal, the club and the Premier League said on Monday.

Everton were docked points with immediate effect in November after being found to have breached profitability and sustainability rules (PSR) relating to losses.

“An independent Appeal Board has concluded that the sanction for Everton FC’s breach of the Premier League’s Profitability and Sustainability Rules (PSRs), for the period ending Season 2021/22, will be an immediate six-point deduction,” the Premier League said in a statement.

The original points deduction meant Everton dropped from 14th in the standings into the relegation zone with four points. The club filed an appeal against the initial deduction, which they labelled “wholly disproportionate and unjust”.

“Everton can confirm an Appeal Board has concluded that the points deduction imposed by an independent Premier League Commission in November be reduced from 10 points to six points, with immediate effect,” a club statement said.

The sanction was appealed on nine grounds, each of which related to the sanction, rather then the breach and two of those nine grounds were upheld by the Appeal Board.

Everton admitted to a breach of PSR for the period ending with the 2021-22 season, with their total losses for that period amounting to 124.5 million pounds according to an independent commission.

According to the Premier League’s Financial Fair Play regulations, clubs are permitted to lose a maximum of $216 million over a three-year period.

The Merseyside club recorded four straight wins after their deduction to climb up to 16th, but have been dragged back into the relegation battle following a run of nine league games without a victory.

The reduction means Everton move up to 15th in the standings with 25 points, five points above the relegation zone.

The club say they are still considering the wider implications of the decision and will make no further comment at this time.

Everton were then charged once again by the Premier League in January for a separate PSR breach, along with Nottingham Forest.

Everton players celebrate

Everton players celebrate Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Both clubs were referred to the chair of the Judicial Panel, the Premier League said, who will appoint an independent commission to determine the appropriate sanction, which may include a further deduction for the Sean Dyche-led club.

A second points penalty would increase risk of relegation and add to the uncertainty over the future of Everton, who are currently in the midst of protracted takeover talks with U.S. investment fund 777 Partners and also hoping to move to a new stadium ahead of the 2025-26 season.

BACKGROUND ON OTHER CLUBS

Last year, Manchester City were referred to an independent commission over more than 100 alleged breaches of finance rules since the club were acquired by the Abu Dhabi-based City Football Group in 2008.

No verdict has been reached in that case. Premier League CEO Richard Masters said last month that a date had been set for a hearing. City have denied any wrongdoing.

Clubs in England’s top flight have been docked points before.

Middlesbrough had three points deducted in 1997 when they failed to fulfil a fixture, while Portsmouth received a nine-point penalty in 2010 when the financially-troubled club entered administration.

-Reuters

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