Home > People Being People, Social Issues, The Body Politic > The Microbiologist, the Caretaker Leader, and some Nasty Germs

The Microbiologist, the Caretaker Leader, and some Nasty Germs

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The recent faux “scandal”  and pile-on levelled at one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s top microbiologists, Dr Siouxsie Wiles:

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— is indicative of how threatened the Right feel about the country’s covid closed borders. Despite mistakes and some slow implementation of policies, the leadership of the current government has saved lives.

First, some numbers we should not overlook:

Aotearoa New Zealand’s covid death toll currently stands at 27.

By contrast, Sweden’s death toll currently sits at 14,662. They have had 1,138,017 covid cases compared to our 3,949 .

Yet, Sweden’s population is ten million – just double ours.

It takes no stretch of the imagination to consider the impact on our health system had we even half of Sweden’s infections, hospital admissions, and death toll.

Our nearest neighbours,  New South Wales (current death toll: 177) and Fiji (current death toll*: 535) also offer grim reminders where we might have ended up had it not been for our political leadership; dedicated health and MIQ border professionals; and committed scientists to lead us through this global war.

Anyone taking note of the facts would quickly realise that this is a ‘beat up’ by right-wing bloggers and the current Leader of the National party. Even some National-leaning media commentators have bought into the “scandal” narrative:

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Let’s be clear. This was not a “scandal”.

“Beat up” by the Right – yes. Pile on by covid-deniers, conspiracy fantasists, misogynistic cranks, and assorted RWNJs – yes.

Scandal? Not even close.

Critics of Dr Wiles have accused her of breaking the 5 kilometre rule of travelling for exercise. Except… there is no such rule in this country. Those critics have either dim-wittedly, or deliberately, conflated our country with New South Wales. (Easy mistake to make. Both places begin with “New”. They could easily have confused us with New York.)

The rules for Aotearoa New Zealand’s Level 4 lockdown, as published on the government covid website:

Recreation and Exercise

You are allowed to leave your home or place of residence for recreation or exercise at an outdoor location in your local area that is easy to access (including by vehicle).

You’re strongly encouraged to wear a face covering and should keep a 2 metre distance from people outside your household bubble, where this is practical. You legally must not attend or organise a gathering of people.

You are not allowed to do any dangerous activities, including:

  • swimming
  • surfing
  • scuba-diving
  • water-based activities with boats (sail or motor)
  • using motorised equipment
  • hunting in motorised vehicles
  • tramping
  • flying aircrafts.

Note where it states: “including by vehicle“. Dr Wiles rode her bicycle. She also, contrary to some mischievous claims, did not enter the water.

The New South Wales rules, by contrast:

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National’s Caretaker Leader, Judith Collins, was her usual measured, composed self when she described Dr Wiles’ exercise outing:

“I think she’s a big fat hypocrite, actually, and I’m sick and tired of listening to her telling everyone else what to do, and here we have the evidence that she had travelled from Freemans Bay to go and visit with her friend on the beach at Judges Bay in Parnell.

That’s about 5km, and unless she ran there – and I doubt it – then she wasn’t exercising. No masks on, sitting there on the beach, and the friend goes off for a swim. I watched that video, and I thought: big fat hypocrite.

I’m so sick of her telling us all what to do. She’s not doing it? Just do it… If those TV stations have her back on telling everyone what to do, I think we should just turn them off.”

It’s a shame Ms Collins did not approach Dr Wiles for her side of the story before attacking the much-respected microbiologist.

Dr Wiles’ comprehensive explanation of events on the day she went to the beach totally discredits Cameron Slaters blogpost. (This blogger will not link to Mr Slater’s post. It does not merit referencing. Readers can search it out if they feel so inclined. Have some disinfectant handy afterwards.)

On Twitter, Dr Wiles stated:

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Several anons (usual; name/word + numbers) attempted to perpetuate the attack on Dr Wiles, but were mocked and derided by other social media users who understood that this was little more than one of Mr Slater’s ill-conceived, malevolent beat-ups.

The support for the good Doctor was clear indication that most Kiwis respect and admire the work she has done to share information and educate us about covid. She has well earned her New Zealander of the Year title, plus some:

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As with death and taxes, it can be guaranteed that neither Judith Collins nor Cameron Slater will ever have to compose a “thank you” speech for winning “NZer of the Year”.

For Ms Collins to engage in a diatribe that – let’s face it – suggests that the pressures of her job; her ongoing lack of popularity; National’s stagnation in the polls; and David Seymour eclipsing her as Preferred Prime Minister – have raised questions about her emotional stability.

Ms Collins’ reference to Dr Wiles as “big, fat” is juvenile at best; Muldoon-style malevolence at worst. It is not the first time she has made snide comments based on a person’s appearance. Or even seven years ago.

Her desperation to keep her leadership rests on achieving the near-impossible: replacing the most popular, articulate, and effective leader this country has had for a long time. The pressure to succeed has seen her lashing out in ways that would be utterly unacceptable in any other part of society.

National’s more moderate MPs, hierarchy, and membership must be shaking their heads in despair at Ms Collins’ worsening irrational outbursts. They must lie awake at night wondering what the next headlines will reveal about their increasingly erratic Leader.

Several must be shaking their heads in despair that Ms Collins is once again associating with former Whaleoil blogger, Cameron Slater. They understand; no good will come of this.

The attack on Dr Wiles is a large dollop of misogynism writ large. No other virologist, microbiologist, epidemiologist, medical professional, or any scientist – who happens to be male – has been attacked as mercilessly; doggedly, and viciously as Dr Wiles.

Not one.

It is revealing that most of her attackers are men. Most are too irrational, with fragile egos, to engage in rational discourse. Dr Wiles is clearly threatening to this minority with their own intractable personal “issues”.

But politically she is also a threat to National and it’s aspirations.

This government has embraced decision-making based on science and safety. Economics comes after. Labour’s decisions have been largely successful, avoiding the over-whelming of our hospitals with covid cases; corpses stacked high in mortuaries; and a death toll in the hundreds – if not thousands.

For Plan Bers and others who want to see Labour fail, it must be galling for them to watch the government’s success thus far. Dr Wiles has been prominent, articulate, and popular in pushing the scientific framing of our covid policies. With her gender and bright pink hair, she has become an easy target for the anonymous on-line trolls and political opportunists, for sustained bullying.

But Dr Wiles is a strong woman and she understands that these people are, deep down inside, like frightened little children. Look at her reasoned, measured, gentle responses to trolls on-line and it’s like a mother reassuring a scared, anxious child during a violent lightning storm.

As another woman said so many years ago (but who holds not even a molecule of the same mana as Dr Wiles); “The lady’s not for turning“.

And as for National’s Caretaker Leader, Judith Collins? Dr Wiles will have her job after the next election. The same cannot be said for Ms Collins.

How to Fight Nasty Germs.

Far from being passive observers of the targeted harrassment of Dr Wiles, many good people are resisting. They are fighting the Germs that have tried to infect and defeat this incredible woman with their misogynistic hatred.

As reported by Stuff’s Josephine Franks (no relation):

People are donating to Dr Siouxsie Wiles’ research after the microbiologist was accused of breaking lockdown rules and called a “big, fat hypocrite” by Judith Collins.

A video of Wiles at the beach with a friend was circulated in blogs this week. It showed the pair talking on the sand without masks on, before the friend goes in the water. The clip was accompanied by accusations of rule-breaking and hypocrisy.

Wiles told Stuff this was a “really clear case of disinformation” that was spread to discredit her and disrupt the country’s collective response to Covid-19.

[…]

“It costs us about $250 to test each fungus, and we’ve over 10,000 fungi to test, so your support could help us discover more of these life-saving medicines,” the donation page reads.

People have been posting screenshots of their donations on Twitter with messages of support for Wiles.

“Donation made to a hard-working, intelligent and patient lady who has gone to great lengths to keep us all informed,” one said.

“Thank you Dr Siouxsie for your amazing work!” another read.

Some dedicated their donations to Judith Collins after the National leader called Wiles a “big, fat hypocrite” in reference to the video.

Wiles was unfazed by the insult, saying: “I get that comment every day, so it’s nothing new. Fat shaming someone who was exercising was kind of ironic, really.”

It would be the best karma ever if the Collins/Slater vendetta against Dr Wiles actually enhanced her work, with people responding to the bullying by donating to her Auckland University research fund:

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Make a donation (whether $5 or $500 – the amount matters nought); take a screen shot; and post it on @JudithCollinsMP (Twitter) or @judithcollinsmp (Facebook).

Like… this:

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This is the best way to fight germs – whether the microscopic variety or equally unsavoury, two legged specimens. As the American saying goes, “Don’t get mad. Get even.”

And we support a fine scientist in her work to beat Germs.

You just can’t get “revenge” more delicious than that.

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(* Fiji’s death troll is likely to be under-reported.)

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References

ODT: Collins calls Dr Siouxsie Wiles ‘a big, fat hypocrite’

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Dr Siouxsie Wiles warns of ‘disinformation’ after claims she was caught breaking lockdown rules

ODT: Dr Wiles hits back at accusations she broke lockdown rules

Newshub: Ashley Bloomfield defends Siouxsie Wiles’ maskless beach visit as Judith Collins labels her ‘hypocrite’

Worldometers: New Zealand Coronavirus

Worldometers: Sweden Coronavirus

NZ Herald: Covid 19 Australia: NSW, Victoria outbreaks grow – Queensland dodges lockdown

Worldometer: Fiji Coronavirus

NZ Herald: Judith Collins’ leadership flagging before Dr Siouxsie Wiles scandal

Covid19.govt.nz: Permitted movement within Alert Level 4 – recreation and exercise

NSW Government: Greater Sydney restrictions

Newshub: Siouxsie Wiles hits back at Judith Collins over ‘big fat hypocrite’ jibe

Twitter: @SiouxsieW – beach walk – 10.9.21

NZAwards: New Zealander of the Year 2021

Newshub: ACT’s David Seymour overtakes National’s Judith Collins as preferred Prime Minister in Newshub-Reid Research Poll

RNZ: Judith Collins – Obese people must take responsibility for ‘personal choices’

Stuff media: Collins jumps in ‘racist’ clothes-fight

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Donations fly in for Dr Siouxsie Wiles’ research after Judith Collins calls her a ‘hypocrite’

Auckland University: Beating the Superbugs

Twitter: @ConanMcKeggNational are goong after her for purely political reasons – 12.9.21

ABC: Medical experts say a third of Fiji’s COVID-19 deaths may be unreported

Additional

The Spinoff: New Zealand urgently needs a serious opposition leader

Other Blogs

The Standard: Dirty Politics does not work any more

Previous related blogposts

A fitting response to National MP’s recent personal attacks on Metiria Turei (Feb, 2014)

New Clothing Standards set by National Party (Feb, 2014)

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Acknowledgement: Weston Frizzell

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Liked what you read? Feel free to share.

Have your own thoughts? Leave a comment. (Trolls need not bother.)

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  1. 14 September 2021 at 4:16 pm

    So the woman does not actually live with Wilde who has a partner and kid so actually can not legally be in her bubble and as for unmasked exercise; Her friend lives in Parnell. Siouxsie lives inner west. Siouxsie rode 6kms on an electric bike to Judges Bay

    Wilde admit (sep 10 tweet) before hand they were meeting for masked but decided that day to take off the mask and to hell with social distancing they had obviously being doing before hand as they knew that what was required. Again I repeat that official rules state no you cant extend bubbles to those NOT in your house hold when you have a partner. For that to happen they have to move into your household.

    March 26 2020 “as of midnight last night, the country is in lockdown. The rules are: stay in your bubble for the next four weeks. But what is my bubble and how far can I stretch it? (Daiy Spin) This “bubble” is made up of all the people who share your household. That could be your flatmates, parents, siblings, children, and/or partner. Whoever was under the same roof as you when the clock struck 11.59pm. To provide some clarity, here are some answers to some bubble questions that just keep bubbling up.Why can’t we join our neighbour’s bubble? None of us are seeing anyone else, so surely that’s safe? It’s not really “breaking” our bubble, it’s just inviting others in! As per the emergency message, the people who were in the same household as you last night are the ones now in your bubble. Siouxsie Wiles explains how the bubbles work… She says, “if it turns out someone in our bubble is incubating Covid-19, then the virus will be limited to our bubble. It won’t be able to spread any further. It also means if no one in our bubble has the virus then as long as we stay in our bubble, we will stay safe and save lives. So no, don’t go combining your bubble with your neighbour’s family, or your friend down the street. Like Jacinda Ardern said in her Facebook live video, act as though you already have Covid-19. You wouldn’t want to combine bubbles then, would you?

    “The prime minister has suggested we think of ourselves as being in a little bubble with the people we live with. Our job for the next few weeks is to stay in our bubble. If it turns out someone in our bubble is incubating Covid-19, then the virus will be limited to our bubble. It won’t be able to spread any further. It also means if no one in our bubble has the virus then as long as we stay in our bubble, we will stay safe and save lives…If you live alone, and you have a nearby friend who lives alone, then the two of you can form a bubble and move between your two homes.

    This of course based on the assumption Wild friend
    A) Does live alone which so far we only have Wilde word on this
    B. If you have flatmates and your partner has flatmates, you can’t form a bubble unless one of you moves in with the other.

    Wilde does have a partner Steven Galbrait and a daughter so under those rules her college would have to move in with her but the Sep 10 tweet makes clear that not what occurred.

    Chris Hipkins also note “if too difficult to follow safe physical distancing then people should consider whether it was really necessary to exercise at that time..Outdoor activities are limited under level 4. You must stay in your bubble, maintain physical distancing, and keep walks short, LOCAL, and for essential exercise only.

    Aug 22 202 Slater toxic but come on this is like Clark multiple breaches, Neil Ferguson sorry cant do interview as I have covid (turn out was having an affair) and Adern selfie gaff — do as we say not as we do

    FFS these are top officials if they cant lead by example and know the exact rules then how is any one else meant to know and as for the pro Labour pro National bloggers and journalist treating this like a team sport where you back your own team colours. Seems these day the idea of fair and balance is gone and we just get cheers leader from bit side backing their ream and slagging the other team off as they bend the fact to fit their bias. I am so over this parochial partisanship were media is either team blue or team red.

    • Priss
      16 September 2021 at 10:19 am

      So… Dr Wiles didn’t break the rules, Ben??

      She was allowed to go to the breach. She was allowed to remove her mask (no one around her). The other person was in her bubble. She didnt go for a swim. Or even wet her toes.

      So your point is???

  2. 14 September 2021 at 8:23 pm

    Hi Ben,

    Firstly, thank you for the obvious effort you have invested in your response to my blogpost. I appreciate that work.

    However, there are some errors in your claims, and other points which are not so black-and-white:

    “So the woman does not actually live with Wilde who has a partner and kid so actually can not legally be in her bubble and as for unmasked exercise; Her friend lives in Parnell. Siouxsie lives inner west. Siouxsie rode 6kms on an electric bike to Judges Bay”

    The covid19 website states:

    “Household bubbles at Alert Level 4

    […]

    If you live alone, you may arrange with another person living alone or a household to be part of your household bubble. This arrangement must be exclusive between you and the other household.”

    Ref: https://covid19.govt.nz/activities/household-bubbles/#who-your-household-bubble-can-include

    Therefore it is not “illegal” for Dr Wiles and her friend to have a single bubble. As the Covid19 website explains; ” …you may arrange with another person living alone or a household to be part of your household bubble. This arrangement must be exclusive between you and the other household”.

    Furthermore, regardless of 6 metres or 6km, the covid19 website allows that “You are allowed to leave your home or place of residence for recreation or exercise at an outdoor location in your local area that is easy to access (including by vehicle)”.

    Ref: https://covid19.govt.nz/travel/permitted-travel-at-different-alert-levels/permitted-movement-within-alert-level-4/#permitted-movement

    There is no “5 kilometre” rule in Aotearoa New Zealand. That is a New South Wales requirement.

    “Wilde admit (sep 10 tweet) before hand they were meeting for masked but decided that day to take off the mask and to hell with social distancing they had obviously being doing before hand as they knew that what was required. “

    The beach was sparsely occupied. If very few people are present; you are outside, with natural ventilation, then mask-wearing becomes redundant.

    Indeed, the covid19 website supports this:

    “When you do not need to wear a face covering

    […]

    When exercising, this includes outside, at a gym, group exercise and dance classes.”

    Ref: https://covid19.govt.nz/health-and-wellbeing/protect-yourself-and-others-from-covid-19/wear-a-face-covering/

    I also refer you to nightly journalists on TV1, TV3, RNZ, etc, who take of their masks when reporting from Auckland.

    “Again I repeat that official rules state no you cant extend bubbles to those NOT in your house hold when you have a partner. For that to happen they have to move into your household.”

    I refer you to the Covid19 website links above.

    “March 26 2020 “as of midnight last night, the country is in lockdown. The rules are: stay in your bubble for the next four weeks. But what is my bubble and how far can I stretch it? (Daiy Spin) This “bubble” is made up of all the people who share your household. That could be your flatmates, parents, siblings, children, and/or partner. Whoever was under the same roof as you when the clock struck 11.59pm. To provide some clarity, here are some answers to some bubble questions that just keep bubbling up.Why can’t we join our neighbour’s bubble?”

    Your statement ” Whoever was under the same roof as you when the clock struck 11.59pm” is not supported by the Covid 19 website definition of a “bubble”. I refer you to the Covid19 website above.

    “Siouxsie Wiles explains how the bubbles work… She says, “if it turns out someone in our bubble is incubating Covid-19, then the virus will be limited to our bubble. It won’t be able to spread any further. It also means if no one in our bubble has the virus then as long as we stay in our bubble, we will stay safe and save lives. So no, don’t go combining your bubble with your neighbour’s family, or your friend down the street. Like Jacinda Ardern said in her Facebook live video, act as though you already have Covid-19. You wouldn’t want to combine bubbles then, would you?”

    As pointed out, if Dr Wiles and her friend constituted one bubble, that is permitted under the Covid19 regulations.

    Furthermore, if either of them caught the virus (say, at a supermarket), their strict bubble means they would spread it only between themselves.

    To offer another example, my own partner and I had separate bubbles. She with one close friend (two in their bubble, no one else); me with my work colleagues and clients (I’m an essential worker in the Health sector. My work bubble comprises of eight clients and four colleagues.

    As a result, I did not see my partner for three weeks.

    You could say that Dr Wiles, partner, and daughter and her friend (comprising of one bubble) was safer than my larger work bubble (twelve people).

    ” …“The prime minister has suggested we think of ourselves as being in a little bubble with the people we live with. Our job for the next few weeks is to stay in our bubble. If it turns out someone in our bubble is incubating Covid-19, then the virus will be limited to our bubble. It won’t be able to spread any further. It also means if no one in our bubble has the virus then as long as we stay in our bubble, we will stay safe and save lives…If you live alone, and you have a nearby friend who lives alone, then the two of you can form a bubble and move between your two homes.”

    Correct. This is what Dr Wiles and her friend chose to do. Perfectly acceptable under covid19 regulations.

    “This of course based on the assumption Wild friend
    A) Does live alone which so far we only have Wilde word on this”

    I suspect that if this were not the case and they were lying, news would quickly get out. Just as information about the Auckland couple who travelled to Wanaka got out into the public arena very quickly.

    “B. If you have flatmates and your partner has flatmates, you can’t form a bubble unless one of you moves in with the other.”

    That statement is not necessarily correct. If both flats have, say, two or three people each, and they stay as one bubble, with no contact with anyone else, then it becomes a complete bubble. If one became infected and the two-flat bubble stayed intact, the virus would be unlikely to be transmitted.

    I believe this is what happened in Wellington with separate infected households. (No firm information on this point.)

    “Wilde does have a partner Steven Galbrait and a daughter so under those rules her college would have to move in with her but the Sep 10 tweet makes clear that not what occurred.”

    As the covid19 website clearly states, as long as Dr Wile’s bubble was strictly enforced, it was not against the rules. People are not required under regulations to move in with each other.

    “Chris Hipkins also note “if too difficult to follow safe physical distancing then people should consider whether it was really necessary to exercise at that time..Outdoor activities are limited under level 4. You must stay in your bubble, maintain physical distancing, and keep walks short, LOCAL, and for essential exercise only.”

    The covid19 website is quite clear on this point:

    “Recreation and Exercise

    You are allowed to leave your home or place of residence for recreation or exercise at an outdoor location in your local area that is easy to access (including by vehicle).

    You’re strongly encouraged to wear a face covering and should keep a 2 metre distance from people outside your household bubble, where this is practical. You legally must not attend or organise a gathering of people.

    You are not allowed to do any dangerous activities, including:

    * swimming
    * surfing
    * scuba-diving
    * water-based activities with boats (sail or motor)
    * using motorised equipment
    * hunting in motorised vehicles
    * tramping
    * flying aircrafts.”

    Ref: https://covid19.govt.nz/travel/permitted-travel-at-different-alert-levels/permitted-movement-within-alert-level-4/#permitted-movement

    Dr Wiles did not go for a swim. So no rules broken there.

    She could have demanded her friend stay out of the water, granted. But if that momentary lapse is her only “grievous crime”, then may I suggest that the subsequent pile-on was all out of proportion.

    As a Health sector worker, I fastidiously scan QR codes. If I forget, I go back and scan. This was very useful last weekend when I thought I had lost my wallet and was able to use my QR Code Diary to backtrack.

    In doing so, Ben, I discovered I had forgotten to scan in to one supermarket (a purchase receipt proved my error).

    I wear a mask (double mask, actually) nearly all the time. On ocassion though, I have forgotten.

    That, I submit, is human nature.

    “Aug 22 202 Slater toxic but come on this is like Clark multiple breaches”

    Agreed. Minister Clark’s breach was incredibly dumb. He paid by losing his ministerial portfolio.

    “… Neil Ferguson sorry cant do interview as I have covid (turn out was having an affair)…”

    A UK event. I have no comment to make on that.

    “…and Adern selfie gaff — do as we say not as we do”

    PM Ardern admitted her mistake.

    Ref: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/jacinda-ardern-admits-group-selfie-mistake

    But further to that point, Ben, that was last year; the first lock down. We were all on a steep learning curve. Heck, my employer didn’t have enough facemasks and hand sanitiser over several weeks.

    I think a bit of latitude can be allowed when people make honest mistakes and openly admit their error.

    If you want perfect behaviour, 100% of the time, I suggest you’ll be cruelly disappointed.

    “FFS these are top officials if they cant lead by example and know the exact rules then how is any one else meant to know and as for the pro Labour pro National bloggers and journalist treating this like a team sport where you back your own team colours. Seems these day the idea of fair and balance is gone and we just get cheers leader from bit side backing their ream and slagging the other team off as they bend the fact to fit their bias. I am so over this parochial partisanship were media is either team blue or team red.”

    Not at all. I levelled my own harsh criticism of Minister Clark’s mountain biking.

    I have also criticised the Labour government over lax MIQ for Air New Zealand flight crews. Read my blogposts on this issue.

  3. Sally's Husband
    17 September 2021 at 9:13 am

    It’s become clear that Dr Wiles did nothing wrong and this whole exercise was a “gotcha” moment from the far-right, led by that cretin, Cam Slater. Judith Collins bought into it and I believe it has backfired on her badly.

    It’s made her (Collins) look mean-spirited and quick to condemn.

    New Zealanders, by and large, are a fair minded lot (with notable exceptions on the far right) and having assessed the whole story must have wondered what all the fuss was about.

    If this is Collins’ style of leadership, I think the majority won’t want a bar of it. The days of Muldoonism are long gone and we’ve outgrown that kind of demagoguery. Trumpism simply won’t work in NZ as, with the exception of a few, we don’t have the appetite for it.

    It’s ironic that this incident showed more of Collins personality than it did of Dr Wiles.

  1. 19 September 2021 at 6:01 pm

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