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Purpose-built MIQ: National’s sums don’t add up

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Parts of National’s document – to open up Aotearoa New Zealand “to the world” – has been recycled from various policy and media releases last year and more recently.

Despite demanding that the country open up to the outside world and end lockdowns by 1 December, and to “bring all New Zealanders home by Christmas“, National is still demanding that several hundred million dollars be committed to purpose-built MIQ facilities.

Their document, National’s plan to tackle COVID-19, end lockdowns and reopen to the world, calls for “1,000 to 1,500 permanent quarantine units and associated facilities outside of urban Auckland and close to the international airport and health and security workforce“:

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It is unclear why we would need MIQ facilities if the country “opened up” to the rest of the world. With Delta’s ferocious infectiousness, putting anyone into MIQ – irrespective of whether hotels or purpose-built – becomes a pointless exercise in futility. Delta would already be endemic throughout the country; spreading like wildfire; filling our hospitals and ICU beds; and our morgues.

By that stage, MIQ facilities become redundant. (Although Returnees might actually be safer inside a facility rather than outside, protected from an infected wider population.)

However, more to the point, National’s costing for a purpose built facility – which excludes land – is given as “estimated build cost would be circa $200 million” for “1,000 to 1,500 permanent quarantine units and associated facilities“.

It is unclear how $200 million can apply to one thousand units, or fifteen hundred units. The price must surely increase if the build increases. If not, someone is playing loose with construction costs.

It is also unclear where the figure of “$200 million” has come from.

The un-named author of National’s document quotes figures from the Victorian State Government plans for a purpose-built MIQ facility:

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National references the Victorian government’s plans with this URL: www.vic.gov.au/victorian-quarantine-hub.

Except, National’s figure of $200 million – whether for 1,000 or 1,500 units – doesn’t add up.

As this blogger first reported in July this year after National first floated it’s purpose-built MIQ facility some months earlier, it was noticeable at the time that neither Mr Bishop, nor his (current) Leader, had offered any costing for such a massive project:

To provide some broad indication, a planned purpose built quarantine facility in Victoria, Australia, is estimated to cost A$15 million [NZ16 million] to design and a further “A$200 million [NZ$214 million] to build a 500-bed facility and around A$700 million [NZ$750 million]  if it was scaled up to 3,000 beds”.

By comparison, Aotearoa has between 4,000 to 4,500 beds in hotels in Auckland (18), Hamilton (3), Rotorua (3), Wellington (2) and Christchurch (6).

Using the above figures, building a 4,000 bed facility would cost the country well over a billion dollars. With inevitable cost over-runs, the final figure would be anyone’s guess.

Chris Bishop also called for returnees to be paid a wage whilst self isolating;

“We think the government needs to be more generous when it comes to supporting people when they’re told to self-isolate. Earlier this year we announced a policy of the government paying people’s wages when people are ordered to self-isolate. It’s pretty sensible – if the government is saying to you “stay home” and we don’t want you at work – they should pay.”

National’s calls have not been costed – and nor would they be. The agenda from the Opposition is not to demand a more effective Managed Isolation and Quarantine system. Instead, their unspoken aim is,

(A) to paint the Labour government as ineffective, for pure political point-scoring

(B) to pressure the Labour government to adopt costly policies, which would push up borrowing and debt.  Caretaker Leader Collins would then wag a disapproving finger; and tut-tuttingly exclaim,

“It is irresponsible of the government continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from… it is ultimately the government’s decision to waste enormous amounts of money and not to actually put the focus on where it needs to be.”

Clever strategy; force your rival to spend money – then blame them for spending money.

National has now costed it’s proposed purpose-built MIQ – but the sums still do not add up.

In April this year, the Victorian government costed three options for MIQ. The first two were specifically reliant on hired, or mixed new-builds and hired, structures. Option three, purpose-built structures is closer to National’s plans.

Under heading “3.3.3 Project option 3: custombuilt structures”, page 28, the Victorian government plan calls for “entirely of purpose-built structures designed to remain permanently on the site“. Furthermore:

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Victoria’s plan calls for 3,000 accommodation units costing A$701.675 million;

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National’s plan calls for  1,000 to 1,500 units for NZ$200 million. Let’s assume the NZ$200 million is intended for the maximum build number: 1,500.

1,500 is half of Victoria’s 3,000 accommodation units.

Halve the cost of Victoria projected price tag: A$350.68 million.

Converting that sum to NZ dollars, using Westpac’s*  currency converter, A$350.68 million is roughly equivalent to NZ$359 million.

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National’s costings appear to be woefully under-stated – by a factor of one-and-a-half times.

Which is unsurprising. The party of “fiscal responsibility” has a poor track record of costing its policies with any meaningful accuracy:

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Tragically, the true cost of National’s policies will not be measured in dollars.

It will be measured in lives lost to a disease that, while tough to suppress and eradicate, should not be tolerated to rip through our communities.

We cannot afford a National government. Not in money; certainly not in lives.

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* Westpac is the government’s official bank.

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References

National: Opening Up: National’s plan to tackle COVID-19, end lockdowns and reopen to the world (p 27, 28)

TVNZ: National proposes building of purpose-built quarantine facility on Auckland’s outskirts

RNZ: National proposes reopening fully vaccinated businesses in ‘back in business’ plan

Newshub: COVID-19 – National’s ‘home by Christmas’ plan a tantalising prospect for tens of thousands stranded offshore

ABC News: Melbourne COVID-19 quarantine facility approved as Commonwealth, Victoria agree on site

Managed Isolation and Quarantine: Managed Isolation and Quarantine capacity

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Why the Government isn’t using purpose-built quarantine facilities

National Party: Ditch DHB merger, spend funding on medicines instead

Vic.gov.au: Alternative Quarantine Accommodation Hub Project Summary  April 2021 (p 27-29)

Westpac: Currency Converter

Stuff media: Election 2020 – ‘Fair cop’ – National’s Paul Goldsmith admits to accounting mistake as Labour points out $4b hole

Newshub: NZ Election 2020 – Paul Goldsmith calls ‘$4 billion gap’ in National’s fiscal plan ‘irritating mistake’

The Spinoff: The launch that fell down a four-billion-dollar fiscal hole

RNZ: Judith Collins downplays National’s fiscal error, defends Paul Goldsmith

Stuff media: Election 2020 – National’s fiscal hole appears to double to $8 billion as Paul Goldsmith denies double count mistake

RNZ: Explainer – How deep does National’s fiscal hole go?

Previous related blogposts

Judith Collins and National: It’s a trust thing

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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The Virus, the Politician, and the gang member

10 October 2021 4 comments

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The claim from NZ First Leader, and former MP, Winston Peters, was stunning: Harry Tam and an unknown woman had breached Auckland’s containment boundaries with falsified documents and headed north.

He told Newshub Nation host, Simon Shepherd on 9 October:

“This person came here with a gang member assigned essential worker status, falsified the reason she was coming.

[She] engaged with people at a hotel in Whangarei… and went to a marae up north which hid her from the public and dare I say it, the police. The police got a warrant to arrest her.

How he got up north, that is very difficult to understand in terms of the permit system, but he brought in, under false premises, this woman with him. The rest, sadly, is catastrophic.

I am absolutely certain of my sources, otherwise I wouldn’t be saying what I’m saying.

Let them deny it, and they won’t. But when the press was told yesterday at 6:30pm by Minister Hipkins that he didn’t, that simply wasn’t true. Frankly, we will never get through this crisis if we aren’t transparent and honest.”

An uncomfortable-looking Simon Shepherd was obviously taken aback by Mr Peters’ alllegations and perhaps he was quickly calculating how far he could go to obtain more details from the former NZ First leader.

This blogger could only guess that the show’s producer may have had their finger hovering over the Big Red Button to cut quickly to an ad break.

The allegations were serious: Mr Peters had accused gang leader, Harry Tam, of a serious crime. He wasn’t presenting his allegations as opinion, they were stated as fact:

How he got up north, that is very difficult to understand in terms of the permit system, but he brought in, under false premises, this woman with him […]

I am absolutely certain of my sources, otherwise I wouldn’t be saying what I’m saying.

Harry Tam denied Mr Peters’ allegation:

“If Winston said it, he needs to prove it… If he’s not going to apologise, we will need to look at legal action. I didn’t bring anyone with me. Where did he get his information from? What is his source?”

As reported by Te Ao Maori News:

Tam told Te Ao Māori News, Peters was off the mark, while he had travelled to Tāmaki under a government exemption to support efforts to get gang members vaccinated, he travelled alone and had never been to Northland since arriving in Auckland.

It would be difficult for someone as well know as Harry Tam to have been moving around Auckland without being spotted by members of the public.

His cellphone would have been picked up by cellphone towers around the region, making his whereabouts ridiculously easy to ascertain.

According to how Police are wording their search for the “other woman”, it is apparent that both travellers are women.

Harry Tam is known to be a male.

There will be fallout for Winston Peters.

His wild claims not only put himself up for being sued – but TV3/Newshub is also in the firing line.

It is eerily similar to various pro-Trump conspiracy theorists who have been sued by companies for alleging that their voting machines were “rigged” in favour of  Joe Biden:

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If it is correct that Mr Peters obtained his “information” from Facebook or via a conspiratorial email currently being circulated, he may be in for a shock. Such sources usually do not carry much weight in a Court of law:

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This may well have been Mr Peters last appearance on any mainstream media – at least for a live interview. No media outlet will want to risk a lawsuit because of his unpredictability with extravagant, potentially defamatory, claims.

It’s a tough day at the office when a politician’s credibility falls below that of a gang member.

I hope the 24 hours news-cycle notoriety was worth it, Mr Peters?

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References

Newshub Nation: Gang leader Harry Tam denies Winston Peters’ claims he helped infected woman breach COVID boundary, sparking Northland lockdown

Te Ao News: ‘Apologise!’ Mob leader slams Peters’ Covid, Northland allegations

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Search for contact of Northland case ‘extraordinarily frustrating’

CNBC: Judge grills lawyers for Fox News, Powell, Giuliani about election fraud claims in $2.7 billion Smartmatic defamation suit

USA Today: Fact check – False claim that Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell prevailed in Dominion lawsuits

Forbes: After Lawsuits Against Newsmax And OANN, Here’s Who Dominion Has Sued So Far—And Who Could Be Next

Vox: Sidney Powell gives up the game, admits Trump’s election conspiracies weren’t factual

Forbes: Trump Campaign Knew Dominion Fraud Claims Were False, Memo Reportedly Shows—But Giuliani Still Pushed Them

Business Insider Australia: Rudy Guiliani admits under oath that he got some of his ‘evidence’ of alleged election fraud from Facebook

Other Blogs

Kiwiblog: Winston vs Harry

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Acknowledgement: Guy Body

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The Virus, the Bubble, and the Trap

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In case people missed it, National’s de- facto 2023 election campaign was launched on 15 March this year.

The campaign – in the form of a petition to open a Trans Tasman bubble without need for MIQ – was uploaded onto National’s twitter account, and twentyfive minutes later onto Caretaker Leader, Judith Collin’s account:

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Pressure mounted from the business community. The usual vocal business, tourism, and hospitality industry lobbyists made their voices heard loud and repetitively to the point of being cliched “broken records”:

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Even state-owned, non-commercial RNZ was prodigious in platforming the clamour from business interests.

Voices calling for caution were few and far between. Apparently, calls for caution were not nearly as news-worthy and exciting as the prospect of re-opening our borders to our nearest neighbour after nearly a year cut off from the rest of the world.

One voice of caution came from Stuff Media’s travel journalist, Brooke Sabin. In October 2020, Mr Sabin posed five critical questions pertaining to any proposed travel bubble. One such question asked:

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One of the key questions around a travel bubble with Australia is what happens if a community case pops up? For example, if we have flights to Adelaide and a single mystery case popped up there, would flights to and from New Zealand be cancelled? If not, would we adopt Australia’s hotspot definition and stop travel if there were more than three cases for three days in a row? The New Zealand public may find that hard to stomach, but that’s why debate is needed now, before the election, to try and settle on a risk we’re happy with.

Travellers, airlines, insurers and the tourism industry need this certainty. We could see cases pop up once a bubble is underway, and nobody quite knows at what point travel would continue, or if tens of thousands would have travel plans disrupted by widespread cancellations.

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Events nine months later were to answer his questions, with grim, dramatic effect.

Ironically, Brook Sabin’s article was picked up and republished by a merchant banker, Fifo Capital. The financiers at Fifo obviously recognised the inherent danger posed to the Aotearoa New Zealand’s economy should covid19 – especially the highly infectious Delta Strain –  break through our borders. It was a pity other businesses did not share Fifo’s wise caution.

The strident calls to open a Trans Tasman bubble succeeded.

On 6 April this year, PM Ardern announced that “quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia will start on Monday 19 April“.

However, she also issued a clear, stark warning:

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“Quarantine free travel will not be what it was pre-COVID-19, and those undertaking travel will do so under the guidance of ‘flyer beware’. People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak.”

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It was a warning that many either did not heed or understand.

University of Auckland epidemiology professor, Rod Jackson, who recently appeared on Newshub Nation (2 October), and who has a reputation for clear, unvarnished, truth stated with crystal clarity:

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“I’ve seen some things in the newspaper and the media about people complaining they are not being helped by the New Zealand government when they’re stuck in Australia and can’t come back.

I think that they need to suck it up, that anyone who wants to go to Australia needs to be aware that at a moment’s notice they could end up being there for weeks, if not months.”

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Again, people took no notice.

Eighteen days late, on 23 July, PM Ardern announced the closure of the Trans Tasman bubble. The Delta Strain was spreading through Australia and the risk that a traveller could bring it back to this country – as happened in June this year – could no longer be ignored.

PM Ardern pleaded with New Zealanders:

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“There is considerable pressure on our managed isolation facilities at the moment and my strong urging to everyone is do not travel to Australia in the next eight weeks.”

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Returnees were put in two weeks isolation upon return to Aotearoa New Zealand, putting a strain on availability of MIQ rooms. New Zalanders were now not only trapped throughout the world, trying to get home, but thousands were now also trapped throughout Australia.

Returnees demanded access to MIQ rooms. There were insufficient rooms. Calls became strident. The media shamelessly gorged itself on amplified stories of misery, stress, and hardship. There were emotive headlines and interviews. There were clicks to be gained; advertising to sell; and careers to build.

A few in the media bucked the stampede to exploit this human crisis. Writing in his column, Q+A presenter, Jack Tame, pointed out the blindingly obvious:

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“Remember – this is the way the bubble was designed to function. From the word go, there was risk for anyone who decided to go to Australia. You bought a ticket. You chose to travel. You assumed that risk. I actually think the people who’ve come back from New South Wales and into MIQ should consider themselves very lucky they haven’t had to pay for the privilege when everyone else does.”

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The truth is that business and political agitation for a trans tasman bubble generated considerable media stories. Once the bubble collapsed and New Zealanders were trapped overseas, there were yet more “human interest” stories to be made. The more tragic the story, the better the headline.

24 hours a day, seven days a week, the media feasted.

Critics of the Labour government; political opportunists; those dissatisfied with travel restrictions; and detractors of the MIQ system were quick to weaponise “human interest”, “heart-string” stories for their own ends. Where reasoned argument fell short against our covid19 and MIQ policies, emotive invective took over. That weaponisation of PM Ardern’s plea to Be Kind was turned back against the government and those who understood the danger which covid19 posed to us collectively.

And then, finally, our luck well and truly ran out.

On 17 August – four months after the Trans Tasman bubble had opened – a community case of the Delta Strain was detected in one person, in Auckland. The PM wasted no time, and the entire country was thrown into Level 4 Alert lockdown at 11.59PM that very night.

Since then, Delta has infected 1,420 people. Two have tragically died (as at 6 October 2021).

The response from National, amplified by the media, has been scathing:

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Voxy: ‘Short and sharp’ lockdown will be the longest ever - Judith Collins, Chris Bishop   http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/5/392524   National:  Time has run out on Government’s incoherent Covid strategy  https://www.national.org.nz/time-has-run-out-on-governments-incoherent-covid-strategy    Newshub: Sparks fly in Parliament as Jacinda Ardern, Chris Hipkins deny pace of COVID-19 vaccine rollout meant inevitable lockdown  https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2021/09/sparks-fly-in-parliament-as-jacinda-ardern-chris-hipkins-deny-pace-of-covid-19-vaccine-rollout-meant-inevitable-lockdown.html   National: Government has choices and needs to make them now  https://www.national.org.nz/government-has-choices-and-needs-to-make-them-now    National: New Zealand at Covid crossroads  https://www.national.org.nz/new-zealand-at-covid-crossroads   National: What is the Government’s Covid strategy?  https://www.national.org.nz/what-is-the-governments-covid-strategy    Newshub: Coronavirus: Judith Collins says 'no point worrying' about source of COVID-19 outbreak, Ardern should 'deal with it' or accept she can't change it  https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2021/09/coronavirus-judith-collins-says-no-point-worrying-about-source-of-covid-19-outbreak-ardern-should-deal-with-it-or-accept-she-can-t-change-it.html        National: No mention of Delta strain in Government plans  https://www.national.org.nz/no-mention-of-delta-strain-in-government-plans    National: South Island should drop now to alert level 2    https://www.national.org.nz/south-island-should-drop-now-to-alert-level-2    National: Labour has dropped the MIQ ball  https://www.national.org.nz/labour-has-dropped-the-miq-ball   Stuff media: Covid-19 NZ - Judith Collins says level 4 should be all but ruled out, Government lacks mandate to lock people down  https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/300412630/covid19-nz-judith-collins-says-level-4-should-be-all-but-ruled-out-government-lacks-mandate-to-lock-people-down     National: No mention of Delta strain in Government plans  https://www.national.org.nz/no-mention-of-delta-strain-in-government-plans       National: Labour recklessly delayed vaccine shipments  https://www.national.org.nz/labour-recklessly-delayed-vaccine-shipments    RNZ: New level 2 rules a 'bitter pill to swallow' for South Island, Collins says  https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/450975/new-level-2-rules-a-bitter-pill-to-swallow-for-south-island-collins-says    National: Minister won’t say how much more taxpayers will be up for  https://www.national.org.nz/minister-wont-say-how-much-more-taxpayers-will-be-up-for

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Every morning, afternoon, and throughout the evening, from Monday to Sunday, National and their fellow-travellers from business and right-wing media  excoriated the government for the current outbreak. The relentless headlines – of which only a small sample is presented above – does not even  include radio, television interviews and social media propaganda.

Demands for a Trans Tasman bubble was a carefully laid trap from National.

If the bubble  was successful, Chris Bishop and National’s current (?) Leader, could loudly proclaim success and claim credit for loosening restrictions and ‘liberating’ New Zealanders from our isolation. It would be a valuable, vote-grabbing ‘coup’ to take to the 2023 general election.

“See? This is what a competent government looks like! This is what a National does! Vote for us!”

If the bubble failed, Chris Bishop and National’s current (?) Leader, could blast the government for incompetence and every other ‘misdemeanour’ imaginable.

“See? This is what an incompetent government looks like! This is what Labour does! Vote for us!”

Truly, it was a win/win, no-lose, cunning gambit.

The Government fell for the trap. Delta got loose. Country forced into lockdown. Delta all but impossible to contain.

Checkmate.

If there is a lesson for Labour, it is this: As Opposition, National can demand whatever it can dream up. But as Opposition, it has zero accountability for consequences when things go horribly wrong.

Never listen to National. They are the the party of responsibility, except when National has no responsibility.

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References

National Party: Open the Trans Tasman Bubble Now (archived)

Twitter: National Party – Sign the Trans Tasman bubble petition

Twitter: Judith Collins – Sign the Trans Tasman bubble petition

RNZ: Tourism New Zealand forecasting billion-dollar economy boost if trans-Tasman bubble opens

Stuff media: Crack open the border, mate – Waikato tourist towns’ plea for trans-Tasman bubble

Stuff media: Tourism disappointed over delay in trans-Tasman bubble date

Newshub: Coronavirus: – Pressure mounting on Government to open trans-Tasman bubble soon to save tourism businesses

RNZ: Business community wants quick decision on trans-Tasman bubble

Newshub: COVID-19 – Concerns some small tourist towns will be gone before trans-Tasman bubble opens

Stuff media: Government pushed to act on trans-Tasman travel bubble

Stuff media: Covid-19  Five big problems with the proposed trans-Tasman travel bubble

Fifo Capital:

Beehive.govt.nz: Trans-Tasman bubble to start 19 April

Newshub: Coronavirus – Expert’s blunt message to the Govt as it ponders level 2 for Auckland – ‘How brutal do you want to go?’

Stuff media: Trans-Tasman travel: Prepare to be stuck ‘for weeks’ if you travel under re-opened bubble, expert says

RNZ: NZ government suspends quarantine-free travel with Australia for at least eight weeks

RNZ:  Australian traveller who visited Wellington has Delta variant

Stuff media: Covid-19 – A timeline of the Delta outbreak

Ministry of Health: 39 community cases of COVID-19; two border cases; more than 63,000 vaccines doses administered yesterday

Voxy: ‘Short and sharp’ lockdown will be the longest ever – Judith Collins, Chris Bishop

National: Time has run out on Government’s incoherent Covid strategy

Newshub: Sparks fly in Parliament as Jacinda Ardern, Chris Hipkins deny pace of COVID-19 vaccine rollout meant inevitable lockdown

National: Government has choices and needs to make them now

National: New Zealand at Covid crossroads

National: What is the Government’s Covid strategy?

Newshub: Coronavirus – Judith Collins says ‘no point worrying’ about source of COVID-19 outbreak, Ardern should ‘deal with it’ or accept she can’t change it

National: No mention of Delta strain in Government plans

National: South Island should drop now to alert level 2

National: Labour has dropped the MIQ ball

Stuff media: Covid-19 NZ – Judith Collins says level 4 should be all but ruled out, Government lacks mandate to lock people down

National: Labour recklessly delayed vaccine shipments

RNZ: New level 2 rules a ‘bitter pill to swallow’ for South Island, Collins says

National: Minister won’t say how much more taxpayers will be up for

Additional

The Spinoff: New Zealand urgently needs a serious opposition leader

Al Jazeera: New Zealand grapples with Delta – and Tucker Carlson

Reference sources

MIQ: History and origins of MIQ

Covid19: History of the COVID-19 Alert System

MBIE: Managed isolation and quarantine data

RNZ: Timeline – The year of Covid-19 in New Zealand

Stuff media: Covid-19 – A timeline of the Delta outbreak

Other Blogs

The Knightly Views: Media lessons from a pandemic

The Standard: Smug hermit king

Previous related blogposts

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 4 – Caretaker Leader Collins, another rare mis-step

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 15 (@L3)

The Microbiologist, the Caretaker Leader, and some Nasty Germs

One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

The Virus, the Media, and John Key

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson (15-21 March 2021)

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The Virus, the Media, and John Key

3 October 2021 4 comments

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Acknowledgement: @komerata

 

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“People are crying on TV and on radio stations, every single day, because they are stateless, they cannot come back to New Zealand.”  – John Key, ex-Prime Minister, “Morning Report”, RNZ 

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The crocodile tears flew – albeit briefly – on RNZ’s “Morning Report” on 27 September, by ex-Prime Minister ex-Merril Lynch ‘banker’, and still-practicing smiling assassin, John Key.

The interview with Corin Dann showed a side of Key not often seen by the Great Unwashed Masses; condescending; quick to anger; and irritable at being questioned. His defensiveness was over the publication of his op-ed in no less than four major daily newspapers was either fortuitously achieved – or with great precision-planning and with the witting or unwitting collusion of the media involved.

This screen-cap from The Spin-Off (with associated excellent satirical piece, lampooning Key’s dangerous ‘reckons’) showed the four dailies involved in the synchronised, targetted release of the agit-prop article he purportedly wrote:

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The lampooning of Mr Key’s reckons – by Spinoff editor Toby Manhire – is pure cutting satire and the only possible way to deal with the ill-informed pronouncements of a man who was, at best, a mediocre prime minister and achieved nothing except a failed flag referendum; tax cuts for the rich; and a novel – if utterly barmy – idea of a sheep farm in the middle of the Saudi desert. (Who knew sheep preferred to eat grass, instead of sand?)

My ex-journo friend wondered:

“I see Key is also sounding off in the Sunday Herald as well. His business mates are likely channeling through him rather than coming out and saying anything directly so as to protect themselves from public backlash.”

Unfortunately,Mr Key’s (?) op-ed was not the first to be platformed in the mainstream media.

As has been pointed out by many on social media – and by my ex-journalist friend – it is almost as if the public are being “softened up”.

But softened-up for what?

The mainstream media has – and currently still is – flooding their platforms with “Open Up” (current version of Plan Bers) demands from business lobbyists, sports people, and a bunch of Kiwis who have the crazy notion that travelling overseas during a raging pandemic – or bringing in a flood of tourists and migrant workers – is a jolly good idea.

It’s like a small – but increasing vociferous number – have not been paying attention to New South Wales, Fiji, Brazil, United States, United Kingdom, and practically almost everywhere else on this planet. And every time platformed and amplified almost wholly uncritically by every media outlet in the country.

Including, bizarrely, state-owned, non-commercial, Radio NZ. (The profit motive may not apply to RNZ’s corporate structure, but personal career advancement might play a role.)

Only Stuff media has published an op-ed questioning this current, relentless push to live (ie, die) with covid:

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Yes, Dominion Post editor, Anna Fifield, has called it: Aotearoa New Zealand is not North Korea. Not even close. In fact, contrary to our geographically-confused American cuzzies’ belief, we are not Australia either.

North Korea. Australia. Aotearoa New Zealand. Three different countries.

You can tell they are different: we make a better Flat White and our rugby team is the best of all three. (Does North Korea even play rugby? Ask John Key: he seems up with communist dictatorships.)

Unfortunately, for Ms Fifield, there was a very brief comment in her 27 September editorial,  where she admits:

And we in the Wellington newsroom of Stuff have been actively reporting about the impact of our system on businesses, including the tech sector, and the long-term economic ramifications of it.

Not only is she correct, but every other mainstream media (msm) in the country has been fulsome in  “actively reporting the impact of our system on businesses“. Reporting every day. On every TV news and current affairs broadcast. On every radio station, including non-commercial RNZ. In every newspaper and probably most magazines.

Relentlessly.

Often repetitively – in case we missed it the first time:

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23 September, 5.20PM

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23 September, 7.30PM

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28 September

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Interesting how categories of the three, related stories above went from “Health/Politics” to “Business/Covid19“. When did Covid19 cease to be a Health issue for RNZ?

In fact, unless you stopped reading; scrolling, listening, and watching, the entire nationwide msm spectrum – you’d be hard-pressed not to be informed of “the impact of our system on businesses“.

To describe the msm as business-friendly propaganda would be apt, probably even under-stated.

Only communist nations have broadcast “positive” aspects of their economic system as constantly; widely; repetitively, and incessantly. (Yes, Ms Fifield, I have lived under a communist system. For about eleven months, in the late 1970s) in my parents homeland, the Hungarian People’s Republic, governed by the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party.)

The only way to avoid the incessant bombardment of negativity; whining; hysterical pleas to “open up”; never-ending stream of stressed businesspeople; onslaught of ‘heart-string’ stories of New Zealanders trapped overseas (often after voluntarily travelling overseas since March last year) –  is to avoid the msm altogether.

This blogger switched off all electronic media for three days during last year’s Level 4 lockdown.

This year, the off-switch was flicked for RNZ’s “Checkpoint“, which had seemingly perfected whinging and negativity to a fine art. This blogger ceased listening for about a week and a half, until Aotearoa New Zealand (minus Auckland) dropped to Level 2.

And what was the first story on “Checkpoint” on 8 September, the first full day of Level 2?

Guess…

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business whinging whining carping complaining

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Yup.  They just couldn’t help themselves, could they? The very first story: a business whinge.

I switched of.

If RNZ has become a subsidiary of the National Business Review, we certainly missed that memo.

Following John Key’s first salvo of op-eds, he was followed by Richard Prebble, Paul Henry, and Steven Joyce (on tediously numerous occassions). All three thankfully paywalled. The term male, pale, and stale has never felt more appropriately descriptive.

Mr Joyce’s reference to the current “Jacinda Ardern Government getting too big for its bossy boots” was a bit rich, considering his decidely authoritarian-flavoured comment to tertiary students almost exactly decade ago:

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Minister to students: ‘keep your heads down’

NZ Herald – 27 Sep, 2011 11:39 AM – By Claire Trevett

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has warned protesting university students to keep their heads down lest they draw attention to their relatively privileged position in hard economic times.

Asked about the student protests at Auckland University yesterday, Mr Joyce said university students had 75 per cent of the tuition subsidised on average and benefited from interest-free student loans.

“My general advice to NZUSA (NZ Union of Students’ Associations) on the cost of living for students is to keep your heads down because actually most people probably think you’re doing OK.”

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The steady stream of debilitating, depressing media negativity has not gone unnoticed by many fellow New Zealanders (including my own partner and other close friends and work colleagues – most of whom are sick of it all). Social media is full of people expressing their weariness of msm negativity:

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I’m in MIQ and yes it has its flaws & shortcomings, being away from family I desperately want to see but I’m prepared to do to keep Delta out. WTF are we doing listening to JFK when he just wants to be able to flit to Hawaii and back on a whim? F**k him and his self-centredness. – 1:19 PM · Aug 12, 2021

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Kia ora @1NewsNZ, @TVNZ, no matter the decision today, please, please, please can we not hear from the moaners & whingers. It’s the moaning that is getting to many of us here in L4 & it will greatly improve our outlook if we weren’t subjected to more. Kia ora mo o taringa. – 12:23 PM · Sep 20, 2021

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100% We’re doing the mahi and the constant moaning and complaining is not representative of most of us. It’s so hard to deal with. We need positivity – 2:52 PM · Sep 20, 2021

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Individual journalists may not realise the cumulative effect their negativity has. Yes govt should be held to account but that can be done w/o centring ignorance without pushback and exaggerating errors. Social license to lock down is only thing stopping us from turning into NSW. – 7:02 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Although my business is closed until we hit L2 I realise it’s the right thing to do to be in lockdown. I wonder if the media will ever go for comment from small business owners that accept that this is the way forward because we understand what that means for the economy? –  9:07 AM · Aug 26, 2021

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Are the media being responsible during our outbreak, or are they nitpicking, delving into the sewers, which includes foreign media, to make us all fearful and anxious? Some words do matter, be careful how you use them.8:51 AM · Aug 26, 2021

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It’s interesting that at no stage has any official said we stop elimination strategy now. But all the media are softening the public up to do just that. And more and more antivax coming up with extreme right “learn to live with it” bollocks. Manipulation is occurring why? – 8:37 AM · Sep 26, 2021

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Seeing journos moaning about the slating they are getting. Either be a tabloid hack and ignore the criticism, or do a better job, don’t write such rubbish then bitch when people don’t like it. – 12:52 PM · Sep 24, 2021

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Because the media live on playing games for profit. Now stakes involve human lives – they’ve never felt a more thrilling empowerment. – 7:25 PM · Sep 26, 2021

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I don’t get it honestly. I tend to back away from news sources now, I just cant even – 5:27 PM · Sep 26, 2021

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Because national disasters sell newspapers. – 8:49 PM · Sep 26, 2021

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Fair minded KIwis are sick to death with the barrage of MIQ and stranded traveller sob stories Kiwis have had opportinities over 500 days to get back to NZ . Those that went to Australia were pre-warned by PM Ardern flyer beware and get back on red flights or risk being stranded8:43 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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Totally sick of hearing about vaccine logistics stuff. We’ve just had a massive demand spike of a perishable product with very precise transport demands. Hell, the timber industry couldn’t even get its shit together with a few years notice, & we grow the bloody wood – 1:22 PM · Sep 7, 2021

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Agreed it seems like the media want to highlight every small thing that goes wrong in MIQ..it’s poor form given more than 170k kiwis have returned and they highlight the less than 5% that have had issues..  – 9:37 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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I agree. I would love to go & see my Dad in Scotland as he’s just had major heart surgery @ 84 but I decided early 2020 I would not be leaving NZ for anything ~ not to spread it around the globe, not to bring it back but most of all to survive. – 10:13 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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This genius departed for the USA to work in a summer camp on 13 June, and now can’t get a spot in MIQ, seriously? https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/travel-troubles/300408053/american-dream-turns-into-nightmare-for-new-zealander-desperate-to-return-home9:57 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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News junkie son in Melbourne tells me he has switched off all news. Professional comms daughter in Sydney has switched off all her private social media. I have turned off RNZ. Personal wellbeing decisions in stressful times. – 9:35 AM · Aug 31, 2021

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Moaning Report  – 9:57 AM · Aug 31, 2021

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NZ media has had more of an effect on my mental health than lockdown itself. I’m just finding myself being bombarded with right wing hatred towards our current government. I am always a supporter of valid criticism but this has gone past the line of criticism. – 10:09 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Very sad that NZ media is incapable of taking the pulse of the nation. – 8:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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It’s kind of a very New Zealand thing that the media are telling us we are “totally feed up”, and completely “over it” yet we are just stoically getting on with doing what we need to as a whole. – 6:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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I just can’t stand feeling ok, getting on with it, making the best of it, only to feel dragged down by the weight of the negativity on the 6pm news. We all know people are struggling. But just framing some things in a positive light would be nice – 6:38 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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There’s no money in stories about Kiwis just getting on with it…  Which is kind of sad… – 6:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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I deleted the Stuff app from my phone over this. (deleted NZ Herald a year ago) – 10:55 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Yep, for the first time in my life I’ve stopped checking in on media sites – their clickbaity, dramatised headlines are all too often misleading and unnecessarily distressing. I figure if anything important happens, I’ll hear about it pretty quickly here, and with some nuance. – 8:37 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Yep, feeling pretty much the same way. The constant negativity and political twattery all for the sake of scoring points is exhausting. I know that they don’t talk for the majority but their voices are so much louder than everyone else’s… – 1:33 PM · Aug 30, 2021

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My feelings exactly. I’m exhausted by the media negativity. – 7:42 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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So agree. The only thing that gets me angry is the platforming of RW, business viewpoints that just see workers as grist for their mills. – 10:59 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Delete any app that bring news. Mute those outlets’ accounts. I did, and it helps. – 11:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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The equivalent of “some people say” and/or using their opinion writers as speaking for the nation while the nation is saying “who writes this shit”? – 9:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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to be fair to the media I think there’s a fair amount of them (outside of Granny, obvi) who do support the strategy, they just want more accountability and more preplanning, which is hard to argue against. The vaccine catastrophizing is utterly ridiculous though, lol. – 6:40 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Totally agree, it is really depressing being bombarded every day by sniping & negativity. Do they know that this is the effect they are having? – 8:51 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Remember by their own fruition the majority of NZ’s mainstream media are HQed in Auckland.
They gutted regional newsrooms & shut down external studios to base everything there.
Now the chickens have come home to roost & Auckland gets a month-longer lockdown than everyone else! –
7:34 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Couldn’t agree more! I’m not fed up at all…except with the crappy media!  Kiwis have got this! Around 85% thought we were right to lock down and since there is light at the end of the tunnel, why stop now!? – 11:27 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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It’s such a crack up when they have a story with a mayor or a business leader going on about how unhappy everyone is and then they cut to interviews in the street and the people they speak to are overwhelmingly for what we are doing. – 6:41 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Actually I am over it, I’m over the media telling me what I feel despite it not being anywhere near what I infact feel – 8:36 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Well, we are totally fed up….. with the media that is. I’m definitely over people with no health qualifications pontificating about how we ‘just need to live with it’ – 7:51 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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The media need to take along hard look at themselves. I am totally fed up with opinion posing as journalism, reckons as facts, completely over it.  – 10:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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The thing is “NZ media” as it relates to Covid is the press gallery, whose world revolves around listening to stand ups and having to interview the opposition for their daily shit takes. It’s no wonder their summation is “Kiwis are over it.” I would be too in their shoes. – 10:21 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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I’m so sick of the NZ journalists, fucking depressing bunch and all they want to do is bitch and moan. Meanwhile, the rest of us just get on with it – 7:02 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Apologies for the long list of comments. Believe me, there were way, way more. The above is only a small, random sampling of comments gleaned from Twitter.

More important from the comments on this issue came from Chloe Ann-King, a spokesperson for hospitality workers and founder of Raise the Bar Hospo Union (RBHU), this salient criticism of the media:

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So not only have media relentlessly amplified business voices – almost always complaining, criticising, and demanding – but inevitably no workers are ever (?) interviewed for their takes.

On 29 August this year, Stuff’s political reporter, Andrea Vance, published an overtly defensive “opinion” piece, dismissing criticism of media coverage of the covid crisis.

In it she opined that scrutiny of the government was an essential role of the media:

“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has given a spirited defence of her Government’s decisions. She’s more than up to handling the criticism.

Of course, she must exude confidence in the strategy and maintain consistent and clear messaging. But it’s troubling when she says she doesn’t want a debate.

And that makes it even more crucial to have robust scrutiny from outside her inner circle.

Because if they are the right decisions, then they remain the right decisions. Questions and alternative viewpoints won’t change that, and we can be more confident we’re on the right course.

We shouldn’t run from transparent and open debate – scrutiny can only improve the decision-making.”

Few would disagree with that statement.

In fact, it was media scrutiny that revealed severe short-coming in MIQ facilities with security; lack of appropriate PPE gear, and behaviours of some staff which was less than ideal.

This blogger, and most people have no problem with media ensuring that MIQ, vaccinations, and lockdowns are appropriately handled.

We are mature people (generally, with minor exceptions) . We can take information that may be difficult to digest. We want bad news given to us unvarnished, with options for answers.

That is why, as Ms Vance writes – though in a vaguely dismissive way – that we value our scientists and medical personnel with such high regard:

It’s fantastic that the tight circle of academic experts advising the Government make themselves readily available to explain the modelling and the science.

In the pandemic, medical experts (the virologists, epidemiologists, statisticians and modellers) have become our modern-day talisman. It’s a refreshing change from the tendency to devalue expertise seen in recent years.

Physicist and covid-modeller, Shaun Hendy’s participation in the Government’s daily 1PM ‘presser’ on 23 September and Epidemioloist, Rod Jackson appearing on TV3’s Newshub Nation, on 2 October, did not ‘sugar coat’ what we were facing. They were blunt and honest with the facts and possible consequences.

Few people objected and those that did, in one instance, appears to have had a bad case of bruised-egoitis.

But what she and her colleagues fail to utterly comprehend is that it’s not scrutiny of the government that has provoked a torrent of criticism against the media itself.

Criticism – as comments above clearly show – revolve around non-stop, negative stories from business interests; New Zealanders stuck overseas (a number of whom are the authors of their own predicament); naked political opportunism; and giving voice to practically anyone with dissatisfaction. It is repetitive; lacking any real purpose (except click-generating headlines); and – I  submit – psychologically detrimental.

Individual journalists and media outlets seem to think that they don’t produce much in the way of negative stories. Perhaps one or two a day? But add all the media outlets together, many with different aspects of an individual organisation (eg; RNZ’s ‘Morning Report‘, ‘Mid Day Report‘, ‘Checkpoint‘, ‘Lately‘); each churning out their own ‘doom n gloom’ stories – and it mounts up very quickly.

Ms Vance and her colleagues are wholly responsible for the material they put out. The public has little in-put into decision-making. The things they write; the stories they publish or broadcast, have content that inevitably has an effect. (Why else preface some stories with warnings of “Content may be disturbing – viewer/reader discretion advised”?)

A constant diet of bad news stories cannot be mentally healthy. Especially to a nation already stressed with hyper-vigilance as covid bangs on our rampart walls. When five million people have experienced massive disruption to their lives with outbreaks; closures of schools and businesses; lockdowns; and advised to stay home – these are all pressures we have to face.

Most do not complain. We do what we must to save lives. We have seen the misery covid19 has caused overseas, bringing even the most powerful nations to the brink of disaster. So we have seen the lessons from overseas and the consequences of failure is not lost on us.

It is already tough-going for many and stressful. Adding the burden of negativity is not only unhelpful, it adds further despondency. It is a slow chipping away of our resolve.

So when we do speak up, it would do the media industry well to listen. After all, are media folk not part of our community?

The whole point of journalism and the media machine is to engage and inform the public (as well as sell toothpaste, pet-food, etc). The moment the public stop listening, reading, because of an onslaught of highly-emotive stories is the point they stop engaging.

When people switch off and refuse to engage any further, journalism has failed us.

The media are not above scrutiny or criticism. Just as politicians are open to scrutiny and criticism. Consider the criticisms – maybe, just maybe, critics have a point?

Think, before you publish yet another carping from Michael Barnett, or a traveller who is stuck in Sydney after the Trans Tasman bubble was closed. Is it really “news”?  What will it achieve? Will it inform us? Or is the headline simply geared to attract eyeballs and clicks and bugger the effects it might have on already-stressed people?

If it’s not ‘new’ then maybe it’s not news.

Postscript

Lest this blogger be another cog in the Great Negativity Machine, I point to today’s (3 October) episode of TV One’s Q+A episode.

The show presented critical problems affecting the nation’s vaccination programme.  There was vox populi and community workers interviewed. Solutions were suggested and discussed. 

No emotion-bombing; no ‘heart string’ stories. No whining from entitled sector lobbyists or ill-informed ‘reckons’.

The viewer was encouraged to engage, listen, and think on what was presented.

The same with the follow-up interview with Air New Zealand CEO, Greg Foran. No whining, no demands, no sense of entitlement; just a basic Kiwi attitude of dealing with the cards that have been dealt, and getting on with it*.

At one point, Q+A host Jack Tame asked Mr Foran’s opinion on government’s elimination strategy;

“Do you think the elimination strategy is sustainable?”

The CEO’s reply?

“Look, Jack, that’s something that probably the scientists and the government need to answer…”

It felt as if we were in a room listening to mature adults.

More of this style of responsible media, please.

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(* Note: Admittedly, Air New Zealand has a billion dollar ‘life line’ with the government. But their potential liabilities can also be measured in the billion-dollar range. That ‘life-line’ can become shortened very quickly; airlines can gobble up hundreds of millions of dollars almost as fast as their jets can fly.)

 

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References      

RNZ: Covid-19 – Young people need some rights taken away to encourage vaccination – Sir John Key (alt.link)

The Spinoff: Ranked – All of today’s op-ed columns by Sir John Key

Stuff media: Anna Fifield – No, Sir John Key, New Zealand is not like North Korea

Newshub: Auckland business leader Michael Barnett wants Government to listen closely to smaller businesses about improving COVID-19 support schemes

NZ Herald: Covid-19 Delta outbreak – Retirees stuck in Australia fear being stripped of pensions

RNZ: ‘We need clarity’ for Covid-19 test to cross Auckland border – business owner

RNZ: Orion Health CEO urges revamp of MIQ to allow business travel

RNZ: Business pushing for self-managed isolation for overseas work travel

RNZ: Businesses on home isolation trial – ‘This has been a long time coming’

NZ Herald: Covid Delta outbreak – Richard Prebble – Muldoonism looms large – and that’s a problem

NZ Herald: Paul Henry – I love this country – but I’m not sure I have the heartbeats for it any more

NZ Herald: Steven Joyce – Jacinda Ardern Government getting too big for its bossy boots

NZ Herald: Minister to students – ‘keep your heads down’

Twitter: @MightyBlender –1:19 PM · Aug 12, 2021

Twitter: @_seashelleyes_ – 12:23 PM · Sep 20, 2021

Twitter: @CamDouglasMS – 2:52 PM · Sep 20, 2021

Twitter: @fabtknz – 7:02 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @liberal_owners – 9:07 AM · Aug 26, 2021

Twitter: @MariaSherwood2 – 8:51 AM · Aug 26, 2021

Twitter: @vincristine –  8:37 AM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @DesiCommsMan12:52 PM · Sep 24, 2021

Twitter: @BozzyWozzer – 7:25 PM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @mlpgirl775:27 PM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @cleotibbitts – 8:49 PM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @LetsGetPfizered8:43 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @RobSuisted1:22 PM · Sep 7, 2021

Twitter: @Shawn675869439:37 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @sandzz7710:13 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @Tukeke70 – 9:57 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @Tikorangi – 9:35 AM · Aug 31, 2021

Twitter: @MarkcyCleary – 9:57 AM · Aug 31, 2021

Twitter: @IdioticTwinkles – 10:09 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @WormwoodNGall8:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @FoxyLustyGrover – 6:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @infinite_ink 6:38 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @SJPONeill – 6:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @pet_brain – 10:55 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @Kate_DowlingNZ – 8:37 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @fkleitch – 1:33 PM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @BoxyBristol – 7:42 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @kaffiene_nz – 10:59 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @Writer_Caroline – 11:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @Feebeekiwi – 9:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @MJWhitehead – 6:40 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @HantonSusie – 8:51 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @NapierinFrame – 7:34 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @Lady__Seraphina – 11:27 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @douggie27 – 6:41 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @js_eighty – 8:36 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @MarieMenzies5 – 7:51 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @gracillus – – 10:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @platinumpixienz – 10:21 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @Hurricane15 – 7:02 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Raise the Bar Hospo Union: About

Twitter: @GGrucilla – 12:09 PM · Oct 2, 2021

Stuff media: If the Government is making the right decisions on Covid-19, it will withstand scrutiny

Coast: Brian Tamaki’s controversial new ‘hot’ advertisement

Ministry of Health: COVID-19 update 23 September 2021

Newshub: Coronavirus – Expert’s blunt message to the Govt as it ponders level 2 for Auckland – ‘How brutal do you want to go?’

Stuff media: Covid-19 NZ – Rodney Jones says Shaun Hendy’s 7000-death vaccine model doesn’t pass plausibility test

TVNZ: Q+A – 3 October 2021

Twitter: Shaun Hendy – 8:04 AM · Sep 26, 2021

Additional

The Spinoff: New Zealand cannot abandon its Covid elimination strategy while Māori and Pasifika vaccination rates are too low

The Spinoff:  Siouxsie Wiles – Why we need to stay the course on elimination

Reference sources

MIQ: History and origins of MIQ

Covid19: History of the COVID-19 Alert System

MBIE: Managed isolation and quarantine data

RNZ: Timeline – The year of Covid-19 in New Zealand

Other Blogs

Bryan Gould: The Herald’s Dilemma

The Daily Blog: John Minto – When will Michael Barnett stop whinging, whining and bleating?

The Standard: Smug hermit king

The Standard: Key’s baaaack

Previous related blogposts

One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

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Acknowledgement: Guy Body

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One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

19 September 2021 3 comments

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The “Plan Bers” – including assorted right-wing politicians, privileged media commentators, faux “experts”, business lobbyists, et al – have a new argument they’re recently taken to trotting out, to justify opening up Aotearoa New Zealand to covid-19:

“We already have 500 New Zealanders dying each year from influenza.”

Overseas “experts” have been just as keen to join the But What About Influenza Club, like this character from the United States, Dr Amesh Adalja, from the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security:

“We don’t want anybody to die from Covid. Covid is a vaccine preventable illness, now is a vaccine preventable death, but I think there are many tools that you can use short of a lockdown to achieve that goal and I think what we eventually want to see is decoupling of cases from hospitalisations and death. But there’s going to be some level of deaths that occur, and I think it’s interesting because in New Zealand you had around 26 or so deaths.

But in the last flu season you had 500 deaths and I just worry about that precedent, because what is New Zealand going to do for the next flu season? How do you kind of square what you’ve done for Covid for flu? When the flu deaths are 20 times higher because of those actions you’ve taken and I think this is going to be something that your society has to to think about and debate, and I think it’s an important debate to have.”

So there we have it: allowing people to die from preventable disease is worthy of “debate”.

When do we get to debate if Dr Adalja should live or die. Or his family?

In the same “debate”, hosted by Nathan Rarere on RNZ’s “First Up“, Dr Adalja called our lockdowns  “as a last resort when nothing else works, and as a policy failure“.

He acknowledged that our current covid death rate was “around 26 or so deaths” (It’s currently at 27.)

Dr Adalja didn’t mention that the covid death toll of the United States – his home country – currently stands at 691,562. The US is currently experiencing 148,000 cases and 1,991 deaths reported per day.

Nor did Dr Adalja mention that the US is currently experiencing a massive resurgence of Delta Covid, with hospitals being over-whelmed.  Hospital care is being rationed as staff can no longer cope:

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Dr Adalja mentions none of these inconvenient truths. Out-of-control Delta surge. Hospitals forced to rational care. Rising death toll. 

Not. One. Word.

But he is happy to  lecture us that lockdowns are “a policy failure“.

On a recent episode of TV3’s The Nation, political report Tova O’Brien asked National’s covid spokesperson, Chris Bishop, and ACT Leader, David Seymour what number of covid-related deaths would be acceptable to open up Aotearoa New Zealand.

Chris Bishop suggested that “he would like us to get to around 85% before we start to open up“. David Seymour offered no vaccination target.

According to one report from The Lancet, at 90% vaccination rate (including under 15s), our death toll was estimated at around 1,030 per year – twice the influenza rate.

Neither had the courage nor stomach to offer an acceptable death rate.

Mr Seymour, however,  did respond with a bit of Grim Reaperish ‘whataboutism’:

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“Well, 30,000 people die in New Zealand every year.

The truth is that we cannot prevent all deaths. The important question here is how much more are we prepared to spend to prevent a COVID death than deaths from car crashes, deaths from cancer? Because at the moment, the money we’re spending on COVID, we can’t spend on preventing those other kinds of deaths.”

David Seymour has established a new benchmark by casually accepting the annual influenza death toll as an acceptable figure. If 500 covid-related deaths per year are also acceptable, we should look at other causal factors of death in this country, and apply the new benchmark:

David Seymour’s 500 Deaths Rule

Road toll for 2020: 320 + 180 more acceptable deaths = 500

Work Related Deaths for 2020: 66 + 434 more acceptable deaths = 500

Drownings for 2020: 74 + 426 more acceptable deaths = 500

Homicides for 2020: 142 + 358 more acceptable deaths = 500

There are probably many more categories that could have the 500 Deaths Rule applied.

If Mr Seymour can justify an increased covid death toll by pointing and demanding, “What about ‘flu?” then anything can be justified and made acceptable.

This is the benchmark set by David Seymour.  Let’s call it “Seymour’s Death Rule”.

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References

RNZ: Covid-19 debate – When should New Zealand open up its borders?

Worldometer:  Coronavirus Cases – United States

RNZ: US hospitals ration care amid shortages and Covid-19 surge

Reuters: Some U.S. hospitals forced to ration care amid staffing shortages, COVID-19 surge

NPR: A COVID Surge Is Overwhelming U.S. Hospitals, Raising Fears Of Rationed Care

Vox: Americans are dying because no hospital will take them

New York Times: Idaho allows overwhelmed hospitals across the state to ration care if necessary.

Forbes: In Idaho And Other States, The Delta Covid-19 Surge Is Forcing Hospitals To Ration ICU Beds

CNN: As Covid-19 hospitalizations spike, some overwhelmed hospitals are rationing care

Newshub: Coronavirus – David Seymour says Govt ‘cannot prevent all deaths’, says money spent on COVID can’t be spent preventing deaths from other causes

The Lancet – Western Pacific:  COVID-19 vaccine strategies for Aotearoa New Zealand: a mathematical modelling study

Otago University magazine: Flu a major killer

Police: 2020 road deaths down on 2019

Worksafe: Fatalities

Water Safety: Water Safety Reports 2020

Police: Daily Occurrences of Crime and Family Violence Investigations

Previous related blogposts

Judith Collins and National: It’s a trust thing

The freezing cold invisible hand of neo-liberalism

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 4 – Caretaker Leader Collins, another rare mis-step

The Microbiologist, the Caretaker Leader, and some Nasty Germs

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Acknowledgement: Chris Slane

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

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The Microbiologist, the Caretaker Leader, and some Nasty Germs

14 September 2021 6 comments

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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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= fs =

Life in lockdown, Round Two – Day 4 – Caretaker Leader Collins, another rare mis-step

21 August 2021 13 comments

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21 August: Day 4 of living in lock-down…

No report from this blogger of what has been happening around the Wellington region. Being a day off, I am staying at home. Plenty of housework and reading to catch up on.

Meanwhile…

Day’s beginning.

Current covid19 cases: 31

Cases in ICU: –

Number of deaths: –

Today’s Eyebrow-Raiser.

Caretaker Leader Judith Collins on pointless sniping from the sidelines

“I think we’re very wise to sit back and wait a little while before we go charging into full Opposition mode.

I think one of the problems we have is if people see us as constantly sniping away from the sidelines and not putting up very good policies… then we’ll go the way of traditional Opposition which is further down, and that’s not something we want to do.”

Also Caretaker Leader Judith Collins, on the sidelines

“We are in lockdown because the government did not act with urgency to protect New Zealanders. Their complacency and inability to ensure supply and delivery of the vaccine roll-out has left New Zealanders as sitting ducks; completely vulnerable to the Delta variant when it inevitably got into the community.

It is not enough for the prime minister to lock us in our homes and speak from the podium once a day. New Zealanders don’t need sermons, we need vaccines in arms right now.”

She just can’t help herself.

At a time when we are facing an even worse crisis with a vastly more transmissable mutation of covid – the Delta Strain – the nation needs calm leadership. Sniping from the sidelines is a distraction already-stressed New Zealanders will not welcome, nor thank.

Let’s not forget that the Delta Strain came from Sydney.

Let’s not forget who put pressure on the government to open a Trans Tasman “bubble” with a petition.

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Let’s not forget who seems to have conveniently forgotten that petition.

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She got what she wanted. The consequences were inevitable. Now she’s sniping from the sidelines the government isn’t cleaning up the mess she – in part – is responsible for.

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#CaretakerLeaderCollins

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By Day’s End.

Current covid19 cases: 51

Cases in ICU: –

Number of deaths: –

So ended the fourth day of our journey to beat this thing.

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References

RNZ: Covid-19 update – 11 new cases in the community, including three in Wellington

Newshub: Judith Collins wants National to avoid ‘constantly sniping away from the sidelines’ as it rebuilds

RNZ: Covid-19 – National criticises government’s handling of latest outbreak

Newsroom: Sydney returnee likely source of Covid outbreak

National Party: Sign the Trans Tasman bubble petition

Twitter: Judith Collins – Trans Tasman Bubble Petition

RNZ: Covid-19 update – 21 new community cases in New Zealand today

Previous related blogposts

National: Demand the Debate. Also National: No, not like that!

Judith Collins and National: It’s a trust thing

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cartoon judith collins

Acknowledgment: Sharon Murdoch

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= fs =

The freezing cold invisible hand of neo-liberalism

11 August 2021 1 comment

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Genesis Energy CEO Marc England

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Following the power brown-out through the north island on Monday night – something that supposedly happens only in developing or marxist nations and not developed free market economies – Genesis Energy, chief executive, Marc England was interviewed on RNZ’s Checkpoint by Lisa Owen.

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clown

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Trying to ascertain where responsibility lay for power cuts ping-ponged between Transpower and Genesis Energy until Mr England made this astounding admission;

“We don’t have any legal or regulatory accountability for security of supply in New Zealand, our only accountability is to be sure we can supply our customers.”

To emphasise the point; the CEO of one of our main electricity gentailers; currently 51% State-owned/49% privatised; formerly a 100% state owned enterprise; and prior to that, part of the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand has formally expressed his company’s zero obligation for “any legal or regulatory accountability for security of supply in New Zealand“. His only concern was “to be sure we can supply our customers“.

Let that sink in for a moment: ““We don’t have any legal or regulatory accountability for security of supply in New Zealand“.

That is where the splitting up of state electricity generation and retailing; partial privatisation; and the so-called “free market” has led us: “We don’t have any legal or regulatory accountability for security of supply in New Zealand”.

Being a commercial entity, the sole purpose of all gentailers is to return a dividend to shareholders.

It can do that any number of ways but it has no “regulatory accountability for security of supply in New Zealand“. It’s only “regulatory accountability” is to it’s shareholders. End of.

If it can achieve higher dividends by reducing power generation and thereby pushing up prices by virtue of scarcity – then that is it’s priority.

Not to New Zealand.

Not to customers.

But to shareholders.

It is noteworthy that since part-privatisation in 2014, Genesis Energy has not built any further power generation.  There are no incentives for it (nor any other gentailer) to do so. To generate more electricity would increase supply and drive down prices. By keeping generation static – especially in moments of high demand – it can drive up prices.

Electricity consumers can expect prices rises in  months to come.

Welcome to the logical – if insane – conclusion to the neo-liberal experiment.

The only solutions are;

  1. Regulation by government to force gentailers to build more renewable energy generation (geothermal, solar, hydro, tidal, and wind).
  2. Re-nationalise.
  3. Close close all coal-burning at Huntly and elsewhere.

Otherwise, New Zealanders can expect more-of-the-same: static or reduced generation; rising prices; brown outs.,

Otherwise, as Mr England stated with crystal clarity: “We don’t have any legal or regulatory accountability for security of supply in New Zealand”.

The free market has spoken.

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Caretaker Leader Judith Collins

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Responding to the power brown-outs on Monday night, National’s caretaker leader, Judith Collins made these two asinine posts on Twitter;

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clown

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Note the time-stamps on both: 9.05PM and 9.06PM.

Ms Collins would have had no understanding why the brown-outs were occurring. In  fact, for much of the affected areas, they were still in darkness. So no one knew what was happening or why.

Yet, that did not prevent Ms Collins from posting two childish “digs” at the government.

This is indicative of her personality; vindictive and willing to lash out.

It is clear that with each successive political poll, as her standing among voters continues its downward trajectory, she is becoming more desperate. And more erratic.

This woman is not fit to be Prime Minister. She is barely suitable as party Leader for National.

#CaretakerLeaderCollins

#NationalNotFitToGovern

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References

RNZ: Checkpoint – Power outages – Genesis CEO says Energy Minister scapegoating, but Woods has questions

Wikipedia: Genesis Energy

Wikipedia: Electricity Corporation of New Zealand

Wikipedia: Genesis Energy – Power Stations

Twitter: Judith Collins – Thanks Labour9.05PM –  Aug 9, 2021

Twitter: Judith Collins – Natural off shore exploration ban is looking a bit short sighted – 9.06PM  Aug 9, 2021

Additional

RNZ: UN sounds ‘code red for humanity’ warning over irreversible climate impact

Other Blogs

No Right Turn: The electricity market screws us again

The Standard: When We Needed Electricity, it Was Shut Off

Previous related blogposts

Judith Collins wins a Hypocrisy Award

Politics through a crystal ball, palmistry, or chicken entrails?

History Lesson – Tahi – Electricity Sector “reforms”

The Vote, Electricity, and Sex! (That’ll grab your attention!)

Labour, Greens, NZ First, & Mana – A Bright Idea with electricity!

Do National Party supporters prefer higher electricity prices?

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free market cartoon new zealand aotearoa

Acknowledgement: Dylan Horrocks

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= fs =

National: Demand the Debate. Also National: No, not like that!

8 August 2021 2 comments

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demand the debate. not like that. young nats silenced

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Up until recently, National’s Caretaker Leader, Judith Collins, has pushed her party’s #DemandTheDebate rhetoric – implying that the current government has somehow, mysteriously, successfully stopped the entire country from debating “important issues”.

The party’s billboards screamed “Demand the Debate”, with Ms Collins’ glaring at us with her forced, Bond-villain-style smile:

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demand the dumb debate by national desperate to be relevant

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he puap[ua demand the debate

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Social media wits were quick to take the p*ss. National’s efforts were mercilessly lampooned:

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National's billboard

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The entire exercise was more a desperate attempt to remain relevant in New Zealander’s lives and control the narrative rather than any real call for debating issues.

It was telling that the real issues – covid/border controls, housing, health, climate change, poverty – were all missing from the billboards. These are issues National wanted buried. Their history of inaction on these points left them vulnerable to public questions demanding:

“Wait, what? Just what the hell were you doing during your nine years in government?”

But nowhere is National’s lukewarm commitment to debating issues more apparent than their recent appalling mistreatment of their own youth wing, the Young Nationals.

As Henry Cooke reported for Stuff media:

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The Young Nats had the temerity to question their Elders, calling for National MPs to vote to send the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill to Select Committee for public consultation and – debate.

Instead, not only did National MPs vote against debating the Bill at Select Committee – but their Justice Spokesperson, Simon Bridges, railed against transgender and non-binary people:

It is important that we consider sexual orientation and gender identity or expression separately. Sexual orientation requires no medical intervention, whereas when it comes to gender identity/expression, parents are naturally concerned about being able to make decisions about their children being given puberty blockers and hormones .”

Just another normal day for cis heterosexual men (and a few women, sad to say) determining the sexuality of other people when really, it’s none of their damned business. Are we re-litigating the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform and Marriage Equality debates all over again?

Mr Bridges, et al, we do not get to “consider [other peoples’] sexual orientation and gender identity or expression separately“. We can consider our own sexuality – that’s it.

The Young Nats – though hardly expressing unqualified, fulsome support for the Bill – made it crystal-clear:

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One has to wonder – where are the Free Speech warriors leaping the the defence of the Young Nats? (Indeed, at least one supposedly staunch proponent of free speech has roundly condemned the Young Nats for their simple request for an open debate at Select Committee.)

Not only did the National Party conference condemn their own youth wing (not a very smart move, as they are potentially the future of the National Party), but they called for at least one head to roll:

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Young Nats president Stephanie-Anne Ross​

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Meanwhile, incumbent Peter Goodfellow, was re-appointed President of the National Party – despite his considerable over-weight baggage notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, the ACT Party – whilst expressing reservations about some aspects of the Bill – still did the right thing and voted to send it to the Select Committee. As Party Leader David Seymour explained:

“We’re gonna vote for it at the first reading because we believe that people deserve to have a say at select committee.”

ACT has also been recently criticised for allowing a Parliamentary venue to be used by a transphobic group. At the time, Mr Seymour also supported their right to debate:

“Speak Up For Women has a right to conduct what is a legitimate debate without being subject to intimidation.”

Regardless of what one may think of ACT’s policies or the so-called “Speak Up for Women” (and this blogger has no time for either) – David Seymour has proven his principled stand on free speech.

Whereas National has demonstrated a clear lack of integrity; shifting principles, and willingness to engage in double standards dependent on which way the political winds are blowing. (This criticism does not extend to Young Nationals who have shown themselves the real adults in the room.)

A simple message to National: “demanding the debate” has zero credibility when an opportunity arises to debate – and they dodge it.

The clock is ticking on Judith Collins’ erratic leadership.

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#NationalNotFitToGovern

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(But give the #YoungNats a crack at it, eh?)

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References

Stuff media: National Party members vote to rein in board and seat-hopping MPs

Parliament: Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill

RNZ: ACT, National warn of conversion therapy bill ‘risk’

Twitter: Young Nats – Conversion “Therapy” – 10.29am Aug 5 2021

TVNZ: Goodfellow remains National Party president, Carter resigns

Newshub: National creates two versions of election review, one with ‘gory details taken out’

The Spinoff: David Seymour to host controversial Feminism 2020 event in parliament

Additional

Newshub: National MPs defend vote against conversion therapy Bill, despite saying they support a ban

Forbes: This Is Where LGBTQ ‘Conversion Therapy’ Is Illegal

Other Blogs

The Jackal: Calling all transphobes

Previous related blogposts

First they came…

Apartheid in Aotearoa New Zealand – yes, it does exist

Fairfax media and Kiwiblog revise incorrect story denigrating trans-people

Anti-trans activists fudge OIA statement – Report

The Abigail Article; Martyn Bradbury’s Article, and My Response

Judith Collins and National: It’s a trust thing

The Shifting Faces of Simon Bridges

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Alice for proofreading. Much appreciated!

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National always on the wrong side of history

 

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The Shifting Faces of Simon Bridges

7 August 2021 1 comment

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“Oops, I did it again
I played with your trust, in the political game
Oh baby, baby
Oops, you think I’m here for you
That I’m sent from above
I’m not that competent” – Apologies to Britney Spears

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Part of youth and young adulthood is the propensity to make mistakes. We all make those mistakes, some trivial and forgotten in a swirling fog of time and dimmed memory –  some not-so-trivial and which eventually come back to haunt us.

It’s what we learn from those mistakes that ultimately matters. For most, those mistakes serve as a lesson: don’t do it again. There are bad consequences.

For others, those lessons seem to be a wasted exercise in life-experiences.

Case in point, Simon Bridges, National MP. Current MP for Tauranga and National’s spokesperson for Justice. In the Key/English administration, he held portfolios for Economic Development, Transport, Communications, Energy & Resources, Labour, Associate Finance and Leader of the House. One of his most notorious acts was to criminalise protests against deep sea oil prospecting by foreign corporations.

(Five years later, the Ardern-led government banned new deep sea oil prospecting anyway.)

Mr Bridges is also remembered for his opposition to marriage equality in 2013. His heterosexual chauvinism was blatant;

“I don’t think it’s the biggest issue Parliament is going to deal with anytime soon. It looks very likely to pass.

I have voted against it really for a couple of reasons. The first is all the feedback I am getting from my electorate makes it clear the majority of people of Tauranga are against it.”

Secondly, I think more than being a legal matter marriage is a deeply cultural, historical and religious institution built up over a very long time.

I wouldn’t change it lightly.”

Came the vote on the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013, he was one of fortyfour MPs who cast their ballot against allowing gays, lesbians, and transgender people to marry.

It appears that his comment as a young man in 1994;

“Oh I know him, actually he was a teacher of mine at school. How do I feel about him being gay? To be honest I’m not really into homosexuality, but I suppose if he’s going to come out and say it, I suppose it takes a bit of guts.”

— was still very much prevalent in his life.

By 2019, Mr Bridges appears to have moved on from his ill-concealed homophobia. Firstly he admitted his comments had been immature;

“Look obviously I was a very young, silly young guy. It’s an incredibly long time ago, my views have changed.”

He then conceded that his voting decision on marriage equality had been an error of judgement;

“I would change my vote today. New Zealand has moved on and so have I.” Admitting, “We all move on and we’ve got a law that’s working well.”

Interestingly, it was “New Zealand that had moved on“, dragging Mr Bridges and other “no”-voting MPs along for the ride. More on this point shortly.

Unfortunately, Mr Bridges’ assertion that “my views have changed” appears to have been short-lived or premature. His statement in Parliament, opposing the banning of conversion “therapy” (Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill) was one Giant Leap for A Man – back to the 1950s;

“National supports the core intention of this thought. People should be free to be who they want to be and to love who they want to love. There is one major sticking point, however, which means that although we want to be supportive, we are opposing this law until it is amended. It is very clear in Kris Faafoi’s interview on Newstalk ZB with Heather du Plessis-Allan, and any plain reading of this bill, that good parenting will be criminalised —

 — facing up to five years—it is exactly what it is saying—imprisonment for being parents to children under 18. The members opposite yell at me, but that is what Kris Faafoi said on Newstalk ZB, and it is wrong.

Parents should be allowed to be parents and to explore sexuality and gender with their children. But under this law, if a mum tells her 12-year-old son or daughter, “Taihoa, before you go on puberty blockers or other hormone treatment, wait till you’re 18.”, that mum will be breaking the law. National believes there must be an exemption for parents.”

He then proceeded to veer off on a tangent regarding transgender people, de-transitioning, and puberty blockers, whilst citing a case from the UK. They were talking points straight out of the transphobic minority hate-group, the so-called “Speak up for Women“.

It was as if the “very young, silly young guy” was standing in Parliament spouting the same homophobic/transphobic rubbish from which he had claimed to have resiled.

How many times can Mr Bridges express chauvinistic views against the LGBTQI+ and then expect an apology afterwards to be taken seriously?

How many “free passes” does a person get for making the same mistake over and over again?

Mr Bridges has accepted the need to ban conversion “therapy” when he opened his Parliamentary speech; “National supports the core intention of this thought. People should be free to be who they want to be and to love who they want to love.“.

Indeed.

So the question then arises, how can Mr Bridges and his National Party parliamentary colleagues,  ban a practice; making it illegal; and admitting it is ineffective;  but still permit parents to engage in the very same practice that would be illegal and ineffective?

The ‘logic’ of this escapes me.

It is akin to banning child abuse – but allowing parents to engage in child abuse.

It lowers the value of a child from being a human being and reduces them to property. Like a table or a car or a TV set.

It should be remembered that pet owners do not have the right to abuse their pets. Heavy fines and even jail terms await pet owners found abusing their companion animals.

So in effect, if parents are exempt from the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, Mr Bridges has elevated the rights of pets above children; that pets have more protection under the law than children.

Is that Mr Bridges intent?

Mr Bridges colleague, National MP, Louise Upston also confirmed National’s position on conversion “therapy”;

“National wants to support this bill. We abhor conversion therapy and anything that harms or abuses, or creates issues for, any New Zealander to choose who they are, to be who they are, and to love who they choose.”

But then, again, she advocated parents having the right to practice a so-called “therapy” that has been declared ineffective and would be otherwise banned;

“I’d like to see when the bill progresses that there is clarity and a parental exemption…”

Despite headlines to the contrary, ACT was not much better. Although supporting the First Reading of the Bill,  they took their opposition to the Bill a step further, supporting not just “parental rights” but religious-based intervention, as Maureen McKee clearly advocated;

“Further to this, if the family wanted to seek religious guidance, and they were, say, salvationists, they won’t get that advice; they would not even get prayer…

… ACT’s concern is that the bill, in its current format, doesn’t just step on parents and religion; it actually stomps on it. The Government would be interfering and legislating what can be said in the home, how a family is to deal with an issue, and removes their ability to seek religious guidance.”

Preventing “religious guidance” – aka conversion “therapy” is pretty much why the Bill is needed to protect young people. Allowing an exemption for so-called “religious guidance” would make the law utterly pointless. (It would be like banning drink-driving – except if you have drunk beer, wine, or spirits. Otherwise drink-driving is banned.)

The response from many ranged from disappointment to outright disgust and anger. Even the Young Nats called for their Parliamentary “elders” to support the first reading of the Bill;

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National’s Caretaker Leader, Judith Collins’ response was typical Judith Collins;

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Way to go, Ms Collins. Being dismissive of their Youth Wing with an arrogant “the party won’t be dictated by its youth wing” is a great way to tell your activists how much they are valued. Or, as one high profile commentator and activist from the Rainbow community put it on social media;

“Bold to start your party’s conference by telling your youth wing to fuck off”

Meanwhile, National MPs might consider scrubbing posts from their social media accounts, such as this one;

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Or, like this one;

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facebook simon bridges big gay out

 

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They have not “aged” well.

It beggars belief that Mr Bridges can attend Rainbow events and then make black and white declarations regarding LGBTQI+ that reflect his own bias;

It is important that we consider sexual orientation and gender identity or expression separately. Sexual orientation requires no medical intervention, whereas when it comes to gender identity/expression, parents are naturally concerned about being able to make decisions about their children being given puberty blockers and hormones … parents should be allowed to be parents.”

For the zillionth time; conservative/right-wing politicians should stay the hell out of the lives and bedrooms of LGBTQI+ people. Conservative/right-wing politicians do not get to choose “sexual orientation and gender identity or expression separately“.

And then turn up at Rainbow events as “supporters”.

So it was perfectly understandable that Auckland Pride Executive Director, Max Tweedie, confirmed that the National Party is no longer welcome at the Auckland Pride festival. Perhaps other Rainbow event organisors may follow suit.

Without much doubt, this Bill will pass into law. Parents will not be “criminalised” for talking with their children. Organisations/groups will be prevented from engaging in dubious conversion “therapy” practices.

The shield of “religious belief” will be stripped away – as it should be. Religion should never be a cloak for bad behaviours and practices from the Medieval Ages. If it were, their adherents would still be stoning gays, adulterers, etc, to death. (To spell it out; stoning is murder. Murder is surprisingly illegal, regardless of religious belief.)

We already see numerous examples where “religious belief” is just a cloak for what would otherwise be inexcusable, bigotted behaviour;

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If National feels they can pander to conservative voters and to extremist fringe groups like “Speak up for Women“, so be it. There may be a few votes in it. But not enough to become government.

Remember what Simon Bridges said?

“New Zealand has moved on.”

Indeed, the country has. But National hasn’t. It is stuck in a past that has not existed since 1986 – but the rest of us (or most of us) have moved on.

The same arguments used against Homosexual Law Reform and marriage equality have been heard before: “freedom to be a bigot in the name of religious belief”.

The same arguments against the so-called “anti-smacking” bill have been heard before: “criminalising well meaning parents who want to beat the shit out of their kids”.

All these arguments to excuse bad behaviour have been heard before. And under the bright glare of scrutiny, they were dismissed for what they are: uninformed fear mongering and cheap political point-scoring for votes.

As was pointed out above, it is inconceivable that certain behaviour can be found to be ineffective and made illegal – but for some inexplicable reason, parents should be allowed to engage in that same behaviour which is ineffective and illegal for others. That is some twisted logic right there.

This Bill will pass. And National will be left behind, it’s MPs forced to recant in years to come.

By then, the Party may have fractured, splintering into it’s constituent groups; Rural; Urban Liberals; and religious right.

But in the meantime, as Maori Party/Te Paati Māori co-Leader, Rawiri Waittiti said in the same debate where Simon Bridges declared himself on the wrong side of history (yet again);

“Tēnā koe e te Pīka. Tēnā tatou e te Whare. I’m going to be on the right side of history in this debate, and I will not wait for a valedictory speech to apologise to the rest of New Zealand!”

No more apologies, Mr Bridges.

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References

Parliament: Simon Bridges

National: About Simon Bridges

Radio NZ:  Govt plans hefty fines for offshore mining protests

RNZ: Parliament passes Bill banning new offshore oil and gas exploration

Sunlive: Final reading for gay marriage bill

NZ Herald: Gay marriage – How MPs voted

Newshub: ‘I’m not really into homosexuality’: Simon Bridges’ former gay views revealed

Newshub: Marriage equality, five years on – The Spinoff asks opposing MPs if they’d still vote no

TVNZ: Simon Bridges attends first Big Gay Out event, says he would now vote for marriage equality

Parliament: Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill — First Reading

NZ Herald: Act supports conversion therapy ban bill, National holding out over parental concerns

Twitter: Young Nats – Conversion “Therapy” – 10.29am Aug 5 2021

Newstalk ZB: Judith Collins – National will not be dictated by Young Nats

Twitter: Max Tweedie – Judith Collins on Young Nats – 2.38pm Aug 6 2021

Twitter: Nicola Willis – Wellington Pride – 6:01pm Mar 7 2020

Facebook: Simon Bridges attending Ending HIV Big Gay Out: 20th Anniversary

RNZ: ACT, National warn of conversion therapy bill ‘risk’

Rolling Stone: Ohio Allows Doctors to Deny LGBTQ Health Care on Moral Grounds

Twitter: @postingdad – conversion “therapy” –11.20am August 5 2021

Additional

Newshub: Marriage equality, five years on – The Spinoff asks opposing MPs if they’d still vote no

RNZ: Nights – Window on The World – People Fixing the World – LGBT community in Mombasa, Kenya

Other Blogs

Boots Theory: Laurel Hubbard is a trailblazer

Fightback: SWERF and TERF – The Red-Brown alliance in Policing Gender

No Right Turn:  Ending conversion “therapy”

The Jackleman:  Simon Bridges cannot be trusted

The Jackleman:  Calling all transphobes

The Standard: National used to be better than this

Highly Recommended Blogpost

Postingdad: This Bill Will Pass

Previous related blogposts

The Many Mendacities of Mr Bridges – National’s fair-weather “commitment” to a Climate Change Commission

Recycling – National Party style. Something embarrassing about Mr Bridges conference speech uncovered

Simon burns his Teal Coalition Bridges

Mining, Drilling, Arresting, Imprisoning – Simon Bridges

Letter to the Editor: Simon Bridges is a very naughty little boy!

Standard & Poor’s just sabotaged Simon Bridges’ tax bribe announcement

Simon Bridges – out of touch with Kiwi Battlers

Simon Bridges: the 15 March Christchurch massacre and winning at any cost

Simon Bridges: “No ifs, no buts, no caveats, I will repeal this CGT”

First they came…

Apartheid in Aotearoa New Zealand – yes, it does exist

Fairfax media and Kiwiblog revise incorrect story denigrating trans-people

Anti-trans activists fudge OIA statement – Report

The Abigail Article; Martyn Bradbury’s Article, and My Response

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Helen for proofreading! Many thanks!

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

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= fs =

Farmers: “get govt off our backs!”

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16 July: Farmers mounted their “Groundswell” protest throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. “Thousands” supposedly participated, driving tractors, utes, vans, trucks and any other wheeled vehicle within reach. Despite being “people of the land”, not many appeared mounted on horse-back, judging by photos;

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The response from other New Zealanders to the farmers’ protest was less than enthusiastic and possibly did more to reinforce the perception of entitlement; refusal to accept reality, and sheer whinging, rather than any real grievance they might have.

As equity manager for 1,000-cow Canterbury dairy farm, Craig Hickman, put it, writing for Stuff media;

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Curiously, despite his criticism, Mr  Hickman described the “Goundswell” protest as the “very first successful farmer protest“.

Mr Hickman went on to warn “I don’t know if the Government will take any notice. Maybe it should if Labour wants to return to power unencumbered by a coalition partner” – as if re-election should always be the number one priority for a government?

Where should survival for our civilisation, and future of our species rank, for Mr Hickman?

But Mr Hickman was correct in some respects. The protest certainly attracted it’s fair share of cranks. From the deluded;

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— to the bizarre;

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cranks nutters rabid rightwingers groundswell farmers protest

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— to the outright racist;

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It was Open Field Day for the Cranks from both rural and urban communities.

One – spread widely through social media and promoted unwittingly by at least one right-wing blog – was fake;

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The image had been mis-appropriated; re-branded; and used to promote the “Groundswell” event. It was actually an image of a protest from The Netherlands, two years ago.

Unfortunately for those farmers taking part, Nature had other plans in store for us…

17 July: The wildest weather to hit the South Island (and felt throughout the North as well) struck the following day. The storm battered the West Coast; flooding the top of the South Island; states of emergency declared in Marlborough and Buller; Picton, Westport, Tākaka, Collingwood, Murchison, Springs Junction and Nelson were cut off; Spring Creek and Tuamarina townships evacuated; bridges damaged and destroyed, properties flooded.

The Metservice warning was unambiguous;

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… and the rest of the country would not be escaping either;

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The human toll became evident very quickly;

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25 July: It was against this backdrop that, nine days after the farmer protest and eight days after the storm that lashed the country, TVNZ’s Q+A current affairs programme interviewed NIWA’s principal Climate Scientist, Dr Sam Dean,

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Host/Interviewer, Jack Tame prologued the interview with a frightening litany of extreme weather events over the last two months;

  • record rainfall and flooding in China;
  • a heatwave in Siberia resulting in wildfires;
  • record temperature of 34 degrees reached in Finland and Norway near the Arctic circle;
  • Antarctica reached a new record – 18 degrees celsius;
  • extreme flooding in Germany and Belgium resulting loss of life;
  • over a thousand people were killed during a recent heatwave in the United States and smoke pollution from American forest fires on the West Coast sent a smoky haze over New York.,
  • And torrential rain causing flooding throughout the South Island here in Aotearoa New Zealand…

Against this back-drop, Jack Tame asked Dr Dean the question to which most* of us already knew the answer to;

“How much of the damage and destruction can we directly attribute to climate change, and should  scientists and the media be doing more to link climate disasters with human caused climate change?”

Dr Dean was candid with his answers; climate change was not a “something-in-the-future” for us – the effects were happening very here-and-now;

“…talking about how climate change has altered the world we live in already makes it more real for people.”

Jack Tame pointed out the irony of the farmers’ “Groundswell” protest – followed the next day by a severe weather event likely to be influenced by climate change.

Dr Dean did not mince his words in response referring to the crazy events. He pointed out that we all faced consequence to our actions. He called on farmers to lead or face the consequences of  regulations.

“We need to stop burning coal. We need to stop burning oil… New Zealand is importing vast amounts of coal at the moment to generate electricity and we have to stop doing that. We have to stop burning coal and polluting the atmosphere.”

He admitted to being scared as human are doing crazy things ; the rate of change was beyond anything evolution has prepared us for.

Dr Dean referred to humanity facing an existential threat.

He warned that now was the chance to keep temperature increase below 2 degrees – and not just by planting trees. He explicitly stressed the need to reduce emissions.

Otherwise we would be experiencing more severe flooding and sea level rise by fifteen centimetres within twenty years.

He warned that a 2 degrees warming would be significant – using air conditioners to cool us in winter and not much snow.  Aotearoa New Zealand, Dr Dean warned, would be a very different place.

He said the extreme temperatures in North America were very scary.

Dr Dean talked plainly. No jargon. Just plain common sense. Especially because – deep in our hearts – we already understood what he was telling us.

In many ways he reminds this blogger of that other well-known scientist and advocate, Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

We are fortunate to have the likes of scientists who share their knowledge, experience, and courage to become the public face of critical problems that confront us. They shed light on issues and problems we ignore at our peril.

Whether it is Dr Wiles cautioning and encouraging us to take covid19 seriously or Dr Dean warning us that climate change is no longer “something in the future” – they are the voices of reason we dare not casually dismiss.

Remember how, only three years ago, the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser Dr Peter Gluckman, mercilessly attacked and debunked the hysteria surrounding meth contamination in housing?

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The full interview with Dr Dean is only fourteen minutes long. It is well worth listening to.

And as Jack Tame and Dr Dean both pointed out, it put the farmers protest – especially over the so-called “ute tax” into perspective.

The hysteria over the “ute tax” was inexplicable considering how little actual impact it would have on farmers and tradespeoples’ pockets.

According to NZTA/Waka Kotahi, the maximum fees for dirty vehicles is set at $5,175 for new imports and $2,875 for used imports. As the NZTA/WK chart shows here;

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However…

Put into context, those fees are not as onerous as rural activists have been led to believe.

According to the Ministry of Transport, the average age of Aotearoa New Zealand’s vehicle fleet is considerable (something many of us already knew);

The average age of New Zealand’s light passenger vehicle fleet has increased from 11.7 years in 2000 to 14.4 years in 2017, which is older than that in the United States (11.6 years for cars and light trucks in 2016), Australia (10.1 years for all vehicles in 2016), Canada (9.3 years for light vehicles in 2014), and Europe (7.4 years for passenger cars in 2014).

The MoT graph is more descriptive;

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So, the average age for a heavy truck in 2019 was 17.8 years. The average age for a light commercial, 12.2 years.

Using some basic arithmetic, we arrive at how much, per week, a farmer or tradie would be spending over 18 years (rounded up) or 12 years (rounded down);

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So, depending on whether the imported vehicle was new or used, or light commercial or heavy truck, the cost per week for a purchaser would be an “astronomical”…

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$3.07 to $8.29 per week

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That is what “Groundswell” participants were protesting about:

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$3.07 to $8.29 per week

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The irony is that these people probably spent ten times that amount on fuel to put their vehicles on the roads to make their protests.

Meanwhile, as Dr Dean was telling us on Q+A,  “climate change has altered the world we live in already”. And those effects are felt by none other than… farmers. They are amongst the first in queue pleading for state (ie, taxpayer) assistance when floods, droughts, storms pummel their land;

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Although not all were happy with government help;

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A levy on farmers’ utes would seem to be the least of their worries.

The irony is blindingly obvious. Farming is one of the main emitters (fancy term for polluter) – nearly half – in Aotearoa New Zealand. There is simply no escaping the continuing dumping of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide into our atmosphere.  The consequences of this pollution is becoming more apparent with each passing week, here and overseas.

And as the situation worsens, it is taxpayers who are expected to stump up with more and more cash to pay for the damage from each calamitous weather event. 

The farmers who protested think nothing of the damage caused to our atmosphere by human activities. But they certainly have their hands out, to help pay for that damage to their farms.

They want the government to get out of their lives. Except when it comes time for government to come to their aid. It’s the “communism” that saves their rural backsides every time.

Remember this guy?

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But for how much longer can we afford to keep paying?

Postscript1

This thin blue band is our atmosphere…

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“Earth’s atmosphere is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) thick, but most of it is within 10 miles (16 km) the surface… The troposphere is the layer closest to Earth’s surface. It is 4 to 12 miles (7 to 20 km) thick and contains half of Earth’s atmosphere.” – Tim Sharp, Space.Com

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Postscript2

Climate Summary for June 2021:

New Zealand’s warmest June on record

Temperature

It was New Zealand’s warmest June on record, with the nationwide average temperature 2.0°C above average.  This is just the 13th occasion since 1909 that a month achieved an anomaly of >1.9˚C relative to the 1981-2010 average. Temperatures were above average (0.51-1.20°C above average) or well above average (>1.20°C above average) throughout the country. Twenty-four locations observed their warmest June on record.

Rainfall

Rainfall was above normal (120-149% of normal) or well above normal (>149% of normal) for eastern parts of Northland, inland Bay of Plenty, eastern Waikato, Wairarapa, northern Canterbury, southeastern Otago and western Southland.  Rainfall was below normal (50-79% of normal) or well below normal (<50% of normal) for parts of Central Otago, South and Mid Canterbury, Nelson, Tasman, inland Whanganui, Gisborne and eastern Bay of Plenty.

Soil Moisture

At the end of the month, soil moisture levels were lower than normal for inland parts of Otago. Soil moisture levels were higher than normal for eastern parts of Canterbury and Marlborough. Near normal soil moisture levels were typical for the remainder of the country.

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Very wet in Northland, dry for many remaining areas
 

Rainfall

Rainfall was well above normal (>149% of normal) or above normal (120-149% of normal) for Northland, western Otago and inland parts of Southland. Rainfall was below normal (50-79% of normal) or well below normal (<50% of normal) for parts of all remaining North Island regions, and much of the northern, eastern and inland areas of the South Island.

Temperature

Temperatures were above average (0.51-1.20°C above average) or near average (±0.50°C of average) for most of the country. Above average temperatures were mostly observed in central and northwestern parts of the South Island, and northern, western and southern parts of the North Island.

Soil Moisture

At the end of the month, soil moisture levels were lower than normal for eastern parts of Otago and Canterbury (south of Ashburton). Near normal soil moisture levels were typical for the remainder of the country.

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* Climate change deniers need go no further. Suitable material here for those who refuse to accept reality.

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References

RNZ: Farmers protest across New Zealand against government regulations

NZ Herald: Opinion – Why farmers protested in NZ towns and cities

Stuff media: This might have been our first successful farmer protest

AAP FactCheck Social Media: Clogged Dutch motorway pic doesn’t show NZ farming protest

RNZ: Wild weather – What you need to know

Twitter: Metservice – storm warning – 10:29 AM · Jul 17, 2021

TVNZ: Q + A with Jack Tame – More needs to be done to reduce effects of climate change – NIWA scientist

Al Jazeera: Finland’s Arctic Lapland area swelters in record heatwave

NIWA: Dr Sam Dean

RNZ: Meth house contamination debunked by PM’s science advisor

NZTA/Waka Kotahi: What discount and fees apply from 2022? – Clean Car Programme 22

Ministry of Transport: Vehicle age – RD025 Average vehicle fleet age (years)

Beehive: Flood damage report 1 Mar 2004

GNS: June 2015 Floods

RNZ: Flood evacuations into the night – 2015

WINZ: Farmers affected by adverse events

IRD: Assistance to farmers affected by floods in the South Canterbury District

Stuff media: Flood-weary farmers want Government to stump up with more cash

NZ Herald: Canterbury flooding – $500,000 in support unlocked for farmers and growers

Beehive: Government commits $4 million additional support for flood-affected Canterbury farmers

NZ Herald: ‘Better off with M.bovis’: Flood-affected farmer relays concerns to Damien O’Connor

Ministry for the Environment: Agriculture emissions and climate change

Space.com: Earth’s Atmosphere – Composition, Climate & Weather

NIWA: Climate Summary for June 2021

Additional

Voxy: Govt commits $600k to flood recovery

NZ Herald: Westport weather – Government to provide relief fund for flood-affected regions

Newshub: South Island floods – Government commits $600,000 to flood recovery as locals face aftermath of adverse weather

RNZ: Government announces financial aid for flood-hit Coasters, Marlborough

Newshub: Canterbury floods: Farmers hope $4 million Government payment is just the start

Driven: Ten things you need to know about the Clean Car Feebate scheme

Other Blogs

No Right Turn: A howl of ugliness

No Right Turn: The government needs to act on this warning

No Right Turn: Climate Change: Calling time on “leakage”

No Right Turn: Looking for more coal is indefensible

No Right Turn: Climate Change: The solution farmers don’t want us to talk about

No Right Turn: Climate Change: Just predatory delay again

The Jackalman: Some farmers are sick puppies

The Standard: Mother Nature gives Groundswell NZ the middle finger

Previous related blogposts

New Zealand – we’re in the sh*t

Investigation into what is happening in our water

Drinking river water – Tourism NZ puts visitors at risk

As predicted: National abandons climate-change responsibilities

ETS – National continues to fart around

National’s moving goalposts on climate change targets

The Many Mendacities of Mr Bridges – National’s fair-weather “commitment” to a Climate Change Commission

An Advisory to the West Coast Regional Council

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get government off our backs except when we need help

*  FEMA: Federal Emergency Management Agency (US)

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Or,

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Acknowledgement: Christ Slane

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

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= fs =

Capitalists in Space

25 July 2021 1 comment

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Billionaire Richard Branson did it.

Also-billionaire, Jeff Bezos, did it.

Both will be the first money-hoarders into space (or sub-orbital near-space, to be more specific).

Also-also-billionaire, Elon Musk – not content with sub-orbital ‘jaunts’ – has expressed a desire to go Full Interplanetary and personally colonise Mars.

Meanwhile, as billionaires play “Captain Kirk” in their own private rocketships – it is worth noting the hardship and misery they leave behind on Planet Earth.

As of July this year, Jeff Bezos’ net worth is a staggering US$211 billion. Elon Musk is not far behind at US$180.8 billion.  Richard Branson lags behind at single figures billions: US$4.8. (By comparison,  New Zealand’s annual GDP, last year, was a little over US$209 billion.)

Sadly, Bezos’ workers at Amazon (which, until recently, he was CEO of), are not quite in the billionaire range. Not even millionaires.

Amazon worker’s median wage was US$29,007 last year, up US$159 from 2019.  Those people work for a company that last year (2020) increased its profit by US$100 billion to US$386 billion.

So when Bezos thanked workers for paying for his flight;

“I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.”

– the response was less than appreciative of his “gratitude”.

US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter:

“Yes Amazon workers did pay for this – with lower wages, union-busting, a frenzied and inhumane workplace and deliver drivers not having health insurance during a pandemic. Amazon customers are paying for it with Amazon abusing their market power to hurt small businesses.”

“Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country running while he and Amazon paid nothing.” 

Satirist/comedian, Trevor Noah, on The Daily Show put Bezos’ short flight into more human context;

“Jeff Bezos was in space for 5 minutes—or as its known at the Amazon warehouse, your allotted break time for a 16-hour day”

The joy-rides by multi-billionaires who pay little tax and exploit their workers with abysmal working conditions and pathetically low wages is nothing short of an obscenity.

It is not the future we envisaged when courageous men and women like Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova, Neil Armstrong, et al, took humanity’s first tentative steps into infinity, leaving Cradle Earth behind.

When television producer, Gene Roddenberry created “Star Trek” – perhaps the most easily recognisable TV sf series ever made – he envisaged a benign future free of war, bigotry, inequality, poverty, and greed. It was a future where human beings were free to explore their fullest potential. It was a future where we devoted our energy to looking outward, to explore the vastness of the Universe and the myriad diversity it offered.

As one of the main characters explained;

“A lot has changed in three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of “things.” We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions…

… the economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity.”

It was not a future where men with obscene hoarded wealth took joyrides into space for their own aggrandisement.  It was not meant to be the future lauded by libertarian sf writer, Robert Heinlein, whose “hero” in “The Man Who Sold The Moon” was a self-serving businessman hell-bent on commercialising ownership of the Moon.

As an avid sf* reader and space enthusiast in my youth (and still am), I viewed humanity’s first baby-steps into outer space as positive for our species. Not only could we further advance our understanding and knowledge of the Universe; marvel at the beauty of what we saw with our eyes; and understand our place in the cosmos – but the very act of looking outward was uplifting to us collectively and brought out the best from us.

But when society is inward-looking it inevitably creates social division with an Us/Them culture of dis-trust. Xenophobia increases.  Creativity and artistic endeavour are stifled. Groups are pitted against groups.

A society that looks outward has self-confidence. A society that ceases being outward and turns in on itself will lose that confidence and fear and anxiety will hold sway.

Think of Brexit and why so many British voters turned their backs on Europe.

Think of the United States under Donald Trump. Now think of Trumpism taking hold for another four years, followed by his spawn.

Bezo’s space jaunt was paid by his workers who are poorly remunerated and badly treated. Amazon actively prevents unionisation of its workers.

So a vulgar wealth-hoarder exploited his workers to reach for the stars.

Not content with the worst of  humanity’s nature on Earth, billionaires are now taking our “darker angels” to the Heavens. This was not how visionaries intended our future to look like.

Perhaps the next time a libertarian capitalist suggests that businessmen and woman know better than governments how to spend their accumulated wealth, think of Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, et al, standing on the backs of their workers.

“I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.” – Jeff Bezos, 20 July 2021.

“Fuck you.” – Every Amazon & other employee of billionaires, ever.

The exploration of the Final Frontier just lost some of it’s sheen.

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∗ Correct abbreviation for “science fiction” is “sf”. “Sci-Fi” is considered unsophisticated colloquialism.

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References

New York Times: What will it cost to fly Virgin Galactic to space?

Stuff media: Jeff Bezos blasts into space on board Blue Origin’s first passenger flight

Hindustan Times: Did Richard Branson really fly into space? Neil deGrasse Tyson weighs in

Axios: Elon Musk – There’s a 70% chance that I personally go to Mars

Time: Jeff Bezos Is the Richest Person Ever After His Net Worth Soars to $211 Billion

Knoema: New Zealand – Gross domestic product in current prices

Forbes: #589 Richard Branson

BBC: Jeff Bezos steps down as Amazon boss

Business Insider Australia: Amazon reveals how much it paid its median employee last year – $29,007

Forbes: Amazon’s Net Profit Soars 84% With Sales Hitting $386 Billion

Sky News: Jeff Bezos space flight – Backlash after world’s richest man thanks Amazon customers and staff for paying for his trip

Twitter: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – Jeff Bezos – Amazon workers – 21 July 2021

Twitter: Elizabeth Warren – Jeff Bezos – workers paid taxes – 21 July 2021

Twitter: Trevor Noah – The Daily Show – Jeff Bezos – Amazon workers – 21 July 2021

Wikipedia: Yuri Gagarin

Wikipedia: Valentina Tereshkova

Wikipedia: Neil Armstrong

Wikipedia: Gene Roddenberry

Memory Alpha: Money

Wikipedia: The Man Who Sold The Moon

CNN: The union loss at Amazon is another sign big companies have too much power

Forbes: What Entrepreneurs Really Want From Government

CNBC: What billionaires said about wealth inequality and capitalism in 2019

Twitter: @WendyCrossArt -21 July 2021

Twitter: @DanRather – 21 July 2021

Twitter: @meladoodle – 21 July 2021

Previous related blogposts

Trumpwatch – How Elon Musk can overcome Trump’s climate-change obstinacy

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= fs =

Judith Collins and National: It’s a trust thing

14 July 2021 5 comments

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national not to be trusted

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Clever strategies

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There are firm reasons why National continually fails to gain traction with the voting public (recent Roy Morgan poll notwithstanding, as one fall does a trend not make).

The ongoing in-fighting. The revolving door on leadership changes. It’s lack of coherent policy and direction. A current Caretaker Leader who struggles to be likeable with the public. More leaks than Auckland City’s water pipes. A tarnished image as a “prudent fiscal manager”. And lingering suspicions that the Nats would prioritise business demands to re-open the borders to allow entry to migrant fruit picking workers; hospo staff; tourists; Uncle Tom Cobbly; et al.

The last two are of particular interest.

Caretaker-Leader Judith Collins has berated the current government for poor fiscal management;

“It is irresponsible of the government continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from at the same time as we have 4500 kids in [emergency housing] hotels.

We are a small economy, we now have about $100 billion worth of debt, up from about $50b when the govt took over, and you can blame Covid all you like but ultimately – as those reports show – there was a problem before the government took over and the government had no plan for it…

… but it is ultimately the government’s decision to waste enormous amounts of money and not to actually put the focus on where it needs to be.”

Which is so deeply ironic that it could only be at home at the bottom of the Pacific Marianas Trench.

It was only last year that then-Finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith promised voters a tax cut (ie, an out-and-out bribe for votes).

When asked how National could possibly fund tax cuts when every economist was predicting a recession – if not outright Depression – Mr Goldsmith struggled to provide an answer. He eventually came up with a funding solution; raiding the Covid Relief Fund;

The change would not affect the National Party’s proposed temporary tax cuts, which are being paid for by drawing down $4.9 billion of the $14 billion Robertson had set aside from Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund for future Covid-19 policies, if needed.

When the voting public heard National’s plan, they responded en masse to hand a historic majority Labour government. It was clear that most New Zealanders wanted National nowhere near the Treasury benches. Especially Paul Goldsmith who seemed fiscally inept beyond comprehension.

The 2020 General Election did more to undermine National’s “street cred” as a “prudent fiscal manager” than at any time in recent history.

A Newshub-Reid Research poll in July last year backed up National’s fall-from-fiscal-grace in the public eye.;

The latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll asked New Zealanders which party they trust to run the economy from now on through and after COVID-19.

A clear majority – 62.3 percent – trusts a Labour-led Government under Jacinda Ardern, while just over a quarter of the country – 26.5 percent – trusts a National-led Government under Judith Collins.

So when National’s Caretaker Leader Judith Collins accused the govt of being “irresponsible of the government continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from” and wast[ing] enormous amounts of money” – no one was listening.

While Ms Collins berates Labour for “continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from” – her Covid spokesperson, Chris Bishop, was demanding that government purpose-build isolation/quarantine facilities on “vacant land near Auckland Airport“. According to Mr Bishop;

We still think purpose built quarantine facilities makes sense. Using hotels in downtown Auckland was a good stop gap measure last year. But hotels simply aren’t built for quarantine and isolation.”

However, it was noticeable that Neither Mr Bishop, nor his (current) Leader, have offered any costing to purpose-build such a facility.

To provide some broad indication, a planned purpose built quarantine facility in Victoria, Australia, is estimated to cost A$15 million [NZ16 million] to design and a further “A$200 million [NZ$214 million] to build a 500-bed facility and around A$700 million [NZ$750 million]  if it was scaled up to 3,000 beds”.

By comparison, Aotearoa has between 4,000 to 4,500 beds in hotels in Auckland (18), Hamilton (3), Rotorua (3), Wellington (2) and Christchurch (6).

Using the above figures, building a 4,000 bed facility would cost the country well over a billion dollars. With inevitable cost over-runs, the final figure would be anyone’s guess.

Chris Bishop also called for returnees to be paid a wage whilst self isolating;

“We think the government needs to be more generous when it comes to supporting people when they’re told to self-isolate. Earlier this year we announced a policy of the government paying people’s wages when people are ordered to self-isolate. It’s pretty sensible – if the government is saying to you “stay home” and we don’t want you at work – they should pay.”

National’s calls have not been costed – and nor would they be. The agenda from the Opposition is not to demand a more effective Managed Isolation and Quarantine system. Instead, their unspoken aim is,

(A) to paint the Labour government as ineffective, for pure political point-scoring

(B) to pressure the Labour government to adopt costly policies, which would push up borrowing and debt.  Caretaker Leader Collins would then wag a disapproving finger; and tut-tuttingly exclaim,

“It is irresponsible of the government continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from… it is ultimately the government’s decision to waste enormous amounts of money and not to actually put the focus on where it needs to be.”

Clever strategy; force your rival to spend money – then blame them for spending money.

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Crazy incoherencies

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National’s Deputy Leader, Dr Shane Reti, has called for the retention of Aotearoa’s system of twenty District Health Boards (DHBs);

“So far the Government has employed 25 people with a budget of $5 million to reduce the number of DHBs. But this funding will never directly benefit patients.

Rather than spending millions on the unnecessary amalgamation of DHBs, this money would be much better spent in areas that will actually help New Zealanders.”

Dr Reti’s statement was backed up by his Caretaker Leader, Ms Collins;

“We have all sorts of issues right now. Now is not the time to be restructuring in the middle of a pandemic and an inability to get vaccines out.”

Meanwhile, National’s Covid spokesperson, Chris Bishop, has condemned DHB’s role in distribution of the vaccine;

“We’ve always said that relying on the DHB to do the rollout is not a particularly great model.”

Clearly, Dr Reti, Ms Collins, and Mr Bishop don’t talk much to each other. Based on the comments of those three, the public would be confused as to what National’s policy was regarding DHBs and the vaccine roll-out.

As Former Senior Policy & Communications Strategist for PM Ardern, Clint Smith, put it in a recent ‘tweet‘;

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This is called “incoherence”.

If  “relying on the DHB to do the rollout is not a particularly great model” – then what use are they? Why endorse a system that cannot carry out a task that is their raison d’etre – vaccinations?

Are they opposing reform of 20 DHBs for the sake of Opposition, when they clearly have no alternative solutions of their own?

Yes, they are.

And the public have noticed.

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Confusing irrevancies

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#Demandthedebate is a hashtag currently trending on social media – but not quite in the way National ever intended.

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Social media wits – notably on Twitter – have mercilessly lampooned the launch of National’s campaign to publicise and “debate” certain issues. The “serious” version;

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The more entertaining takes;

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Image

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There was more – much more. So much in fact that at last one media outlet realised what was happening and reported the hi-jacking and mass lampooning of National’s “Demand the Debate”.

The campaign has been clumsy since it released it’s initial press statement on

The Press Statement, in it’s entirety;

Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says New Zealanders are being left out of important decisions by the Labour Government and today she has launched a campaign for Kiwis to ‘Demand the debate’.

“The Labour Government continues to make policy announcements that were never campaigned on and will have a significant impact on New Zealanders.

“From the Car Tax, cancelling promised infrastructure projects, the $785m Auckland cycle bridge, rushed law changes to deliver Māori wards, to the hastily announced oil and gas exploration ban; New Zealanders are starting to feel left out.

“At the same time more than 4000 children are left to grow up in motels, mental health services are in crisis, the Government is looking to criminalise speech they disapprove of and tell you what car you can drive.

“Let’s be clear, Labour was elected on a Covid-19 mandate and nine months later we are still waiting for border workers to be properly vaccinated and MIQ beds sit empty while migrant families wait in desperation to be reunited. We are still last in the developed world for Covid-19 vaccinations. Kiwis deserve better.

“Every week, I’m contacted by thousands of Kiwis who are worried they just don’t have a say in the future of their country anymore. They’re being kept in the dark and their questions go unanswered by Ardern’s Government. So today, we launch the first in a series of billboards on important issues that Kiwis deserve to have their say on.

“The first campaign relates to the Government’s 2019 He Puapua report. Kiwis were never told about it at the time and it was never campaigned on by Labour. It has recently been considered by Cabinet and is being consulted on with a select few New Zealanders.

“The He Puapua report contains recommendations for fundamental changes to our legal, constitutional, and democratic governance arrangements. Changes like separate health and justice systems, separate RMA rules, and separate electoral arrangements. These proposals must be taken to an election so all Kiwis can have their say.

“While they claim publicly it’s not their policy, the Labour Government has already started to implement large parts of He Puapua like Māori Wards and a Māori Health Authority, without the wide-ranging public debate that these changes deserve.

“The Government’s parliamentary majority is not a mandate for Labour to promote their ideological wish list. New Zealanders deserve a say on their country’s future and together we must demand the debate.”

As many have pointed out, National’s claim that “He Puapua report. Kiwis were never told about it at the time and it was never campaigned on by Labour“. Which is bizarre. The report was just that; a report. How could a political party campaign on a “report” that had no standing as it had not even been accepted as party policy?

Government departments create hundreds, if not thousands of reports. Campaigning on each one would be impossible.

This is desperate mischief-making taken to ridiculous levels.

Whilst mentioning the He Pua Pua report as the “first campaign”, it only hints at successive topics; “the Car Tax, cancelling promised infrastructure projects, the $785m Auckland cycle bridge, rushed law changes to deliver Māori wards, to the hastily announced oil and gas exploration ban.”

The craziest part of the press statement is this “gem”;

“The Government’s parliamentary majority is not a mandate for Labour to promote their ideological wish list…”

It’s almost as if the 2020 election never happened and Labour never won a historic 65 seat majority – the first in a MMP Parliament.

Then again, when it comes to “mak[ing] policy announcements that were never campaigned on and will have a significant impact on New Zealanders” – National has some experience in this area;

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Then he raised GST.

If these are the issues that National wants to debate, they have been living in the Wellington Beltway longer than is healthy. Most people would not care greatly about these issues and a considerable number might even agree with them; eg the oil and gas exploration ban.

(Which, by the way, was announced in April, 2018 – two years before the 2020 election.)

These are not debating issues. They are not even “talking points”.

They are a lame attempt for National to be relevant.

And even here, they have failed miserably. Because very few  – perhaps no more than National’s current voting base – would be greatly interested in these so-called issues. They are perhaps Issues of National Significance for National only.

The real issues confronting this country – housing; climate change; staying safe during the covid pandemic – have been all but ignored.

This is by design, not by accident. For not only does National not have anything “fresh” to offer on these issues – but it has actively contributed to one (the housing crisis) and is distrusted on another (keeping us safe from covid).

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Callous indifference

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When Boris Johnson announced that Britain would be easing covid restrictions by 19 July, it was met with incredulity and fear. Even as a covid was surging through the country, PM Johnson was announcing the unthinkable;

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PM Johnson’s statement was nothing less than a death sentence for thousands of unvaccinated British people;

We’re seeing rising hospital admissions and we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID. In these circumstances we must take a careful and a balanced decision.

It was surrender to covid and prioritisation of business over peoples’ lives;

“We have to balance the risks of the disease and of continuing with legal restrictions, with their impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.”

The stats speak for themselves; – over 31,000 new cases and 26 deaths, daily;

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No wonder the interim director for Royal College of Nursing, Jude Diggins, was scathing;

“This disease does not disappear on 19 July. No available vaccine is 100% effective … Public mask-wearing is straightforward and well-established – government will regret the day it sent the wrong signal for political expediency.”

Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge University, David Spiegelhalter, described PM Johnson’s 19 July decision is chilling terms;

This is an experiment, and I think we’ve got to call it that. I respect the judgments by Chris Whitty and others who say that if you’re going to do this, this is the right time to do it.”

In The Lancet, 122 scientists wrote an open letter condemning Boris Johnson and his government;

In light of these grave risks, and given that vaccination offers the prospect of quickly reaching the same goal of population immunity without incurring them, we consider any strategy that tolerates high levels of infection to be both unethical and illogical. The UK Government must reconsider its current strategy and take urgent steps to protect the public, including children. We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19, 2021.

 

New Zealanders look aghast at covid out of control in India and Fiji; the virus taking hold in New South Wales; and then a British Prime Minister stating matter-of-factly that his country will lift all restrictions – even if it means “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths“.

Then they look at Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins…

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… and they wonder. They wonder if, in National’s Caretaker Leader, Judith Collins, there lurks a “Boris Johnson” waiting to throw open the doors to the rest of the world – and a virus.

With Judith Collins and National, it’s a trust thing.

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#NationalNotFitToGovern

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References

Roy Morgan: Is the COVID-19 ‘honeymoon’ over for PM Jacinda Ardern?

RNZ: Ardern stays firm on superannuation age after Treasury flags rising cost pressures

Stuff media: Election 2020 – ‘Fair cop’ – National’s Paul Goldsmith admits to accounting mistake as Labour points out $4b hole

Stuff media: Election 2020 – National’s fiscal hole appears to double to $8 billion as Paul Goldsmith denies double count mistake

Newshub: Newshub-Reid Research Poll – Kiwis trust Labour more than National to run the economy

Business Insider: Boris Johnson told the UK to reconcile itself to more COVID-19 deaths as the country lifts almost all restrictions amid a new surge

TVNZ News: National proposes building of purpose-built quarantine facility on Auckland’s outskirts

National Party: Our approach to COVID-19 and the vaccine roll-out

ABC News: Melbourne COVID-19 quarantine facility approved as Commonwealth, Victoria agree on site

Managed Isolation and Quarantine: Managed Isolation and Quarantine capacity

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Why the Government isn’t using purpose-built quarantine facilities

National Party: Ditch DHB merger, spend funding on medicines instead

Stuff media: Judith Collins lashes DHB overhaul as too much Wellington bureaucracy, and a ‘separatist model’

Twitter: Morning Report – Chris Bishop – vaccine rollout (RNZ: Morning Report – Chris Bishop on vaccination rollout)

Twitter: Clint Smith – 8 July 2021

Stuff media: National launches billboard campaign to ‘demand debate’ on Government policies

Newshub:  ‘Pineapple on pizza? Demand the debate’: National’s new campaign parodied in memes

Scoop media: National Launch Campaign To Demand The Debate For All New Zealanders

NZ Herald; Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern bans oil exploration

Electoral Commission: 2020 General Election official results

ODT:  Key ruled out GST increase in 2008

RNZ: PM defends proposed GST increase

Business Insider: Boris Johnson told the UK to reconcile itself to more COVID-19 deaths as the country lifts almost all restrictions amid a new surge

The Independent: Big majority of Britons ‘worried’ about Boris Johnson’s plan to lift all Covid restrictions, poll reveals

TVNZ: Covid-19 cases in the UK surge to highest levels in five months

Gov.Uk: Coronavirus (Covid-19) in the UK

The Guardian: New Zealand not willing to risk UK-style ‘live with Covid’ policy, says Jacinda Ardern

The Guardian: Boris Johnson to scrap most of England’s Covid rules from 19 July

Reuters: Analysis – UK PM Johnson’s new COVID gamble worries some scientists

Sky News: COVID-19 – Tolerating high levels of COVID infections is both ‘unethical and illogical’, scientists warn

The Lancet: Mass infection is not an option – we must do more to protect our young

The Guardian: New Zealand not willing to risk UK-style ‘live with Covid’ policy, says Jacinda Ardern

TVNZ: Judith Collins ‘very hopeful’ Covid-19 alert level restrictions will lift today

TVNZ: ‘New Zealand cannot afford any more lockdowns’ – Judith Collins

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – National leader Judith Collins calls on Government to open travel bubble with Australia

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Judith Collins says Government should look into vaccinated people skipping managed isolation

Previous related blogposts

Life in Level 1: The Taxpayer’s Coin

Life in Level 1: The Doom of National

Life in Level 2: National’s Barely Secret Agenda

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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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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National’s latest default Go-To Distraction

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political red herring

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As National Party’s current Leader, Judith Collins, channeled former National Party Leader, Don Brash by playing the Race Card, I was reminded of a blogpost I wrote in March 2017;

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Faced with increasingly negative indicators from high immigration, English was forced to explain why we were seeing high immigration at a time of rising unemployment;

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English’s response was predictable if not offensive.

Playing National’s Blame Game

As per usual strategy, English defaulted to National’s strategy of Default Blame-gaming. When in trouble;

    1. Blame the previous Labour government
    2. Blame ‘welfare abuse’/Release a ‘welfare abuse’ story in the media
    3. Blame Global Financial Crisis or similar overseas event

(If the trouble is Auckland-centered, Default #4: Blame Auckland Council/RMA/both.)

This has been the pattern of National’s policy to shift blame elsewhere for it’s consistently ineffectual policies;

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national-and-john-key-blames

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The Blame Gaming was applied recently to National’s appalling do-nothing record on housing;

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housing-crisis-national-blame-game

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Resorting to Deflection #2, English had the cheek to blame young unemployed for our high immigration level;

One of the hurdles these days is just passing the drug test … Under workplace safety, you can’t have people on your premises under the influence of drugs and a lot of our younger people can’t pass that test.

People telling me they open for applications, they get people turning up and it’s hard to get someone to be able to pass the test – it’s just one example.

So look if you get around the stories, you’ll hear lots of stories – some good, some not so good – about Kiwis’ willingness and ability to do the jobs that are available.”

…//…

We can now add an official fourth (or fifth category, if Auckland and/or the RMA is invoked);

4. Invoke/blame Maori separatism

Which Judith Collins has recently been exploiting with gusto;

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“It is not actually an issue of race, there is nothing in being Māori that intrinsically makes anyone more in need in the health system.

We’re not going to go down that path, any more than the National Party will ever agree to racist separatism in education, or in the justice sector. It is important that we have solutions that work in communities, but they will not be based on someone’s ethnicity.

This is actually an issue of poverty and opportunity. It is not an issue, intrinsically based on or linked to ethnicity and to say it is ignores the fact that there are many New Zealanders of many different ethnicities who struggle.

We have to understand that we either have a country built on a separate system for Māori versus every other New Zealander, or we have a system that is based on equality and on bringing opportunity through to every New Zealander, irrespective of face.

We will not stand for a separatist New Zealand. We will stand for a New Zealand where everyone gets equal opportunity, and we’re able to help everyone to come through to the best of their ability and their own self-determination.”

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When Ms Collins was challenged on RNZ Morning Report, Corin Dann (28 April, @7:07), recited a well-known scandalous litany of negative outcomes for Maori,

“...But you have said in that ‘tweet‘, I mean you’ve said that public health provision must be based on individual need not race.

How has that worked for Maori over the 150 years? Because they’ve had plenty of need, and we know the statistics; they die earlier; have poorer access to health, and are sicker.”

To which Ms Collins simply replied;

“Well, you’re quite wrong.”

Listening to the current National Party Leader, it was abundantly clear that she was not talking to Corin Dann and hundreds of thousands of mostly liberal-inclined RNZ listeners.

Instead, she was communicating directly to conservative New Zealanders; mostly white, middle-aged, property owners who tended to vote National and/or ACT – but who sometimes ‘flirted’ with the Labour Party in times of social stress.

It happened in 1984 and 1987 when Labour lurched to the Right and increased it’s popular vote from 829,154 to 878,448. More startling still, Labour nearly took the blue ribbon safe seat of Remuera – coming within 406 votes in 1987, down from National’s commanding lead of 3,483 in 1984 and 5,105 in 1981.

The social stressors in 1981 were a flammable cocktail of rugby, petrol prices, and stagnating economy. All of which diverted voters’ attention from the tired-looking National government of the day, to a fresh alternative – Labour, with it’s new charismatic Leader, David Lange.

In 2020, it was a global pandemic that turned voters en masse to Labour and it’s charismatic Leader, Jacinda Ardern. National continued to look tired, with last-century economic and social policies and internecene warfare that saw three leadership changes in quick succession; more leaks than the Titanic; and a constant tirade of non-stop negativity.

Make no mistake, this was a naked appeal to conservative New Zealanders – most of whom either fled to ACT or for whom PM Ardern’s tough stance on keeping Fortress New Zealand safe from the scourge of covid19 appealed to their yearning for decisive, Strongperson Leadership.

But whether it will attract a return of several hundred thousand voters and collapse Labour’s strong support? Doubtful. At best, a “bump” in National’s polling and/or Preferred Prime ministership rating will be the most Ms Collins can hope for.

But if it’s enough to save her shaky leadership until election day, then her blatant dog-whistle racism will have done it’s job.

As Māori Party co-leader, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, said;

“We are expendable and that’s the biggest tragedy of this. She’s not focused on Māori, she doesn’t give a hoot about Māori, what she’s focused on is putting Labour down and creating division.

That’s her role as opposition, but not at the cost of tangata whenua, and not at the cost of the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa who are truly hurting.”

(Side note: National can kiss good-bye to any notions of a coalition with a resurgent Maori Party whilst Ms Collins is Party Leader. That bridge hasn’t just been burned – it was fully nuked.)

National Party leaders – will happily stand on the bodies of the underclasses if necessary. Especially to save their leadership.

But will New Zealanders fall for crass, clumsy, quasi-Trumpian populism?

Yeah, nah.

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double standards

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References

TV3 News:  Bill English blames unemployment on drug tests

RNZ: ‘A lot of our younger people can’t pass that test’

RNZ: Collins says her party won’t stand for ‘racist separatism’ New Zealand

RNZ: Decision on Treaty of Waitangi in National Party constitution up to members – Judith Collins

Twitter: Judith Collins – Public health provision must be based on individual need, not race

Wikipedia: 1984 New Zealand general election

Wikipedia: 1987 New Zealand general election

Wikipedia: 1981 New Zealand general election

RNZ: Judith Collins’ campaign against Māori systems won’t win votes – commentator

Twitter: Jeremy @nz_voter – 6.47PM 28 Apr 2021

Twitter: @Citizen1301 – 11.39AM 2 May 2021

Additional

The Spin-off: ‘All my dreams have come true’ – Doctors and experts react to the end of DHBs

Other Blogs

Bowalley Road: Can Judith Collins Make Don Brash’s ‘Nationhood Soufflé’ Rise Twice?

My Thinks: Judith Collins goes whistle shopping

The Standard: National’s very bad day

Previous related blogposts

When National is under attack – Deflect, deflect, deflect!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

The Mendacities of Mr English – The covert agenda of high immigration

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racism

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Acknowledgement : Sharon Murdoch

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 May2021.

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Does OIA evidence confirm possible Air NZ link to recent covid outbreaks?

13 March 2021 4 comments

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air nz

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An OIA response from Ministry of Health (see below, under “Addendum”) has fuelled speculation that Air NZ flight crew cannot be eliminated as the cause of the Auckland August covid-outbreak last year and the current February-Valentines Day outbreak. The sources for both outbreaks remain unknown and officially designated as “under investigation“.

The Auckland August covid-outbreak began on 11 August with four community cases detected. The first infected person – a worker at Mt Wellington Americold – became symptomatic on 31 July.

Wanaka-based phylogeneticist, Dr James Hadfield, pointed out;

Finding a recent case in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) or elsewhere on the border that matched this cluster lineage would be strong evidence for the border incursion scenario. We haven’t got any such direct evidence – but this doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

[…]

Extensive testing and contact tracing determined the earliest case found to date was an Americold coolstore worker who first showed symptoms on July 31, and the initial spread of the cluster centred around this coolstore, which imports frozen goods.

Thus, the third hypothesis is that the virus may have been imported on packaging material, where it could have survived in low temperature conditions, and then gone on to infect a worker at the coolstore.

This hypothesis is given further credence by the possible genomic link to Ecuador, since viral particles have been found in China on frozen shrimp packaging from Ecuador.

However, no shipments from Ecuador were received by the coolstore in question.

Coincidentally (?) there is also a branch of the company – Americold Logistics –  in Māngere.

Americold Logistics in Māngere is 1.7km* drive from Auckland International Airport.

In the case of the February-Valentines Day outbreak, Case B involved a worker fromLSG Sky Chefs in Māngere who worked at the laundry facility. Health officials believe she was the first to be infected but developed symptoms after her daughter and then got tested. She had not been at work since 5 February and how she became infected remains unknown. All members of staff at her place of work return negative Covid-19 testing results“.

LSG Skychefs Māngere is a 1.8km* drive from Auckland International Airport.

On 24 February – in a story titled Is Air NZ the Covid re-infection problem? Possible evidence points to national airline – this blogger mapped LSG Sky Chefs, Americold Logistics, and Auckland International Airport;

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sth auckland covid links

 

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However, there was a missing piece: the location of a hotel used by Air NZ as an isolation facility for flight crews returning from international routes. Enquiries to Air NZ and elsewhere were met with a wall of silence. Flight crew’s safety and privacy were often quoted. (Though this does not feature as a concern for other Returnees and migrant essential workers staying at publicly-listed MIQ facilities, including a MoH webpage.)

Aside from the publicly revealed isolation facilities at Grand Windsor in down Auckland’s Queen Street and Ramada Hotels at Auckland CBD and Manukau – the location of an up-till-now secret facility in Māngere was a secret.

However, in a response to an OIA request from this blogger, it can be revealed that the heretofore un-named facility is/was the Heartland Hotel at 14 Airpark Drive, Māngere;

It is unclear if Heartland Hotel is still being used by Air NZ.

On 9 February, former Newshub and RNZ journalist, Zac Fleming discovered that Air NZ flight crews had been leaving their isolation facilities at Ramada Hotel at Auckland CBD and Manukau, and the Grand Windsor on Auckland’s Queen Street, to exercise regularly out in the streets.

It is highly probable that flight crews would also have done the same when in “isolation” at Heartland Hotel in Māngere.

In an Air NZ staff bulletin to crew, it was stated that Ministry of Health guidelines permitted outside exercise activity “… for up to 90 minutes of exercise per day.”  This was confirmed in an online MoH web-document dated 24 December 2020;

Aircrew are only permitted to leave their place of self-isolation:

[…]

to do any outdoor exercise

Flight crews were not held in MIQ for fourteen days. Rather, they were held in isolation for 48 hours and allowed back into the community after just one negative covid test.

Though as University of Otago Medical School epidemiologist, Sir David Skegg, warned;

Of course a single negative test does not prove that a person is not infected, especially early in the course of their illness.”

Mapping all four facilities, LSG Sky Chefs, Americold Logistics,  Auckland International Airport, and Heartland Hotel;

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Heartland Hotel, at 14 Airpark Drive, Māngere, is 3.5kms* from Auckland International Airport.

As this blogger suggested on 24 February – The close proximity of Americold to Auckland International Airport could be considered a coincidence.

But add LSG Skychefs to Americold and the International Airport – and there’s a pattern.

The close proximity of Heartland Hotel is one of the final two missing pieces;

Missing Piece 1: Is/was there a second Air New Zealand Isolation facility  within the LSG Skychefs – Americold – Auckland International Airport precinct? What was it’s location? And if it did exist; did isolating Air NZ flight crew members take their exercise outside the facility “as per the MoH guidelines you will be able to leave the hotel for up to 90 minutes of exercise per day”?

Missing Piece 2: Did an employee from Americold Mt Wellington (where covid infections were detected) have direct contact with the Māngere Branch, thereby placing themself at “Ground Zero”?

This blogger contends that a cascading series of events has resulted in returning Air NZ flight crew(s) initiating both the August Auckland and Valentines Day outbreaks:

  1. Air NZ flight crews isolate for only 48 hours instead of two weeks, even though they are returning from high-risk destinations such as Los Angeles, Asia, etc.
  2. Until recently, returned Air NZ flight crews were permitted to leave isolation to exercise (ie; jogging, walking, etc) out on the streets. A jog by an “isolating” flight crew member around Māngere is not only conceivable but likely.
  3. Air NZ flight crews are permitted to leave isolation after 48 hours after one negative covid test – despite common knowledge that false negatives are common.
  4. Air NZ management have cut flight staff, thereby putting pressure on remaining employees to isolate for only two days, as well as being forced to work shifts on “quarantine flights”.

There has been mounting pressure on this government for South Aucklanders (Manukau, Māngere, etc)  to be given priority for vaccination;

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why?

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– but no one has asked the obvious question: Why is it necessary to vaccinate South Aucklanders first?

What has made South Auckland a target-zone for new covid outbreaks?

As an observant ‘Daily Blog’ reader pointed out; these outbreaks do not seem to be happening in Wellington, Rotorua, or Christchurch, where MIQ facilities also exist (but not Air NZ isolation facilities);

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pennywise - air new zealand - covid19

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Genomic sequencing has eliminated MIQ facilities as being the source for the two recent outbreaks.

Yet, the virus had to enter Aotearoa New Zealand by some means. It didn’t arrive here by ‘spontaneous creation’.

Which leaves our national air carrier. And as this map shows;

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four facilities - a coincidence?

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– it cannot be a coincidence that all areas of interest are in close proximity.

Air NZ is allowed to operate because it is considered a critical infrastructure-service. It has less stringent isolation/quarantine requirements than any other regime operating. As the Ministry of Health explicitly outlined why Air NZ receives preferential treatment;

Because of the importance of maintaining international air routes, New Zealand-based international air crew are mostly exempt from a 14 day isolation or quarantine period as long as they meet certain conditions – both in flight and during layovers…

It would also explain why the Ministry of Health refused point-blank to disclose answers to these two questions I put to them;

1. How many flight crew personnel have contracted covid19?
 
2. Are any flight crews currently infected by covid?

Their response;

“This part of your request is withheld under section 9(2)(b)(ii) as the release of this information would likely unreasonably prejudice the commercial position of the person or company who supplied the information.”

– makes no sense. It is unclear how crew infection rates could “unreasonably prejudice the commercial position”  of Air NZ.

But it makes total sense if the number of returning flight crews showing covid infections has increased significantly. That is not information which Air NZ management or the majority-shareholder – the government – would want in the public domain.

Especially if – as it seems likely – some returning infected flight crews were either not fully isolating (going out for exercises, jogging, walks, etc) – or their negative test results are worthless.

The sooner all Air NZ flight crews are vaccinated, the better for the entire country.

Because what other transmission routes could there be except Air New Zealand.

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* Distances calculated via Google Maps

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Postscript:

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New case of Covid-19 found in airline crew member

7.44PM, 7 March 2021, RNZ

A new case of Covid-19 has been identified in an airline crew member during routine surveillance testing

In a statement this evening, the Ministry of Health said the crew member had returned to New Zealand from Japan on 28 February and had initially returned a negative test result [my emphasis].

The person has since returned a positive test result today, after a swab taken yesterday during routine surveillance testing.

They have moved into Auckland’s quarantine facility today.

The individual’s three household family members have already been tested today and the results are all negative.

Fourteen other air crew who were on the same flight are being contacted, isolated and retested.

The MoH said a public health assessment showed there was low risk to the public, as Auckland was at alert level three during the time the case was back in New Zealand.

There is currently one location of interest – the Auckland Airport Countdown on 3 March between 12.07pm and 1.22pm.

Anyone who was at the store at the same time has been asked to monitor their health for the next ten days and get tested if symptoms arise.

Results from genome sequencing are expected on Tuesday and will help rule out any local transmission.

The new case comes after New Zealand marked a full week with no community cases, following an outbreak in South Auckland.

Auckland moved out of alert level three at 6am today and is currently operating under alert level two.

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Let’s do the sums:

Returned to Aotearoa New Zealand: 28 February

Covid tested & result: negative

Released after MoH mandated 48 hours in Isolation: 2 March

Visited: 3 March, Auckland Airport Countdown between 12.07pm and 1.22pm

Re-tested: 6 March

Covid test result: 7 March: positive

That’s five days out in the public, including a busy supermarket.

Covid testing picked up this case. How many did we miss?

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Addendum:

Ministry of Health OIA Response in full:

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oia response to ministry of health

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References

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Why we may never know where Auckland cluster originated

Newsroom: Mapping the Valentine’s Day cluster, case by case

MoH: COVID-19 – Source of cases – Cluster details

RNZ: Covid-19 – New cases push New Zealand into resurgence plan

NZ Herald: Coronavirus Covid 19 – The three theories for August’s Auckland outbreak

RNZ: Covid-19 February cluster – Case profiles

Stuff media: Covid-19 – A guide to managed isolation hotels, and what to do if things go wrong

MIQ:  Facility locations

Newshub: Coronavirus – Air NZ crews allowed to leave quarantine for exercise in Auckland CBD

MoH: Requirements for aircrew ordinarily resident in New Zealand to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission

Newsroom: Questions raised over international aircrew rules

ODT: Air NZ crews hoping to stall redundancies

Newshub: Air New Zealand crew claim they’re being ‘forced’ to work on COVID-19 quarantine flights

MoH: COVID-19 – Aviation sector

RNZ: Phil Goff pushes for south Auckland priority in Covid-19 vaccine roll-out

RNZ: Pressure mounts to prioritise vaccines for South Auckland

Stuff media: Vaccinate south Auckland first – you just can’t argue with this truly good idea

TVNZ News: Prioritising Covid vaccine for South Aucklanders will ‘protect the whole of NZ’ – Pasifika medical official

The Daily Blog: Pennywise

MoH: COVID-19 – Aviation sector

RNZ: New case of Covid-19 found in airline crew member

Additional

The Spinoff: The ultimate guide to New Zealand quarantine and managed isolation hotels

Previous related blogposts

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 2: The Curious Case of the Very Invisible Virus

Is Air NZ the Covid re-infection problem? Possible evidence points to national airline

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Air NZ - the daily blog - Slane - cartoon

Acknowledgement: Chris Slane

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 8 March 2021.

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= fs =

Is Air NZ the Covid re-infection problem? Possible evidence points to national airline

7 March 2021 5 comments

. air nz .

A shroud of secrecy surrounds isolation facilities used by Air New Zealand international flight crews.  Until recently, Aucklanders were not even aware that Air NZ had begun to use hotels in the CBD to isolate returning flight crews.

Furthermore, it was revealed that returning Air NZ were leaving their rooms to exercise outside of their isolation CBD hotels by jogging through Auckland’s busy central-city streets,

Newshub journalist, and formerly with Radio NZ, Zac Fleming, uncovered the story;

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air nz flight crew isolating in auckland cbd

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As reported by Zac Fleming;

Air crew were originally staying at the Ramada Hotel at Auckland CBD and Manukau, but switched to the Grand Windsor on Auckland’s Queen Street on Friday.

After the switch, they were told by Air New Zealand via a staff bulletin: “As per the MoH guidelines you will be able to leave the hotel for up to 90 minutes of exercise per day.”

This means the crew returning from the US over the weekend could have checked into the Grand Windsor and then left and gone for a run through the middle of downtown Auckland.

It would not be the first time returning flight crews had been given permission  to exercise outside their isolation facilities.

From an Air New Zealand web-page dated 19 August 2020, flight crews were allowed to venture out for up to an hour each day in several “medium risk” overseas cities;

Air New Zealand has worked closely with Ministry of Health officials in implementing the measures in place today. High, medium or low risk destinations are set by the Ministry of Health and this risk matrix is reviewed regularly. Measures include:

[…]

For medium risk layovers, including Narita, Hong Kong, Shanghai

[…]

    • Air crew isolate in hotels, limiting trips outside to 1hr per 24-hour period

In a web page document dated 24 December 2020 – and which is still publicly visible – the Ministry of Health issued these guidelines for returning aircrew;.

Aircrew are only permitted to leave their place of self-isolation:

[…]

• to do any outdoor exercise (except at any shared exercise facility, such as a swimming pool

[…]

Aircrew are not permitted to leave their place of self-isolation for anything other than the reasons described above. Any time aircrew leave their place of self-isolation for these reasons, they must maintain physical distancing and wear PP Eat all times.

Moh: Requirements for air crew ordinarily resident in New Zealand to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission (24 December 2020)

Additional requirements for aircrew who travel internationally on designated ‘higher-risk’routes and for pilots undergoing flight simulator training in Australia

[…]

4. Aircrew are only permitted to leave their place of self-isolation:

[…]

• to do any outdoor exercise (except at any shared exercise facility, such as a swimming pool)

[…]

Aircrew are not permitted to leave their place of self-isolation for anything other than the reasons described above. Any time aircrew leave their place of self-isolation for these reasons, they must maintain physical distancing and wear PPE at all times.

The guidelines are complex, attempting to cater for every possible situation flight crews will experience overseas.

And it was reported on 22 January, this year;

Until Monday [January 22], [Air New Zealand] aircrew had the choice to self-isolate at home in New Zealand.

TVNZ has reported that every week about 80 pilots and cabin crew on high-risk flights are now being driven to a hotel where a private healthcare team tests them for Covid-19.

If they test negative, they can leave after 48 hours.

[…]

“We’re not going to have security on the door. We do trust the airlines to follow the rules,” Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins told 1 News.

[…]

The ministry said the hotel where the aircrew stay, which they would not name or identify its whereabouts, is not managed isolation/quarantine (MIQ) facility.

However, aircrew are required to follow isolation requirements, which includes staying in their rooms until the result of their test is available. Meals are delivered to their rooms during this time and they are permitted to exercise outside provided they maintain social distancing and wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

[…]

1 News said it had been told some cabin crew were suspected of breaking self-isolation at home and [Minister Chris] Hipkins was aware of the claims.

“It’s difficult to respond to anecdotes rather than actual evidence that people haven’t been following the rules,” he said.

It was then first revealed on 9 February this year that returning flight crews had switched from a Manukau isolation hotel, to the Grand Windsor in down Auckland’s Queen Street;

Air New Zealand crew were allowed to leave a quarantine hotel to exercise on the streets of Auckland’s CBD for nearly three weeks, Newshub can reveal.

Up until three weeks ago, the airline’s crew could isolate at home for 48 hours after an overseas trip, but on January 18 it became mandatory for crews who had been to the United States to isolate in hotels – because it’s deemed a high-risk country.

Despite the ‘high-risk’, Ministry of Health guidelines were still allowing them to leave their hotel to exercise for up to 90 minutes a day.

The Ministry of Health says it was only aware of and gave guidance for Air New Zealand staff to leave a hotel in Manukau to exercise, and its guidelines did not allow for staff to leave a CBD hotel to exercise.

Air crew were originally staying at the Ramada Hotel at Auckland CBD and Manukau, but switched to the Grand Windsor on Auckland’s Queen Street on Friday.

After the switch, they were told by Air New Zealand via a staff bulletin: “As per the MoH guidelines you will be able to leave the hotel for up to 90 minutes of exercise per day.”

This means the crew returning from the US over the weekend could have checked into the Grand Windsor and then left and gone for a run through the middle of downtown Auckland.

In response, the airline’s attitude to the problem was;

AirNZ does not believe there was a problem in crew having been allowed to leave the Ramada for three weeks between January 18 and February 5.

But there clearly is a problem.

In March last year,  Aotearoa New Zealand moved from Level Alert 2  to Level Alert 4 within four days. On 11.59pm on 25 March, the country was under a State of Emergency.

However, nature and the viruses it produces wait for no-one and our rules do not not apply. On the same day Aotearoa New Zealand moved to Level Alert 2 on 21 March, a wedding and reception at Bluff was held the same day. An Air NZ flight crewmember attended – a person infected with covid19.

Air NZ issued a comment at the time;

“Air New Zealand’s employee, as all operating cabin crew, adhered to the Ministry of Health’s guidance which includes hygiene and PPE measures.”

The “Bluff Cluster“, as it became known, resulted in 98 people becoming infected, including one fatality. (Note: this blogger does not attribute any blame to the AirNZ flight crew member, who was following rules at the time. The entire country had yet to learn the lesson that covid19 was about to teach us.)

Eight months later, another Air NZ flight crew member was found to be infected;

Air New Zealand is investigating after one of its crew members tested positive for Covid-19 in China.

The staff member tested negative to the virus in New Zealand on November 18 but on arrival in Shanghai on November 22 returned a positive test.

Air New Zealand said the person was well and had no symptoms of Covid-19 – all other crew have returned negative results.

Other cases followed;

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air nz

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By 22 April, Air NZ confirmed that thirty of it’s workers had been infected with the virus.

The cry for more stringent  testing and isolation protocols came from Air NZ staff themselves;

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Covid-19 testing, isolation needs urgent attention – Air NZ staff

19 August 2020

Air New Zealand staff say there are a multitude of loopholes in the airline’s border controls – and Covid-19 testing and isolation requirements need urgent attention.

The Health Minister today met with Air New Zealand to discuss ways to tighten Covid-19 restrictions, after saying he was concerned with their procedures.

While returning travellers must undergo strict 14-day isolation requirements, the air crews bringing them home are largely exempt.

One person working on Air New Zealand’s international flights told Checkpoint there had been unease for sometime among crews about the current rules, which mean only those returning from America are required to self-isolate, have a Covid-19 test on day two and continue to self-isolate until that test comes back negative.

“I think there’s a multitude of loopholes, and some of them are due to the way the airline operates but also unfortunately, I believe that the loopholes and the vulnerabilities at the border, are due to the way things have been designed by Ministry of Health rules.”

He recently returned from a long haul flight which was not to America, so he is not required to self isolate.

“However, I’m doing that, because… it’s the right thing to do. So I am managing the quarantine at home.

“But many crew have difficulty with that, they might have flatmates or they might have the situation so that they cannot physically isolate at home without putting people at risk.”

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Air NZ crew remain at risk while they are not required to isolate for 14 days, as are all other Returnees and essential workers permitted to enter the country. Air NZ management state that there are not sufficient crew to staff aircraft  if they were isolated for the full two weeks.

Instead, if air crew are returning from high-risk destinations such as Los Angeles, they are required to self-isolate in a hotel for only 48 hours;

One staff member has told Newshub the airline is putting “profit before people” and staff are “afraid” as a result.

[…]

Air NZ crew returning to Aotearoa have to enter managed isolation, just like the passengers they are transporting, but are allowed to leave if they return a negative test after 48 hours.

However, crew on the domestic MIQ flights are only required to wear standard facemasks, and aren’t isolated or tested for the virus once they finish their shift.

Once the MIQ flight is over, the domestic crew is then stood down for a period of 48 hours.

Air NZ’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Ben Johnston confirmed that while the crew aren’t allowed to work in the air for that period, they are free to do what they want.

However, any shortage of air crew can be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of Air NZ management:

Around 380 of the cabin crew on the 787s are being made redundant...

“There are people in the quarantine facilities right now so pretty much on the day they get out of that two week quarantine will then be made redundant, so this is the last two weeks of their job at Air New Zealand is sitting inside a hotel waiting to see if they’ve got Covid.”

This has impacted on other higher-risk Air NZ flights requiring volunteer crews;

Some of those hotels are located in Rotorua, Wellington or Christchurch and to get to them, the returnees fly out of Auckland on flights including specially chartered Air New Zealand turboprop services.

Despite working alongside the same inbound international passengers as their long-haul colleagues, the crew on the turboprop domestic flights aren’t protected by the same restrictions or protocols as those who work on flights from overseas.

Air NZ crew returning to Aotearoa have to enter managed isolation, just like the passengers they are transporting, but are allowed to leave if they return a negative test after 48 hours.

However, crew on the domestic MIQ flights are only required to wear standard facemasks, and aren’t isolated or tested for the virus once they finish their shift.

[…]

The MIQ flights were originally staffed on a voluntary basis. But due to the health risks and the likelihood of earning less money, many Air NZ staff have declined to work on the special flights.

[…]

In an email to staff that has been seen by Newshub, Air NZ said the reason the flights would now be rostered like any other flight was because they were running out of volunteers.

“While we have always been supportive of these flights being crewed on a volunteer basis, the challenge we now have with only having a limited amount of crew volunteering, means that potentially some of these crew would lose overnight duties and the associated allowances,” the email reads.

However there have also been alleged instances of staff breaches of strict covid protocols;

Air New Zealand says it’s investigating after allegations a flight attendant breached Level 3 lockdown to fly as a passenger from Auckland to Wellington.

A former Air New Zealand flight attendant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told 1 NEWS multiple complaints have been made to the airline after a flight attendant allegedly flew from Auckland to Wellington on August 15th to visit a friend.

Level 3 rules stipulate people leaving Auckland should only be doing so under very specific circumstances, for example doing essential work, or returning home.

The former flight attendant said she and some current staff are “disgusted” by the alleged behaviour.

“She had disclosed to operating crew on the flight NZ691 on 15 August that she was flying down to operate a duty however the crew checked the passenger manifest and noticed she was on leisure travel.”

“I am disgusted at this abuse of privilege at putting others at risk when many Aucklanders and New Zealanders are working so hard to abide by lockdown.”

“It makes me so sad as I know many fellow crew who have lost their job and would never even consider abusing power as she has and putting our national carriers reputation at a huge risk.”

Bearing in mind that isolation for returning air crews is not as lengthy as other Returnees, and essential workers permitted to enter the country, it came as a shock that Air NZ had changed it’s isolation facility from Manukau to central Auckland;

Some Air New Zealand crew members arriving back in New Zealand are isolating at Auckland’s Hotel Grand Windsor [on Queen Street, downtown Auckland], with taxpayers footing the bill.

[…]

New Zealand-based aircrew arriving into the country from “higher risk” Covid-19 destinations as part of their work duties are required to enter 48 hours’ self-isolation at a hotel. They must return a negative test before they can leave isolation.

San Francisco and Los Angeles are currently classed as “higher risk” routes, while deaths from Covid-19 in the US exceed 450,000.

Around 70 pilots and 18 cabin crew return each week from these destinations, an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said.

[…]

Air New Zealand began using this facility on February 5 as its previous hotel couldn’t accommodate the number of crew required to isolate under new health guidelines.

Meanwhile, changes have been made after it was revealed by Newshub that Air New Zealand crew were able to leave an isolation hotel to exercise on the streets of Auckland’s CBD for almost three weeks.

The guidance given to crew has since been clarified, with the crew advised to stay inside and spare rooms at the Grand Windsor being transformed into gyms.

The Ministry of Health was unaware of the  change in isolation facilities until the media began asking questions;

Newshub can reveal the Ministry of Health (MoH) had no idea our highest-risk airline crew had stayed at a hotel in the middle of Auckland’s CBD until we reported it last week.

Air New Zealand didn’t tell the Ministry the high-risk crew were there – so the Ministry thought they were staying in Manukau and near the airport.

[…]

“That clearly imposes risk of transmission,” University of Otago epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker told Newshub.

[…]

“This current system seems to have these major weaknesses in terms of people being allowed out to exercise during that period,” [Dr Michael Baker] says.

“We need them to keep flying so we’re working very closely with them to make sure they can keep flying,” Hipkins adds.

As pointed out above, Air NZ’s isolation hotel was the Ramada. A second hotel remains un-named, and its location unknown. In an email to this blogger on 17 February, Air NZ Communications (public relations) confirmed;

Air New Zealand aircrew were previously using two hotels in Manukau to complete hotel self-isolation after returning from high risk destinations such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Attempts by this blogger to uncover the name  of the other airport have been unsuccessful, with strong secrecy surrounding it’s location. The oft-quoted reason has been fears that isolation hotels used by airlines would be harassed by a mob or that the privacy of airline crews somehow threatened. However this has not been the case of the new isolation facility at Hotel Grand Windsor in Auckland CBD. Nor has this been “an issue” for Returnees and essential workers granted entry visas.

In the same email, the AirNZ Comms spokesperson said;

Under the MoH guidance our crew completing hotel self-isolation after returning from a high-risk destination are unable to leave the hotel premises to exercise. Instead, aircrew have been provided an area within the hotel to get fresh air and complete low impact exercise – they are required to book the space to ensure they can achieve physical distancing and wear masks while they exercise.

Air New Zealand aircrew were previously using two hotels in Manukau to complete hotel self-isolation after returning from high risk destinations such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Under the previous health order aircrew were permitted to leave hotel premises for a short period to exercise provided they wore a mask and physically distanced.

Air NZ flight crew are no longer permitted to leave their isolation facility.

As at publication of this story, an email to Minister Chris Hipkins has not received a response (aside from an automated acknowledgement). In the email, this blogger requested the location of any isolation facility/ies used by Air NZ.

Why is the location of Air NZ’s isolation facilities – both past and current – a matter of interest?

The recent cluster of covid19 centers around a worker from LSG Sky Chefs, a company situated in Māngere, not far from Auckland International Airport.

The Auckland August Cluster, last year, was an outbreak of covid19 involving a worker from Americold in Mt Wellington. There is an Americold branch in Māngere near the Auckland Airport. A series of maps puts all three into context;

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Americold:

Americold

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LSG Skychefs

2 - Americold - LSG Skychefs

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And Auckland International Airport:

3 - Americold - LSG Skychefs - Akld Intl Airport

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The close proximity of Americold to Auckland International Airport could be considered a coincidence.

But add LSG Skychefs to Americold and the International Airport – and there’s a pattern.

The only two missing pieces remain;

Missing Piece 1: Is/was there a second Air New Zealand Isolation facility  within the LSG Skychefs – Americold – Auckland International Airport precinct? What was it’s location? And if it did exist; did isolating Air NZ flight crew members take their exercise outside the facility “as per the MoH guidelines you will be able to leave the hotel for up to 90 minutes of exercise per day”?

Missing Piece 2: Did an employee from Americold Mt Wellington (where covid infections were detected) have direct contact with the Māngere Branch, thereby placing themself at “Ground Zero”?

What we do know is that the “index case” of the Auckland August Cluster was a  “person in their 50s who lives in South Auckland”, according to MoH.

Americold NZ’s Managing Director, Richard Winnall, insisted that the “Index Case” man’s position at the company meant he did not leave the office and he had not been in contact with employees at any of the three other local branches in Auckland, according to an ODT report.

And yet, “Index Case” contracted the virus from someone.

There has been suggestion that the strain of covid (B.1.1.7) detected in the worker at LSG Skychefs may have been infected by a Returnee who had a similar strain and passed through a MIQ facility in December last year. Whilst Dr Bloomfield did not outright dismiss the possibility, he thought it unlikely;

“Whether there was a potential link from that case through one of the guests who may have left through to our cases that we found on the weekend seems very unlikely because of the time period and what would need to have happened to create that epidemiological link while at the same time we were finding no other cases out in the community.”

Instead, Dr Bloomfield suggested;

“The airport precinct seems the most likely route of infection of our original case and we just need to get to the bottom of how she may have been exposed… “

Though the worker was near the “airport precinct”, she apparently had no direct proximity with crew, Returnees, or other travellers;

The LSG Sky Chefs employee works in a team of nine in the company’s Māngere catering and laundry facility.

She is responsible for washing and ironing linen, napkins, blankets and sheets from incoming flights.

Despite earlier suggestions, it has been clarified the woman does not handle international aircrew’s uniforms. She also has no face-to-face contact with crew or travellers, nor access to the airport.

Which, if true, would suggest that if the worker did not place herself into a risky situation – then someone else was in proximity to her.

It is a fact that Air NZ flight crew are not required to isolate for 14 days as are Returnees, sports people, entertainers, or essential workers. They are only required to “return a negative test after 48 hours”.

University of Otago Medical School epidemiologist, Sir David Skegg, has questioned reliance on the 48 hour test;

Of course a single negative test does not prove that a person is not infected, especially early in the course of their illness.”

Dr Ashley Bloomfield also admitted that tersting was not 100% reliable;

“First of all because the tests do have a false negative rate of somewhere around 20 to 30 percent but also because it’s part of our departure planning for people to confirm that they don’t have the virus.”

False negative results have been reported on the Ministry of Health website. On 20 September last year;’

The second imported case reported today is a man in his 20s who arrived from India via Singapore on September 12. He returned a negative test for COVID-19 around day 3 of his stay in managed isolation at the Grand Millennium. The man was moved to the Auckland quarantine facility as a close contact of a confirmed case, retested, and has returned a positive result. 

Had this man been an Air NZ flight crew member, he would have been tested on Day Two of his isolation. If a negative result returned, as above, he would have been allowed to return to the community.

It would be interesting to know how many false negative returns are made after Day Three of Returnees in MIQ.

On the latest LSG Sky Chefs cluster,  Sir David Skeggs suggested;

“I think the most likely thing, and obviously this is speculation, is that this woman was infected by one of her colleagues at work who has been going airside … and perhaps was in contact with someone who in transit who was infectious but wouldn’t have been tested here in New Zealand.

“But, of course, if it was someone passing through the airport, we may never find a link with the original case.”

He added;

“I don’t think we should see this as a surprise, I’ve been saying this all along. There will be more lockdowns in 2021 I’m afraid.” 

The last two cases have proven Sir David correct. But more troubling is that the outbreaks all seem to involve Auckland International Airport directly or (as in Americold’s case) indirectly.

The government’s decision to exclude AirNZ from quarantining airflight crews for the full 14 days – which Dr Bloomfield has described as “The Gold Standard” – seems to fly in the face of the Ministry’s own pronouncements.

It is obvious that Air NZ has been allowed to operate withouit the restrictions faced by other industries. Especially those industries clamouring to bring essential workers into the country.

It should be remembered that Air NZ is currently 52% owned by the government. There would be disastrous repercussions if it collapsed because it could no longer operate with even minimum profits.

Executive Director of Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand (BARNZ), Justin Tighe-Umbers, may have been speaking on behalf of the government when he made it clear where his priorities lay;

Executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers says New Zealanders shouldn’t be fearful of the risk from air crew, but should be worried about the economy.

“They should be worried about the economic shock if airlines pull out of the country should conditions become too stringent for them to operate.”

The Ministry of Health was even more explicit in government support for unrestricted air travel;

Because of the importance of maintaining international air routes, New Zealand-based international air crew are mostly exempt from a 14 day isolation or quarantine period as long as they meet certain conditions – both in flight and during layovers

Unfortunatelty, Air NZ’s privileged position  to avoid full quarantine for it’s flightcrews – even as it made hundreds of it’s staff redundant – may be a cost borne by the rest of this country’s businesses and workers who lose their jobs.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins may have been uncannily prescient last year when he said;

“I’m meeting with Air New Zealand today to make sure that that’s as tight as a drum. I’m not 100 per cent convinced that it is at the moment. I’m going to be absolutely boring into that. There’s no time for rest here. I’ve been doing this job for seven weeks. Every single day I’ve woken up thinking about Covid-19.”

If the next outbreak of covid19 is in the same area as Auckland International Airport, Americold, and LSG Sky Chefs, the the conclusion will be inevitable: there is a gap in our borders.

A gap big enough to fly an airplane through. A plane with a koru on it’s tail.

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Additional Notes

COVID-19: Aviation sector

12 Feb (page up-dated 13 Feb)

The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Required Testing) Order 2020 requires routine testing of specified aviation workers for COVID-19.

You are required to continue testing once every 7 days if you are:

    • Aircrew members

You are required to continue testing once every 14 days if you are:

    • Persons who spend more than 15 minutes in enclosed spaces on board aircraft that arrives from location outside New Zealand
    • Airside government officials including (without limitation) personnel from Immigration New Zealand, New Zealand Customs Service, Aviation Security Service, or Ministry for Primary Industry
    • Airside district health board workers
    • Airside retail, food, and beverage workers
    • Airside workers handling baggage trolleys used by international arriving or international transiting passengers
    • Airside airline workers who interact with passengers
    • Airside airport workers who interact with passengers
    • Airside cleaning workers
    • All landside workers who interact with international arriving or international transiting passengers

Workers can be exempt if an aircraft has not arrived at the affected airport from a location outside New Zealand for a period of at least 14 consecutive days. 

[…]

Because of the importance of maintaining international air routes, New Zealand-based international air crew are mostly exempt from a 14 day isolation or quarantine period as long as they meet certain conditions – both in flight and during layovers.

The Minister of Health has agreed that this exemption to the Air Border Order now includes non-operating air crew returning to New Zealand on a flight after performing in-flight duties (repositioning crew).

[…]

The Director-General has now designated Los Angeles and San Francisco as higher risk routes.  This designation is available on the New Zealand Gazette website

[…]

Because of the importance of maintaining international air routes, New Zealand-based international air crew are mostly exempt from a 14 day isolation or quarantine period as long as they meet certain conditions – both in flight and during layovers.

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References

Newshub:  Coronavirus – Air NZ crews allowed to leave quarantine for exercise in Auckland CBD

Newshub: Ministry of Health had no idea Air NZ’s highest-risk crew were staying in Auckland CBD hotel

Air New Zealand: Air New Zealand provides clarity on safety precautions for staff

MoH: Requirements for aircrew ordinarily resident in New Zealand to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – International Air New Zealand aircrew must now isolate in hotels

Stuff media: Coronavirus – Air NZ steward linked to Bluff wedding cluster ‘deeply upset’

Scoop media: Nation Steps Up To COVID-19 Alert Level 2

RNZ: Coronavirus – Covid-19 updates in NZ and around the world on 25 March

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus: -Air NZ steward ‘deeply upset’ by Bluff coronavirus outbreak

Ministry of Health: COVID-19 – Source of cases – Cluster Details

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Air New Zealand crew isolating after testing positive in China

Newshub:  COVID-19 – Air New Zealand crew member who tested positive visited six Auckland shops

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Eight Air New Zealand staff test positive for the virus

NZ Herald: Air New Zealand air crew member tests positive for Covid-19

ODT: Air NZ crews hoping to stall redundancies

RNZ:  Covid-19 testing, isolation needs urgent attention – Air NZ staff

Stuff media: Transit passengers and air crew are considered possible Covid-19 sources. How are they kept safe?

Newshub: Air New Zealand crew claim they’re being ‘forced’ to work on COVID-19 quarantine flights

RNZ: Covid-19 – Anxious wait for Air NZ staff in isolation

TVNZ: Air NZ investigating allegations of lockdown breach by flight attendant

NZ  Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Air NZ crew isolation arrangement ‘under review’

Newshub: Ministry of Health had no idea Air NZ’s highest-risk crew were staying in Auckland CBD hotel

ODT: Covid 19 – Money company, cool store at centre of outbreak

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Kiwis face months-long wait to come home as border controls are tightened

RNZ: Checkpoint – Potential Covid-19 link to MIQ weeks ago highly unlikely – officials (audio link)

RNZ: Covid-19 – LSG Sky Chefs employees ‘following all the rules’ – union

MoH: COVID-19 – Aviation sector

Wikipedia: Index Case

MoH: 4 cases of COVID-19 with unknown source

Newsroom: Questions raised over international aircrew rules

MoH: 4 new cases of COVID-19

ODT: ‘There will be more lockdowns’: Otago expert unsurprised by outbreak

MoH: COVID-19 media update, 1 July (transcript)

Air New Zealand: Frequently Asked Questions – Who owns Air New Zealand?

TVNZ: Air NZ investigating allegations of lockdown breach by flight attendant

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Health Minister Chris Hipkins’ concerns over airline crew coming through the border; new details of Rydges hotel case

MoH: COVID-19 – Aviation sector

Additional

The Spinoff: The ultimate guide to New Zealand quarantine and managed isolation hotels

Stuff media: Covid-19 – A guide to managed isolation hotels, and what to do if things go wrong

MIQ:  Facility locations

NZ Herald:  Auckland students fly out to Otago despite lockdown

Previous related blogposts

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 2: The Curious Case of the Very Invisible Virus

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. air nz covid Acknowledgement: Guy Body

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 February 2021.

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2020: The History That Was – Part 4

21 February 2021 Leave a comment

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2020 to 2021

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As the rest of the world  was perceived to be “going to hell in a handbasket with an out-of-control pandemic; ructions in Europe as Britain copes with “Brexit” chaos; Trumpism in the United States climaxing with the 6 January mob-led coup attempt in Washington’s Capitol; a deadly resurgent covid19 outbreak in Victoria, Australia (at time of writing); Russia continuing to harass and murder political dissidents with impunity; China  cracking down brutally on Hong Kong and it’s Uighur minority; and global temperatures continuing to rise as Humans blithely pump CO2 into the atmosphere – New Zealanders were spectators to our own issues, dramas, and problems…

Media (1 – Clickbait) 

We all coped with the Level 4 and 3 lockdowns in our own personal way. Some better than others, with varying degrees of stress.

According to the Ministry of Health website (last updated 25 August 2020), they were fully cognisant of the psychological impact that the threat of covid19;  lockdowns; restricted movement and social contact, might have upon the general population;

“We want people to know it is normal to not feel all right all the time – it’s understandable to feel sad, distressed, worried, confused, anxious or angry during this crisis. Everyone reacts differently to difficult events, and some may find this time more challenging than others. The ways people think, feel and behave are likely to change over time – we all have good days and bad days.”

Psychological stress was soon picked up by medical professionals.

In October last year, writing for the NZ Medical Journal, Meisha Nicolson and Jayde  Flett reported;

“Although fewer people reported severe experiences of depression and anxiety post-lockdown (5% compared to 8% during lockdown), this reduction mostly occurred in non-Māori/non-Pasifika people. Of those who completed both during and post-lockdown surveys, over half reported no experiences at both time points, while 22% had improved experiences and 13% had worsening experiences post-lockdown.

Experiences of depression and anxiety were common for young people both during and post-lockdown. Almost 60% of young people had some experience of depression or anxiety post-lockdown (57%), 10% being severe.”

In November,  Clinical Psychologist for Victoria University of Wellington and Umbrella Health, Dr Dougal Sutherland, commented;

“The data confirms in many ways what was expected: that many Kiwis were distressed and anxious in the midst of the lockdown. However, the study also shows a few interesting twists: about a third of New Zealanders reported significant distress, and rates in younger people (18-34 years) were higher than for older people. Interestingly, rates of distress amongst women and men were quite similar, which is unusual as often women report higher levels of distress.

Although the study couldn’t tell us exactly what about the lockdown people found stressful, it is likely that a combination of health anxiety and worry about the potential economic consequences of COVID-19 played a role. Sadly, more people reported feeling suicidal and there were higher rates of family violence during lockdown too.

Whilst the focus of our response to COVID-19 has now shifted onto the economy and ongoing containment on the virus, this study is a timely reminder that the virus has not only biological, but also psychological consequences. These psychological effects are likely to have a ‘long tail’ and be with us long after the virus has been contained or eliminated. The new Minister of Health will want to pay close attention to studies like this and continue investing in training of mental health professionals to inoculate the country against a future wave of mental health difficulties.”

The mainstream media not only failed to ameliorate the psychological impact of lockdowns (and post lockdowns) – but exacerbated anxiety with a constant, non-stop, daily diet of “human interest” stories. These were almost always focused on expat New Zealanders struggling to get home – often for tragic reasons such as terminal illness;

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NZ families overseas - stranded - covid19

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The stories were relentless. Day after day, almost always personalised with photos of couples or entire families, they were tragic, heart-breaking, and intensely intimate.

Even Radio NZ was not immune, with “human interest” stories – often with interviews – on “Morning Report” as well as “Checkpoint“.

Even when Returnees has succeeded in coming home, the “human interest” value continued to be exploited; milked of every hint of pathos and frustration;

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exp;loiting human interest stories - clickbait

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It is hard to ascertain how deeply these “human interest” stories impacted on audiences, creating unnecessary anxiety, but it is worth noting this warning on the Covid-19 website;

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You may find it useful to limit your time online. Check media and social media at specific times once or twice a day.”

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The website for Depression NZ was even more dire with it’s warning to limit media intake;

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Find a healthy balance in relation to media coverage

      • Being exposed to repeated negative information can be upsetting. While it’s important to stay informed, you may find it useful to limit your media intake if it is upsetting you or your family.
      • Try to stick to the facts and verified and government sources Unite against COVID-19.
      • Reassure your child or teen that it is OK to feel worried. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
      • When others share information with you, their facts may not always be accurate – keep this in mind when you hear something about COVID-19 that is not endorsed by trusted sources such as Unite against COVID-19 or the World Health Organization.

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This blogger acknowledges that it is a delicate balancing act when presenting accurate information to media audiences.

But the personalisation of “human interest” (aka, “sob stories”) was counter-productive and ultimately, harmful. They were “clickbait” to sell advertising (or increase audience share in RNZ’s case), at the expense of our mental well-being and sensationalised at a time when many of us were vulnerable to heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

This blogger at one point last year switched off all devices and instituted a self-imposed, 48 hour, black-out on all media – including RNZ.  When I switch off RNZ, you know things are getting bad.

This blogger maintains that there is a vast difference between presenting the public with hard news that make us more informed citizens – and flooding us with a non-stop, unrelenting diet of tragedy that serves no purpose and only heightens peoples’ anxiety.

Contrast the stories above with the measured reporting by TVNZ journalist, Jack Tame, upon his return and quarantine.  His reporting was a mix of “human interest” and factual details, but without “ambulance chasing” exploitation of people’s circumstances and/or  “First World” complaints;

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returnees complaining

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Some wit at the Otago Daily Times, noting the preponderence of teeth-gnashing and wailing, had their own ‘take’ on the #nzhellhole stories with this subtle ‘dig’;

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#nzhellhole.

(April fools story or real? Hard to tell the difference!)

And when even the vacuous Kate Hawkesby pens a story that puts things into perspective;

“Yes this week has shown up some potentially glaring issues at the Pullman, but it doesn’t mean all Hotels are doing a bad job. It doesn’t mean the returnees are at fault or doing anything wrong either. Most people are grateful to be here, appreciative of what NZ has achieved, and want to do the right thing.”

– you just know that some Returnees need to get their priorities in order, and the media should look closely at how it amplifies (and exploits) peoples’ frustrations and fears.

Meanwhile, the real stories we need to know are barely covered;

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nurses - cleaners - MIQ facilities

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Underpaid and over-worked MIQ workers apparently don’t attract the eyeballs and/or clicks, as much as families in tragic circumstances.

(Note: The so-called “human interest” stories continue to present day.)

Media (2 – Or, “The RNZ Holiday Silly Season”)

Speaking of RNZ, former producer for RNZ’s “Saturday Morning” for Kim Hill,  Mark Cubey on Twitter last December pointed out one of my personal pet peeves when it comes to Aotearoa’s mainstream media;

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RNZ - summer stop

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Every year, for about a month, RNZ closes down ‘Morning Report‘, ‘Nine to Noon‘, ‘Checkpoint‘, and loses a whole bunch of well known hosts. The end-of-year winding-down of NZ’s flagship programmes began the week before Christmas. After Christmas, main programming is put on hiatus until the third week of January.

First to go is ‘Morning Report‘, which in the week leading up to Christmas is reduced from three to two hours in length. The last three hour episode is on Tuesday 22 December, and the following day, the programme is whittled down to two hours.

From Tuesday, 29 December 2020, the programme is reduced to one hour and in the New Year re-branded ‘Summer Report‘.  Episode lengths are one hour (or two, when it was forced to increase it’s duration on 8 January to cover the Washington coup d’état attempt). Programme lengths increased to two hours from Monday, 18 January 2021 to Friday, 22 January 2021.

There was a further special three hour edition of ‘Summer Report’ on Thursday, 21 January 2021 to cover President Biden’s Inuguration.

Summer Report‘ remains in-situ until ‘Morning Report‘ resumes, at its normal three hour duration, on Monday, 25 January 2021.

Nine to Noon‘ is replaced with ‘Summer Times‘,  hosted by Emile Donovan. The show is a more chat-show-like version of the regular ‘Nine to Noon‘ programme. ‘Summer Times‘ runs from 29 December to 22 January this year.

Checkpoint‘ – usually hosted by the tenacious and talented Lisa Owen – was missing altogether for a solid month. Only a five minute news report replaced the usual one and a half hour in-depth reporting. On 7 January, RNZ was forced to broadcast a one-hour long “RNZ Checkpoint Special” following the Washing riots and failed coup.

Checkpoint’s‘ month-long hiatus is inexplicable. As Mark Cubey pointed out, RNZ effectively “pretends news stops for the NZ summer“.

To the contrary, the world did not close down for the Christmas/New Year period. A pandemic continued to rage around the globe; Brexit was happening and the failure of a UK-Europe agreement came perilously close; and post-Presidential election events in the United States were causing ructions that reverberated around the planet.

At a time when events escalated, RNZ was missing in action.

And not just the state-owned broadcaster. The final episode (end-of-year Christmas party segment notwithstanding) of TV3’s “The Nation” aired on 28 November, and TV1’s “Q+A” on 6 December. Both then closed down, going into summer-hibernation for several months. (Q+A‘s first episode this year aired on 13 February.)

At a time when we most needed in-depth reporting of global events, we were – and remain – poorly served by our three main  broadcasters.

It is understandable that producing programmes like ‘Morning Report’ and ‘Checkpoint‘ place high demands on RNZ staff. They all deserve well-earned breaks from the stresses of their work. But it should not be beyond the wit and abilities of RNZ management (with consultation with staff) to create a holiday roster that allows programming to continue as normal. If necessary, RNZ could employ journalism students (on a living wage) as paid interns, on short-term contracts.

It is not acceptable that, for a month, we are denied current affairs programmes by our main broadcasters.

RNZ has a strong, dedicated following of loyal listeners who expect high standards from our public broadcaster. Those expectations do not lessen from late December through to late January. The world does not stop on 24 December and resume at some arbitrary point in time in the new year.

National

National was thrashed at last year’s election.

Overall, they crashed from 1,152,075 Party Votes in 2017, to 738,275 last year, losing 23 MPs in the process.

The causes of their defeat has been well canvassed. Reasons range from in-fighting; three leadership changes; leaks; inconsistent policy-making and fiscal ineptitude; and a current Leader who is – frankly speaking – just downright unlikeable.

All of the above is true.

But there is a more basic reason: National got hit by a virus called covid19 – at least metaphorically speaking.

National fought last year’s election as if it were 2017.  They were wedded to their mantra that “National are better economic managers”.

Unfortunately (for National supporters) the economy was only secondary to people’s concerns. For the majority, the main issue of concern – unsurprisingly – was health. More specifically, our health and safety as humanity faced a global pandemic sweeping almost every nation, and which has hospitalised and killed millions.

Almost daily, we were witnessing an out-of-control pandemic raging through Europe, UK, South America, and even the United States – the most advanced and wealthiest nation on the planet. We saw hospitals over-run by covid cases and mass graves being dug in Brazil and elsewhere in South America. In New York, trucks filled with rotting corpses seemed like something out of a post-apocalypse horror/science fiction  movie.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the then-Labour-NZ First- Green coalition moved reasonably quickly (some might argue they should have acted earlier – but hindsight is always 20/20). At one minute to midnight on 23 March 2020, the country moved to Alert Level 3. Two days later, we went to near total lockdown to Level 4. On 29 March, the inevitable happened: we had our first covid death.

As we listened and watched our Prime Minister address the nation on those first evenings, and subsequently thereafter, we must have felt like five million “extras” in the Will Smith movie, “I Am Legend“, or the 1970s British sf tv series, “The Survivors“.

It was unprecedented. We were practically at war. And we were called upon to do our bit: stay home; watch TV. (How difficult could that be?)

It was against this backdrop that National contested the election.

But National was fighting a pre-Covid campaign based on “economic management” and – at one point – a  promise of “temporary” tax cuts. Worse still was Paul Goldsmith’s startling explanation that the tax cuts would be paid out of the $14 billion Covid Recovery fund set aside in the event of a second wave hitting the country!

New Zealanders got the message perfectly: National’s priority was the economy.

Voters would have been uneasy. That was not our collective priority. Our main concern was fighting a virus and keeping it out of the community.

Could National be trusted to make that their Number One Focus? At least 1,670,300 New Zealanders thought not.

National has always touted itself to be a pro-business, small-government Party. It’s policies on its own website is unequivocal in that respect. Even their Covid19 policy page was heavility tilted toward the economy;

A National Government will inject some steel into our first line of defence against COVID-19 by delivering robust border systems that will keep the virus at bay and allow our economy to thrive, National Party Leader Judith Collins says.

“The threat of COVID-19 will be with us for years to come and National is committed to safeguarding the health of all New Zealanders, as well as the wider economy.”

And their reference to limiting lockdowns to preserve economic activity also left no room for doubt where their priorities lay;

Preparing a more effective response to future outbreaks, should they occur, allowing lockdowns to be more targeted and shorter in duration.

[…]

Reducing the need for lockdowns could not be more crucial. The first lockdown saw 212,000 Kiwis end up on unemployment benefits with another 450,000 jobs kept alive by wage subsidies. The current lockdown is estimated to be costing Auckland 250 jobs and up to $75 million a day in economic activity.

[…]

“Continuous improvement of our systems is required so that lockdowns become more targeted and effective, with minimal impact on our communities and the economy.”

(See also “Wally of the Year” Award below.)

On 22 September, it was reported that National would relax border controls for economic reasons. Couched in terms of pseudo-safety rhetoric, National’s intentions were plain for all to see;

National have announced that, if elected, they will ramp up the private provision of quarantine to allow workers and long-term tourists into the country.

At an event in Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said Covid-19 would be with us for a long time and the country had to establish safe conditions for skilled and essential workers to re-enter the country. 

Allowing workers in the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme to return is at the top of that agenda, but the kind of measures the National Party is interested in exploring would extend to a number of industries with the costs of quarantine paid by industry or by individuals who wanted to enter New Zealand.

“Our horticultural industry, for example, is desperate to fill the worker shortage created by border restrictions that is putting $9.5 billion of the country’s economy at risk,” Brownlee said.

The party would implement a booking system for managed isolation facilities and explore “streamlined” travel arrangements for low-risk countries like Covid-free nations in the Pacific. 

And private quarantine facilities were also mooted;

Brownlee said National would work with accommodation providers to create private quarantine arrangements that met or exceeded levels of safety, security, reporting, transporting, training and testing. 

But in Victoria private security guards proved to be utterly disastrous;

The failures in Victoria’s “hastily assembled” hotel quarantine are “responsible” for the state’s 768 deaths and 18,418 cases since the end of May, the inquiry heard on Monday.

[…]

“One only needs to pause and to reflect on those figures to appreciate the full scope of devastation and despair occasioned as a result of the outbreak,” counsel assisting Ben Ihle said.

“It was a program which failed to meet its primary objective to keep us safe from the virus.”

[…]

Throughout the course of the inquiry, none of the witnesses, including the premier, Daniel Andrews, said they made the decision to use private security guards for guarding returned travellers.

This was the clear message New Zealanders got from National: they were more focused on economic activity than on keeping the virus out of the country.

On 27 August last year, National issued a press statement outlining it’s small business policy. Covid19 and border controls were not mentioned once.

The UK has had “targetted lockdowns” – half-hearted measures that has resulted (at time of writing) 3,929,835 cases and 112,092 deaths.

This was National’s offering to New Zealanders and we wanted no part of it. Quite simply, most people did not trust National to prioritise our health over someone elses’ wealth.

NZ First

For the second time in it’s twentyseven year long history, NZ First has been thrown out of Parliament by voters. It’s share of the Party vote dropped from 7.2% in 2017 to 2.6% last year. 111,685 voters deserted the Party.

Again, the reasons are varied, but this blogger submits that one specific factor was the cause of it’s Parliamentary demise.

In October 2019, a survey found that 44.5% of NZ First voters would have preferred  National as a coalition partner after the 2017 General Election. Only 34.1% opted for Labour.

So the majority of NZ First supporters leaned toward National, not Labour.

Winston Peters and his party chose Labour instead, alienating nearly half their voter-base.

This is the only possible outcome when a political party refuses to disclose it’s preferred coalition intentions to voters so that they can cast their ballots accordingly.

In effect, by not making such a disclosure; by leaving that decision until after the election, NZ First supporters were handing Mr Peters & Co a “blank cheque”.

The remaining 34.1% who supported coalition with Labour were also alienated when NZ First made it clear it was a “hand brake” on their coalition partners.

A prime example was Labour’s attempt to implement a capital gains tax to slow investor speculation in the steadily worsening housing price-bubble. NZ First MP Shane Jones made it crystal clear who was responsible for “killing” the tax;

“The reality is you already had that announcement and none of you rung to thank me for NZ First killing off the capital gains tax.” 

NZ First managed to anger both National and Labour-leaning supporters. Quite a feat when you think about it.

It’s demise was inevitable.

Wally of the Year Award

There were several contenders:

  • Simon Bridges for his non-stop negativity and failing to read-the-room when the nation was focused solely on keeping covid out and saving lives.
  • Judith Collins, for her sheer, barely-contained malice.
  • This idiot.
  • Minister David Clark, who should have known better.
  • Jami-Lee Ross for unmitigated colossal cheek for naked political opportunism and (alleged) harassment of staff.
  • Billy Te Kahika, for achieving the dubious distinction as Aotearoa New Zealand’s go-too man for every conspiracy fantasy under the sun.
  • Former National Party President, Michelle Boag, for being so blindingly wrong on just about everything, especially why covid19 has the number ’19’ followings it’s name. (Clue; no, it’s not because there were 18 strains preceding this one.) And for leaking private covid19 patient names.
  • Former National MP, Hamish Walker, also for leaking private Covid19 patient details.
  • National MP Michael Woodhouse, for his bizarre (and untrue) “homeless man” story.
  • Plan B “sciencey poster boy”, Simon Thornley, who despite all the evidence, apparently wants Aotearoa New Zealand to follow Sweden’s model in dealing with covid19. Because, y’know, our 25 dead compared to Sweden’s 12,428 death toll is somehow a “failure” in his eyes?

But heads above the candidates listed, this blogger nominates Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO, Michael Barnett.

Mr Barnett’s non-stop carping against lock-downs or calling for watered-down lock-downs, or exemptions for every business and Uncle Tom Cobbly, were in a league of their own;

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In a blogpost on 23 August last year, activist John Minto detailed Mr Barnett’s non-stop carping and misguided attempts to undermine Aotearoa New Zealand’s strategy to eliminate covid19. Had National been in power there is every chance they would have capitulated to Mr Barnett’s increasingly strident demands to weaken lockdowns and allow businesses to operate “as normal”.

The consequences, as shown by other countries, would have been horrific. Hospitals flooded with infected people; ICU wards over-flowing; rising death toll; cemetaries filling up; and Long Covid leaving people suffering debilitating after-effects for months later, perhaps for years to come.

As an agent speaking on behalf of business, he earned his salary. As an agent agitating on behalf of covid19, he excelled.

2020 – But wait, there’s more!

There was more – so much more! – to 2020. But let’s leave something for future (and present) historians to mull over, shall we?

And now, 2021…

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The concluding fourth chapter of 2020: The History That Was.

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References

The Wall Street Journal: The Covid-19 Death Toll Is Even Worse Than It Looks

Al Jazeera: In post-Brexit UK, quiet ports hide mounting transport chaos

The Atlantic: This is a coup

The Guardian: Victoria hotel quarantine failures ‘responsible’ for Covid second wave and 768 deaths, inquiry told

CNN: Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny dupes spy into revealing how he was poisoned

CNBC: Hundreds arrested in Hong Kong protests, as analysts weigh in on national security law’s impact

BBC: The Uighurs and the Chinese state – A long history of discord

Reuters: Global temperatures reached record highs in 2020, say EU scientists

Ministry of Health: Covid-19 – Mental health and wellbeing resources

NZ Medical Journal: The mental wellbeing of New Zealanders during and post-lockdown (pdf version)

Scoop Sci-Tech: Mental Health Impacts Of NZ’s Lockdown Revealed – Expert Reaction

RNZ: Plea to help Kiwis still stranded in Peru

Stuff media: Covid-19: Grieving Kiwi stranded in UK as cancelled flight means she misses out on MIQ spot

RNZ: New Zealanders abroad struggling to get home

Stuff media: Coronavirus – families split by Covid-19 border restrictionsNZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Family can’t get to NZ to see dying grandfather

RNZ: Covid-19: -Teenager waits in isolation in Auckland, family in Christchurch

Covid19.govt.nz: Looking after your mental wellbeing

Depression.org.nz: Feeling anxious and stressed about COVID-19 is normal

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Jack Tame on life in Hamilton managed isolation facilityNZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Managed isolation guest complains about breakfast – would you complain?

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Quarantine food so bad guest forks out for Uber Eats every night

Stuff media: Coronavirus – ‘Tantrum’ as level 1 quarantine walks denied

ODT: Travellers angry over Rotorua quarantine

ODT: Family trapped in luxury Auckland hotel for quarantine

Newstalk ZB: Kate Hawkesby – My brother’s having the time of his life in quarantine

RNZ: MIQ nurses speak out – ‘We’re going to get sloppy … we’re tired and stressed’

RNZ: Risky work – MIQ cleaners underpaid and undervalued, union says

RNZ: Covid-19 – Plea for those assessing managed isolation applications to be medically qualified

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – 17 days in MIQ, five Covid tests for Wellington father turned back from airport

RNZ: Mark Cubey (profile)

Twitter: Mark Cubey – RNZ stopping for summer – 21.12.2020

RNZ: Morning Report – Tuesday 22 December 2020

RNZ: Morning Report – Wednesday 23 December 2020

RNZ: Morning Report – Tuesday 29 December 2020

RNZ: Summer Report

RNZ: Summer Report – Friday 8 January 2021

RNZ: Summer Report – Monday 18 January 2021

RNZ: Summer Report – Friday 22 January 2021

RNZ: Summer Report – Friday 21 January 2021

RNZ: Morning Report – Monday 25 January 2021

RNZ: Summer Times

RNZ: Summer Times – All episodes

Stuff media: Election 2020 – ‘Covid-19 election’ confirmed in new poll of voters’ concerns

New York Times: Covid Overload – U.S. Hospitals Are Running Out of Beds for Patients

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Mass graves dug as Brazil hits grim new toll

Reuters: Bodies found in unrefrigerated trucks in New York during COVID-19 pandemic

RNZ: Recap – Coronavirus updates in NZ and around the world on 23 March

RNZ: Coronavirus – Covid-19 updates in NZ and around the world on 25 March

RNZ: Coronavirus – First death in New Zealand from Covid-19

RNZ: Coronavirus – First death in New Zealand from Covid-19

Wikipedia: I Am Legend

Wikipedia: The Survivors

Stuff media: Election 2020 – National a better manager of economy, says Goldsmith

RNZ: National promises $4.7bn in tax cuts in economic and tax policy

National Party: Economic Recovery

Newsroom: National’s plan to let workers and tourists in

The Guardian: Victoria hotel quarantine failures ‘responsible’ for Covid second wave and 768 deaths, inquiry told

Scoop media: National Will Back New Zealand’s Small Businesses

Worldometer: United Kingdom Coronavirus Cases

Stuff media: NZ First voters preferred National to Labour at 2017 election by wide margin

NZ Herald: ‘A handbrake for silly ideas:’ Peters to discuss coalition disagreements in conference speech

Stuff media: NZ First put an end to capital gains tax, Shane Jones claims in post-Budget speech

NZ Herald: Covid-19 coronavirus – National MP Hamish Walker, Michelle Boag admit leaking patient details

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Michael Woodhouse’s isolation homeless mystery man claim debunked

Newshub: Coronavirus – ‘Take me out of God’s waiting room and put me back to work’, business leader begs

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Michael Barnett calls for Auckland to move to level 1.5

National Geographic: Pandemic victims are filling graves on New York’s Hart Island. It isn’t the first time.

Mayo Clinic: COVID-19 (coronavirus) – Long-term effects

Additional

Greenpeace:  Five ways NZ will be much better if Jacinda makes good on her promise to Build Back Better

Other Blogposts

The Paepae: The juxtaposition in this screen shot of the ‘NZ Taxpayers Union Inc’ astroturf lobby group receiving a government-funded subsidy makes me chortle

The Daily Blog: When will Michael Barnett stop whinging, whining and bleating? – John Minto

Previous related blogposts

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (rima)

Life in Level 2: Two Tier Welfare; A Green School; Right Rage, Wrong Reason

2020: Post-mortem or Prologue?

2020: The History That Was – Part 1

2020: The History That Was – Part 2

2020: The History That Was – Part 3

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lets kill 2020

Acknowledgement: Jeff Bell

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 16 February 2021.

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2020: The History That Was – Part 3

20 February 2021 Leave a comment

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2020 to 2021

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As the rest of the world  was perceived to be “going to hell in a handbasket with an out-of-control pandemic; ructions in Europe as Britain copes with “Brexit” chaos; Trumpism in the United States climaxing with the 6 January mob-led coup attempt in Washington’s Capitol; a deadly resurgent covid19 outbreak in Victoria, Australia (at time of writing); Russia continuing to harass and murder political dissidents with impunity; China  cracking down brutally on Hong Kong and it’s Uighur minority; and global temperatures continuing to rise as Humans blithely pump CO2 into the atmosphere – New Zealanders were spectators to our own issues, dramas, and problems…

ACT

The not-so-surpising winner from last year’s general election, ACT increased it’s Party Vote from 13,075 in 2017 to 219,030 and adding nine more MPs to David Seymour’s up-to-now-One-Man-Band operation.

But before ACT supporters and other sundry right-wingers and free-marketeers rejoice with little Happy Dances, it bears remembering that their resurgence came – for the most part – from a dysfunctional National Party.

ACT’s success came from cannibalising it’s larger counterpart, much like the Green Party’s support (11.06% Party Vote) in the 2014 general election came at ther expense of their Labour cousin (27.48% Party Vote).

Oh, and gun-nuts who – like children throwing a temper tantrum at having to surrender their lethal toys – went looking for a sympathetic, slightly-bonkers, “uncle” who would pander to their sense of spoiled entitlement.

The combined right wing vote for National and ACT collapsed from 44.9% in 2017 and 47.15% in 2014,  to 33.2% last year. Hardly cause for celebration for ACT Party strategists.

There was no resurgent right. Only a sloshing-around of disaffected National supporters, gun nuts, and assorted climate change denying numpties.

Unless Mr Seymour is blinded by his (temporary) electoral gains, he and his colleagues must be nervously aware that his fortunes are possible only while National is a lame-duck party in turmoil, with an unelectable Leader.

Election 2020

MMP was designed primarily for two purposes:

  1. To make representation fairer (“coat-tailing” notwithstanding), especially for smaller parties that, until 1996, had been locked-out of Parliament (Social Credit being an aberation for FPP),
  2. To deny either of the two main parties unbridled power without checks and balances to deter wild policy swings (eg; 1984 neo-liberal “reforms”).

Last year, voters in Aotearoa New Zealand had other ideas as covid19 changed the rules by which our economy; tourist industry; international travel, and even social patterns operated.

As will be explored under the heading “National”, approximately two thirds of voters not only supported the current goverrnment’s action to protect Fortress Aotearoa – but seemed determined to keep Judith Collins and the National Party well away from anything resembling power.

Housing

  • RMA

Aotearoa New Zealand has had housing problems since colonisation became a ‘thing’ in this country. Reading an account of housing shortages in the late 1930s/40s could be taken almost word-for-word for our current housing situation;

Meanwhile, full employment with higher wages and overtime meant increased demand for existing houses. In 1942 the shortage was officially estimated as 20 000. Workers came to the cities for war jobs, wives came to be near their husbands in camps. With prices rising and expected to rise still further, house buying was both a sound investment and a tempting speculation, though rent controls curbed quick fortune-making to some extent. At Wellington, where sites were limited, building costs high and where government employees had multiplied rapidly during the past few years, the demand was particularly strong. As early as February 1941, a Wellington land agent stated that flats had come to stay, that but for the Fair Rents Act land agents could sell 70 per cent more houses than they were selling and that low deposits of £200 or £300 were becoming scarce. In November 1941, an agent declared, ‘We are not facing a first-class housing crisis. We are past that stage’; another spoke of an avalanche of buyers and of house dealers buying for cash, renovating cheaply and making £400 to £500 on each deal.

In July 1942, another agent said that if he had them, he could let 30 houses or flats in two or three hours, a state of affairs which he feared was going to be chronic. Already, those concerned with the rehabilitation of servicemen were troubled by the gap of several hundred pounds between the value of a house and its inflated ‘scarcity value’.

At Auckland in May 1942 there was talk of a boom; land agents for several weeks had been exceptionally busy and house values were rising. A suburban home, which 12 months earlier would have changed hands at £1,300, sold for £1,525 within 24 hours of being placed on the market; a house sold by the builder for £1,750 was sold again six weeks later for £2,500. There were many cash sales and otherwise the minimum deposit was often one-third of the purchase price. In Dunedin sales were brisk, with houses long regarded as unsaleable changing hands. At New Plymouth, prices which 12 months earlier would have been far too high were paid without hesitation; 60 persons had applied to rent one house; 46 wanted a small house at £1 5s a week, 16 applied for another at £2 2s a week.

It can  reasonably be argued that the housing crisis in the late 30s/40s was due in large part to a post-Depression economic lag, and shortage of raw materials and labour as we faced the onslaught of Nazi German and Imperial Japanese war machines.

But it then follows that there is little reason why – in an age of plenty and 21st century automation – we are eighty years later faced with a similar crisis.

Whatever the reasons – and we are well versed with most of them – housing remains one of the top three priorities for the Labour government.

One of the alleged reasons for our housing shortage has been the RMA which has been blamed for slowing down or stifling permitting and construction of new housing. 

We should be wary of throwing out, wholesale,  the Act. It has protections that deter inappropriate urban “development” that we may come to regret, as instanced by one particular block of flats on Mt Victoria, Wellington

Urban sprawl is also an unintended consequence to uncontained development. By 2019, around 200 horticulture growers in Auckland had ceased to operate as their fertile land was re-zoned “Residential”. This included some of the best volcanic arable land in and around Pukekohe.

As grower David Clark pointed out in June 2019;

“I used to farm that block. That was a very highly productive bit of soil, that.

The previous National government passed it all off as a special housing area and we lost all of that [land]. That’s a shame. That should never have happened.

It was good productive elite soil, but it’s not now. You can never get it back once all that infrastructure and housing’s gone on there. It’s gone forever.”

Horticulture New Zealand CEO, Mike Chapman, warned;

“It makes sense to protect growing hubs close to our main population centres. They not only provide food that contributes to the physical health of New Zealanders, but also jobs, and vibrant businesses and communities. 

Food and housing are competing for land and water. We need both, so now is a good time to be smart about long-term planning for food security and domestic supply.

We will not always be able to source food from other countries. Look at the extremely hot summer the northern part of the world is having and the impact it is having on food production because of drought.” 

The result of losing arable land to urban sprawl would inevitably result in rising food prices, advised Deloitte New Zealand in a report commissioned by HortNZ.

Environment Minister David Parker took note of a problem that could rapidly spiral into a potential food-crisis;

“I was particularly troubled by how much of our urban growth is occurring in our irreplaceable highly productive land. Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand we only have limited quantities of these high-class soils.

We have to ensure we have enough land to build the houses people need, but we must protect our most productive areas too.”

As with all human activities, we should cautiously wary of unintended consequences.

  • Interest Rates

Ballooning housing prices are forcing first home owners to pay ever-increasing amounts to get a roof over their heads.

Whereas the median house price in Aotearoa New Zealand for a property was $495,000 in 2017, by 2020 the median price had risen to $725,000.

In Auckland, media houses prices surged from 800,000 in 2017 to $1,000,000 last year.

For first home owners these stratospheric prices are barely manageable because of historically low interest rates.

This constitutes a silent time-bomb that will detonate when/if interest rates start to rise again. It will result in forced mortgagee sales the likes of which we have not seen since the housing market collapse in the USA in the 2007/08 Global Financial Crisis;

Simultaneously, the US government of the day under President Bill Clinton elected to begin running budget surpluses. This had the effect of reducing the stock of US government-issued “safe assets” as the state began to pay down its debt. This created an incentive — though not the obligation — for the private sector to meet this demand for “safe assets” by creating some of its own. Thus we come back to mortgage securities.

The authors’ of the latest paper write that “the boom in securitisation contributed to channel into mortgages a large pool of savings that had previously been directed towards other safe assets, such as government bonds”. As Frances Coppola points out, this misstates what was actually going on. The inflow of capital was not “channelled” into the US mortgage market but, rather, it created the demand that gave banks a reason to continue extending mortgage loans into the system.

And here’s where the story gets really interesting. The more credit the banks provided through the mortgage market, the more money consumers had available to pay for goods and services (including, for example, clothes and toys produced in China). This spending then fed the current account surpluses in emerging markets, which flooded back into the US in search of safe assets that would provide a steady stream of income.

So the credit market created what looked like a self-fulfilling cycle where banks issued mortgages, that money was spent on goods and services in the US, which provided the cash for emerging economies to buy the mortgage-backed securities that were then created. Glad that’s clear.

And this is what happened — real home prices increasing by roughly 40% to 70% between 2000 and 2006…

[…]

…the scale of the housing boom had already increased the system’s vulnerabilities, and had been exacerbated by the Clinton administration’s decision to run budget surplus. In the end as borrowers were maxing themselves out, a hit to future incomes was almost inevitable and with it a correction in the housing market.

The full article above by Tomas Hirst is worth reading because there are ominous similarities between the late 2000s and what is happening now in our own housing market: too much money sloshing around, looking for safe investments, and a bubble that must ultimately burst.

Fast forward to last year;

Housing unaffordability is on the rise again, with implications for wealth inequality and deprivation. This is compounded further by the cascading economic effects of the global pandemic and unconventional manoeuvres in monetary policy that are pushing house prices higher.

If/when interest rates begin to rise, the time bomb will detonate and the housing “market correction” will be harsh. 

The government-of-the-day will be forced to intervene directly, taking over debt. Otherwise the alternative will be too terrible to contemplate: images of families forced out of their homes to live in – ?

Greens

The Green Party increased its share of the Party Vote from 2017 to 2020, from 6.3 to 7.9%, increasing its Parliamentary seats from eight to ten. Unlike ACT’s cannibalising the centre-right vote from National, the Greens actually grew the centre-left vote overall.

It could be said that this was achieved by riding on the “coat tails” of a popular Prime Minister.

This blogger rejects that.

The Greens are the conscience of Parliament, if not the whole country. They are deadly serious on the critical challenges that confront us as a nation, whether it be global – apocalyptic changes caused by rising CO2 and methane levels and all its dire consequences – or social problems of a spiralling-out-of-control housing crisis and social inequality.

As our climate warms; weather patterns become more energetic; ocean acidification worsens; and ice continues to melt, more and more people are understanding that this crisis can no longer be ignored or put off to another day.

With Labour’s commanding majority in the House, it is a curious contradiction that the government needs the Green Party more than ever to maintain a solid, unwavering focus on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

Without the Greens, Labour risks relaxing into a cruising “business-as-usual” mode.

And we are well past anything resembling “business-as-usual”.

Labour

There is a reason for Labour’s stunning election victory last year…

It would be fair to say that the Labour-led coalition govt was tested in more ways than most governments have been in the past. The  Whakaari/White Island eruption; the 15 March terrorist atrocity in Christchurch; and then covid19 hit the world.

For most people, the lockdown on 25 March was the only possible response. With no vaccine, the virus required a sledgehammer to fight it and – except for essential workers – we were told to stay home.

This blogger has documented his own personal experiences through the “Life in Lockdown” daily diary.

Not since the 1918 influenza epidemic has Aotearoa New Zealand been confronted with such an event. There was no Instruction Manual; we were learning as we went along.

Essential services stayed open; supermarkets (food); service stations (fuel); and chemists (medication). Some, like hardware stores operated a restricted service for tradespeople only, for emergencies (burst water pipes, electrical problems, etc).

Some were obviously taking the mick;

Weight-loss company Jenny Craig is defending its decision to continue operating during the lockdown, following public criticism from one of its own regional managers.

Several of the company’s employees have been touch with E Tu Union to express their frustration at the company for continuing to operate and claiming it is an essential service.

The company has since sent a statement to RNZ, saying it strongly believes it is an essential service.

Others were treating it casually, like an extended holiday. And for a tiny minority,  their sense of bloated entitlement seemed to outweigh the potentially lethal nature of the crisis;

Police have become involved in a stand-off between irate residents on Great Barrier Island / Aotea and boaties anchored up in their waters for the lockdown.

The chair of the Great Barrier / Aotea Local Board, Izzy Fordham, said an estimated 50 boats were anchored in one harbour alone.

She said they were a burden on limited resources and police were investigating.

“Us locals were all trying to do the right thing, stay home, live within our bubble because if we get to the stage where we have community transmission of this disease and this sickness, goodness knows what it will do to our island.”

Fordham said the boaties were being “totally irresponsible” because they could spread coronavirus.

Even a Minister of the Crown was caught out in a class act of entitlement and plain stupidity.

But for the most part, we did as the Prime Minister cajoled us: stay home (unless an essential worker or buying essential needs); exercise locally; stay in our own bubbles.

There were “hic-cups” of course. 

New Zealanders were astounded to learn that, for a long time, flight crews were exempted from quarantine after returning from international destinations

The airline’s crews who fly internationally continue to be exempt from the strict 14-day quarantine rules for people returning to New Zealand from overseas – with the exception of Los Angeles flights.

On Monday the airline confirmed crew members had been forced to self-isolate after some staff allegedly disregarded physical distancing rules during a layover in Vancouver. 

Documents obtained by Checkpoint show increasing unease and fear among flight crew staff about the exemption from isolation or quarantine, and the risk it poses to colleagues and the public.

Air New Zealand is currently operating 16 return international services a week. At the end of May it plans to add three return services a week to Shanghai to that schedule. 

Then we gobsmacked to learn that MIQ front-line workers were not being tested regularly (or at all!) for covid transmission from Returnees, despite being on the pandemic battlefield frontline, and despite assurances from Ministry officials that this was a priority;

So, did the Ministry of Health ever attempt to implement a plan to test all asymptomatic border-facing workers? That remains unclear – ministry officials on Thursday refused to answer Newsroom’s detailed questions on the subject.

And MIQ staff in critical – and dangerous positions – were left without the most basic of protective equipment for their wellbeing;

Nurses at managed isolation and quarantine facilities are threatening to stop work if the government does not ensure they have access to appropriate safety equipment.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation industrial services manager Glenda Alexander said some but not all MIQ sites had a good supply and distribution of the high-quality N95 masks, and used the test fit process to ensure the masks were properly fitted.

“In other facilities they are still using the surgical masks and we are saying ‘no, that is not appropriate given the growing body of evidence that says that the virus can be transmitted through airborne contact’.”

But we muddled through. 

With an equal mix of dedication from heroic front-line workers; good science from epidemiologists and other scientists; a strong collective effort by most Kiwis to “do the right thing”; and a truckload of good luck, we dodged the viral bullet on numerous occassions.

Though, as Dr Siouxsie Wiles has pointed out recently, some of our behaviour could be more cautionary. Sadly, as is the New Zealand way of doing things, something has to go wrong before we will act to remedy a critical gap in our defences.

On the non-pandemic battlefront Labour has had its wins and losses.

  • Capital Gains Tax (CGT)

Touted as making the tax system fairer, the CGT proposal by the Tax Working Group (TWG) was dumped when coalition partner, NZ First, pulled the hand brake on the suggested reforms (see “NZ First” below), skidding 180 degrees to a full stop. As the TWG stated in it’s Final Report;

Group Chair Sir Michael Cullen says our system has many strengths but there is a clear weakness caused by our inconsistent treatment of capital gains.

“New Zealanders earning just salary and wages are taxed on their full income but we have several situations where you can earn income from gains on assets and not be taxed at all.

“All members of the Group agree that more income from capital gains should be taxed from the sale of residential rental properties. The majority of us on the Group, by a margin of 8-3, support going further and broadening that approach to include all land and buildings, business assets, intangible property and shares.

“We have judged that the increase in compliance and efficiency costs is worth it if we can reduce the biases towards certain types of investments and improve the fairness, integrity and fiscal sustainability of the tax system.”

A CGT would also have been one further “bullet in the arsenal” to contain skyrocketing housing prices.

But with NZ First actively opposing meaningful tax reforms, PM Ardern was forced to dump the proposal. 

Curiously, the Prime Minister not only rejected CGT during the term of the coalition government – but for the entire duration of her leadership;

“Under my leadership, we will no longer campaign for, or implement a capital gains tax – not because I don’t believe in it, but because I don’t believe New Zealand does.”

Not only has she locked her party, and any future Labour-led government while she is PM, but she has played well and truly into the hands of National and their property-owning base, as journalist Henry Cooke pointed out with grim, relentless logic;

Yet Ardern wanted the issue off the table for upcoming elections and staked her career on the promise – much like Key when he said he would resign before raising the super eligibility age.

But National are never going to stop attacking Labour on tax. Ruling out CGT just opens the door for National to ask Ardern to rule out every possible other tax in existence, and when the Prime Minister is smart enough not to handcuff herself forever, National will tell voters that the party is keen to fish into your pockets.

Labour’s second greatest achievement (after successfully leading us through the Covid Crisis) has been to out-do National as a sound steward of the economy. Three successive polls last year (here, here, and here) snatched the crown for economic management from National and placed it firmly on Labour.

However, in dumping the CGT, it has allowed itself to be out-manouvered by the Tories and their whining, asset-bloated, propertied-class backers. It has also shown that it is willing to allow unfairness in the tax system that, as the TWG estimated, could have raised roughly $8 billion over the first five years. 

A missed opportunity Labour will regret for a long time.

  • 2 Tier Welfare System

Part of Labour’s plan to assist the economy through all stages of the covid lock-down was to implement a special COVID-19 Income Relief Payment. As this blogger reported on  3 September last year (re-published here from a previous blogpost);

On the 26 of May, Welfare Minister Carmel Sepuloni introduced the Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill. As RNZ reported;

The government is introducing a new relief payment for those who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, while they find new employment or retrain.

The payment would be available for 12 weeks from 8 June for New Zealand citizens or residents who had lost their job as a impact of the virus since 1 March.

Those who apply would be required to actively seek suitable work, and take steps towards employment, including making use of redeployment or training.

It will pay $490 a week for those who lost full-time work and $250 for part time workers – including students.

The payments will be untaxed.

People with working partners may also be eligible, as long as their partner is earning under $2000 per week.

The new “income relief payment” was essentially a beefed-up unemployed benefit for workers losing their jobs due to the covid19 epidemic. It would be administered by the Ministry for Social Development.

It was passed in the House, through all three readings, in one day.  Six days later, it was given Royal Assent.

The “income relief payment” differs from the usual unemployment benefit in two major areas:

  1. The amount of the “income relief payment” is $490 per week (tax free) – almost twice that of the regular, maximum  unemployment benefit of $250.74
  2. Partners of post-covid unemployed receiving the “income relief payment” can still be in paid work (up to $2,000 per week!) and this does not affect the IRP. Partners of pre-covid beneficiaries earning the original, lesser unemployment benefit (net, $250.74 p/w) cannot be in paid work, or else it will affect their payments. It also attracts unwanted attention from MSD/WINZ who constantly pry into beneficiaries private lives.

The Covid Unemployed are apparently an elite, special group of beneficiaries for whom the regular payment of $250.74 – without the hassle of employed partners – was beneath their dignity.

This blatant discrimination did not go un-noticed by beneficiaries support groups and other former Green Party MPs.

[…]

As an RNZ story reported, pointing out the blinding obvious;

[University of Auckland sociologist Louise] Humpage said the early findings suggested that benefit levels need to rise.

“I think there is general consensus that benefits are too low at present and I think this Covid-19 payment is a reflection that it’s actually too low for most people.”

What an eye-rolling, unsurprising conclusion.

The two-tier benefit system – primarily benefitting middle-New Zealand – was something we might have expected from the previous National-led government. It would have been a “cunning plan” that former Social Welfare minister, Paula Bennett, might have concocted to protect  middle class workers who lost their jobs and who had little inkling what surviving on welfare was really like.

The last thing National would have wanted is the middle class developing an empathetic understanding of the misery of surviving on unemployment welfare,

For Labour to promote such a scheme can only be described – at best – as misguided. At worst, it was a betrayal.

  • State Houses

According to Kāinga Ora (formerly Housing NZ) 2016/17 Annual Report, the organisation owned (or “managed”) approximately 63,000 properties.

By 2020, that number had increased to 66,253, according to Kāinga Ora’s 2019/20 Annual Report

The number is still far short of the  69,173 properties owned or managed by that organisation, according to their 2008/09 Annual Report.

But it is moving in the right direction, albeit at a unacceptably slow pace. The new build of state houses is certainly not keeping pace with the high numbers on the waiting list, as many families are forced out of the housing market with astronomical house prices leading to equally astronomical rents.

Labour is gradually undoing the mass sell-off of state houses wrought by the previous National government. (National, meanwhile, admitted it was wrong to sell off state housing, has promised no further sale of properties should it regain power – “except to state house tenants“.)

In this area, Labour can and must do better. State housing is their “bread and butter” for existence, as National’s is to support their mates in the business community.

If Labour cannot build the state houses we need, the inevitable question then arises: what good are they?

  • Unemployment & the wages subsidy

Alongside closing our borders and the lockdowns, the other weapon in our arsenal to fight the pandemic was the Covid-19 Wage Subsidy. Basically it paid up to 80% of employee’s wages during the lockdowns (the subsidy is no longer being offered).

It meant that while most of the economy was frozen, businesses could still pay their staff. It relied heavily on borrowed money by the government, but one way or another, there would be a cost as the pandemic impacted on our country.

It seemed to have worked.

Prior to covid19, our unemployment stood at 4.2%. for the March 2020 Quarter.

By the September Quarter, that figure had reached 5.3%.

(Note: the June 2020 Quarter reported a fall in unemployment to 4.0%. These results are misleading, caused by the way Statistics NZ calculates unemployment. During lockdown, the data was badly skewed.)

Many businesses have since re-paid the subsidy as their accounts are better than expected following the lockdowns. One, in particular, The Warehouse, suffered bad publicity when it took the wage subsidy and then made hundreds of staff redundant whilst posting a $44.5 million profit. After considerable public and political pressure, The Warehouse announced it would repay the subsidy.

The most high-profile recipient of the wage subsidy was the so-called “Taxpayers Union“. Ostensibly a group opposed to government subsidies and “profligacy”, the TU applied for, and recieved, $60,000 in taxpayer-funded subsidy;

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Source acknowledgement: The Paepae.

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Predictably, the “Union” became the subject of considerable on-line derision and merciless mocking on various social media platforms. It was one of the few funny moments in the tragedy that is covid19.

Aside from saving jobs and businesses, the Wages Subsidy reminded us that far from keeping the State “out of our lives” as neo-liberals have been calling for since the 1980s – the State was our united defence against the forces of nature – in this case a deadly viral pandemic. Only the State could marshal the expertise; the financial resources; the human power; and co-ordination necessary to save lives. Only the State, through our elected representatives, could motivate and encourage people to act together and do the right thing for the greater good.

Collectivism suddenly became desirable; the neo-liberal vision of small government, not so much.

Contrast our success with that of the United States which has glorified small government and the cult of the individual. Or Sweden, which adopted a hands-off approach. Their death rates are currently 496,033 and 12,428 respectively.

New Zealands death rate still stands at 25.

Now we begin to understand the deep, under-lying reason for Labour’s stunning election results last year. For all our criticisms (of which there are plenty and well-justified), they damn well earned it.

  • What comes next?

As Senior Researcher in Politics at Auckland University of Technology, David Hall, wrote for “The Conversationin October last year;

“In times of upset, people yearn for normality — and Ardern’s Labour Party was awarded a landslide for achieving something close to this.

[…]

This leaves us with the longstanding conundrum of what the Labour Party is and what it really stands for these days. Ardern and her colleagues are not ideologues, but no politics is without ideology — a system of ideas, values and beliefs that orients its efforts.”

If the primary priority of the current Labour-only government is to be “responsible managers” of the economy then they will be jostling for that position with their Tory counterparts. It will be a precarious position to occupy, as National’s fall-from-grace after Steven Joyce’s and Paul Goldsmith’s stuff-ups during the 2017 and 2020 election campaigns proved with dramatic effect.

Whilst being “responsible managers” is a good reputation to hold, in itself that is not Labour’s raison d’etre. Their existence, like the Green Party and ACT, is to effect change.

Labour is the party that initiated State housing; implemented unemployment and domestic purposes benefits; removed homosexuality and sex work from the Crimes Act; cut diplomatic ties with apartheid South Africa; moved Aotearoa New Zealand to be nuclear free; brought in equal pay for women legislation; and many other progressive social and economic reforms.

For the current Labour government to squander their majority in Parliament is to turn their backs on their 105 years of proud history and waste the mandate they have been given.

If Labour is too timid to act on climate change; unaffordable housing and homelessness; rampant inequality and discrimination against minorities; child poverty and low income for welfare beneficiaries; as well as guard the country against covid and act as sound stewards of the economy, then the legitimate question must arise in voter’s mind; why vote for them?

Re-election for the sole purpose of re-election is not reason enough.

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References

The Wall Street Journal: The Covid-19 Death Toll Is Even Worse Than It Looks

Al Jazeera: In post-Brexit UK, quiet ports hide mounting transport chaos

The Atlantic: This is a coup

The Guardian: Victoria hotel quarantine failures ‘responsible’ for Covid second wave and 768 deaths, inquiry told

CNN: Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny dupes spy into revealing how he was poisoned

CNBC: Hundreds arrested in Hong Kong protests, as analysts weigh in on national security law’s impact

BBC: The Uighurs and the Chinese state – A long history of discord

Reuters: Global temperatures reached record highs in 2020, say EU scientists

Electoral Commission: New Zealand 2020 General Election – Official Results

Electoral Commission: New Zealand 2017 General Election – Official Results

Wikipedia: 2014 New Zealand General Election

The Spinoff: Future Act MP held ‘climate hysteria skeptics’ meetings at high school

Victoria University: The Home Front Volume  II Chapter 17 — More Shortages

RNZ: New Zealand’s most fertile land dug up for housing

Stuff media: $5.50 lettuces if fertile Pukekohe land turned into houses

Canstar: NZ property trends emerging in 2017

Scoop media: Auckland Median House Price Hits $1m Mark In October; 9 Other Regions & 28 Districts Hit Record Median Prices

Business Insider: How A US Housing Boom Became A Global Financial Crisis

The Conversation: With a mandate to govern New Zealand alone, Labour must now decide what it really stands for

Electoral Commission: New Zealand 2017 General Election – Official Results

The Guardian: Climate crisis – 2020 was joint hottest year ever recorded

Stanford News: Stanford researcher reveals influence of global warming on extreme weather events has been frequently underestimated

NIWA: Ocean acidification—what is it?

Carbon Brief: New climate models suggest faster melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Geonet: Whakaari/White Island

Wikipedia: Christchurch mosque shootings

RNZ: Jenny Craig defends stance as essential service

RNZ: What it means to break Covid-19 lockdown rules

RNZ: New Zealand lockdown – Great Barrier-Aotea residents irritated by boaties on shores

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus lockdown – Health Minister David Clark demoted after driving 20km to beach, breaking lockdown rules

RNZ: Air NZ silent about Covid-19 cases as staff fears grow over quarantine exemption

Stuff media: Coronavirus – How the Government botched border testing for Covid-19

RNZ: Covid-19 – MIQ nurses threaten to stop work if N95 masks not supplied

RNZ: ‘Dumb good luck’ no outbreak after Covid-19 community case – health expert

Newshub: Siouxsie Wiles slams Air NZ for still serving food

Tax Working Group: Tax Working Group delivers Final Report

NZ Herald: PM Jacinda Ardern has ruled out implementing a Capital Gains Tax while she is at the helm of Labour

Stuff media: Capital gains tax – Jacinda Ardern took a lifeboat off a ship she could have saved

Newshub: Newshub-Reid Research poll shows Kiwis trust Labour over National to run economy as Paul Goldsmith dodges blame over fiscal hole

Newshub: Newshub-Reid Research Poll: Kiwis trust Labour more than National to run the economy

TVNZ: Kiwis now trust Labour more than National to repair the economy, poll suggests

Parliament:  Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill

RNZ: Relief payments for people who lost jobs due to Covid-19 announced

MSD: Jobseeker Support cut-out points (current)

RNZ: Covid income relief payment recipients fare better than those on the dole, survey finds

Kāinga Ora: 2016/17 Annual Report

Kāinga Ora: 2019/20 Annual Report

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Stuff media: Public housing waitlist cracks 20,000 with over 2000 new households in a single month

Stuff media: National Party admits it sold too many state houses

Stuff media: Election 2020 – National promises to sell state houses, but this time only to tenants

Work and Income: Covid-19 Wage Subsidy

Statistics NZ: Unemployment rate at 4.2 percent in March quarter

Stuff media: Record jump in jobless rate to 5.3%, but NZ set to avoid unemployment disaster

The Spin-off: Why the hell has New Zealand’s unemployment rate just gone down?

RNZ: Ryman to repay $14.2m for wage subsidy

RNZ: The Warehouse Group wage subsidy repayment – Taxpayers pleased

Newshub: Coronavirus – Taxpayers’ Union gives up ‘ideological purity’, accepts $60,000 in taxpayer wage subsidies

Worldometer: Covid 19 – USA

Worldometer: Covid 19 – Sweden

National party: Restoring New Zealand’s Prosperity – Responsible Economic Management

ODT: Opinion – Joyce’s ‘fake news’ fiscal hole backfires

Stuff media: Election 2020 – National’s fiscal hole appears to double to $8 billion as Paul Goldsmith denies double count mistake

NZ History: State housing – The first state house

Te Ara: Family welfare

Stuff media: Homosexual Law Reform 30 years on – what was life like for the gay community pre-1986?

Parliament: Prostitution law reform in New Zealand

Te Ara: Political leaders – David Lange’s tour of Africa

MFAT: Taking a nuclear-free policy to the world

MSD: New Zealand Conference on Pay and Employment Equity for Women

Additional

Greenpeace:  Five ways NZ will be much better if Jacinda makes good on her promise to Build Back Better

Other blogspots

The Paepae: The juxtaposition in this screen shot of the ‘NZ Taxpayers Union Inc’ astroturf lobby group receiving a government-funded subsidy makes me chortle

The Daily Blog: When will Michael Barnett stop whinging, whining and bleating? – John Minto

Previous related blogposts

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (rima)

Life in Level 2: Two Tier Welfare; A Green School; Right Rage, Wrong Reason

2020: Post-mortem or Prologue?

2020: The History That Was – Part 1

2020: The History That Was – Part 2

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sharon murdoch

Acknowledgement: Sharon Murdoch

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 February 2021.
 

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2020: The History That Was – Part 2

19 January 2021 7 comments

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2020 to 2021

 

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America: The Empire Strikes Back (at itself)

 

Further to my comments in the first part of 2020: The History That Was, the following should be considered regarding the current state of the US. They most likely will be by future historians pondering the critical decades of the 1920s and 2020s.

On at least two fronts, the world is witnessing – in Real Time – the United States eating itself alive.

The Not-So Invisible Enemy

As this is written the pandemic in the United States continues to wreak havoc with rising numbers, hospitalisations, and death toll;

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US covid cases

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The most technologically advanced nation on this planet seems powerless in the face of a viral pandemic. Like scenes from Third World and developing nations with minimal resources, American hospitals are creaking under the weight of surging covid cases requiring hospitalisation;

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The pandemic has exploded under a presidency that has been more concerned with it’s own political survival than the crisis affecting 380 million Americans. Even the roll-out and distribution of the much-heralded vaccine has been ineffectual;

More than two-thirds of the 15 million coronavirus vaccines shipped within the United States have gone unused, U.S. health officials said on Monday, as the governors of New York and Florida vowed to penalize hospitals that fail to dispense shots quickly.

US healthcare workers are not only over-worked and near burn-out, but have started to fight back against ineptitude and lack of meaningful leadership over the vaccine roll-out;

Protests erupted Friday at Stanford University Medical Center Hospital in California, where frontline medical residents and fellows staged a walkout in frustration over the hospital’s botched Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

[…]

Demonstrators accused the medical center of prioritizing more senior doctors and other medical workers who don’t directly interface with patients over employees at the highest risk of contracting Covid-19 from patients.

The nation that sent human beings to the Moon through 384,400 km of cold vacuum in a space craft that was little more than a small, fragile steel can; to the crushing, frigid depths of the planet’s oceans; that developed atomic weapons that could obliterate an enemy; and a myriad of other technological and scientific achievements – is losing it’s greatest challenge since it entered WWII against the might of the Axis powers.

The Enemy Within

Alongside America’s leadership paralysis is the vocal, and often right-wing covid-deniers and mask-refusers. Led by an ignorant narcissist in the Oval Office, refusing to follow even the most basic of health precautions has become a political statement against the so-called “liberal establishment”;

For progressives, masks have become a sign that you take the pandemic seriously and are willing to make a personal sacrifice to save lives. Prominent people who don’t wear them are shamed and dragged on Twitter by lefty accounts. On the right, where the mask is often seen as the symbol of a purported overreaction to the coronavirus, mask promotion is a target of ridicule, a sign that in a deeply polarized America almost anything can be politicized and turned into a token of tribal affiliation.

The virus – unsurprisingly – cares little for our political affiliations and ideologies;

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covid 19 coronavirus get sick

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Hyper-individualism has been well canvassed by Dr Ronald Pies, examining the phenomenon in the Psychiatric Times;

I argued that, up to a point, this rugged individualism serves as a useful counterweight to the communitarian impulse—the belief that the community is a “bearer of rights”, to which an individual’s interests may have to be subordinated in some cases. But carried to an extreme – what I called, “hyper-individualism”—the “Don’t Tread on Me” mentality can become an insidious force for societal disintegration.

In my view, many mask refusers are acting out of a debased form of individualism that some would call “toxic masculinity,” and which I would call machismo. I hasten to add that I am using the latter term in a broad, generic sense, and not as a trait endemic to “Latin” culture or society. A very useful definition of machismo is

“Exaggerated pride in masculinity, perceived as power, often coupled with a minimal sense of responsibility and disregard of consequences.”

In my view, this brand of American machismo helps explain the behavior of many (though not all) mask refusers. In effect, refusal to wear a mask in public settings has become a mark of being “a man’s man” – someone who won’t be pushed around or “muzzled” by governmental “tyranny”.

Dr Pies also refers to the “eternal child” or “American man-child”, quoting Jungian analyst, Frith Luton;

“. . . is used in mythology to designate a child-god who is forever young; psychologically, it refers to an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level . . . He covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable.”

How many times has a certain Orange-hued President been referred to as a “man-child”? A Google search using the parameters “Trump man child” yielded “621,000,000 results”.

The Other Enemies

One thing that has not been well traversed is that the US has demonstrated itself to be utterly unable to stem the advance of an implacable enemy. This is a lesson that has not been lost on those who would happily see either the destruction, or neutralising, of the United States as a functioning power. To paraphrase H.G. Wells from The War of the Worlds;

“No one would have believed in the early years of the twentyfirst century that this super-power was being watched keenly and closely by intelligence agencies as effective as America’s; that as Americans busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water…

…Yet across the gulf of oceans, minds that are to American’s minds as theirs are to their rivals, intellects calculating and cool and unsympathetic, regarded American hegemony with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against them.” (Apologies to H.G.)

America is vulnerable. It’s savage, internecine political in-fighting; it’s crazy and deadly culture of hyper-individualism; the spreading toxic cancer of conspiracy fantasies impacting on Real Life events – have revealed an Achilles Heel to this super-power’s defences that no amount of atomic  megatonnage can ever hope to over-come.

America’s enemies will not have failed to notice this dangerous, critical weakness from the planet’s greatest super-power.

The next pandemic to strike the United States may not be a product of nature. A lone malevolent operative, flying a small phial of a new deadly micro-organism into New York airport, would be infinitely more devastating than flying planes into buildings.

Postscript

Those who shrug and dismiss the above scenario as not affecting Aotearoa and therefore none of our concern should recall how quickly covid19 was transported across borders from China to our very first infection detected on 28 February last year.

We would simply be “collateral damage”.

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References

New York Times:  Coronavirus in the U.S. – Latest Map and Case Count

Washington Post: Coronavirus death toll in U.S. increases as hospitals in hot-spot states are overwhelmed

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Overwhelmed US hospital treating Covid patients in car park

Reuters:  U.S. under siege from COVID-19 as hospitals overwhelmed before holidays

CNN:  200 hospitals have been at full capacity, and 1/3 of all US hospitals are almost out of ICU space

USA Today:  ‘It’s what we feared’ – Hospitals from Georgia to California face surging COVID-19 cases, staff shortages and rising deaths

New York Post:  Map reveals how US hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients

Reuters: Most U.S. COVID-19 vaccines go idle as New York, Florida move to penalize hospitals

NBC News:  Stanford apologizes to doctors after protests erupt over botched vaccine rollout

Politico:  Wearing a mask is for smug liberals. Refusing to is for reckless Republicans

Metro UK: Covid denier admits he was wrong after being hospitalised with virus

ABC News:  Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow dies from COVID-19

5NBCDFW: Oak Cliff Woman Admits She and Her Father Were COVID-19 Deniers and Now Her Father is Dead

Psychiatric Times:  Masks, Machismo, and the American Man-Child

RNZ:  New Zealand confirms case of Covid-19 coronavirus

Additional Reading

Vice/Motherboard:  US Power Will Decline Under Trump, Says Futurist Who Predicted Soviet Collapse (12 July 2016)

Bellingcat: The Making of QAnon – A Crowdsourced Conspiracy (7 January 2021)

Previous related blogposts

Life in Level 2: Two Tier Welfare; A Green School; Right Rage, Wrong Reason

2020: Post-mortem or Prologue?

2020: The History That Was – Part 1

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lost votes

Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 January 2021.
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2020: The History That Was – Part 1

8 January 2021 1 comment

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2020 to 2021

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American Burlesque

As I write this (Wednesday evening, 6 January), the US Presidential election is all but resolved, confirming Joe Biden as the next President of the (Dis-)United State of America. Trump’s turbulent political career has lasted just four years – one of the few single-term US presidents in recent history.

Trump’s failure to secure a second term has come as a result of his erratic, divisive, and controversial behaviour; his apparent reluctance to condemn far-right militants; alleged corruption, and his disastrous inaction to control the covid19 pandemic that – at time of writing – has claimed 354,000 American lives out of 21 million cases.

The Presidential election results have taken much longer to resolve with narrow margins separating Trump and Biden. Far from a “blue wave” of total repudiation that many –  myself included – expected, surprisingly just under half of voters still cast their ballot for the Republican incumbent.

America has barely dodged the fascist bullet – this time.

But the underlying causes that created the fertile ground for a vacuous, reactionary, lying, corrupt narcissist like Donald Trump still exist.

Make no mistake, free trade agreements – the cornerstone of the Neo-liberal Experiment – still export jobs from the United States to low-wage nations like China, Vietnam, India, etc. The same has occurred in other western nations, including our own Aotearoa New Zealand.

Globalisation – one of the mainstays of neo-liberalism (the others being de-regulation, tax cuts, and privatisation) began in earnest in the 1980s with Thatcherism in the UK, and Reaganomics in the United States.

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Thatcher and Reagan - neoliberal acolytes (2)

Thatcher and Reagan – Apostles of the neo-liberal “revolution”

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Check your shoes: they almost certainly originate from China. As do the clothes you are wearing. Or the electronic devices in your home. Probably even the peanut butter in your pantry (unless its “Sanitarium”, “Pics”, etc).

In the United States, once high-paying jobs, industries, and services have been “exported” to low-wage societies. Manufactured goods from those same industries are then re-imported into the US to sell to American consumers.

Unfortunately, as those high-paying jobs – especially in the “rust belt” states – vanished, so did workers’ spending power. Meanwhile, corporate profits increased, leading to higher shareholder’s dividends and share buybacks. The much-vaunted, promised rewards of trickle-down economic theory never eventuated, except for a privileged few.

Writing for Investopedia, Will Kenton and Charles Potters point out;

Trickle-down policies typically increase wealth and advantages for the already wealthy few. Although trickle-down theorists argue that putting more money in the hands of the wealthy and corporations promotes spending and free-market capitalism, ironically, it does so with government intervention. Questions arise such as, which industries receive subsidies and which ones don’t? And, how much growth is directly attributable to trickle-down policies?

Critics argue that the added benefits the wealthy receive can distort the economic structure. Lower income earners don’t receive a tax cut adding to the growing income inequality in the country. Many economists believe that cutting taxes for the poor and working families does more for an economy because they’ll spend the money since they need the extra income. A tax cut for a corporation might go to stock buybacks while wealthy earners might save the extra income instead of spending it. Neither does much for economic growth, critics argue.

This has led to a steadily widening chasm between worker’s wages and corporate profits, with the trend accelerating from the 1980s onwards. As this graph, constructed by Robert B. Reich, Thomas Piketty, and Emmanuel Saez demonstrates;

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The Great Prosperity, The Great Recession

The Great Prosperity, The Great Recession

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The worsening trend continues unabated;

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The gap between productivity and a typical worker’s compensation

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Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, corporate profits continue to soar. When comparing Employee Compensation/GNP with Corporate Profits/GNP, the disparity is glaring;

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Corporate-Profit-Margins-and-Employee-Compensation-Q2

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Note where recessions are marked with gray columns. Note how the immediate consequence of each recession – on the main – are wages down and corporate profits up.

Similar infographics abound throughout the internet.

As Erik Sherman writing for Forbes.com put it succinctly;

“…every financial crisis somehow manages to become an additional upward transfer of wealth. At least it isn’t the downward transfer that so many fear from a coming “socialism” that never arrives.”

Yes, socialism. The great bogeyman of American politics, as current Republican senatorial candidate, Kelly Loeffler recently “warned” her countrymen and women on the Georgian campaign trail;

“We’ve got to hold the line. We’re the firewall to stopping socialism in America.”

Except… Trump is not in office to serve the common wage-earning man and woman. His policies have continued to enrich corporations and the wealth of the top 1%;

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US billionaires got richer

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As Ben Steverman wrote in the above article;

Millionaires and billionaires had far more to celebrate. A Republican overhaul of the tax code left wealthy investors and corporations paying lower overall tax rates than most working professionals. It’s also never been easier to avoid the U.S. estate and gift tax, and pass on wealth to heirs. When Covid-19 hit, the Treasury and Federal Reserve propped up markets, primarily benefiting the top 1%, who own the majority of stocks held by U.S. households.

Rex Nutting, writing for “Marketwatch“, was even more blunt;

With unemployment still in the stratosphere, wages and salaries are depressed. Fewer people are working, and the ones who are working aren’t getting raises. According to separate report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages in the private sector have increased just 1.7% in the past year, only half as fast as prices have been rising.

So Friday’s news is grim, but it’s not really news, is it? Everybody knows the fight is fixed, as the poet has sung. “The poor stay poor and the rich stay rich. That’s how it goes, everybody knows.”

And that, readers, is at the core of the social crisis that allowed a corrupt, amoral, semi-intelligent human being like Trump to be elected; “Everybody knows the fight is fixedThat’s how it goes, everybody knows“.

74,223,251 Americans certainly know it and were prepared to vote for a man many acknowledged as deeply flawed and repellent to them.

The rage from Trump supporters is not on their President’s behalf. It is a deep rage that “the fight is fixed” and even the power of their vote appears insufficient to change the system and improve their lot. The slogan “Stop the Steal” is ubiquitous at Trump rallies.

Of all the analysts who have examined how a parody of a human being could be elected to be a parody of a US President, American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges‘ insights are worth considering. He has looked into the soul and psyche of his country and his findings are troubling.

As he recently pointed out with brutal crystal clarity;

“The physical and moral decay of the United States and the malaise it has spawned have predictable results. We have seen in varying forms the consequences of social and political collapse during the twilight of the Greek and Roman empires, the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires, Tsarist Russia, Weimar Germany and the former Yugoslavia. Voices from the past, Aristotle, Cicero, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joseph Roth and Milovan Djilas, warned us. But blinded by self-delusion and hubris, as if we are somehow exempt from human experience and human nature, we refuse to listen. 

The United States is a shadow of itself. It squanders its resources in futile military adventurism, a symptom of all empires in decay as they attempt to restore a lost hegemony by force. Vietnam. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. Tens of millions of lives wrecked. Failed states. Enraged fanatics. There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, 24 percent of the global population, and we have turned virtually all of them into our enemies.”

As the empire wanes;

“The virtues we argue we have a right to impose by force on others — human rights, democracy, the free market, the rule of law and personal freedoms — are mocked at home where grotesque levels of social inequality and austerity programs have impoverished most of the public, destroyed democratic institutions, including Congress, the courts and the press, and created militarized forces of internal occupation that carry out wholesale surveillance of the public, run the largest prison system in the world and gun down unarmed citizens in the streets with impunity.

The American burlesque, darkly humorous with its absurdities of Donald Trump, fake ballot boxes, conspiracy theorists who believe the deep state and Hollywood run a massive child sex trafficking ring, Christian fascists that place their faith in magic Jesus and teach creationism as science in our schools, ten hour long voting lines in states such as Georgia, militia members planning to kidnap the governors of Michigan and Virginia and start a civil war, is also ominous, especially as we ignore the accelerating ecocide…

…I speak to you in Troy, New York, once the second largest producer of iron in the country after Pittsburgh. It was an industrial hub for the garment industry, a center for the production of shirts, shirtwaists, collars, and cuffs, and was once home to foundries that made bells to firms that crafted precision instruments. All that is gone, of course, leaving behind the post-industrial decay, the urban blight and the shattered lives and despair that are sadly familiar in most cities in the United States.

It is this despair that is killing us. It eats into the social fabric, rupturing social bonds, and manifests itself in an array of self-destructive and aggressive pathologies. It fosters what the anthropologist Roger Lancaster calls “poisoned solidarity,” the communal intoxication forged from the negative energies of fear, suspicion, envy and the lust for vengeance and violence. Nations in terminal decline embrace, as Sigmund Freud understood, the death instinct. No longer sustained by the comforting illusion of inevitable human progress, they lose the only antidote to nihilism. No longer able to build, they confuse destruction with creation. They descend into an atavistic savagery, something not only Freud but Joseph Conrad and Primo Levi knew lurks beneath the thin veneer of civilized society. Reason does not guide our lives. Reason, as Schopenhauer puts it, echoing Hume, is the hard-pressed servant of the will.”

Chris Hedges understands the problem will not go away;

“Those overwhelmed by despair seek magical salvations, whether in crisis cults, such as the Christian Right, or demagogues such as Trump, or rage-filled militias that see violence as a cleansing agent. As long as these dark pathologies are allowed to fester and grow–and the Democratic Party has made it clear it will not enact the kinds of radical social reforms that will curb these pathologies–the United States will continue its march towards disintegration and social upheaval. Removing Trump will neither halt nor slow the descent.”

And therein lies the problem; the essential crisis confronting us, but which few have considered.

Trump is but a symptom of the decay of the United States.  As with the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1920s and 1930s, with social and economic upheavals brought on by the Great Depression; high levels of unemployment; defeat in World War One with humiliating loss of national pride, and punitive Treaty of Versailles demands – likewise Trump is the culmination of decades of corruption; political self interest; rising poverty and inequality, and worsening social and economic stresses.

The very fabric of American society is unravelling – and we are watching the spectacle in Real Time.

The election of Joe Biden will not make the poisoned soil that spawned Trump go away. Far from it, this is but a momentary respite.

Trump ended his political career and torpedoed his chances of a second term only because of a lack of self-awareness; self-discipline; and intelligence. He was an unsophisticated, ill-mannered, man-child trying to fill an adult’s shoes.

His successor, Trump 2.0, will likely have none of his obvious weaknesses.

The next Trump 2.0 will be less Chaplainesque and more shrewdly subtle at manipulating the American public at doing his bidding. If Trump could convince 74,223,251 Americans that he was fit for the most powerful role in the world – what could a competant, credible authoritarian figure achieve?

It is worth recalling that the US President who enacted neo-liberalism, minimal government, de-regulation, and globalisation was Ronald Reagan – a Republican.

The US President, who railed against neo-liberalism and globalisation, was Donald Trump – also a Republican.

The first offered neo-liberalism as a  “solution” to America’s ills.

Twentyseven years later, his successor offered a “solution” to the ills caused by neo-liberalism.

What will the next Republican president offer as a “solution” to Trumpism?

If Donald J. Trump 1.0 was the prototype, the next upgrade is already on its way. And the fertile ground of discontent has been well prepared.

 

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References

Wikipedia: 2020 United States presidential election

CNN: Trump condemns ‘all White supremacists’ after refusing to do so at presidential debate

Republic Report: Ten Reasons Trump is the Most Corrupt President in U.S. History

Wikipedia: Thatcherism

Investopedia: Reaganomics

Investopedia: Share Re-purchase (buy-back)

Investopedia: Trickle Down Theory

New York Times: The Great Prosperity, The Great Recession

The Economic Policy Institute: The Productivity–Pay Gap

Naked Capitalism: Corporate Profit Margins vs. Wages in One Disturbing Chart

Forbes.com:  Corporate Profits Skyrocket As Post-Holidays Look Grim For Millions

NBC News:  Trump throws grenades into high-stakes Georgia Senate runoffs in final stretch

Bloomberg Wealth:  U.S. Billionaires Got $1 Trillion Richer During Trump’s Term

Marketwatch: Corporate profits’ share of pie most in 60 years

The Atlantic: Why People Who Hate Trump Stick With Him

Wikipedia: Chris Hedges

Youtube: Chris Hedges – The Politics of Cultural Despair (transcript: Scheerpost)

Additional

Bellingcat: The Making of QAnon: A Crowdsourced Conspiracy

Feminist Giant: Feminist Killjoy Here To Wreck Your Parties

Washington Post:  Federal judge rejects GOP request to intervene in Clark County ballot-processing

Youtube:  President-Elect Joe Biden & Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris Address the Nation

Previous related blogposts

The seductiveness of Trumpism

The Rise of Great Leader Trump

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

Trumpwatch: Voter fraud, Presidential delusions, and Fox News

Trumpwatch: Muslims, mandates, and moral courage

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: “… then they came for the LGBT”

Trumpwatch: How Elon Musk can overcome Trump’s climate-change obstinacy

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

Trumpwatch: What’s a few more nails in the planet’s coffin?

2020: Post-mortem or Prologue?

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the rise of the swastika

Acknowledgement: Mr Fish

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This blogpost was also published on The Daily Blog on 14 January 2021.

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2020: Post mortem or Prologue?

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election 2020

 

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A narcissistic, third-rate, Bond-villain code-named “Trump” takes control of the United States; a global pandemic brings human civilisation to a near stand-still; Whakaari/White Island erupts creating a hellish tragedy; Level 4 and 3 Lockdowns result in deserted streets straight out of The Quiet Earth; a new “Fortress New Zealand” is erected in a valiant struggle to keep a deadly virus from our shores, and an election result no one could ever have predicted… No “reality TV” could possibly hope to match 2020 (or the last twelve months).

This will be one for the history books.

And folks, we had front row seats…

National

A series of political polls on both major TV networks had Labour consistently ahead of National. Despite three leaders in as many years, the “natural party of governance”  was failing to govern itself. More critically, it was failing to connect with most New Zealanders.

A series of “mis-steps” – too   numerous   to   mention – cemented public impressions that National was in dis-array; rudderless; riven with leaks, in-fighting, and intrigue. Worse still, their Finance Spokesperson – Paul Goldsmith – demonstrated his own incredible incompetence with a series of arithmetical blunders in the party’s economic plan.

The errors quickly mounted, passing eight billion dollars, mocking National’s so-called reputation for being “sound managers of the economy”.

Judith Collin’s antagonistic leadership – a stark contrast to Prime Minister Ardern’s more inclusive, up-beat style – appealed to the National base but failed to gain traction with the rest of Aotearoa  New Zealand.

Her carping criticism often made little sense when one looked deeper into her utterances. Child poverty was a classic example of Ms Collins’ contradictory position.

On the one hand, she criticised the Labour-led coalition for not addressing child poverty in the last three years;

“It is correct, and if you look at kids living in material hardship, which means they can’t get to a doctor and things like that, are 4100 more than when she took office.

If you talk to the food banks they will tell you things have got worse, they haven’t got better. So when you’re talking about transformational change, it has just got worse.”

But then, Ms Collins also inadvertently confirmed that child poverty simply could not be solved in a single three year term,

“We would love to do that too, actually.”

She was agreeing Labour’s goal of halving child poverty rates by 2030 – a decade away. In effect confirming the magnitude of the problem.

It was this kind of kneejerk “I-can-do-better-than-you” that added to uncertainties around Judith Collins’ credibility

Added to that was National’s promise of a tax cut. The ill-considered policy has been well-traversed, but the most salient points were;

  1. The proposed tax cuts would be funded through the $14 billion Covid recovery fund set aside to pay for another outbreak and possible lockdown
  2. The tax cuts would cost $4.7 billion
  3. The Covid Recovery fund is borrowed money
  4. The tax cuts would benefit high income earners the most; someone on $70,000 would gain $3226 – $45.50 per week; someone on minimum wage would gain $560 – or $8.10 per week.

The tax cuts were “temporary”, according to National’s Finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith – from 1 December this year and expiring 31 March 2022.  Though it is difficult to see Mr Goldsmith (or his successor) raising taxes back to pre-election levels after the expiry date.

National’s tax-cut would be nothing less than a bribe to high-income Middle Class. Those on low incomes would receive very little – less than the cost of a 1KG block of cheese.

When challenged by Jack Tame on TVNZ’s Q+A why the proposed tax cuts were not directed more at lower-income earners who would spend it, thereby stimulating the economy, Mr Goldsmith showed how out-of-touch he really was with the “Ordinary Kiwi Battler”;

“It’s their [high income earners] own money that we’re going to be returning to them.

Yeah, they’ll get some extra money, and we want to put some extra money into the hands of people who are working hard.”

Firstly, it’s not “their money”. It is borrowed money. Borrowed money which Judith Collins has been at pains to remind us will have to be re-paid by our children (and grand-children!). This was the same rationale  used by National to demand that borrowed money not be re-invested in Aotearoa’s superannuation fund;

“An obvious place to start is suspending new payments to the New Zealand Super Fund for the next four years. That alone would reduce core crown debt by $9 billion over four years.

[…]

The actions we will take today could leave a legacy of debt for future generations. We are making choices that will impact them tomorrow.

Such levels of debt would leave our children and grandchildren – and also ourselves – profoundly vulnerable to the inevitable next shock.”

In effect, Mr Goldsmith was willing to use borrowed money to spray around well paid, upper middle class for a tax-cut bribe – but not to invest in the super fund which actually creates wealth. This is not what one would expect from a supposedly “responsible manager of the economy”.

Secondly; Mr Goldsmith’s suggestion that cutting taxes for higher income earners rather than those on minimum wage because they are “people who are working hard” was an insult to those supermarket workers; truck drivers; warehouse staff, pharmacy staff, et al, who carried on working during the covid lockdown so we could be fed and our medication regimes maintained.

Any low-paid worker listening to Mr Goldsmith would have understood the signal they had just been sent: two raised fingers.

Three televised debates on TV1 and TV3 were lauded by National apparatchiks as “victories” for Ms Collins. But the rest of the country seemed not to share that conclusion. National continued to languish in low 30s in one political poll after another.

The more rabid Ms Collins became, the less appealing to voters.

Just how unappealing her leadership was to the great majority quickly became apparent on Election Night.

Almost immediately, Labour’s Party vote rocketed to 51%, and National plumetted to between 26 and 27%.

Something preternatural was taking place before our eyes.

An hour after polls had closed, my sense that something unimaginable was taking place led me to post this prediction on Twitter;

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The second and third predictions are yet to become reality – more on that shortly.

Today (20 October), National will hold it’s Party Caucus of what remains of it’s Parliamentary team. There will be many empty seats in the room. But all eyes will be on Judith Collins, who once stated that 35% was the tipping point for failure for a Party Leader.

On election night, National sank like a stone to 26.8% – 8.2 percentage points below her own standard for failure;

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election 2020 nz

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Judith Collins has steadfastly rejected calls to honour her commitment to resign despite Saturday’s election results being the worst since 2002.  In that year National’s vote collapsed to a disastrous 20.93%.

Instead, she resorted to a shot-gun of blames, pointing her finger at the second lock-down; at her own MPs;  other people; and especially the fault of covid19;

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When pointedly asked if she took any responsibility for National’s loss, she replied;

“I take absolute responsibility for working every single day and night for the campaign and also making sure that wherever we were asked to we were always there, but that’s what I’ve done, I’ve actually worked my little socks off.”

Which was hilariously ironic. Only five days earlier, she had demanded others take responsibility for their “personal choices”;

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Judith Collins says obesity is a weakness

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By contrast, former Prime Minister Helen Clark resigned as Leader of the Labour on election night in 2008.

For the public, this was another un-subtle sign that Judith Collins was not fit to be Prime Minister. Her lack of empathy; questionable judgement; and “Muldoonish” malice was in polar opposite to the empathetic and positive Jacinda Ardern who had led us through terrorist attack, natural disaster, and an ongoing pandemic.

National MP – and one-time contender for Party leadership – Mark Mitchell, was having none of Ms Collins’ judgementalistic rubbish, and called her out on it;

“Some obesity is related to medical conditions, even psychological conditions that need treating, so it’s a more complex issue.”

This was yet another public spat between National figures.

Furthermore, Mr Mitchell’s appearance on TVNZ’s Q+A on 18 October – the day after the election – was a stand-out performance. His measured, calm demeanour was pretty much what New Zealanders expect from their political leaders.

If Judith Collins is “Muldoonish”, then Mark Mitchell was more “Jim Bolger”.

But more curiously, why was Mark Mitchell appearing on Q+A, to represent the National Party? Where was Party Leader, Judith Collins? Why was she not fronting to answer Jack “James” Tame’s questions?

I was reminded of Q+A on 12 July, when National’s then-Deputy Leader, Nikki Kaye, fronted for an interview instead of then-Leader, Todd Muller. Two days later, we understood why: Mr Muller had stepped down as Party Leader as he faced a personal health crisis.

The next Leader of the National Party will most likely be Mark Mitchell and it will happen sometime next year.

The public must have looked aghast at National lack of self-discipline and its apparent determination to self-destruct at every opportunity.

Destabilising leadership changes; on-going shambles within National; an incoherent economic message;  were but a few reasons why voters deserted that Party.

More simply, New Zealanders did not trust National to keep them safe from covid.

National is a Party that has consistently branded itself as the Party for private enterprise; pro-business; and Economic Managers. It has been the political DNA of that party since it’s inception.

And business interests – led by vociferous agitators such as Universities; tourist industry; and especially Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett  – have been demanding that the economy be kept open so their capitalist enterprises can continue to make a profit.

New Zealanders have eyes and we have seen what happens overseas when “wealth takes priority over health”: people get sick and people die.

How long before National caved to business calls to further open up the economy, despite the risks of reintroducing covid19? I would give it less than six months.

New Zealanders trusted Prime Minister Ardern to stand up to the business community. They had no such trust in Judith Collins.

In final analysis, National had nothing of substance to offer voters. It had “answers” – but not answers to the questions now confronting us as a nation. They were answers that may have been valid for the Global Financial Crisis (and even that is highly questionable) – but not for a virus.

Labour was fighting a 2020 election.

National was still in 2017.

Green Party

Unlike several political pundits and media commentators, I had little doubt the Greens would be back in Parliament. In fact, once Special Votes are counted, they may pick up one or two extra MPs. After “Specials” were counted in 2017, Labour and the Greens each gained an extra MP, with National losing two (Nicola Willis and Maureen Pugh).

National’s hurt may yet get worse.

Chlöe  Swarbrick’s election may yet be a sign of things to come as younger generations of New Zealanders learn to flex their electoral “muscle” and finally take on the Baby Boomers and their housing empire. Ms Swarbrick is one to watch. She is not just charismatic a-la Jacinda Ardern, but has the Leadership “X” Factor.

Contrast Ms Swarbrick to Labour’s Helen White. Ms White did herself no favours on TVNZ’s Q+A on 4 October, when she patronisingly demanded Ms Swarbrick to stand aside in Auckland so she wouldn’t split the Left vote (thereby allowing National’s Emma Mellow to win the electorate).

Bad form, Ms White. Entitlement is best left to National – they excel at the practice.

As to whether or not the Greens should (or could) become part of this government is largely academic. Labour’s majority means just that – it’s a majority.

But does Labour really want a Leftwing Opposition as well as two Rightwing oppositions?

If Ms Ardern is smart, she’ll pull the Greens into the Parliamentary “tent”. It’ll be much cosier. And the Greens can be valuable allies, especially when it comes to National’s appalling track record on the environment.

Labour

If there is one single masterful move National made during this election, it was to box Labour into a corner by making Jacinda Ardern promise, with hand-on-heart: no new taxes. This will stymie the incoming government unless (a) the economy suddenly revives and the tax-take increases or (b) the government borrows more money.

Either way, this may prove to be the only “handbrake” to the incoming government – but a major one at that.

Otherwise, Labour has no other excuses anymore. It has the majority and it has the mandate.

Get on with it.

Because if the next three years are squandered by “playing it safe”, then the inevitable question will be asked by Team Five Million: what use are you?

The four top priorities for this government must be (in purely alphabetical order);

  1. Child poverty
  2. Climate change
  3. Housing
  4. Jobs

You kept Aotearoa safe these last eight months, Prime Minister Ardern. Now do those four.

New Conservatives and Advance NZ

Conspiracy fantasists have usually been little more than mildly amusing discussion topics at dinner parties. But with the advent of a global pandemic, their jaw-droppingly childish ideas about covid19 could affect all of us. Suddenly, they were not so amusing and we were not smiling.

Their ignorance was a potential threat to our well-being. Luckily, Prime Minister Ardern’s actions to contain and eradicate the virus in Aotearoa meant that the mass gatherings of New Conservatives and Advance NZ supporters would not turn into a super-spreader event – like this one;

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Trump super spreader

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We were lucky indeed.

Otherwise they would be the death of us.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

NZ First

New Zealand voters finally “got it”.

By voting for a political party that refused to disclose who they would coalesce with, in essence they were taking people’s votes and turning them into a “blank cheque”.

When NZ First coalesced with Labour in 2017, it annoyed those NZF supporters who leaned toward National.

When NZ First acted as a “handbrake” to Labour and Green initiatives, it annoyed those NZF supporters who leaned to the left.

Result? 2.7% on election night – down from 7.2% in 2017. That’s a lot of people who were annoyed for one reason or another.

The biggest loss with the demise of New Zealand First was Tracey Martin – one of NZ First’s best and most capable ministers. A suggestion to Prime Minister-elect Ardern – pull Ms Martin into the Labour Party fold. This woman has too much political talent to allow to go to waste.

As for Winston Peters – despite evidence obtained by RNZ’s Guyon Espiner that Winston Peters was “neck deep” in the secretive “NZ First Foundation” – Aotearoa owes much to this veteran politician.

Had he chosen a different path; had Mr Peters opted for a National-NZ First coalition (as many of his supporters expected), history would have been vastly different.

As pointed out above, National would have acquiesced to business calls to keep the economy open. It is doubtful if Simon Bridges would have closed our borders to tourism; or locked down for over a month; or re-locked Auckland in August.

It may not be to overly dramatic to suggest that, by choosing Labour, Winston Peters gave this country the right Leader at the right time, and saved lives.

As former NZ Listener editor, Finlay Macdonald said on Twitter;

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Findlay Twitter

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Former member of Parliament for NZ First and then National, Tau Henare, told this blogger he fully agreed with Mr Macdonald’s observation.

Winston Peters’ legacy? He gave us Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

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References

NZ Film Commission: The Quiet Earth

Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand: The National Party – Leaders

Stuff media: Election 2020 – National’s fiscal hole appears to double to $8 billion as Paul Goldsmith denies double count mistake

TVNZ:  ‘That’s factually incorrect’ – Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins trade blows over child poverty

TVNZ: Recap – Collins, Ardern give final pitch to voters in TVNZ’s leaders’ debate

RNZ: National promises $4.7bn in tax cuts in economic and tax policy

Otago Daily Times: Watch – National promises ‘massive’ tax cuts

TVNZ: Q+A – National defends targeting middle-income earners with 16-month tax relief

Newshub:  Judith Collins defends National’s idea to spend COVID-19 fund, laughs at typo in Labour’s financial plan

Newshub: NZ Election 2020 – National wants to suspend new Super Fund contributions

Twitter: @nznationalparty – 8.09PM – Oct 15 2020

RNZ: National’s Gerry Brownlee admits he made a ‘huge mistake’ during electioneering

Stuff media: Woodhouse’s isolation homeless mystery man claim debunked

RNZ: National MP Hamish Walker admits leaking Covid-19 patient details

TVNZ: National MP says Judith Collins ‘bullied’ another MP in her party

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 8.01 PM – Oct 17, 2020

NZ Herald:  Judith Collins sets her own sacking point: 35 per cent in the polls

Stuff media: Election 2020 Results

Wikipedia: 2002 New Zealand general election

Newshub: Judith Collins opens up on internal polling, blames leaked email from Denise Lee for drop in numbers

Newsroom:  Collins clinging on after National’s heavy defeat

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 9.02 AM – Oct 18, 2020

TVNZ: Judith Collins says obesity is ‘generally’ a weakness, urges personal responsibility over blaming the ‘system’

NZ Herald: Helen Clark steps down after Labour’s loss in NZ election

Newshub:  Mark Mitchell distances himself from Judith Collins’ obesity comments, Gerry Brownlee says his weight is his responsibility

TVNZ: Q+A – Mark Mitchell – 18 October 2020

NZ Herald:  Todd Muller quits as National Party leader for health reasons

TVNZ: All businesses should be allowed to stay open if NZ moves to Level 4 – Auckland business leader

Stuff media: Election Results – Labour and Greens take two seats from National

TVNZ: Q+A – Helen White – Emma Mellow – Chlöe Swarbrick – 4 October 2020

The Atlantic:  The Virus Is Coming From Inside the White House

Wikipedia: 2017 General Election

RNZ: Exclusive – The secret case of the NZ First Foundation

Stuff media: NZ First voters preferred National to Labour at 2017 election by wide margin

Twitter: @MacFinlay – 9.33 PM – Oct 17, 2020

Additional

Gordon Campbell: On Why The Greens Shouldn’t Join The Government

Previous related blogposts

Life in level 1: Newshub Nation, Q + A, and the end of Todd Muller’s leadership

Life in Level 1: The Doom of National

Life in Level 2: National’s Barely Secret Agenda

Life in Level 2: Two Tier Welfare; A Green School; Right Rage,

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election 2020 nz

Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 October2020.

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= fs =

Life in Level 2: Two Tier Welfare; A Green School; Right Rage, Wrong Reason

8 September 2020 4 comments

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A Green School…

If the media and some of my fellow Green Party members could pause and breathe for a moment – a word or two (thousand) on the recent announcement by Green Party co-leader and Associate Minister of Finance, James Shaw, on the $11.7 million expansion project at the privately-run Green School in Taranaki.

Briefly, the project was financed as part of the Covid19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF), which, as Treasury explains;

As part of Budget 2020 the Government established the CRRF and set aside $50 billion to support a response to and recovery from COVID-19. The CRRF is a funding envelope for budget management purposes, rather than an actual sum of money ring fenced in the Government’s accounts. The fiscal implications of several new measures have been managed against the CRRF during April and early May. As at 14 May 2020, the Government had committed $29.8 billion of the CRRF, of which $13.9 billion had been announced prior to Budget Day as part of an ongoing response to COVID-19, leaving $20.2 billion of funding remaining.

On 14 May 2020, the CRRF Foundational Package was announced, totalling $12.0 billion in operating expenditure and $3.9 billion in capital expenditure over the forecast period.

Basically, the CRRF has funded everything from an advertisement warning parents of the perils of internet pornography on young people – to the wages subsidy to private companies. Radio NZ has benefitted with a $21.75m funding boost. The $900 million loan to Air New Zealand is also covered by this Fund.

The Fund has also paid out $52.5 million dollars to the racing industry along with additional payments from the Provincial Growth Fund;

The support package consists of:

    • $50 million dollar relief grant for the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA)
    • Up to $20 million in funding to construct two new All Weather race tracks.
    • $2.5 million dollars for the Department of Internal Affairs to fast track work on the online gambling revenue, and address loss of revenue impacts on community and sport groups.

“Of the immediate grant, $26 million will be used by RITA to pay its outstanding supplier bill which it hasn’t be able to do because of strangled revenue. The other share of this package will ensure RITA, and each of the racing codes, can maintain a baseline functionality and resume racing activities.” said Mr Peters.

“The racing industry is seriously underestimated for its economic contribution. For this reason the Government will also consider recapitalising the industry to help promote a quicker recovery and achieve a greater economic outcome.

The Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) is closely linked to the racing betting industry through the TAB;

“As we transition to TAB New Zealand we do so knowing that, despite the enormous challenges presented by COVID, RITA has delivered on the Racing Minister’s expectations which were set out last year. The Board is grateful for his ongoing commitment and support, as well as from those across Government and Parliament who have supported the charge to reform the industry over the past two years.” – Executive Chair Dean McKenzie

There has been little “uproar” that the Covid19 relief fund has been used to prop up the gambling industry in Aotearoa New Zealand.

It is from this same Fund that the privately run “Green School” was funded. With over one hundred jobs to be created from this project and flow-on benefits to the community, this is precisely why the Covid Fund was established.

However, the project funding has been condemned by a wide range of groups and individuals, such as Taranaki Secondary Schools’ Principals’ Association chairperson, Martin Chamberlain;

“We would like a retraction of it because it’s clearly a logistical error. The Green School is a privately-owned institution and any benefit coming to it goes into one individual’s pocket.”

Education union NZEI Te Riu Roa, national secretary, Paul Goulter, added his opposition;

“We just don’t see any role for public funding for private schools and in terms of the Greens, they have exactly that same policy so it certainly came out of left field.

We would obviously like to see the funding pulled. I have a deep suspicion that’s not possible at this stage.”

Former Green MP, Catherine Delahunty, lobbed her own political “grenade” into the loud chorus of outrage;

“Although this project, this money, came out of the Provincial Growth Fund, for infrastructure, schools are infrastructure, and I think that it’d be great if James as minister who made this mistake owned it, and did his best to make sure that the money went to the people that actually need it.

I feel very strongly about this. Public quality education took a total bashing under the National government and has not yet recovered. They brought in national standards, charter schools and underfunding like we’ve never seen before.”

And just to give the knife a twist, she added;

I think that James as minister has become isolated from the party to some degree, in the sense of his instinct didn’t tell him that this was never going to fly with the Green Party, and that our policies are never to fund private schools.

According to Ms Delahunty, other former Green MPs Denise Roche and Mojo Mathers were also “furious”.

To be crystal clear, this blogger has no truck with Charter schools. Even taxpayer funding of private schools is problematic for a variety of reasons; equity; selective use of tax money to subsidise private business; public support of elitism; etc. This blogger has roundly condemned Charter schools in the past and these views have not changed one iota: they are a sly, back-door agenda to privatise education. (See “Previous related blogposts” links below.)

In “normal times”, the criticism levelled against James Shaw would be valid.

But as anyone who has been paying attention to global events can point out, these are not “normal times”. Not when the entire country is effectively cut off from the rest of the world and unemployment is set to skyrocket.

When a government sets aside $50 billion for a recovery fund – with hardly a murmur of dissent from former hardline, free-market, minimalist-government, neo-liberal acolytes – we are living in “interesting times” indeed.

But is the pile-on that has been directed at James Shaw warranted?

Or is it just that: a political pile-on?

Part of the criticism levelled at the Green School is that it is apparently a “hot bed” of new agey weirdness, conspiracy fantasists, preparing to inculcate bizarre anti-science ideas into the minds of impressionable young people.

However, the Green School website makes no references to UN covid-conspiracies, crystals, “DNA activation”, angels, etc. Which is unusual, as conspiracy fantasists usually make no secret of their bizarre, quasi-religious beliefs.

The story originally ‘broke’ on Stuff media on 27 August and related solely to funding a private school which was apparently at odds with Green Party policy. Which hardly seemed newsworthy as the three-party coalition government often implemented policies that were at variance – and conflicted with – their own respective policy-agendas.

The turn to weirdness came a few days later. A search engine check of where the link to crystals and conspiracies came from points to a media article dated the 31st of August;

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green school

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Yes, Newshub. That fountain of newsworthy and accurate information.

It appears that the school itself did not organise the so-called “sacred event”. It was run by school parents, Christof and Alaya Melchizedek.

The sensationalised story was later picked up by Stuff media; Newsroom; and Radio NZ. Right-wing blogger, David Farrar, at Kiwiblog had fun with it as well. (Though can’t blame David for that.)

The worst that can be levelled at the school in this instance is that they have been “tarred” by the same brush as two conspiracy-minded parents. It is not the first time a school or University has been criticised for hosting an event, despite having no real connection to the organisers.

Wellington High School faced a back-lash from students and others in the community in late 2004/early 2005 when it was revealed that Destiny Church was holding meetings at the school’s hall. As organisors of the protest explained;

“The time has come for Destiny Church to leave our school. Since September we have urged them to leave, we have been more than patient and yet our tolerance has been abused. Destiny Church and its affiliated political party, Destiny New Zealand, are a destructive force who preach hate out of schools’, and this is not ok!”

It is, however incredibly ironic that in a school where there is a support group for homosexuals and sexually questioning members of our society, that this church would continue to rent Wellington High. Destiny Church does not reflect the community or culture of Wellington High School, if anything they are the antithesis of what it is our school stands for.”

Being unfairly tarred by a brush of bigotry is one reason by Massey University wanted nothing to do with former National Party leader and serial-racist, Don Brash and banned him from speaking on their grounds;

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas saying she didn’t want a “te tiriti led university be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours”

A scrutiny of the Green School’s website not only shows a glaring lack of conspiracy fantasies; bizarre “spiritual” beliefs, etc – but that the only things planted were not crystals – but plants;

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Regenerative Agriculture Workshop

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Gumboots and grass and not a crystal in sight.

Fifty million-plus dollars thrown at the racing and gambling industry – no one bats an eyelid.

Twelve million to be spent on a school – and people lose their minds.

Should we be sending our kids to the race track, perhaps?

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…And a Two-Two Welfare System

On the 26 of May, Welfare Minister Carmel Sepuloni introduced the Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill. As RNZ reported;

The government is introducing a new relief payment for those who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, while they find new employment or retrain.

The payment would be available for 12 weeks from 8 June for New Zealand citizens or residents who had lost their job as a impact of the virus since 1 March.

Those who apply would be required to actively seek suitable work, and take steps towards employment, including making use of redeployment or training.

It will pay $490 a week for those who lost full-time work and $250 for part time workers – including students.

The payments will be untaxed.

People with working partners may also be eligible, as long as their partner is earning under $2000 per week.

The new “income relief payment” was essentially a beefed-up unemployed benefit for workers losing their jobs due to the covid19 epidemic. It would be administered by the Ministry for Social Development.

It was passed in the House, through all three readings, in one day.  Six days later, it was given Royal Assent.

Minister Sepuloni launched the Bill in the House and explained why it was necessary;

“We know that many people who may be faced with job loss might not qualify for a benefit. In ordinary times, we’d expect many of these people to quickly find other work or manage their costs over time without extra support. However, these unprecedented times we face mean many of these families and individuals will be under pressure to get back on their feet quickly to meet their living costs but will be doing this in a different labour market than they have faced before. This payment will provide a cushion for up to 12 weeks for people who experience a job loss between 1 March and 30 October this year and whose partners earn under $2,000 per week. The payment has two rates: $490 for those previously in full-time employment, and $250 for people previously in part-time employment. We know that some people may need additional income support; so, if eligible, recipients can access supplementary and hardship assistance from the Ministry of Social Development.

This bill ensures that entitlement to this additional assistance will accurately reflect people’s circumstances by taking this payment into account when determining eligibility.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson also advocated strongly for the new benefit;

“We do understand how tough it has been for people who have experienced a sudden drop in income and are now looking for further job opportunities and to retrain.”

The fact that this is the third time that governments have needed to do something like this in the wake of a crisis is an indication that we need to look at a possible enduring solution when it comes to people who experience an immediate drop in income.”

The “income relief payment” differs from the usual unemployment benefit in two major areas:

  1. The amount of the “income relief payment” is $490 per week (tax free) – almost twice that of the regular, maximum  unemployment benefit of $250.74
  2. Partners of unemployed receiving the “income relief payment” can be in paid work (up to $2,000 per week!) and this does not affect the IRP. Partners of pre-covid beneficiaries earning the original, lesser unemployment benefit (net, $250.74 p/w) cannot be in paid work, or else it will affect their payments. It also attracts unwanted attention from MSD who constantly pry into beneficiaries private lives.

The Covid Unemployed are apparently an elite, special group of beneficiaries for whom the regular payment of $250.74 – without employed partners – was beneath their dignity.

This blatant discrimination did not go un-noticed by beneficiaries support groups and other former Green Party MPs.

Beneficiary advocate, Kay Brereton, said:

“The benefit is simply not enough to survive on. It is galling.  It acknowledges that by setting the rate at almost twice the rate that someone can get on a single rate of jobseeker.”

Thinktank The Workshop co-director, Jess Berentson-Shaw, pointed out the obvious;

“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel here. The things that help people outside of a pandemic are the same things that help people in a pandemic.”

Former Green MP, Sue Bradford was scathing;

“There has rarely been a more blatant case of discrimination against beneficiaries than Grant Robertson’s announcement yesterday that people who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus will receive weekly payments of $490 per week for 12 weeks and $250 per week for part time workers.

This is great news for those who qualify. Fabulous. That $490 per week is almost double the $250 per week you get on the standard 25+ Jobseeker Allowance and much closer to anything approaching a liveable minimal income.

On top of that, the new benefit also allows people in relationships to access support if they meet the criteria and their partner earns less than $2000 per week before tax.

And unlike the usual system, the new payments do not appear to be age dependent. So the historically ridiculous assumption that the younger you are, the less money you need to live on does not apply to this new category of claimants.

[…]

Labour has revealed once again its decades-long predilection for categorising people into the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, an ideology straight out of the 19th century England from which many Pākehā settler forebears came.”

Pre-covid welfare beneficeries were also less than enthusiastic about the new level of benefit payment.

Mother of two teenagers, and living in a state house, Agnes Magele is barely able survive on $243 a week;

“Sometimes I go to food banks if I have to. I have to do what I have to do so that and my kids get by each week. It’s really, really hard to live on that small income from the benefit.  It’s like a real kick in the gut.

It sounds like the government is saying that the people who have lost their jobs through Covid are deserving of an extra $250 on top of a normal benefit, as opposed to those who have already been on a benefit. It would help me pay off my debts a little bit faster and a lot of bills too [if she were getting $490 a week]. I’ll be able to afford to get me and the kids decent, decent food each week.”

The above RNZ story reported on how other beneficiaries were trying to cope.

On RNZ’s The Panel, on 1 September,  Phil O’Reilly – former Chief Executive of Business NZ and member of the Welfare Expert Advisory Grouprepeated his criticisms of current benefit levels;

“Being on welfare is an entirely stressful experience.

[…]

It’s pretty clear that the payments being made just weren’t sufficient.”

Mr O’Reilly can hardly be described as a card-carrying socialist.

Former Greens co-leader, Metiria Turei, who sacrificed her parliamentary career revealing how she had been forced to rort the welfare system to survive had one succint thing to say about her former Party and the two-tier welfare system they had voted for;

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It was a lie that cost her her career. And now from the outside Turei is kicking the fight up a gear - calling her former party's Government partners a "pack of c**ts".

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Meanwhile, in the same story, Mediaworks/Newshub reported that;

The Green Party is revolting against the Government’s new payments for those who lose their jobs to COVID.

Co-leader Marama Davidson has called it unfair to beneficiaries who are paid much less – and a former co-leader has used a much stronger word to describe the Government.

Revolting“?

Calling it unfair“?

Far from it. Parliament’s Hansard’s reveal that Green MPs supported the Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill;

“It’s a pleasure to rise and speak to this bill and just to point out that the Opposition make it very clear that there is no choice for us, because, if it’s between at least making progress for some versus the drive to the bottom on that side, then, actually, this is a step forward. It may not be what we want, and it’s not, but, boy, is it better than the alternative.

What I want to say is that the Greens—at the heart of our position is a belief that everyone should have enough to be able to sustain themselves and that we want a welfare system that is resilient and works for everyone. And we are a long way from that, and we have a lot of work to do. That work has started, but we’re not happy with where it’s at. We want more work to go on.” – Jan Logie, First Reading

“So I really just also want to say we are supporting this bill, and the reason for that is, well, we want everyone else to come up to this. I do just want to talk to the fact that the reason for that is we know that people in our communities are struggling. We know that the queues for food parcels and outside Work and Income offices are growing and that the Auckland City Mission –

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This is at the heart of what this initiative is. I think that is in the long term a conversation for us as a country, where we’ve heard very clearly that people do not want a two-tier welfare system—and we agree with that—and that people really are now coming towards realising we need to increase main benefits and ensure everyone can live in dignity. Where does our support sit for the interconnection between redundancy and that welfare system? The Green Party does believe there is work to explore in this space, and at this moment in time, this policy is a response to that. ” – Jan Logie, Second Reading

“Our first position was to further increase benefits and to remove the conditionality of access to those benefits so that the existing system that we had could be strengthened to work for all of us through this time.

We didn’t achieve that. Does that mean that we should turn our backs on a group of people being able to access support? That’s our choice. Our answer was, considering on our principles, no. We should not turn our backs on some people being able to get more just because we were not able to achieve our goals for this transformation for our society. We will keep working towards that, and you hear that through this debate. We are not stepping away from that whatsoever; however, we do recognise that this delivers more to people in need, and we are not going to subject more people to the flawed aspects of our system when we don’t need to.Jan Logie, Third Reading

Their support may have been luke-warm at best, but on all three readings the Greens voted in favour of the Bill, along with Labour and NZ First. Their eight votes in Parliament enabled this law.

Despite their stated intention to support what is currently a two tier welfare system to “keep working to raise all welfare levels” – nothing else has happened. Pre-covid beneficiaries struggle to survive on $250.74 (net); Post-covid beneficiaries recieve almost twice that.

On top of which the partners of post-covid beneficiaries can  earn up to $2,000 a week, unmolested by MSD.

Try applying those same rules to pre-covid unemployed.

Meanwhile, The University of Auckland, Child Poverty Action Group, Auckland Action Against Poverty, and FIRST Union collaborated on a project to determine how well pre and post-covid beneficiaries were doing on their respective benefits. Spoiler: the results were entirely predictable;

The Covid income relief payment provides $490 a week for people who have lost full-time work because of the pandemic, whereas some people on the jobseeker benefit get just $250.

University of Auckland sociologist Louise Humpage said early findings suggest the $25 a week increase to benefits announced by the government in March is making little or no difference to low income households.

They did get some benefit from the doubling of the winter energy payment, but that is only a temporary initiative.

But people on the higher Covid income relief payment reported fewer occasions where they have been unable to meet basic costs.

“They seem to have reserves from elsewhere,” Humpage said.

“We asked questions about, ‘do you have passive income?’, ‘do you have a house that you own?’, and at present, they seem to be buffered by those extra resources.”

The RNZ story pointed out the blinding obvious;

Humpage said the early findings suggested that benefit levels need to rise.

“I think there is general consensus that benefits are too low at present and I think this Covid-19 payment is a reflection that it’s actually too low for most people.”

What an unsurprising conclusion.

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Right Rage, Wrong Reason

In voting for the Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill, the Green Party has failed all those people who were on welfare benefits pre-covid.

This was a platinum-plated opportunity to either raise benefits for everyone, regarding of pre or post-covid status – or not to support the new $490 per week “income relief payment” for anyone.

Had they presented this choice to Labour it would have been an interesting challenge. Would Labour have dared to call the Greens bluff?

If so, the result would have been spectacular – for the Middle Class. For perhaps only the second time in recent history (the first during the Global Financial Crisis), comfortable middle class New Zealanders would have had a painful, jarring lesson in what it means to live on basic welfare.

If you think the amplified whinging from a tiny minority of quarantined Returnees was bad enough – the shrieking howls of outrage and entitlement from recently unemployed middle class class workers might have been heard through the vacuum of space to the far side of the Moon.

Even the term “income relief payment” de-stigmatises unemployment welfare for the middle class. Pre-covid enemployed still recieve “the benefit”.

The Greens missed that opportunity.

Suggestions that the Greens had to swallow a dead rat would be an insult. It is the pre-covid unemployed who were fed dead rats with the passing of the Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill.

Writing for Newsroom, Sam Sachdeva said this;

As a whole, the saga plays into two distinct but damaging stereotypes of the Green Party and its supporters: as chardonnay socialists whose talk about supporting the poor isn’t backed up by action, and as Morris-dancing, science-hating kooks.

Neither is entirely accurate, but each has enough of a grain of truth that there is a risk of the mud sticking.

He has a point.

As much as the Green Party is doing “god’s” work to drive home the existential threat of Climate Change; their ongoing efforts to clean up our environment; and to prevent the further degradation of our land, forests, and waterways – their half-hearted actions regarding critical social issues sometimes leave much to be desired.

The spectacle of Green Party MPs and some supporters venting their rage to such a degree as to force James Shaw – a thoroughly decent politician – to utterly humiliate himself with a public apology – while barely uttering a word in protest against an indefensible two tier welfare system that reeks of double standards, discrimination, and coded beneficiary bashing – is breath-taking.

If flogging a private school is what some of my fellow Green Party members are willing to die-in-the-ditch for instead of  working for our fellow New Zealanders at the bottom of the financial heap, then they’ve been sipping too much from the kool-chardonnay.

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Disclosure:

This blogger is a Green Party supporter.

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References

RNZ:  Government to pump $11.7m into privately-run Green School in Taranaki

Treasury: Summary of Initiatives in the Covid19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF) Foundational Package

Stuff media: Coronavirus – What is the $50b Covid Response and Recovery Fund being spent on?

Beehive:  Emergency support for Racing’s recovery

TAB NZ:  Transition to TAB New Zealand complete

RNZ:  Critics pile on Green private school funding boost

NZ Herald:  Schools ‘horrified’ at Greens backing $11.7m grant for exclusive private school

RNZ:  Catherine Delahunty criticises govt’s $11.7m funding for ‘green’ private school

RNZ:  Critics pile on Green private school funding boost

Green School: Specialisation

Stuff media: Greens caught bending party policy to grant $11.7m to private school in Taranaki

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Couple who called COVID-19 ‘manufactured natural disaster’ held ‘DNA activation’ event at Green School

RNZ:  Green School at centre of $12m funding debacle struggling with backlash

Stuff media: Couple who endorsed Covid-19 conspiracy theories hosted ‘sacred ceremony’ at Green School

Newsroom:  Shaw’s sorrow crystal clear as Greens face heat over private school

Kiwiblog:  The $12 million school hosted a DNA activation event!

NZ Herald:  High school students rally against church

Scoop media: Campaign to remove Destiny Church from our schools

Otago Daily Times:  Brash back on campus after ban

Green School: Community and Activities

Parliament:  Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill

RNZ:  Relief payments for people who lost jobs due to Covid-19 announced

Parliament:  Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill — First Reading

MSD:  Jobseeker Support cut-out points (current)

RNZ:  Welfare advocates not happy with Covid-19 unemployment benefit

RNZ/The Pundit:  Sue Bradford – Labour betrays its traditions – and most vulnerable – with two-tier welfare payments

RNZ:  Covid-19 unemployment pay ‘real kick in the gut’, beneficiaries say

Welfare Expert Advisory Group: Phil O’Reilly

RNZ: The Panel – Phil O’Reilly – 1 September 2020 (alt.link)

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Former Green Party leader Metiria Turei puts Government on blast over new payment scheme

Parliament:  Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill — Second Reading

Parliament:  Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill — Third Reading

RNZ:  Covid income relief payment recipients fare better than those on the dole, survey finds

Newsroom:  Shaw’s sorrow crystal clear as Greens face heat over private school

NZ Herald:  Green Party co-leader James Shaw fronts on private school funding controversy

Other Blogs

The Pundit:  Labour betrays its traditions – and the most vulnerable – with two-tier welfare payments

Previous related blogposts

Privatisation of our schools?!

Q+A – 5 August 2012

Christchurch, choice, and charter schools

Charter Schools – John Key’s re-assurances

Charter Schools – contrary to ACT’s free market principles?

Privatisation of our schools?!

Charter Schools – Another lie from John Banks!

Charter Schools in a Post-Truth Era

A little warning regarding Charter Schools

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(*or Middle Class, in this case)

Acknowledgement: Tom Scott

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 September 2020.

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= fs =

Life in Level 2: National’s Barely Secret Agenda

28 August 2020 2 comments

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national business virus covid19

 

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National has come out of it’s corner fighting hard. With Labour’s recent high polling on TV3 and TV1, National faces a colossal election defeat, the worst since 2002.

This has forced National to adapt it’s “tough on crime” cliches to the current microscopic threat against our wellbeing. National is now “tough on covid“.

The phrasing is slightly altered, but the “tough on XYZ” image is not changed or diluted one iota. It is appealing to it’s rump base and to those New Zealanders who are pissed of at quarantine fence-jumpers; resent having to use their taxes to pay for Returnees’ quarantining; and or who feel that quarantine procedures/testing have been too lax, whether for Returnees or Border staff.

This is all fertile soil upon which National can sow its seeds of resentment and fear, and harvest a rich crop of votes.

They have not disappointed.

Their latest Border Protection policyissued “only” six months after the first recorded case of Covid19 in Aotearoa New Zealand on 28 February – is a study in punitive restrictions; over promising; vagueness; and… of course, very much business-friendly.

It is also a masterpiece of deflection.

The document has been widely presented with the main msm narrative that all Returnees planning to board an aircraft must first present a negative covid test;

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msm headlines - national covid19

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True to her “crusher” form, Opposition Leader Judith Collins has presented a staunch – almost authoritarian figure – determined to keep covid19 out of Aotearoa New Zealand;

“We will make sure that it is legal because … we will change the law if necessary.

We know that there will be some concerns about the Bill of Rights Act and peoples’ human rights, we understand that. And we also understand that this is always a balancing situation between the rights of an individual who may be feeling that they shouldn’t have to have a test to come back into New Zealand, but let’s look at it this way, right at the moment the law has been changed so when they are here they have penalties. So what’s the problem?

The answer surely must be. We don’t want Covid-19, and no New Zealander wants Covid-19 here.”

Those unable to get pre-tested and obtain a negative would not be allowed back into the country, according to Ms Collins.

However, aside from the sheer illegality of such a draconian step, the practicality and certainty of pre-testing Returnees prior to boarding their flights back home has been questioned.

More than one person has pointed out it is possible to be asymptomatic and return a negative result – only to test positive later. Or to contract the virus in-flight, from others.

Ms Collins and National’s health spokesperson, Dr Shane Reti, both insist this policy has been written in consultation with epidemiologists. Neither have disclosed who those epidemiologist(s) are.

Said Ms Collins;

“We have epidemiologists who are working with us. I’m not going to name them…”

Dr Reti also declined to name them;

“We’re grateful for those networks of trust and those relationships. If they want to identify themselves, they will.”

Such coyness.

Let’s hope it was not Dr Thornley, a maverick epidemiologist who has touted the “herd immunity” option and praised Sweden’s strategy of allowing the virus to sweep through the population. (Even though Sweden’s death toll from covid19 now stands at a staggering 5,810 – despite that country having only twice our population.)

Or perhaps it was the “Emotional Junior Staffer“? Or Michael Woodhouse’ “Homeless Man“? National abounds with mysterious characters, it would appear.

However, a closer scrutiny of National’s policy documents “Securing New Zealand’s border against COVID-19” and it’s in-depth version “Securing Our Border“, reveals that there is a ‘fish hook’ in their policy on handling covid-19.

The latter document, “Securing Our Border” contains just four short references to the complex (and probably unworkable) suggestion that New Zealanders be pre-tested prior to returning home;

Receiving returning Kiwis and visitors at the border, and ensuring pre-border checks for people coming into New Zealand. (p2)

National would follow international models and require people coming into the country to not only quarantine but also receive a test for COVID-19, or a subsequent pandemic virus, three days before departure and provide the results of that test to airline staff before boarding their plane. (p3)

National would […] Require people travelling to New Zealand to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving into New Zealand. (p3)

National would […] [Require] Pre boarding thermal imaging and completion of health declaration card. (p3)

It is interesting to note that there is no reference made whatsoever to what would happen to a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident if they tested positive for covid19. The policy document does not address this critical point.

When it comes to lock-downs and business needs, the document is more fulsome. Note the highlighted parts:

Preparing for a more effective response to future outbreaks, should they occur. Lockdowns, if needed, can be more targeted shorter in duration, while protecting our most vulnerable. (p1)

Facilitating planning with businesses to ensure safe practices. Specifically tailoring plans for small business, retailers and manufacturers. (p2)

This report, and the examples of high-quality contact tracing and testing systems internationally, provide confidence that similar systems in New Zealand could allow for less intrusive lockdowns in the event of an isolated outbreak. (p4)

National would implement the following […] Ensuring consisten