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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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= fs =

 

 

 

 

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 4 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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Life in Level 2: National’s Barely Secret Agenda

28 August 2020 1 comment

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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 consistency and capacity within the contact tracing system is critical to achieving the goals of a rapid contact tracing system that would help manage any isolated incidents of COVID-19 beyond the border and to limit the need of intensive lockdowns across the country. (p4)

If lockdowns do occur, we must help our economy so that commerce can continue through lockdowns and people can continue work. […] Lockdowns are a short-term intervention that come at a tremendous cost to businesses and our economy. In the long term, New Zealand cannot afford to shut down or slow our entire economy even if there is a localised incursion. (p6)

National is concerned the lessons of the first lockdown were not closely studied to provide an improved response during the August lockdown. Continuous improvement of our systems is required so that lockdowns become more targeted and effective, with minimal impact on our communities and the economy. For example, where small businesses like butchers and greengrocers can demonstrate and implement or plan to operate safely, they should be allowed to do so. (p6)

In a press statement, National’s Covid-19 Border Response spokesperson, Gerry Brownlee, reaffirmed his Party’s intention to localise lockdowns  (alt.link);

“Continuous improvement of our systems is required so that lockdowns become more targeted and effective, with minimal impact on our communities and the economy.”

Almost every paragraph contains a reference to limiting lockdowns. The terms “isolated outbreak“, “localised incursion”, “less intrusive lockdowns”, and “lockdowns become more targeted” are suggestive of National pursuing the failed limited ‘post-code’-based lockdowns in various Melbourne suburbs that were utterly ineffectual to contain their current outbreak;

…the current restrictions still allow significant movement of people between suburbs and to work. Face-to-face teaching in schools is still permitted, and there is no limit on the number of people in supermarkets and shopping centres.

This was National’s coded message to the business community: that under a National government, any lockdown would be localised and not encompass an entire city. As much as they could get away with, it would be business-as-usual.

The over-hyped references to pre-testing returning New Zealanders (without disclosing what would happen if they failed a covid test) was a noisy distraction so the media and the public would look elsewhere, missing the true message buried within the text of the policy document.

But the business community would have read the document. They would have noticed the carefully nuanced references to “less intrusive lockdowns”, and “lockdowns become more targeted” and understood the meaning perfectly well.

Under a National Government, the economy would take priority. End of.

National learned its lesson when it endorsed allowing foreign students to return to this country. At a time when our MIQ (Mandatory Isolation and Quarantine) facilities were struggling to cope with nearly 40,000 Returnees – Universities were noisily agitating to allow foreign students back in.

The suggestion was that Universities would look after their own quarantine facilities;

Victoria University of Wellington has a plan for international students’ quarantine it will put to government, in the hope students will be allowed back before the border reopens.

[…]

Victoria University of Wellington vice-chancellor Grant Guilford said they had had a plan since late February for a strict quarantine.

The university had identified three facilities in the capital that could take students.

[…]

Quarantine would be supervised by university staff and possibly public health officials as well.

Only a few days ago (19 August), Universities were still touting and pressuring the government to re-admit foreign students into Aotearoa New Zealand;

Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said Australia was following in the footsteps of places like Canada and the United Kingdom by bringing international students back.

New Zealand risked being left behind if students could not return by early next year, and it could take 10 years for the international student sector, which is worth $5 billion to the economy annually, to get back on track.

He believed the Australian programme could work in New Zealand.

We can all guess how that would turn out.

Not very well, would be the correct answer.

In case anyone was in doubt, this is how such a scenario might play out if Universities got their way;

First week: foreign students enter the country. They are taken to quarantine hotels run by Victoria University staff and private security guards in Wellington. The public is assured all students will remain in strict quarantine; not mingle; not leave the facility; obey protocols,etc, etc, etc…

Second week: first reports in the media of students partying; mingling; co-habiting; venturing out to bottle stores to buy alcohol and pizza. Security guards unable to stop them: they do not have police powers. University staff: nowhere to be seen.

Third week: more reports of partying and absconding. Local Wellington apartment dwellers tell media students are coming and going without hindrance.

Fourth week: first cases of covid19 detected in Wellington. Source “unclear”.

Fifth week: more cases of covid19 detected. Source identified through genomic sequencing as coming from student in one of the hotel facilities.

Sixth week: University management blame “systemic failures” and “undertake to review systems/protocols”.

Seventh week: Wellington goes into Level 3 lockdown. Blogger writes shortest blogpost ever: “I f*****g told you so!”

It’s always “systemic failures”;

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systemic failures

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It’s always “Systemic Failure” – which conveniently  means no one will ever be held to account; no one will lose their job. Apparently it’s never human accountability because someone stuffed up and promised something they simply couldn’t deliver.

When foreign students from one of the country’s University’s reintroduces covid19 into the community – it will be a “systemic/systems failure”.

In June, National enthusiastically supported Universities having foreign students return to the country;

A National Government would be working hard to safely return tertiary international students back to New Zealand as quickly as possible, Deputy Leader and Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye and National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Dr Shane Reti say.

Only two months later, National fully reversed it’s policy 180 degrees and have now dropped it like a hot potato. Public reaction would not have been supportive of such a risky venture – a fact National’s internal polling and/or focus groups would have sheeted home without any ambiguity whatsoever.

On top of which, having potentially infected foreign students entering the country, creating new clusters, would have undermined the revised narrative that new National leader, Judith Collins, was feeding the public;

“We’ve said very clearly since I’ve been the leader that there is no tolerance for Covid-19 in New Zealand. I’ve heard lots of reports from some people that we should be much softer on this, I’m not prepared to be softer on this,” Collins said.

You can only let people in if it can be done safely. And safely means someone checking the checkers.”

She says that so well, so convincingly. Almost with sincerity.

But a Leader who is willing to leave our fellow sick New Zealanders stranded overseas is not one to be trusted to look after the well-being of the rest of us. Her “compassion” and concern for our safety cannot be foremost in her mind when she so casually turns her back on sick New Zealanders in time of their greatest need.

Ms Collins’ media minders have obviously noted Prime Minister Ardern’s concern for our safety and well-being – and have tried to transplant it on the National Party Leader.

It is not a good fit.

National’s apparatchiks have read the tea leaves; the chicken entrails; and most critically, public opinion: very few New Zealanders want to risk reintroducing covid19. So they have written their Border Protection policy accordingly… but with that one, little ‘fish hook’ they snuck in, without anyone noticing.

And just to leave the gates open just a fraction for a future incoming National Government, they have given themselves an ‘out’ in that same Border Policy document:

In the shorter term, the [Border Protection] agency will administer policy and procedures for:

[…]

Considering expansion of entry qualifications and timing. (p2)

Expansion of entry qualifications“… for who? Foreign fee-paying students?

Sneaky!

New Zealanders should be careful in voting for National. They have have made it clear where they place their priority, whether it be human lives and safety – or the economy.

If you guessed “human lives and safety”, you guessed wrong.

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References

Wikipedia: 2002 New Zealand general election

RNZ:  New poll – Labour climbs to 60.9%, National at 25.1%

RNZ: Latest poll puts Labour at 53, National at 32

Stuff media: Alleged isolation escapee told New Zealanders ‘sick and tired’ of quarantine breaches

Stuff media:  Make quarantined travellers pay: It’s unfair to expect taxpayers to pick up the tab

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Coronavirus: – Recent returnee blasts ‘cowboy approach’ to PPE in managed isolation

RNZ:  Covid-19 – Lack of testing of staff at border ‘extraordinary’ – Skegg

National Party: Securing New Zealand’s border against COVID-19 (alt.link)

RNZ:  New Zealand confirms case of Covid-19 coronavirus

RNZ:  ‘We’ll make sure it’s legal’ – Collins on compulsory testing

Otago Daily Times:  Nats want everyone entering NZ to test negative to Covid first

The Spinoff: The Bulletin – National changes philosophy behind border policy

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – National wants everyone entering NZ to test negative first

Stuff media: Election 2020 – National wants travellers to test negative for Covid-19 before flying to NZ

Mediaworks/Newshub:  National’s border policy – Negative COVID-19 test required before returning to New Zealand

The Spinoff:  Live updates, August 22 – Six new cases of Covid-19 in the community (see: 10.15am entry)

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Coronavirus – Has Sweden’s COVID-19 approach paid off?

Worldometer: Coronavirus – Sweden

Newsroom: Petition taken down by ‘emotional junior staffer’

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Michael Woodhouse’s isolation homeless mystery man claim debunked

National Party: Securing Our Border

RNZ: Melbourne retailer philosophical about ‘unusual’ postcode lockdown

The Conversation:  Two weeks into Melbourne’s lockdown, why aren’t COVID-19 case numbers going down?

RNZ: University has plans for bringing back international students

Stuff media: Coronavirus – New Zealand ‘risks being left behind’ if international students can’t return

Stuff media:  Minister spots ‘systemic failing’, thousands of beneficiaries affected by automatic payment error

NZ Family Violence Clearing House:  Health and Disability Commissioner finds “systemic failing” at DHB in child abuse case

RNZ:  ‘Systemic failure’ in library closure shocks mayor

NZ Herald:  Leslie Gelberger tragedy – Ports of Auckland fined $424,000 for ‘systemic failure’

National Party:  Under National international students would be back (alt.link)

Stuff media: Coronavirus – National goes cold on international student policy

Additional

Stuff media: Opinion – Sir John Key’s call to relax border controls would be unforgivably reckless

NZ Herald: Rod Jackson – Learning to live with Covid 19 coronavirus is not a viable option

The Spinoff: Exclusive new poll – How have testing issues and the new outbreak affected public confidence?

Rolling Stone: The Unraveling of America

Previous related blogposts

Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – No, Dr Bloomfield!

Life in Level 1: The Taxpayer’s Coin

Life in Level 1: Cunning Plans, Unanswered Questions

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: The Curious Case of the Very Invisible Virus

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 1.41PM Jun 15, 2020

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 9:45AM  Jun 12, 2020 – no mood to go back into lockdow

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collins - covid 19

Acknowledgement: Sharon Murdoch

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 August 2020.

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Life in Level 2: The Curious Case of the Very Invisible Virus

22 August 2020 1 comment

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As at mid-day on 12 August, Aotearoa New Zealand went to Alert Level 2 and Auckland City to Lockdown, Alert Level 3.  This, the result of four infections discovered in a South Auckland industrial area.

The source of reinfection in South Auckland  is yet to be determined. Options are limited to;

  • Border staff at airports, ports, or quarantine facilities unwittingly picking up the virus
  • An incorrect test result allowing a positive infection to leave a quarantine facility
  • “Lurking” asymptomatic community transmission left over from previous months
  • Returning flight crew member(s) acquiring the virus overseas

The third option  seems unlikely. Where there is asymptomatic infection there are also symptomatic cases where people end up in hospital and ICU care. It seems unfeasible for one to occur, but not the other;

The other hypothesis doing the rounds is that maybe New Zealand never eliminated the virus and that it has been bubbling away undetected in the community for three months.

Professor [Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws from the University of New South Wales] …thinks this is highly unlikely, and that at least some cases would have had symptoms and presented to medical authorities.

The last option is  the most disturbing. It is no secret that returning airline flight crews from foreign destinations are not required to quarantine for fourteen days, unlike other Returnees passing through our borders;

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The assumption that the new outbreak may have been the result of returning international flight crews is a possibility we should not quickly dismiss.  To test this hypothesis, it is necessary to look at relevant facts.

Firstly, the genome of the covid19 virus in this latest outbreak does not match those who are infected and in current quarantine. As Prime Minister Ardern stated on 14 August,

“This suggests this is not a case of the virus being dormant or of a burning ember in our community. It appears to be new to New Zealand.

So we can rule out the second option above, and part of the first option. There is also no indication of incursion through a port, or an Americold worker have any association with a port worker.

Next: according to Dr Ashley Bloomfield and the Ministry of Health, the genome of the virus indicates it may have originated from one of two countries;

“We are continuing with genome sequencing investigations. What we know so far is that there has been no exact link with a recent case in MIQ from the samples we have been able to genome sequence, however, genome sequencing of new cases resembles the genome pattern from the UK and Australia most closely.”

By contrast, genomic sequencing  points to the original appearance of the virus in late-February as having emanated from North America, not from Asia, Australia, or the UK.

Next: The facility where covid19 was first discovered is Americold NZ Ltd, situated at Mt Wellington. It is also the site where most of the cases have centred.

Suggestions that transmission occurred via importation of chilled/frozen goods between Australian and New Zealand Americold facilities were unequivocally dismissed by the company’s managing director, Richard Winnall;

Americold have investigated and we can completely rule out there is no transfer of product between these facilities in Australia or New Zealand,” Winnall told the Herald today.

We can completely rule out transmission through that speculation on freight. It’s just not possible because there is no freight or supply chain connecting those two properties [Mt Wellington and Melbourne].

In fact, for months and months [there has been no freight between Melbourne and Auckland]. I can’t tell you how long other than my Melbourne facility has confirmed they have no record of shipping to that Mt Wellington facility.”

Otago University professor and epidemiologist, Michael Baker, described the suggestion of viral contamination on imported goods as unlikely;

much less important than direct respiratory spread.

University of Otago professor of infectious diseases, David Murdoch, said;

I think on balance it’s probably less likely, but certainly worth exploring.

Epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, Rachel Graham, pointed out;

“Even frozen, on a surface like that, you’ll see the virus desiccate and dry out, which renders it completely non-infectious.”

And executive director of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Program, Michael Ryan, stated;

“There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus, and people should feel comfortable and feel safe,” Ryan said in a press briefing on Thursday, adding, “people should not fear food, or food packaging or processing, and the delivery of food.”

Next: Mr Winnall made this salient point;

“We believe that was just two employees that contracted Covid-19 from outside the workplace, that happened to be employees of ours.”

This is where things get… “interesting” (but hopefully not in a Gerry Brownlee kind-of-way).

Americold also has a second facility, at Manu Tapu Drive, only a few kilometres from Auckland Airport;

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One of the Americold workers tested works at the Manu Tapu Drive facility. The results of this person’s test remains unknown as at publication of this story. A Ministry of Health media release dated 13 August stated;

Two of the AmeriCold sites, Mount Wellington and Auckland Airport, have been closed, and all staff from the Airport site have now been tested.

That was three days ago, and the MoH website has no update as to the results of testing of staff at the Auckland Airport Americold site.

The first recorded Americold worker’s (not at the facility near the Airport) was on 31 July.

Working backward from 31 July, the first worker would have been infected roughly fourteen to sixteen days prior to presenting with symptoms. That takes into account approximately 12 to 14 days to incubate; one day presenting; and another day to test and determine a positive result.

The MoH website for covid cases yields the following result for Returnees flying home from Australia;

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Recall that this strain of virus most likely emanated from UK or Australia.

Whilst the evidence above should be regarded as circumstantial, the possibility that an airline flight crew returning to Aotearoa New Zealand carried the covid19 virus and transmitted infection to an Americold staff-member should not be dismissed out of hand.

This country has already had one such instance of returning flight staff carrying the contagion across our borders into the community – with fatal results.

Equally alarming, is that flights from Australia and elsewhere continue to arrive to our country;

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auckland airport arrivals

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None of the flight crew staff are quarantined.

Postscript

Meanwhile, the re-emergence of covid19 outside our quarantine facilities should squash further irrational proposals that we re-open our borders to others apart from returning New Zealanders;

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covid19 nz

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Key’s assertion that;

“We don’t really have a health crisis in New Zealand because we don’t have community transmission; we have a financial crisis that is coming, not a health crisis.”

– defies common sense and should be discarded as the misguided ‘reckons’ of a man with unbalanced priorities. People like Key, David Seymour, et al, should be regarded with derision if we value human life above money.

 

*** UPDATE ***

 

From RNZ:

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.”

He said it was vital there was a stand down period and testing between every international flight, especially because the burden was placed entirely on the crew themselves, and staff could fly home domestically to self isolate after completing a long-haul flight.

“In my mind, every flight is similar risk and it’s regardless of how many days you’re over in those destinations – they all carry the same amount of risk and I don’t know why the Ministry of Health or Air New Zealand is able to justify having lower testing requirements for certain trips.”

The Ministry of Health website states that because of the importance of maintaining international air routes, New Zealand-based international air crew are mostly exempt from requirements for isolation if they meet certain conditions.

They include wearing gloves and masks when in passenger areas and full PPE when dealing with a sick passenger suspected of having Covid-19.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said those requirements were agreed on by Air New Zealand and the Ministry of Health, but there was nothing to indicate air crews had been the source of any issues.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said he met with Air New Zealand this morning to discuss their testing protocols and they were working through those practicalities.

The staffer told Checkpoint while Air New Zealand is doing the right thing most of the time, isolation and testing on every international flight has to happen.

“They have a fiscal imperative, which is weighing very heavily on everyone and they would not want to have the extra cost of the stand down between every single flight and the testing. But it’s the only way to be [able] to have better surety protection from the virus getting back into our community.”

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said he was supportive of the government considering options for improvements to their current testing regime, and adds the protocols the airline currently has in place are proving to work, because there has not been a case of Covid-19 in the airline since early April.

 

From NZ Herald:

Covid 19 coronavirus: Health Minister Chris Hipkins’ concerns over airline crew coming through the border

19 August 2020

The Government admits it has concerns around the testing of airline crew coming through the border, amid claims from Winston Peters that a “second border breach” led to a hotel worker contracting the virus in central Auckland.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said this morning he was concerned about protocols for international airline crew, and the risk of the virus entering New Zealand.

“I’m meeting with Air New Zealand today to make sure that that’s as tight as a drum,” Hipkins told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking. “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 there is one thing we have learned about this virus is that it is ‘tricky’ and that it will exploit any gap in our defences. The gap can be as small as… a virus.

Air New Zealand is obviously concerned about it’s “bottom, line” and how quarantining will impact on it revenue and profits to shareholders.

When it comes to shareholder returns vs the lives of my fellow New Zealanders, I’ll pick the latter Every. Single. Day.

 

*** UPDATE 2 ***

 

From RNZ:

Aug 20, 2020 1:25 PM
RNZ Live
The initial sampling shows that additional work at Americold is not currently warranted and it does appear that contamination of imported chilled packaging was not a likely source of infection at this point and therefore the investigation into finding the source remains open, Dr Bloomfield says.

Aug 20, 2020 1:16 PM
RNZ Live
No virus has been found on any of the swabs taken from the Americold Wiri site. ESR did find very low levels of the virus on four of the 35 gauze swabs taken at the Mt Wellington site. Dr Bloomfield says the positive swabs were from surfaces expected to be touched by a person with the virus.

So that’s that.

The remaining options rely on human-to-human transmission.

The question remains: who was the source of transmission for the Americold worker exhibiting symptoms on 31 July?

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References

ABC News: New Zealand races to track down the source of the Auckland coronavirus outbreak

Stuff media: No quarantine rule for Air NZ international crew after new Covid cases

RNZ: Air NZ silent about Covid-19 cases as staff fears grow over quarantine exemption

Otago Daily Times:  Quarantine exemptions granted to small number

NZ Herald: Covid 19 Coronavirus – Air NZ crew and airport staff to be tested

Ministry of Health: 14 new cases of COVID-19 – Media release 13 August 2020

RNZ:  New Zealand confirms case of Covid-19 coronavirus

Stuff media: Coronavirus – New research reveals how Covid-19 came to New Zealand

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Two new cases at Americold factory; wait on results of 14 others continues

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Americold director can ‘completely rule out’ NZ’s virus cluster came from Melbourne facility

Stuff media: ‘We’re leaving no stone unturned’: Did New Zealand’s outbreak come from a Melbourne coolstore?

RNZ: Covid-19 – Imported goods as outbreak source an unlikely theory – Professor David Murdoch

Business Insider Australia:  Imported frozen foods may have caused New Zealand’s new coronavirus outbreak. But it’s very rare to get sick from such packages

Mediaworks/Newshub: Coronavirus – Gerry Brownlee denies COVID-19 questions make him a conspiracy theorist

NZ herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Two new cases at Americold factory; wait on results of 14 others continues

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus lockdown – Jacinda Ardern to announce next moves at 5.30pm tomorrow

Ministry of Health:  Covid-19 – current cases details – 1:00 pm, 16 August 2020

Otago Daily Times:  Bluff groom’s father one of Covid-19 deaths

Auckland Airport: Arrivals

Mediaworks/Newshub: New Zealand must consider opening borders soon says Helen Clark, Peter Gluckman and Rob Fyfe

Stuff media: Relax border restrictions to soften Covid-19’s economic blow, Sir John Key says

TVNZ News: David Seymour says second Covid-19 lockdown not the answer and it’s time to ‘learn to live with it’

Additional

RNZ:  Covid-19 testing, isolation needs urgent attention – Air NZ staff

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus –  Health Minister Chris Hipkins’ concerns over airline crew coming through the border

Previous related blogposts

Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – No, Dr Bloomfield!

Life in Level 1: The Taxpayer’s Coin

Life in Level 1: Cunning Plans, Unanswered Questions

Life in level 1: Newshub Nation, Q + A, and the end of Todd Muller’s leadership

Life in Level 1: The Doom of National

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cartoon murdoch

Acknowledgement: Sharon Murdoch

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 August 2020..

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Questions for the Media to ask – if they have a spare moment or two

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For the mainstream media, today (22 July) was even a better day than yesterday. More Sex. More Politics. More Sex AND Politics.

Yesterday, the msm dealt with Andrew Falloon. The obscure backbench MP had been found to have sent pornographic images to at least four women.

The woman’s parents laid the complaint with PM Ardern’s office. The images were unsolicited.

Judith Collins was advised by the Prime Minister and three days later, Mr Falloon resigned.

It was a straight forward case, reminiscent of Anthony Weiner, a former US congressman outed for sending explicit images of himself to women – one of whom was under-age.

Unfortunately for the msm, the story of Andrew Falloon ran it’s cycle to it’s natural conclusion: he resigned from Parliament and would not stand for re-election.

It was a Sex and Politics story that no doubt generated umpteen million clicks, generating advertising revenue along the way.

Today (22 July), cue: Judith Collins and her revelation that government minister Iain Lees-Galloway had being engaged in a long-term affair with another woman.The story appeared on RNZ’s Morning Report at around 7.26AM;

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An hour earlier, at 6.31AM, Ms Collins had appeared on Mediaworks/TV3’s “AM Show with Duncan Garner;

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It was at this point that Ms Collins disclosed the “bombshell” that a Labour politician was also under investigation for misconduct;

Duncan Garner: “Have you received anything about Labour ministers or Labour MPs?”

Judith Collins: “I have actually, and I have advised the Prime Minister and I’ve asked for anybody who has that information to send it directly to her.”

Garner: “When did this happen?”

Collins: “Oh actually just yesterday but I passed it on …”

Remarkable difference in style. PM Ardern passes complaint on to Ms Collins (after gaining consent) but does not capitalise on it by going to the media.

Judith Collins passes the complaint on to PM Ardern – then announces it to both The AM Show on TV3 and an hour later to RNZ’s Morning Report. But according to her, she denied exploiting the issue and engaging in politicking. In fact, she was busy with the media all day denying she wasn’t politicking.

When a journo asked if it wasn’t Ms Collins who had disclosed and made public the issue to the media (bless! there’s at least one who asks an obvious question), she took pains to deny it;

“No I haven’t actually put it in the public domain, I’ve been asked a direct question this morning on another news media about whether I have received anything like that and the answer is yes I have.”

But throughout the entire unsavoury spectacle of the media gorging on another Sex & Politics story, there are three questions that not only remain unanswered – they have not even been asked.

1. Who is the person who disclosed Iain Lees-Galloways affair to Judith Collins? Is this person a National Party member/staffer/operative?

2. Did the woman, with whom Mr Lees-Galloway have the affair with, have prior knowledge, or give consent, to this issue being disclosed to other people and eventually made public?

3. Why did Duncan Garner put the question – “Have you received anything about Labour ministers or Labour MPs?” – to Ms Collins? Was he ‘primed’ beforehand? Why did he not ask if any other National MPs were engaged in similar behaviour? If he was ‘primed’ with fore knowledge, who advised him?

These three questions would seem to be at the very core of how this story unfolded and why. Because it doesn’t take much of a sleuth to understand that the timing of Ms Collin’s disclosures and early morning media appearances has taken the blow torch of public attention off National and firmly onto Labour.

Secondly, it ‘dilutes’ the perception that National’s bloated sense of entitlement is at the core of it’s problems. With the humiliating despatching of Mr Lees-Galloway, the perception is now that sleazy behaviour is rampant throughout all politicians, not just the Nats.

And thirdly/lastly, let’s not forget that most enduring quote from Nicky Hager’s expose, Dirty Politics;

“Personally I would be out for total destruction… But then I’ve learned to give is better than to receive.” She called it the “double” rule: “always reward with Double”; and said “If you can’t be loved, then best to be feared.”

If Judith Collins wanted revenge for Hamish Walker and Andrew Falloon’s political demise, she certainly “gave back double”: a minister’s ‘scalp’.

At Raybon Kan hinted at earlier today;

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The questions above remain unasked and unanswered.

Until we gain greater clarity, the story surrounding Mr Lees-Galloway will remain fixated on titillating Sex & Politics. Meanwhile, the bigger story remains untold.

It would be nice – for a change – if some hard questions were asked. But only if the media have a spare moment or two

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References

NZ Herald:  National MP Andrew Falloon quits after sending sexual image to female university student

RNZ: Falloon texts – What meets threshold for prosecution?

Metro UK: Anthony Weiner jailed for sexting underage girl photos of his penis

RNZ: Morning Report – Judith Collins says she was contacted with allegations about Labour minister

Mediaworks/Newshub: The AM Show – NZ election 2020 – Judith Collins claims to have received ‘tip-off’ about Labour minister, passed to Prime Minister

RNZ: Judith Collins reports ‘allegation’ against Labour MP

Scoop: Press advisory on Judith Collins and the book Dirty Politics

Twitter: Raybon Kan – 4.01PM  Jul 22, 2020

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 July 2020.

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Life in Level 1: The Doom of National

25 July 2020 6 comments

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The Martians had no resistance to the bacteria in our atmosphere to which we have long since become immune. Once they had breathed our air, germs, which no longer affect us, began to kill them. The end came swiftly. All over the world, their machines began to stop and fall. After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things which God and His wisdom had put upon this Earth.” – H.G. Wells, “War of the Worlds

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National will lose in September. And most likely in 2023 if the pandemic has not been defeated. Their laissez faire approach to government and economics has been revealed to be utterly inappropriate for the challenges in the Age of the Virus.

National has been caught out – like the proverbial  possum frozen in the glare of oncoming headlights – as the human race struggles to adapt to the new norm of responding to the spread of contagion.

There is an inexorable inevitability to how politics has begun to change radically with the advent of a global pandemic.

More than ever, the State is required to navigate societies through these stormy pandemic waters. The “free market” is not only incapable of dealing with a deadly virus – it actually aids and abets the spread of contagion.

Sweden, Brazil, Victoria, and the US (especially states such a Florida, Texas, California, et al)  are a brutal warning  when humans fail to heed and respond to a viral threat. The virus will mercilessly seek out every crack (or in the case  of the US and Brazil, gaping holes) in Humanity’s defenses and, like water in 100-year old pipes, seep through.

Humans have only one defense against plague: our intellect. Failure to use what natural evolution has gifted us leaves us at the mercy of whatever challenge Nature throws against us. In this case, a virus that is neither aware of us, nor cares about us. Like background radiation or clouds in the sky, it simply IS.

How we deal with it, using our remarkable abilities, will be the crucial difference between prevailing and succumbing.

React with political expediency (and a lethal dose of outright ignorance) like Trump or Bolsanaro, and the virus will exploit that ignorance to maximum lethal advantage.

One lesson we have learned is that the virus is no respecter of political or economic ideologies. It attacks  central-planned and liberal free market economies alike. China and the US proved that.

But unlike the US, China managed to contain the contagion by acting swiftly and decisively. By locking down Wuhana city of eleven million  people – they controlled and reduced transmission.

Only the power of the State could control transmission. The free market and it’s twin sibling, Hyper Individualism, could not cope. The dictates of free market profit-making (unyielding demands by share-holders) in tandem with selfish Me First individualism, was diametrically contrary to crucial collective strategies required to control transmission.

In an act of sheer stupidity and political expediency, Trump has insisted that all schools in the US reopen. School children are to become the new vectors of a deadly contagion so Trump can present an illusion of “normality” in  time for the November presidential election.

The virus is now effectively out of control in  the US and Brazil. The death toll is escalating, killing young and old.

Despite the lessons from other nations there have been calls for Aotearoa to re-open our borders to foreign students and even tourists. Some have suggested that Universities could manage isolation/quarantine of students – despite even the government falling short in this critical area.

The National Party and business pressure groups have joined in a whining chorus of agitation to open our borders. Their number one priority is “business as usual”.

Recently, three “prominent” New Zealanders – former chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman, former prime minister Helen Clark and ex-Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe – joined the agitation to re-open our borders “some time in the near future we have to have a strategy in place of gradually opening the border, because we cannot [keep it closed] indefinitely“.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson spoke for the vast majority of New Zealanders when he rejected those demands;

“Growing our capacity for quarantine that we have absolute confidence in requires facilities that will need to be very carefully designed and used.

Moving toward an international student market for that will take some time.”

Two days later, finally reading and understanding the mood of the nation, then-Leader of the National Party, Todd Muller walked back National’s calls to re-open our borders;

“What I was framing up was a criteria that could exist in the future, when clearly that can’t happen in the current context … what I was talking about was a critique of the government’s lack of transparency or visibility around what the next step is in terms of opening up our border. 

There’s no appetite – from me or any New Zealander – for the border to be open today, partly because of what’s happening overseas and partly because of the shemozzle at the border.”

And on 12 July, appearing as a guest on TVNZ’s Q+A, Mr Fyfe –  one of the trio of “prominent New Zealanders” –  also seemed to be having second thoughts on loosening border controls;

“Personally, I’d be nervous opening to any country until we have our testing and trace capability to the standard it needs to be at and in my mind we’re not there yet […] no country has really solved the tracing challenge.”

Even Helen Clark, another of the “trio of prominent New Zealanders” voiced the obvious concerns felt by most people;

“We’re nowhere near through the end of this, some people say we may not see any widely available vaccine for at least two and a half years, it may then not be fully efficacious, it may not stop us getting it, it may mean it mitigates symptoms.”

As if to underscore the point and drive home the stark, unvarnished realities we were facing, Jacinda Ardern summed up it up succinctly, and in doing so, spoke for nearly the entire nation;

“Right now as this pandemic is surging and while the technology and testing is as limited as it is, now is not the right time.”

Wigram Capital Advisors economist, Rodney Jones, who has been tracking the spread and effects of the contagion repeated the warning;

“We only need to look to Victoria, New South Wales, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea to see examples of other places that like us had the virus under control at a point in time only to see it emerge again.”

With this virus, we have to live with uncertainty and risks that we’re not accustomed to. This is new for all of us.”

In simple terms, most of us were in no mood to undo the victory we had achieved in nearly two months of lock-down. Not for all the tea in China or all the gold in Fort Knox.

Prime Minister Ardern spoke for most of us when she categorically refused to yield to calls to loosen our border controls;

“Right now as this pandemic is surging and while the technology and testing is as limited as it is, now is not the right time.”

Which leaves traditionally pro-market; pro-globalisation; pro-individualistic political parties with nowhere to go.

With tourism and the education export industries effectively “dead”, traditional market-driven ideologies have been ham-strung – not by their left-wing ideological counterparts – but by an unseen enemy that is not even aware of our existence.

Aside from trade in commodity goods, National cannot campaign on market liberalisation of the free movement of people with skills and/or wealth. Those days are behind us.

Thus far, National’s strategy for re-election appears to be based on regurgitated roading and tunnels under/through/over mountains and throughout the North Island (an asphalt fetish, as David Slack described it) and treating Kiwi Returnees as a cash cow by billing them for quarantining.

Aside from the sheer questionable legality of imposing what is effectively a border tax on New Zealand citizens and Permanent Residents returning home, how is that remotely reconcilable with their promise not to introduce new taxes in their first term?!

No less than three successive National Party leaders have promised: no new taxes;

We will not introduce any new taxes during our first term.” – Simon Bridges, 29 November 2018

There will be no new taxes from the next National Government, and that could not be more distinctive than what the Labour-Greens will serve up for this country.” – Todd Muller, 29 June 2020

This is not the party that is going into adding more cost to businesses and more cost to people who earn income and who are actually keeping this economy going. We are not the Party of taxing people any more than we need to.” – Judith Collins, 15 July 2020

Only Judith Collins’ unspecific assurances leaves “wiggle room” for introducing a new cost to Returnees – effectively a tax. So, “no new taxes” – except, maybe, perhaps…?

It’s a “levy”, not a tax?

It’s a “charge”, not a tax?

It is this mish-mash of rehashed policies; vague, un-costed promises;  and incoherent populism that voters will look askance at.

As free market economics takes a back seat to the collective needs of society, National finds itself on the outer, a Party in search of a new raison d’être. In a post-pandemic world it cannot be “business as usual” because the virus – an implacable, unrelenting, impersonal enemy – will not allow it.

By contrast, Labour has been more or less consistent in responding to the new dictates of the crisis to the approval of the majority. There is  an admiration – even from some National-leaning voters this blogger has spoken with – that PM Ardern has done what has needed to be done.

Some would go even further, so the government sits nicely in the middle as the measured, calm voice of reason.

But more importantly, the ideological mania of “small government” has been shown to be a dangerously naively fallacy – especially when confronted with such a crisis as a pandemic. When faced with a nationwide or global emergency – whether biological, environmental, etc – only the State can muster the required resources to meet such a challenge head-on.

People have long memories and they will remember calls from a succession of National party leaders; business “captains of industry”; and various other commentators, to re-open our borders.

Then they will see the mess across the Tasman in Victoria (and now escalating in New South Wales).

They will appreciate how incredibly fortunate we were to have a government that was cautious and valued lives over commercial dictates.

And they will vote accordingly.

Because National has failed to adapt.

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References

Quotes: War of the Worlds

CTV News: Florida reports a record 156 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours

TVNZ News: Texas reports 10,000 new cases as Covid-19 continues to surge around US

Apnews: How California went from success story to virus hot spot

Live Science: China just lifted its lockdown on Wuhan

Washington Post: Despite pressure from Trump, major districts say schools will stay closed in fall

Mediaworks/Newshub:  University head begs for return of international students

Stuff: Coronavirus – Managed isolation Covid-19 testing failures lead to buck passing but no answers

Otago Daily Times: NZ should open borders to countries with Covid – Muller

RNZ: Border reopening must be priority – Business NZ

RNZ: NZ must consider opening borders – Gluckman, Clark, Fyfe

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Majority of Kiwis want to keep borders closed, but are concerned about economy, jobs

NZ Herald: Grant Robertson – Don’t expect return of foreign students in 2020

RNZ: Checkpoint –  2 July 2020

TVNZ: Q+A – 12 July 2020

RNZ: Covid-19 review ‘challenging’ because pandemic ‘ongoing’, Helen Clark says

RNZ: Economist warns risk of another Covid-19 outbreak rising

TVNZ News: ‘Right now is not the right time’ – PM responds to further calls for NZ’s borders to reopen

Twitter: David Slack – 11:55AM Jul 17, 2020

RNZ: Covid-19 – National to charge for quarantine

NZHerald: National leader Judith Collins unveils $31b transport plan to crush Auckland’s congestion

Otago Daily Times: National – No new taxes in the first term

Mediaworks/Newshub: Todd Muller rules out wealth tax under National, says Labour-Greens will drag New Zealand into debt

RNZ:  Judith Collins on her plans for National (alt.link)

TVNZ News: NSW at ‘crucial point’ in the fight against Covid-19 as new clusters emerge

Twitter: @FoxyLustyGrover – 6:53AM  Jul 1, 2020

Previous related blogposts

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – No, Dr Bloomfield!

Life in Level 1: The Taxpayer’s Coin

Life in Level 1: Cunning Plans, Unanswered Questions

Life in level 1: Newshub Nation, Q + A, and the end of Todd Muller’s leadership

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Acknowledgement: Guy Body

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 July 2020.

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Life in level 1: Newshub Nation, Q + A, and the end of Todd Muller’s leadership

18 July 2020 7 comments

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Two things happened this weekend that added to the scandal swirling around the leaked list, of eighteen covid19-positive Returnees.

The National Party scandal has claimed the ‘scalps’ of one MP – Hamish Walker – and operative and former President, Michelle Boag. It has also drawn in Todd Muller, who has been shown to be “loose with the truth”, and Michael Woodhouse, who also recieved emails from Ms Boag – and promptly deleted them.

The Walker-Boag whirlpool is slowly dragging others down into it’s swirling, murky maw.

The first thing that should have raised eyebrows was TV3’s “Newshub Nation” on 11 July. If the viewer was expecting wall-to-wall coverage of the Leaked List scandal, they were to be sorely disappointed. The episode, hosted by Simon Shepherd made a brief mention of Hamish Walker resigning, and the panel briefly discussed the issue.

Otherwise, the focus was on Shane Jones and his bid for the Northland electorate; ACT Party leader, David Seymour; the fringe nutter’s “New Conservative Party”; pandemic management discussion with epidemiologist, Michael Baker; and “Back Story” featuring Green MP, Julie-Anne Genter.

All very interesting, but…

Other than that, there were no interviews with any of the main actors or other political commentators or past National Party apparatchiks… it was a Leaked List-free zone.

Not so TVNZ’s “Q+A” today (12 July).

Though Todd Muller, Michelle Boag, Michael Woodhouse, and Hamish Walker were all invited to attend – none took up the offer.

Instead, it was left up to National’s Deputy Leader, Nikki Kaye, to front. Host, Jack Tame, grilled her mercilessly with rapid-fire questions and naked disbelief to Ms Kaye’s insistence that Michelle Boag did not confide in her about the Leaked List. This despite Ms Kaye acknowledging the closeness between the two – including Ms Boag being (until her recent resignation from the position) Nikki Kaye’s electorate campaign manager.

Ms Kaye was also left to explain and defend not just her conversation with Michelle Boag – but also Michael Woodhouse’s dubious actions and Todd Muller’s inconsistant (outright lies?) responses to what he knew and when did he know it.

She defended to her utmost Michael Woodhouse and Todd Muller. She defended her Party. She stood her ground.

This is what Leaders do.

They defend their team.

At no point did Ms Kaye deflect hard questions relating to two of her colleagues with the oft-repeated mantra, “Oh, you’d have to ask them”.

She took responsibility for answering on their behalf. To defend her Team.

Because that is an essential quality to leadership.

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Contrast Ms Kaye’s courage to the disturbing fact that Todd Muller refused to front for the interview.

Think about that for a moment.

The worst scandal to hit the National Party since Nicki Hager’s “Dirty Politics” – and Todd Muller was in hiding leaving his Deputy in the firing line.

Whatever one may think of Nikki Kaye’s responses to Jack Tame’s relentless questioning – she had the courage and determination to front.

Muller was nowhere to be seen.

As we both watched the spectacle, and noted Muller’s absence, my partner turned and pointed out to me;

“She’s doing a fine job as Leader of National.”

The date 12 July is the turning point for Todd Muller’s faux leadership of the National Party. Quite simply, it beggars belief that he failed to front for the interview. It was his responsibility to represent his Party in difficult times. And it doesn’t get any more difficult when one of his MPs is forced to stand down at the next election after admitting to releasing confidential medical details; a past-President was responsible for the leak; another MP wilfully deletes potential evidence; and Muller himself has been caught out being flexible with the truth.

When the so-called Leader of a political party fails to carry out his most basic responsibility and shoves his Deputy into the firing line, it calls into question his fitness to hold that position.

New Zealanders take note. Todd Muller hid away in safety whilst his Deputy took the hits.

There’s a word for that.

Cowardice.

#MullerUnfitToLead

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References

TVNZ: Public can continue to trust National amid Covid-19 patient details leak saga – deputy leader Nikki Kaye

Twitter: Laura Beattie – 8 July 2020

Previous related blogposts

Life in Level 1: Cunning Plans, Unanswered Questions

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 July 2020.

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Life in Level 1: Cunning Plans, Unanswered Questions

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The last 24 hours in Aotearoa’s New Zealand’s politics has provided more drama than a week’s worth of “Shortie Street” episodes combined and binge-watched.

It began approximately around 5.30  last night (7 July) with a disclosure by Clutha-Southland MP, Hamish Walker  that he had leaked a list of eighteen covid19-infected Returnees names and details to three media outlets. (None of the three media companies, to their credit, released a single piece of personal info from the list.)

As an explanation, Mr Walker said he released the names, ages, and other details of the eighteen infected Returnees to reject accusations of racism and to prove his assertion ;

“These people are possibly heading for Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown from India, Pakistan and Korea.”

However, it was stated on RNZ’s Morning Report (8 July) that the List proved no such thing (@4.33).

Mr Walker then offered another explanation;

“I did this to expose the government’s shortcomings so they would be rectified.

The information that I received was not password protected by the government. It was not stored on a secure system where authorised people needed to log on. There was no redaction to protect patient details, and no confidentiality statement on the document.

I made serious allegations against the government’s Covid-19 response and passed on this information to prove those allegations.”

So the first explanation was to save himself from being tarred as a jingoistic racist. The subsequent  explanation was framed to sound more “noble”.

Moreover, National’s former President, Michelle Boag, gave her “explanation” that;

“I very much regret my actions and did not anticipate that Hamish would choose to send it on to some media outlets but I am grateful that the media involved have chosen not to publish the 18 names that were contained within it.”

Ms Boag also (partially) revealed how she had come into possession of the list;

“The information was made available to me in my position as then Acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, although it was sent to my private email address.”

Many questions remain unanswered and a full picture remains unclear:

Q1: Who sent the email to Ms Boag? Why? What other personal, confidential details has this person sent to Ms Boag or others? What access does this person have?

Q2: Is this person an employee of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust?

Considering that ARHT has stated categorically that Ms Boag would not have had direct access to patient data, the only other possibility is a person or persons unknown supplied it to her.

Q3: Will QC Mike Heron question Ms Boag?

Q4: Will QC Mike Heron attempt to find the identity of who sent the email to Ms Boag?

Q5: Will QC Mike Heron question Hamish Walker?

Q6: Will QC Mike Heron question Todd Muller?

Q7: Will QC Mike Heron have full access to all electronic devices belonging to Mr Walker, Ms Boag, Todd Muller, and anyone else who becomes implicated in this leak? Will forensic investigation be allowed on their devices?

Q8: What (if any) was Matthew Hooton’s involvement? What did Matthew Hooton know and when?

Q9: Will QC Mike Heron investigate Mr Hooton’s electronic devices?

Q10: When did Todd Muller find out? He claimed it was Monday (6 July) “lunch time“. What did he do in the intervening 30 hours that followed, before Mr Walker went public?

Q11: Mr Muller says he does not know Mr Walker’s motivation to release the List. Why did Mr Muller not ask Mr Walker’s motivation when he spoke directly with Mr Walker on Monday?

Q12:  Was it really a “rogue operation” involving just two people? Who else knew about Ms Boag and Mr Walker’s use of the List?

Q13: What was the purpose of Ms Boag passing the list to Mr Walker? Why did she choose him? What discussion did the two have?

Ms Boag said to Stuff;

“It would be inappropriate for me to do that because I would be disclosing more details.”

So. There are “more details” she has not disclosed. What are those “details”?

Q14: If Ms Boag “did not anticipate that Hamish would choose to send it on to some media outlets” – what did she anticipate he would do with the List?

Q15: What other personal details has Ms Boag passed on in her role as acting CEO of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust?

Q16: Why will Ms Boag and Mr Walker not front to media interviews? What do they know that remains unsaid?

Q17: What did Nikki Kaye know and when?

Q18: What prompted Mr Walker and Ms Boag to go public on 7 July? What factor(s) forced them to abandon their secrecy? Were they about to be “outed”?

There is more to this abuse of power than we have been told. The National Party damage control machine has swung into full mode and has successfully contained this outbreak of scandal.

They may be hopeless at containing viral outbreaks – but masters par excellence at managing scandals. (Perhaps because of considerable past experience.)

This is the party that thinks it is fit to govern.

ADDENDUM

According to a late evening news story on RNZ, Michelle Boag revealed the source for the List of eighteen covid19 positive Returnees. She claimed the information came from the Ministry of Health by way of emails that were regular updates sent to emergency medical services;

When she announced her involvement in the leak, Boag said she had access to the private information as the acting chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust.

She added the personal information was sent to her private email, but did not disclose who sent it – until now.

Boag told RNZ the Ministry of Health had sent daily emails to her private email, which included the sensitive details of the country’s Covid-19 cases.

Boag couldn’t explain why it was sent to her private email, but suspected it was because she was only temporarily in the role of chief executive.

The government has already confirmed emergency services were regularly sent the details of the country’s active cases, so they could take the proper precautions if responding to a call-out where someone with Covid-19 was present.

If this is true, then this makes her role in this scandal even worse.

The information would have been sent to her in good faith by the Ministry of Health. She was in a position of trust and privilege.

The information would have been intended to be used by emergency services in case their personnel ever had to attend an incident involving covid19-positive patients.

Sending helicopter medics blindly to a situation where covid19 was present would have endangered their lives and those around them.

For Ms Boag to wilfully mis-use this information for nefarious political purposes will destroy her career forever.

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References

RNZ:  How the Hamish Walker Covid-19 patient detail leak played out

Stuff media: National MP Hamish Walker admits passing on leaked Covid-19 patient info from former party president Michelle Boag

Scoop:  Press Statement From Michelle Boag – 7 July 2020

Mediaworks/Newshub: Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust says Michelle Boag ‘never’ had access to COVID-19 data

RNZ: Todd Muller ‘hugely angry’ after Walker/Boag leak   (alt.link)

RNZ: National Party board to meet about Hamish Walker (alt.link)

Stuff: National MP Hamish Walker admits passing on leaked Covid-19 patient info from former party president Michelle Boag

RNZ: Covid-19 privacy breach info came from Health Ministry, Michelle Boag says

Twitter: Colin Jackson – 7 July 2020

Additional

RNZ:  National’s attacks not what we need right now

Previous related blogposts

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – No, Dr Bloomfield!

Life in Level 1: The Taxpayer’s Coin

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Acknowledgement: Sharon Murdoch

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 9 July 2020.

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Life in Level 1: The Taxpayer’s Coin

29 June 2020 4 comments

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Plague town?

There are two things right now in Aotearoa New Zealand that are guaranteed to piss people off.

Firstly, it’s National playing silly-bugger politics with the covid-19 pandemic. This cost Simon Bridges his job as National’s Leader.

Lately, Michael Woodhouse has been playing fast and loose with revelations that he waited a day before informing the Ministry of Health (MoH) that two sisters had been allowed out of quarantine without testing. The two women later tested positive for covid-19.

Mr Woodhouse chose first to talk over the tip-off from his source with his Party leadership. Later, after some strategy had no doubt been engineered (with Matthew Hooton’s involvement?), Mr Woodhouse went public.

In his interview with RNZ’s Suzie Ferguson, Mr Woodhouse was at pains to point out that it was not his job to inform MoH or the government that two untested returnees were travelling the length of the North Island and who later tested positive for covid-19. Evidently, the risk that the pair could have infected others; put people in hospital; potentially killed someone; and further harmed the fragile state of our economy – was not a matter worthy of consideration for Mr Woodhouse who has aspirations to one day be a government Minister.

As he put it so eloquently to Ms Ferguson;

“I’m not part of the cheerleading team.”

Mr Woodhouse criticised Health Minister David Clark as being “completely disengaged from his role [as Minister of Health]” and demanded his resignation.

The same charge could equally be levelled at Mr Woodhouse for playing politics with a disease that has destroyed so many lives.

It’s a moot point which is worse; incompetence or politicising a lethal pandemic.

The second thing that has roused the ire of New Zealanders is the constant flow of media stories of a small number of returnees who have whinged at aspects of their quarantine, or expected special treatment to attend family members who are near death, or funerals. (And I write this as someone who understands all too well what it feels like to face the ghastly frustration of seeing a loved one dying and not being able to do a damn thing about it…)

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Or the non-stop media stories of businesspeople who demanded exemptions and wanted to continue trading during Level 4 and Level 3 lockdown .

Nothing quite says “Batshit Crazy” as a weight-loss company  so full of it’s own self-importance that they think they are an essential service during a global pandemic;

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Because if you’re on your death-bed from covid-19 – about to meet your Maker – no doubt losing a few kilos is first and foremost on your mind…

Three months later, and we have a new contender for Self Important Entitlement: Scenic Hotel Group’s managing director, Brendan Taylor.

Mr Taylor was apoplectic that *HIS* town, Rotorua, would be hosting additional quarantine facilities;

“It is a concern to a lot of New Zealanders travelling as to which hotels are being used as isolation hotels and which ones aren’t.

Rotorua and Taupō have been doing really well with weekend business so I would’ve thought Rotorua would probably start to suffer a bit with accommodation being turned into isolation hotels.”

Yes, Mr Taylor was mightily concerned that “Rotorua and Taupō have been doing really well with weekend business so […] would’ve thought Rotorua would probably start to suffer a bit with accommodation being turned into isolation hotels”.

So no concerns then about pandemics? Or re-infection if we don’t begin to get our act together with stringest quarantine procedures. Or the lives that could be lost. Or that returnees were our fellow Kiwis.

Mr Taylor’s point-of-view was that hotels were “doing really well with weekend business“.

That’s not all he’s done “really well with“. Interestingly, Mr Taylor has benefitted fairly well accepting the taxpayer’s coin;

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Thus far, Mr Taylor’s company has taken $1,512,379.20 of the taxpayer’s coin for wage subsidies. That’s our taxes going to his company to pay his staff’s wages.

The least he could do is not whinge  and understand that this government is doing what it must to assist New Zealanders to return to this country safely, and in a way that does not bring contagion back into our community.

Because it may have escaped Mr Taylor’s attention that if covid-19 returns and the second wave is even more disastrous for our economy – he may not have much a hotel chain left to be Managing Director of.

Instead of  being self-indulgent, perhaps he could return the generosity of the taxpayer by asking; “what can we do to assist”?

As for Radio NZ which carried the story – this is not the first tale of self-indulgent, woe-is-me, “grief journalism” they’ve engaged in. Or badly mis-represented a story.

In this case, the headline carried the ominous warning;

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Except… there was no reference within the text of the story to any “potential travellers” being “wary”.

Or “weary”, as their Twitter version suggested;

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In fact there was no mention of “potential travellers” full stop. Just the “reckons” of one businessman more concerned  with “doing really well with weekend business” than his fellow countrymen and women.

One could also question RNZ using the phrase;

“As the school holidays approach there is concern people may put off plans to travel to Rotorua where two hotels were commandeered for quarantining returning Kiwis at the weekend.”

This is immature tabloid journalism and not the standard we expect from RNZ.

The commentary after RNZ posted a link to the above story on Twitter was scathing. One could have been forgiven that people were commenting on the latest confused ramblings from Mike Hosking, Kate Hawkesby, or Sean Plunkett, and not this country’s most respected media outlet.

Not good, RNZ:

D Minus. Can do much better if they apply themselves.

Pay-To-Stay?

Today (23 June), the government floated the ‘kite’ of demanding co-payments from returnees to Aotearoa New Zealand. The co-payment would be charged for their 14 day quarantine;

“What we need to consider as a government is the fairness of a potential co-payment system, so we need to factor in a whole range of issues and keep in mind we cannot stop New Zealanders from coming back to the country where they are a citizen, and so that will have to underpin all of our decisions.” – PM Ardern

Human Rights lawyer, Michael Bott, was damning of the suggestion;

“I would say, potentially, it’s in breach of the Bill of Rights Act, because you have a right of entry in terms of your country and to impose a cost on New Zealand citizens who are overseas and wish to come back home… is something which may be considered disproportionate and severe.”

Put in plain english, this is a really terrible idea. It is the sort of money-grubbing we might expect from a National government  prepared to put money ahead of the well-being of our fellow citizens. This would be Labour’s moment equivalent to National raising prescription charges in 2012 from $3 to $5.

This would be the antithesis of the positive message that PM Ardern has steadfastly maintained these last few months;

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Yes, we are all in this together. The quarantining of hundreds – thousands – of returnees is not for their personal benefit. A postcard to Aunt Nellie showing their hotel room doesn’t quite have the same romanticism as a beach at Bali.

This benefits us all, from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island; the entire Team Five Million. We all stand to gain from returnees quarantining.

Just as returnees benefitted from the entire country going into lock down for six weeks.

To expect them to pay – even only a portion – would be like expecting people to pay for their own covid-19 testing. The idea would be ludicrous because when it comes to an infectious micro-organism there is no “Us” and “Them”. There is only “We”. As in, we’re all in this together.

I have no idea who came up with this short-sighted notion. It is quite mad. And I am surprised that it would pass PM Ardern’s “sniff test”.

I hope it is binned. Because there is nothing remotely kind about it.

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As at 23 June 2020:

Confirmed covid19 cases: 1,165

Active cases: 10

Cases in ICU: nil

Number of deaths: 22

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References

RNZ:  National Party on managed isolation bungle  (audio)

RNZ:  Travellers ‘shocked’ at last minute transfer to quarantine in Rotorua

Mediaworks/Newhub:  Kiwi in quarantine pleads with Government for right to visit dying mother

Mediaworks/Newhub:  Coronavirus – Kiwi woman desperate to see her dying mother denied isolation exemption

RNZ:  Covid-19 – NZer in quarantine appeals to government compassion to see dying wife

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Kiwi in LA begs for quarantine exemption to see dying dad in Christchurch

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Jenny Craig defends stance as essential service

RNZ: Isolation hotels making potential travellers wary

Work and Income:  Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Employer Search

Twitter: RNZ –  Isolation hotels making potential travellers weary – 23 June 2020

RNZ:  Cabinet to consider co-payment scheme for new arrivals

Stuff: Prescription cost to rise to help pay for Budget

ODT:  ‘We’re all in this together’

Ministry of Health:  Two new cases of COVID-19

Other Blogposts

The Standard:  Responsible politics verses Gotcha politics

The Daily Blog: Snakes and Mirrors – National Sat On Covid-19 Infection Information For Hours Before Dropping Political Bombshell In Parliament

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – No, Dr Bloomfield!

 

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 June 2020.

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Life in Level 1: Reinfection – No, Dr Bloomfield!

26 June 2020 4 comments

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20 June

The bad news: Aotearoa New Zealand has two new cases of covid-19.

The good news: the two cases were picked up at an Auckland quarantine facility.

The terrifying news: had the story of the two women leaving quarantine without testing not broken four days ago – this couple and their child were due to depart the facility;

The couple returned to New Zealand on a repatriation flight from Delhi – AI-1306 – and arrived on 5 June. They also have an infant who has not been tested due to age.

The couple showed no symptoms and returned a positive result after being tested on day 12 of isolation.

They were tested on Day 12. Up until now testing had not been done or was haphazard.

The infuriating news: Dr Ashley Bloomfield needs to stop bullshitting us. At today’s presser, he made this statement. See if you can pick up the half-truth:

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@ 4:44 – 5:52

“Just a good time to remind everybody that we were always expecting to get new cases at our borders, as Kiwis return home from overseas.

And I guess the comment here is, we had several weeks where we didn’t get any cases at the border and now we are. And I’d like to reflect on the reasons for that.

First of all, we are seeing an increasing number of Kiwis returning to the country from around the globe.

The second is, just to reiterate the point that I have made, there is still a global pandemic raging offshore.

And only overnight the Director General of the World Health Organisation noted that the global pandemic is accelerating, with Thursday this week being over 150,000 new cases worldwide.

So there is an increased likelihood we will see Kiwis coming back, especially from countries where there are high rates of infection, like India. We also earlier in the week of course had those two Kiwis who’d returned from the UK where they’ve got high rate of infection.

So this explains why we are now detecting these cases at the border.”

Dr Bloomfield’s assertion that new cases of covid19 are being picked up because “we are seeing an increasing number of Kiwis returning to the country from around the globe” is not the reason.

The reason infection is being detected is because testing is now being carried out in earnest.

If personnel at quarantine facilities were still half-heartedly (or not at all) implementing testing protocols, all three recent cases (one returnee from Pakistan, and the couple from India) would likely have departed their respective facilities without having been tested.

They would be in our community – along with their viral “passengers”.

In fact, Dr Bloomfield may have revealed the magnitude of the potential crisis we might be facing;

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2400 people who had left a managed isolation facility but had not had a test“.

I fear our good luck is about to run out.

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As at 20 June 2020:

Confirmed & Probable covid19 cases: 1,159

Active cases: 5

Cases in ICU: nil

Number of deaths: 22

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References

RNZ:  Two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand (alt link to video)

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – New arrivals to New Zealand told swab testing is not compulsory

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – NZ has another new case – a man in his 60s in a quarantine facility in Auckland

Ministry of Health: Two new cases of COVID-19

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

Reinfection: Labour’s kryptonite

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 June 2020.

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Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

24 June 2020 7 comments

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17 June

Labour’s “dream run” of being a competent manager during the Covid19 Crisis may just have come to a crashing end.

Recent revelations that some of the quarantine facilities (hotels converted to the task) have been shambolically mis-managed has raised alarm bells and widespread criticism;

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Travellers mingling with passengers from other flights

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A day later, on 12 June, former Police Commissioner, Mike Bush – in charge of the Government’s Covid-19 operational taskforce – stated that he was not satisfied with the lax procedures in the TVNZ story and promised to tighten adherence to protocols;

“That’s not good enough. We’ve got to keep those people safe … We need to get that right.

Walking groups have gone. Some hotels can bus people to another location. For others we’ve found another location on site where people can ensure that they’re not near any other members of the public.

We will put a new practice in place to make sure people on day one don’t mingle with people who have been there a lot longer. That is a difficult process.

The smoking area, we’re trying to make improvements there so we don’t have people there from day one with people from day 12.”

He specifically added:

“Now we’re in Alert Level 1, we will be having a new testing regime so people will be tested on day three and then on day 12.”

Yet, we now know that the two women who drove from Auckland to Wellington a day later, on 13 June,  were not tested.

When TVNZ ran the story above, I guessed even then that our lax border controls and complacent, half-hearted, quarantining would not end well;

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None of this was unknown to us. We knew flight crews were exempt from mandatory 14 day quarantining – despite travelling to covid-19 hotspots around the world.

This should not have surprised officials or Government ministers. As far back as April – two months ago – it was reported that isolation procedures at these quarantine facilities were being flouted;

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Which makes this random comment I posted on Twitter, on 15 Junethe day before the story broke in the media – eerily prescient;

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Little did I realise that my remark about “inept quarantining leading to another C19 infection in Aotearoawould become an unpleasant reality and headline news the very next day;

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Minister of Health and serial screw-up, Minister David Clark, reassured the public on RNZ’s Checkpoint that evening (16 June);

“They followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people … but nonetheless I am disappointed to learn they were out of the facility without testing negative first, because that was my understanding that that would have happened.”

According to Dr Bloomfield, speaking on RNZ’s Morning Report on 17 June;

“There was a, an agreed plan in place. As part of the approval process for the compassionate exemption, and that included for the travel arrangements.

So they had a private vehicle dropped to the hotel. They then drove together all the way to Wellington and had no contact with anybody else during that trip. And, uh, they didn’t use any public facilities and they also have been just with a single family member since they arrived in the Wellington region.”

I call bollicks to both statements.

Minister Clark assures the public that the two women “followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people“.

Unless he – or a Ministry staffer was travelling in the same car – how on Earth could he possibly know that they “followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people“?! [We now know they didn’t.]

On RNZ’s Morning Report, on 17 June, Minister Clark alluded to the fact that contact tracing was well under way, and he was “waiting for data overnight“.  He admitted that he “needed to know how many people” [had to be traced].

That clearly conflicts  with his  assurance the previous day that the two women “followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people“.

At least one of those women was infectious [as at 17 June].

We may see the resurgence of clusters potentially from Auckland to Wellington. It doesn’t get any worse than this.

Even more problematic is Dr Bloomfield’s assurance that “they then drove together all the way to Wellington and had no contact with anybody else during that trip. And, uh, they didn’t use any public facilities“.

Again, how does Dr Bloomfield know for certain that neither women “had no contact with anybody else“? Contact tracing is already under way – so clearly that must have been in contact with someone?

It also defies credulity that on a ten hour-plus drive from Auckland to Wellington that neither women “didn’t use any public facilities“?!

Modern vehicles have developed considerably since their early fuel-guzzling predecessors and are more efficient. A vehicle could make the Auckland-Wellington trip without having to re-fuel along the way.

But not so human beings. We’ve hardly changed much over the last 200,000 years.

I doubt very many human beings could make a ten to twelve hour drive without having to stop along the way to use public toilet facilities, at least once.

Dr Bloomfield should be fully aware of this – he graduated in medicine in 1990 and so should have a fairly good understanding of the workings of human plumbing.

So please Minister Clark and Dr Bloomfield: stop BSing us.

Neither of you can have any idea what those two did on their drive to Wellington.

It is inconceivable that they did not use public facilities along the way.

What about the other 200 people released from quarantine on “compassionate grounds”? Were they  tested before release?  Have they recently been re-tested?

Do we even know where they are?!

No wonder Opposition MP, Michael Woodhouse, questioned this government’s fitness to carry out health sector reforms after the Health and Disability System Review was released;

They haven’t been able to deliver anything else. I dare say a large reform of this nature is certainly beyond them.”

I’m starting to think the same thing.

Up until now, public support for this government has been stratospheric: between 80s and 90s in favourable percentage terms. But watch that support wither and fall away if – due to complacency and mis-management – the virus reappears in the community.  And watch it collapse altogether if Aotearoa New Zealand has to go back to Level Alert 3 or – Thor forbid – Level Alert 4. The public will not be happy.

Adulation can turn to animus pretty damn quickly.

When National’s Leader, Todd Muller expressed his anger;

“I’m as furious as I suspect most New Zealanders this morning.

This is clumsy and totally inappropriate when you consider what’s at stake here … we’ve spent a number of months locking our country down, we’ve got ourselves to the point where we’re Covid-free, we have systems in place that we expect to be followed and they simply weren’t.

We can’t have such a lax approach to our border when the stakes are so high.”

— he was reading the room and expressing a reaction shared by about 99% of the population. Unlike his hapless predecessor, Mr Muller got the tone 100% right. People are pissed off.

The incompetence of those managing our quarantine facilities was sheeted home when, on 17 June, Mike Bush was interviewed on RNZ’s Checkpoint. It was a class act of evasion, vagueness, buck-passing, and a startling inability to offer information to some basic questions. It reminded me of former Corrections Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga‘s inept responses when interviewed on TV3’s The Nation, in May 2015 (an interview which, coincidentally, was also done by Lisa Owen).

Minister, Lotu-Iiga‘s responses had to be heard to be believed.

Likewise, when Ms Owen kept repeatedly asking Mike Bush who was responsible for failures, he kept deflecting to Minister Clark, Director General Bloomfield, et al.

He simply could not answer Ms Owen’s questions – because he was obviously ignorant at what was going on in the quarantine facilities. Mr Bush confirmed to listeners what most New Zealanders already suspected: no one was in charge; no one knew what was going on; and the people supposedly carrying out quarantine protocols and testing were not doing their jobs.

No wonder PM Ardern has had a gutsful and appointed Air Commodore Darryn Webb to take over.

However, PM Ardern cannot simply call this colossal clusterf**k  “an unacceptable failure of the system“. Assigning responsibility to a mythical creature called “The System” is a cop-out.

It wasn’t  “the System” at fault. It wasn’t System Bush, or System Bloomfield, or System Clark, or System Ardern in charge. Human beings were in charge.

The public knows this. When “The System” is blamed, there is a collective eye-rolling of five million pairs of eye-balls. People recognise “Politician Speak” when it is fed to them.

If PM Ardern wants to engage in “Politician Speak”, that’s her mistake to make.  Up until now, she has earned the respect of the nation as a Leader, not Just A Politician. Does she really want to be seen as Just Another Politician? I would have thought that was a step down in any person’s career path.

Someone screwed up. Someone in a position of authority where they should have been doing their job. Their. One. Job.

In fact, this government’s astronomical popularity has been predicated on them doing Their One Job: guiding Team Five Million through this crisis; doing the tough calls; ensuring all our resources were targetted at containing and defeating The Enemy.

They had one job. And they’ve been shown up not to have done it very well.

Expect Labour’s popularity to take a nose-dive in the next political poll. They will have earned the bollicking that the public is about to dish out to them.

But if we’re going to dish out the Finger-Pointing Pie, there is plenty to go around.

The Mainstream Media has amplified every “human interest” story of tragedy; people returning to Aotearoa New Zealand desperate to get out of 14 day quarantining to attend to dying relatives or attend funerals. (The six people who absconded from quarantine had attended a tangi in Hamilton.)

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Media amplification of these tragic stories – aka “grief journalism” – has no doubt put inordinate pressure on government ministers and Ministry staff. Whilst these stories are good click-bait and help sell advertising space (or attract listeners in RNZ’s case), they serve no other useful purpose.

Quarantines are not quarantines if people can side-step them because of tragic personal circumstances.  (And I write this knowing full well how it feels, as last year someone close to me died. The awful feeling of total helplessness cannot be adequately put into words.)

In one case, the Courts ruled to overturn a Ministry of Health decision to decline an exemption, saying;

“decisions to decline permission are on their face legally flawed” and the “exceptional” case “had the hallmarks of automatic rejection based on circumscribed criteria rather than a proper exercise of discretion.”

The media should take a long, hard look at itself and the role it played in undermining implementation of quarantine protocols.

And the Courts should decline to become involved in pandemic-control policies. Lest it need be repeating: the virus is no respecter of our human-made laws.

Next, the National Party and sundry business lobby groups with their relentless, irresponsible agitation  to move down Alert Levels and re-open our borders to foreign students, tourists, Uncle Tom Cobbly, et al;

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In the case of foreign students, National is particularly strident;

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Ms Kaye’s assertion that “…[National] have also proposed that education providers would handle quarantine procedures” did not age well. Four days later…

As I write this, there are over eight million confirmed covid19 cases in the world. The real figure is most likely higher as countries like Brazil have consistently under-reported their infection rate. The global death toll has passed 450,000.

That is the threat that vote-chasers in the National Party and profit-takers in the business world would expose us to.

National’s cynicism is nowhere more apparent than Opposition MP, Michael Woodhouse, who reported the case of two women leaving quarantine whilst infected with covid19 – several days after finding out from “a reliable source”.

As blogger “Mickey Savage” outlined the timeline of events in The Standard;

The timing in interesting.  According to this interview on Morning Report Woodhouse found out these details two days ago and yesterday spent time checking the veracity of the story.

He then discussed matters with his leader’s office.

He did not go to the Health Ministry and did not think he should.

He thinks this was necessary for presentation of the story.

In his view his job is not to work to improve the quarantine system but to hold the government to account and show shortcomings.

But as we are fighting a pandemic that has caused huge damage to countries overseas didn’t he have a duty to bring this information to the authorities as soon as possible?  So that these operational holes could have been filled?

I heard the interview. Mr Woodhouse did indeed insist it was not his job “to improve the quarantine system“. Also not his job to potentially save lives either, it appears.

So while National Leader Todd Muller was reflecting the anger felt by 99.99% of the country – one of his loyal MPs was reporting to him quarantine failings; potential re-infection throughout the country; and possibly ending in death – all from a “reliable source”. National Party priorities – certainly not saving lives.

But eventually, responsibility for this colossal mistake lies with those people whom we entrusted to safeguard us. We know who they are. Most have appeared nightly in our  homes; on our devices; encouraging us to do the right thing. Most New Zealanders followed their lead.

We rewarded them accordingly, singing their praises. And printing t-shirts bearing their image.

Those hymns of praise have stopped, to be replaced by the silent sound of bemusement, if not outright anger. The t-shirts may take a bit longer to sell.

The public will be in no mood to go back into any form of lock-down. In case I have to spell it out for Prime Minister Ardern; Health Minister Clark, Director General Bloomfield; Mike Bush, et al, the good will of the public has mostly evaporated. Faith has been replaced by cold fury.

The problem with being at the top? The only way from there is down.

Regardless of whether anyone takes responsibility for this failure, the ultimate decision will be taken from the hands of this government and its officials on 19 September.

As I wrote on 12 June – four days before the story of the quarantine failure broke;

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As at 16 June 2020:

Current covid19 cases: 1,156

Cases in ICU: nil

Number of deaths: 22

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References

TVNZ: Travellers mingling with passengers from other flights, members of the public during Covid-19 isolation

TVNZ: Government to make changes to managed isolation facilities following 1 NEWS investigation

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 10.44PM Jun 11, 2020

Stuff media: Covid-19 – new cases as thousands fly in from Australia, Asia, Pacific Islands and US

Mediaworks/Newshub: Father concerned after quarantined son taken for walk with person with COVID-19

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 1.41PM Jun 15, 2020

RNZ:  Covid-19 – Two new cases in New Zealand, both arrivals from UK

RNZ:  Two new Covid-19 cases in NZ visited dying parent – Bloomfield

RNZ:  Health Minister temporarily suspends compassionate exemptions from quarantine

RNZ: Covid-19 – Exemptions concerning after women test positive outside managed isolation – Baker (audio)

RNZ: No answers yet on why Covid-19 cases weren’t tested leaving isolation – Clark (audio)

The Spinoff: The face of the Covid-19 response – Who is Ashley Bloomfield?

RNZ:  Covid-19 – Exemptions concerning after women test positive outside managed isolation – Baker

Mediaworks/Newshub: Health and Disability System Review aims to end racism in New Zealand’s health sector

The Spinoff: Exclusive new poll: public support for Covid response remains sky high

TVNZ: Public sector’s reputation in NZ reaches record high amid Covid-19 crisis, survey shows

RNZ:  Government slammed after new Covid-19 cases revealed

RNZ:  Mike Bush answers questions over botched Covid-19 isolation

Frankly Speaking:  “The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

RNZ: Two new cases leaving isolation ‘an unacceptable failure of the system’ – Ardern

ODT:  Six people – not two – abscond to go to tangi

Mediaworks/Newhub:  Kiwi in quarantine pleads with Government for right to visit dying mother

Mediaworks/Newhub:  Coronavirus – Kiwi woman desperate to see her dying mother denied isolation exemption

RNZ:  Covid-19 – NZer in quarantine appeals to government compassion to see dying wife

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Kiwi in LA begs for quarantine exemption to see dying dad in Christchurch

Magic Radio:  Dr Bloomfield denies ‘blanket approach’ used for quarantine exemptions despite zero approvals

Twitter: @JudithCollinsMP12:44 PM · Jun 8, 2020 – Go to level 1

Twitter: @nikkikaye – 12 June 2020 – foreign students

Worldometer: Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Brazil stops publishing number of virus deaths

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Woman in the same hotel as new coronavirus cases ‘shocked’ at finding out via Ministry of Health press conference

RNZ:  National Party on managed isolation bungle

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 9:45AM  Jun 12, 2020 – no mood to go back into lockdown

Other Blogs

The Standard:  Responsible politics verses Gotcha politics

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 June 2020.

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Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

23 April 2020 3 comments

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April 22: Day 28 of living in lock-down…

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

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Kia ora Ms Ardern,

Firstly, let’s set one thing pretty well straight before launching into the point of this letter to you. You, your government colleagues, and hard working civil servants have done an amazing job in navigating us through this crisis. History will remember the strong but compassionate leadership our country has had the great fortune to have.

We could just as well have had the likes of Bolsonaro, Orbán, or Trump leading us.

You have led us through ‘Hurricane Covid19’ nearly flawlessly, considering humanity hasn’t experienced an event like this since the 1918 Influenza pandemic. Nearly flawlessly. There have been ‘stumbles’ along the way. The problem of issuing PPEs is an irritant that refuses to go away.

But perhaps the ‘stumble’ that may yet be the worst is the exemption given to Air New Zealand not to isolate flight crew after they have completed an overseas assignment.

This first came to my attention on 21 April on RNZ’s Checkpoint. The story, in brief;

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. 

To say that I  was utterly gobsmacked would be an understatement. I listened to the unfolding story with a growing horror; a rising anger; and a deep disappointment.

Let me explain. For the last four weeks we have been in Level 4 lock-down. This has separated friends and families. Closed non-essential businesses. Curtailed recreational and sporting activities. Borrowed billions to keep our economy afloat and society intact.  And thousands have lost their jobs.

The vast majority of New Zealanders heeded your call to stick to our “bubbles”.

You called on us;

“New Zealand, be calm, be kind, stay at home.

We can break the chain.”

You minded us time and again;

“Stay home, save lives.”

And you challenged us;

“… you may not be at work, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a job. Your job is to save lives, and you can do that by staying home, and breaking the chain.”

And the people you cheerfully referred to as “our team of five million” responded;

“Hell yeah, let’s do this!”

And we did. For the most part, people responded and made the sacrifices we knew in our hearts and minds were necessary to save lives.

But it was a battle that was not without many casualities. So many people found themselves suddenly unemployed. Some lost the businesses they had worked long hours to establish. And fourteen of our fellow New Zealanders lost their lives.

We retreated to our homes, venturing out only for food and exercise. Some of us – like myself – carried on working as we were as essential service. Which often meant our “bubble” became necessarily inflated to encompass our colleagues and those we cared for. Some of us were not successful in dodging the viral ‘bullet‘.

But we carried on, because, well, it had to be done.

As the lock-down progressed, there were calls to loosen the restrictions and allow more exemptions. Golfing greens (which was eventually allowed); surfing; hunting; butchers… There was quite a list. Aided and abetted by yammering voices from the National and ACT parties.

Though as any sensible person will tell you, the more businesses and recreational activities are open, the more ‘porous’ the lock-down becomes until it is a lock-down in name only. Cue covid19 to become rampant through the entire country.

Which was something wiser heads in our communities understood with crystal clarity;

“I don’t want the Muslim community to look like [they’re] insensitive, inconsiderate over the Covid-19 issue – that they’re just worried about the meat situation.

That is a picture I don’t want New Zealand to get because there there are people in the Muslim community who are actually worried about saving people’s lives in this state of emergency.

We should go with the available options because there are many people who are missing out on what they like to have. It’s not only the Muslim community who are missing out on halal meat, there are other communities missing out on what they want.” – Usman Afzali, 31

Mr Afzali was opposing calls for specialised Halal butchers to be given an exemption to the lock-down. Mr Afzali understood the consequences of permitting endless exemptions. He knew the price that would be demanded by the virus – and it would be a cost met by lives lost.

And I understand that. I really do. I’ve even supported my colleagues in a work situation where management who were not part of our facility’s “bubble” were point-blank denied entry. We have vulnerable clients and non-essential people were barred – no exemptions.

My ‘bubble’ consists of my flatmate; four colleagues (down from six) in our facility, plus our clients. (My flatmate’s ‘bubble’ is tiny, as she hardly knows anyone in the Greater Wellington Region.) My partner, who has her own house, is not part of my ‘bubble’. For four weeks we have not seen each other, except through the ‘Star Trekkian‘ marvel of ‘Zoom‘ technology.

We have taken your call to keep to our “bubbles” with utmost seriousness and urgency. We have not deviated. We have been staunch.

So after reading all that, you can understand, Ms Ardern, how absolutely gutted I felt when I read that Air New Zealand flight crews were returning to our country; disembarking from their aircraft; and… entering our community.

No fourteen week quarantine.  Nothing.

When challenged by RNZ, Air New Zealand responded;

“This is expert medical advice for all airlines to follow in New Zealand. If there are general concerns or questions about this advice then that is a matter for the Ministry of Health as they have established these standards.”

So the entire country is asked to go into stringent lock-down and when asked a legitimate question why Air New Zealand flight crews are exempt, we are given that corporate  gobbledegook-speak?!

Did anyone send a copy of that particular memo from Air New Zealand to the virus?

An un-named (for damned good reason) Air New Zealand employee reminded us;

“On 19 March, NZ5 arrived at Auckland from LAX on which three passengers tested positive for Covid-19, at least two crew later tested positive. A crew member from that flight, before testing positive, went down to Bluff to attend a wedding, and now we all know about the ‘Bluff cluster’.”

A person died from that ‘cluster’: the groom’s father.

The following day from that initial RNZ story, Air New Zealand disclosed that thirty employees have tested positive for covid19.

And yet you still allow Air New Zealand to be given an exemption?

Tangata whenua  going into the bush to shoot food for their whanau is considered a risk to transmission of covid19 – and it’s banned?

Whilst flight crews returning from Los Angeles, Shanghai, and god knows where from – are not exempt?!

Ms Ardern, I struggle to understand the logic to this, I really do. I’ve looked at it from every possible angle and all I can come up with is that Air New Zealand is part-owned by the government, with a massive $900 million bail-out loan extended to the company by Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

I really hope it’s not about saving an asset that the State has high stakes in. I really do. That would seem to be beneath your dignity to be party to such a venal deal.

So my question to you should be fairly obvious by now – or rather, two questions;

(1) Why:  does Air New Zealand have the privilege of enjoying an exemption to a fourteen day quarantine when – out of all the businesses in this country – it is the riskiest one that could re-introduce covid19 to our shores? What makes Air New Zealand safer than someone going out shooting in the back-blocks?

(2) Why:  have I bothered with my ‘bubble’; securing the facility where I work with vulnerable people; and foregone seeing my partner for nearly an entire month – when Air New Zealand flight crew could, at this very moment, be infected and spreading their contagion in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch?! Why have I bothered?

I really, really hope your reconsider the justifications you  offered at your 1pm ‘presser’ today (22 April). I really do.

Because if we manged to eliminate covid19 from our shores, only to have it reappear with new infections brought in by Air New Zealand flight crew – then it’s all been for nothing. Our efforts have been undermined because – and this is critical – no matter how many times we eliminate the virus, it will be reintroduced by flight crews who remain exempt for reasons that are beyond my understanding.

Singapore should be a clear lesson to us that this virus can return if we allow it even the smallest opportunity;

Fears have resurfaced about the ability of coronavirus to surge again after lockdowns are eased, as Singapore confirmed a sharp rise in new infections.

One of the worst-hit countries when the virus first spread from China in January, Singapore’s strict surveillance and quarantine regime helped slow the outbreak, but recent rises in locally transmitted cases have raised fresh concerns. Singapore reported 142 new infections on Wednesday.

When we move to Alert Level 3 I will be seeing my partner again. I’m even tempted to go to the beach, if we’re lucky to have any fine days left.

I’ve done my bit. God knows I have.

But this is beyond me.

Please reconsider Air New Zealand’s exemption. It’s not worth it.

 

Current covid19 cases: 1,451

Cases in ICU: 2 (0 critical)

Number of deaths: 14

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References

RNZ: Air NZ silent about Covid-19 cases as staff fears grow over quarantine exemption

RNZ:  Air NZ silent about Covid-19 cases as staff fears grow over quarantine exemption (video)

NZ Herald:  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – ‘Your job is to save lives, and you can do that by staying home’

BBC: Coronavirus: How New Zealand relied on science and empathy

Newsroom:  One third of new Covid-19 cases are health workers

Fairfax/Stuff: Golf clubs could perish if greenkeepers barred from caring for greens

Change.org: Allow Responsible Surfing in New Zealand

RNZ: Covid-19: Whānau relying on hunting for food should have exemption – leaders

Rural News:  Pork farmers want butchers to start trading

Fairfax/Stuff: Coronavirus – Community safety trumps access to halal meat, Muslim man says

RNZ:  Father of groom in Bluff wedding dies from Covid-19

RNZ:  Covid 19: What happened in New Zealand on 22 April

RNZ: Air NZ silent about Covid-19 cases as staff fears grow over quarantine exemption

RNZ: Coronavirus: Government offers $900m loan for Air New Zealand

The Guardian: Singapore coronavirus surge raises fears of post-lockdown breakouts

RNZ:  Six new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, one more death

Must Read

Democracy Now:  Madrid’s Ice Rink Turned to Morgue as Spain Exceeds China in Coronavirus Deaths

The Independent:  Is Sweden having second thoughts on lockdown?

Elemental: Hold the Line

RNZ:  Bubble-bound: Data shows most people obeying rules

Other Blogs

Will New Zealand Be Right?

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 1

Life in Lock Down: Day 2

Life in Lock Down: Day 3

Life in Lock Down: Day 4

Life in Lock Down: Day 5

Life in Lock Down: Day 6

Life in Lock Down: Day 7

Life in Lock Down: Day 7 (sanitised version)

Life in Lock Down: Day 8

Life in Lock Down: Day 8 (sanitised version)

Life in Lock Down: Day 9

Life in Lock Down: Day 10

Life in Lock Down: Day 11

Life in Lock Down: Day 12

Life in Lock Down: Day 13

Life in Lock Down: Day 14

Life in Lock Down: Day 15

Life in Lock Down: Day 16 – Bad Friday

Life in Lock Down: Day 17

Life in Lock Down: Day 18

Life in Lock Down: Day 19

Life in Lock Down: Day 20

Life in Lock Down: Day 21

Life in Lock Down: Day 22 – Is that a light at the end of a four week long tunnel?!

Life in Lock Down: Day 23

Life in Lock Down: Day 24 & 25

Life in Lock Down: Day 27 – and it’s been a shit day

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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This blogpost was also published on The Daily Blog on 23 April 2020.

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Life in Lock Down: Day 20

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April 14: Day 20 of living in lock-down…

Today was a rotten day for four (at least) families. Four more people have succumbed to covid19. Despite recording only seventeen new cases – a cause for some celebration – knowing that families have lost loved ones to this virus dampens any notion of joyous celebration.

And I fear it will get worse.

Meanwhile there remains agitation from some quarters to lift restrictions and open up the economy. Whether it’s Matthew Hooton on RNZ’s Political Panel, or ACT’s David Seymour, or disturbingly chilling comments from senior lecturer in epidemiology at Auckland University Dr Simon Thornley on today’s [14 April]  Morning Report – there are clamouring voices who appear to take our limited success in containing the contagion as some sort of “green light” to throw caution to the winds.

Dr Thornley’s cool, calm, methodical voice belied the casual disregard he showed to the risk faced by the elderly and those with under-lying medical conditions;

“We believe that the lockdown is an over-reaction, we believe that it doesn’t match the threat posed by the virus. One of the world’s leading statisticians has said that the risk of dying of covid19 is about same as your risk of dying that year anyway.

It’s effectively like squeezing your risk into two weeks.”

Corin Dann asked what Dr Thornley’s modelling has shown on the risks of covid19, he um’d, ah’d, and replied;

“We haven’t done modelling to predict what is going to happen, but we’ve actually observed what has happened in other countries that have had less severe lock-downs…”

When Corin Dann pointed out that Dr Thornley was asking the vulnerable and the elderly in New Zealand to “shoulder a much bigger risk”, he couldn’t offer an answer. You could almost feel Dr Thornley “shrugging”.

Dr Thornley replied he was “sceptical of modelling and assumptions”. He glossed over high death rates until Corin Dann pointed out high death rates had hit certain countries hard.

Corin Dann returned to the elderly faced a greater risk of death from the virus. Dr Thornley replied that “the elderly unfortunately every flu season people die of seasonal influenza“.

So, that’s ok then. In effect, the premature death of people is acceptable as long as the number is below fatalities caused by influenza. Premature death caused by disease; automobile crashes; drug and alcohol abuse; poor safety practices in the construction, farming, and logging industries; murder…

Because influenza has a set death rate, it has become a bench-mark for Dr Thornley?

Corin Dann quite rightly pointed to influenza vaccines being available to protect the elderly and vulnerable.

Dr Thornley deftly side-stepped influenza and referred to Australia “weathering the storm” with fewer restrictions.

Australia has 6,500 covid19 cases with sixtyone deaths. Hardly a target we should be emulating.

Microbiologist, Dr Siouxsie Wiles, was not impressed  with Simon Thornley;

“To all the media listening to the 6 expert men, please ask them for the data which they say shows #COVID19 is “not the disaster we feared and prepared for”. Also please be mindful that Thornley did some spectacular cherry-picking last time he made the same claim.

It’s worth noting that the 6 experts seems to be saying that as vulnerable people would die at some point anyway, why not just let it be from Covid. My mum has a condition that makes her very vulnerable. But she’s fit & active & still leading a full life. Why should she die now?”

She quite rightly asked for the data from Dr Thornley;

Again. #COVID19 cases grow exponentially. So please Thornley, Schofield, et al. Show us your data. Because the data I’m looking at has plenty of countries digging mass graves.

But… according to Dr Mengele Thornley, mass graves are ok. As long as the number do not exceed influenza-caused deaths in any given year.  And anyway, victims of covid 19 were going to die anyway.

Much like you, reading this blogpost. Or me, writing it. And everyone else. We’re all going to die. Covid19 just does it in two weeks.

It strikes me as bizarre that – in a strange way – we are victims of our own success in dealing with this contagion. Because our elected representatives, the Ministry of Health, and legends in the  health sector  have achieved such incredible success in containing the spread of infection, somehow that has translated in the minds of some as an “over reaction”. That we should have been more relaxed. Let the disease take it’s course.

Because didn’t that work out well in China, Italy, Spain, France, and the United States?!

The irony is that these Doubting Thomas’s and Thomasinas  have the luxury to express such a view only because of our success. Had we gone the way of China, Italy, Spain, France, and the United States – the screaming would be from the other direction;

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Why didn’t you go sooner and harder?!”

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Typical of some New Zealanders to be so lacking in self-confidence that success somehow equates to failure.

Well, listening to our very own “Angel of Death” was a helluva way to start the morning off. And it went downhill from there…

The good news is that Hutt Gas & Plumbing were able to fix the hose on my washing machine.

The not-so-good news? The plumber (nice bloke buy the way!) had better PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) than I have in my job: full body protection suit; mask; gloves, the whole nine yards. He put the gear on outside; entered the house; replaced the munted hose; left; and removed his gear.

So to get good PPE you should be a plumber, not a worker in the Health sector.

Good to know for future reference.

Also good to know that DHBs should be sacked in future and replaced with Commissioners if they continue to withhold PPEs from frontline health workers;

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Another work day. Despite getting used to the restrictions of the lock-down, there are still frustrations. Food delivery to the facility I work at did not arrive today. Three hours wasted. Supplier promised delivery tomorrow at mid-day.

Running short on ASTM level1 masks. But on the positive side, our facility has plenty of blue latex gloves.

Maybe another facility that has spare face masks but is short on gloves can contact me and we can do an exchange?  Can throw in some feijoas from my tree as well, to ‘sweeten the deal’?

Or I can take up plumbing.

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Current covid19 cases: 1,366

Cases in ICU: 3 (1 critical)

Number of deaths: 9

 

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References

RNZ: Nine To Noon – Political Panel

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Coronavirus – New Zealand should consider quitting lockdown early, David Seymour says

RNZ:  Coronavirus – Academics want much looser rules after lockdown

Twitter: Dr Siouxsie Wiles – Dr Thornley – 14 April 2020

Twitter: Dr Siouxsie Wiles – mass graves – 14 April 2020

Otago Daily Times:  Health workers call for urgency over protective gear shortages

Mediaworks/Newshub:  DHBs accused of charging doctors for personal protective gear amidst COVID-19 outbreak

RNZ:  DHBs accused of ‘rationing’ PPE say they’re working to distribute it

Fairfax/Stuff: Coronavirus – New national PPE distribution system introduced after faults and shortages

Newsroom:  Carers forced to wash and reuse masks

RNZ:  Four more Covid-19 deaths in New Zealand, 17 new cases

Must Read

Elemental: Hold the Line

Democracy Now:  Madrid’s Ice Rink Turned to Morgue as Spain Exceeds China in Coronavirus Deaths

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 1

Life in Lock Down: Day 2

Life in Lock Down: Day 3

Life in Lock Down: Day 4

Life in Lock Down: Day 5

Life in Lock Down: Day 6

Life in Lock Down: Day 7

Life in Lock Down: Day 7 (sanitised version)

Life in Lock Down: Day 8

Life in Lock Down: Day 8 (sanitised version)

Life in Lock Down: Day 9

Life in Lock Down: Day 10

Life in Lock Down: Day 11

Life in Lock Down: Day 12

Life in Lock Down: Day 13

Life in Lock Down: Day 14

Life in Lock Down: Day 15

Life in Lock Down: Day 16 – Bad Friday

Life in Lock Down: Day 17

Life in Lock Down: Day 18

Life in Lock Down: Day 19

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This blogpost was also published on The Daily Blog on 15 April 2020.

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Life in Lock Down: Day 14

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April 8: Day 14 of living in lock-down…

The good news first: the downward trajectory of new cases appears to be a real thing. In the last four days, since Sunday, new infections have been dropping:

Sunday: 89 new cases

Monday: 67

Tuesday: 54

Today (Wednesday): 50

The bad news? Businesses and their shop-bought political servants in Parliament and fellow-travellers in the msm will be agitating to have the already-porous lock-down lifted as soon as the four week period has ended. A certain right-wing politician – with one eye on winning his electorate and boosting his Party Vote, and another eye on potential One Percenter donors – has actually called for lifting the lock-down even earlier.

Add to the above toxic mix of money-hungry business people and their right-wing political stooges – the repugnant side of self-entitled, privileged Middle New Zealanders for whom the rules do not seem to apply – and the stage is set for a potential disaster.

With the Easter long weekend fast approaching, police have been issuing statements that they will not tolerate people jumping into their cars; boats in tow; and heading off to their holiday “baches/cribs”;

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Up until this point the police have been pleading for everyone to do the “right thing”. Because as we all know, pleading works so well for a minority of Middle Class selfish idiots. The same selfish idiots who usually vote National because they demand tough “Law and Order” policies when it comes to brown people in Otara or Porirua – but don’t ever expect it used against their own privileged white skins.

The Middle Class have always expected better treatment than their poorer (mostly brown) cuzzies. Case in point, the Australian government has temporarily increased welfare benefit payments;

Jobseekers will get a $550 boost to their fortnightly welfare payments for six months in one of the largest increases to social security benefits in Australia’s history, as the government seeks to shield the unemployed ahead of a looming recession.

In a press conference at Parliament House on Sunday, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said the changes, which effectively double the rate of Jobseeker Payment, reflected a desire to cushion those “who will be feeling the first blows of the economic impact from the coronavirus”.

Make no mistake, this is not about giving extra humanitarian support for lower socio-economic people who have survived on the most basic welfare benefits. The simple reason the benefits are increasing is, as Scott Morrison, disclosed: “to cushion those “who will be feeling the first blows of the economic impact from the coronavirus”. Translation: to pander to the Middle Class who will be made jobless as covid19 cripples the Australian economy and send hundreds of thousands of them onto welfare.

Imagine the howls of outrage if Middle Class workers made unemployed suddenly discovered how pitiful welfare actually is?

The Middle Class votes (unlike those in lower socio-economic groups). No government will want to antagonise that group of voters. So up goes welfare – temporarily.

That same sense of privileged entitlement is also pervasive throughout (some of) our own Middle Class.

But not this time. I suspect that the great majority of New Zealanders from every socio-economic class; ethnic group; political leaning; gender, race; etc, have had a gutsful of these entitled oafs for whom a global pandemic means very little except an impromptu holiday. Most New Zealanders, I believe, want to see the millions of tax dollars spent on Police put to good use, clamping down on spoiled pricks who think they can get away with shit because… expensive car… expensive holiday home… latest devices… nice clothes… often private schooled spawn… in short, they’re entitled.

Our ‘protestant urge to punish’ may finally be put to good use.

Up until now, Police response has been one of tolerance that has been increasingly frustrating to those of us who fulfil our collective responsibility to stay home and respect the lock-down. The Police disclosed on 8 April that they “have now dealt with 367 breaches of the alert level four lockdown rules, with 45 prosecutions, 309 warnings and 13 youth referrals“.

Only 45 prosecutions out of 367 breaches? Is this the same Police who are going uber-macho with their armed response teams? In poorer neighbourhoods, of course.

So it’s refreshing to see in the last 24 hours our police force leadership growing a pair and moving from plaintive pleas, to outright threats of arrest;

We have … the power to arrest and we can charge for breach of the Health Notice. We’ve taken a pretty gentle approach up to this point but people have had a long time now to understand what the powers are, and so we are prepared to take enforcement action if people are deliberately flouting the rules.

And we will be out in high visibility, patrolling. We will use checkpoints in some places.

Our message to people is ‘stay home’. We’ve put too much into this to compromise it by trying to get away for a holiday weekend.” – Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, 8 April 2020

Make no mistake. The idiots who wilfully flout the rules are endangering everyone else. People have lost their jobs; their incomes; their businesses; and tragically, their lives overseas, and one here in Aotearoa.

As Far North mayor, John Carter, explained with crystal clarity;

“If we all behave ourselves, we’ll all be able to travel freely without restrictions soon. But if we breach it, and decide that we can travel and one or two or three of us spread the disease then we’re going to be in lockdown for a hell of a lot longer.”

There must be zero tolerance shown to these idiots. Prosecute and convict. No exceptions: lives and livelihoods depend on this.

Otherwise, this;

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Meanwhile, my own living in Lock-Down continues. Except, of course, I have little choice in this crisis and being part of the wider health sector, I’m an essential worker. (Kind of like winning Reverse Lotto?)

This morning, my usual ride to work took me past the Park N Ride carpark. Only two cars present.

On the main thoroughfare to SH2, the white motorhome was still parked in its odd, facing-oncoming-traffic, spot.

On the motorway, the following were observed; a light gravel-truck, marked “Whakatiki”, carrying a full load of gravel; a small “Kiwirail” hi-ab truck; an unmarked small tanker-truck; 2 ambulances; “Cabernet Foods” refrigerated truck; a fire appliance truck; a black ute marked “Arlington Motors”; “JC Plumbing” van; an unmarked traffic management van; an “Armourguard” branded car; a ute marked “WE” (Wellington Electricity); a “Toll” van; a “FMS” van; an “Inter Group” truck; a medium-sized gravel hauling truck; “Arrow” branded van; a “Downer” van; another gravel truck (company name not visible); a covered “Linfox” truck; a “Food Rescue” truck; a “Big Chill” truck; 2 “New World” covered trucks; “Downer” Incident Support truck; a “Mainfreight” truck; a flat deck truck carrying 4 port-a-loos; a “Downer” gravel truck; a “Chubb” security van; a “Hawkins” plumping van; a drain-unblocking plumber’s truck; a “Bridgestone Tyres” light truck; a “Prestons” light truck; an unbranded skip-bin truck, et al.

Note: several more commercial vehicles were either unmarked or their corporate logo could not be discerned.

Also sighted, a police car and a campervan, heading north.

It rained reasonably heavily the previous night. Cloud cover was clearing, and the sun was already shining over the region. Traffic north of SH58 turn-off was moderate; four vehicles in front, four to the rear. Moving south of the SH58 interchange, traffic thinned out. Traffic today trough the Terrace tunnel was the heaviest it has been throughout the lock-down, as was traffic in the city itself. Exiting the Terrace tunnel I could see about a dozen cars in front of me – a marked change from the one or three usually present.

Observation; despite the downward plunge for oil prices, 91 octane car fuel has remained steady at most Wellington major service stations at $1.95 per litre. Petrol companies have not been responsive to the massive drop in crude oil prices, it seems.

Tonight, as I watched the weather forecast on TV1, I was suddenly reminded how much I was missing my partner. We haven’t seen each other for three weeks, (phone calls and skype don’t count) as we scrupulously adhere to our own respective “bubbles”. There’s two weeks to go.

As Prime Minister Ardern has reminded us constantly, we need to Stay The Distance.

That evening, on my way home between 7.30 and 8.00PM, I sighted two Fulton Hogan road marking gangs at work; one in the Terrace Tunnel, and another north of the tunnel near the currently-blocked off Aotea Quay turn-off. More road marking work going on, in addition to that sighted on Monday night.

Is road marking an essential task during a global pandemic?

A further observation: with retailers, cafes, and most others obeying the letter of the law as well as the spirit, my bank account is healthier than ever before. There’s simply very little to spend money on aside from fuel, food, utilities, and the bank mortgage.

It’s amazing how much one can save (if privileged to be in a reasonable paying job) when consumerism is put on-hold.

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Current covid19 cases: 1,210

Cases in ICU: 4 (2 critical)

Number of deaths: 1

 

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References

RNZ: Covid-19: What happened on 5 April

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Coronavirus – New Zealand should consider quitting lockdown early, David Seymour says

Fairfax/Stuff media:  Coronavirus – PM, police Covid-19 warning – don’t go to your bach this Easter

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Policing Easter lockdown to include checkpoints

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Police to arrest Easter holidaymakers who don’t comply with coronavirus lockdown rules

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Coronavirus – Police warn checkpoints, extra patrols will be in place to stop Easter lockdown getaways

NewstalkZB:  Covid 19 lockdown – Police setting up checkpoints over Easter

ODT – Star News:  Cabin fever – Warning to stay away from holiday spots over Easter

RNZ: Covid-19 – Easter holidaymakers warned to stay home, away from bach

Trading Economics: Crude Oil

RNZ: Covid-19 – The key developments in New Zealand from April 8

RNZ: Number of new cases of Covid-19 continues to slowly fall

Must Read

Elemental: Hold the Line

Democracy Now:  Madrid’s Ice Rink Turned to Morgue as Spain Exceeds China in Coronavirus Deaths

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 1

Life in Lock Down: Day 2

Life in Lock Down: Day 3

Life in Lock Down: Day 4

Life in Lock Down: Day 5

Life in Lock Down: Day 6

Life in Lock Down: Day 7

Life in Lock Down: Day 7 (sanitised version)

Life in Lock Down: Day 8

Life in Lock Down: Day 8 (sanitised version)

Life in Lock Down: Day 9

Life in Lock Down: Day 10

Life in Lock Down: Day 11

Life in Lock Down: Day 12

Life in Lock Down: Day 13

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Acknowledgement: Emmerson

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This blogpost was also published on The Daily Blog on 10 April 2020.

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Life in Lock Down: Day 7 (sanitised version)

For those folk who find my other Lock-Down Diary versions too “negative” or otherwise unpalatable…

Here’s a photo of my cat,

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Better?

Tomorrow’s Sanitised Version: a pretty flower.

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Citizens vs the Rogue Deep State

16 November 2019 2 comments

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Blogger Martyn Bradbury has won his case against unreasonable search and surveillance against the NZ Police; and subsequent Police attempts to produce evidence in secrecy, in a closed Court.

His case highlights a disturbing growing trend in Aotearoa New Zealand for State power to be used against anyone who has “run foul” of The Establishment:

  • 2009: An attack by then Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett, against two solo-mothers who criticised National’s social welfare policies. Ms Bennett released personal information pertaining to the two women’s financial circumstances to silence their criticism. Ms Bennett’s actions were deemed to have been a breach of their privacy.
  • 2011: Police searched several media offices during the “Teapot Tapes” controversy. Radio NZ’s Don Rood said Radio NZ would refuse to hand over any material that might compromise anonymous sources.
  • 2014: The illegal search and seizure of Nicky Hager’s property as retribution for his investigation into the close links between a far-right blogger and the National Party. Police were attempting to uncover the identity of the whistle-blower known as “Rawshark”. The search (and seizure of property) of Mr Hager’s home was later deemed unlawful.
  • 2017: The leaking of Winston Peters’ superannuation details as part of a patently obvious political dirty tricks campaign. Senior civil servants passed on details to then-Ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley – the latter admitting in Court to disclosing those details to others. Mr Peters’ case was then leaked to the media prior to the 2017 General Election, ostensibly to destroy his political career and his party’s chances for re-election. The case is currently on-going.

This illustrates why so many New Zealanders – including the dogged John Campbell through his former programme, ‘Campbell Live’ – were 100% justified in opposing increasing the surveillance powers of the GCSB, SIS, Police, and god knows who else.

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The abuse of State agencies’ power – already considerable – showed how warranted our fears were. And still are.

It is why I made a submission in 2013 to the Justice Select committee on the GCSB Bill (which would permit surveillance of New Zealanders in our own country) should not only stop – but that the powers of the GCSB should be re-set to those of 1977. Then a full public enquiry held to determine what, if any, changes really needed to be made.

I still believe this more than ever to be necessary.

Secondly, the so-called Police apology to Martyn Bradbury is notable for an appalling part of their statement;

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“Police apologise for the stress and other psychological harm caused to you by virtue of YOUR INVOLVEMENT in this investigation.” [My emphasis.]

That is insulting phaseology and is a sly suggestion that blame continues to lie with Martyn Bradbury. It strongly suggests that Police hierarchy have yet to fully comprehend the nature of their abuse of power.

Additionally, there was also financial and reputational harm caused to Martyn by Police abuse of their power. It is now clear that he was denied bank loans as a direct consequence of improper Police activity.

The appropriate phrasing should have been;

“Police apologise for the financial, reputational, stress, and other psychological harm caused to you by virtue of our over-zealous actions that inappropriately involved you in our investigation.”

That phrasing would be accepting responsibility. The original wording barely achieves that.

Lastly, someone authorised this illegal activity. Those individual(s) are still in positions of authority within the New Zealand Police. They still wield power – unbridled power.

I find that troubling in the extreme.

There must be resignation(s) from the Police force. Someone must be held to account.

Just as the rest of us are, under the law.

Famous Last Words

From Parliament, on 27 March 2003, when the Government Communications Security Bureau Bill was being debated;

“This is a good bill. I do not accept the criticism of those who speak against it, that somehow it means that information about people will be gathered improperly…” – Peter Dunne, then-MP and leader of the United Future Party, speaking on behalf of a Bill to extend the power of the GCSB

Media Reporting

Perhaps even more shameful than Police behaviour has been that of the Fourth Estate reporting this issue to the public. Search engine checks (and confirmation by Martyn Bradbury) have both confirmed that only the NZ Herald and Magic Talk radio have reported the outcome of this case and the Police backdown and apology. The Herald article is pay-walled and consequently of little use to non-subscribers.

The Police abuse of power and the gross invasion of Martyn Bradbury’s private life could happen to any of us. But you wouldn’t know it going by the Total Media Blackout at TVNZ, Mediaworks/TV3, Fairfax/Stuff, and even sadly – Radio NZ.

Perhaps if TV3, TVNZ, et al, had reported less of the gruesome details of two current murder court cases, the public of Aotearoa New Zealand might be more informed on one of the most important civil rights cases in recent years.

Imagine if every mainstream media devoted the same scrutiny and reporting of Martyn Bradbury’s civil rights case against the police as they did to Grace Millane’s drinking on the night leading up to her demise.

We might be a very well-informed nation indeed. Sadly that is not the reality.

We have been let down badly by those empowered to preserve the law, and by those we entrust to speak truth to power. The media are supposedly tasked to shine a light on events that are of crucial importance to society; to the people; and to every individual.The freedom of the Fourth Estate is critical, they keep telling us, as a bulwark against State excess; to promote openness; and to hold those in power accountable.

They utterly failed us.

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The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.”

– John Philpot Curran (24 July 1750 – 14 October 1817)

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References

The Daily Blog:  5 years and finally justice – NZ Police formally apologise & settle for breaching my civil rights

The Daily Blog:  My case against a secret NZ Police investigation that breached my privacy and my civil rights

The Daily Blog:  Kafka’s Shadow – My hearing against NZ Police & secret trials

Fairfax/Stuff media: Paula Bennett accused of Muldoon-style bullying

Fairfax/Stuff media: Bennett won’t rule out releasing beneficiary details

NZ Herald:  TV3 searched over teapot tape

Fairfax/Stuff media: Radio NZ hands over ‘tea tape’ interview

NZ Herald: Police pay Nicky Hager ‘substantial damages’ for unlawful search of his home in hunt for Dirty Politics hacker

Radio NZ: Anne Tolley admits ‘outburst’ in Winston Peters superannuation case

Mediaworks/Newshub: Police accessed blogger’s bank records unlawfully – report

Parliament: Hansards – Government Communications Security Bureau Bill – Third Reading

NZ Herald: ‘Bomber’ Bradbury gets apology from police after exploit used to access bank records, driving him to the edge

Previous related blogposts

The GCSB Act – some history…

The GCSB Act – Tracy Watkins gets it right

The secret closed trials of Soviet Russia. (And Aotearoa New Zealand)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 November 2019.

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Referenda on Euthanasia – NZ First’s Victory – or a Major Miscalculation?

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NZ First’s success in putting the euthenasia bill to a public referenda may not be the victory they believe it to be. They may even have sounded the death-knell for a second Labour-NZ First-Green coalition.

On 23 July this year, NZ First MP, Jenny Marcroft, submitted a Supplementary Order Paper whereby a  binding public referendum on David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill would be held at next year’s General Election.

Ms Marcroft voiced her party’s non-negotiable expectations on this issue;

“The New Zealand First caucus’ further support of the Bill is contingent upon the amendment, providing for a referendum, passing.”

Ms Marcroft’s justification for calling for a binding referendum sounded lofty, apparently based on high principle;

“New Zealand First believes this issue directly affects the fabric of society, and is one that temporarily empowered politicians alone should not decide upon. This decision requires the direct participation of the voting public.”

Whether NZ First actually believes that is unclear.

One thing is for certain; if successive polls are any indication, the referendum will pass the Bill into law.

In which case, NZ First can claim – hand on heart – that it “simply had no choice but to follow the will of the people”. So NZ First may escape the wrath of critics of euthanasia who will then focus their electoral retribution elsewhere (or so NZ First hopes.)

But NZ First can also claim praise from supporters of the Bill by pointing out it was instrumental in it’s adoption (albeit indirectly).

Writing for Newsroom, Sam Sachdeva made a similar point;

“But in pushing for referendums on euthanasia and abortion, Peters positions himself either claim the credit or dole out the blame depending on the vote result and fallout, and more easily peel off both red and blue voters come 2020. Politically, it is shrewd.”

All things to all people. It’s a cunning plan, if that was the true underlying reason for promoting the referendum.

Unfortunately, as with most cunning plans, there are often unintended consequences.

This is ACT’s Bill. Relitigating this issue next year as the election campaign heats up gives ACT much needed oxygen –  extra publicity by using every platform available to promote the referendum and promote itself at the same time.

If the publicity of championing the Individual’s right to choice gives ACT an extra couple of percentage points of Party Votes, David Seymour could find himself with three extra MPs.  If National’s support holds at around the 47%-mark – that gives them 57 seats. Fiftyseven National plus four ACT = Prime Minister Simon Bridges.

An unpleasant thought, to put it mildly.

NZ First’s wily old fox and its political strategists may not have thought this one through.

In 1996, the Alliance put forward a Citizen’s Initiated Referenda on whether or not the country’s state forest plantations and cutting rights should remain in public ownership.

The Alliance’s chief stategist-at-the-time, Matt McCarten toured the country, explaining to every electorate Branch that the CIR on forestry ownership would likely boost the Alliance’s prospects at the first MMP election in late 1996. Matt explained that the added publicity of the Alliance policy on public ownership of strategic state assets would be a major draw-card in the coming election. With MMP imbedded as the new, fairer, electoral system, the Alliance would finally be able to capitalise on every vote cast for the party.

No more “wasted votes”.  A CIR, in Jim Anderton’s name, would remind voters which political movement opposed the steady advance of neo-liberalism. That “nudge” in the ballot-booth could benefit the Alliance immensely.

Matt McCarten gave his speech to a packed hall in the Rongotai Electorate in the presence of dozens of party activists; local Alliance candidate, Bill Hamilton, and a much younger Electorate Secretary – Frank Macskasy.

The CIR lapsed due to the high number of valid signatures required – ten percent of registered voters – within an unfeasibly tight time-frame; twelve months.

But the very act of thousands of highly-motivated Alliance activists going door-knocking in the lead up to the 1996 Election Day, presenting the petition; discussing it with householders; reminding them face-to-face that the Alliance was staunchly opposed to privatisation – may have provided an impetus even if the CIR itself failed to gain sufficient valid signatures in time.

In 1993 there were two Alliance MPs.

After the 1996 Election, the number skyrocketed to thirteen.

Even though votes for the Alliance fell from 350,063 in 1993 to 209,347 (siphoned off to a fledgling NZ First, that had also campaigned on halting asset sales) public support was still considerable. The unsuccessful petition event may have contributed to the success of both parties.

Twentyfour years later, and the stark possibility exists that NZ First may – inadvertently – assist it’s nemesis at the next election.

According to media reports, David Seymour, says  “he didn’t feel strongly either way about the referendum, but saw it as a necessity“. A “necessity” to win more votes and seats next year?

Mr Seymour is not without political nous. With one eye on recent polling and the other on next year’s general election, he may also have calculated that NZ First has inadvertently thrown him a life-line.

If ACT gains exposure from the euthanasia referendum throughout next year’s campaigning, finally reminding voters at the ballot box, the outcome  may be the greatest unintended consequence since the a certain intoxicated Prime Minister thought an early election would be a… cunning plan.

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References

NZ First: Binding referendum on End of Life Choice Bill

NZ Parliament: End of Life Choice Bill

Mediaworks/Newshub: Most New Zealanders support euthanasia

TVNZ: Strong support for legalising euthanasia in 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll, as MPs set to thrash out details

Scoop Media: New Poll – Euthanasia Support Overwhelmingly Strong

Wikipedia: Referendums in New Zealand

Newsroom: Why Winston Peters is wrong on referendums

Wikipedia: 1996 New Zealand general election

Wikipedia: 1993 New Zealand general election

ODT: Euthanasia bill to go to referendum

Other Blogs

No Right Turn: Death with dignity (various)

The Daily Blog: Why NZ First are right and the Euthanasia law needs to be a public referendum

The Standard: The End of Life Choice Bill

The Standard: Parliament votes to give disabled people the right to a good life

Previous related blogposts

John Key – Practicing Deflection 101

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 October 2019.

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Ihumātao – What Pākehā should *NOT* do

1 October 2019 2 comments

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With some historical and present context, it should become readily apparent to Pakeha that the occupation at Ihumātao is not a free-for-all conflict for any and everyone to become involved in.

First, some important dates:

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1840

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The year in which the Treaty of Waitingi was signed. Article Two of the Treaty was especially important for Maori;

Article Two

Māori version: confirmed and guaranteed the chiefs ‘te tino rangatiratanga’ – the exercise of chieftainship – over their lands, villages and ‘taonga katoa’ – all treasured things. Māori agreed to give the Crown a right to deal with them over land transactions.

English version: confirmed and guaranteed to the chiefs ‘exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests, fisheries, and other properties’. The Crown sought an exclusive right to deal with Māori over land transactions.

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1863

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Twenty three years after the last signature to the Treaty document had dried, land at  Ihumātao was seized ‘by proclamation’ under the New Zealand Settlements Act. Four hundred hectares of land at Ihumātao was taken by the Colonial Government and transferred to settler families in the area;

“There was an accusation that was levelled against Waikato that there was an imminent plot to attack the settlers of Auckland. It was a fabrication, part of [Governor George] Grey’s dodgy dossier,” says O’Malley. “The accusation was window-dressing for the British Colonial Office, to give the appearance that Grey had no choice but to take troops into the Waikato.”

More than 400 hectares of land at Ihumātao was confiscated by the Crown, as punishment for the community’s allegiance to the King movement, and given to a handful of settler families.

Article two of the Treaty had been well and truly breached. “Exclusive possession of the land” had been “disturbed” as thoroughly as it could be.

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2008

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The Crown recognised Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority with which to undertake settlement negotiations for breach-of-Treaty claims.

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2014

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A Deed of Settlement was signed at Makaurau Marae in Māngere, between the Crown and Te Kawerau ā Maki Iwi Authority.

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2016

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A group of tangata whenua calling themselves SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) establish a presence at Ihumātao Quarry Road.

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Present

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The presence  of SOUL and supporters at Ihumātao had swelled to several thousand people, from all over the country. The congenial attitude of Police, interacting peacefully with protectors/protestors, could be seen as the ‘New Zealand Way’ of doing things. (Subsequently, that good-will took a severe battering when some twit within the Police hierarchy thought it would be a ‘clever idea’ to publicly carry a firearm in the vicinity of the occupation.)

Politically, there have been many voices demanding many forms of ‘action’ or ‘intervention’.

From ACT’s shallow knowledge of history and feeding red-meat to it’s reactionary base;

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Mr Seymour’s references to the occupiers “break[ing] the law and illegally occupy[ing] other people’s private property“; “legitimis[ing] unlawful behaviour by capitulating to an illegal occupation“, and “capitulat[ing] to a ragtag bunch of socialists and prison abolitionists” can only be described as a toxic, noisome, brew of crass ignorance and racism.

There is black irony and unashamed hypocrisy is describing the occupation as “break[ing] the law and illegally occupy[ing] other people’s private property” and “legitimis[ing] unlawful behaviour by capitulating to an illegal occupation” when the land was originally unlawfully seized, illegally occupied, and on-sold to colonial settlers in the first place.

His description of the occupiers as “a ragtag bunch of socialists and prison abolitionists– without once mentioning that they were tangata whenua, was wilfully insulting, with more racism piled on.  David Seymour is without self-awareness or shame with his appalling comments.

Then we heard Simon Bridges criticising Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern making a state visit to Tokelau on Radio NZ;

“She’s put herself in it and where is she? She’s taken herself off for days to Tokelau – 1500 people – well every MP has a street she hasn’t visited that has many more people than that and look, whether it’s the stalling economy, whether it’s Ihumātao, whether it’s a bunch of other issues – the prime minister and government are showing themselves to be a part-time prime minister and government.”

But when asked by Radio NZ’s Corin Dann if she should have attended Ihumātao, his equivocation was cringeworthy and embarrassing;

“No. Because I don’t believe a leader necessarily needs to insert themselves in this. I think that’s – [interuption]

[…] She shouldn’t have got involved.

[…] She got involved. She set a bad precedent.

[…] I would not be intervening in this particular instance, the way the Prime Minister is.”

On Twitter, Russell Brown from the Public Address blog, put it perfectly when he summed up Simon Bridge’s insanely contradictory statements;

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Hone Harawira said it most clearly;

“It would be nice to see the Māori ministers leading here rather than being told what to do by Jacinda. I don’t think she knows what’s going on here. Stay overseas. Leave it to Peeni and the whānau here. Let’s get it done.”

This is especially vital considering that the dispute over Ihumātao appears to be a schism with local Māori. As RNZ’s Te Manu Korihi Editor, Shannon Haunui-Thompson, explained;

This isn’t a Māori versus Fletcher issue – on both sides are members of the same iwi, hapū and whānau.

When the eviction notices were served yesterday, well-respected kaumātua of Te Kawerau a Maki and Te Akitai accompanied police and asked for the occupation to end and for them to leave Ihumātao peacefully. They even performed a karakia.

Ms Haunui-Thompson also rejected that the dispute was “generational”;

“…to say it’s a rangitahi [younger generation] issue is incorrect. There’s definitely a divide though amongst the iwi, amongst the hapu and whanau.”

To make it clear, it was not for the Prime Minister to intervene. Calls for her to visit Ihumātao were misguided. Her presence, at best, would be symbolic. At worst, misconstrued as more pakeha paternalism.

What was appropriate was for Māori MPs to visit; to listen; to facilitate where possible; to carry back to the Government what they had seen and heard. Māori working with Māori.

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“It’s a tense feeling here at Ihumātao as ministers arrive at the whenua.” – Te Aniwa Hurihanganui, Radio NZ, @teaniwahuri

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Simon Bridges then played the “law and order” and “private land rights”, cards. On 30 July, interviewed on  TVNZ’s “Q+A”, Jack Tame asked the current National Party Leader if he “would support police removing the people who are occupying the land at the moment“. Mr Bridges dodged the question;

“Well, it’s pretty simple when it comes to protests. You have an absolute right in this country to legitimate, fair, vociferous protest; you don’t have a right to break the law and get in the way of other people’s lawful activity.”

When asked again, Mr Bridges played the “Dumb Card”;

“Well, I don’t know the ins and outs…”

It was a simple question. It had only two possible answers;

  1. Yes, I would support the police removing protestors.
  2. No, I wouldn’t support police removing protestors.

There is no third option.

Any mature person watching that exchange and listening to Mr Bridges’ response could reasonably infer that (a) Simon Bridges had no idea whatsoever of the issues surrounding Ihumātao or (b) understood the issues perfectly well, but did not have the guts to offer a definitive answer.

Neither option is an edifying position for The Man Who Would Be Prime Minister. If he doesn’t “know the ins and out” perhaps he should do what all new MPs do in Parliament: breathe through his nose.

Barely two weeks later, Simon Bridges was once again pontificating by press release, On 11 August, he demanded that Prime Minister Ardern tell “protestors to go home and let the landowners build houses for Aucklanders“.

So there we have it: Simon Bridges is of the opinion that Jacinda Ardern has the Stalinist power to command  “protestors to go home“.  Who would have thought she wielded such Imperial Roman authority over her subjects. Mr Bridges had best tread cautiously; the Prime Minister could send him packing as well.

The reality is that Mr Bridges can comfortably pontificate  what should or should not be done. Or both. His comments can (and have been) as contradictory as he fancies. He can cause harm; sow discord; rattle nerves. From the relative safety and responsibility-free-zone of  the Opposition, he can say whatever he likes, regardless of consequences.

What is telling is that none of his utterances have been in any way constructive. His chest-thumping machismo no substitute for calmer, cooler heads. We are fortunate that he is nowhere near the “levers of power”.

Contrast Simon Bridges’ incoherence and impotence with that of the solemn mana of the Māori King, Kiingi Tūheitia Potatau Te Wherowhero VII, who on 3 August was welcomed onto Ihumātao with a formal pōwhiri;

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Kiingi Tūheitia offered to mediate between protectors/protestors and the Iwi authority to find a way forward. Kiingitanga spokeswoman, Rukumoana Schaafhausen, said;

“We have to hear all the mana whenua and find a way forward that works for all of them.”

The meeting would not include Fletchers, or the Government, Schaafhausen said. 

And that is the point that has eluded most people: this issue is for mana whenua to discuss and to arrive at a solution. It is not for the pakeha Coalition government to intervene. It is not for the police to force protestors out. And it is most certainly not for self-serving politicians from the Right to exploit this issue for a perverted “law and order” beat-up to win a few votes from ill-informed redneck voters.

This is for Māori to resolve.

As the Māori version of Article Two of te Tiriti states;

“…confirmed and guaranteed the chiefs ‘te tino rangatiratanga’ – the exercise of chieftainship”

At a time when Māori are determined to take firmer control of their own affairs – such as up-lifting and placement of Māori children by Oranga Tamariki – resolving disputes such as Ihumātao can only achieved by those directly involved.

The Crown – represented by the government – can assist. It can mediate. And in the end it can listen.

On 18 September, mana whenua announced that they had negotiated and reached a decision;

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Māori had arrived at a resolution. By Māori, for Māori.

Kiingi Tūheitia explained the position that had been arrived at:

“Mana whenua agree they want their land returned, so they can make decisions about its future.”

Kiingi Tūheitia further expressed mana whenua’s desired outcome:

“Kiingitanga has conveyed the views of mana whenua to the government and urged it to negotiate with Fletchers for the return of Ihumātao to its rightful owners.”

Now is the rightful moment for the Crown, through the Coalition Government, to sit at the table and play it’s rightful part as one of the two Treaty partners.

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References

Encyclopedia of New Zealand – Te Ara: Treaty of Waitangi – Interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi

Radio NZ: Ihumātao land battle – a timeline

New Zealand Geographic: When worlds collide

NZ Government: Te Kawerau ā Maki – Summary

NZ Government: Te Kawerau ā Maki

NZ Herald: Battle for Ihumātao – How farmland became a flashpoint

Fairfax/Stuff: Police officer sings with protesters at Ihumātao

Fairfax/Stuff: Ihumātao – Police deny carrying firearms at protest after Facebook video outcry

Twitter: David Seymour – Ihumātao – 10:25 PM – July 26, 2019

Twitter: David Seymour – Ihumātao – 11:01 AM – July 27, 2019

Twitter: David Seymour – Ihumātao – 08:12 AM – July 28, 2019

Radio NZ: Ihumātao – Simon Bridges slams PM for timing of Tokelau trip

Radio NZ: Bridges defends ‘part-time PM’ criticism of Ardern

Twitter: Russell Brown – Ihumatao – Simon Bridges – 7:34 AM – July 31, 2019

Radio NZ: Ihumātao – Government ministers welcomed to protest site with powerful powhiri

Radio NZ: Explainer – Why Ihumātao is being occupied by ‘protectors’

Twitter: Te Aniwa Hurihanganui – Ministers arrive at Ihumātao – 12:11 PM, July 27 2019

TVNZ: Q+A – Simon Bridges interviewed by Jack Tame

Victoria University: Research Archive – Breathing Through their Noses – Candidate Selection and Role Adaptation amongst First-Term MPs in the New Zealand Parliament

National: Tell them to go home, Prime Minister (alt.link)

NZ Herald: Kīngitanga flag raised at Ihumātao, to stay until resolution reached

Fairfax/Stuff media: Ihumātao – Māori King invites mana whenua to meet to find a solution

TVNZ: ‘By Māori, for Māori’ – Oranga Tamariki hui reveals Māori want to look after their own

Radio NZ: Mana whenua reach decision on Ihumātao land

Beehive: Government welcomes Kingitanga statement on Ihumātao

The Spinoff: Mana whenua have agreed to keeping the land at Ihumātao. So what comes next?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 September 2019.

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

21 September 2019 Leave a comment

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Just when you thought Simon Bridges couldn’t sink any lower – he has.

After the March 15th  Christchurch terror attack, the (current) Leader of the National Party issued strong committments to support urgently needed gun law reform;

“We will be ready and prepared to be constructive and to look at anything here because we do need to see some change.”

“Change is needed, I understand that, and the National Party will make sure it’s a constructive party in all of this. I am no expert in this. There may be loopholes that can be fixed quite readily and quickly.

Yes, that’s probably the right way to go [to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons] but let’s hear from the government. It is now for the government and the prime minister, whose roles I respect in this, to put forward those proposals. We are up for change.”

“Everything has changed. Everything has changed. Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying to you we shouldn’t have gun control change. I don’t myself know what would have changed this… we had someone who had IEDs in their car.”

National has been clear since this devastating attack that we support changes to our regime and that we will work constructively with the Government. We agree that the public doesn’t need access to military style semi-automatic weapons. National supports them being banned along with assault rifles. We also support the Government’s proposals to limit the access to other high powered semi-automatic weapons and ammunition.”

It’s imperative in the national interest to keep New Zealanders safe. The attacks on Friday changed New Zealand, the intention of the gun law changes is excellent and I understand the need for urgency. We remain committed to ensuring the safety of New Zealanders and fighting extremism in all forms.

National will work constructively with the Government to ensure we get this right. We support the prime minister and I think most of our rural communities will understand.”

The above statements from Mr Bridges were also posted on the National Party website. So there is simply no room for error and claims of being misquoted.

Writing on The Standard, L Prent acknowledged Simon Bridges’ constructive response to the massacre and need for thorough, wide-ranging gun-reform laws;

“Now I know that most people are going to be surprised that I finally have a reason to laud Simon Bridges (I know I am). But I just have to on this occasion. Both he and the public responses of National to the announcements yesterday were excellent.

They’re fully supporting the thrust of the proposed changes going forward into the future. As National seem to have made a career in politics of being stupid over my lifetime, I’m sure it won’t last. But I’m going to enjoy it while it does.

And on Twitter, this blogger posted a dire warning/prediction;

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Alas, neither L Prent nor I were to be disappointed.

Six months later, Simon Bridge is back tracking.

On 28 August, Simon Bridges announced he would not be supporting a second trance of gun reform laws.

“No, I’m not making this political, it’s not about the Police Association. It’s about a situation where National supported the first law, which was the right thing to do – but the buyback scheme, however, is a fiasco.

We look at this new law, and it seems like it’s aimed at law-abiding New Zealanders. It’s not aimed at the gangs, the crims and the extremists, where it should be.

Just to be clear, the buy-back scheme has thus far netted around 20,000 banned weapons from 20 June this year. The scheme will be on-going until 20 December.

Whether the scheme will retrieve every single banned weapon and parts is unknown: successive governments have failed to implement registration of individual firearms. Which is bizarre, considering we, as a society, consider it normal to register cars, dogs, real estate agents, etc.

Since the initial banning of semi-automatic weapons and associated parts, and buy-back scheme (which Australia successfully carried out following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre by a deranged gunman), a second tranche of gun reform was introduced;

  • Establishing a firearms register
  • Make owning a gun a “privilege” that comes with obligations
  • Tighten the rules to obtain and keep a gun licence
  • Tighten the rules for gun dealers to get and keep a licence
  • Require licences to be renewed every five years
  • Not allow visitors to purchase guns in New Zealand
  • Introduce a new warning system for police so they can intervene if they have concerns about a licence holder’s behaviour
  • Introduce a licencing system for shooting clubs and ranges
  • Set up an expert group to advise the police on firearms
  • Introduce new advertising standards around guns
  • Require licences to buy magazines, parts and ammunition
  • Increase penalties and introduce new offences

The rules seem so straight-forward that it beggars belief they were not already in place. Bear in mind, these are lethal, high-powered weapons we are talking about – not registration of ‘Mr Bigglesworth‘, the family pet chihuahua.

By the end of August, Simon Bridges began walking-back of every statement he made following March 15th. His spin-doctor-crafted “talking points” glaringly obvious;

“We look at this new law, and it seems like it’s aimed at law-abiding New Zealanders. It’s not aimed at the gangs, the crims and the extremists, where it should be.

“In short, the Government is going after the good guys and not the bad guys [with these rules].

“There’s no politics. It’s simply a question of a next series of laws that seem to be aimed at good, law abiding people rather than criminals, the gangs and extremists.

It is difficult to understand how the proposed new restrictions would “not [be] aimed at the gangs, the crims and the extremists“. Just to remind everyone that the (alleged) Christchurch shooter was also a licenced, “good, law abiding person” – right up until he pulled the trigger at his first victim. Then he wasn’t.

In fact, the new laws should make it harder for  “gangs, the crims and the extremists” to possess firearms. Because – according to Police – most firearms ending up in the hands of “gangs, the crims and the extremists” – come from “good, law abiding people” with gun licences.

According to a NZ Herald report in 2016, by Phil Taylor, licenced gun dealers were a prime source of guns for “gangs, the crims and the extremists”;

“Most of the illegal guns we come across are from burglaries or from rogue licensed owners,” said the drug enforcement source.

Rogues such as Peter James Edwards. Edwards, who had a class A licence that enabled him to buy rifles and shotguns in a sporting configuration, made a business out of buying guns and pimping them for criminals by cutting down the barrel or stock and adding pistol grips and silencers.

Pistol-size firearms are prized by criminals because they are easily carried and concealed.

Over 18 months, Edwards, described in court as unemployed, bought 74 firearms including 69 from Gun City’s Auckland and Christchurch stores, plus more than 16,000 rounds of ammunition, a large number of parts including pump-action pistol grips, and pistol grips.

He pleaded guilty to supplying firearms to unlicensed people, supplying a pistol and supplying methamphetamine. Edwards sold methamphetamine to his daughter, starting on her 19th birthday.

He was sentenced in 2014 to a total of five years and 10 months in prison. It was revealed in court that he had 53 previous convictions in Western Australia. He had failed to declare any previous convictions on his gun licence application.

Edwards claimed not to know the names of anyone he sold to, and would not help recover 64 firearms that were missing and believed to be in the hands of Head Hunters gang members and associates.

In another example;

Another who didn’t want to help police trace the firearms he sold to criminals was John Mabey.

“He probably has a greater fear of those associated with the guns than anything we can bring to bear,” Inspector Greg Nicholls told the Herald after Mabey was sent to jail in 2009.

Mabey gained a gun licence at a young age and later added a “collectors’ endorsement” that entitled him to have restricted weapons such as pistols and submachine guns and military-style semi-automatics.

He fell into debt and decided to sell his collection on the black market. When notified that police planned to check his collection, he faked a burglary in which he claimed his entire collection of restricted firearms had been stolen. He maintained the fiction for two years before admitting he had faked the burglary.

Only 11 of 121 of Mabey’s restricted guns have been recovered. Glock and Beretta pistols were found in the possession of a drug maker and seller who had fired at police officers during a routine traffic stop.

A Browning pistol was found in the possession of a methamphetamine cook. A Luger pistol was found in the home of a Mongrel Mob member. Methamphetamine was involved again.

Because individual firearms are not registered, the number of transactions involving purchase and sales is not recorded. As the same police source pointed out;

“There is no way of identifying who is buying too many guns. There might be an innocent explanation for why someone buys firearms five times a year, but when someone buys 69 guns in a short space of time … hang on, that’s not right.”

In 2012, in a Police report – the (2011) National Strategic Assessment paper – found  that “325 illegal firearms were seized in police raids in the year to June. While that is the lowest haul in the past five years, it is still an alarming number and, along with other aspects of the present firearms regime, a cause for continuing concern. Most of the guns seized by the police were stolen in residential burglaries or from collectors by organised criminals.

Four years later, in 2016, information relating to the underground business of illegal firearms sales was sought by the the Law and Order Select Committee when Judith Collins was Police Minister. Simon Bridges was a colleague of Ms Collins in the same government. They did nothing to tighten gun control laws. Three years later, fiftyone people were shot dead in a Christchurch mosque and scores more injured.

The same 2012 Herald editorial, which revealed the findings of the (2011) National Strategic Assessment paper had warned presciently;

Parliament needs to act before the laxity of current regulations is underlined again by a tragedy involving unlicensed guns.

The (alleged) terrorist-killer was a legally licenced gun owner. His weapons – unregistered.

If Simon Bridges is now playing politics to curry favour with gun owners and conservative voters, it is a deadly ‘game’ he is indulging in. Fiftyone people paid the ultimate price because this country – and successive governments – was to naive and blase to realise the deadly nature of poorly regulated gun ownership.

Mr Bridges has plumbed new depths of dirty politics. To return to partisan politics on an issue which – literally – is a matter of life and death is troubling.

It is obvious that he has waited until the moment of the tragedy subsided. Once the screams and cries of frightened innocent men, women, and children no longer reverated through our collective consciousness; once the searing white-hot grief had dimmed; once the headlines moved on; did Mr Bridges think it was safe to conduct political business-as-usual?

If so, it demonstrates an almost sociopathic callousness that would be beyond most of us.

His win-at-any-expense strategy for next years’ election shows the true, deeply-flawed character of the man. It raises the question; what won’t he do to win votes?

And for all New Zealanders, especially National supporters, the question becomes; is this the kind of person we should trust to lead us?

Postscript:

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A recent National Party leaflet delivered to households;

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In the latest 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll, eligible New Zealand voters were asked what they thought of the Government’s moves [on gun reform].

Sixty-one per cent thought the changes were about right, 19% thought it did not go far enough and 14% thought it went too far.

Simon Bridges should listen more carefully.

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References

NZ Herald: Christchurch mosque shootings: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expected to announce gun law changes

Radio NZ: Christchurch terror attacks – National Party leader Simon Bridges says gun control laws need changing

Mediaworks/Newshub: Christchurch mosque terror attack – National changes tune on gun control

Newsroom: Military style semi-automatic guns banned

Fairfax/Stuff media: National supports gun law changes in wake of Christchurch mosque shootings

National: National supports firearms reform

Twitter: F. Macskasy – Christchurch shooting – Simon Bridges

The Standard: Adequate gun control and (almost) complete party support.

Radio NZ: Police Association says National playing politics with gun laws

Fairfax/Stuff media:

Fairfax/Stuff media: Scepticism and enthusiasm for new gun laws as buy-back figures approach 20,000

NZ Police: Information on prohibited firearms

Wikipedia: Port Arthur massacre (Australia)

Mediaworks/Newshub: Second tranche of gun law changes – Firearms register, tighter licencing

NZ Herald: Simon Bridges reveals National is unlikely to support second tranche of gun law reforms

Mediaworks/Newshub: Simon Bridges says gun laws soft on ‘crims, gangs and extremists’

NZ Herald: The Big Read – How are criminals getting their guns?

NZ Herald: Editorial – Unregistered guns invite a tragedy

Parliament: How do criminals get illegal guns?

TVNZ: New poll – 61% of New Zealanders back gun ban in wake of Christchurch atrocity

Other Blogs

Bowalley Road: What Happened Here?

The Daily Blog: Trying to understand National’s position on Gun reform is like trying to understand Trump’s position on nuking hurricanes

The Daily Blog: Dear Gun owners of NZ – you don’t like the buy back plan? We are honestly more than happy for you to be arrested and the guns seized from you

The Daily Blog: Gun nuts should be under surveillance now

The Daily Blog: Jacinda goes beyond ‘thoughts & prayers’ and will change gun laws

The Daily Blog: If we can ban single use plastic bags and fireworks – why the Christ can’t we ban machine guns for civilian use?

The Daily Blog: Bryan Bruce – 100% support for gun law reform call by The Prime Minister

The Standard: Adequate gun control and (almost) complete party support.

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell on why the government shouldn’t run the Christchurch massacre inquiry

Previous related blogposts

15 March: Aotearoa’s Day Of Infamy

The Christchurch Attack: is the stage is set for a continuing domino of death?

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13 November 1990

That was then…

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15 March 2019

This is now…

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 16 September2019.

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= fs =

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

14 September 2019 3 comments

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This blogpost is different to my usual format of reporting on issues…

Since July 1011, I have blogged on a variety of political issues; near always political and/or environmental; mostly highly critical of the previous National Government. Other issues included Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and repression of the Palestinian people; the threat of climate change; human rights here and abroad; the  reaction to globalisation  manifested by the symptom of Trump and Brexit; opposition to the secretly negotiated TPPA; the obscenity of the international arms industry; the utter failure of the neo-liberal experiment as families were forced to live in motels, garages, and cars, and much more.

The hostile, dehumanising culture of WINZ was a problem I took particular interest in, as well as homelessness.

In February 2013, Martyn invited me to contribute to his ‘new’ project, The Daily Blog. It was a honour to participate and I devoted as much time as could be squeezed into a 24 hour period to research, write, correct, research more, format, write, proof-read – post! Always research. Make sure the facts were as correct as could be – though on occassion sharp-eyed readers picked up on a mistake and were not shy in letting me know. (Which I always appreciated.)

My motivating principle, as much as possible, was to highlight a injustice; point out where something had gone wrong, and offer a solution where possible.

The Key-led (later Bill English-led) government offered no shortage of issues to write up. There were even problems with this current government that I felt necessitated criticism.

I rarely took exception to issues and opinions expressed by my fellow Daily Bloggers, even when I thought they were wrong (we don’t all think alike as some collective ‘Hive Mind’ – more on that point in a moment).

At the top of my concerns were always those most vulnerable; the poor; the homeless; ethnic minorities, and others who were slightly different to mainstream white middle-class Aotearoa New Zealand such as the LGBTQI community.

On 5 September, my Daily Blog colleague (and in many ways, a mentor to me) Martyn Bradbury published a blogpost; “Imagine the uproar if any other Political Party self censored the way the Greens just did.

It was a critique on the Green’s decision to remove an article by “long-time Green Party member Jill Abigail“.

I have read the article.

Far from being a “moderate”, “mild”, or “reasonable”, it was a thinly-disguised attack on tran speople – specifically, trans women. Trans men are not mentioned anywhere once in her article. It was another in a line of attacks on trans women.

Ms Abigail tried to sound tolerant and inclusive;

“Transpeople are a vulnerable group that until recently has been excluded from general consideration and now justly claim their right to be treated with equal respect.”

But her subsequent comments revealed her true agenda and negated her previous sentiment;

“I am horrified by what is happening overseas: the shutting down of free speech; the silencing and abuse of academic experts; young children being taught they can be in the ’wrong’ body, thus reinforcing stereotypes; women’s refuges and rape crisis centres no longer safe sanctuaries; lesbians being accused of transphobia if they insist on same-sex relationships; malebodied athletes entering women’s sports and taking the prizes; the very language changing to erase females/women, in the name of ‘inclusiveness’.

[…]

Most serious of all is the medicalisation of children. I recently met a woman who had taken her 11-year-old daughter to a doctor because of a sore throat. The daughter is a tomboy, with short hair. The doctor asked the mother if she wanted the girl to go on puberty blockers. An 11-year-old goes to the doctor with a sore throat and is given a suggestion of puberty blockers?

Gender-critical feminists have allies among some transpeople themselves, who see this ideology as a misogynist, homophobic, men’s rights push. No previous extensions of human rights for new groups have involved taking away the rights of others needing protection. It would be progressive of the Greens to be working for solutions that are fair to everyone, rather than reinforcing the current divide.”

Like saying, “I’m not a racist, but…”

Those three paragraphs are a regurgitation of similar comments made by other so-called “gender critical feminists” (aka “TERFs”) and their over-eager cis male allies.

Let’s scrutinise those three paragraphs.

“I am horrified by what is happening overseas: the shutting down of free speech; the silencing and abuse of academic experts…”

Many of those “academic experts” have columns in mainstream media as well as reported widely via social media. The fact that Ms Abigail’s article has been widely reported; republished; and commented on belies her assertion of being silenced.

Furthermore, there is no automatic right for anyone to be published anywhere, unless engaging in self-publication or self-blogging. The Green Party does not publish opinion pieces by National or ACT supporters and vice versa. The Daily Blog does not publish blogposts from David Farrar or Cameron Slater, and vice versa. Even supporters of a given group cannot expect automatic right of publication.

The Daily Blog itself often declines publication of comments from individuals for various reasons. I publish on TDB at the ‘pleasure’ of Martyn, which he may rescind at any time. That is his prerogative. Anything else is “entitlement”.

The so-called “abuse” Ms Abigail references is often legitimate push-back from trans rights activists; others in the LGBTQI community; cis women; and Inclusive lesbians. It has to be reminded that publishing a controversial  opinion piece (like this one) will attract critical as well as supporting responses. That is the free speech we are continually called upon to speak out for.

young children being taught they can be in the ’wrong’ body, thus reinforcing stereotypes…”

What “young children” is she referring to? What age?

Apply that statement to young people who identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, etc and it becomes an obvious slur attacking Rainbow people. No one is teaching “young children being taught they can be in the ’wrong’ body“. Just as no one is teaching young people to develop same sex attraction.

What “stereotypes are being reinforced”? Is Ms Abigail suggesting that only binary sex and heterosexual orientation is acceptable? Binary heterosexuality would constitute stereotyping.

The statement makes no sense except to conjure up frightening images of “young children” brain-washed by unknown agents of a secret cadre of LGBTQI.

Similar slurs were made against gay men during the horrendous “debate” surrounding the 1986 Homosexual Law  Reform process. Homophobes constantly accused gay men of lurking in toilets and changing rooms, waiting to turn young straight males gay and fearing that gay law reform would facilitate that “corruption”.

It never happened. Civilisation did not collapse. The sacred family unit has not been dismantled.

“lesbians being accused of transphobia if they insist on same-sex relationships…”

That one is more complicated to unpack because no examples are given. What constitutes transphobia? A simple rejection usually doesn’t. A full-on attack on a transgender person would do it. Have any heterosexual cis men been accused of homophobia because they declined an advance from a gay man? A polite decline would hardly constitute homophobia. A vitriolic response attacking gay men would do it.

“malebodied athletes entering women’s sports and taking the prizes”

According to Wikipedia, there are 28 prominent male-to-female trans athletes and 12 female-to-male. (And those numbers are spread over a fortyfive year span.)  Forty trans athletes out of millions of sports people around the world.

If the trans community were planning for world domination in sporting endeavours, they have a long way to go.

“the very language changing to erase females/women, in the name of ‘inclusiveness’ ”

This metaphysical complaint should be seen for what is it: chauvinistic. There is no suggestion of “erasing females/women” any more than the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1986 erased heterosexuality. Lesbianism has not “erased” heterosexual women.

Curiously, the Gender Critical Feminist theory of “erasure” appears to echo the Great Replacement theory espoused by White Identitarians;

The great replacement can generally be understood as two core beliefs. The first is that “western” identity is under siege by massive waves of immigration from non-European/non-white countries, resulting in a replacement of white European individuals via demographics…

When both are analysed side-by-side, the similarities are striking. It is no coincidence that both Erasure and Replacement fears have gain wider traction during the current Trumpian Era when “The Fear of The Other” is heavily influencing US, European, and British political discourse.

US journalist, Katelyn Burns wrote an in-depth analysis of the convergence and close co-operation between Gender Critical feminists and conservative Think Tanks, organisations, anti-abortion activists, and a prominent rightwing host on Fox TV. In Britain, Gender Critical feminists have been supported by media mogul Rupert Murdoch in his tabloids.

So maybe it is not  a coincidence that “Gender Critical Feminists” are (almost always?) white, middle class women. Likewise their cis male allies.

This chauvinism is further demonstrated with comments such as this, by Martyn;

However. As a white heteronormative cis-male, I also believe you can’t force women to accept Trans women into their spaces. Telling women who the must and must not include in the spaces they have fought for seems utterly contrary to respecting feminism.

Which makes certain the assumption that all women think alike on this issue. As mentioned above, and by a reader’s post-article comment, women do not have a single Hive Mind on this subject. There are as many diverse views on this issue as there are with cis men – and bloggers.

At the same time, consider whether any one group in society has the right to define and dictate human and civil rights for another. Think very carefully of the implications.

Does The Majority have the right to define and limit the rights of a minority? If the answer is yes, consider the implications this would have for Maori in a predominantly Pakeha society. Or gays and lesbians (as well as trans) in a predominantly heterosexual society.

Remember that women’s right to vote was determined by men. Now imagine if that vote had failed.

It was only in 1971 that women in Switzerland won the right to vote – after a general referendum by men voting. Twelve years earlier, men had voted against women having the vote.

In apartheid era South Africa, it wasn’t even a Majority holding power and denying a minority equal rights – it was the other way around until 1994.

When one group in society can define and dictate the rights of another, there should be cause for concern. That some Gender Critical Feminists are advocating some form of gender-chauvinism and denying trans women their right to self-identify as such (with some even denying to exist at all), is a giant stride back in time. It would seem to be everything that feminism and the LGBTQI community have struggled to achieve.

Over the last hundred or so years, white heterosexual men have had to share their power with others; women; gays; lesbians; other ethnic groups; etc.

It should not be a surprise that cis women are now called upon to do likewise for their trans-sisters. Radical? No more radical than women’s emancipation and dismantling patriarchal privilege.

That this seems to make some regular commentators on The Daily Blog react negatively is not only disappointing – but disturbing.

In my eight years of blogging I have read many chauvinistic, reactionary comments on the pages of Kiwiblog and Whaleoil. Whilst I shake my head at the wilful ignorance of those right-wingers, I understood that they were railing against the gradual dismantling of their white male privilege.

So it was disheartening to read similar comments – many openly transphobic – from a few TDB regulars.

We resist and condemn the injustice shown to welfare recipients; the working-poor; solo-mothers; Maori, prisoners; the homeless, and others who have been marginalised by the neo-liberal system that treats us as “consumers with spending power” rather than citizens with rights. We understand the innate injustice of an economic theory that treats humans as disposable units.

But when push-comes-to-shove, this current challenge to the predominant status quo is met with scorn, derision, and hateful comments. The response to the transgender issue on The Daily Blog, from some, has been shameful.

In 1986 we decriminalised male homosexuality. Cis hetero men did not “erase” overnight. Toilets and changing rooms are still safe to use. Civilisation  has not collapsed into public debauchery.

New Zealand was not just the first sovereign state where women won the right to vote, in 1999 we were the first country to elect a transgender woman to Parliament.

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In Wairarapa – a rural seat! Not exactly a hotbed of progressive politics pushing for LGBTQI rights.

In 2013, Aotearoa New Zealand gained marriage equality. The “sanctity” of marriage did not end. Heterosexual’s right to marry was not “erased” just because same-sex couples now shared that right.

These are rights that quite rightly we have shared with everyone. No one is denied equality and inclusion because one group feels threatened. “Get over it!” we told the homophobes and the male chauvinists.

For gods sakes, people, no one asked which toilet Georgina Beyer used when she entered Parliament.

Instead, we were damned proud of that achievement.

As a blogger, I will continue to write for those who are marginalised, attacked, scorned, and powerless. I will continue to support Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Trans people to be included in our society and to have the same rights and privileges straight cis people take for granted.

Not because I’m Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Trans, but because I’m bloody minded and I know it’s the right thing to do.

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An injury to one…

… is an injury to all.

(Popular motto of trade unions around the world)

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Postscript

Disclosure: I am a Green Party supporter (if that makes any difference).

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References

Wikipedia:  Transgender people in sports

The Guardian: The ‘white replacement theory’ motivates alt-right killers the world over

Vox: The rise of anti-trans “radical” feminists, explained

Wikipedia: Women’s suffrage in Switzerland

Additional

NZ Herald: Greens members leave after ‘transphobic’ article in magazine

Other Blogposts

Imagine the uproar if any other Political Party self censored the way the Greens just did

Previous related blogposts

First they came…

Apartheid in Aotearoa New Zealand – yes, it does exist

Anti-trans activists fudge OIA statement – Report

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 8 September 2019.

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= fs =

National and petrol taxes – when journalists gets it right

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It’s not often that it happens, but every so often one will stumble across examples of journalism that probes deeper than the immediacy of the here-and-now, and actually takes a step back in very recent history to put political events and utterances into context.

National’s desperation to remain relevant involves a two-pronged strategy to promote Simon Bridges as Prime-Minister-in-waiting and to portray the current coalition government as tax-and-spend and wasteful with our tax-dollars.

With Mr Bridges at 6% in the polls, the first of National’s strategy is stuck firmly in a political mire. The public do not seem to like and/or trust the current National leader. His constant barking-at-every-passing-car and relentless negativity (without proposing alternative solutions) is problematic and his hyper-critical, carping style is a major turn-off with voters.

The second prong of National’s grand strategy – to throw as much mud as possible at every part of the Coalition’s activities – continues at full-throttle. It’s success is yet to be determined.

National’s current attack focuses on  petrol prices, with the Opposition and it’s leader blaming the Coalition for high fuel prices. This despite Gull NZ’s general manager, Dave Bodger, stating that lack of competition was the deciding factor in fuel pricing, not government taxes;

“That restricts the supply, which inflates the price, especially if you look in parts of the South Island and areas where there’s not as great competition; the consumer is paying a lot more than they are in other places.”

The Commerce Commission’s recent investigation and report into the fuel industry criticised excessive profit-taking by some petrol companies. As Commerce Commission chairperson, Anna Rawlings stated unambiguously;

“Our preliminary findings suggest that many fuel companies are earning returns on investment that are higher than what we would consider a reasonable return to be.”

Those facts did not prevent National from issuing countless press statements and bombarding social media to smear the Coalition as culpable for high petrol prices;

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Fairfax/Stuff journalist, Henry Cooke, reported Simon Bridges’ attack-point verbatim;

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“I agree with Jacinda Ardern that New Zealanders are being fleeced, but the reality of this is the biggest fleecer isn’t the petrol companies, it’s Jacinda Ardern and her Government. Jacinda Ardern is the fleecer-in-chief.”

But then, Mr Cooke, took a further step. He delved into the past and with a few clicks of research, offered readers some further salient facts;

He said fuel taxes were rising by 24c over this Government’s term, compared to just 17c over nine years of National. But this figure included the 11.5c Regional Fuel Tax which is only charged in Auckland – where fuel is typically cheaper than other parts of the country – and did not include the GST rise his Government brought in.

National raised fuel taxes six times over nine years in Government, raising the price by 17c in total. The National Government also increased GST from 12.5 to 15 per cent.

The Labour Government has raised the excise by 7c so far this term and will raise it by another 3.5c in July next year. 

Which helps put current fuel excise rises into some context, when a journalist reminds readers that National was not averse to doing precisely what it self-righteously condemns the Coalition government for doing.

Not forgetting that as well as raising GST (despite promising not to do so), National’s tax-grab reached deep into the pockets of newspaper boys and girls, in a desperate effort to balance their books and make up for billions of dollars squandered in two tax cuts.

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Simon Bridges’ hypocrisy was underscored when Henry Cooke finished his story with the National Party leader’s comments;

Asked if he would cut excise taxes if elected he was non-commital, saying he would need to have a better look at the books when coming to Government.

He stood by the general user-pay system in transport, whereby fuel taxes fund major new roading infrastructure, rather than the general tax take.

The public’s collective eye-rolling at Mr Bridges’ “bob-each-way” explains why he is on 6% in the polls. This is not a politician who “means what he says, and says what he means”.

The following day, on Radio NZ’s deputy political editor, Craig McCulloch, also took National to task on its criticism over fuel excise taxes.

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On Checkpoint, on 21 August, Mr McCulloch  presented listeners with a refresher course in recent political history;

“By the end of it’s three year term, the [Coalition] government will have put up petrol taxes by ten and a half cents, not including the eleven and a half cent regional fuel tax in Auckland.

When National was in charge it put up taxes by seventeen cents, but over a much longer nine year period. But National also increased GST from 12.5% to 15.”

Embarrassing stuff.

Mediaworks/Newshub had also pointed out the same hypocrisy from Nation, but a few months earlier. Dan Satherley and Lisette Reymer reported in early July;

Between 2008 and 2017 National raised petrol taxes six times, usually by 3c – Simon Bridges was Transport Minister for three of those years. They also increased GST from 12.5 to 15 percent.

But more conspicuously, despite considerable media exposure; spending considerable effort and money on wide-reaching social media propagandising, aside from the Auckland regional fuel tax,  National leader Simon Bridges has refused to state if he would repeal the Coalition’s fuel tax excise increases;

“Right now, in the Transport Budget, they have dramatic underspends. I wouldn’t put the [taxes] on, my inclination would be to not have them, but if you are already there and they are already there, there is no way I am putting more on.”

That’s because last year, Mediaworks/Newshub pointed out that National and Labour have both increased fuel excise taxes by almost the same amount. (Though it is unclear from  the infograph below if Mediaworks/Newshub have factored in National’s GST increase in 2010.)

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It’s a fair bet that National will not be using the above infographic in any of their attack ads. Too close to the inconvenient truth for one thing.

It’s also a fair bet that National will retain the Coalition’s excise fuel tax increases; add a few of their own; and then offer a “neutral tax switch”. That’s because National believes in user-pays for most, if not all government services. In 2014 the NZ Labour Party kindly put together a list of just some of those government service fees increases;

  1. GST increase from 12.5% to 15%
  2. Increased taxes on KiwiSaver
  3. Compulsory student loan payment increase from 10% to 12%
  4. Increased tertiary fees
  5. The 2012 ‘Paperboy’ tax
  6. Civil Aviation Authority fees rise
  7. Additional fuel tax increase of 9 cents with annual CPI increases locked in for perpetuity
  8. Road User Charges increased
  9. New annual student loan fees introduced
  10. Massive unnecessary ACC levy increases
  11. Prescription fees increased by 66%
  12. New online company filing fees imposed on businesses
  13. Creeping expansion of the scope of Fringe Benefit Taxes – National tried to tax car parks and plain-clothes police uniforms
  14. Lowering of Working for Families abatement threshold and increasing the abatement rate, taking money out of the pockets of families
  15. Imposing a $900 Family Court fee

Whether fees for DoC huts and tracks, the Family Courts, ACC, roading, etc, National has never been averse to loading costs of those services onto individual users – whilst then cutting income taxes.

This is precisely what they did from 2009 to 2017.

We can expect more of the same from National should they be returned to power.

In the meantime, kudos to Henry Cooke, Craig McCulloch, and other journalists, for  delving into National’s past track record on this issue. This is the sort of journalism the public rightly demand – not simply cutting-and-pasting Party press releases.

The media should now press Mr Bridges harder on this issue: will he repeal Labour’s fuel excise tax increases or not? It’s a simple enough question. After all, he was 100% adamant that National would scrap any Capital Gains Tax if it became government;

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If Simon Bridges wanted the increased fuel excise taxes dumped, there is no reason on Earth why he wouldn’t commit. The fact is that National supports user-pays charges and their claims of being champions for “Kiwi battlers” is populist rubbish. National’s plans are blindingly obvious;

  • increase user pays charges, excise taxes, etc
  • cut personal income taxes – especially for the wealthy

Hence why Mr Bridges has said repeatedly;

“We will not introduce any new taxes during our first term.”

The caveat, Ifs, Buts, and fine print underlying that statement should not be lost on anyone.

If the (current) Leader of the National Party cannot be straight up with voters as to what his intentions are (on any issue!), then he cannot be trusted to lead this country.

For Simon Bridges, the timer on his political career is counting – downward.

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Postscript 1

Fuel prices in New Zealand Aotearoa from 2005 to 2019:

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A bit embarrassing for National: fuel was more expensive during their term in office. New Zealanders cannot afford a National government it would appear.

Postscript 2

Interesting to note that National’s spin doctors appear to have ‘borrowed from my “That was Then, This is Now” memes on which to base their own “What she said, What she did” propaganda;

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But we’re all aware by now that National is not averse to ‘borrowing’  from other peoples’ creative efforts – without paying.

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References

NZ Herald: Latest political poll – National rises against Labour, with 45 against 43 in 1 News Colmar Brunton poll

RNZ: Fuel prices – Government urged to free up wholesale market

Fairfax/Stuff media: Jacinda Ardern says New Zealanders are being ripped off over petrol

National Party: Axe the Tax

Twitter: National Party – petrol prices – taxes – 5.52 PM, Jul 24, 2019

Twitter: National Party – petrol prices – taxes – 6.26 AM, Aug 23, 2019

Twitter: National Party – petrol prices – taxes – 7.15 PM, Aug 21, 2019

Twitter: Simon Bridges – petrol prices – taxes – 2.49 PM, Aug 20, 2019

Twitter: National Party – petrol prices – taxes – 10.25 AM, Jul 1, 2018

Twitter: National Party – petrol prices – taxes – 9.40 AM, Jun 30, 2019

Twitter: National Party – petrol prices – 4.05 PM, Aug 29, 2018

Fairfax/Stuff media: Petrol prices – Simon Bridges says Jacinda Ardern is ‘fleecer-in-chief’

Fairfax/Stuff media: Key ‘no GST rise’ video emerges

Fairfax/Stuff media: Young workers out of pocket

RNZ: Blame game in Parliament over high petrol prices (audio-link)

Mediaworks/Newshub: Fuel tax hike – How much it might cost you

Mediaworks/Newshub: National’s Simon Bridges refuses to say he will overturn new petrol tax increase

TVNZ/One News: National promise no new taxes and repeal of Auckland fuel tax in first term

Mediaworks/Newshub: Fact check – Who taxed your petrol the most – Labour or National?

Fairfax/Stuff media: Trampers torn on price hike for New Zealand’s Great Walks

RNZ: DoC fees rise

Labour Party: At least 15 new taxes under National

Scoop media: National would repeal Capital Gains Tax

National Party: National would repeal Capital Gains Tax

Twitter: Simon Bridges – no ifs no buts no caveats – 6 March 2019

Twitter: Simon Bridges – tax cuts – 2.58 PM, Jan 30, 2019

Otago Daily Times – National: No new taxes in the first term

NZ Herald: National Party found guilty of Eminem copyright breach

Addition

Fairfax/Stuff media: Intolerance fed by wrong and hateful assumptions is all the rage right now

Fairfax/Stuff media: National’s ‘desperate’ attack ads to be investigated by Advertising Standards Authority

Previous related blogposts

That was Then, This is Now #28 – John Key on transparency

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 August 2019.

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