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Posts Tagged ‘Todd Muller’

Life in Level 1: The Doom of National

25 July 2020 7 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: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

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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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