Talent pool too shallow


When you  want to go, you should go:

. . . Faafoi has lived and breathed politics, first as a press gallery reporter and then as an MP, and because of that he has good political and news judgment.

That judgement served him well when he went to the Prime Minister ahead of the 2020 election and said his heart wasn’t in it any longer.

But safe pairs of hands were few and far between in Labour’s caucus at the time so Ardern asked him to stay.

His usually sound judgment escaped him when he said yes to Ardern, and took on significant reform in the justice sector, a reset of the country’s immigration policy and the merger of state-owned RNZ and TVNZ.

“I don’t think you should take on a Cabinet position if you’re going to be half-pie about it,’’ Faafoi told Newsroom on Monday following the announcement. 

Unfortunately for the country, and especially the people badly let down by bad immigration policy and poor performance in the ministry, he has been going half-pie about his Ministerial duties.

In 2020 Faafoi was widely referred to as a “rising star’’ and tipped to go on to do great things.

But an unreasonable workload coupled with a job he only agreed to at the request of a respected friend and leader, has led to criticisms of him not being across his portfolios, a refusal to front questions on some of the big issues, and a tendency to kick the can down the road.

Faafoi gave his all to Labour and the party has done a disservice by making him stay longer than he wanted to. . .

He wanted to go before the last election but was persuaded to stay on because the Labour talent pool was too shallow.

He’s not the only one who’s stayed too long.

On the flip side, Trevor Mallard’s decision to leave Parliament after 35 years is the right one and won’t have been met with any protest from his party’s leadership.

Mallard has dedicated more than three decades to public service and for that he should be acknowledged.

But in the past couple of years Mallard has clearly lost his passion for politics and at times almost seemed to resent being at Parliament as his temperament got the better of him on multiple occasions.

Apropos of which, how can one of the least diplomatic people in parliament be considered for a diplomatic posting?

Surely the talent pool of potential diplomats is a lot deeper than that of the Labour caucus.


Rural round-up


Fonterra announces record opening milk price payment for its farmers next season as demand remains strong – Point of Order:

New Zealand  has  suffered  several  jolts  in  the  past week, not  least a  higher interest rate regime as the Reserve  Bank counters  surging inflation.  But  at least  one  beacon of  light shines through the gloom:  the country’s leading primary  export  industry’s boom   is  moving  to a  second  season  of high prices.

Dairy  giant Fonterra,  which sets  the  pace  for  other dairy processors,  has announced a record opening milk price payment for farmers next season amid expectations of continued strong demand for dairy products and constrained global supply.

The co-op expects to pay farmers between $8.25 and $9.75kg/MS  for the season starting next month.  The mid-point, on which farmers are paid, is $9 kg/MS.

That breaks the previous record set at this time last year, when Fonterra’s opening price for the current season was $7.25 – $8.75kg/MS, with a mid-point of $8kg/MS. . . 

Rural mental health ignored again this budget :

The Government was made well aware of mental health concerns for rural communities in a meeting in December last year, this Budget has neglected to do anything to address this crisis, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says.

“It is dead clear from the minutes we received under the Official Information Act that everyone around the table could see that things were bad and getting worse” Kuriger says

“The minutes note that clear themes emerged from a discussion of the drivers of poor mental health, including: workforce shortages, public perception of farmers, and the pace of new regulations.

“If they didn’t already know, it is clear that in December the Prime Minister and Minister O’Connor knew what was happening to our rural communities and were asked by rural sector leaders for help, they’ve had all this time to make a plan but have still done nothing in this budget to address it. . . 

Zespri global revenue exceeds $NZ 4 billion for first time despite challenging 2021-22 season:

. . . A record crop, ongoing investment in brand-led demand creation, and the industry’s ability to respond and leverage its scale and structure have helped Zespri deliver a record result for the 2021/22 season, with total global fruit sales revenue exceeding NZ$4 billion for the first time.

In spite of the immense challenges faced by the industry this season, Zespri’s 2021/22 Financial Results show total global revenue generated by fruit sales reached NZ$4.03 billion, up 12 percent on the previous year, with total global operating revenue up by 15 percent to NZ$4.47 billion. Global sales volumes also increased 11 percent on the previous year to 201.5 million trays.

The results saw direct returns to the New Zealand industry increase to a record $2.47 billion including loyalty payments, despite the considerable uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 pandemic and cost increases across the supply chain. Earnings were again spread through regional communities including within the Bay of Plenty, Northland, Nelson, Gisborne, and the Waikato. . . 

Grower returns remained strong in a challenging season, with per hectare returns representing our second best on record across all varieties: . . 

Top ploughers head to Ireland to compete in world championship – Kim Moodie:

New Zealand’s best ploughing talent is set to represent the country in Ireland this year at the World Ploughing Championships. 

Ian Woolley and Bob Mehrtens, who took out the top titles at the New Zealand Ploughing Championships in Seddon earlier this month, are now preparing to compete against the world’s best in September.

Woolley, who won the Silver Plough conventional competition, told RNZ he’s excited to compete, and to soak up the atmosphere, as the event draws a huge crowd.

“It’s basically their National Field Days, there’s 100,000-odd people there each day for three days, although the plowing is on the outskirts of where the main show is taking place. . . 

Silver Fern Farms partnership between consumers and farmers key to nature positive food production :

Silver Fern Farms today celebrated the launch of its USDA-approved Net Carbon Zero By Nature 100% Grass-Fed Angus Beef at a New York City event attended by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Held at the Kimpton Hotel Eventi rooftop in Chelsea, the Prime Minister was joined by the visiting New Zealand trade mission, Silver Fern Farms US customers and in-market partners, and New York and U.S. national media. The event was to celebrate the successful introduction of Net Carbon Zero By Nature Angus Beef to the U.S., which is already being sold in supermarkets in the New York Tri-state area, the Midwest, and California.

Silver Fern Farms Chief Executive Simon Limmer says closer partnerships between consumers and farmers through products like Net Carbon Zero beef hold the key to addressing our collective climate and environmental challenges.

“As New Zealand’s largest processor and marketer of red meat, we are in a unique position to build closer partnerships between the needs of discerning customers and our farmers in a way that incentivises nature-positive food production,” says Simon Limmer. . . 

MPI announces finalists in 2022 good employer awards :

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust (AGMARDT) have announced finalists for the 2022 Primary Industries Good Employer Awards.

Now in their third year, the Awards are run by MPI and AGMARDT to celebrate employers who put their people at the heart of their businesses.

“We received a number of impressive entries,” says MPI’s Director Investment, Skills and Performance, Cheyne Gillooly.

“Central to all of the entries was a real passion shown by businesses towards supporting their employees by putting their health, welfare and wellbeing first.” . . 

Takers or makers


This is a government of takers.

They took away our freedom and while the first Covid-19 lockdown was excusable, subsequent ones that were due to the delay in the vaccination rollout were not.

Matthew Hooton writes of the cost of last year’s extended Auckland lockdown:

. . .Then, in late August, our still largely unvaccinated population was hit by Delta. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had no choice but to order what became the long lockdown of 2021/22. It contributed to yesterday’s Budget Economic and Fiscal Update (BEFU) estimating Robertson will end up spending $128.4b to get us through 2021/22.

That’s $13.7b more, or over $7000 for each of New Zealand’s estimated 1.9 million households. The “good news” is that Robertson expects to collect an extra $10.6b in tax this financial year compared with the forecast a year ago, or around $5500 more per household.

Inflation is one reason why, fuelled by both monetary and fiscal stimulus being needed for much longer than if we had been vaccinated before Delta arrived.

That, of course, is only the start of the cost. In Auckland in particular, the preventable lockdown also drove more family businesses broke, ruined a second school year for tens of thousands of students and worsened already fragile mental health.

Yet no one in the Beehive or the bureaucracy has even apologised for the failure to begin our mass vaccination programme six months earlier. . . 

The late rollout also took some of the freedoms we were promised over summer, people without vaccine passes were barred from a lot of places, numbers were restricted for weddings, funerals and other events; and we were all still supposed to sign in.

And let’s not forget taking the freedom to come and go from New Zealand that grounded so many Kiwis overseas, kept others here,  locked out families and friends, is still keeping some migrant families apart and restricting employers ability to get migrant workers.

Then there’s Three Waters and the very real threat that they’ll take away both the assets and control from local authorities and rural water schemes.

And the biggest take away is money  in higher taxes, higher costs through more regulations, and worst of all the loss we’re all having to bear because of inflation that’s adding to the cost of everything and eroding the real value of savings.

Not content with that the government is looking at how to take more from the wealthy, in spite of a promise there would be no new taxes and no wealth tax.

Just think how much better off we’d all be, individually and collectively if they put as much thought in how they could help us to make more instead of how they could take more.

This is a government of takers. The country desperately needs one that understands and supports makers.

Mallard campaigning for NZ First?


Two former MPs have been trespassed from parliament:

The former deputy Prime Minister has been banned from Parliament, a place he’d worked in for almost four decades.

Winston Peters has been given a two-year trespass notice after wandering through the anti-mandate protest at Parliament in February. That wander could be his last for two years. 

Speaker Trevor Mallard handed down the trespass notice after Peters spent a matter of hours speaking with protesters who illegally camped there for a month.

“We’re going to be inquiring with the Speaker as to exactly what legal advice he has taken in relation to this,” National’s Chris Bishop said.

“My understanding is he basically just went for a wander and a tiki tour.” . . .

Mallard earlier insisted trespass decisions were made by Parliamentary security, not him. But his boss said otherwise. 

“Ultimately, this is a decision for the Speaker,” Ardern said.  . . 

Mallard mishandled the protests badly.

Turning sprinklers on to soak them, and the lawn, and playing loud music.

Trespassing Peters, and former National MP Matt King, is another misjudgment that will hurt him and help Peters who has now been presented with a legitimate grievance and positive publicity.

It could even be seen as campaigning for New Zealand First by putting its leader in the spotlight like this.

He hasn’t decided whether to stand in Tauranga yet but this might persuade him to do so. Even if he doesn’t it will help him towards the 5% his party needs to return to parliament.

But surely even Mallard wouldn’t be that Machiavellian.

However, the alternative explanation is no better – it’s another massive error of judgment, more evidence that he’s not fit to be speaker, a role that requires prudence, and yet another sign he’s well past his use-by date.

That said, if Peters had a lot more self knowledge and humility than he does, he might muse on this being a consequence of his own actions in anointing Labour in 2017.

If they can’t build houses


Sixteen months on from the Ihumātao settlement and there’s still no houses:

Progress at the disputed land, Ihumātao, remains stalled as the Crown waits for the final members of the governance group to be appointed, writes political editor Jo Moir

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson had hoped the governance group, Roopu Whakahaere, would be up and running in February but it could now be late May before that happens.

It’s been 16 months since the Government announced the controversial land – home to a long-running occupation – had been purchased by the Crown from Fletcher Building for $30 million.

By then, SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) protesters at Ihumātao had been peacefully occupying the privately-owned land for the best part of four years. . . 

If Jacinda Ardern hadn’t interfered many, perhaps most or even all, of the houses Fetchers was going to build would have been built, sold and now housing people. And they’d have been built for a much lower cost than that of building now.

Her interference set a very bad precedent and has kept people out of new homes.

The Crown’s appointments were made in December, but haven’t been announced due to delays around the other members of the group.

Jackson told Newsroom he knew that would leave him open to criticism about the speed in which things are progressing.

“That goes with the territory – this is a hard area,’’ he said.

“You’re talking about people having to give way and it’s taken much longer than I wanted, I wanted this to be away last year for goodness sake.’’

Jackson blames Covid for much of the delay due to the various parties not being able to meet face-to-face to work through any concerns.

“The main thing is they start working together and putting down a plan and a strategy.

“It’s not going to happen overnight – Māori politics is a tough area.’’ . . 

A plan for how to use the land is expected to be drawn up by the end of the year, Jackson said.

He has no intentions of intervening any time soon, because he wants to give the group a decent opportunity to “nut it out’’.  . . 

This is why so many people are so concerned about co-governance.

If it takes this long to get nowhere with houses, what damage will be done to health, three waters and all the other areas for which the government is proposing co-governance?

Award for most incompetent Minister goes to . . .


Who is the government’s most incompetent Minister? There’s plenty to choose from.

Transport Minister Michael Woods is a contender for the $50 million spent on the Auckland bike bridge to nowhere and for continuing to work on the far too expensive light rail project:

While New Zealanders are in a cost of living crisis with record inflation, it is unjustifiable and irresponsible for the Government to steam ahead with their plans to build their light rail vanity project, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“Documents released by Treasury today show Michael Wood’s commitment to light rail could explode to an eye watering $29.2 billion – nearly double the cost of what was announced in January, which was already a staggering amount of money at almost $15 billion.

“Treasury’s advice was scathing of the project, saying the Government should not pick a preferred option for light rail until further analysis could be undertaken – advice the Government has clearly ignored.

“Labour’s commitment to this vanity project will cost taxpayers a whopping $100 million before the next election, with no guarantee of spades being in the ground.

“The cost for this project is entirely unjustifiable and the Government needs to accept that this project is simply not worth it. Especially when New Zealanders are dealing with a cost of living crisis, which will only get worse if the Government doesn’t rein in its wasteful spending.

Kris Faafoi is a contender for the way Immigration treated families of essential workers stuck overseas and for failing to fast track residency for essential workers already here.

Immigration policies are also likely to lead to job losses in the tertiary sector:

The Government urgently needs to get international students into the country to prevent looming job losses in the tertiary sector, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“Universities and polytechnics are currently considering staff redundancies as a way of coping with declining enrolments this year.

“Labour is allowing 5000 international students into the country next month – but universities and polytechnics can only access 2150 students, or 43 per cent, with the remainder of students heading to high schools, Private Training Establishments and English language schools.

“This will do little to ease the urgent staffing issues facing the sector.

“Given that student visas are currently taking Immigration New Zealand three months to process, students applying in April won’t be processed in time for semester two, putting further stress on our valuable tertiary teaching staff.

On top of that, international research now shows New Zealand is falling out of favour with international students, being ranked last among the major English-speaking education destinations in a survey of more than 10,000 people from 93 countries.

“And the effects are obvious – according to the Ministry of Education in 2019, New Zealand had about 22,000 fulltime international students paying total tuition fees of $562 million. The figures for 2021 and 2022 are estimated to be 70 per cent of that 2019 figure.

“The Government must explain what the rational is for limiting international student numbers, our fourth biggest export earner, when the border is reopening.

“It is appalling that this Government has allowed international education in this country to decline to this level. We must act urgently to prevent further deterioration in this sector and that means not restricting international student numbers coming here.” . .

He’s also fallen short as Justice Minister:

Victims of crime missed out on support they were entitled to because Justice Minister Kris Faafoi failed to sign off the criteria for a $3 million victim support fund for more than five months after the fund was announced, National’s Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“Earlier this month it was revealed that zero victims were supported by the fund announced in Budget 2021, despite applications being open since July 2021.

“Labour was content to let Victim Support take the blame for this lack of delivery, but it turns out Minister Faafoi didn’t bother to sign off the eligibility criteria until November 2021 – more than five months after the fund was announced and four months after applications opened.

Rather than letting Victim Support take the rap, Minister Faafoi should have fessed up that his incompetence is the real reason why victims are missing out on support the Government promised them.

“Governments spend months finalising the Budget every year so he would have known well in advance that this fund would be open for applications from July. What is his excuse for doing nothing for over five months to ensure victims could access the support? 

“Even worse, the Police Minister has conceded agencies who are meant to advise victims of support they are entitled to were not provided information about the fund until February 2022. . .

That Police Minister Potu Williams is another contender for the silence when police were facing the protesters at parliament, silence over repeated examples of policing by consent that let gangs disregard lockdown rules and terrorise the law abiding while doing it; and her refusal to allow National police spokesman Mark Mitchell to meet the Commissioner or district commanders:

. . . He said: “I don’t think she’s [Williams is] very good at her job and I don’t think she’s across her portfolio, but for her now to use her political power and position in government to start blocking me from meetings – that’s Third World stuff … she may as well go and join the Cabinet in Somalia.” . . 

Trumping that is her denial of an increase in gang violence:

. . .Mitchell asked Williams in Parliament on Wednesday if gang violence had increased or decreased under her watch, to which she replied: “I reject the premise of that question.”  . . .

And this:

Then there’s waste in health with expired vaccines:

Thousands of meningococcal vaccines have been left to expire instead of being given to those most at risk, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“It has been revealed that 17,122 meningococcal vaccines have expired in the last two years, at a cost of $1.6 million, and who knows how many lives.

“The Ministry of Health has a strict eligibility criteria for the meningococcal vaccine, but these vaccines that were left unused could have been made available to those most at risk, to help protect them from this deathly disease.

“The lost opportunity to protect people is a tragedy and that $1.6 million that ended up being wasted could have been spent on other areas of health that desperately need it.

“Last week a meningitis petition was presented to Parliament, pleading to the Government to fund vaccines against the disease. This news will be a cold comfort to those petition supporters.

“This is becoming a concerning pattern of behaviour from Health Minister Andrew Little who has already wasted $8 million worth of measles vaccines in a botched catch-up campaign, and now he can add this one to the growing list.

“Minister Little needs to commit to making expiring meningococcal vaccines available to primary care for use inside and outside of the strict criteria to avoid a tragedy like this happening again.” . .

And the botched measles programme costing $1900 per person:

The botched $20 million measles vaccine catch-up programme is worse than it appears, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“The other week it was revealed that $8 million of measles vaccines were left unused and had expired.

“However, information shows that only 11,206 people of the targeted 300,000 received the vaccine – representing a cost of nearly $1900 per person and reaching only 3 per cent of the targeted population.

“It was also revealed that Labour spent $1.8 million on public relations to frame a campaign ‘with a particular focus on Māori and Pacific people’, yet only 1181 Māori received the vaccine – a PR cost of $1,500 per person.

“Worse still, to date the programme costs show that $2.2 million has been spent on public relations while only $1.61 million was spent on actually delivering the vaccine to Māori.

“Andrew Little seems more interested in PR and spin than actually delivering measles vaccinations to Māori.

“The list of health failures is mounting under Andrew Little’s watch. He failed to deliver any extra ICU beds during a global pandemic, has completely missed every health target set and now he can add a botched measles campaign to his growing list.”

The government put so much effort, and spent so much money, justifying locking us down and persuading us to get vaccinated so that the health system wasn’t over whelmed yet did little or nothing to retain existing staff and recruit more.

That’s left  hospitals understaffed and health professionals overworked :

Their employers have warned them not to speak out but nurses say they won’t be silenced. Overworked and understaffed, they’ve told Sunday that they’ve had enough of a health system under real pressure.

The Omicron surge hasn’t helped, but there was a serious nursing shortage long before Covid struck, and now burnout and resignations are high while the pandemic shut off the supply of overseas nurses.

Nurses still on the job worry patient safety may suffer because they are so short-staffed.

Is the government listening?

No it’s not. Instead it’s going ahead with the complete restructure of the health system that will do nothing to improve pay and conditions for health professionals and nothing to improve services, and outcomes, for patients.

That would be bad enough at the best of times. In the middle of a pandemic it’s a complete waste of scarce funds and people’s focus.

While on health and the pandemic lets not forget the shortage of PPE, the delay in securing vaccines which left the rollout starting late and the RATs debacle.

Then there’s paying more and getting less in several areas.

Carmel Sepuloni has overseen an increase in MSD staff and deterioration in performance:

Our welfare system is less responsive than ever as phone wait times for the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) surge, National’s Social Development and Employment spokesperson Louise Upston says.

“Whether it’s superannuitants, students, people out of work, or a family who needs help to cope with soaring living costs, New Zealander’s deserve timely answers from the department responsible of administering the welfare system.

“Since 2017, the number of MSD staff answering calls has increased from 650 to 1220 people, yet the average wait time has also increased from 4 to 18 minutes, even reaching close to 40 minutes some weeks this year.

“That’s an 88 per cent increase in staff numbers, a large deterioration in performance and no better outcomes for Kiwis.  

“Appallingly, some people have waited longer than three hours while others have reported it took weeks to receive a call back.

“The cost of living crisis has increased demand for hardship grants and there is almost an extra 50,000 people on the unemployment benefit, which means preparations should have been made to cope with more inquiries.

“New Zealander’s deserve a better service given the substantial taxpayer dollars poured into MSD. Simply increasing staff numbers is not going to cut it.

“Minister Sepuloni needs to hold MSD accountable for their plummeting performance and ensures it fulfils its core responsibility to answer New Zealander’s questions and help people access their entitlements.”

Corrections is spending more money on prisoners with worse outcomes:

Taxpayers are spending more money on prisoners, yet violent crime continues to go up, National’s Corrections spokesperson Simon O’Connor says.

“New Zealand taxpayers are now spending $151,000 per prisoner, per year – an increase of over $30,000 per prisoner from 2018/19.

“Overall, there has been an increase of $139 million poured into the Corrections system over the period between 2018/19 and 2020/21, despite fewer prisoners.

“At the same time, there has been a steep decline in the number of prisoners accessing rehabilitation services. Prisoners accessing alcohol and drug programmes alone has dropped from 6311 in 2015/16 to 1065 in 2019/20 – a decrease greater than the drop in prisoner numbers.

“More money is being spent, but we’re getting worse outcomes.

“Rehabilitation is a key way for prisoners to turn their lives around, but in 2019/20 the number of prisoners taking part in rehabilitation programmes plummeted to 2399, from 5845 in 2015/16.

“It can hardly be a surprise then that violent crime is up 21 per cent since 2017, as reported by the Salvation Army, and that we have one of the highest recidivism rates in the OECD.

“This is typical for a Government who are experts at spending taxpayer money with no expectation of results.

“On top of this, Labour is taking soft-on-crime approach which is clearly not working.

“Without effective rehabilitation, re-imprisonment rates and violence will only keep climbing.”

And more is being spent on mental health for no positive results:

The mental health monitoring report out today shows that the Government’s $1.9 billion investment in mental health has delivered no benefit to Kiwis, National’s Mental Health spokesperson Matt Doocey says.

“This is emblematic of a Government that is all spin and no delivery. Labour’s only measure of success is how much it spends on things. But it needs to be about the outcomes that we achieve for New Zealanders.

“The report released today by the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission reinforces what many mental health groups and services have been telling me for some time – that they’re not seeing any of the money promised for mental health and can’t point to where it’s gone.

“They have been raising these concerns with the Government for months about staff shortages and growing waiting lists, but have not received a response.

“The findings in the report also show that our specialist services are facing increased demand since the beginning of the pandemic, especially from younger people seeking mental health support.

“The Government says it has invested in the sector, yet services are harder to access. They must explain where the money has gone and why it hasn’t made a difference to improving people’s mental health.

“Making announcements with good intentions isn’t going to solve the growing mental health problems that New Zealand is facing, but strong leadership and a well-managed plan to execute change will. We need targeted spending that delivers outcomes for Kiwis.”

Then there are virtue signalling environmental policies that are nothing more than taxes that increase costs but do nothing at all for the environment:

The Government’s car tax comes into force today, piling on yet another cost for Kiwis facing a cost of living crisis, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“Hardworking Kiwis will be hoping that this is just an April Fool’s joke, but sadly they will still have to live with Labour’s new car tax after today.        

“The so-called ‘Clean Car Discount’ gives a rebate for expensive electric vehicles while imposing fees of thousands of dollars on many other vehicles. For example, buyers of a Toyota Hilux* will face a $5175 tax when they first register the vehicle.  

“This will have a negative impact on our farmers and tradies who need utes to do their jobs and contribute to our economic recovery.   

“The Government is penalising farmers and tradies for their choice of vehicle despite there being no viable electric ute available. Even Toyota had to correct the Prime Minister last year that it has no plans to bring an electric ute to New Zealand within the next two years.

“LDV will have an electric alternative, the EV-T60, coming from China later this year. But it is two-wheel drive and can only haul a max of 1,000 kgs for 162km. This is not enough to meet farmers’ needs, who need strength and reliability.

“While the Government gives with one hand, by temporarily reducing fuel taxes, it takes with the other by imposing the Auckland regional fuel tax, a car tax, and is now proposing a biofuels mandate which will further increase the cost of fuel. 

“All of these policies drive up the cost of living for motorists struggling to get by under rapidly rising inflation and fuel prices.

An environmental and transport failure is the train from Hamilton to Auckland:

The Te Huia train today marks its first birthday with news that it has spent more time off the tracks than on them, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“There is not a lot to celebrate about this service which has failed from day one.

“Not only has the train spent more time off the tracks than on them over the past 12 months, taxpayers have poured $98 million into a service which very few people use and which takes much longer than driving between Hamilton and Auckland.

“Furthermore, research produced by the Waikato Chamber of Commerce shows that based on current passenger numbers the train actually emits more carbon emissions than someone who drives their petrol or diesel vehicle between these two cities.

“Patronage is significantly lower than what it was when the service started despite repeated calls to ‘build it and people will come’.

“This painfully slow train is simply not fit for purpose. It doesn’t achieve the outcomes that the Government claimed it would one year ago.

“The Transport Minister is so completely focussed on his legacy projects, he is prepared to waste almost $100 million of taxpayer dollars on a train that isn’t fit for purpose and hardly anyone wants to use.

“Quite frankly this is an irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money which would be better spent on extending the Waikato Expressway from Cambridge to Piarere.”  

If all this isn’t bad enough, there’s the incompetence with funding the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme (STAPP) 

The Auditor General’s Report on the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme (STAPP) confirmed what many businesses have been saying – that this Labour Government has been biased and unfair, National’s Tourism spokesperson Todd McClay says.

“Every tourism business in New Zealand has done it tough over the last two years and this report has shown that this Labour Government favoured some and left others to suffer.

“In May 2020 the Government and former Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis opened a $290M fund for struggling tourism businesses. When applications opened, some businesses were accepted without any evidence that they were in financial difficulty, and didn’t have to go through the same process as other businesses.

“The Government seems to believe that only Queenstown exists when it comes to tourism in New Zealand, when in reality there are tourism operators up and down the country who are suffering just as much.

“In typical Labour fashion, they simply threw money at a problem without having a well-managed plan. Current Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has blamed the uncertainty of Covid-19 for these mistakes, but the reality is they failed to think things through at a time when tourism businesses needed them most.

“New Zealanders deserve to have a Government who are responsible with their spending, but this Labour Government has proven time and time again that they cannot be trusted to make wise or fair spending decisions.

“I am calling on Minister Nash to find those funds that were given out incorrectly, take them back and redistribute them to all Kiwi tourism operators so that they can open up quickly for international tourists.”

Bryce Edwards says the report raises questions of integrity:

Was political favouritism involved in the dishing out of millions of dollars by government ministers to tourism businesses? We can’t know, because the Government didn’t keep sufficient records or have proper processes for the handouts. That’s the obvious question arising from a scathing report released by the Auditor General on Thursday, which has received far too little attention.

The Auditor General’s report investigates a scheme set up by the Government early in the Covid crisis (May 2020), called the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme. The report is one of many that have criticised government procedures during Covid for their lack of integrity. . . 

Harman draws attention to the fact that there have been a number of other reports from the Auditor General’s office that have pinged the Government for poor processes in regard to government departments dealing with private vested interests during Covid – especially the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development.

Of course, one of the most problematic has been the multi-billion-dollar Wage Subsidy Scheme, which was seen to be poorly designed and administered.

There’s a theme building up from these reports – that of crony corporate welfare getting out of hand in recent years. This is one of the blind spots in New Zealand politics and society. Recent governments are prone to giving generous subsidies to business interests, often without any great systems of integrity or best practice. And unfortunately, the public never seems to mind much when it becomes apparent.

It could well be that New Zealand is just too eager to believe the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index results that show this country to be the least corrupt nation on earth. In ignoring reports such as this latest from the Auditor General, the Government is undermining that status.

On the subject of Ministerial oversight of money wasted, there’s plenty to choose from :

So much incompetence, it’s hard to choose which is worse but there’s one person who is supposed to be on top of all the portfolios and those presiding over them. That’s Jacinda Ardern.

Would any other recent Prime Minister have tolerated this litany of laxness from Ministers? Bill English, John Key, Helen Clark? No.

There’s a lot more to leadership than announcing announcements and serving word salads no matter how caring they sound.

Ensuring Ministers are up to the jobs they’re supposed to be doing and holding them to account if  and when they fall short is a very important one by which measure of competence this PM falls short.

It’s only one poll


The 1News Kantar poll shows National ahead of Labour:

IT’s only one poll but it is continuing the trend of National gaining popularity and Labour losing it.

However, under MMP one major party having more votes than the other, doesn’t necessarily mean it could form a government.

National and Act have 37% support.

Labour and the Green Party have 36%.

The Maori Party has 2% and would be far more likely to go left than right.

However, the spectre of a Labour, Green, Maori government could well scare some in the middle ground into going right.

While Jacinda Ardern is still ahead as preferred PM, when those polled were asked who they’d prefer as PM if they could choose only Ardern or Christopher Luxon, there was only one percentage point in the difference:

We’re not even half way to the next election, but for the first time since Covid struck in 2020, the trend is National’s friend.

Crisis or not, it’s top concern


National leader Chris Luxon’s state of the nation speech included the assertion that we’ve got a cost of living crisis.

Journalists picked that up and asked the Prime Minister if it is a crisis.

. . . I wouldn’t describe it that way, there is an impact that people are feeling undeniably but I wouldn’t describe it in that way,” Ardern told AM.  . . 

Many disagree including :Mum of five Krystine Nation and concerned Kiwi Steve Christodoulou say it is a crisis and families are struggling. . .

“To say there isn’t a crisis… she [Ardern] needs to get on the ground floor,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why we were struggling so much when in the first lockdown I was teaching people how to buy their groceries for $200 a week and live comfortably…In just over a year my groceries have increased $7000 annually. That’s a lot, my husband hasn’t received a $7000 increase in his pay. Not only that there is the petrol, the rent, I have spoken to so many people about this.”. . .

Christodoulou agrees, saying the increased cost of living is impacting his family too even though they aren’t low income. 

“It really irked me when the Prime Minister said this is not a crisis because look I am not going to lie, I wouldn’t classify myself as being on the breadline however there are things we notice changing drastically. . .

Christodoulou says petrol prices are also hitting his family. 

“You really do think before you put your key in the car, ‘do I really need to nip into town now or can I hold off, can I wait until I have to pick the kids up from kindy or have to go to an appointment’.” . . 

Others added their views in a Reddit thread:

One user said Ardern was “simply ignoring facts”, while another called it a “piss poor take” given food, petrol, rent and house prices were “skyrocketing”.

“How is this not a cost of living crisis?” . . 

Every week I have to withdrawl [sic] money from my savings to make ends meet with rent, food and petrol bills. So my full-time wage is not enough to service basic living costs without pulling money from somewhere else,” another user said.

“If it’s not a crisis what is it cause I feel crisis point and upset every day this year so far.” . . 

Whatever Ardern calls it, the cost of living is New Zealanders’ top concern.

. . . Consumer NZ’s Sentiment Tracker survey – a nationally representative quarterly survey – found the cost of living has overtaken previous top concerns of Covid 19 and the price of housing.

The tracker also looked at ongoing financial concerns for New Zealanders, with the cost of groceries ranking highly, superseded surpassed only by housing costs and unmanageable debt.

“We’re concerned about the rising cost of living and how many New Zealanders are struggling to afford their grocery bills. We’ve been campaigning for much needed change in New Zealand’s highly concentrated supermarket industry. With only two main players there is a distinct lack of competition that is contributing to high prices and higher than acceptable profit margins,” said Jon Duffy, Consumer NZ chief executive. . . 

Anyone who puts petrol in their vehicle or shops at the supermarket knows that the cost of living has increased and even people on reasonable incomes are finding their budgets are stretched.

Of course, it’s even worse for people on lower incomes.

That might not be obvious from the Beehive but it is for charities which work with them:

Monte Cecilia CEO Bernie Smith is pushing back on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s statements on Monday that while rising living costs were having an impact, she wouldn’t describe the situation as a crisis.

“From Monte Cecilia’s perspective, we’re working with hundreds of families every day who were already struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads and food in their bellies, who are now being pushed well past the line. If that’s not a crisis, I don’t know what you’d call it.”

“Between rent, food, fuel and other basic necessities, families are expected to somehow find thousands of dollars extra a year to cover the rising costs. That’s a tough blow for those of us who are doing ok, but for families who were already struggling it’s crushing.”

Monte Cecilia has had to stop taking referrals earlier in the year after its wait list grew to almost 400 families and the government restricted its ability to contract new homes from landlords.

“The level of need in our communities right now is staggering and it’s a gut punch each time we have to tell a family that we’re not able to help them right now. If we as a country don’t do something urgently, the number of families in serious need, and the severity of that need, is only going to continue to grow.” . . 

Whatever she calls it, the PM’s comment makes her look out of touch :

The Prime Minister’s refusal to acknowledge the cost of living crisis shows she is out of touch with how tough it is becoming for Kiwis to put food on the table, says Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon.

“This week the Prime Minister stated inflation will get better this year. But in fact, the Reserve Bank’s forecast shows annual inflation is set to get worse, increasing to 6.6 per cent, while ANZ has today forecast that inflation could hit 7.4 per cent in the second quarter of this year.

“That‘s up from 5.9 per cent, which is already the highest inflation rate in three decades. Not only is annual inflation forecast to increase, but Kiwis’ wages are not keeping pace.

“The cost of everyday basics like food, petrol and housing are all through the roof. The average Kiwi family is worse off than they were 12 months ago and the Government needs to act.

“Instead, Labour is refusing to offer tax relief to Kiwis by adjusting tax brackets for inflation, meaning people will have to dig even deeper into their pockets just to fill up the car and put food on the table.

“It’s time for the Government to take action and deliver tax relief by adjusting tax brackets to account for the rampant inflation we’ve seen under Labour, to help Kiwis struggling under a cost of living crisis.”

The PM, and her government, can’t be held responsible for global shortages and other imported contributions to price rises, but their borrow and spend policies have contributed to domestic price escalations.

So too have the MIQeue of misery,  immigration policy and end of sanctions for beneficiaries who don’t actively look for work. All of those have led to the labour shortages that have left, and are still leaving, fruit and vegetables unpicked and that in turn leads to lower supply and higher prices.

And whatever she calls the problem isn’t nearly as important as what she plans to do to solve it, which so far looks like nothing.

Dividing not a winning strategy


Kerre McIvor sums up so much about what’s wrong with this government:

. . . Prime Minister Ardern told the Breakfast show this morning that her job is to think about the elderly, the immuno-compromised and other vulnerable Kiwis who will be hugely affected by an ongoing Omicron outbreak. 

That’s her job, and that’s her front of mind. Is that really her job now and should that be front of mind? Do we not all have the information we need to look after ourselves? 

If that’s her job she’s not doing it well.

Just one example of failure to look after the elderly is the shortage of resthome staff.

Late last year there were 11 people in Oamaru Hospital waiting for a resthome bed anywhere in the town.

At least one resthome had empty rooms but it didn’t have the staff to care for anymore residents and so could not admit anyone else.

Another example of failure to look after the elderly is a shortage of carers for people in the community.

Two women sharing the care of a man who broke his back are doing the work of three because there’s a shortage of people willing, and able, to do the work.

A major reason for those shortages is the government’s flawed policy that hasn’t allowed the immigrants who are both willing and able to do that work to get into the country, or to give them visas which give them at least medium term security they , and their families, can stay here.

Surely, with the best medical advice indicating that this variant is of the cold and flu variety and severity, can she not get on with looking at some of the many, many other issues that we have in New Zealand rather than micromanaging their health care of a small number of New Zealanders?  

This insistence on it being her job to focus on Covid-19 and its threat to the elderly and vulnerable shows an unacceptable level of control freakery and lack of trust in her Cabinet colleagues that is blinding her to all the other issues in urgent need of attention, and blinding her to the divisiveness she’s fostering, as Christopher Luxon explains:

Today I want to talk to you about Covid, about vaccinations, and about mandates.

But first I want to address the elephant in the room: our increasingly divided society.

I entered politics because I wanted to help create a society where Kiwis can get ahead.

Where if you’re willing to put in an honest day’s work, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.

That’s my vision for New Zealand – a society of opportunity.

But what we’re experiencing under Labour is a society divided.

The Prime Minister talks about the team of five million, but actually she leads the most divisive Government in recent memory.

Renters versus landlords. Business owners versus workers. Farmers versus cities. Kiwis at home versus those stuck abroad.

The vaccinated versus the unvaccinated.

Perhaps worst of all are the racist policies that are creating two standards of citizenship, Maori and the rest of us which might be empowering a few at the top of various Iwi but are doing nothing for the people who feature in the worst statistics for crime – as victims and/or perpetrators – education, health and welfare dependency.

What we are seeing outside Parliament, and the reaction to it, is the culmination of underlying issues that have been rumbling along in our communities for some time.

It’s driven by Covid and vaccine mandates, yes, but the frustrations shared by many Kiwis are also driven by a Government that seems to be stalling.

The cost of living is through the roof.

The dream of home ownership is turning into a nightmare.

Long-term benefit dependency is skyrocketing.

Then add to the mix Labour’s approach to Covid, which relies far too heavily on controlling all aspects of everyday life, rather than using tools like rapid antigen tests to manage risk and give Kiwis more personal responsibility.

No wonder Kiwis are frustrated.

While the government must get some credit for some of its initiatives to protect us from Covid-19 in 2020, last year and this year it’s open to more criticism than praise.

Two years ago, when the Prime Minister made the wise decision to put New Zealand into a strict lockdown, we were united in our resolve. We came together to combat Covid-19 and we felt good about it.

What was simple then is messy and complicated two years on.

Many people have had their lives altered by the restrictions used to combat Covid; some losing jobs and livelihoods; others missing out on special times with loved ones; still more of us exhausted and confused by ever-changing rules.

Some would have you believe that the public health response is without fault, while others would deny the very real challenges posed by Omicron, which will result in growing numbers of hospitalisations and illness. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

We must chart a path back to that middle ground that unites us, and not allow ourselves to be divided into warring factions, inextricably and increasingly opposed.

The protest at Parliament includes people who are showing a flagrant disregard for the law – blocking off streets, ignoring rules and abusing Wellingtonians.

This hasn’t been helped by a Prime Minister who is missing in action, and Trevor Mallard who has done nothing but inflame the situation.

However, there are frustrations shared by law-abiding and well-intentioned people up and down the country about the Government’s approach to Covid and its lack of a plan.

This debate should not take place between law-makers and law-breakers on the forecourt of Parliament, while roads are illegally occupied and death threats hang in the air.

However there are urgent issues before our elected representatives that must be confronted.

It is simply not sufficient for the Government to stand to one side while the protest rages, sheeting responsibility to the Police and ignoring the wider debates that fuel it.

Kiwis should be able to sympathise with some of the issues being raised by protesters on Parliament’s grounds without being framed as condoning illegal behaviour or siding with anti-science conspiracy theorists.

Agreeing with some of the frustrations does not mean condoning illegal activity and the anti-social actions of some of the protesters.

The Government’s unwillingness to engage with these issues has amplified division. The dismissal of anyone who questions the Government approach has fed a growing distrust.

New Zealanders have done the right thing.

We got vaccinated in record numbers. We’re getting boosted. We get tested. We’ve downloaded the app; we scan in; we wear our masks. We’ve tolerated being shut off from the rest of the world for two years.

But here we are in February 2022 and there seems no pathway out of ever more restrictions, rules and controls which are driving so much hurt and anger.

The hurt and anger is fueled by inconsistencies and heartless decisions that defy logic and make a lie of the mantra of kindness.

14 year old kids who can’t play rugby outside with their mates because they’re not vaccinated.

Charlotte Bellis being treated better by the Taliban than by her own government.

The daughter stuck in a MIQ hotel despite testing negative, while her mum dies just a few blocks away.

The restaurant trying to make money in the Red setting with fewer than 100 people allowed in at any one time.

The families grappling with ever changing rules.

The business owner trying to get rapid tests so he can keep his staff safe.

The tourism business closing down because there is just no plan for when visitors will be back in New Zealand.

The mum and dad who can’t get a rapid test before visiting grandparents at the local rest home.

And all the others who want to do the responsible thing for their staff, customers, families and themselves but are prevented from accessing RATs.

Overloaded hospital staff who simply don’t see the promised extra ICU beds, or the extra nurses, or any extra investment.

That’s the anger, hurt, and frustration I hear and see every day.

Many of you listening will recognise a description of yourselves there.

If you do, I want to send you a very clear message.

I feel your pain.

I understand it.

And I want you to know, there is a better way under National.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has gone missing in action at precisely the moment the country is looking for leadership.

People don’t want more platitudes from the podium.

They want leadership.

They want to know when, and under what circumstances, vaccine mandates will end and when vaccine passes won’t be required any more.

They want to know when tourists will be able to come to New Zealand once again.

They want to know when gathering limits will be lifted and when events can run again.

They don’t need the exact dates. But they want to know the Government’s got their back and is being proactive, not letting Covid set the agenda by just waiting and seeing.

The Prime Minister did give some indications of a plan yesterday, but it was so vague and we’ve had so many announcements of announcements that it’s hard to have confidence in it.

There is a real momentum for change in the country.

People are fed up.

Now I want to outline what I think the Government should be doing right now to heal the divisions I talked about earlier and to plot a pathway out of the mess we’re in.

Covid is very different in February 2022 to what it was in February 2020.

Back then we had no vaccines, limited testing and no effective treatments.

As scientists are recognising, Covid has transformed from a deadly disease to one that is much less serious.

Omicron is highly infectious, but milder. Covid is now manageable for the vast bulk of people at home.

It isn’t the flu. But it is similar to other infectious diseases in that it can be controlled and managed. And we have highly promising Covid treatments coming soon.

As Dr Bryan Betty of the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners says, “we need to move into a space very rapidly of thinking we’re going to live with this and get back to some sort of normality.”

There are some in our community who are still in 2020 mode. They are fearful and they want high levels of government control, and zero balancing of public health with wider societal goals.

I understand this perspective, and I acknowledge that the change from full protection to risk management will be a hard transition for some. Some may choose to be risk-averse for some time into the future – whether or not the Government requires that of them.

That fear has been fostered by the government. It worked to keep us compliant through lockdowns and to persuade many of the reluctant to get vaccinated but it has long past its use-by date.

Then there are those who say “just let it rip”. I understand their impatience but I’m also alive to the serious consequences this would bring. It’s a recipe for overwhelming our health system. We would probably cope. But Covid would trump everything else – elective surgery and other important procedures would grind to a halt.

There is a third way through this.

That way is to use effective public health measures like vaccination, boosters, testing and treatments, but to start returning normality to people’s lives. To start reducing the rules and restrictions, phasing out the mandates, and easing the divisions that have sprung up in our communities.

That’s where I’m at, and it’s where National is at.

Vaccination has been transformational.

Despite our slow start, New Zealand is now one of the most vaccinated countries in the world.

· 95 per cent of New Zealanders aged 12 and above have had two doses.

· Two-thirds of those eligible have had a booster.

· And half of 5–11 year olds have had one dose.

Vaccination and boosters are protecting our hospital system.

It makes a huge difference. Unvaccinated people are much more likely to end up in hospital than those vaccinated, and much more likely to die.

The good news is that New Zealanders have done the right thing. We have got vaccinated. We have got boosted. We’re vaccinating our kids.

Now we’re looking for what’s next.

The next couple of months will be bumpy. We’re on the upward slope of the Omicron curve. Cases will keep rising quickly. There will be families who lose loved ones and individuals who will endure serious illness.

But at some point, cases will peak and then start to come down. That’s been the experience in every other developed country that has grappled with Omicron.

So we need to keep going with getting boosted and getting our kids vaccinated, deploy rapid tests widely, accept that Omicron is here, and get through it.

We don’t need to lockdown. We just need to be sensible.

Once we’re through the peak, and assuming there’s no other dangerous variant on the horizon, we can start to ease the division in our society and get back to something approaching normal life.

Very soon, vaccine mandates will have to come to an end.

It’s a big thing for a government to impose a mandate on someone. By definition, you are pressuring people to do something they don’t want to do by imposing pretty awful consequences if they don’t.

The way I think about it, mandates were justified for a while as a temporary measure as we battled Covid and lifted vaccination rates.

What we need from the Government is an honest conversation and some straight talking over the issue of mandates.

It’s not good enough for the Prime Minister to just shrug her shoulders and say “they’ll go at some point” and not enter into a dialogue over when and how. We deserve more than that.

The mandates were designed for a world in which Delta was the dominant strain.

But Omicron has changed the game.

Under our current system, vaccinated people can go to a café; the unvaccinated can’t. Vaccinated people can go to the gym; the unvaccinated can’t. Vaccinated people can get a haircut; the unvaccinated can’t.

This made sense when vaccination had a big effect on transmission.

But Omicron is just so infectious and busts through vaccination, including boosters.

Vaccination is still definitely worth it for individuals – it makes us far less likely to get seriously ill – but when vaccinated people can get Omicron and spread it, why are we limiting venues to just vaccinated people?

The public health rationale for mandates is much less than it was just a few months ago.

And it doesn’t make you an anti-vaxxer to point this out.

The mandates have caused real hardship and despair: kids denied entry to sports teams or public libraries; good men and women who have lost their jobs because they don’t want to be vaccinated.

We should get rid of mandates progressively and carefully once we are through the peak of Omicron.

We must balance the public health rationale against the massive impact mandates have on individual New Zealanders.

The Government should set out a plan for phasing out mandates. Here are two areas they could start.

The first area where vaccination was made compulsory was border workers. That made a lot of sense when we had an elimination strategy and border worker vaccinations were the tool for keeping Covid out of the community.

It obviously makes much less sense when we have thousands of community cases and as the border reopens to the world. They need to go.

The mandates I find most objectionable are the ones that apply to children taking part in extracurricular sport after school.

They make no sense. They should be gone.

I continue to think that mandates for healthcare workers are reasonable. You want people dealing with Covid in our hospitals to be vaccinated, for example.

Although wouldn’t a negative RAT be just as safe whether or not the staff were vaccinated?

We also need a conversation about the traffic light framework and vaccine passes.

Let’s face it – it was developed on the fly after the alert level framework became redundant, and it is a complex set of rules that are not strictly adhered to.

The system has been an absolute killer for hospitality. These businesses are doing the hard yards right now, and they need Kiwis to have the confidence to go out and support them.

Labour were advised to only apply vaccine passes to high-risk large events and venues.

They were specifically told not to apply them to bars, restaurants and cafes.

They haven’t even followed the official advice.

It’s not the first time this has happened. The health advice was that the whole South Island could have been at green last year, the political decision was to keep us at orange regardless of the financial and human costs.

The Government was told that social cohesion was at risk if vaccine passes were implemented too widely. I think we can definitely agree with that.

After we get through the peak of Omicron we should remove government mandates for businesses to use vaccine passes.

The final thing we should do is aggressively reopen to the world.

The Government has outlined extremely tentative reopening plans.

Kiwis in Australia can come home from the end of February. Kiwis elsewhere have to wait until March. Australians can’t come until July and other visa holders can’t come until October.

This is an absurdly slow timeframe and to make matters worse, everyone coming in will have to isolate for seven days. This will kill any real tourism recovery.

The case for mandatory self-isolation for travellers to New Zealand is not a strong one.

We should quickly move to a rule where people take a test on arrival in New Zealand. If it is positive then they should isolate. If it’s negative, they should be free to go about their business – just like Kiwis do within New Zealand.

We should also speed up the timeframe. The border should be open right now for Kiwis anywhere in the world to return home. Then we should quickly open to tourists and other visa holders too.

One of the worst things about the past couple of years has been the way the Government shut out Kiwi citizens through the lottery of human misery that is MIQ, stirring up resentment from Kiwis both at home and overseas.

That divide will take some time to heal. But we can start by progressively reopening to the world and welcoming Kiwis home.

The protest is illustrative of frustration at Covid, but we also have other challenges – a cost of living crisis, increasing benefit dependency, house prices through the roof, and the sense that it is harder than ever to get ahead.

The country needs new leadership.

Leadership that knows how to get things done and get our Covid toolset in place.

Leadership that isn’t too proud to call it when we get things wrong and admits mistakes.

Leadership that shows up when times are tough, not just in the glory moments.

New Zealand is a fantastic country and we have a great future.

We will get what we deserve, and we deserve the very best – but ultimately that is up to each and every one of us.

If we join together, and celebrate our differences rather than letting them divide us, we really can deliver a better future for all New Zealanders.

Divide and conquer can be a winning strategy but the divisions this government is fostering is creating far more losers than winners.

It would help bridge the divisions if the government had a plan that gave us confidence about an end to mandates and that the Prime Minister had  wider focus than the elderly and vulnerable.

After all we were told that protecting them was one reason for the need for a high vaccination rate and we’ve got that and there are a whole lot more urgent problems that need her attention – and need solutions that bring unity not more division.

Imported indignation & inconsistencies


Valid reasons for criticising the protest at parliament include disruption to businesses, traffic and people’s lives.

Threats of violence, anti-Semitism and personal attacks, be they written verbal or physical, cannot be condoned.

But criticism from the Prime Minister and her supporters that the protesters’ issues are imported is irrelevant and inconsistent.

There may be an element of imported indignation among the protesters but that isn’t relevant when it was irrelevant for other protests organised and supported by the left, most recently with the Black Lives Matter marches in 2020.

That those marches took place when the country was at an alert level that didn’t allow such gatherings brought no condemnation from the podium of truth and no attempt to prevent them from the police.

It’s inconsistent to support imported indignation when you agree with the issue but criticise a protest focus for being imported when you don’t.

It’s also inconsistent to accept soft policing with people and issues you support but want a hardline with protesters whose stand you oppose.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has admitted the protest shouldn’t have got to this and it’s fair to question why police didn’t step in at the start.

But if police should have stepped in early with this protest they should also have stepped in early with others including Shelly Bay and Ihumātao.

Apropos of stepping in, if the PM thought it was appropriate for her to wade into Ihaumotu, trampling over property rights and setting a precedent, it’s inconsistent of her to refuse to entertain any negotiation with these protesters at parliament.

The police at least are being consistent taking a soft approach as they have with previous protests and gangs that blatantly disregarded Covid settings and road rules travelling to and from, and gathering at, funerals.

This is what you get when policing by consent pays more regard to the sensitivities of the wrong-doers than the rights of the wronged.

Accusing protesters of importing their indignation also ignores the range of domestic issues that have brought the protesters to parliament.

There is a variety of issues, some of which are simply anti-government. Some are anti-vaccine but there is also a number who are vaccinated but are anti-mandate and not only among the protesters.

David Farrar has the results of a survey on why people got vaccinated:

In terms of why they got vaccinated the findings were:

  • Protect personal health, 70% said it was a large or the main factor
  • Protect health of others, 76% large/main
  • Due to vaccine pass, 36% large/main
  • Due to vaccine mandate 31% large/main

This leads credence to the view that opposition to mandates is far greater than the small percentage of people who aren’t vaccinated:

But whatever the rights and wrongs of the issues that have brought the protesters to Wellington, isn’t the point, as Damien Grant opines:

The Prime Ministerial complaint appears to be that anti-mandate protests are acceptable, but anti-vaccine protesters were beyond some imaginary red line and thus were not to be tolerated.

But – and I realise this will come to as a shock to a few in the Beehive and those who pander to them – our political elites do not get to define the boundaries of legitimate dissent.

If you want to demonstrate about the moon landing being faked or the failure to cast Natalie Portman as Catwoman, that is your right, and I am here for you.

Even more remarkable was Ardern’s statement: “…it’s not the way we protest in New Zealand.”

Well, prime minister, if you look out of your ninth floor window, you will see that is exactly how some people express their defiance in New Zealand.

It is how the protest at Ihumātao was conducted, successfully, as you may recall. It is how the local Māori made their demands known at Moutoa Gardens in Wanganui for almost three months. The occupation of Bastion Point lasted for 18 months.

What the prime minister meant, I suspect, is it isn’t how she and her cohort of performance revolutionaries choose to conduct themselves, where the object was to get the Instagram photo and move on somewhere comfortable for a soy latte and vegan muffin. Getting mud on your designer clothing was to be avoided and being arrested was definitely not on the cards. Thank you very much. . . 

There is a qualitative difference between the theatre of protest and the real thing. Those who marched in Auckland in support of Black Lives Matter or against Donald Trump in the Women’s March after his election, were engaging in performative protest.

Their lives were not impacted, they had no expectation of effecting change, and the wrong being committed was happening in another country. This isn’t to diminish the significance of the issues or the genuine feelings of those who turned out, but we should not confuse these marchers with those who stood in the field at Rugby Park in Hamilton wearing helmets. . . 

The protest in Wellington, and off-shoots elsewhere, are not theatre.

The problem is that those on the lawn are serious. They do not want to go home. They want things to change. It is possible that while they are not seeking a confrontation they are willing to absorb one, knowing that the prospect of images of bloodied faces and mass arrests might be enough to get the Beehive to back down.

In all of the hyperventilating about the nature of those protesting, we haven’t confronted the dynamics of what is occurring, and why this is going to be difficult to resolve.

Those who refuse the vaccines do so for a variety of complex reasons, but if you are willing to lose your career rather than take the jab, then we need to acknowledge that this belief is genuine, if mistaken. But then, many believe all sorts of things are bad for them, from religion to a liking for craft beer.

If you believe that mRNA is going to rewire your genetics, you are not going to take the vaccine no matter how drastic the consequences, despite the fact that you, like me, have no idea what mRNA is.

The solution for most of us, when faced with the mandates, is to submit, whether we want it or not; but not everyone is built this way. Throughout history, we see examples of people taking strange ideological positions and being willing to suffer great hardship rather than compromise.

Personally, when faced with the prospect of being burnt alive, I’d convert to whatever denomination of Christianity the person constructing the pyre demands. Few of us are willing to tango with a lion rather than follow the religious demands of the Caesar of the day.

But within the makeup of humanity, there is a small percentage willing to die for their beliefs and a larger cohort willing to stand in solidarity in the rain and muck of the parliamentary grounds to defy these mandates.

The prime minister is stuck. She cannot negotiate. She cannot back down. She needs to look upon those on the lawn and despair – for those rabble are the captains now. For as long as they can remain in place, they are the story.

They are the story, but vaccines and mandates aren’t the only plot line.

Steven Joyce points out, the protest is much bigger than the protesters:

There is a danger the inhabitants of the parliamentary precinct have spent the week missing the wood for the trees. In focusing on the protesters directly in front of them, they seem oblivious to a much bigger mood shift that’s going on around the country.

What if what they are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg? . . 

There is, however, a large and growing group of New Zealanders who have had their lives severely disrupted by the Government’s actions “for the greater good”, who are sick of having their plight ignored.

And there is a big bunch more who have had a gutsful of the ever-changing rules and restrictions in the face of what they see as a very mild strain of Covid-19. It is these larger groups the Government should be most worried about. . . 

Uncertainty is hard to deal with, inconsistency makes it harder.

We were told if at least 90% of us got vaccinated we could have a normal summer. We got to 90% but we didn’t get a normal summer.

We got the sermon on traffic light settings from the podium of truth that told us that we’d move to red when the health system was at risk.

We’ve been at red for weeks, infections numbers are escalating but the health system is not yet at risk.

What are at risk are a whole lot of businesses, jobs and livelihoods, especially, but not only, those in entertainment, hospitality and tourism.

The Covid response has created many losers. We’ve rightly talked a lot about the people caught on the wrong side of the border. But they are not the only ones.

Anyone who owns or works in a hospitality business or a small retail shop is another.

People working in tourism or international education have been in a world of woe.

Young people have had their education disrupted and their sporting dreams curtailed.

There are people living in pain because their elective surgery or cancer treatment has been postponed to the never-never. They have all been stopped from doing things which were previously part of normal life. Covid has whipped the rug out from under them.

It is perhaps not surprising when so many have had their lives turned upside down through no fault of their own, that a few will turn to conspiracy theories and the like.

When you are stopped from doing the career you love for fear of a medical procedure, how to make sense of it all?

The Government certainly didn’t create the pandemic, but some of their actions have made it much worse than it needed to be. The vaccination delays, the inexplicable obstinacy against new forms of testing, the failure to increase hospital capacity, the layers upon layers of levels, traffic lights and stages which make people’s heads spin.

The Cabinet’s excessive caution in moving back down lockdown levels has also been an issue. People only have so much tolerance for having their lives micro-managed and it appears the Government has used up that tolerance.

The whole of the South Island could have been at green for months last year. Instead we were forced to stay at orange which imposed huge and unnecessary financial and social costs.

Now that community transmission is so high, New Zealanders who are fully vaccinated, and have a negative test result before embarking, should be able to come home and self-isolate as people here with Covid-19 are. But they are still stuck overseas, some without jobs and homes, and some who have had their superannuation cut off.

Then there are all the other tone-deaf announcements that heap insult on injury. What planet would you have to be on to think that whacking small businesses with a 6 per cent minimum wage increase and a new social insurance tax, plus the spectre of centralised wage negotiations, were good ideas now?

Why would you think that announcing a $15 billion light rail project for a privileged few in Auckland makes any sense when you are racking up debt all over the place that the next generation is going to be lumbered with? And at the same time as there is a real question mark over the future of commuting as we knew it?

And why would you be consulting on tighter immigration, visitor and student controls when your biggest problem after some pretty shoddy treatment amid two years of closed borders will be persuading enough people to come here?

The Government’s dogmatic determination to continue with a policy programme made instantly out of date by the pandemic indicates the same lack of flexible thinking apparent in their Covid response. They expect everyone else to adjust and cope but they intend to sail on, determined to do things they thought of six or seven years ago irrespective of current circumstances.

And ithe cost is not just upfront but ongoing because so much is funded on borrowed money that will have to be repaid with interest.

And their blind loyalty to the Ministry of Health and its Director-General is a sight to behold. Dr Bloomfield has been politically dissembling at best about his organisation’s confiscation of RAT test orders. In any other Government he would have been carpeted and there would be talk of resignation. 

Adding to the list of domestic issues about which many are indignant is the the blatantly racist agenda that is making some New Zealanders more equal than others.

Things are likely to get worse. Next week the Reserve Bank brings out its latest Monetary Policy Statement, and whether it goes for a quarter or half per cent rise in interest rates, the direction of travel is clear. That means pain for recent house buyers and asset purchasers, who were only doing what they were encouraged to do when the bank and the Government were overcooking the Covid stimulus.

The country’s mood is darkening, and in dismissing the protesters and their motivations, the Prime Minister and her MPs are giving the appearance that they are dismissing all the concerns people are raising, or even just quietly thinking about.

I can’t tell the Government how to get the protesters to go home, although firing Trevor Mallard would probably help. I suspect in the meantime the numbers will only grow.

Ministers need to lift their sights and focus on the wider discontent among the public outside Wellington and outside the Bowen triangle.

If ministers showed a willingness to genuinely listen, adjust their policy response, and convince Kiwis they both care about and will mitigate the disruption in people’s lives, then they can right the ship. At that point the protest will also probably peter out. If they don’t, then a few hundred assorted protesters and conspiracy theorists camped on the lawn at Parliament will be the least of their problems.

While a good government ought to be able to focus on more than one issue at a time, the immediate problem is at parliament, the government is responsible for it and it’s up to them to fix it:

The Government needs to take responsibility for the escalating protests around the country and demonstrate it has a clear strategy to de-escalate, Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon says.

“The growing occupation of central Wellington includes people showing a flagrant disregard for both the law and other New Zealanders. As the party of law and order, National strongly condemns this behaviour.

“But this is a situation entirely of the Government’s own making.

“Kiwis are rightly frustrated by Labour’s ‘make it up as you go’ approach to Covid which relies far too heavily on controlling all aspects of everyday life, rather than using tools like rapid antigen tests to manage risk and give Kiwis more personal responsibility.

“After two years of daily briefings the Prime Minister is now conspicuously MIA. Instead she has backed Trevor Mallard, who did not take police advice and whose actions only served to embolden the protestors and inflame the situation.

“And now Labour and their associates are trying to put the blame entirely on the Police Commissioner, despite specifically hiring him because of his ‘policing by consent’ approach.

“New Zealanders have lost confidence that the Government has a plan to resolve the protest.

“The Government needs to address the underlying frustration many Kiwis have about their approach to Covid and lack of a plan.

“Labour needs to be clear with the public. They need to front and talk through the next steps for Covid. And they need to tell us what criteria they will use to determine when mandates can be removed.”

Covid-19 is infecting a lot more vaccinated people than unvaccinated. That’s a raw number and to be expected when more than 90% of us are vaccinated and the vaccine, while reducing the seriousness of illness, doesn’t necessarily stop people from contracting it.

But those numbers do lead credence to calls for an end to mandates soon and that could happen a lot sooner if we all had access to rapid antigen tests (RATs) instead of them being available only to the few deemed essential and only after an unnecessarily bureaucratic process.

But what hope is there of that happening soon when even teachers, who are mandated to be vaccinated, aren’t eligible for the supply the government controls and aren’t permitted to get their own?

Auckland Grammar’s headmaster says it’s ridiculous the school’s been blocked from collecting a shipment of rapid antigen tests that have arrived in the country. 

The type of test isn’t yet approved by the Ministry of Health – but is widely available in Australia with an accuracy assessment of 90 percent.

Auckland Grammar Headmaster Tim O’Connor is incensed. He managed to get 2000 rapid antigen tests from Australia into the country. 

But they’re being held at Customs. 

“Look it just seems ridiculous when we’re actually trying to assist in the health and safety of people we care for, and we can’t do it,” O’Connor says.

The version of the tests that’s arrived is called JusChek – which has FDA approval and is approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration which is similar to Medsafe. 

New Zealand rules stipulate that rapid antigen tests must have an 80 percent sensitivity. 

Only 11 products have been approved here, while Australia has approved 26. 

Australia’s health authorities say the JusChek test has a “very high” clinical sensitivity at 90 percent, exceeding the target set by the Ministry.

“Why would we not be supporting people to be proactive?” O’Connor says. . . 

The only answer to that is government  and bureaucratic incompetence and intransigence.

Add that to the growing list of valid criticisms of the government and its agencies and you can see why a lot of people who don’t support the disruption the protesters are causing and the anti-social messages from some of them, do have a lot of sympathy for the desperation that’s taken them to Wellington and their call to end mandates.

Democracy or dictatorship?


First the Speaker requested members of the press gallery to keep away from the anti-mandate protestors.

Now the Prime Minister has  criticised Act leader David Seymour for meeting a few of the protestors:

. . .The Prime Minister has admonished Act Party Leader David Seymour for meeting with protest representatives.

Earlier today Seymour said he had met some of the anti-mandate protesters’ leadership, who were feeling like they were not being listened to.

It comes on day nine of the protesters’ occupation on Parliament grounds, with
towing of the hundreds of illegally parked vehicles still yet to begin.

This afternoon Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she did not think it was responsible for Seymour to meet with protest representatives. . .

He was asked to meet the representatives by the owner of the Backbencher which is closed because of the protest.

Agreeing to that is a far more reasonable response to the growing problem than the government’s labelling all the protestors as extremists, turning on sprinklers and trying to drive them away with loud music.

Seymour said political leaders would not meet with protest leaders as along as abusive and threatening behaviour continued.

He said on the other hand, dehumanising protesters or calling them “feral” was highly unhelpful.

“One of the things that’s clear is it’s becoming increasingly organised.” . . 

That is a reasonable stance, much more reasonable than the PM telling a leader of another party who he can or cannot meet.

That might work in a dictatorship but in a democracy a party leader who is asked to meet people in an attempt to resolve an impasse is free to do so.

Distance doesn’t always lend enchantment


Distance proverbially lends enchantment to the view, but Dan Wooton, an ex-pat Kiwi, looking home from London is less than impressed:

. . . Many Kiwis have become so brainwashed by Ardern’s incessant spin – swallowed whole by a compliant liberal media – that they reacted with a mere shrug when her government at the weekend revealed citizens who are household contacts of anyone who tests positive for Covid will have to self-isolate for a whopping 24 days as part of her ‘stamp it out’ policy approach. 

Has anyone in government stopped to think about the impact this would have on hospitals, schools, other workplaces and supply chains if – as is very unlikely – people actually did this?

After just nine confirmed Omicron cases, Ardern then plunged the entire country into red alert, a form of lockdown that bans large gatherings, enforces mask mandates, makes Covid passports compulsory if you want to live normally as part of a ‘two-tier society’, and reintroduces work from home orders.

Ardern even cancelled her long-planned wedding to TV star fiancé Clarke Gayford in the ultimate act of virtue signalling aimed at showing New Zealanders she’s going through the hell of lockdown too.

While most governments have tried to quell public panic over Omicron, given the proven mild nature of the variant, Ardern’s regime has done the opposite.

Once again the government has failed to prepare and instead is stoking panic.

Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard – an Ardern loyalist from the ruling Labour party – warned panicked citizens to prepare as if they were facing an ‘earthquake’ by stocking up on emergency supplies, which helped spark an inevitable run on toilet paper.

He also tweeted criticism of Wootton, contravening the convention that the Speaker doesn’t indulge in political point scoring.

Remember panic buying? While the rest of the world is finally waking up to the need to live with Covid long-term, New Zealand remains trapped in March 2020, with terror and paranoia enveloping a country that was once famous for producing hard men like Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary, fearless rugby giant Jonah Lomu and bunjee jump inventor AJ Hackett.

Rather than preparing for the inevitable over the past two years, socialist Ardern is hamstrung by a creaking health system with less than 200 intensive care beds to service five million citizens.

Perversely, she has banned international doctors and nurses from travelling to New Zealand – even Kiwi ones wanting to return home to work – meaning there are chronic staff and resource shortages.

The health system was ailing before the pandemic. The government’s failure to allow health professionals already here to stay, and to fast track immigration for others overseas has exacerbated it.

It’s not just hospitals that are understaffed., rest homes have empty beds because they can’t employ enough carers and nurses.

And while Ardern will never admit it publicly, she’s gripped with the terror that her decision to pursue a Zero Covid policy long-term is unravelling.

New Zealand has virtually no natural immunity, making the country far more vulnerable to Omicron than other countries.

Meanwhile, Kiwis have bought into Ardern’s message that eliminating the virus is not only desirable but possible.

Even a 90 per cent vaccinated country is not enough to reassure most Kiwis who have been manipulated by Ardern into believing that Covid is some sort of black plague that leaders like Boris Johnson have allowed to run rampant, to hell with the consequences.

Illness and deaths from Covid-19 have been much worse in most other countries, but at least some of the credit for the low toll here was down to our isolation and luck rather than good management.

Finally, the world is waking up to the insanity of the New Zealand approach as Ardern’s policies become increasingly draconian.

Keeping passport holders like me out of the country is also illegal, given the country’s Immigration Act guarantees that ‘every New Zealand citizen has, by virtue of his or her citizenship, the right to enter and be in New Zealand at any time’.

Instead, Ardern has instituted a sick Squid Game-like national lottery that dictates whether we can return home at all. . . 

Grounded Kiwis’ legal challenge has been delayed but Kiwiblog has the story of the family who managed to stay in Auckland after arriving in transit, and the opinion of two lawyers who confirm New Zealanders have the right to come home at any time.

What’s most sickening is that to keep locals happy, foreign DJs, musicians, performers, sportspeople and film stars have been allowed in to continue with the veneer of life as normal.

Miraculously, the Kiwi superstar singer Lorde was able to win one of the spots in Ardern’s Squid Game lottery (my poor mum didn’t), which meant she was able to return to the country just in time to perform at Ardern’s now-cancelled summer wedding spectacular. Forgive me for being cynical about whether the lottery is fair.

The Herald had a story correcting social media claims Lorde had skipped MIQ. But it ignored the question of whether or not she got a priority spot. It is possible she struck it lucky in the MIQueue lottery when 10s of thousands of others have not, but if that’s the case, why wasn’t that part of the story?

Meanwhile, a lobby group called Grounded Kiwis has crowd-funded to sue the government, while stranded citizens are now considering using sail boats from Australia as the only means to return to the country with all flights cancelled.

Many New Zealanders will think I’m deeply disloyal for writing this column.

Some will troll me on social media, just as they have attacked helpless Kiwis overseas throughout this pandemic. We chose to live out of the country, after all, they say. Or, if you’re to believe many calls to local talk radio, we’re ‘sewer rats’ intending to infect healthy Kiwis with the dreaded ‘rona.

The local media used to cover my every achievement like a proud distant relative. They revelled in the fact I broke the bombshell story of Megxit in my parent’s living room in Wellington over Christmas in 2019, the last time I was able to return to my birthplace.

But since I have been critical of Ardern’s cruel Covid policies, if I am referenced in the media at all, it is as a ‘foreigner’.

Instead of addressing the message, they criticise the messenger.

Any criticism of Ardern and her policies is taken as a direct attack on New Zealand itself.

Civil resistance and protests are strong and common, but all dissenters are either ignored in the largely pro-Ardern media or portrayed as mad anti-vaxxers.

There is no perspective; no analysis of the data or the economic consequences of her decisions; only hysteria that Ardern has tapped into as some sort of smirking soothsayer. . . 

Rumours abound that Ardern hopes to let the border closures go on as long as possible because if she manages to keep Kiwis out of the country for over three years they will be unable to vote in the next general election, where they are widely expected to try and boot her from office.

Throughout the Covid crisis Ardern has attempted to bring New Zealanders together using the hackneyed phrase, ‘We’re a team of five million.’

She is factually wrong, however, because there are six million Kiwis across the globe.

A million of them have been effectively banned from their own country for over two years – and we’re never going to forget it.

The time has come for the international media to stop presenting Ardern as a Covid hero.

Her policies have been nothing short of wicked for Kiwis trapped overseas and her country now provides proof that the isolationism of Zero Covid is downright dangerous. 

Our media has delighted in stories of overseas praise for Ardern from people who are famous for being well-known, and quelle surprise, yesterday when Wootton’s opinion piece was covered, there was another one from a fan.

Distance is leading enchantment to some views, it won’t nearly as rosy for those desperate to return home, a policy that makes New Zealand stand out in the world for a very wrong reason.

Not all of us here are following the pro-Ardern party line. We are worried about not just the lack of preparedness for the Omicron variant, the control freakery that stopped us trying to look after ourselves with rapid antigen tests, and its heartless disregard for citizens stuck overseas, but other problems of the government’s making or on which it has made no progress too.

In no particular order that includes inflation which is predicted to reach the highest level in 30 years, ridiculously high house prices, the lack of action on the appalling rate of child abuse, the $50m plus wasted on the bike bridge to nowhere. . .

Then there’s the time and money being wasted on changes to the health system instead of addressing much-needed improvements to services and the three waters debacle, both of which are made worse by the government’s racist agenda which is creating two types of citizenship where some are a lot more equal than others.

Those praising as they view from afar, are seeing what the government is happy for them to see. Others, like Wootton, and at least some of us here, haven’t bought into the enchantment and have very real concerns about the state of our nation and its abandonment of citizens abroad.

Too little, too late


First the good news:

Rapid antigen testing will be available more widely in New Zealand, and will be used as part of the Government’s Omicron response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday.

Ardern said there are currently 4.6 million rapid antigen tests (RATs) in New Zealand, and there were “10s of millions on order”. . .

But the bad news is that on order could be too late.

National leader Christopher Luxon said the revelation that there were 4.6 million rapid tests in the country equalled “less than one per person”, and deemed the rollout “appallingly slow”.

“New Zealand has been slow on boosters and slow on vaccines for 5–11-year-olds and now we’re being appallingly slow on rapid tests,” he said.

“To make matters worse, the Prime Minister still can’t outline how they will be used, when they will be available, and what isolation rules will be in place. She even thinks our current contact tracing system will work against Omicron.” . . 

She also thinks tests 48 hours before people board flights to New Zealand is good enough, a point Sir Ian Taylor disputes:

. . . Let’s start with the “unprecedented number of Omicron cases” that have caused the latest “change in plans”.

All of those cases have had to come across our border. To get here, just like Delta before it, Omicron had to hitch a ride with a traveller on a plane or a boat.

One of the reasons it has managed to make that journey to the extent it has, is because we had a testing regime that only required a traveller to test negative 72 hours before boarding a flight. That has subsequently been reduced to 48 hours, but that is still two days to catch the most infectious variant of Covid we have seen to date.

In the “151 Off the Bench” self-isolation programme that I undertook last year with the support of the Business Cross-Sector Border Group, we trialled an alternative to MIQ, which we called Self-Managed Isolation. Focused initially on business travel, this was a system that we believed could be expanded quickly to start bringing our fellow stranded Kiwis home as well; a system that could remain in place no matter what Covid threw at us.

For the 151 Trial, I took my PCR test at LA Airport, before boarding, where I could choose to get my result one hour, three hours or five hours after taking the test. I chose five hours.

Which raises the question: how many of the 300, highly infectious, Omicron cases currently in MIQ would have been picked up in a five-hour window, rather than the current 48 hours?

Perhaps that’s a model Professor Shaun Hendy and his team might test for us.
How different might our situation be now if the Ministry of Health had taken up an offer made in July last year to trial an FDA-approved, PCR equivalent test that has subsequently been approved for official use by countries such as Canada, Israel, Taiwan, the US and Singapore?

The test in question delivers a result in 30 minutes. It costs less than the current approved nasopharyngeal PCR test and independent testing has found that it has “the same diagnostic accuracy as a PCR test,” making it perfect for pre-flight testing, which is what Air Canada uses it for. How many Covid cases might have been detected had we implemented a system that delivered results a matter of hours before boarding, instead of days?

We can’t change the decision made a year and a half ago by the MOH to decline the offer to trial this test, but we can learn from it. Over the Christmas break, the company that made the original offer has confirmed that it still stands. The owner of the company has been coming to New Zealand for 20 years and his connection to this part of the world has meant that New Zealand remains a priority and he is prepared to do whatever is needed to accelerate the trial that he originally offered. . . 

Why wasn’t the trial done last year and why hasn’t the offer to accelerate the trial now been taken up?

There’s been weeks to watch and learn from overseas experience which has pointed very clearly to the need for rapid testing once Omicron takes off and the need to ensure there was no shortage of stock.

But once again the government hasn’t learned and is doing too little, too late.

Omicrony variant


How not to shut down a story:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and fiance Clarke Gayford are refusing to answer further questions about the extent to which Gayford tried to get Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) for his friends.

On Wednesday the Herald reported a pharmacist alleging Gayford had tried to help friends get an RAT via a phone call and being “very unimpressed” when he was told that the health guidance was for a PCR test, rather than an RAT.

The friends were suspected close contacts of a Covid-19 case and current Ministry of Health guidelines say close contacts should get a nasal PCR test, not a rapid test.

The country was facing its first community case of the Omicron variant at the time.

In a Facebook post, the pharmacist alleged Gayford had said the Ministry of Health policy had changed and allowed close contacts to get an RAT.

Gayford admitted a friend had put him on speakerphone while in a pharmacy to discuss RATs, but did not give his version of the phone call. He apologised for any “confusion”.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister’s office refused to answer further questions about the extent to which this was a one-off occurrence, and whether it was appropriate for him to try to get the test.

Is a woman responsible for her fiancée’s actions?


But when the woman is the Prime Minister the questions are legitimate and deserve an answer.

When other media approached the Prime Minister’s office about the story, the office refused to comment, but referred reporters to a statement issued by Gayford’s managers.

But on Thursday morning, Gayford’s managers were not issuing his statement – already published by the Herald – to other media, impeding their ability to cover the story.

In a news story, TVNZ’s 1News said it “approached Gayford’s management team for a response,” after being directed there by the Prime Minister’s office. However, Gayford’s management “refused to comment”.

Only in the afternoon were other media able to obtain the statement – after some had raised the issue with the Prime Minister’s office. Gayford’s management blamed the delay on holidays and staff needing to talk to senior management before sending the statement. 

Gayford’s management refused to answer further questions about the incident. 

How to make a bad story worse – try to keep it quiet, especially when there are so many questions that have yet to be answered.

Questions like:

Why would musicians think calling their mate who just happens to be engaged to the Prime Minister would help him get an RAT?

Why would the mate then try to persuade the pharmacist to give them the test?

This is a particularly nasty case of the Omicrony variant.

Apropos of the Omicrony variant, even if the musician in the pharmacy wasn’t from overseas, how do others in the music industry manage to get to the front of the MIQueue?

How can these people take precedence over New Zealanders desperate to get home and essential workers in sectors including health, agriculture and education which are desperate for staff?

And apropos of those oblivious to the plight of the desperate would-be returnees is the case of Labour list MP Marja Lubeck who spent summer in the Netherlands:

The list MP, who contests Auckland’s Kaipara ki Mahurangi electorate, was born in the Netherlands and later moved to New Zealand.

Lubeck’s trip is possible thanks to her securing an MIQ spot, allowing her to isolate upon her return to New Zealand. But the MIQ system is becoming increasingly controversial; regular releases of MIQ places are almost always oversubscribed, meaning many New Zealanders are barred from returning home. . . 

There is no question that she got that spot by anything other than luck but that is no comfort for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are stuck overseas and in far, far greater need of getting to the front of the MIQueue but who have had no luck in the MIQ lottery.

That she could think it was fine to compete against those people for one of the scarce spots shows a serious error of judgment.

Compounding that, what does it say about her judgment that she left the country in spite of the government of which she is a part having a travel advisory that very clearly tells New Zealanders to stay home:

Do not travel overseas at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, associated health risks and widespread travel restrictions. This do not travel advisory (level 4 of 4) applies to all destinations except the Cook Islands….Read more . . 

The musician made an error of judgement, Clarke Gayford made a bigger one and Marja Lubeck made two, all of which reflects badly on them and both Gayford and the PM compounded the damage by refusing to answer questions.

Could it be that compromised judgement is one of the symptoms of the Omicrony variant?

Rural round-up


Which face do we believe – Peter Burke:

When Covid-19 first arrived in New Zealand, PM Jacinda Ardern made great play of the fact that it would be the primary sector – and that means rural NZ – would be the saviour of the economy.

Agriculture and the supporting processing and supply chain workers and farmers were deemed essential, and to their great credit these people have delivered 100% and more.

But if perchance, or maybe out of morbid curiosity, you tune into Jacinda’s daily sermons from the Beehive, you would struggle to hear the word ‘rural’ mentioned these days.

The vaccine roll-out has been urban driven with percentage rates in Auckland hailed and glorified. It seems to be all about high population numbers, which also means votes, or is that being too cynical? . .

Residents take up arms in Central Otago as rampant rabbits ruin land– Olivia Caldwell:

A plague of rabbits has destroyed thousands of grape vines, chewed through fence posts and rose gardens and left properties in Central Otago potted with holes, costing landowners thousands of dollars.

The trail of destruction has driven some to take up arms – despite never having owned a gun before – and shoot them from their front lawns.

The local authority says the responsibility for dealing with the pests lies with homeowners – a stance which has infuriated some, who say the buck should stop with the council, not them.

In recent months the Otago Regional Council (ORC) has visited more than 300 properties across the rabbit-prone areas of Lake Hayes, Morven Hill, Dalefield, Gibbston Valley and Hawea, and has now emailed hundreds of letters to landowners asking them to come up with their own compliance plan to get rid of rabbits. . . 

Bank opts for woollen carpet – Country Life:

The chief executive of Rabobank was so determined its new Hamilton HQ would have wool carpet he arranged for it to be craned in.

Todd Charteris says it was suggested synthetic carpet squares would be more appropriate because rolls of carpet were too big to be carried in the lift.

He wasn’t having a bar of it.

Rabobank specialises in rural banking and is relocating its head office from Wellington to the third and fourth floors of a central Hamilton building. . . 

Native dairy farmer – Country Life:

A Waikato farming couple will be hanging up their tennis racquets this year after transforming the farm’s tennis court into a native plant nursery.

Dave Swney and Alice Trevelyan started The Native Dairy Farmer and spent the latest Waikato lockdown potting up 22,000 plants now neatly lined up on the court.

Alice estimates they moved about 16 cubic metres of compost.

“Heaps of shovelling,” says Dave. “Some of us farmers have fatter fingers and probably aren’t as good on some of the more delicate jobs but we can get on the end of a shovel and shove a bit of compost.” . . 

First year EIT student chosen as Young Vintner of the Year:

Maddison Airey, a 23-year-old first year Bachelor of Viticulture and Wine Science (BVWSci) student from EIT, has won the Hawke’s Bay A&P Society & Craggy Range Young Vintners Scholarship for 2021.

Maddison received her award at the Hawke’s Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards dinner last night.

As part of the scholarship, Maddison wins $2,000 funding from the Hawke’s Bay A&P Society and a vintage position at Craggy Range Winery for the harvest season of ’22, and she will also be an associate judge for the Hawke’s Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards next year.

Maddison says she is excited about the scholarship and the opportunities it will offer her. . . 

‘I’m afraid we’re going to have a food crisis’: The energy crunch has made fertilizer too expensive to produce, says Yara CEO – Katherine Dunn:

The world is facing the prospect of a dramatic shortfall in food production as rising energy prices cascade through global agriculture, the CEO of Norwegian fertilizer giant Yara International says.

“I want to say this loud and clear right now, that we risk a very low crop in the next harvest,” said Svein Tore Holsether, the CEO and president of the Oslo-based company. “I’m afraid we’re going to have a food crisis.”

Speaking to Fortune on the sidelines of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Holsether said that the sharp rise in energy prices this summer and autumn had already resulted in fertilizer prices roughly tripling.

In Europe, the natural-gas benchmark hit an all-time high in September, with the price more than tripling from June to October alone. Yara is a major producer of ammonia, a key ingredient in synthetic fertilizer, which increases crop yields. The process of creating ammonia currently relies on hydropower or natural gas. . .

Can’t get in, can’t get out


Aucklanders’ hopes of being able to get out of the city by Christmas have been dashed:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s admission on radio today that the hard border around Auckland is set to remain in place over summer to unvaccinated people proves she’s prepared play The Grinch in order to mask her Government’s failures, says Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins.

She came without packages, she came without bags, she went on the radio, to make Christmas hopes sag.

“Speaking to ZM, the Prime Minister said: ‘We are looking at how, if you are adding on a testing regime, how you would manage that number and that scale of people being tested, but also, yes, using vaccine certificates is part of that, so, while we are still working on it if anyone wants to make sure they are able to leave over the summer, it’s another reason to get vaccinated’.

“The PM should be explicitly clear on whether Aucklanders will be free travel this summer.

“She says there are still issues being worked through on, if and how Aucklanders will be able to travel this Christmas.

“This just isn’t good enough. 

“National has called for easing MIQ so that Kiwis can come home for Christmas. Now we hear that Labour might not even allow Aucklanders to travel for Christmas.

“There are no excuses for the Government to still be working on major aspects of their so-called traffic light system.

“New Zealanders need certainty. People are planning their summers now. Families want to know if they will see each other at Christmas. If they don’t know what the situation at the Auckland border will be many people simply will not plan a family Christmas or summer holiday.

“Not only will that keep loved ones separated, a closed border will be dire for the tourism industries of places such as Coromandel and Northland that rely on visitors from Auckland.

“Most Kiwis have done the right thing and got vaccinated. We can’t lock up Auckland forever because the Government has set a vaccination target that is more ambitious than anywhere else in the world.

“National’s ‘Back in Business’ plan calls for regional boundaries to be abolished once an 85-90 per cent vaccination milestone is met, or December 1, whatever comes first.

“Labour’s target of 90 per cent for every single DHB is impossibly high, and some DHBs are so far behind it’s impossible to see the target being met anytime soon.

“Kiwis need a path back to normality. Summer is what we’ve been looking forward to. But it seems the PM wants to play The Grinch and keep us locked up forever.”

Tens of thousands of people can’t come home because of the shambles that is MIQueue and now Aucklanders aren’t going to be able to get out of their city when they want to:

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Checkpoint the government is considering the option that Aucklanders have an allocated time slot to leave the region over the summer holidays.

The measure would reduce the risk of queues of traffic at the boundary checkpoints, as vaccination certificates are checked. . .

Reduce queues? How would that work? Another lottery like the MIQueue for people trying to get into the country? And what about the people from north and south of Auckland wanting to get through the city to and from Northland and Waikato?

What was he thinking? Was he even thinking?

National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop told Checkpoint he thinks the potential time allocation for Aucklanders to leave the region in holidays is “the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard”.

“MIQ is bad enough, with the lottery of human misery for Kiwis to come home to their own country. The idea that Aucklanders will be allocated by the government a week away or something, when I first saw it on Twitter… I actually had to reread it about three times. I couldn’t believe it. . . 

This government hasn’t the logistical expertise needed to enable New Zealanders to come home. How on earth do they think they’ll be able to get a workable timetable for Aucklanders to leave their city?


Fear and frustration


Fear has been one of the weapons the government has used to persuade people to adhere to restrictions imposed in an effort to keep the country Covid-free.

It worked and the experience overseas helped fuel the fears.

Some people are still frightened and given that it was only last month we were told 8,000 people might die, that is understandable.

But this week the message changed and we were told that hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed.

That is good news, but can we rely on the new message?

Wise people change their minds when the facts change but it is becoming harder to distill the facts from the spin, especially when yesterday we learned that the vaccine taskforce had a big PR role:

. . . The group was to buy enough doses of emerging vaccines to inoculate the population against Covid-19. And it was also to help compose and promote a favourable narrative about those purchases. . . 

Along the way, the public was fed a soothing version of events shaped by outside PR help, the funds for which the Cabinet signed off in May.

Karl Ferguson, a full-time public relations specialist and serial government contractor, through his firm, Arkus Communications, was paid some $133,600 to work with the taskforce, for what MBIE describes as four months of full-time work (contacted by the Herald, Ferguson declined to comment on the work). It bears noting that it wasn’t until August 10 that Cabinet funded Belly Gully negotiators and any actual vaccine purchasing. . .

What does it say about the government’s priorities when PR funding was approved in May, three months before funds for negotiators and purchasing were signed off?

What the Government got from Ferguson was communications that controlled and shaped the flow of information around vaccine procurement. Some of the work entailed co-ordinating the public relations teams across different government agencies, and some of it involved gauging the public’s appetite for vaccines and promoting their ultimate use.

But Ferguson’s work also created Ministers’ messaging, and helped to time and promote it in politicised ways, both through the media and through commentators in wider civil society. Its ultimate effect was to achieve a singular and flattering version of events. It is a picture that emerges from a range of government documents, primarily MBIE’s weekly report for the vaccine strategy, sent to Ministers, and released under the provisions of the Official Information Act.

The report for September 11 notes that Ferguson was even working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) in order to alert Ministers and officials of developments abroad – likely the signing of advance purchase agreements for vaccines – that might prompt pointed questions about why New Zealand had none at the time. . . 

What does it say about the government’s priorities that PR and politics came before purchasing enough vaccine to protect all of us who wanted it?

Revelations that the Government used PR spin to deceive New Zealanders and mask its failure in securing the Covid vaccine is a disgrace, says Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins.

“That the Government started funding expensive spin doctors three months before it bothered to fund anyone to negotiate to buy the vaccines shows exactly where its priorities lay.

“At a time when the public needed the truth about what was being done to manage the biggest public health issue facing New Zealand and the world, the Government was deceiving us all by using PR and spin to hide its failings.

“Instead of getting on and securing the vaccine as quickly as possible, as the Prime Minister assured us was happening, the Government was in fact focused on spinning the message to shape the story around its failure to get a deal for the vaccine.

“It misled experts and used them as pawns in what was nothing short of cynical, manipulative and dangerous politicking designed to fool New Zealanders and cover up for their ineptitude.

“Ministers were carefully scripted – in short, told how to lie – about how vaccine procurement was going and to create the deceit that everything was going well.

“The truth is procurement wasn’t going well. Despite being told otherwise, New Zealand was in fact a long way behind our peers in the queue to get the vaccine, and the Government knew it.

“But, with the 2020 election on the horizon, the Government couldn’t afford to have New Zealanders know the truth about its failures, so it carefully stage-managed a PR campaign funded by taxpayers to fool us.

“Had the Government put half the effort into actually procuring the vaccine as they did on creating spin and lying to the public, we wouldn’t have had the slowest vaccine rollout in the developed world and more than a million Aucklanders wouldn’t be stuck in an ongoing and draconian lockdown.

“Jacinda Ardern must take responsibility for this deceit. New Zealanders deserve an explanation and an apology.”

Had the vaccine rollout been started earlier and more widely, had the government learned from the experience in other countries and its own mistakes, the latest lockdowns may well have been avoided.

Mike Hosking explains what went wrong:

. . . We were a bit slow on the lock down, but not alarmingly slow.   

So that’s a good start. The rest, sadly, has been a mess.   

From PPE gear, to testing kits, to vaccine roll outs, to MIQ, to decisions that weren’t made, borders that got breached, to the current shambles we find ourselves in.   

It’s been a trail of haphazard unprofessionalism and needless economic and social damage.  

For a brief period, we shone globally, and the Government basked in it, and that was a crime in itself. Their own arrogance led them to become dangerously complacent.   . . 

Last year’s first lockdown secured us time and eventually freedom within New Zealand. But there were warning right from the start that, like a lot of this government’s other initiatives, the spin wasn’t matched by substance.

Sir Bob Jones says:

. . . The gross mismanagement of Covid will mark this government as the most incompetent in our post-war history.  Sadly, authoritarian governments are now the norm world-wide as the evidence is clear that a sizeable timorous section of populations like being told what to do. That’s certainly true of New Zealand. . . 

Frankly, I fear for New Zealand as the disastrous economic and social legacy of this government will take a decade to repair.

Some people are still fearful but there’s a growing number who are becoming more and more frustrated, and not only those in Auckland who are now 10 weeks into lockdown.

Rural round-up


Farmers want clarity over vaccine mandates – Gerhard Uys:

Farmers and farm advocacy groups say they are not receiving clear guidelines from the Government on how to navigate vaccine mandates and subsequent staff management for farm businesses.

Chris Lewis, national board member and Covid-19 spokesman for Federated Farmers, said Covid guidelines seemed to be a moving target.

“We have had no indication from [Government] what exact guidelines farm employers should follow. Farm businesses are no different to other businesses operating during uncertain times and need clarity. Are we allowed to mix vaccinated and unvaccinated staff, what is safe and not safe, we don’t know,” Lewis said.

Lewis believed that businesses would begin to take the lead in determining requirements, with the Government playing catch up. Corporations like Fonterra have already begun setting some guidelines for milk suppliers to follow. . .

Farmer protest group keen to meet Jacinda Ardern for answers on new rules –  Rachael Kelly:

The leaders behind one of the biggest farmer protest group in New Zealand are seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and say they are sick of being ignored.

Groundswell NZ galvanised thousands of farmers in July and protests were held in 50 towns nationwide, but since then the Prime Minister has never directly responded to their concerns about some Government freshwater rules not being practical to implement.

Groundswell NZ founder Bryce McKenzie will be in Wellington next week, and it’ll be the second time the group has tried to get a meeting with Ardern.

“We’re hoping she’ll meet with us this time, because the people of New Zealand that turned out for our last protest have essentially been ignored,’’ McKenzie said. . .


A rule of thirds – Neal Wallace:

It was not their original intent, but Central Otago’s Lake Hawea Station is at the sharp end of what some termed contentious innovation. Neal Wallace meets manager David O’Sullivan.

DAVID O’Sullivan admits he needed an open mind as he oversaw the transformation of the Otago high country fine wool property, Lake Hawea Station.

The station manager says a combination of the skills of the staff, input from consultants and the branding and business backgrounds of owners Geoff and Justine Ross, founders of vodka company 42 Below, created a powerful team that is not wedded to a particular farming system.

That diverse thinking reflects the station’s shift to regenerative farming but also a different approach to managing carbon emissions and sequestration.. . 

Sustainability sells: strong wools’ half billion dollar export opportunity:

New Zealand’s strong wool sector is sitting on at least a half a billion dollar opportunity thanks to a wave of eco-consumerism, coupled with innovative Kiwi businesses pushing the limits of wool.

Since the 1980s the export price of strong wool has tanked from a high of around $10 a kilogram, to now just over two dollars. But as eco-consumerism rises and plastic products lose their popularity, a group of New Zealand businesses are ready to drive strong wool’s resurgence.

Strong Wool Action Group executive officer Andy Caughey says for the first time in forty years the market conditions are optimistic for strong wool, a courser fibre than the likes of fine merino, which is exceptionally resilient and versatile in its use for homewares. . .

Ravensdown renews sponsorship of NZDIA :

Entries to the 2022 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards (NZDIA) continue to be accepted online until December 1st as national sponsors continue to commit to the programme.

NZDIA General Manager Robin Congdon is rapt to confirm that Ravensdown have renewed their sponsorship for the next two years.

“Ravensdown bring a particular style to their sponsorship. They care deeply about farmers and this is obvious through the Relief Milking Fund and that they want to be involved with education and development of farmers’ businesses and careers,” says Robin. . .

DJAARA’s new land acquisition protects country and culture – Annabelle Cleeland:

Culturally significant Buckrabanyule, in North Central Victoria, has been purchased by Traditional Owners and conservationists, in a bid to be protected from further land degradation and development.

Located between Boort and Wedderburn, the land covers 452 hectares, and was recently purchased by conservation group, Bush Heritage, to be jointly managed with Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation (DJAARA).

The land is infested with the invasive wheel cactus, a thorny pest plant that classified as a weed of national significance. Djarrak rangers have spent recent months working at the site to control the weed, using mechanical chemical and bio-control methods. . . 


Plank of the Week


Mike Graham, Laura Dodsworth and Russell Quirk at Talk Radio UK awarded Jacinda Ardern Plank of the Week:

You can watch the whole programme here.

Pravda Project at work


Is the media biased?

I can understand reluctance to give any oxygen to conspiracy theories, but it is possible to write a story on this extraordinary response without doing that.


Could the reluctance to report this have anything to do with the Public Interest Journalism Fund which Karl du Fresne calls the Pravda Project.

. . . Judith Collins and David Seymour were putting the heat on Jacinda Ardern over Labour’s so-called Public Interest Journalism Fund. Collins wanted to know whether the fund – applicants for which must commit to Treaty principles and support for te reo, among other things – was influencing the editorial decisions of media outlets. Seymour more pointedly asked what would happen to a media outlet that had accepted money from the fund but wanted to report something deemed inconsistent with Treaty principles.

Ardern brushed off the questions as if they weren’t worthy of an answer, but that’s by the bye. What interests me is whether the exchange in the House was reported by any media outlet that has accepted, or has its hand out for, money from the fund.

This highlights another potentially disturbing and insidious aspect of the media slush fund. Can we expect mainstream media outlets to report criticism of the fund or possible revelations and concerns about its misuse, or will that be left to independent journalists such as Adams?  

You see what’s happening here? I’m already wondering whether the media are choosing to ignore stories about the fund that might not reflect favourably on it or them. The mere fact that it’s necessary to ask this question shows how media companies compromise their credibility by accepting money from a highly politicised government agency.  

Incidentally, “Public Interest Journalism Fund” strikes me as a bit of a mouthful, and time-consuming to type, besides. So I’m giving it a shorter, punchier name: the Pravda Project, after the old Soviet Union’s esteemed official press organ, on the assumption that the PIJF will exhibit the same fearless independence and unstinting commitment to the truth. 

Michael Basset has similar concerns:

. . . The availability of money, coupled with a completely absent sense of constitutional propriety, appear to offer the divine intervention Ardern and Robertson need going forward. Their gig is to bribe the media in the run-up to the next election in the hope that they will save Labour. This is happening in two ways. First, the direct distribution of cash from the Public Interest Journalism Fund aimed at keeping the media on side until the next election. All the big daily papers have dipped into it already, and applications are now open for a further swag of taxpayer money. The second way the government is trying to keep the media on side is by over-paying them for printing the masses of Covid announcements. I’m reliably informed that the government negotiated none of the regular discounts available to those who advertise on a grand scale in newspapers and TV. The expectation is that none of the media greedies will bite the government hand that feeds them. Or not very hard.

If my information is correct, it is corruption, pure and simple. In normal circumstances there would be rebellion. But in the topsy-turvy world of this pandemic, I’m not sure that anyone any longer cares much about constitutional propriety.

Privately owned media has a lot more leeway in what it chooses to report and how it reports it.

But publicly owned media has a much greater responsibility to be balanced and fair.

Regardless of whether its privately owned or publicly, the Pravda Project makes it look like the media is softer on the government and harder on the opposition which leads it wide open to accusations of bias.

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