Need to get NZ working

July 10, 2020

National has a plan to get New Zealand working:

National Party Leader Todd Muller has revealed the framework for the party’s Plan to create more jobs and a better economy.

At a speech to the Christchurch Employers’ Chamber of Commerce today, Mr Muller outlined the five elements of National’s Plan.

“All the components of the framework are designed to grow our economy and create more jobs,” Mr Muller says.

“The framework comprises five components: responsible economic management; delivering infrastructure; reskilling and retraining our workforce; a greener, smarter future; and building stronger communities.

“National will be releasing each of these components in a series of major speeches through this month and into early August to give New Zealanders time to scrutinise each element.”

The full plan will not be finalised until after the Government releases the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU) in August. It will be available by September 2 when overseas voting begins, to be followed by early voting, which starts on September 5.

It’s sensible to await the PREFU and good to know the timetable.

“National has a plan to rebuild our communities, get Kiwis back to work and deal with the economic and jobs crisis,” Mr Muller says.

“With Labour not having anything to offer except ‘borrow, spend and tax’, National understands that responsible government is about creating a deliberate and considered plan – and then following it.” 

Labour and its coalition partners are very good at spending but bad at good spending. In focusing on the quantity of the spend they forget the importance of the quality.

They are also very good at announcements although as Jane Clifton points out, a lot of these policies aren’t shovel-ready, many are only press release ready:

In the full speech here,  Todd outlines National’s commitment to:

  • An open and competitive economy;
  • A broad-based, low-rate tax system;
  • An independent central bank with the primary goal of price stability;
  • The Fiscal Responsibility Act, now part of the Public Finance Act; and
  • A flexible labour market, underpinned since 2000 by good faith.

Our concern is that that basic macroeconomic framework is being diluted by the current Government – mainly through incompetence than the result of any plan. . .

Jacinda Ardern has admitted her party wasn’t prepared for government and it shows in all the over-promising and under-delivering before Covid-19 hit.

That failure to deliver then was bad enough, it is even worse now with their determination to borrow so much which is likely to deliver far more debt without the financial rigour necessary to ensure the quality of the spend and determination to get back to surplus as soon as possible.

Todd says National won’t panic.

Nor will National cut family incomes. National has already announced that, whatever lies ahead of us through the crisis, we will not raise the taxes you pay or cut the benefits paid to those who need help. We would like Labour to make the same commitment to New Zealand families too.

Nevertheless, National will work to keep borrowing as low as possible. Out of the $80 billion plus they spend each year, all governments have wasteful spending that needs to be trimmed. All finance ministers review all spending each time they bring together a Budget. And we will do the same.

Since the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the economic and political debate in New Zealand has tended to be on the quantity of borrowing or debt repayment each year. These remain critically important. Getting back to fiscal surplus and then paying down debt to 20 per cent of GDP is necessary, not least because New Zealand will inevitably confront another natural, economic or health disaster in the next couple of decades or beyond. But just as important is to focus on the quality of spending.

Labour forecasts net core debt will reach 53.6 per cent of GDP in 2024 under their policies. That’s an eye-wateringly high level. We will work hard to try to keep it lower than that, which would put New Zealand in a better position to recover. But of far greater longer-term importance is that Labour projects that under its policies, but with a far stronger economic environment than we face today, net core debt will still be as high as 42 per cent by 2034. That means Labour intends a mere 11 per cent reduction in net core debt, over a decade. At that rate, we will not get back to the safe 20 per cent mark until perhaps the mid-2050s.

National does not regard Labour’s attitude as anything like prudent. It would leave an enormous debt, not so much to our children but to our grandchildren. And it would leave our children and grandchildren – and also ourselves – profoundly vulnerable were the global economic and strategic outlook anything other blissful for three successive decades. . . .

We learn two lessons from Labour’s economic and fiscal projections and their refusal to rule out higher taxes. First, they don’t have anything to offer except borrow, spend, hope and then tax. Second, and even more important, they don’t think any of their borrowing and spending will actually do anything useful to improve New Zealand’s productivity, economy or the overall wellbeing of every one of us.

I’m not hiding that my Government will borrow large amounts over the next three years, and in 2020/21 in particular. National will always be more disciplined in its spending than Labour. Yes, we will borrow what we need to, to support New Zealanders through the crisis – neither more nor less. But we will not just fling money around, the way the Labour Party is. Instead, we promise to spend it better and invest it better than Labour, in a way that does in fact improve New Zealand’s productivity, economy, the overall wellbeing of every one of us, and which, in turn, makes it easier to pay the debt off. . . .

Labour and its coalition partners have been flinging money round since they got into government.

National went out of office with the government’s books in surplus and forecasts of that to continue.

Even before Covid-19 hit, this government was taking us back to deficit.

If it couldn’t manage the economy well in reasonable times, it can’t be trusted to do it now we’re facing the worst of times.

That matters now more than ever.

It matters because we need a government that knows that taxing more in a recession is counter-productive – making it harder for people to look after themselves and making it harder for businesses to grow.

It matters because we need a government that understands that borrowing for hard times is only the start, it must also plan to pay back the debt, and have a plan that will work to do that.

It matters because we need a government that will get New Zealand working and the failures of this one to deliver on so many of its promises show we can’t trust it to do that.


Planning to fail

July 3, 2020

Ensuring Covid-19 doesn’t get past the border has widespread support, but it’s time for a plan that keeps it there and lets more people in:

The Prime Minister needs to stop misrepresenting the border issue and tell New Zealanders what her strategy is to protect the economy long-term, Leader of the Opposition Todd Muller says.

“The Government’s clumsy and incompetent management of our quarantine procedures means it is impossible for New Zealand’s border to open tomorrow, next week or even next month.

“That simply would not be safe.

“However, New Zealanders also need to know how and when the border will progressively be reopened, because not doing that is untenable.

“New Zealanders deserve the highest standards to protect them from getting Covid-19, both at the border and when it comes to tracking and tracing in the event of cases in the community.

“We need to know when those standards will be in place so that New Zealanders have confidence to progressively and safely open the border and grow the economy.

“Locking down what’s left of the economy and waiting for a vaccine isn’t an option.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response ignores the issue:

 . . .”It is untenable to consider the idea of opening up New Zealand’s borders to Covid-19.

“In some parts of the world where we have had frequent movement of people they are not estimating that they will reach a peak for at least a month,” Ardern said.

“Any suggestion of borders opening at this point, frankly, is dangerous.” . . .

No-one is asking for the borders to open at this point.

A lot of people, businesses and organisations are asking for information on the plan for when and how the borders will open at some point in the future.

Farmers and contractors need experienced workers, principals facing teacher shortages are looking for staff, secondary schools and tertiary institutions want to be able to host foreign students again . . .

None of these is asking for anything that would risk Covid-19 getting past the border, but all want to know the government’s plan for safe entry of more than returning New Zealanders and the heavily restricted number and categories of people deemed essential workers so they can plan.

Any half competent government would have had people planning ahead months ago.

The omnishambles at the border that required the military and another minister to take over running it, shows that wasn’t done.

The current situation needs a strong focus but the inability for someone in government to look further ahead while others deal with immediate priorities reinforces Todd Muller’s observation there are three or four competent ministers and a whole lot of empty chairs in Cabinet.

Had there been anyone with more ability in any of those chairs, perhaps one of the three deputy Health Ministers for example, Chris Hipkins who already had a very heavy workload wouldn’t have been the only one capable of taking over as Health Minister yesterday after David Clark resigned.

That appointment highlights the shallowness of the Cabinet pond and explains why Muller’s request for details of the strategy for opening the border is being ignored.

There doesn’t appear to be anyone in the government with the time and ability to plan that far ahead which is a very serious problem because as the adage says, if you fail to plan then you’ll plan to fail.


Bridges & Reti up, Clark down

July 2, 2020

National leader Todd Muller has announced two promotions in the wake of Paula Bennett’s decision to retire from politics:

Dr Shane Reti will be ranked number 13 and will take on Associate Drug Reform. Shane has demonstrated a huge intellect and capacity for work, supporting Michael Woodhouse in our Covid-19 response, as well as achieving much in the Tertiary Education portfolio.

Simon Bridges will be picking up the Foreign Affairs portfolio and will be ranked at number 17. Simon has been leader and a minister for a number of years in the last National Government. He expressed a desire for this portfolio and his experience will be valuable in this important role.

Deputy Leader Nikki Kaye will pick up the portfolio of Women and will make several announcements associated with this portfolio in the coming months.

Amy Adams will take the portfolio of Drug Reform. She will work with Shane Reti in this area. . . 

These are all good moves, I am especially pleased that Simon’s experience and skill will be put to good use.

Gerry Brownlee did have the Foreign Affairs portfolio. I have no idea what negotiations went on, but Gerry stepped aside to allow Bill English to be John Key’s deputy when John became leader for the good of the caucus and party. It looks like he has done so again which shows commendable loyalty and grace.

Meanwhile, a mess has been tidied up for the government.

David Clark has resigned as Health Minister:

The embattled MP for Dunedin North said he had become a “distraction” and that the “time is right” for someone else to fill the role, but he will stand as an MP in the upcoming election. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement Dr Clark contacted her on Wednesday to “confirm his wish to resign as a minister” and that she had accepted his resignation. 

The Prime Minister has appointed Labour MP Chris Hipkins as Health Minister until the election. Hipkins is currently the Minister of Education.  . . 

Clark is the third of Ardern’s Ministers to lose his warrant – Clare Curran resigned, and Meka Whaitiri who was sacked.

It has taken a while, had Ardern had more steel the resignation would have been accepted weeks ago when Clark first offered it.


Let’s not blame the messenger

June 24, 2020

Jack Vowles thinks some in the media are overreacting in their coverage of the isolation omnishambles:

In the wake of a scattering of new cases from overseas, Stuff journalist Andrea Vance has slammed the Government for setting “allegedly unrealistic expectations” that Covid-19 would be eliminated in New Zealand. She believes the public feel they have been lied to.

Fellow Stuff journalist Tracy Watkins says the “border fiasco” has caused “incalculable damage” and “a massive breach of trust”. John Armstrong, in a column for the 1 News website, describes the situation as “calamitous”.

All are over-reacting. . . 

Social media also has plenty of posts mistakenly blaming the messengers and trying to dampen down the message too.

It must come as a shock to those who are used to a very soft approach, sometimes bordering on adulation, of Jacinda Ardern that the shine has come off her halo and her clay feet are showing.

But if the media and opposition MPs hadn’t been telling us about the omnishambles, she and her government wouldn’t have taken any action to deal with it.

The fourth estate and opposition are doing what they’re supposed to – showing us that the government has not been doing nearly as well as it should be in isolating incoming travellers to ensure Covid-19 doesn’t spread beyond those who have it when they get here.

In spite of protestations that everything is under control, there are obvious shortcomings in systems and processes:

No hold ups, oversights or obstruction. It actually takes this long – over a week – to find out how many of the 55 people granted compassionate leave weren’t tested when they should have been.

Since June 9, a negative test and at least a week in isolation were meant to be mandatory before compassionate leave from managed isolation could be granted. But that has only been the practice since June 16.

Both of those rules were bent for two Covid-infected sisters who drove from Auckland to Wellington , but who weren’t tested until after they arrived in Wellington.

The subsequent outrage was understandable, given what should have happened, the sacrifices everyone has already made, and the obvious risk of one case quickly turning into dozens.

That outrage then heightened as stories of broken protocols came forward. Mixing and mingling at isolation facilities. Testing being voluntary when it should have been compulsory. Leave for a funeral when that was meant to be banned . Even runaways .

The case of the two sisters begged the obvious question: How many others have been let out early without a test? Each of them could pose a risk of a second wave.

That question has been asked everyday – by journalists, the Opposition, even Ministers’ offices – since June 16, when the sisters’ positive results were revealed.

The answer isn’t just about giving us a better sense of the health risk. It’s also about the depth of failure that has occurred at the border, which feeds into the level of confidence in the ministry, health chief Ashley Bloomfield, the Government and the Prime Minister.

Those border measures are critical. With no signs of community transmission, the greatest Covid danger to New Zealand are the thousands of people returning home from overseas.

You’d think it would be essential to collect their information and put it all into a single database or an integrated system – contact details, symptoms, daily health check results, test results, if any.

That hasn’t happened.

Bloomfield was clear today that there hasn’t been a cock-up. It has taken so long because health officials have had to match names and dates of birth from their systems with information at isolation facilities.

Does this mean there was no proper record of who was in isolation, who was tested and when?

There was another simple way to find out that appears to have been overlooked.

All of the 55 people granted compassionate leave have been tracked down and referred for testing. Yet Bloomfield had no answer when questioned why they hadn’t been asked, when contacted: “Were you tested before you left managed isolation?”

This isn’t the first information failure for the ministry. They don’t know how many healthcare workers were infected in the workplace . Their regional public health units all used different IT systems . . . 

News of the omnishambles has led in a spike of people seeking tests for Covid-19 which isn’t surprising.

People who’ve lost trust in the government to contain Covid-19 at the border are taking responsibility for themselves. Although there is no evidence of community spread that appears to be due to good luck rather than good management, and anyone with possible symptoms will want to make sure a cold is only a cold.

It’s better to be tested as a precaution than to harbour the virus in the belief that it is no longer here and we have the media and opposition MPs to thank for giving us the information to make that call.

Contrary to what the critics are saying, they’re not overreacting, they’re simply holding the government and the ministry to account.


From bad to worse

June 18, 2020

National health spokesman Michael Woodhouse was right: the two latest confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand did have contact with someone after getting lost on their drive from Auckland to Wellington.

After leaving quarantine in a car provided by friends, the two women got lost on the Auckland motorway system.

The friends who lent them the car met with them and guided them to the right motorway, and were in physical contact for about five minutes.

The National Party’s health spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse, told Parliament this afternoon that the pair had hugged and kissed someone on their travels.

That was after Dr Ashley Bloomfield said they had no contact with anyone.

The ministry didn’t confirm if they hugged or kissed their friend, and said it received the update this afternoon.

Woodhouse told Parliament a “reliable but confidential source” had informed him that story was “not all as it seems”.

“They did become disorientated and lost their way coming out of Auckland and needed help to get on the right road,” Woodhouse said.

“They called on acquaintances who they were in close contact with and that was rewarded with even more close contact – a kiss and a cuddle.” . . 

The announcement that the women had Covid-19 and hadn’t been tested before being granted compassionate leave from isolation was bad, the new information makes it worse and  this shows things can get even more worse:

Former police commissioner Mike Bush has admitted one person who should have returned to managed isolation after a funeral, is still at large.

The 18-year-old was part of a family allowed a compassionate exemption to attend a funeral. The five other family members are now in quarantine after avoiding their return to managed isolation “for some time”.

Initially all six were evading managed isolation. Then four family members returned and just two – an eight-year-old and 18-year-old were missing. 

The child has since been brought back to managed isolation and the teenager remains at a family property in Hamilton in self-isolation. . . 

Does the fact that it was a gang funeral give confidence that the teenager will self-isolating as required?

But wait, there’s more:

Newshub can reveal another serious blunder by health officials who have failed to follow their own rules.

A group of around 10 people, who were in quarantine in Christchurch, were allowed out early to attend a burial with more than 150 people on Tuesday. 

That’s despite the Ministry of Health announcing nine days ago that such exemptions were no longer permitted – leaving a funeral director and his team thoroughly perplexed. . . 

And more:

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier is furious that his staff were forced to mix at a hotel with people who were being put into quarantine.

Boshier told the governance and administration committee this morning that his staff had arranged to stay at a hotel in Auckland before inspecting a prison the next day a few weeks ago.

“Suddenly in the evening, all these people arrived from overseas to be put into quarantine and we weren’t told. So we were all mixed up with everyone else and I was livid.

“I had to cancel the prison visit the next day.” . . 

And in spite of the sacrifices we’ve all made and the dangers of importing new cases,  Covid-19 tests for people in managed isolation are voluntary:

As two new confirmed Covid-19 cases broke an almost month-long streak of no infections, people in mandatory quarantine have been told that swab testing is voluntary.

It goes against what many people believed was a compulsory test for those entering New Zealand – particularly those coming in from countries where Covid-19 has run rife.

Since April, everyone arriving in the country has had to spend 14 days in managed isolation or a higher level of quarantine if they have symptoms.

The Ministry of Health earlier announced that from June 8, all travellers who arrive in the country would be tested for Covid-19 at their respective facilities. . . 

But some guests under mandatory quarantine in Auckland hotels have revealed that they have been told the Covid-19 swab tests are voluntary – not mandatory.

A woman staying at the Grand Millennium, in downtown Auckland, said a pamphlet guests had received said the choice was ultimately theirs.

“I’m worried that they’re not testing everyone,” she said.

“Isolation is so difficult, but this one thing is not compulsory. This country is doing such an incredible job, we can’t mess this up.” . . 

The country has been doing an incredible job but the government and the ministry are letting us down and innocent and grieving families who are paying the price:

The Government has refused to apologise for the strict quarantine protocols, despite leaving would-be compassionate exemption recipients heartbroken.

On Tuesday, Jacinda Ardern announced that compassionate exemptions from quarantine have been suspended after two women were allowed to leave isolation without being tested for COVID-19, and later tested positive. . . 

“The important thing is to fix this problem,” David Clark said. “The director-general [Ashley Bloonmfield] has owned this failing… I have every sympathy for those people, my expectation is it will be fixed.”

Ardern said the case is an  unacceptable failure of the system” that should never have happened and “cannot be repeated”.

“My job is to keep New Zealanders safe, I know the decision to suspend compassionate leave will not be a popular one, but it is the right one,” she said.  . . 

What does it say about the competence of the people running all this when  the military has been brought in to oversee the border?

As more than 300 close contacts linked to New Zealand’s two Covid-19 cases are “encouraged” to get tested, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is bringing in a military leader to oversee the country’s isolation and quarantine facilities.

Ardern addressed media on Wednesday, as the fallout from Tuesday’s revelations two women were able to leave mandatory isolation six days into their stay on compassionate grounds continues to intensify.

Assistant chief of defence, Air Commodore Digby Webb, has now been called in to oversee border facilities, including how travellers depart from them. . . 

Most of us did as we were told in adhering to lockdown rules, at considerable personal and financial cost. Why hasn’t the government been doing what it should have been to ensure that the hard-won Covid-free status wasn’t squandered by slack systems and protocols with people coming in from other countries?

It took the detection of two new cases of Covid-19 for the government to take border security and isolation seriously yet the media has been reporting people complaining about lax standards at isolation facilities for at least a week.

As Todd Muller said:

“The sacrifice of the ‘team of five million’ cannot be put at risk by a clumsy and incompetent Government that allows bureaucrats to run the show by deciding which of the rules they are going to apply on any given day. . . 

Alex Braae echoes this in writing of an avalanche of incompetence:

It is staggering to see so many stories come out all at once, and many people will feel an uncomfortable sense of deja vu. I realise a lot has happened between then and now, but all of these stories feel deeply reminiscent of the incompetence shown at the border before lockdown started. Systems were theoretically in place, but weren’t being enforced with any sort of rigour or discipline, and it took media reports for those who were meant to be in charge to take notice. Readers might also remember that those blunders were arguably what necessitated lockdown in the first place. It’s not bloody good enough at all.

The government lost its social licence for keeping us at level 2 when nothing was said to deter protest marches.

It needs to get quarantine and managed isolation sorted because this week has shown how soon things can go from bad to worse and it won’t have the social licence to lock us up again.


Level 1 must be this week should be today

June 8, 2020

Jacinda Ardern will announce that we will be moving to level 1 alert level this week.

Her choice not to deter protest marches before they happened last weekend and the admission by Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield that protesters didn’t need to self isolate because there’s no community transmission of Covid-19 gives her and her government no choice.

That cost them the social licence to continue restricting what we can do and where and with whom we can do it.

If people can protest in their thousands the rest of us can operate businesses at capacity and have more than 100 people at weddings, funerals, worship and sporting and social events.

Many have already moved to level 1.

We flew to the North Island three weeks ago. Passengers were pretty good at maintaining distance from each other. We made the same flight last week, and passengers were far more relaxed about distancing.

We had to sign in to the farmers market yesterday but the supermarket had no queues, no-one at the door restricting entry and cleaning trolleys; and the two-metre dots to indicate social distancing spaces had gone.

The argument for keeping us at level 2 was growing weaker as day by day no new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed. It disappeared completely with the protest marches.

We should have dropped a level at least a week ago.

The only question about today’s announcement is, when will we get most of our freedom back?

It must be this week and it should be today.

If it’s not today, the political capital the government has built up will be eroded the way its social licence for continuing constraints has been.


Court rules against marches

June 6, 2020

In Australia police went to court to stop protests over the death of George Floyd:

The court heard NSW Police opposed the protest, which was expected to attract close to 5000 people, not only because it breached restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19 but because of the risk of violence.

In a hearing that stretched for more than four hours, NSW Supreme Court Justice Desmond Fagan said the social distancing measures imposed to date have been “the key element” in stopping the spread of COVID-19, and allowing the protest to go ahead at this time was “an unreasonable proposition”.

An affidavit by NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant was tendered in court in support of the police application.

Justice Fagan did not make an order prohibiting the protest, but refused an order allowing it to go ahead, which had the same legal effect. Protesters may still attend the event, as organisers have foreshadowed, but may be exposed to criminal sanctions for doing so. . .

Politicians and Australia’s chief medical officer have also spoken out against the marches because of the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Contrast that with the deafening silence from politicians, police and health officials before the marches for the same cause here.

Muriel Newman says, the marches show the Covid-19 restrictions have become a farce:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is now looking foolish after thousands of people took to the streets in protest action on Monday, thumbing their nose at her Level 2 lockdown rules, while the Police watched on doing nothing. Nor was there any talk of prosecutions, despite the event being heavily broadcast on social media.

Penalties for breaching the Level 2 rules, which restrict public gatherings to 100 and private gatherings to 10, include six months in jail or a fine of up to $4,000.

The official non-response is typical of our politicians and their agencies, talking tough but when confronted, their authority often dissolving into nothing.

What the protesters have done is highlight the farcical nature of the current lockdown restrictions. Everyone knows it – apart from government politicians. The country needs to immediately go into level 1. Next week is another week too long. It’s another week of businesses bleeding money and laying off staff as they follow ridiculous rules. The restrictions killing small businesses are the same ones the protesters totally ignored and suffered no consequences whatsoever for doing so. . . 

The marchers all around the world not only show a total disregard for the health risks and sacrifices so many have made to stop the spread of Covid-19, they show a total complete lack of imagination.

New Zealanders managed to observe Anzac Day while adhering to social distancing requirements, there are myriad ways people could protest about George Floyd’s death without risking the health of themselves and others.

 


Contradictions and confusion

June 3, 2020

Police Minister Stuart Nash says the social distancing breaches at the weekend’s protest marches was irresponsible.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the marches breached the rules.

That was yesterday, after the event. Both were silent before the event when they might have been able to persuade people to protest in ways that didn’t breach the rules.

The PM gave us repeated warnings and guidelines for Anzac Day, why didn’t she speak up before the protests?

That she only voiced an opinion after the event is contradictory and confusing for those of us who thought we knew the rules and were keeping to the requirement to have no more than 100 people at an event and to maintain social distance.

But there’s more contradiction and confusion from DIrector General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield:

“There’s currently no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand so at this time, quarantine for 14 days after attending one of these outdoor events is not required.”

If that’s the case why are we still at Level 2 which is handicapping businesses which in turn is costing jobs and livelihoods?

But he says it’s still important that Kiwis remain “alert to symptoms and seek advice if they’re at all concerned”.

“Whatever the alert level in New Zealand, it’s clear COVID-19 will continue to be a global threat for some time and it’s important we remain vigilant – both as individuals and as a country,” Dr Bloomfield said.

“This means continuing to observe physical distancing to keep yourself and others safe, seeking appropriate heath advice, and most importantly staying at home if you’re unwell.”

Continuing to observe physical distancing – unless you’re at a protest or the PM or DG:

Photographs have emerged of the Prime Minister and director general of health posed for pictures close to wellwishers, prompting accusations of hypocrisy from a National Party MP warned by police for doing the same.

It has led to an admission from the Prime Minister it was a struggle to maintain “appropriate distancing” with people approaching wanting “handshakes and hugs”.

It’s been a struggle for the rest of us to maintain “appropriate distancing” at funerals and with family and friends but most of us have managed it.

Bloomfield also confirmed he was in a photograph with strangers but said it was only for a moment.

Northland MP Matt King produced the photographs after facing public criticism when he posted to Facebook photographs of himself with staff from a restaurant in Paihia where he had dined.

King told the Herald today coverage of the photograph led to a phone call from a senior Northland police officer who reminded him of social distancing rules.

“I felt sorry for the cop. He was a senior cop. He said: ‘This is not a formal warning – you’re standing too close‘.” . . .

It doesn’t help that there’s contradictory statements coming from the PM and her deputy:

With businesses hemorrhaging money by the day, the Government should be discussing the move to Level 1 now, not in a week, Leader of the Opposition Todd Muller says.

“The Prime Minister and her Cabinet could have discussed the move to Level 1 today. It’s not good enough that all they did was agree to meet again next week to make a call.”

National is demanding the Government immediately release the secret Cabinet papers on which it decided last week to stay in Level 2.

“Divisions between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters are causing confusion about what the secret papers say about how safe it would be to move to Level 1,” Mr Muller says.

“The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have both read the same Cabinet papers but one is telling us it is too dangerous to move to Level 1 while the other says it would be perfectly safe.

“Moving to Level 1 as soon as it is safe is of the greatest importance to small businesses and the thousands of Kiwis losing their jobs each week.

“The public deserves to see the same advice Ms Ardern and Mr Peters are publicly disagreeing about.”

We also need to know the criteria for moving to Level 1 because it obviously isn’t what is on the Ministry of Health’s website or we’d already be there.

Alert Level 1 — Prepare

The disease is contained in New Zealand.

Risk assessment

    • COVID-19 is uncontrolled overseas.
    • Isolated household transmission could be occurring in New Zealand. . . 

Instead we’ve got confusion and contradiction over which gatherings can have more than 100 people and which can’t; between what the DG of Health says and what we’ve been told about Alert Level 2; and between the PM and her deputy and what’s on the website and what’s happening in practice.

The social and economic cost of this is far too high for anything but the clarity and certainty businesses need to make decisions and all of us deserve if the social licence the government lost at the weekend is to be regained.

Without it, more and more people are going to flout the rules in the certain knowledge that they, like the protesters, will be left to do as they will.

 


Pushing the economy off a cliff

May 29, 2020

New Zealand has achieved a new and most unwelcome record number of job losses:

Job numbers fell by a record 37,500 in April 2020, as COVID-19 effects and restricted trading began to impact on the economy, Stats NZ said today.

In seasonally adjusted terms, total filled jobs fell 1.7 percent in April 2020 compared with March 2020, when it was flat.

April’s fall is the largest in percentage terms and by number since the filled jobs series began more than 20 years ago, in 1999.

“With the country in lockdown throughout most of April 2020, the impact of COVID-19 is now being seen in falling job numbers,” economic statistics manager Sue Chapman said.

“Non-essential businesses closed during the lockdown, though some people were able to work from home.”

The government decreed what were essential businesses and permitted them to operate rather than allowing any that could operate safely to do so and this sharp number of job losses is the result.

Stats NZ calculates filled jobs by averaging weekly jobs paid during the month, based on tax data. Filled jobs include jobs paid by employers who are being subsidised by the COVID-19 wage subsidy scheme.

“While a fall in filled jobs does not necessarily mean employment has ceased in all cases, we saw a rise of over 30,000 people claiming the government’s Jobseeker Support benefit in April,” Ms Chapman said. . .

This month’s figures could be even worse with more than 6,500 job losses this week.

The record number of job losses adds credence to Adam Creighton, writing in The Australian, who says no national leader has been as feted as Jacinda Ardern during this pandemic. But while she might have popular support, the facts are she is pushing the NZ economy off a cliff.

New Zealand’s economy is in strife. Without major change, our constitutional cousin is in decline. Its public finances are in tatters, its biggest export, tourism, has been obliterated — Air New Zealand announced 4000 job losses this week — and New Zealand police now can enter people’s homes without a warrant.

“New Zealand is going backwards, falling behind the vast ­majority of our OECD partners in virtually every social and economic measure that matters,” said Roger Douglas, a former New Zealand Labour treasurer and the famed architect of Rogernomics.

New Zealand ranks fourth last in the OECD for labour productivity growth, and last for multi-factor productivity growth, according to economist Michael Reddell, based on OECD data. Health and education are gobbling up more of the budget as the population ages, with less and less to show for it.

That was happening anyway and has been exacerbated by the harder by the lockdown that used the arbitrary criteria of necessary rather than safe in deeming what we can and can’t do.

The country’s Massey University reckons economic activity will tank 16 per cent in the second quarter, while government forecasts pencil in a 4.6 per cent decline this year ahead of an 8.2 per cent rebound in 2022.

“I doubt the economy will bounce back as the government hopes; and the Treasury forecasts, as bad as they are, will prove optimistic,” former NZ Treasury secretary Graham Scott said.

In one year, New Zealand has blown 30 years of hard-fought ­fiscal rectitude. Its public debt will explode from the equivalent of 19 per cent of gross domestic product last year to 54 per cent by 2022, on the government’s own figures.

Successive governments have been criticised for the 30 years of hard-fought fiscal rectitude. How much worse the current situation would be had they not followed that path,

Scott said expanding the deficit, expected to blow out to 10 per cent this year, was the right thing to do. “But looking further out, comparisons with other countries, such as the US and UK, are no basis to justify our large debt ratios; we’re a small, open economy with vulnerable export industries,” he said, noting the share of exports in GDP had been falling steadily for nine years.

That makes Labour’s ban on oil and gas exploration all the more bizarre. With 0.3 per cent of global GDP, New Zealand can only shoot itself in the foot by shunning fossil fuels. The Prime Minister and Finance Minister, who have not worked in the private sector, spruik the totems of modern left governments — renewable energy, trees, higher tax, equality — but without much to show for it. Plans for a billion trees and 100,000 houses have come close to almost naught, and a capital-gains tax was dumped. Labour made a song and dance about reducing child poverty too, but on six out of nine measures tracked by Statistics New Zealand it is unchanged or worse since 2017, including the share of children living in “material hardship”, which has risen to 13.4 per cent. . .

This column had attracted 102 comments when I read it, a couple of days ago including this gem from Alfred:

The world doesn’t need more examples of the progressive social direction of NZ so we can learn from their utter failure sad as it is. She’s all hat and no cattle, just a charismatic executioner of her country’s future prospects. 

Jacinda Ardern has unprecedented praise from around the world for her response to crisis but before the Covid-19 response the government she leads had made little or no headway on its key policy planks.

She, and they, have taken the praise for dealing with the health crisis and must take responsibility for the economic one we now face.

But given they didn’t manage to deliver on their promises in normal times they can’t be trusted to come up with, and deliver on, policies to reverse the economic catastrophe for which their insistence on a harder and more prolonger lockdown are partially responsible.


Only way from peak is down

May 25, 2020

Jacinda Ardern is the most popular Prime Minister in a century, Tova O’Brien told us in announcing the Newshub Reid Research poll last Monday.

The claim was repeated by other media. On Friday, RNZ told us Todd Muller had been given the job of taking on the most popular prime minister in history.

The Newshub claim might have been excused as hyperbole but RNZ’s one came days after the Herald fact-checked and put the poll result in perspective :

A poll last night revealed what most New Zealanders probably already knew: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a popular Prime Minister.

But for Newshub to call her the “most popular Prime Minister in a century” is “hasty and premature”, says a political historian.

In fact, there were no opinion polls before 1974 and the claim compares Ardern’s personal popularity to the last century of election results. . .

Though opinion polls don’t often match the votes and to compare them was “silly”, said Grant Duncan associate professor of politics at Massey University.

Ardern hasn’t had the longevity of the likes of Savage nor comfortably won an election. And the poll was taken in an unpredictable and extraordinary time, he said.

“It’s silly to say at this stage, let’s just wait for six years before we make that claim.

“Let’s hold the horses, please.” . . 

We’ll never know if Ardern is more popular than all the Prime Ministers before 1974, but even if the claim was about polls rather than leaders it’s wrong.

For example, then Prime Minister John Key’s preferred prime minister ranking reached as high as 73.3 per cent on a Herald-Digipoll in 2014.

In fact, Key consistently polled around 60 per cent in Herald-Digipolls during his tenure as prime minister and in September 2011 peaked at 59 per cent in the 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll.

There’s no doubt 59.5% is high polling but it’s not in the 60s or 70s. Why did Tova O’Brien make the claim and why, days after it has been fact-checked did RNZ make a similar one?

Does it matter? Yes because as Steve Elers says news turns fake when facts are replaced with hyperbole:

. . . The definition of a century hasn’t changed. So, what has? The credibility of news media — that’s what. Reuters, Forbes, The Guardian, and many other news media outlets from around the world all ran reports of Ardern as the “most popular prime minister in a century”. That’s fake news, folks. Why? Because it isn’t true.

And if the news media are meant to hold the watchdog role of society by questioning and holding power to account, but instead fly the flag for power and spread fake news, who then holds the news media to account? 

Yes, it is meant to be the New Zealand Media Council. Sure, they’re the toothless self- regulatory body for New Zealand’s media but they have no influence over the global media organisations who have already spread this fiction particular to their audiences.

According to my students, those global news media feeds appear prominently in social media of New Zealanders — well, at least in their age bracket.

I would go so far to say that fake news is a real threat to the democracy of our country. In this case, the question needs to be asked: Why was Ardern promoted as the “most popular prime minister in a century” when she clearly wasn’t?

So not the most popular in a century, nor in history, but where to from here? Duncan noted:

“And what goes up, must come down.”

If Ardern’s popularity stopped short of 60% after weeks of positive media opportunities when the country was focused on dealing with Covid-19, how likely is it that it will be bettered as we adjust to the new normal where we’re still constrained in what we can do and with whom we can do it, and 1,000 people are losing their jobs every day?

It might be wishful thinking on my part, but this could be her peak.

The news is already changing from positive coverage of dealing with the health crisis to rising concern about handling the economic one and Ardern is now up against a new Opposition leader who will, at least for a while, be shining in the media spotlight.

That 59.5% didn’t make Ardern the most popular Prime Minister in a century and if that’s her peak, the only way from there is down. Conversely, National has almost certainly reached its nadir and the only way from there is up.


Behind in Wellbeing Bledisloe

May 22, 2020

Some influential people aren’t buying the prevailing view that New Zealand is doing better than Australia:

The Prime Minister’s powerful Business Advisory Council has delivered her a cutting message that Australia is “co-optimising” the economic consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak better than New Zealand.

“Australia is currently co-optimising the wellbeing of the Covid outbreak and the wellbeing consequences of the economy better than New Zealand,” said council chair Fraser Whineray, who is chief operating officer at Fonterra. “If we don’t marshall the best possible team for both recovery and reform, we will exacerbate the slide against our greatest comparator and lose even more of our most precious asset, our people.”

“That risks a younger generation not only inheriting greater debt, but also makes Aotearoa a less desirable place to live with substantially less wellbeing.

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s oft repeated claim we didn’t go hard and we didn’t go early.

The requirement on incoming passengers to self-isolate, was lax and mandatory quarantine was late.

The government then went from being too slack to being too hard.

Their insistence that only businesses they deemed essential to operate, rather than permitting any business that could operate safely to do so, was nothing short of economic sabotage and it’s people who will pay the price for that.

Whineray told the Herald that while New Zealand was tracking well on specific Covid medical matters, “in the ‘Wellbeing Bledisloe’ we are behind”. . . 

Remember last year’s Wellbeing Budget? Have you any idea how any measures on its impact are tracking? Do you believe that the eye-watering amount the government is borrowing will give value for money?

Since early April, the council has been pushing Ardern to setup an organisation to mirror Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s high-powered National Covid-19 Coordination Commission, informing her that it did not believe her advisory council was the best placed for that purpose. Instead, it recommended members’ capabilities – and that of many other business leaders – would be of most value to NZ’s future in a properly mandated Business Recovery Taskforce and a Reform Commission “each chaired by a senior business person with great mana.”

The Government had instead floated an Infrastructure group and a proposed entity comprising academics, unions, officials, NGOs and business.

In a not so subtle appeal to the Prime Minister’s tendency to burnish her international brand, Whineray’s letter said that putting in place a recovery taskforce and the reform commission would be a “courageous masterstroke for New Zealand’s ascendant international reputation”.

“With the likelihood of a year until a vaccine can take us out of our Pacific isolation, our approach would appear to be well short of the ‘public:private’ bench strength already assembled and operating across the Tasman. . . 

Looking forward, because of the way Australia is approaching the next two stages it is like to go well in front,” wrote Whineray. ” We can choose to stick with our current strategy or look to reset.

“To avoid the endemic problem with the public sector’s misallocation of new Zealanders’ resources held by the Government in non-core activity and low productivity within the public sector we need a very strong business in involvement alongside central Government.” . . 

Good leaders understand their weaknesses and make sure they have people around them with different strengths who can compensate for them.

One of this government’s big weaknesses is private sector business experience.

We’ll all; pay for its refusal to take advice from people with it.

 


If it were done

May 21, 2020

Macbeth was talking about murder when he said, If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly.

That also applies to leadership tussles and National leader Simon Bridges has made the right call in summoning his caucus to settle the matter on Friday.

Every day’s delay is a day more when the issue festers with all the negative media attention that accompanies it leaving little clear air left to hold the government to account.

I am not going to give my opinion on who should be leader.

I support the party and whoever leads it and will continue to do so whether that is Simon with Paula Bennett as his deputy or Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye.

But I will say that whatever the outcome of the caucus vote, all MPs must be loyal to the leader and the party.

The leaking, the criticism and any show of disunity and disloyalty must stop.

Just a few months ago National was polling higher than Labour.

What changed was Covid-19 and the response to it.

The government’s abysmal record of doing very little it said it would until then has not changed.

KiwiBuild, child poverty, climate change  . . . it’s been lots of talk and very, very little action.

What has also changed is the economy.

The lockdown flattened the Covid curve and in the process has flattened the economy.

The government has voted itself so much money in response most of us can’t comprehend the amount. But worse, it doesn’t have a clear plan on how to spend it and at least as important, it doesn’t have a plan on how to repay it.

As Heather Roy explains in a letter to her children:

. . .By way of explanation, this is why I am sorry about your inheritance. Debt is what you have to look forward to and growth will take some time to return. In the short-term, New Zealand is facing a large rise in unemployment, predicted to peak at nearly 10 percent before falling back to 4.6% in 2022 (optimistic I suspect). Government debt will explode to more than 53 percent of GDP, up from 19% now. . . 

Not all debt is bad of course. It often allows you (and countries) to invest wisely in areas that will be of benefit later, but I fear the lack of vision and planning associated with the government borrowing an additional $160 billion means ‘wisely’ isn’t part of this equation. Vision and hope are important for people. We need to know where we are going – what the end game looks like and that the pain is worth bearing because a better life awaits. Hope too, is important. People will endure a lot if they have hope. I’m afraid I saw neither in the Budget last week. There was lots of talk of jobs, and lots of picking winners but not much in the offing for those already struggling and those who will inevitably lose their jobs when businesses go under.

Figures are tricky things. If you say them quickly, especially the billions, they don’t sound so bad. Most people can imagine what they could spend a million dollars on. Billions are a different kettle of fish. Many of us have to stop and think, how many 0’s in a billion? When figures are inconceivable, people give up trying to work out what they mean. After all, the politicians will look after the money side of things, won’t they? I hope you realise that is very dangerous thinking. To start with it’s not the government’s money – it’s yours and mine, hard earned and handed over to the government for custodial purposes.  We hope it will be spent wisely on health, education, social welfare, but after we’ve voted every three years, we don’t have any say on where it goes.

Beware of those saying we can afford to borrow this much money. Just as when we borrow from the bank to buy a car or house, when government’s borrow, repayments must be made and this limits the amount in the pot for spending in extra areas. The state of our economy is your inheritance: to contribute to your tertiary education, to educate your future children, to provide medicines and hospital treatments when you are sick, to help those who for whatever reason have no income. A mountain of debt places the prosperity of your children in peril.

Picking winners is dangerous too. Government’s love picking winners, especially in an election year. Election year budgets often resemble a lolly scramble with media reporting the “winners and losers”.  The simple fact is when you confer advantage on one group everyone else is automatically disadvantaged. Giving to the vulnerable is understandable but private industry winners are not. As an example, those who had been promised Keytruda (last year) to treat their lung cancer only to have that rug whipped out from underneath them now must be devastated to see the racing industry handed $74 million to build/rebuild horse racing tracks around the country. Flogging a dead horse instead of funding up to date medical treatments is folly and unfair in a humane society. 

I know fairness and equity are important to you all. Your generation has a more egalitarian outlook on life. Partly I think this is because you have not experienced real poverty and why New Zealand’s debt doesn’t bother you as much as it does me.

I have recently read two excellent writings by people I respect and I want to share them with you. The first is a report written by Sir Roger Douglas and two colleagues called “The March towards Poverty”. . . 

The report concludes “ For too long, we have lived with the fiction that we are doing well, lulled by successive governments into believing we truly do have a ‘rock star’ economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Starting with Grant Robertson’s post-Covid budget, we must admit to the problems facing our economy and begin to deal with them. Otherwise, current inequalities will remain entrenched, we will continue to fall further behind our OECD partners, and the prosperity of our younger generations will be placed at peril”.

While I’m on the topic of legacies, the second article I want to share is by Chris Finlayson, Attorney General in the Key/English Governments for 9 years starting when I was also a Minister. I’ve been worried about the legality of many of the impositions we have experienced since the country was plunged into lockdown. I know you sometimes think all this theoretical  stuff isn’t that important, but in a well functioning democracy how the law is made and enforced is central to an orderly society we can have faith in. Chris has eloquently described these matters much better than I can in his opinion piece  on the rule of law:

“Some readers will no doubt respond that this rule of law stuff is all very interesting for the legal profession and retired politicians but is hardly of any practical impact given what New Zealand has just avoided.

I disagree. The former Chief Justice, Sian Elias, once said that if only judges and lawyers concern themselves with the rule of law, New Zealand is in trouble. She was right. Adherence to the concept of the rule of law would have helped avoid some of the basic failures of the past eight weeks – failures that should give all New Zealanders pause for thought.”

I’m afraid it’s too late to put Ardern’s debt genie back in the bottle. I apologise on behalf of my generation and older that you and your kids will carry this debt for all of us. My advice to you is to do what this government should have done. Cut costs and minimise your liabilities. Spend only on the essentials and invest in assets that will produce a safe dividend. Perhaps most important of all, stay engaged in our democracy and encourage your friends to do the same. If COVID-19 has taught the world anything it is this: politicians need to be closely scrutinised at all times but especially in crises like these.

The government’s arrogance was exposed a couple of weeks ago when ministers were ordered not to speak in the wake of the Covid document dump. It’s carried on this week when Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis refused to attend the Epidemic response Committee because, doing a Facebook Live session instead.

The country needs an opposition focussed on the government’s mistakes and formulating a plan to do much, much better, not on itself and a leadership struggle.

Whatever happens at Friday’s caucus meeting, this is what National must be doing, and doing it together in step with the leader.

And whether or not there’s a change of leader, one thing must not change – and that’s the decision to rule out any deal with New Zealand First.


That’s no way to say goodbye

May 13, 2020

National is threatening to fight Level 2 enforcement law if the rule on tangi and funerals isn’t changed:

Under level 2, only 10 people can attend a tangi or church service at any given time. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she, like other world leaders, struggled with the decision, but had to play it safe. . . 

But what’s safe and what’s not doesn’t seem to be consistent.

National Leader Simon Bridges said the public had been writing to him raising the point that people could still go to a restaurant or movies with 100 people at the venue.

Yet at one of the most tragic defining points of life, at a funeral, direct family members cannot attend them under those rules. That’s not just unkind, it’s inhumane, and I think we can do better than that,” he said.

One of the doctors who looked after our son and was there when when he died told us that it was very important to say goodbye properly.

We didn’t know much about funerals and others said it would be best to keep it private.

Tom was only 20 weeks old, had spent almost a third of his life in hospital and few outside the family and hospital staff had met him so we followed that advice.

It was a mistake. We had afternoon tea after the service then our parents and siblings went home leaving us alone with our young daughter and our grief.

We learned from that and when our second son died we had a public service.

It was so much better. Some people left after the service, others stayed to talk, to listen, to comfort us.

That’s how saying goodbye  should be, a service about the one who has died to for the ones who are left, and for most that needs more than 10 people.

Anger and upset over this is made worse by inconsistencies:

Grieving families are distraught over inconsistencies with the COVID-19 alert level 2 rules, baffled that the Government will trust people to go to the movies, gyms and malls but not to farewell friends and whānau. 

Kiwis will be privy to a whole lot of new freedoms on Thursday when the level 2 rules come into play, but it won’t bring satisfaction to the family of Southland man Maurice Skinner, who passed away last week, three months before his 90th birthday. 

A former jockey and racing trainer, Maurice Skinner was a well-known Southland figure, and a funeral could’ve drawn hundreds. But his family just wanted a small private service – 21 people – so they delayed until alert level 2. 

But holding off has left them disappointed because the level 2 rules don’t allow it. 

“We can’t even do that now, so we’re absolutely devastated,” his daughter told Newshub. “One of the worst things you can stop people doing is being able to farewell their loved ones.”

Under level 2 there’s a cap on gatherings – no more than 10 people. And yet, up to 100 people could be in a gym, a restaurant or the movies, as long as they’re socially-distanced. 

In the normal course of events, people would be much closer than two metres and part of comforting the bereaved would be hongi and hugs. But funeral directors and celebrants, as required under health and safety legislation, could make sure that social distancing was maintained.

We know this is causing pain but we equally have tried to be really consistent,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday. 

But it doesn’t feel consistent for grieving families. 

“The Government is telling us we need to be kind but where on earth is the kindness in that? It’s actually inhumane,” Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker told Newshub.  . .

Those in mourning want the Government to trust them. 

The woman Newshub spoke to anonymously is from a family of medical professionals including a COVID-19 nurse, and they know full-well how to manage the risks. 

“We can be responsible with our loved ones and the people that are around us – just give us the benefit of the doubt,” she said.  . . 

Ten is a very small number for most families. We had 11 adults and six children at Tom’s private service.

It is possible for far more than 10 to join via electronic communication but that is a very poor second to being there, with the people you care about, albeit two metres apart.

If there was widespread community transmission of Covid-19 the insistence on no more than 10 people at a funeral would be more easily understood.

But there is not.

Yesterday’s ODT reported no new cases of the disease in the Southern District Health Board area for 16 days and the Waitaki District, like several others has recorded no cases at all.

It defies logic that the government trusts casinos, bars and movie theatres to have up to 100 people but no more than 10 at a funeral.

Preventing people from saying goodbye properly is the antithesis of the kindness we’re all exhorted to show.

It’s inhumane and the rule must be relaxed to allow families and whanau to farewell the dead and comfort the living.


Social license straining

May 11, 2020

Health officials weren’t as risk averse as politicians over what businesses could operate under Level 4 lockdown:

In a briefing that went ahead the day before the country went into lockdown, officials said they thought contactless delivery takeaways could go ahead safely during Level 4.

They said the move would manage public anxiety about food availability, and would “contribute to maintaining civic order”. . .

It would also have reduced the economic fallout from the lockdown and allowed more businesses to operate, possibly making the difference between whether they survive or not.

In another paper it was also recommended that butchers be allowed to open under Level 4, because of particular concerns around access to halal meats and the animal welfare of pigs. . . 

Officials admitted that while there were clear examples of what was deemed essential and what wasn’t, there was “a large grey area in the middle”.

That is the problem of rules dictating what is essential, which involves a large amount of judgement, rather than what is safe, which is much more black and white.

When you run a business and employ people you learn to deal with both risk and trust.

You understand that taking some calculated risks is necessary. You know you have to trust the people you deal with to do what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to do it.

This government has very little business experience and very few people who have ever had to take big risks. It’s also a government that tends towards the authoritarian model rather than the trusting one.

Perhaps that is why they took the option of least risk of spreading Covid-19, and least trust of businesses, without understanding the economic risk and the health and social costs of that.

They could have taken just a little more risk, and showed a little more trust that businesses would do what they had to do to ensure staff and customers were safe. That is, after all, what health and safety legislation requires of them under normal circumstances anyway.

Could it be that the Prime Minister thinks we’re all as stupid she seems to think her Ministers who can’t even be trusted to speak to the media are?

Newshub has been leaked an internal memo sent to all ministers from the Prime Minister’s office instructing them not to speak to the media about Friday afternoon’s document dump. 

It directs that ministers instead respond with brief written comments that must be signed off by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

. . The leaked memo provides specific talking points to keep them on message, including: “Perfect would have been the public enemy of the good,” and, “Tough calls had to be made and we stand by them.”

It says due to public buy-in the Government doesn’t have to explain its response. 

“There’s no real need to defend. Because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt [sic] is doing. Instead we can dismiss.“ . . 

Having confidence in what’s been achieved is not the same as confidence in how it’s been done.

It  is very different from confidence that the government has the ideas to kick start the economy which their so strictly risk averse policies and lack of trust have hit so hard.

The social license which the government has had so far is being strained.

The arrogance over Friday’s document dump and the gagging order won’t help and if we don’t get the go-ahead to move to Level 2 this afternoon it will strain even further.


Why are we waiting?

May 8, 2020

The Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 website gives details of case numbers as at 9am each day.

But it’s not updated until at least 1pm.

Why are we waiting until then?

Is there a good reason, or is it only so we can have what is becoming an increasingly tiresome double act for the media from the Beehive?

In the first few days it was a good idea for the Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to give daily briefings, to inform, reassure the public and to answer questions from journalists.

The DG fronting each day is probably still a good idea but the daily pairing with the PM is not.

Seeing only her, highlights the absence of other Ministers. It raises questions about why they aren’t fronting and none more so than Minister, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis is nowhere to be seen when that sector has been hardest hit by the lockdown.

The tourism sector is imploding, countless jobs are being lost, and many are left with a feeling of uncertainty. . .

What tourism businesses desperately need is a leader to articulate a message of hope. It needs Davis to proactively front the media, on a regular basis, to give an idea of what the Government is doing to save the sector. Because fronting the media gets the message out to operators, who are in the middle of making big decisions about their futures. . .

Davis, like most other Ministers is kept well away from the media.  Giving us only the daily duet is in danger of politicising the Director General because as each day goes by it looks more and more like the purpose is not so much to inform the public as to promote the PM.

Take yesterday’s announcement of what the step down to Level 2 will entail.

It could have been issued as a media release followed by the opportunity for questions from media.

Instead the PM read it out in minute detail as if to a group of young children, and ones with comprehension problems at that.

Or at least that’s what the first bit sounded like. I gave up listening after a very few minutes because I had better things to do with my time and a PM overseeing what could well turn into the worst economic depression in our history  ought to have too.

Ardern is Labour’s, and the government’s, most popular figure but these daily deliveries are in danger of turning into far too much of a good thing.

Much more of this and she’ll find more and more of her audience will be following Pooh’s example of getting into a comfortable position for not listening.


Good communication doesn’t confuse

April 29, 2020

A few days before the country was locked down Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explained the four levels.

As has happened so many times she was congratulated for good communication.

But a little more than five weeks later, Cactus Kate points that if what was said about what happens at which level still held, we wouldn’t be stuck in level three now.

You are already there.

You are already there

You are already even here.

We’ve been repeatedly told the reason for the hard lockdown is the goal of elimination of the virus.

As the definitions for yesterday’s word of the day, showed elimination for those of us who speak English means getting rid of something.

Epidemiologists and politicians speak another language and it was only a few days ago that we learned that elimination doesn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to us.

And on Monday, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and the PM told us that we had, by the epidemiological definition, eliminated Covid-19.

But yesterday we were told that wasn’t the case:

At yesterday’s daily press conference Dr Bloomfield was asked whether New Zealand had achieved elimination.

It was his answer that “we’ve achieved [elimination] through alert level 4” – and the Prime Minister chipping in that New Zealand “currently” had eliminated the virus – that resulted in yesterday’s confusion.

Realising the waters had been muddied, Dr Bloomfield arrived at Parliament today armed with a clarification.

Asked whether he accepted yesterday’s remarks had given the country and the rest of the world a false impression, and whether he was concerned New Zealanders would be breathing a sigh of relief at a time they should still be vigilant, Dr Bloomfield didn’t mince his words.

“I can just clarify we haven’t eliminated it, and we haven’t eradicated it.”

He said elimination is about having a low number of cases, and a knowledge of where they’re coming from and identifying people early.

Then it’s a case of stamping out the virus and continuing to maintain strict border restrictions to be sure no new cases are being imported.

Elimination is by no means eradication and the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this is a situation of entering into the world of epidemioligist-speak.

“And they know well what each of these terms mean in a health sense, but of course in an every day sense they mean, often, something different.

“Elimination doesn’t mean zero cases… we will have to keep stamping Covid out until there’s a vaccine,” she said. . . 

It’s not good enough to blame the jargon.

Good communicators put jargon into everyday language, using words that we all understand and whose definitions fit our understanding.

National’s health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said Dr Bloomfield probably felt the need to clarify on behalf of the Prime Minister.

“This underscores the importance of talking in plain English. The public are not epidemioligists, they don’t have the same information the Prime Minister has and it’s really important they get on the same page, talk in English, and make it clear to New Zealanders where we’re at and how we’ve got to stay there.” . . .

I think we’re now clear that elimination doesn’t mean what we think it means but, we are no clearer on what the levels mean.

We’re told there’s no evidence of community transmission and that the disease is contained. It’s not quite so clear whether no evidence means there’s no risk of community transmission or if we’re now down to the risk of only household transmission.

But if we can take the information on alert levels to mean what it says, it ought to mean we can go down to level two, if not one.

But yesterday we only went to level 3 and while there’s the expectation this will last no more than a fortnight, there’s no certainty.

Given that the information on levels is different from what’s happening, there’s even less certainty.

The communication on this is confused when it needs to be clear.

Good communication isn’t just about getting your message across, it’s also about ensuring the people to whom you’re communicating understand what you’re saying and clarifying any confusion when they don’t.


Beware derangement syndrome

April 27, 2020

When Winston Peters put Labour in power I was determined that I wasn’t going to get Ardern Derangement Syndrome.

I’d seen far too much stupidity from people who suffered from Key Derangement Syndrome and was determined not to follow their silly example of making politics personal in this way.

It hasn’t always been easy, but so far I have been able to resist developing ADS.

I accept the PM is a warm and intelligent woman and I’d probably enjoy her company.

However, retaining resistance to ADS doesn’t extend to echoing the adulation that has been heaped on her from many quarters.

That is, as Andrea Vance points out, unhealthy:

Politicians should not have fans. By placing our leaders on a pedestal, it creates an unhealthy and polarising dynamic. 

There is evidence of it already in our online political discourse. Any criticism of the Government’s policies and measures is met with a wave of venom.

Even gentle questioning – by opponents, interest groups or the media – is seen as a personal attack on Ardern. 

It’s also often seen as sexism which is tiresome.

That’s because when people blindly align themselves to one party and their leader, they tend to overlook the negative effects of their decisions.

Those who seek to hold Ardern to account over flu vaccines, personal protective equipment in the health system, or confusion about restrictions, are villainised or strafed with ‘whataboutism.’ . . 

When Ardern is fronting the government that has imposed unprecedented and draconian restrictions on what we can do, at a huge personal, social and economic cost, she must be questioned and questioned hard.

That doesn’t mean personal criticism of her but nor does it  mean uncritically repeating her lines such as going early, going hard.

The initial response to Covid-19 was neither.

Then there are legitimate questions over the arbitrary decisions over what businesses and which goods and services have been considered essential under level four lockdown and the economic and social costs of all that.

Candidates will always be judged on their likeability. But infusing politics with an over-the-top “stan culture” turns elections to a sports game, where we are invested in only who wins, not policy or ideology.

And it upends what the political system should be. Prime Ministers are our civil servants, beholden and accountable to us. It should not be a one-sided relationship.

Hero worship eventually reduces our complex, and occasionally flawed, political figures to one-dimensional icons.

Just because Ardern is remarkable, does not mean she is always right.

Over at Croaking Cassandra, Ian Harrison explains six times she has been factually wrong.

He’s found factual errors in what she’s said on transmission rates, the number of cases per 10,000, the number of deaths, containing the pandemic, mortality rates and testing rate.

Steve Elers also says the PM must be held to account over her claims:

During the Covid-19 daily briefings I’ve found myself yelling at the TV screen and sometimes even throwing things at it. Why? Because our journalists seem far too chummy with the prime minister instead of fulfilling their role as the watchdog for society.

A healthy democracy requires the news media to hold power to account, regardless of who is in power, and to question government decisions, just like when the prime minister says: “Elimination doesn’t mean zero cases, it means zero tolerance for cases.” . . 

For the health and wellbeing of my TV, I hope the news media will start holding power to account. If journalists can’t find the motivation within themselves to ask critical questions of the prime minister, perhaps they should imagine she is Simon Bridges.

Or perhaps not.

At least some seem to have Bridges Derangement Syndrome where it’s not what he says but that it’s he who says it or the way he says it that becomes the focus of criticism.

Just as putting a politician on a pedestal is wrong, so too is unfairly pulling one back and the media does us a disservice if it lets derangement syndrome get in the way of reasoned reporting and analysis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Someone has to ask the questions

April 24, 2020

This came in an email last night:

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have left no part of New Zealand untouched.

We see it in our communities, our streets, and our homes. The reality of our situation is present, real and personal to us all, and we are reminded of it on a daily basis.

I’m proud of the way … all Kiwis, have united together in our country’s time of need, by everyone doing their bit in helping to eliminate the virus.

As a team, we are all too aware that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable and at-risk in our communities. We have a duty to be united in our effort for the greater good, but we also have a duty to ensure those that need a strong voice to speak for them have that opportunity.

Every day we receive hundreds of emails and calls from Kiwis in distress. Frustrated at the lack of clarity in the ever-changing information for them, their families, their kids, their friends, their businesses. And chances are you’ll know some of them personally too. They want us to find them answers.

When we ask questions about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), we’re thinking of the many frontline staff who have written to us going to work every morning, sacrificing their safety, and in desperate need of that PPE to keep themselves and others safe. So, we want answers for them.

When we ask questions about testing capacity, we’re thinking about the many hundreds who’ve contacted us who live in fear that they’re going to infect the ones they love or care about and couldn’t get a test to allay that fear. So, we want answers for them.

When we ask questions about better contact tracing, we think about the unbelievable sacrifice every Kiwi has made over the past four weeks, and if we don’t have full confidence from where or whom the virus is coming, we risk returning to a higher state of lockdown and greater hardship. We want answers for you.

When we ask questions about the effects on the economy and jobs, we think about the hundreds of thousands of Kiwis employed by small and medium sized businesses which may close, and ultimately lose their jobs, if we don’t get this right. They are the backbone of our economy and they need certainty too.

We’ve got through this well together so far, showing true resilience, grit and determination in the face of great difficulty. However, the fact remains we will still have to ask hard questions about the future health, social, and economic costs of this pandemic.

Some may not like the questions we ask. Some may not like the way we ask them. But we will keep asking them until we get the answers people need and deserve.

I will never forget the personal sacrifice and hardship Kiwis have faced to eliminate COVID-19 from our communities. Everything we say or do will be focused on how we continue to protect our most vulnerable and get New Zealand back on track. You are part of our strength and we welcome your input.

We have faith that with the right approach, New Zealanders and our economy can rebuild successfully after this crisis. We’ve done it before and together we will do it again.

Who said this?

Simon Bridges, Leader of the Opposition.

It is in response to the media pile-on earlier this week, about which Barry Soper says:

…Typical of the social media vacuum, the validity of their claim can never be substantiated. But it’s out there, Bridges is undermined the and media make a meal of it, even if the plate’s empty.

It seems to be forgotten that he’s the Leader of the Opposition and as such is not only entitled but is expected to oppose what the Government is doing.

To suggest that now is not the time for politicking when the fearful nation has been cowed and forced into submission is absurd. We still live in a democracy even though at times it might not seem like it.

Even though Jacinda Ardern may have done a good job preaching from the pulpit every day, she’s not infallible.

And it’s entirely possible, given the storm that’s most certainly brewing, that she could just become the victim of our own success considering she’s forever claiming that we’re all on the same team.

When the government has almost unlimited power, when parliament isn’t sitting and when we’re facing draconian restrictions on what we can do, where we can do it, and with whom we can do it, someone has to ask the questions.

Simon’s doing it, it’s his job to do it and he should keep doing it until we get the right answers.


Right theory, wrong practice

April 21, 2020

Yesterday the PM explained the basis for decisions over the lockdown:

Basing our decisions on public health, keeping in mind risk is the best way we can protect both the economy, livelihoods and people’s wellbeing.

That is right in theory but has been wrong in practice.

Had the government been as mindful as it ought to have been about protecting the economy it would have allowed any business which could operate safely to do so.

It would also allow those businesses to move from level four to level three this week and not wait until next Tuesday.

The PM said the extra five days at level four is only two business days.

This statement says a lot about how little she, and her government understand business.

It is true that it is only two business days for Monday to Friday businesses, but a lot of businesses work on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays.

Had level 3 started on Thursday, they would have observed the half-day closure for Anzac Day on Saturday, a wide variety and large number of businesses would have used at least some of the other four and a half days to repair some of the damage the lockdown has done.

Food businesses that can do takeaways, retailers able to do contactless transactions, sole-operators who work weekends . . . would have been at work.

Instead, the costs of the lockdown at level four are being imposed unnecessarily for at least four and a half days longer.

Those costs aren’t just economic. Business failure and increased unemployment come at a growing social and public health cost.

Ray Avery spells out some of those costs:

. . . What Jacinda Adern and Shaun Hendy should be modelling is what is the likely adverse effects of a continued lockdown on our existing appalling health statistics.

Our domestic violence statistics are a national shame and the police and domestic violence groups are seeing a dramatic increase in cases due to the lockdown.

We have the highest teen suicide rates in the developed world.

Every day one in five of our children goes to school hungry.

Every week sixteen people in New Zealand commit suicide.

Every year around 500 of our citizens die of Flu but we have never focused on eliminating the disease.

Based on the Government’s intervention strategies and New Zealand’s known COVID-19 case related mortality rates, this virus will have caused more economic damage, loss of livelihoods, increased suicides, disruption to our education system, inhuman treatment of our elderly and irreversible social changes than actual deaths to date “associated” with the virus.

We need to focus on facts not statistical modelling when it comes to determining the ongoing health and wellbeing of our citizens.

Given the high cost already imposed by the lockdown, no-one wants to risk lowering the level too soon and then having to increase it again.

But if safety is the guide, that risk would be slight, and the gain of four and a half days when so many more businesses could be operating would be worth it.


Where are all the Ministers?

April 8, 2020

Several questions have arisen in the wake of Health Minister David Clark’s admission he breached lockdown rules twice, one of which is why was he in Dunedin rather than in Wellington during this unprecedented crisis?

That leads to another question, raised by Chris Trotter:  where are the other Ministers?

Beyond the sterling example provided by the Prime Minister and her Finance Minister, New Zealanders could be forgiven for wondering if there is anyone else in the Coalition Cabinet equal to the challenges thrown up by the Covid-19 Pandemic. One has only to consider the curiously disengaged behaviour of Health Minister, David Clark. Yes, there was that ill-advised bike ride, but of even more concern is the fact that, in the midst of a national health emergency, New Zealand’s Health Minister has isolated himself in his Dunedin family home – 600 kilometres south of the capital. Moreover, as citizens’ rights are being necessarily curtailed, why do we hear so little from the Justice Minister and the Attorney-General? With more and more “idiots” flouting the Covid-19 rules, where is the Police Minister?

Shouldn’t Police Minister Stuart Nash be in Wellington, working with officials and available to answer questions given the draconian powers police have under the state of emergency?

Shouldn’t Justice Minister Andrew Little be concentrating on the crisis rather than trying to rush through the contentious Bill on prisoner voting?

Civil Defence officials are regularly fronting the media, where is their Minister Peeni Henare?

MBIE has a huge job working out what’s an essential business and what’s not. Where is their Minister Phil Twyford and why isn’t he at the media briefings?

Phone and internet enable good communication but conversations and deliberations at a distance are second best when compared with being on the spot.

The response to Covid-19 has been likened to a war. Shouldn’t there be a war cabinet, albeit at the two metre distance required for anyone outside their bubbles, working to not only deal with the health crisis but formulating the plan that will be needed to counter the economic and social challenges that are already apparent?

It doesn’t need a whole of government approach – and given the three parties in this one that wouldn’t be advisable. But it does need more than a cabinet of two.

Could it be that the crisis has shown the shallowness of talent in the government and that as Chris Trotter says, we could be forgiven for wondering if there is anyone else in the Coalition Cabinet equal to the challenges thrown up by the Covid-19 Pandemic? 

Is the reason the reason there isn’t a new Health Minister because there isn’t anyone else up to the job?

This begs another question: if they’re not equal to dealing with these challenges, are they equal to dealing with the challenges the recovery will pose?


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