Govt hasn’t learned

04/06/2020

The government hasn’t learned from mistakes it made in deciding which businesses could operate at alert level 4:

Dozens of marine engineering jobs in Nelson are at risk over a Government policy to refuse entry to ships during the Covid-19 pandemic, delivering a hammer blow to the international repair and refit industry.

Aimex Service Group managing director Steve Sullivan said about 40 jobs were under threat at the Port Nelson-based company he founded in 2009.

“Forty per cent of our revenue comes from the international refit business,” Sullivan said. “It’s all under threat.”

Two major contracts were cancelled just before the alert level 4 lockdown, leading to a loss of about $4 million to the wider Nelson economy, Sullivan said.

“We … will have to put more people out of work if the policy does not change,” Sullivan said, referring to the 40 jobs at risk.

Both he and Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith urged the Government to lift the blanket ban and consider the entry of each ship on a case-by-case basis.

The catalyst for prompting Sullivan to speak out publicly was the Government refusal to allow entry to the Captain Vincent Gann, a tuna boat now at sea in the eastern Pacific and in need of urgent repair.

A fault with the Captain Vincent Gann’s reduction gear that provides propulsion meant it was able to travel at half its usual speed only. It was also at risk of further damage. The repair work was expected to take about six weeks and would deliver about $600,000 to the wider Nelson economy – $400,000 to Aimex and $200,000 to associated businesses.

The Captain Vincent Gann’s last port of call was American Samoa, which had no reported cases of Covid-19 and had closed its borders in late March.

TNL International shipping agent John Lowden said the American-owned Captain Vincent Gann had been fishing out of Pago Pago for the past 18 months.

“The crew has been at sea since … 15th May and by the time it gets down here, they would have been at sea for a month,” Lowden said. “They don’t pose any threat at all.”

Sullivan said the crew members could easily be tested for Covid-19 and were prepared to be quarantined on arrival, if necessary. . . 

This exchange in parliament yesterday gives no hope that common sense will prevail:

 Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Customs: Does she agree with the statement by Steve Sullivan from Nelson’s marine engineering company AIMEX that “The Government’s policy to refuse entry of vessels for engineering and maintenance work is costing jobs and millions of dollars in work”, and does she stand by her department’s decision to refuse entry to the fishing vessel the Captain Vincent Gann?

Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister of Customs): I do stand by Customs’ decision to give effect to immigration rules. This Government’s position has continued to be that the best economic response is a strong public health response. While I appreciate this is an incredibly difficult time for many businesses in New Zealand, our Government has made unprecedented support available for businesses like AIMEX. I encourage them to take up any and all support that they are eligible for from the Government during this unprecedented time.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister saying it’s better for New Zealand for companies like AIMEX to take a wage subsidy rather than actually letting them do the work that earns the company and the country income.

Hon JENNY SALESA: The question is mainly about whether or not we allow a fishing vessel like this to come through. The decision made by the Government has not been to open up our border. We are 12 days into having zero COVID-19 cases, with only one active case. In terms of foreign ships, on 26 May a foreign fishing boat emerged as one of the points of transmission where a foreign-flagged, foreign-crewed vessel with 29 members of its crew being COVID-19 positive was heading towards the Pacific. A vaccine is not yet available for COVID-19, so the fact is that we are focused on saving lives and focused on public health. We are now looking at the recovery of our economy, but I stand by our Government and our response.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Why did she state yesterday in this House that the Customs refusal to allow entry of the Capt. Vincent Gann from American Samoa to New Zealand was based on advice of the ministry and Director-General of Health, when her department has admitted it never sought any advice from the Ministry of Health or the director-general on that vessel from American Samoa. . . 

Hon JENNY SALESA: The question that the honourable member asked me yesterday was whether I stand by Customs’ policies and actions—a very general question. Then he followed up with the question about this particular vessel. Had he put down a specific question like that, I would have been able to answer in specific ways.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she accept that the COVID-19 risks for the fishing crew from American Samoa are far less than from the film crew that’s been allowed in by the Government from California, when American Samoa has had zero cases and zero deaths, and California has had 115,000 cases and 4,200 deaths?

Hon JENNY SALESA: I reiterate that this particular ship was a foreign-flagged, foreign-crewed ship. They were not all Americans or American Samoans on that particular ship. Customs enforces the rules and laws that Parliament and Cabinet set. The exemptions for visas are by the Minister of Immigration and the exemptions for jobs are by the Minister for Economic Development. The honourable member who has been a member for many, many decades—more than me—should know if he was to put down this kind of question who the right Minister is to ask about these sorts of issues. . . 

The government’s insistence on its own arbitrary and inconsistent definition of essential during the alert level 4 cost more jobs and did much more damage to the economy than had any business that could operate safely been permitted to do so.

Its refusal to let this boat when the crew has been isolated at sea for more than two weeks, are prepared to be tested and if necessary quarantined, shows it hasn’t learned from that.

There are plenty of other examples of the immigration lottery:

The Avatar film crew has been allowed in but there’s still no certainty over whether America’s Cup crews will be.

Dairy farmers are desperate for migrant staff to return:

. . . Ryan Baricuatro has worked on McFarlane’s 550-cow family farm near Carew, west of Ashburton, for seven years.

In early March, with no cows on the farm following the cull and Baricuatro’s wife due to have a baby in the Philippines, McFarlane encouraged him take some leave and return to his home country.

“We didn’t expect him to be gone for two months and not knowing when he’ll be back is tough,” McFarlane said.

“With his knowledge of the farm and the way we operate, he’ll be integral to getting us back and running after Mycoplasma bovis and at calving. He’s virtually irreplaceable for us, we’re desperate to get him back.” . . 

Geraldine farmer Tom Hargreaves shares McFarlane’s concerns.

Last May, his sheep and beef farming family bought the property next door and hired two staff, including Uruguayan Patricia Grilli, to run a 420-cow dairy operation.

After a successful first season on the farm, Grilli took time off to return to Uruguay for her father’s surprise birthday celebrations. . . 

Despite their best efforts, including providing Grilli with a letter from her employer and a lawyer, she was turned away by customs officials at the airport in Uruguay.

That’s left Hargreaves worried and his team stretched thin to cover Grilli’s role through winter.

“We don’t really know what’s happening. Nothing has been shown to us, so we’re really in the dark and getting more and more nervous,” he said.

“The dairy farm should start up from August 1, but we really needed her over winter as well. Our dairy farm manager didn’t have a day off and the sheep and beef guys would help out but only he and Patricia know the milking shed.” . . 

As of Wednesday, DairyNZ was aware of at least 40 skilled workers who had taken ill-timed holidays and are now unable to get back into New Zealand. 

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle agreed it could become a human and animal welfare issue if dairy farms were understaffed or had staff with the wrong skill-sets come calving.

As well as the workers stuck offshore, the industry was facing a much bigger problem if lower skilled workers already in the country couldn’t get their visa extended, he said. . . 

It’s not just workers who can’t get in.

Schools and universities could be attracting foreign fee-paying pupils and students from the northern hemisphere to start study in July but they too have yet to gain permission for entry.

Eric Crampton discussed why getting safe entry at the border matters:

The government seems to have everything backwards currently. It results in horrible inequities and the usual amounts of muppetry because they’re starting at the thing from the wrong end.

Right now, if you want to enter New Zealand and you’re not a returning resident or citizen, you have to convince the Minister that you’re important enough to be let in. That kind of regime was hard to avoid during the worst part of lockdown because you also needed exemptions from piles of other mobility restrictions if you were coming in as an essential worker to fix Wellington’s sewer pipes. But it’s got things the wrong way around now that lockdown is over. Instead, the principle should be that if you can enter safely, you’re allowed in – with no sign off from the Minister unless that were somehow already required for whatever visa you’d be coming in on.

Starting from the economic necessity of getting particular people in has the government picking winners – it’s the aristocracy of pull all over again. James Cameron has pull; some poor guy whose pregnant wife is here in New Zealand while he’s in Australia doesn’t. Because being allowed in is a function of their having the Seal Of Approval, safety gets less consideration than it should. Tom Hunt’s story from yesterday of quarantine-bound Avatar film crews mingling in hotel reception with regular guests – that kind of muppetry absolutely cannot be allowed to happen. And maybe it didn’t – the story relied on a non-quarantined guest’s reckon that the crowd she went through at reception was that film crew. But it is the kind of thing that’s more likely to happen if the guiding principle is “Movies are important and Avatar Sequels about that main Avatar and the other Avatar – that’s what matters and it matters so much that we’ll pay them tons of money to make those movies here”

You need to flip it.

If people can come in safely, they should be allowed in. . . 

The government was too slow to close the borders before the lockdown and too slow to insist on quarantine for anyone who came in.

Now it’s gone to the opposite extreme with arbitrary and inconsistent exemptions instead of working on the safety principle.

There would be a slight risk of someone bringing Covid-19 with them but providing everyone who comes in was required to quarantine at their own expense, the risk and cost would be minimal when compared with the benefits of businesses and jobs saved.

It would also give us some hope that it was able, and willing, to learn from its mistakes.


Confusion and disconnection undermine confidence

03/04/2020

There’s general agreement on the need for wider testing to determine how widespread community transmission of Covid-19 is but confusion on whether it can be done:

Healthcare workers say coronavirus tests are being withheld because of limited supply, despite the prime minister’s insistence clinicians have both the resources and permission to test.

A new coronavirus testing criteria was released late on Wednesday, permitting the testing of patients with Covid-19 symptoms but no connection to overseas travel or another coronavirus case.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who announced the expansion of the criteria the day prior, again said there was ample testing capacity at a Wednesday press conference — it just hadn’t been used by clinicians.

But a Wellington GP, who spoke to Stuff on the condition of anonymity, said there were not enough testing swabs for the number of patients presenting Covid-19 symptoms. His clinic had ordered 30, but received five as the laboratory was trying to preserve supplies.  

And some swabs of patients were not run by the laboratory for failing to strictly meet the prior testing criteria.

Staff from two Wellington clinics told Stuff on Wednesday morning they had not received any information from the ministry regarding the expanding criteria, and their clinics would go ahead and test people with possible Covid-19 symptoms until further guidance was issued. 

But at a Canterbury GP clinic, a nurse said her practice had been told to continue using the former, stricter criteria in the absence of an update from the ministry. 

The nurse, who similarly spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the ministry had told clinical leaders there were not enough swabs and the labs did not have enough reagents to test everyone with symptoms.

“We are seeing many people with coronavirus symptoms who we cannot test.”

She said GPs at her practice had used their discretion – as the prime minister and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield had repeatedly recommended – and swabbed people with symptoms, only to have the labs refuse to test them.  . . 

If clinicians think people should be tested, and put them through the discomfort of the swabbing process, how can labs not test them?

Either the PM is right and there are enough swabs but there’s a problem with the distribution and also with communication between the Ministry, clinicians and labs;  or the doctors and nurses are right and there aren’t enough swabs and labs aren’t testing all they’re sent.

Whoever is right, the issue must be sorted and sorted urgently.

Compliance with the draconian loss of liberty to which we’re all being subjected and the costs imposed by it requires community buy-in, and that requires confidence in what’s being done and how it’s being done.

These mixed messages over testing undermine confidence.

It doesn’t help when the Minister of Health drives 2km to go mountain biking when the police have told us we have to exercise close to home, not drive then exercise.

And the disconnection between key agencies doesn’t help either:

Today’s meeting of the Epidemic Response Committee has shown how disconnected the three key agencies, Health, Customs and Police, are in enforcing the self-isolation of New Zealanders and shows why a quarantine is needed immediately, Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges says.

“The Director-General of Health has been clear that all returning New Zealanders should be visited by a Police Officer within the first three days of them returning home.

“Today outgoing Police Commissioner Mike Bush admitted while they would like to visit all returning New Zealanders, they’ve failed to do so, confirming officers have been unable to visit all of the more than 4000 people who’ve come back to New Zealand within three days.

Police would like to visit all returnees but have failed to do so. That doesn’t inspire confidence that the lockdown will work.

“Following that admission, Customs Minister Jenny Salesa was asked about how Customs saw self-isolation being enforced, and she said Police were not expected to check up on all returning New Zealanders, instead they could do spot checks. That isn’t good enough.

“There shouldn’t be this much confusion. These agencies need to be a cohesive team. Instead New Zealanders are just seeing more and more mixed messages.

“It is clear from today’s questioning that New Zealand needs an enforced quarantine for those entering New Zealand at the border. For weeks our borders have been porous, with no thermal testing being undertaken and the self-isolation of New Zealanders not being policed well enough. That has to stop.

“Effective quarantining has been the foundation of other countries’ successful responses. Here in New Zealand we’ve been waving people through and trusting them to self-isolate.

“Today’s questioning has raised serious concerns about how well this lockdown is being policed and shows exactly why we need to be quarantining at the border. New Zealanders are sacrificing a lot right now, the key agencies involved in the response need to ensure they aren’t leaving the barn door wide open.”

Never before have New Zealanders been asked to give up so much and at such a horrific economic and social cost.

The government and its agencies can’t expect us to do all we can to comply if they aren’t demonstrating they are doing everything they can, and should, be doing to ensure the lockdown achieves its aim of eliminating COvid-19.


Troubles in threes plus

22/03/2018

If troubles really did come in threes then the Young Labour camp sex scandal, Foreign Minister Winston Peter’s initial refusal to accept Russia’s involvement in the spy poisoning case and questions over Defence Minister Ron Mark’s use of Air Force helicopters would have been the only problems for the government last week.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had another fire to fight – Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa spending more than $30,000 on travel in three months.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa is “hugely disappointed” her travel expenses are so high and is working to fix it.

People don’t know what they don’t know, but it would be helpful if all Ministers did know what was and wasn’t appropriate spending and that they knew about overspending when it was happening and not so long after the event.

The PM had another problem yesterday and was forced to say Minister Shane Jones calling for heads to roll at Air New Zealand was a step too far.

Mr Jones, the Minister for Regional Economic Development, said earlier this week that Air New Zealand had turned its back on the regions.

When the company’s board and chief executive objected to his comments and told him to back off, he then called for people to resign. . . 

That’s three New Zealand First Ministers causing problems in less than a fortnight.

Politik reports tensions between that party and Labour over water and defence.

It would be risky to bet there won’t be more before too long.


Teal deal for Question Time

19/03/2018

Green Party leader James Shaw has announced he’s gifting most of the party’s questions to the National Party.

James Shaw told Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q+A programme this morning his party would gift its so-called ‘patsy’ questions to opposition parties as a way of holding the government to account. . .

CORIN Sure. Okay. Let’s get on to this issue. So I’m of the understanding that the Green Party is going to announce that you will give your what are called patsy questions in Parliament – so you get, what, one per session, is that right? Primary question – you’re going to give those questions to the Opposition for the rest of the term. Is that correct?

JAMES That’s right. So it’s about 42 questions this year and about 50 next year, based on what we currently know about the calendar. And that is because – and you know this from your time in the gallery, right – that patsy questions are basically a waste of everybody’s time.

CORIN They make the government look good.

JAMES Yeah, that’s right, but I think question time should be about holding the government to account. This is what we said when we were in Opposition. Now that we are in government, we felt that it was important for us to act consistently with what we said in Opposition.

CORIN But if you’re in government, why are you giving the Opposition an extra chance to bash you?

JAMES I know it sounds crazy, but we are crazy about democracy. So I know it seems like a weird move, but I honestly think that the democracy will be better served if question time does what it is supposed to do, which is to hold the government to account, and we are members of the government. I expect us to be held to account, not to use scripted questions to kind of tell some bright, shiny story. . .

It’s no surprise that National has welcomed the gift.

National Party Leader Simon Bridges has welcomed the Green Party’s decision to give the Opposition its allocated Oral Questions in Parliament to allow it to better hold the weak Ardern-Peters Government to account.

“I said when I became Leader that National would remain firmly focused on being an effective Opposition and in the past weeks we have continued to do that.

“That includes during Parliamentary Question Time when Opposition MPs get Ministers on their feet asking questions of importance to New Zealanders, and those efforts will now be bolstered by the Green Party’s decision.

“National will use the Green Party’s Questions as well its own to continue to focus on the issues that matter to New Zealanders – the economy, law and order, housing, public services and the environment.

“The Green Party’s willingness for this weak Government to be held to account is commendable and we will honour the spirit of this move by doing so strongly.” . . 

Labour and its leader Jacinda Ardern will be less than enthusiastic about this move from their support partner.

They may be thinking their week from hell could get worse: the Young Labour camp sexual assault mess; Defense Minister Ron Mark Ron Mark using Air Force helicopters like taxis; Ethnic Affairs Minister Salesa spending an eye-watering $30,186 on travel and now their support partner is suddenly a lot less supportive.

The Greens are sticking to principles on making a teal deal on patsy questions.

Jacinda Labour might not mind if they follow suit by withdrawing support for the wake-jumping Bill but New Zealand First leader Winston Peters will.

This move also raises another question – if the Greens can do a teal deal on questions, are they opening the door for a teal deal on a future coalition?

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List problems will add to Labour’s woes

22/06/2014

Ranking its candidates on the party list would be difficult enough for Labour if it was polling strongly, as it is several MPs will be very worried about whether or not they will retain their seats.

That concern will be even greater for men because the party changed the rules to require at least 45% of MPs to be women.

Matthew Hooton writes of Labour’s looming list crisis:

. . .  nearly two-thirds of Labour’s electorate MPs are likely to be men and just 36% women.

To compensate for this Y chromosome surplus – and that the highest ranked list-only member must be deputy leader David Parker, a male, at least the next six spots must go to women . these are the only list places Labour can realistically expect to win . . .

Claire Trevett also writes on the problem the party faces with its list:

The party’s low polling makes the news worse for male candidates relying on the list. It is expecting to win at least 28 electorates, 5 more than at present. That will give it two more female electorate MPs than present – Carmel Sepuloni and Jenny Salesa are in safe seats.

However, if Labour gets 30 per cent at the election that leaves only 8 places for List MPs – and 6 of those would have to go to women if it is to meet the 45 per cent.

That would not be enough to get all of the current List MPs back. It could put the likes of Clayton Cosgrove, Andrew Little and Kelvin Davis at risk of missing out if more women are ranked above them to ensure the 45 per cent target was safely passed. . . .

It’s the party vote that counts but those who think they have a better chance in an electorate than on the list might put their personal ambition to stay, or get in, to parliament ahead of their loyalty to the party.

That will only add to Labour’s woes.

It would be in a difficult position with its list-ranking anyway. Its determination to have a female quota has added to its troubles.


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