They are us

11/02/2022

The be kind  message we were all supposed to follow wore thin a long time ago, not least because it was always a message of selective kindness and do as I say not as I do.

A particularly nasty example of this has been in the vitriol directed at those million or so members of the Kiwi diaspora, many of whom have been unable to come home.

A few heartbreaking cases have hit the headlines. Included in those are pensioners whose superannuation payments have been stopped;  people trying desperately to get back before family members die and others whose own health requires them to return.

For each of those stories that have become public are many more that have not. Some of them have had urgent reasons for wanting to get back, others might just want to exercise their rights as citizens to enter their homeland.

Anabel Weber, an expat in Copenhagen, has written what that feels like in Wet and Confused. The pandemic experience for New Zealanders abroad.:

Imagine a house. A lovely, mostly harmonious family home with 6 occupants and a great view.

One of the family members, let’s call her Aroha, leaves the house to go to work and plans to see her Nana on the way home. While she’s out it begins to rain. A real downpour which catches everyone by surprise.

Hearing rain outside, the rest of the family lock the doors to prevent water coming in.

Aroha waits it out, hoping the rain will pass. But it continues relentlessly. She can’t stay out forever so decides to don her wet weather gear and venture home.

But the door is locked. Perplexed, hearing them inside she rattles the knob. A familiar voice booms. It sounds like they’re telling her she can’t come in.

“You’re wet.”

“But this is my home!” she responds, confused.

“You made your choice. You should have come back when the rain started.” The family inside shout in unison.

Too tired and hurt to explain that she wasn’t able to leave work or desert Nana when the first drops fell, she whispers “But I’m wearing my rain gear. And I’ll dry off first.” But no-one inside is interested. They’re celebrating how good they are at staying dry and what a hardworking family of 5 they are.

The 6th family member begins to cry. Wounded by the harshness of her famously kind family. A voice calls through the keyhole telling her to stop whinging and that she can in fact come in, she just needs to climb through the peculiar shaped window on the second floor, which they’ll open briefly once a fortnight at 3am.

“It’s easy” they say, “Just come in through the window so you can dry yourself off in the attic. And stop complaining. We’d prefer not to let you in at all.”

But the window on the second floor is in an extremely difficult position, taking two weeks and expensive equipment to reach. Aroha only has limited time before needing to return to her commitments in the morning. Quitting her job and abandoning Nana just to access her own bedroom would be extreme. So she waits it out, becoming evermore distressed.

The rain turns out to be a once in a lifetime weather phenomenon lasting several years. During the years that she is locked out Aroha knocks on the door intermittently to see if anyone has had a change of heart. From inside she hears a well rehearsed shout: “How selfish of you, wanting to come in here and drown us all with your outside water”.

Inevitably there’s a leak in the roof. It’s managed with a system of pots and pans to catch the drips which seems to be working. Spooked, the family hurriedly put on rain clothes.

Seeing the frenzy through the windows, Aroha enquires hopefully “Now you’re all protected, can I come in?”

“No. That would be like turning on a firehose during a flood” the family spokesperson sternly replies. “And the rain is getting heavier now so we’re shutting the window on the roof indefinitely.”

Aroha suffers an intense identity crisis. She’s always been part of this family, the only one she has. But, who is she now that she’s not included inside. Nights are sleepless, unable to relax, anxiously worrying about if something happens to her family and she can’t get in to help them. Or if something happens to her and no one can be there.

Meanwhile, the family members decide to throw a party to celebrate their hard work staying dry. They invite entertainers and famous people from outside to make it extra special. But these visitors from the outside don’t use the peculiar shaped window on the roof, they have a regular shaped door to the attic or even their own bedroom, for which they are given a key on request. Aroha watches in disbelief as they enter, some go in and out as many as 3 times.

As Aroha’s cries get louder and more desperate the neighbours overhear and enquire with the family. The leader of the house dismisses their concerns simply.

“Aroha can come home, she just doesn’t like what’s for dinner” they are told. Overhearing this misrepresentation, Aroha further loses faith and trust.

All the other houses on the street allow their family members to come in freely to dry off. Every other house in the town has adopted ways of managing drips to prevent flooding. Not Aroha’s. When her siblings enquire whether there’s another way, the matriarch reminds them how dangerous the outside is and how lucky they are, silencing any scepticism swiftly.

Once a week the head of the household conducts a family meeting. She addresses each member directly and thanks them for their contribution to the family of 5, resulting in them all staying dry. There is no mention of Aroha. No acknowledgement of her sacrifice, pain, suffering. There are many references to the risk “outsiders” pose to the 5 family members.

Meanwhile outside, Aroha sobs through her tears. “I have a bedroom inside. My belongings are in there…” her words disappear into the darkness. She feels helpless. No-one is interested.

____

This is the story of Grounded Kiwis, the diaspora of more than 1 million New Zealand citizens abroad. The key tactic of New Zealand’s pandemic response was strict border controls. While we all understood and respected the role these restrictions had on suppressing the spread while NZ got prepared, instead the population largely got comfy and decided it was better without us at all. From 2021 onwards it became particularly difficult for Kiwis flying the flag abroad to get home. Capacity in the mandatory Managed Isolation hotels was increasingly suppressed, and sometimes stopped entirely for weeks or months on end, causing immeasurable stress. There are many reasons why we are overseas. There is no justifiable reason to lock the door on us.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a plan to reopen New Zealand in 5 stages over the course of 2022. While this offers hope and a greater amount of certainty than we had previously, the plan has not yet been implemented and will be reviewed on 20 February. If it goes ahead, citizens from all countries will be able to return home to self isolate from 14 March 2022. But thousands of migrants separated from their families (including parents from their young children) will need to wait until October 2022 to be reunited.

Shutting the borders at the outset of the pandemic could be justified.

Continuing the MIQueue of misery for so long which was effectively keeping them closed to citizens and residents, except for the few ones who through luck managed to gain an MIQ spot in the lottery could not.

Andrew Geddis writes:

 . . Equally, two years of life with MIQ has made that system’s demands (and foibles) more of a reality for more and more people. I don’t just mean those who have been forced to spend their money on a boat instead of their annual holiday to Europe. Rather, those of us who have been two years apart from family who happened to be making their lives outside this country. Two years in which marriages have happened, babies have been born, funerals have been held; all the human moments of joy and connection that make a life of value. The cost of either putting them on hold or missing out on them completely is cumulative in its effect. While we might sacrifice them on a temporary basis, a third year of loss becomes a real weight to put against the benefits that our elimination strategy delivered.

There is no doubt that, with a few exceptions for which Aucklanders in particular paid a very high price, MIQ kept wide community transmission of Covid 19 at bay. However, the system was far from perfect and open to accusations of being both unfair and inhumane.

Equally inexcusable is the selective kindness of those criticising the diaspora and wanting to keep the borders closed. Perhaps they have forgotten the words which brought the PM fame after the mosque massacre – they are us. 

That begs three questions: does she still remember them, did she really mean them and if so why haven’t they applied to all New Zealanders whether or not they are in New Zealand?

The tens of thousands of people who missed out on the MIQ lottery of misery, and the many others who didn’t even bother trying their luck could be justified in saying the answer to all three of those questions is no..


Rural round-up

04/02/2022

Feds: High price on NZ farmers will increase global emissions :

Price penalties won’t drive down livestock emissions without affordable and practical new technologies being available to farmers – unless the aim is to kill off the sector, Federated Farmers says.

The Federation is baffled by comments by Climate Change Minister James Shaw that “…Pricing isn’t the only tool in the toolbox, but it remains the best way to reduce emissions directly – and that’s name of the game.”

Feds President Andrew Hoggard said that was “an overly-simplistic and domestic focused solution to a complex global problem.

“The global atmosphere does not benefit from New Zealand shrinking food production, even if our politicians can crow about local emissions reductions. Our farms’ emissions footprint is world-leading; forgone production here would just shift offshore to less efficient farmers.” . . 

Gain and pain in move to carbon pricing – David Anderson:

Beef+Lamb NZ chair Andrew Morrison concedes that the two alternative options to the ETS that the He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) partnership has developed are not perfect.

However, he says they are as good as they can be and describes the upcoming consultations on them as one of the most important issues for farmers in 2022.

“It’s a complicated topic and we’re strongly urging farmers to come along to a roadshow event to find out more and to have their say,” Morrison told Rural News.

He believes that farming leaders made a significant gain by collectively getting a split gas outcome in the Zero Carbon Bill. . .

MIQ border changes ‘too late’ for sector – Neal Wallace:

The Government’s gradual opening of New Zealand borders is too late for worker-short primary sector employers seeking an injection of foreign workers for the harvest season.

Under a five-step graduated process announced today, New Zealanders fully vaccinated against covid living in Australia and those with border exemptions can return home from 11.59pm on February 27, with 10 days of self-isolation.

From 11.59pm on March 13, the borders will open to New Zealanders and eligible travellers under current border settings from the rest of the world.

Under this step, self-isolation will reduce to seven days. . .

Agriculture needs to adapt or die – Nigel Stirling:

NZ’s agricultural sector needs to recognise Covid-19 as the “new normal,” says leading expert on international trade, Professor Hamish Gow.

He says a lot of firms have used the pandemic as a positive opportunity and have been very successful in driving change within their firms, their value chains, and their industry.

“Then there’s other ones who have sat back and said, ‘We don’t need to change, this will all be over’,” Gow told Rural News. “And we’re now into our third season and they’re still trying to run everything the same way, complaining that they can’t, for example, find workers.

“But they haven’t done anything to change and they’re in the same situation that they were at the start of the pandemic.”

Plans to ‘blanket’ plant trees across Wales could ‘decimate’ farming communities, campaigners claim – Dan Whitehead:

Rural farming communities in Wales could be “decimated” if blanket afforestation is allowed, according to the president of the National Farmers Union in Wales.

The warning comes amid large scale government plans to plant millions of trees across the country to create a new national forest.

But there is concern from some communities about the number of Welsh farms being sold to large-scale investment firms, which plan to create woodland to offset carbon emissions.

In the tiny Carmarthenshire village of Cwrt-y-Cadno, Frongoch Farm was sold earlier this year to Foresight Group – a multi-billion pound private equity firm based in The Shard. . . 

NZ agri-tech start-up Cropsy Technologies successfully raises $15 million in an over-subscribed capital raise:

Cropsy Technologies has successfully completed its first capital raise, with the award-winning ag-tech company raising $1.5 million in an over-subscribed round, ensuring it is perfectly positioned to commercialise its world-first AI-enabled crop vision system.

CROPSY unlocks the full potential of crops with its unique visioning technology that combines mobile, continuous and GPS-tracked high-definition image capture, with AI-enabled software to analyse crops and aid decision making for growers. Attached to a tractor and powered by the tractor battery, the Cropsy vision system sees and understands every single plant while a grower runs their daily crop operations, profiling every leaf, fruit, shoot, cane, and trunk in real-time as the tractor passes by. Eliminating sun, shadows, and reflections from the captured images preserves accurate colours and textures regardless of the time or weather.

The technology enables growers to identify pests and diseases early, for targeted spraying and reduced crop loss, as well as efficiently understanding crop growth and saving time for vineyard and orchard managers. It will boost sustainability goals for growers by ensuring resources are not applied when not needed. . . 


Whole team needs kindness

02/02/2022

Barry Soper opines:

Over the past two years we’ve heard it ad nauseam. We’re a team of five million. We are constantly reminded to be kind to each other. And yes, the messages have come from the self-appointed team leader, Jacinda Ardern.

Many of us retired from the team shortly after it was created and it now grates to still be described as members of it. . . 

The team of five million was meant to be inclusive but from the start it excluded the diaspora, the million or so New Zealanders who, temporarily or permanently, live overseas.

Two years on they are feeling even more left out as the MIQueue lottery of misery keeps all but a lucky few locked out.

Be kind was also meant to be inclusive but there were some who don’t extend the kindness to the ex-pats, and just how toxic they can be has been clear to see on Twitter in the last few days.

Those blinded by their political partisanship have resorted to misogamy, personal abuse and poisonous attacks  in attempting to justify the government’s refusal to allow Charlotte Bellis a spot in MIQ.

Others such as the Human Rights Commission and Minister for Women also stand accused of political partisanship for remaining silent about the appalling treatment of pregnant women.

Charlotte has now been offered an MIQ space.

But how many others, pregnant or not, are still stuck overseas?

The issue is bigger than one woman, it’s bigger than the other women who have applied to come home when they’re pregnant, it’s about the system that is no longer fit for purpose.

What matters isn’t just that pregnant women can’t come home, it’s that New Zealand citizens who have the right to return are stuck overseas and that people here are too scared to leave for fear they wouldn’t be able to come home.

Cabinet finalised a plan for reconnecting to the world which will be announced tomorrow.

It must allow fully vaccinated citizens to return home and self-isolate, as those here who have Covid-10 are already doing. That would be the kind way to treat the whole team of six million.


MIQ lottery of misery must end

01/02/2022

A pregnant woman finds more compassion from the Taliban than her own country.

A man had to watch by video link as his mother died and is unsure if he’ll be able to go to her funeral.

A family of five is facing 40 days in MIQ.

These are just three examples of the misery that is MIQ in New Zealand.

There are tens of thousands other New Zealanders stuck overseas with heartbreaking stories and there are others legally here whose family can’t join them.

People have been unable to leave for business or to visit family for fear they wouldn’t be able to return.

That foreign DJs and musicians have got MIQ spots when citizens with far more urgent needs to come home rubs salt into the system’s wounds.

Closing the borders and setting up MIQ was the right thing to do in early 2020.

The policy and system are no longer fit for purpose and haven’t been for months.

National has launched a petition to end what has become the MIQueue lottery of misery:

MIQ is a lottery of human misery that is trapping tens of thousands of kiwis offshore, preventing them getting home and reuniting with loved ones.

The sooner we have a plan to end it the better.

The government said that the border would reopen from mid January. Now that’s been pushed to the end of February, and that may change again.

The government needs a clear plan to end the misery of MIQ and introduce self isolation for vaccinated travellers to NZ.

Whether or not Grounded Kiwis succeed with legal action to prove MIQ is illegal, the current policy is cruel and inhumane.

Other countries manage to allow people to self-isolate safely. The government must find a way to allow that to happen here and allow it to happen soon.


Rural round-up

14/12/2021

200 rural contracting drivers will be granted special entry visas, but farmers fear MIQ delays could cost lives – Alexa Cook:

Two hundred rural contracting drivers will be granted special visas as part of a border exemption for the industry.

The farming sector is grateful, but worries drivers will be delayed by the MIQ lottery system.

Farmers fear someone will die as shortage of experienced overseas workers leads to rise in accidents.
Sectors desperate for staff are still struggling despite promise to let in critical migrant workers.

This farm machinery is more transformer than tractor and takes highly-skilled drivers to operate.

Usually 400 come here from overseas – but only 125 have been allowed in. . .

International dairy workers needed to ease farmer stress :

DairyNZ is relieved the Government has listened to its call to allow more dairy farm assistants into New Zealand in January 2022.

However, the industry-good organisation says more workers are needed and is continuing to push for another 1500 dairy international workers to be let into the country for the 2022 dairy season. The workers will help alleviate crippling staff shortages that are having a serious impact on farmer wellbeing.

Earlier this year the Government said 200 international dairy workers would be allowed into New Zealand on a dairy class border exception – with 50 places available for farm assistants and 150 positions available for herd manager and assistant manager roles.

Today, the Government confirmed it will remove the restrictions on how many farm assistants, herd managers and assistant managers can make up the quota of 200 workers, and allow applications for all roles. . .

Border exceptions the first step in the process Feds says :

Federated Farmers is pleased to see the Government has approved border class exceptions for a number of international agricultural workers for early 2022.

The border exceptions will allow approved workers to assist with the shearing and arable sectors over their peak busy period. The Government has also made some changes to the current dairy worker border exception, allowing more dairy farm assistants to meet the high demand for entry level staff around the country.

“For seasonal work such as shearing and the arable harvest it is essential that we bolster our local workforce with talent from overseas,” Federated Farmers immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

“We are also pleased to see the settings are being changed for the dairy border exception. Farmers across the country are asking for boots on the ground to help milk and feed livestock and the dairy assistant is the right role for doing this.” . . 

O’Connor is confident the DIRA can be tweaked to give effect to farmer vote in favour of Fonterra’s capital restructuring – Point of Order:

Farmers    have  voted overwhelmingly  in  favour  of  a  capital  restructure  for Fonterra—- and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor,   who   previously  raised   concerns about the  plan,  now  says  he  is  confident the  government can  work   with the  board   to  get  the change   across the  line.

Fonterra chair Peter McBride last  week  told  Fonterra’s  meeting:

“Either we’re a corporate or we’re a co-operative. The current model, where we’re trying to have a foot in each camp, is not sustainable”.

Farmer-shareholders  made  it  plain  they  wanted  the  “pure”  co-op rather  than the corporate model. . .

Large spring deliveries of tractors and equipment meeting local demand :

Recent large deliveries of tractors and equipment reflect strong demand throughout the country on the back of strengthening commodity prices, according to Tractor and Machinery Association (TAMA).

President Kyle Baxter said the second half of 2021 continued the exceptionally strong sales growth of the first half compared to 2020. Overall tractor deliveries to the end of November reflect an average increase in demand by 27%.

“There has been significant growth across the traditional lifestyle 0-60hp segment, which increased by more than 35%, while the 60-100hp horticulture, orchard, viticulture segment up 20% and the 100-120hp dairy sector up 9%.”

The biggest increase was in the 120-250hp mainly arable and dry stock farming sector, which increased 42% compared to 2020. The big agriculture outlays of 250hp+ increased by almost 36%. . . 

Outlook for wool mixed going into 2022 – Elders Wool:

The Australian wool market ticked along quite nicely last week in the penultimate sale before the Christmas auction recess.

There was enough business done in the few days prior to keep the trade active, and a volatile local currency added enough fuel to the fire to make it nice and warm – but not too hot.

In local currency terms, the market lifted by 14 cents a kilogram overall. This was US6c/kg and 8c/kg in Euro.

So, buyers overseas were not affected greatly, and could continue picking up their requirements. . . 

 

 

 


Rural round-up

17/11/2021

Uncertain times ahead – Peter Burke:

NZ sheep and beef farmers will likely face different risks to their businesses in the coming years due to the Covid pandemic.

Beef+Lamb NZ’s chief economist Andrew Burt says there may be more volatility and risks that farmers will have to manage. He says these will be ones that they haven’t had to think about before or haven’t surfaced for over 20 years.

“It may be the case of unravelling the past and creating a new order.”

Burt confirms that while prices for meat are high at present, this is somewhat shielding significant rises in on-farm costs. He also warns that inflation could have a negative effect on farm profits. . . 

MIQ spots ‘bloody hard’ – Sudesh Kissun:

A lack of spots in MIQ have become a barrier for getting international dairy workers into New Zealand. A lack of spots in MIQ have become a barrier for getting international dairy workers into New Zealand. Securing MIQ spots remain the biggest hurdle to getting overseas workers for the dairy sector.

Five months after the Government granted border exceptions for 200 dairy farm workers and their families, just a handful of workers have arrived in the country.

Now in the dairy sector is pleading for 1500 overseas workers to be allowed into the country and self-quarantine on farms before the start of 2022 season to ease a severe staff shortage.

Federated Farmers dairy chair Chris Lewis says a lot of behind-the-scenes work is going with the Government. . . 

How Tomato Pete got lost and found again – Rachel Stewart:

This a story about Tomato Pete – a name given to him by a farmer amused by his vegetarianism.

Tomato Pete is the son of a friend I’ve known since primary school. She had two children to one man, who soon became largely absent from their lives. As a solo mother she worked hard to raise the kids on her own and, as is often the way, it wasn’t all beer and skittles. But it was okay.

I would show up in my truck every now and then, always with one canine or another in tow. Tomato Pete, a quiet town kid, was about seven when I noticed that he really came alive when he was around dogs.

At 13 he got his first puppy. Pip, a gentle-natured black mongrel, became his constant companion. (He’s still alive today, and enjoying his well-earned dotage). . . 

NZ wins big at World Steak Challenge :

Three New Zealand red meat producers won big at the World Steak Challenge in Dublin.

Anzco and First Light Foods won a gold medal each in the ribeye section, while Alliance Group’s Pure South Handpicked 55-Day Aged Beef won three gold medals.

Hundreds of beef suppliers from around the world had their finest products judged by an independent panel of chefs and experts at the prestigious event.

Alliance general manager of sales Shane Kingston says the win reaffirmed the status of Handpicked 55-Day Aged Beef as among the world’s best. . .

Gen Z it’s time to make your mark on New Zealand’s food and fibre sector :

Food and fibre sector leaders are counting on Generation Z (loosely defined as those born between 1995 and 2010) to take on the future of New Zealand’s food and fibre sector and meet the challenges it faces.

The key to attracting Generation Z (Gen Z) to the sector will be making them aware of the scope of opportunities across the sector, says Madison Pannett, the Kellogg Rural Leadership scholar behind the report, Generation Z and the environment – how can we use their passion to attract them into food and fibre sector careers?

“I have found my journey into the sector so personally rewarding, so I was keen to explore how to inspire young people to join,” says Madison, who now works for the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) as a Senior Adviser in the Animal Welfare Liaison team.

“From my research, I found that Gen Z mainly associates food and fibre sector careers with roles on-farm and not with the wider opportunities that are available,” Madison notes. She says that sector leaders need to tell the story of the scope of rewarding and diverse roles available for Gen Z to contribute and work in line with their values. . .

Western Station buy-up goes way beyond government promises

The acquisition of five western stations by NSW National Parks now totals almost 400,000 hectares in the last year. If you add on travelling stock routes, a large land ‘grab’ would appear to be underway.

Graziers and the community that need them for their economies in the western division are rightly asking questions.

Although some of the purchases were flagged by the government, they are wondering what now is the wash-out from these buy-outs, given the original buy-up was estimated at 200,000 hectares.

It’s estimated that each station in private hands, adds about $500,000 a year into local economies. It’s certain that the national park version will do nothing like that. . .


MIQueue must go for most

05/11/2021

National has launched a petition to end MIQ:

The time has come to end the lottery of human misery that is MIQ, says National’s Covid Response spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“We have today launched a new petition so that Kiwis on and offshore can tell the Government in no uncertain terms that it’s time to end MIQ.

“We now have a farcical situation where fully vaccinated New Zealanders, with no Covid, who win the MIQ lottery have to spend 14 days in MIQ in Auckland, while more than 1300 people with Covid or who are close contacts of Covid cases isolate at home in Auckland.

“This makes no sense. It is unfair, callous and illogical.

“Tens of thousands of Kiwis have been shut out of their home country because of the MIQ system. The stories that fill MPs’ inboxes are truly harrowing.

“The MIQ system is not politically or morally sustainable. It is legally questionable.

“This isn’t the Kiwi way. It isn’t kindness. It isn’t compassion. The Government is now engaging in wilful, state-sponsored cruelty on an industrial scale.

The government grandstanded on Australia’s treatment of illegal immigrants. Its treatment of its own citizens who can’t get home is far worse.

“It’s time to end MIQ and allow Kiwis stuck offshore to come home for Christmas.

“Fully-vaccinated travellers to New Zealand present negligible risk. Since we started collecting MIQ vaccination data from August 23, just two fully vaccinated travellers in MIQ have tested positive later than day eight in MIQ.

“National is launching this petition to demand the Government put an end to MIQ. Clearly we need quarantine facilities for some community Covid cases, but we must move to a system where fully vaccinated travellers who return negative pre-departure tests can enter New Zealand without spending time in MIQ hotels.

“National’s ‘Opening Up’ plan envisaged travellers from lower risk jurisdictions – such as Queensland – not entering isolation at all, while travellers from higher risk places such as New South Wales would spend a week in isolation at home. Under both scenarios, MIQ would cease and there would be no state-imposed limits on travellers to New Zealand.

“Ending MIQ would reunite families, end the enormous anguish at the heart of the system, boost tourism, and help fill skill shortages in New Zealand.

“We can’t remain stuck behind the walls of Fortress New Zealand forever. We have to reopen to the world, and a good place to start would be getting rid of the lottery of human misery that is MIQ.” 

People are stranded overseas after losing, or finishing, jobs and packing up their homes.

They are locked out of the country after mercy visits to the ill and dying and for funerals.

Others are stuck here unable to go overseas for such mercy visits or business for fear they won’t be able to get home again.

This is inhumane.

There is more risk of getting Covid-19 from Aucklanders than there is from double-vaccinated travellers who have had a negative test before boarding a flight home and again on landing.

If people who have Covid-19 are being trusted to self-isolate at home, double vaccinated returnees could be too.

A friend’s daughter recently moved to Japan. For two weeks she had to isolate in her apartment. Several times a day at irregular intervals she was phoned to check that she was where she was supposed to be.

If that works there, why couldn’t it work here?

You can sign the petition here.


Rural round-up

03/11/2021

Business owner: ‘They won’t let me home to run our company’ –  Evan Harding:

The frustrated owners of a large farm contracting business have been stuck in Australia for six weeks, unable to secure MIQ spots to return to New Zealand and run their company.

The couple, Lindsay and Kaz Harliwich, say the Government’s MIQ [managed isolation and quarantine] system is “cruel”, and can’t understand how some sportspeople are allowed home but they and others aren’t.

They have tried to secure MIQ spots for six weeks running, but had been unsuccessful on each occasion.

Kaz Harliwich said they had not applied for emergency allocation spots in the MIQ system because there were no options for business people to do so. . .

Rural kiwis need to step up vaccination rates – Jamie Mackay:

I’ve always subscribed to the theory that heroes need to be older than their admirers. And I’ve (nearly) always practised what I’ve preached.

Sure, Richie McCaw sorely tested my resolve in 2015 when I wanted to run on to Twickenham to kiss him after he heroically led the All Blacks to Rugby World Cup glory, but the security guards were having none of it. Besides, I was a 50-something at the time and it would have all been a bit too undignified and cringeworthy.

So, yeah. Nah. My heroes belonged to a previous generation. Colin Meads, Brian Lochore and Ian Kirkpatrick. Sadly only Kirky, scorer of the greatest All Blacks test try of all time, remains with us. Sir Colin and Sir Brian are gone, but never forgotten. Heroes are, after all, for keeps.

When I was a seven-year-old growing up on a Southland farm, the 1967 All Blacks dominated my life and their poster adorned my bedroom wall. They remained in pride of place for the best part of a decade, until they were superseded by a brief, and embarrassing, infatuation with Farrah Fawcett-Majors (tail-end Boomers will know who I’m talking about). Mercifully, Farrah was relinquished for a real girlfriend but my love for the 1967 All Blacks has never waned. . .

Fed Farmers rubbishes Ashburton feedlot criticism among probe – Adam Burns:

Federated Farmers’ Mid Canterbury president says the animal and environmental standards of a major Ashburton farming feedlot under investigation are world class.

David Clark has rubbished fierce criticism from an environmentalist who has accused the Five Star Beef feedlot of animal cruelty in a series of social media posts recently.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) confirmed its animal welfare inspectors are conducting an investigation at the ANZCO-owned Five Star Beef feedlot this week after receiving a complaint.

Environmentalist Geoff Reid posted several aerial photos of the feedlot on both his Facebook and Instagram channels, condemning the operation. . . 

 

Business blooming for Southland tulips with $1.6m Dutch investment –  Blair Jackson:

A $1.6 million investment by way of the Netherlands signals growth for a Southland tulip business.

Horizon Flowers NZ plants and processes tulip bulbs for export, from Mabel Bush.

The business’ ultimate holding company is Dutch, and the Overseas Investment Office signed-off on the deal in September.

For the $1.6m investment, Horizon Flowers NZ have acquired a freehold interest in 41.5 hectares, adjoining its current bulb processing facility, information from the investment office shows. . .

New Zealand-United Kingdom trade agreement boost for red meat sector :

The Agreement in Principle (AIP) signed between New Zealand and the United Kingdom represents a significant boost for New Zealand’s red meat sector.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) and the Meat Industry Association (MIA) say farmers, processors, exporters and the New Zealand economy will benefit from greater export revenue once the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) trade deal is signed and ratified.

Key features of the AIP include improved access for high-quality New Zealand beef and more certainty for sheepmeat exports. The New Zealand red meat sector has not had quota free access to the British market since the United Kingdom joined the European Union in 1973.

While there are still some issues to be worked through, Sam McIvor, chief executive of B+LNZ, says the AIP is an important step towards the conclusion of an FTA between the two countries and builds upon the strong trade links between the United Kingdom and New Zealand. . . 

15 stores recognised for excellence promoting NZ cheese :

Fifteen stores – from Auckland to Oamaru – that specialise in selling locally made cheese have been named Top NZ Cheese Stores for 2021, marking the end of a successful NZ Cheese Month.

This is the second year the New Zealand Speciality Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA) has recognised cheese shops across Aotearoa which celebrate and support the local industry by educating cheese lovers and promoting locally made cheese.

Announcing the Top NZ Cheese Stores for 2021, NZSCA Chair, Catherine McNamara said it was wonderful for the country’s speciality cheesemakers to be supported by such a strong and vibrant retail culture. . . 


MIQueue not fit for purpose

30/10/2021

How will the tens of thousands people losing the MIQueue lottery feel about this?

A loophole in the troubled MIQ has been identified after an email was sent out by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise three days ago.

The door’s being opened for up to a dozen people to come back to New Zealand and stay in managed isolation if they book for lunch or dinner at the New Zealand Pavilion at the Dubai Expo.

They don’t have to begin their journey in New Zealand, they can travel from other countries to Dubai, they don’t even need to be engaged in the Expo nor do they need to have any commercial activity in Dubai.

They have to be an export customer which most of us are likely to be.

They have to return to New Zealand on an Emirates flight leaving on November the 21st. . . 

How will the people desperately trying to win a spot in the MIQueue lottery feel about this?

Just one guest stayed at the Grand Mercure managed isolation hotel in Wellington last week, where dozens of staff were working.

The person was involved in an emergency medical evacuation.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Managed Isolation and Quarantine confirmed the 102-room hotel had just one guest between October 21 and October 28.

It meant 88 isolation rooms went empty over that period, as well as 13 quarantine rooms.

Up to 50 staff were still working at the facility during that time, looking after the single guest.

“Other guests have not been staying at this facility to maintain the cohorting system between incoming and arriving guests,” the statement said. . .

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders are stuck overseas wanting to come home.

Some have lost their jobs and with them visas making them effectively stateless.

Some are desperate to get back for births and deaths.

Some are elderly at risk of losing their pensions if they don’t get back in time.

Then there are New Zealanders who need to go overseas for business or personal visits but can’t leave while they can’t get a space in MIQ that will allow them to come back.

There are families who have been apart for months with some here and others stuck abroad. This includes a two year-old who has been separated from his parents for 17 weeks.

And there are essential workers whose skills and experience we desperately need who keep losing in the MIQueue lottery.

How will they be feeling about the hotel with only one occupant and the loophole that enabled a lucky dozen to come home via the Dubai expo?

They will be justifiably angry.

MIQ might have worked at the start but it’s no longer fit for purpose and the delay in allowing double vaccinated travellers who test negative at both ends of their journeys will give them little if any comfort.


Too little, too slow

29/10/2021

Yesterday’s announcement of the prospect of shorter stays in MIQ will give little comfort to those enduring the MIQueue misery.

The Government’s changes to the cruel MIQ system are a start but they need to go much further and much more quickly, says National’s Covid spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“As I revealed last week, fully vaccinated travellers to New Zealand, with a negative pre-departure test, pose negligible risk.

“Just two fully vaccinated travellers out of 20,000 or so people who have been through MIQ since August 23 have tested positive on day eight or later, indicating MIQ could be reduced immediately to seven days without any real risk.

“While fully vaccinated travellers with no Covid have been spending 14 days in MIQ, more than 200 people with Covid have been isolating at home in Auckland.

Even if only those travellers who could self-isolate in that city where the disease is already widespread in the community, were permitted to do so, it would relieve some of the MIQueue pressure.

“The tragedy is that these changes could and should have happened much sooner. The Government only started recording the vaccination status of people arriving into MIQ from August 23. Why didn’t this happen sooner? The Government has never given an adequate explanation as to why it didn’t bother to collect the data earlier than August 23.

“If we had the data from vaccinated travellers in April or May, potentially tens of thousands more people could have come safely through the border much earlier than now.

“The Government’s changes should also go much further. This is about the bare minimum that the Government could have done, and it won’t help Kiwis offshore desperate to return home. The stories of human misery and hardship that populate the inboxes of Members of Parliament are harrowing. The sooner we can end this lottery of human misery, the better.

“We need to quickly move to a situation where fully vaccinated travellers from low-risk jurisdictions do not have to isolate at all, assuming they have a negative pre-departure and post-arrival test. National would introduce this once New Zealand is at 85 per cent fully vaccinated, which is only weeks away. This would mean thousands of travellers from places such as Queensland could be home for Christmas.

“National’s ‘Opening Up’ Plan also calls for travellers from medium-risk locations, such as parts of the US, the UK and some states of Australia, to be allowed to skip MIQ and isolate at home for seven days.

“It’s time we reopened to the world. We can’t remain shut behind the walls of Fortress New Zealand. Today’s news is a good start, but there is so much more to do.”

Halving the time people are required to stay in MIQ will free up some rooms – but many of them will be taken up with people from the community who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 so the change won’t do much to improve the changes of the tens of thousands of people forced to take their chances with the MIQueue lottery.

That includes business people, one of whom, challenged the government in court:

A High Court judge has ordered the government to take a second look at an Auckland richlister’s bid to bypass the MIQ system by self-isolating at his gated home following a high-stakes business meeting in the pandemic-ravaged United States.

Justice Geoffrey Venning issued the brief ruling from the bench on Thursday. He is expected to issue a full written ruling on Friday. . . 

Bolton, who is 73 and has received both Covid-19 jabs, sought a judicial review after the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) rejected his MIQ exemption application. The landmark case argues that the system unreasonably limits citizens’ freedom of movement and breaches the Bill of Rights Act.

Part of his proposal was to take a private jet to and from the United States so as to reduce his risk of being exposed to Covid-19. Upon return, he and his partner would stay at their gated home in the swank Auckland suburb Herne Bay for two weeks – the same amount of time people are required to stay at MIQ facilities, if they’re lucky enough to get a spot – and submit to all testing requirements.

High-profile lawyer John Billington QC argued that his client would be more likely to catch Covid-19 if in an MIQ facility rather than following his own proposed plan. The Crown, however, argued that the biggest risk would be attending the board meeting in Boston. . .

Would the risk at the board meeting be very different from that of buying groceries or any of the other activities permitted in ‘pandemic-ravaged’ Auckland?

The government has made us fearful, boasting of the months of freedom we enjoyed while others were locked down last year, but unwilling to loosen control to enable us to enjoy some of the freedom those overseas have now.

As Russell Coutts says:

The fact is that people are living with Covid offshore and although some people, perhaps many, rightly remain cautious, life has largely returned to normal in many places. But that is not what we are being told here in New Zealand.

The erosion of our freedom of choice, freedom of speech and the loss of precious time with family and friends and all the other negative aspects of a lockdown should be balanced against the health risk of Covid. Imagine if we had invested the 1 billion plus spent each week on lockdowns on improving our health system, education or roading (we had 8 road deaths in NZ last weekend).

It seems totally insane that double vaccinated people are terrified of meeting unvaccinated people. Is that how it’s going to be for the rest of our lives? What about the people that have health issues and can’t get vaccinated? Are they going to be banished from society? (for the record I’m double vaccinated).

Finally the fact that the NZ government has now said that even if Auckland achieves 90% double vaccination that it’s people may likely still be restricted from traveling at Christmas seems like a total nonsense. (For those overseas people reading this, Auckland already has 93% first dose and 82% second dose vaccinated – the entire country has 87% first dose and 72% double dosed).

It’s also total nonsense and contradictory that double vaccinated people that have negative covid tests are being locked down for 14 days in MIQ whilst people with Covid are being allowed to self isolate in the community.

How New Zealand, a country where it’s people greatly valued freedom off choice…..how we even got to this stage of blindly accepting this sort of unilateral rule, power and dictatorship from our government is deeply troubling indeed.

 Fear was part of what got us here  – fear of the disease, fear of overwhelming the health system, fear of death.

As more of us get vaccinated, as many people with Covid-19 are at home rather than in MIQ or hospital, and with better treatments for the disease available, is that fear justified or has it become an overused  political weapon?


Let Me Get Home

26/10/2021

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier is launching a broad investigation into the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) booking system after receiving hundreds of complaints.

Mr Boshier says he has identified some common themes in about 200 complaints relating to the booking system.

Many of the complaints come from people who are having difficulties around the world obtaining vouchers for places in managed isolation or have concerns about the booking system overall.

“The complaints fit into four broad categories – they claim the allocation system is unlawful, unfit for purpose, unfair, and poorly managed. I have decided to do my own independent investigation into them all.”

“One of the specific complaints is that disabled people are being disadvantaged. I have concerns about whether the online booking system is accessible and whether suitable alternatives are being offered for those who have difficulty using this digital platform.”

Mr Boshier says he has notified the agency in charge of the booking system, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, of his intention to investigate.

“I want to give the public some assurance that the MIQ booking system is working as well as it should.”

“While I could investigate each of these complaints in turn, I don’t believe this is the most efficient way of addressing any underlying issues. That is why I am looking at them together.”

“When a new complaint comes in, my team will assess whether it should be addressed as part of this investigation or investigated and resolved individually.”

Mr Boshier will continue monitoring the wider MIQ system to identify any other interventions that may be needed.

He acknowledges the MIQ system was set up quickly in response to an immediate crisis.

“Border restrictions, along with managed isolation and quarantine facilities, are going to be a fact of life for some time to come.”

“I want to find out how MBIE is responding to these concerns and whether it has a robust plan in place for allocating places in the coming months and years. If there is not, I will recommend it makes improvements.” . . 

The current plan is anything but robust.

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders are stranded overseas, many of them are in desperate situations, all are frustrated by a system that is not fit for purpose.

That people with Covid-19 are being trusted to self-isolate at home when those who are fully vaccinated, have a negative test before they board a flight and when they land, are still have to join the MIQueue to get home and are then subject to 14 days in MIQ makes it worse.

 


Spot the contradiction

15/10/2021

The government is planning for quarantine hotels to be over-run with Covid cases:

People with Covid-19 will soon be asked to quarantine at home, rather than being ushered to a managed isolation facility.

Modelling suggests Covid-19 case numbers could overwhelm managed isolation spaces, with a worst case scenario model predicting 5200 cases per week, just in the Auckland and Northland regions alone.

That modelling is based on a 90 percent vaccination rate, which those regions have not met.

At even a fraction of those rates, quarantine hotels would be full to the brim. . . 

Spot the contradiction – people known to have Covid-19 will be isolating at home but fully vaccinated people arriving from overseas who have negative tests still have to spend 14 days in MIQ.

The government has got this the wrong way round.

It would be far safer for people who are double vaccinated and have a negative Covid test before they fly in and after they arrive to self-isolate at home than people known to be infected.

It would also take a lot of the pressure of MIQ hotels.

Either way self-isolating would be safe only for some people and some homes.

The people self-isolating would have to have others who could bring them food without making contact with them.

If there were others in the house, those self-isolating would have to be able to do so separately from everyone else.

That would require bedrooms with en suite bathrooms.

Before MIQ was instituted last year people coming from overseas were left to self-isolate on trust and many didn’t.

Unless there’s electronic monitoring of everyone self-isolating the risk of people not following the rules will be high.

Even if people do everything required, if would be far less risky if those self-isolating at home were people who were double vaccinated and with negative tests than if they had the disease.


MIQueue madness could cost lives

07/10/2021

This is MIQueue madness:

Southland Hospital’s maternity unit may be downgraded because its clinical director can’t get back into New Zealand.

Dr Jim Faherty, who runs the hospital’s Obstetrics and Gynaecology service, has been trying to return home to his family and his important job for a month, but can’t get a spot in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ).

He’s frustrated with the opaque, clunky and time-consuming emergency allocation process and is struggling to understand why the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment doesn’t recognise his role as critical.

This is despite a letter from the Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming explaining why the specialist surgeon is urgently needed back in Southland where maternity services are “precarious”. . . 

After losing his mum in March and being unable to attend her funeral in the United States, Faherty’s father was admitted to a US hospital in a serious condition in August, where he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and renal failure, with six months left to live.

Fleming wrote that the DHB discouraged staff from travelling, but given the emotional impact of Faherty’s situation, decided it was extremely important he be allowed to see his family in the US.

Faherty and management understood that he would be eligible for two of the emergency allocation categories outlined on the MIQ website – namely, the category related to delivering critical public or health and disability service and the one for New Zealand residents visiting terminal family members. . . 

How on earth can he not be eligible?

MIQ joint head Megan Main said the category Faherty applied under was only for people who were starting a new critical job in New Zealand.

All applications for emergency were assessed on a case by case basis, she said. . . 

Can she not see the stupidity of the first sentence and the contradiction of the second?

Assessing by a case by case basis shouldn’t be a tick box exercise matching the application against the criteria. It should look at the individual circumstances of the the applicants and consequences of refusing entry not just for the applicants but others who depend on them.

In this case it isn’t just the doctor and his family, it’s the staff and patients at the hospital who urgently need the doctor’s services.

This madness could cost lives.


Kindness to theirs not ours

30/09/2021

The litany of woes from people trying to cross Auckland’s boundaries grows by the day.

A Rotorua father faces the prospect of missing the birth of his triplets after his application for an exemption to get through Auckland’s southern border was denied.

The rejection letter leaves Kevin Acutt forced to pick earning a living for his family over one of the most significant moments of his life.

His wife Amber went into premature labour during the nationwide alert level 4 lockdown last month – just 23 weeks into her pregnancy – but staff at Waikato Hospital were able to put a stop to her contractions.

Since then, she’s been having regular scans at Auckland City Hospital’s maternal foetal medicine unit – and last Friday she was admitted there permanently as she requires close monitoring for abnormal umbilical cord flow.

Currently, the triplets are in a stable condition – but the couple have been advised it’s still a high-risk pregnancy, and things could change at any moment.

If one of them takes a turn for the worse, it’ll prompt an emergency procedure requiring swift removal of the babies, and likely the need to promptly resuscitate them. . . 

He is in Auckland with his wife but has to return to his job on Monday.

“We’ve fallen into a category that doesn’t really exist at the moment, because you can go to appointments as a support person, but our appointment has turned into a whole ‘however long she might be’,” he told Newshub. . . 

He’s asking the ministry to show humanity.

“What’s the point? What are we doing this whole COVID lockdown thing for? It’s for the people, it’s for humanity. But what’s the point, if we’re going to lose our humanity along the way?” he said.

“We’re stopping people from burying the dead, from witnessing the birth of new life. What’s the point of carrying on if we’re going to stop doing that?” . . .

It’s not only stopping people at the city boundary where humanity is lacking, there’s a growing problem at the border. Claire Trevett says MIQ is a debacle that has made mincemeat of the promise Kiwis could always come home:

If there was one thing Sir John Key was right about in his critique of the Government’s response to Covid-19, it was his assessment that the MIQ system has become a national embarrassment.

For all the successes in the Government’s handling of Covid-19, there have been failings and the ongoing bottleneck that is the MIQ system is one of them.

MIQ has been largely effective in one of its two core purposes: keeping Covid-19 out.

But its other core purpose was to let New Zealanders come in. The extent to which it is keeping New Zealanders out has now reached an inexcusable level.

It falls well short of the Jacinda Ardern’s promise that, no matter what else happened, New Zealanders would always be able to come back.

The latest draw for MIQ slots highlighted that in the process of trying to make the MIQ booking system fairer, it has done the opposite. It has also been very bad PR for the Government.

The new ‘virtual lobby’ system in which people are randomly selected for places in the queue for rooms makes it abundantly clear just how much the demand is outstripping the supply. . . 

MIQ has become an MIQueue that has left people stuck in other countries without jobs, without homes and with the threat of losing their pensions.

The Government’s response has partly consisted of blaming people for not returning earlier – for not coming, say, in June last year when there were vacancies in MIQ, or for not coming back from Australia when the bubble was open, or for going overseas at all.

That is not good enough. The Government showed it was capable of quick action when it ramped up the vaccines rollout after the Delta outbreak. But it has failed to deliver the same urgency on MIQ.

The delays and uncertainty have flow-on effects.

This week, it was pensioners overseas who were concerned they would not be able to get back within the 30 week window after which their pensions would be halted.

The Ministry of Social Development’s response bordered on heartless:

“Closure of the travel bubble with Australia, other flight limitations due to Covid and difficulty securing a spot in MIQ, were all reasonably foreseeable before departure for anyone who left New Zealand within the past 30 weeks.” . . 

The return of Covid-19 was more than reasonably forseeable, it was inevitable but the government was prepared for that.

Had it been, we’d have had a vaccine rollout not a strollout, testing and tracing would have been much faster and any lockdown would have been shorter, or possibly unnecessary.

The MIQ system was put together in a hurry because it had to be. It was a blunt instrument and it has also been effective. It was not expected then that it would be needed for so long.

But it has not evolved since then. In fact, it seems to have gotten worse – and the downstream consequences have compounded: it is not only New Zealanders trying to get in that are suffering.

It has caused backlogs in immigration and severe worker shortages in many sectors.

That was excusable for a while, but it has dragged on and on and things have hit pressure-cooker levels. . . 

It is no longer excusable. New Zealanders overseas have a right to come home and people here have a right to leave the country without the fear they won’t be able to come back.

Remember the tongue lashing Jacinda Ardern gave Scott Morrison about the way Australia treated illegal immigrants?

She was demanding he show kindness to the people who had become their problem but she, her government and bureaucrats are showing none to our own people.


Cruel to keep so many out

21/09/2021

The enormous gap between demand from New Zealanders wanting to come home and MIQ spaces was revealed with the new booking system yesterday:

With the unveiling of the MIQ virtual lobby booking system this morning, Kiwis trying to get home are starting to wonder if they ever actually will

A few weeks ago, the announcement of a virtual lobby and queue system coming to the MIQ booking system got hopes up worldwide – from migrants trying to get to their new lives in New Zealand, and Kiwis trying to get home.

But this morning as the virtual lobby opened and sorted people randomly into a queue, it was soon realised that getting one’s hands on a room is still more easily said than done, with a group the size of Timaru also at the lolly scramble.

MIQ released 3000 rooms this morning, but with the queue reaching up to more than 27,000 people, it seems nine in 10 can expect to walk away disappointed.

That’s more than the combined populations of Oamaru and Wanaka who are either shut out of their homeland or can’t leave, even for pressing personal or business reasons, because they won’t be able to come back.

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins told people last week they could expect next batches to be 4000 rooms.

However, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment cautioned that because many rooms had already been allocated before the recent pause and facilities may need maintenance, the timing and size of future releases is still being worked on. . . 

It’s cruel to keep so many people out and some people don’t just want to come home, they need to come home.

This morning’s debut of the new ‘virtual lobby’ system for MIQ allocation was both depressing and a debacle, National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“The virtual lobby system used for the first time this morning solves nothing and has just created even more angst amongst the thousands of Kiwis trying to come home.

“What is needed is a prioritisation system based on points, as proposed by the National Party.

“How is it fair that someone sleeping in a car overseas with an expired visa is treated the same as someone who wants to come home to New Zealand for a holiday at Christmas time?

“There are Kiwis stuck offshore who aren’t legally allowed to be in the country they’re currently in, but who can’t get home to New Zealand. This is an awful situation and one entirely of the Government’s own creation.

“There are people trying to move back to New Zealand permanently with skills and experiences gained overseas treated the same as someone who is just coming for a short period.

“New Zealand should welcome back expats who have typically headed off on an Overseas Experience and who have developed their skills and gained valuable offshore experience.

“When we have a health workforce shortage, why do we treat nurses and doctors the same as other occupations when granting space? It doesn’t make sense. We should be rigorously targeting health sector skills.

“Let’s be clear – there are many good reasons for people to want to come to New Zealand through MIQ, but we need to be realistic. Some reasons have more merit than others, but the system treats everyone the same. . . 

There are emergency spaces but sports people, entertainers and politicians and their entourage get those spots ahead of people desperate to return home:

If James Shaw was giving consolation gifts to Kiwis desperately trying to get home this Christmas he’d likely give them a lump of coal, having confirmed he plans to take 14 staff with him to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, National’s Climate Change spokesperson Stuart Smith says.

“In answers to our written questions, Minister Shaw has confirmed he intends to take an entourage of 14 people with him to Glasgow – nine from Wellington and a further five from offshore.

“At a time when thousands of Kiwis are unable to get into New Zealand thanks to our chaotic and unfair MIQ system, James Shaw feels he needs an even bigger entourage this time around than the one he took to COP25 in 2019.

“It is astonishing that the Minister is going to COP26 in the first place, let alone taking up 10 MIQ spots for himself and his onshore staffers when they return. . . 

“We have heard countless stories of New Zealanders wanting to come home but who are locked out because they can’t get MIQ spots.

“But that won’t be an issue for Minister Shaw and his entourage – they’ll be home in time Christmas with their families.”

A points system would help prioritise applicants, but it wouldn’t solve the underlying problem of demand for MIQ spaces outstripping supply so badly.

More MIQ facilities are needed – preferably purpose built and away from the centre of Auckland.

Planning and building them would take many months but there is a much simpler and less expensive option that could start immediately.

It would be possible to reduce demand for the scarce spaces by allowing some people to by-pass MIQ.

Friends in the USA were able to travel out of the country and return provided they were fully vaccinated, had a negative test before flying, and self-isolated at home on their return with electronic monitoring to ensure they stayed put.

The government could start a similar system with business travellers, who, as Sir Ian Taylor pointed out know how to keep their people safe:

What we have learned from our experience over the past year and a half is that businesses have a huge interest in keeping their people safe from Covid and they can do it faster than governments because they aren’t having to look after entire countries.

We are only ever sending small numbers away at any time. The 250 staff company I mentioned earlier has a maximum of eight people who ever have to travel abroad. It’s not an Olympic team. . . 

So, “what if” businesses didn’t need to take up MIQ spaces. “What if” businesses could apply existing technologies and protocols that would guarantee that none of their teams would have Covid when they returned to Aotearoa from their essential overseas travels.

For the upcoming Ashes Series we have half a dozen fully vaccinated staff who will travel to Australia and work in mandated bubbles.

They will operate in public at our level 3 and be antigen tested every day. If they ever test positive they will be isolated immediately but, in a year and a half, that has never happened to any of our Kiwi crew offshore.

Three days before they leave Australia to return home they will go into isolation in an approved hotel, or self-isolation location, paid for by us. There they will be tested each day, including the day they fly.

On return to New Zealand they will be booked into an approved hotel or self-managed isolation location, again booked and paid for by us, where they will remain for three to five days, again being tested every day before returning to work. We have built our own tracking app which will be used for audit purposes.

Variations of this model could be used by any company needing to plan overseas travel with certainty.

Do we really need to do another trial when there are already models in play? Why can’t we come off the bench and just make this happen? It’s working now. . .

No there doesn’t need to be another trial.

What is needed is for the government to get over its control freakery, realise that it and its bureaucrats don’t always know best and open its mind to other ways of allowing New Zealanders to come home safely.


How did we get from short & sharp to longest lockdown?

15/09/2021

The lockdown was supposed to be short and sharp, Chris Bishop explains why it’s turned into the longest:

Yesterday the Level 4 lockdown in Auckland was extended for another week. The Prime Minister said on August 17 it would be “short and sharp” but after another week, it will be the longest lockdown yet in our battle against COVID-19.

(Note from Chris: Here is an opinion piece which I pitched to Stuff and the NZ Herald. Neither decided it was worth publishing. At a time when the PM commands the airwaves on a daily basis at 1pm, it’s important for the National Opposition voice to be heard and for constructive criticism of the government.)

Lockdowns are incredibly expensive: it has been estimated a countrywide Level 4 lockdown costs the economy around $1.5 billion per week. That’s before you count the social cost: kids not at school, families split apart, the mental health impacts of being cooped up at home for days on end. I think almost everyone thinks we should be doing all we can to avoid them.

Sadly, it’s become clear in the government’s response to the recent delta outbreak that while Kiwis have done all they’ve been asked to do – the government hasn’t been playing its part. The “team of five million” has been let down.

Two things have become clear. First, we had no alternative but to lockdown because of our woefully low vaccination rates. Second, despite claims to the contrary, the government had done very little planning at all around how to respond to a further outbreak, particularly of delta, since the first COVID lockdown last year.

It gives me no pleasure as the Opposition spokesperson for COVID-19 to say that New Zealand’s vaccination rates, by world standards, are hopeless. For most of this year we had the world’s slowest vaccine roll-out. Chris Hipkins said at the end of 2020 we would be “at the front of the queue” but the reality is we are at the back of the pack. This is not the “year of the vaccine” we were promised by the Prime Minister.

The vaccines are safe, they work, and the data is very clear: the higher our vaccination rates, the less need there is of lockdowns. Every single person that goes and gets vaccinated brings us closer to freedom: freedom from lockdowns, and freedom to travel. That’s why the government’s ineptitude over vaccine supply matters. The government simply failed in its most important job: to get a supply of vaccines as early as possible and make sure as many people were vaccinated as possible as early as possible.

The government’s incompetence is astonishing. We were one of the last developed countries to sign contracts with vaccine manufacturers in 2020. We were then slow to approve the Pfizer vaccine. Hundreds of millions of jabs had been given by the time we approved it. We were then slow to actually order our doses, not doing it until January 29 this year. And we didn’t even bother to ask Pfizer if we could pay more to get earlier delivery of the vaccines, as other countries did. Compare the cost of paying a bit more to the cost of lockdowns, and do the maths. It’s a no brainer.

Incredibly, the government has claimed at various points it would be “unethical” or immoral to have a faster vaccine roll-out, because other countries need the vaccines more than we do. Leaving aside the internal inconsistency in this argument (other countries need them now too, but you don’t see the government giving ours up do you?), the New Zealand government’s first responsibility is to the people of New Zealand – and that means rolling out the vaccine as quick as they could. They failed.

The second failure by the government is their failure to plan for delta. The Prime Minister claimed on television this morning that delta only emerged in MIQ in June. That is completely incorrect. The first case of delta turned up in early April in MIQ and it has been raging across the world for most of this year. The government has sat ensconced behind the barriers of Fortress New Zealand and smugly looked at Australia, but they weren’t doing the work behind the scenes to prepare for when delta turned up here.

A smart government would have done an audit of all our MIQ facilities in light of delta to make sure infection control practices were up to scratch. Instead, a public walkway was allowed to share the same air as an exercise yard at the Crowne Plaza in Auckland and there was a vaccination centre right next to the Crowne Plaza. COVID positive people are still allowed to exercise in an underground car park in Wellington. Only now is the government reviewing MIQ facilities in light of delta.

A smart government would have had a plan in place for more quarantine facilities beyond the Jet Park. Instead the government had to scramble to get more quarantine facilities going like the Novotel Ellerslie – and then a COVID positive man escaped from it, putting us all at risk. It has taken over 24 hours to move many people from the community into quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, because the coordination plan between health officials and MIQ wasn’t in place.

Some of our current problems date back to the response to the first outbreak last year. Contract tracing has been an ever-present issue. There have been four expert reviews of contact tracing since April 2020. All have found it wanting but little has been done by the government. In this outbreak, it took six days for the government to second public servants from other departments to start contract tracing. By its own admission the government will fail to meet the contact tracing target metrics designed by Dr Ayesha Verrall, ironically enough now Associate Minister of Health. In this latest outbreak there are still 5000 contacts who have not even had a single phone call from a contact tracer!

A smart government would have had a plan in place around testing. Other countries use saliva tests and rapid antigen tests that return results in 15 minutes. Speed of testing with delta is critical, because the virus moves so far. But the government insists on using expensive and time consuming nasal PCR tests as our main testing technique. The result has been people who are told to get tested waiting 10-12 hours for a test or giving up and going home – or even worse, not even bothering. We should be using saliva testing much more widely – recommended to the government a year ago – as well as rapid antigen tests. Incredibly, these tests are banned in New Zealand.

There’s more I could mention. The failure to use Bluetooth tracing even though we’ve all been told for months to turn it on. The refusal to build purpose-built quarantine. The lack of preparation in our hospitals for a delta outbreak – no new ICU bed spaces have been provisioned over the five months.

The government borrowed $62 billion last year on the COVID Response Fund.  Did they spend this on contact tracing, testing capacity, and extra ICU capacity? That would have been sensible. Instead it was used as a slush fund. Instead the fund was spent on art therapy clinics, cameras on fishing boats, horse racing, public interest journalism, and school lunches. Yes, I’m serious.

Auckland is in lockdown – again – because the government failed to vaccinate quickly enough and the government failed to plan for delta.

A lot of people have found this lockdown harder, one reason for that is that it’s due in large part to government failures. Like Andrea Vance, we know the failings that let Delta loose were foreseeable.

The government didn’t implement recommendations of multiple reports they commissioned, they didn’t plan for Delta, they didn’t learn from mistakes and the fear is they still haven’t.


Not wanted in the team?

13/09/2021

The current North and South puts faces to the plight of New Zealanders who are desperate to come home but can’t get a space in MIQ.

There’s a saturation diver stuck in Scotland; a woman whose mother in the USA has cancer who wants to be with her but can’t until she knows she’ll be able to come back to her own children; a man who lost his job in Dubai and is about to lose his visa as a consequence which will make his presence there illegal; a woman with cancer who fears she might never meet her baby granddaughter who is in Canada; a man who can’t get back from the USA to visit his seriously ill father; a businessman who will be forced to move his business to the USA if he can’t come and go from here to look after customers; and an aid worker whose father and mother have cancer.

These are just a few of the million New Zealanders overseas around a third of whom are reputed to want, or need, to come home and can’t.

Then there are the people working here, with skills we need, whose families have been able to join them for more than a year.

And there are the employers desperate for workers who can’t find New Zealanders and can’t get anyone from overseas.

That the government is sending a very clear message that it doesn’t want immigrants is bad, that it won’t do something about all the New Zealanders who are stranded overseas is even worse.

It keep reminding us to play our part and be kind as a team of five million. It is being anything but kind to the other million for whom the door is shut.

 


Rural round-up

05/09/2021

MIQ freeze adds to staff woes – Gerald Piddock:

The Government’s decision to freeze managed isolation (MIQ) bookings has furthered the frustration of short-staffed dairy farmers desperate for more workers, DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says.

The freeze means a further delay for farmers getting migrant staff into New Zealand granted under the exemption for 200 foreign dairy workers announced earlier this year. The industry estimates it is short of at least 2000 staff.

Mackle says it was unlikely these staff would be now cleared of MIQ before the new year. Any people who are brought in to work in the dairy industry will now be targeted for next season.

“This pause, this further delay is going to push that out even further,” Mackle said. . . 

Red meat and co-products exports reach $870 million :

New Zealand exported red meat and co-products worth $870 million during July 2021 – marking a 29% increase year-on-year, according to analysis from the Meat Industry Association (MIA).

More than 25,300 tonnes of sheepmeat and almost 50,000 tonnes of beef were exported with increases in the value of exports to all major North American and Asian markets.

This included a 1,425% increase in beef exports to Thailand compared to July 2020. Thailand was New Zealand’s tenth largest market for beef by volume during the month, at 347 tonnes.

MIA chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says the main reason for the growth in exports to Thailand was the removal of beef safeguards that were put in place when the NZ-Thailand Closer Economic Partnership (CEP) was negotiated 15 years ago. . . 

A stirring idea – Samantha Tennent:

Keeping colostrum stirred was a challenge for a Southland calf rearer until he came with an innovative idea.

Frustrated after running around with a drill and paint stirrer trying to stop stored colostrum from separating, Rex Affleck was looking for an easier solution. He found a pricey food industry mixer in Europe, but the paddle was tiny and the revs were too quick so he started thinking about what he really needed.

“I found a supplier in China that made engine gearboxes and they agreed to sell me a sample,” Affleck explains.

“Two turned up on my doorstep but I didn’t know what to do next. So, I started thinking and mucking around with bits of cardboard and worked out how it could sit on top of a pod, but the next issue was the paddles.” . . 

FMG Young Farmer of the Year kicks off for season 54:

The coveted FMG Young Farmer of the Year 2022 contest will be kicking off with a roar on the 9th of October 2021 for season 54’s first qualifying rounds.

This year, all New Zealand Young Farmers (NZYF) Club members are being challenged to enter to support their region’s volunteers, have a bit of fun and show their fellow Club members what they’re made of.

16 district contests will be held across the country over October and November to select eight of the best competitors in each of NZYF’s seven regions.

Seven Regional Finals will be held early next year, where the winner from each will proceed to the Grand Final to battle it out for the 2022 FMG Young Farmer of the Year title in Whangarei, in July. . . 

Totara Estate stonework repairs underway:

At Totara Estate and Clark’s Mill in Ōamaru, Allan Ward is the man behind the stonework, who keeps the buildings in good trim. He is currently working at Totara Estate repairing and replacing cracked and damaged limestone in the old men’s quarters.

Allan began working with stone aged 15, during his apprenticeship with Dunhouse Quarry, United Kingdom in the 1960s. He worked in the Orkney Islands, Germany, Canada and Scotland before emigrating to New Zealand in 1995.  

Allan notes that with stonework very little has changed in the tools or the techniques for centuries. “A craftsman who worked on the great cathedrals in Europe could walk onto a job now and the tools would be virtually the same,” he says.

Allan has a long history of keeping Totara Estate and Clark’s Mill in good repair. He repointed all of the Totara Estate buildings with traditional lime mortar in 2012 and gives Smokey Joes a traditional whitewash regularly. This year he repaired a stone garden wall at Clark’s Mill following the January floods. . . 

Growing push for national pet food laws – Chris McLennan:

Calls have intensified for Australia’s pet food industry to be regulated.

There are claims locally produced pet food has become a dumping ground for unwanted or suspect meats.

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has joined the campaign sparked by the death of more than 20 Victorian dogs who died after being fed toxic horse meat.

Australia’s vets have already teamed up with the RSPCA to push for action to regulate the industry. . . 


There’s a better way

03/09/2021

You’ve got a good job and you’re settled where you are but it’s thousands of kilometres away from your family.

You’ve done your budgeting, you can afford to pay for flights and MIQ, and you’ve got enough holidays due to have enough time in New Zealand after you’ve done those two weeks.

It’s been more than two years since you’ve been home. Your grandparents are elderly and you know if you don’t get back this summer you might not ever see them again.

You can’t call the trip urgent as it is for so many others, strictly speaking it’s a holiday but are you going to do as Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins asks and let those whose need for MIQ space is far more pressing?

Perhaps some will, but some won’t and people like the family who took their young son to Houston for cancer treatment, the woman whose own health and that of her unborn baby are at risk, and many others whose needs anyone with a heart would consider worthy of emergency spaces in MIQ will have to rely on luck.

There is a better way:

It’s clear Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) is going to be with us for some time, so it’s past time we fixed the festering issues with our current system. National is proposing five sensible improvements to the beleaguered Managed Isolation Allocation System.

“New Zealanders overseas trying to come home are increasingly fed up with the operation of MIQ,” Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says

“Unhappiness is widespread and about the only people prepared to defend the system are those who designed it, those who administer it, and the Government.

“More than 15,000 Kiwis abroad have signed a petition to make changes to the inequitable MIQ allocation but the Government has done nothing.”

National is proposing five sensible changes to improve MIQ:

  1. A ban on bots and third party providers
  2. A new prioritisation system to allocate space (a ‘points system’)
  3. The introduction of a waiting list
  4. Transparency over room release dates
  5. The introduction of a Kiwi Expat Advisory Group

“The underlying problem of MIQ is that demand generally massively exceeds the number of spaces in any given period,” Ms Collins says.

“At the moment, with the exception of a 10 per cent quota for critical workers, some contingency rooms, and a very limited number of emergency allocations, spaces in MIQ are simply allocated on a ‘first-in, first-served’ basis.

“Third party booking websites have sprung up, charging people thousands of dollars to secure a room in MIQ, and incredibly this practice is even officially sanctioned by government officials. There is also a strong suspicion that ‘bots’ and other automated booking mechanisms are being used despite MIQ officials saying that has been stopped.

“We need an immediate no tolerance policy on the use of bots and third party providers accessing the MIQ system,” Ms Collins says.

National is proposing that the ‘first-in, first-served’ basis for MIQ should be changed to a prioritisation system based on points, similar to the way in which skilled migrants are assessed for eligibility for New Zealand.

National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says at the moment the MIQ system makes little judgement about the motivations for people coming to New Zealand.

“Everyone is treated the same, and while that has superficial appeal it ultimately leads to unfair outcomes for many people.

“We believe people coming home to farewell dying family members or for urgent medical treatment should not be treated the same as people coming to New Zealand for a holiday. Likewise, Kiwis returning home to live permanently should be prioritised over people returning home for short periods of time.

“We need to be upfront about the fact that there will generally always be a shortage of space in MIQ, and we should therefore be clearer as a country about who should be prioritised for valuable MIQ space over others.

“The system should assign points to particular categories of people who could then be allocated guaranteed spaces in MIQ for a period of time once they meet the threshold for points set by the Government.”

As a starting point, the following groups of people should receive a higher number of points, meaning they get preferential treatment into MIQ:

    • Those coming to New Zealand to visit sick or dying family members or for urgent medical treatment. This would essentially be an expansion of the existing emergency allocation, which is currently too narrow.
    • People coming to New Zealand to fill skill shortages. This could and should include split migrant families who the Government has callously disregarded.

That would not only be humane, it could also help retain people whose skills we need but who will leave if their families can’t join them.

“Alongside the introduction of a points system, the Government should also introduce a waiting list for spaces, so that the system is not purely based on luck and chance.

“There needs to be greater transparency over when rooms will be released, so people can plan with more certainty. Similar to when tickets go on sale for concerts, the time and date of released rooms should be well signalled in advance.

“Finally, National is proposing the establishment of an Expat Advisory Group that MIQ is required to consult with about the overall MIQ system.

“Many of the problems in the last year have festered for some time, and many were foreseeable. The system has not been designed in a user-friendly way and ongoing consultation with expats abroad would be a valuable thing.

“New Zealanders overseas and here at home have spent more than a year dealing with a broken MIQ system. Unlike the Government, National has come up with a plan to change that.”

Another improvement would be purpose built MIQ facilities, away from the centre of cities, where people could exercise safely without risking exposure to, or spreading of, disease. That would be both safer and more pleasant for people who have to use them and the buildings could be moved or re-purposed in the future if, or when, MIQ is no longer needed.

Hotels were only just alright when the need  find somewhere to quarantine people was urgent. They are not an acceptable longer term solution to the problem that will be with us for years.

When most people in New Zealand are vaccinated some arrivals who are also vaccinated and come from countries where Covid isn’t rife, might be able to self-isolate. That will be many months away and there will still be a need for MIQ for people who pose a higher risk for a lot longer, certainly long enough to make purpose-built facilities a far better option than the temporary solution of central city hotels.

They could also provide space for a lot more people, reducing, and possibly ending, the frustration and heartbreak that people now face dealing with a system that can’t cope with the demand.

Oh and purpose built facilities would also have sufficiently tight security that no-one in isolation could escape and roam around in public for 12 hours.


There are better ways to run MIQ

16/08/2021

The government’s be kind mantra doesn’t extend to MIQ:

A Napier father caring for his sick 11-year-old in the US says they’ll swim home if that’s what it takes after being declined an emergency MIQ spot.

It comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received an open letter on behalf of almost 2000 Kiwis abroad calling for immediate and urgent changes to the MIQ system.

Maddox Preston was just nine when he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. He’s had four brain surgeries and two rounds of chemo in New Zealand but the tumour keeps coming back.

“The prognosis wasn’t good but hey we gotta keep fighting,” his father Chad Preston says.

That fight led Maddox, now 11, and his family to fly to the US city of Houston six weeks ago so he could undergo potentially lifesaving treatment.

Now they’re stuck there, unable to get a spot in managed isolation.

Their application for an emergency MIQ spot was bolstered by letters from doctors in the US and from Starship Hospital, yet it’s been declined.

“We’re not asking for any special treatment or anything like that, we just want to come home and continue to care for our son,” Chad says. . . 

If a child who had to go overseas for cancer treatment doesn’t qualify for an emergency spot in MIQ who does? And why when so many New Zealanders can’t come home are their exemptions approved?

. . . Although the names of those famous MIQ-wranglers the Wiggles, America’s Cup crews, actors, nannies and tribute bands have been well publicised, more recent events and programmes approved by ministers are less well-known.

On top of these pressures, public health advice on separating returnees is expected to lead to a 15% fall in supply.

Documents obtained by RNZ show overseas participants in a mountain bike festival are the latest group to be approved for places in managed isolation.

The Government has approved 70

foreign athletes and staff who will attend November’s Crankworx event in Rotorua for MIQ places.

Also on the approved list were 60 international competitors, staff and media taking part in the Winter Games starting in Queenstown and Wanaka at the end of this month. . . 

Day by day the list of New Zealanders who can’t come home and problems trying to get MIQ spots grows. The system is not fit for purpose  and there are better ways to manage applications including this one from Heather Roy:

New Zealand’s MIQ (Managed Isolation and Quarantine) is a shambles and I have a solution to propose.  Hand MIQ over to the airlines.

Imagine this. You are a New Zealand citizen or resident and want to come home. Perhaps because there is an emergency situation in your family or a loved one has died. Maybe it’s just time to return while the pandemic continues to ravage the world. You go to the airline website and book a flight AND an MIQ place at the same time. It’s a package deal. (BOOM, done! as my kids would say). A utopian dream or could this really be possible?

The reality is far from the scenario just described. For those who haven’t had to walk the MIQ booking tightrope it goes something like this. Travellers need to decide whether to book a flight first or book an MIQ slot. Neither is of any use without the other so there’s a chicken and egg dilemma. MIQ places are much harder to get than flights so most travellers book several places on the MIQ website with the intention of cancelling those not needed later. Then the search for a flight begins – travellers need to find one that arrives on the same date matching an MIQ booking arrival. This can take hours online. MBIE isn’t sympathetic to the matching problem, merely commenting new dates are released frequently. True, but irrelevant as new booking dates are often snapped up in seconds. Those not lucky enough to be online at the right moment miss out. It’s not uncommon for the website to crash and travellers can be penalised for booking too many MIQ places. One woman told me she had been banned from the website for a period because she had booked too many slots while she searched for a flight, unable to find any that landed on the same day as places she had reserved. In short it is a very bad video game of ‘Speed Dating Roulette’.

Daily there are heart-wrenching stories of kiwis unable to book MIQ places despite heroic efforts to do so. Many New Zealanders abroad feel they have been abandoned with an MIQ booking system that is broken, is fully booked for months ahead and when limited spaces do become available these are taken in seconds. A very frustrated group of kiwis living overseas launched The Grounded Kiwis Petition  a few days ago.  . . 

Last week we got a peek into how the future of travel might be which could include short MIQ stays and self-isolation for people who are fully vaccinated and have been to countries where the risk of contracting Covid-19 is low.

Those on the green list won’t be numerous which will still leave many thousands of New Zealanders trying to get home.

The swift and deadly spread of the Delta variant has put paid to ideas that life will get back to normal quickly. Medical researchers are now suggesting it could be several years before we’re able to travel freely again.

That requires more MIQ facilities, preferably at lest some purpose-built, and a much better and fairer booking system for MIQ.

It also requires those who hold sway over emergency applications to extend kindness to people like Maddox and his family.


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