Yesterday was DAY 44 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.
This has been a highly contentious week for the Government as a number of legal and procedural challenges to how it is handling the COVID19 emergency have come out. There are two particular issues that I want to mention in this article:
- A challenge to the legality of the LEVEL 3 and LEVEL 4 lock down is underway
- The Government, following a trend set several Governments ago – and which has been going on for at least my entire adult life – has done a massive document dump to distract New Zealanders
Many New Zealanders – but certainly NOT all – probably do not care too much at the moment about the perceived illegality of LEVEL 3 and LEVEL 4 lock down. They are just grateful that the Government has taken firm and decisive action to minimize COVID19.
But certainly not all New Zealanders are in that category. Nor should people be. If the lock downs were illegal, then that points to failings by the Clark, Key/English and now the Ardern Government to make sure that the legal grounds were proverbially rock solid. I doubt though that one could justify some of the suggestions that have been made by the most aggressive right-wing commentators, including sending the Prime Minister to trial. But there would be an absolutely expectation that the Government would make appropriate amendments to legislation to ensure that this cannot happen again.
My concerns in this case stem from a grubby tactic that successive Governments have used and which seems to be finding rare consensus across the political spectrum when it comes to condemnation of it. I am talking about the habit of massive document dumps on Friday afternoon’s where, perhaps under pressure as it has been this week, or because they think no one will be paying attention as they look forward to the weekend – or hoping that if anyone IS paying attention, that they’ve forgotten by Monday why they were grumpy on Friday. It is not new. The fifth Labour Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark did it. The fifth National Government of Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English did it. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Government is just the latest.
Because of the latest use of this tactic, I wonder if a Cabinet Manual update is needed to provide guidance on how and when the Government should release documents in the manner that it tends to. I certainly believe it to be a questionable tactic and New Zealand political commentators across the spectrum seem to think that it should be frowned upon.
More critically it reinforces in my mind why New Zealanders need to be taught civics in high school. I personally see no reason why it cannot be taught. People might say “oh, but you are teaching politics”, to which I reply, how do they expect to learn about the political and legal systems if they are not properly taught?