52nd Parliament of New Zealand ends

It is over. The 52nd New Zealand Parliament formally ended yesterday. In a Parliamentary term that has had volcanic eruption, a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a colossal National Party melt down and a cocktail of scandals showing the worst of “Parliamentarians behaving badly”, the headline makers have had a field day. We have seen some good policy, some bad policy; good ministerial work (Kris Faafoi in Civil Defence) and bad ministerial work (David Clark). But as we head into the election campaign period, both National and Labour are chilling on policy.

This sudden chill on policy bothers me. Maybe both parties are stalling for time because they have been so wrapped up in COVID19 issues that they simply have not gotten around to thinking about decent policy – there have been suggestions by the conspiracy theorists that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern might postpone or even cancel the election on COVID19 related grounds. These are clearly whack ideas from people with either little clue on how democracy works, or perhaps more sinisterly, they want to spread disinformation to invoke fear in the public.

Our constitutional laws require that we hold an election in 2020. There is no reason for the Government not to. Every Government wants to say that it won the election fair and square. Right now the election is Labour’s to lose. Cruising in the polls with Ms Ardern being the most popular Labour Prime Minister in modern times, they have every reason to want to have the election. So, where is the policy? Or are you suggesting we take up Bryce Edwards idea of postponing the election?

In the case of National the complete lack of decent policy can be in part traced to the party’s massive meltdown. Roads, roading, and more roads seem to be the only coherent policy that National have at the moment, which is bad news for a party wanting to spend only one term on the Opposition benches. One might have thought that even if it is a relatively typical National Party policy something might have been said about justice, defence, education, health, conservation and so forth. But as yet other than leader Judith Collins attacking Labour for having little policy, the silence is notable.

Labour are less explicable. With an election to lose I honestly thought they would be talking about a Labour legacy based on a mandate that they might not have again for 25-30 years. In building that legacy I thought comprehensive policy changes in at least one or more of the following areas might be on the way: social welfare, health, education, justice, and so forth.

I am sure many New Zealanders will have noted Ms Ardern’s comments about not expecting much big policy with some surprise and perhaps a bit of confusion. The dissertation by Thomas Coughlan on this matter a couple of days ago was comprehensive and should be pause for thought among all New Zealanders. Elections are meant to be as Mr Coughlan notes, a contest of ideas. They are not meant to be the partisan bitching contests that the recent ones have devolved into. The faster both parties realize this and start putting out some decent policy for me to debate with mates over beers in the coming weeks, the better.

National has no big ideas; Labour says not to expect big ideas

National are bereft of ideas. Labour are saying not to expect big ideas. So, then what is the 2020 General Election going to be about then?

That is it. That is the article for today.

Your assignment – should you take it up – is to tell what THREE (3) policies you want to see passed.

Why I trust our COVID19 plan more than I trust the Opposition

A few days ago National Member of Parliament, Michael Woodhouse made a stunning allegation. A homeless man had apparently talked his way past security and into a hotel in Auckland where COVID19 quarantine patients were being held. Who was he; why was he there?

The Government launched an investigation because such allegations are not to be trifled with. In making the allegations, National was alleging that there had been a significant breach of the containment facility that the hotel had been converted into; that the Government had no idea where a potential super spreader who could have gone on to infect hundreds of people had gone.

Except that there is a problem. There is no way of verifying it and Mr Woodhouse has not provided additional evidence.

National are plain desperate. It is a significant allegation to make, and I am not the first to do so, but it seems to me that National actually want the COVID19 pandemic to come back to New Zealand because that would give their claim that the Government does not know what it is doing, credence.

Despite having heard of some silly stuff in New Zealand politics, I find the idea that a political party could want a pandemic for their own ends quite unbelievable. Wanting a pandemic that might be only weeks away from overwhelming the United States medical system to come back and start raising merry hell here, just so National can get back into power. And yet, that is precisely what other commentators, not able to really believe their own eyes and ears are seeing and hearing too.

All this does is give me confidence that New Zealand is for the very most part on the right track in dealing with COVID19. Right across the emergency from when New Zealand realized it was going to have to enact measures unseen in this country before, through to today, the communications between the Government and the people have been outstanding. At all levels of society – from video updates aimed at children to the daily 1300 hour briefings for other parts of

Sure we are having new cases announced daily, but New Zealand was told quite clearly to expect an eventual second wave. Whether this is the star of that new wave, I do not know but that is mute. My point is the Government understood in its contingency planning that when the restrictions are lifted and people become mobile again we would probably see a spike in cases.

In terms of the people who have come through the border and gone on without appropriate checking, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield gave instructions in good faith. As such they had every reason like the rest of New Zealand to expect that those instructions would be duly implemented. And that anger displayed by the Prime Minister last week was not for show – it was an actual reaction to someone not doing a completely essential job and potentially letting down the entire country. My guess is that someone in middle management either made a bad judgement or was someone who thought that they knew better and exceeded the authority delegated to them. And if this is the case, middle management is an internal matter for the appropriate ministry or department and not something the Director General or the Prime Minister need to know about.

It was a good call getting the military to become involved in quarantine management as their logistical system, chain of command and resources has a clarity and structure sometimes missing in civilian organizations.

Do I have concerns? Yes. And so should everyone else, because COVID19 is anything but finished. It is incomparably more dangerous than the “minor flu” that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro insists; the epidemiologists and all those other people working in the medical sector are far more in tune than the politicians seek to undermine each other on the subject of COVID19. New Zealand might be doing well, but as a small nation, we have to be honest that our economic ability to fight a major COVID19 resurgence is limited; that our I.C.U. capacity is not great (and never has been) and that no one really knows when a vaccine will be ready – never mind available in quantities that means New Zealand and our Pasifika neighbours get a fair use of it.

So, why do I have confidence if I have concerns? The answer is simple. Because the Prime Minister and the Government have put their trust in the medical profession who are dealing with the crisis. They are not trying to play down the danger at all and know that a move back up to Level 2, 3 or – heaven forbid! – 4, would be horrendous for everyone. The social cost would, like the economic cost, be something few would want to contemplate.


A stark contrast between the United States and New Zealand in war on COVID19

Yesterday a truly disturbing announcement was made about COVID19. Whereas the first 1 million cases world wide had taken 3 months to reach, the most recent million new cases took a mere 8 days. 125,000 cases or the equivalent of the entire population of Otago every day coming down with COVID19. And as we ramp up our efforts to keep the border secure, the contrast in handling the emergency between the country much of the West looks to for leadership and a country of two moderate size islands and a host of smaller ones 11,000 kilometres away, is becoming ever more stark.

New Zealand has made a few mistakes. We should have never allowed people in on compassionate grounds. From Day 1 we should have sent everyone to quarantine without exception. The Police should have gone in hard after a few days grace and done away with warnings and education.

I know there is a whole lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda in there, but if you look at earlier articles, you would see that I have acknowledged the mistakes. You will see that New Zealand has been – and I cannot say this with enough emphasis – very lucky to have had both the Opposition and the Government largely on the same page. For election year reasons as well as holding the Government to account, there have been obvious disagreements. When we look at how the Opposition and Government have worked or not worked together in other countries only then do we realize that for all their many faults, there are worse things than National and A.C.T. in politics.

But New Zealand has done very well to control COVID19 to the extent that we have. It has been a combination of circumstances and a brilliant response. New Zealand’s geographical location, so often the curse of the country in terms of our relevance to the rest of the world has paid rich dividends in this instance. Contrast that with Canada which has the United States on its border; France with Spain; India with Pakistan. The response, which was in the history of New Zealand, unprecedented, planning, announcing and implementing a complete national shutdown with the speed that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did was always going to catch some people out; was always going to have a couple of teething issues simply because so much had to happen so quickly, adequate planning simply was not possible for everything. Much of the desperate politicking by National and A.C.T. at the moment has nothing to do with COVID19 and is simply about the General Election on 19 September.

Before people say “the United States is much bigger than New Zealand, so more cases and fatalities should be expected”, yes that is true. But not on the disproportionate scale that the United States now finds itself in. The United States has 66x New Zealand’s population of 5 million people, but it also has vastly greater resources available to it, both in terms of Federal Government finances, equipment, personnel and so forth as well as an immense bank of knowledge to draw upon.

If the United States had some how managed to keep its cases strictly proportionate to New Zealand, prior to our case numbers starting to climb last week, the key equations would have been:

  • 1504 (N.Z. total cases) x 66 = 99,264 cases
  • 22 (N.Z. total deaths) x 66 = 1,452 deaths

If we were pragmatic we would acknowledge the social, geographic, economic disparities across the United States and the fact that a vastly larger population would bring individuals with a vastly greater range of medical conditions. On that basis, for arguments sake, one might then make a 3-4 fold allowance cases and deaths. But even that, horrible as the statistics are – and remembering EVERY life lost is a tragedy for a family somewhere, there or here – the following statistics still look comparatively good to what is actually happening in the United States;

  • 99,264 cases x 3 = 297,792; x 4 = 397,056
  • 1,452 deaths x 3 = 4,356; x 4 = 5,808

I honestly do not know what the answer is in the United States. With 2 million casualties and 120,000 dead it is clear that the United States has an unprecedented medical emergency on its hands, especially as the U.S. moves into the hottest months of its calender year. With major holidays such as Independence Day still a month away and an election campaign to come, the U.S. struggle to contain COVID19 is only going to get more and more desperate. It is not nice to see a country you were told to look up to in Primary School as a nation that New Zealand should aspire to be like, suffering like this, but it is one time I am truly, truly grateful that the lottery of citizenship had me born in New Zealand.

A conversation about New Zealand’s past

Over the last several days, my understanding of New Zealand’s history of British colonialism has been severely tested by events that have unfolded in New Zealand, and which may be linked to the recent unrest in the United States. With the rioting having subsided, massive protests pushing for a racial reconciliation have been breaking out.

In New Zealand the events in the United States have brought a necessary focus on our own race relations. How do we teach colonial history in schools? Are we teaching the right history? Is that history being taught without bias? Clearly we have an issue when in a matter of days, we can go from not even thinking about doing so, to toppling a statue of a person whose history am going to guess most New Zealanders knew nothing about.

When I think about my knowledge of the New Zealand Land Wars, following the Treaty of Waitangi and the Musket Wars prior to the treaty signing, I find quite significant gaps in my basic knowledge about the events, the timeline over which they happened and who was involved. These are very significant events in understanding the relationship between settlers and Maori, and the Musket Wars for example cost many more lives than I was aware of – I thought they had cost a couple of thousand lives and not the estimated 20,000-40,000, with perhaps as many as 30,000 more made to emigrate.

I did not even know what John Hamilton’s first name was prior to Thursday, when the first rumblings that the statue of him in Hamilton was going to be removed began to surface. I certainly knew nothing of his past, that the statue stood on the spot where Cook’s crew killed nine Maori.
At the same time I feel like my knowledge of Captain Cook has failed me. I knew nothing about the incident involving H.M.S. Adventure crew members, or that 8 Maori were killed by crew when Cook first anchored in New Zealand waters. I feel like my schooling has failed me. As Graeme Lay notes in a column for The Listener in 2019, some interactions were very cordial and productive, whilst others ended in violence.

But I am not the only one. My parents said that they were taught none of this either. My mother who grew up on a farm near Pukekawa in rural Waikato for example says that her school learnings were about the invasion of Waikato by the British in 1863, following the refusal of Maori to take an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria. This was one of the major conflicts of the New Zealand land wars and easily the deadliest. Both Maori and the British invested significant forces and resources in this. The British called up 10,000 troops for the campaign. The Maori built more than 22 kilometres of fencing which had about 1,500 troops manning it.

So, it is for these reasons I totally support the compulsory teaching of these events as basic New Zealand history. Improving our understanding of the events that happened and how they came to happen will go some way towards a sort of reconciliation between non Maori and the tangata whenua. Given the  12,000km² confiscated in Waikato following the 1863 invasion are now worth billions of dollars, the $171 million that was paid to Tainui in 1995 is barely 1% of its current value.

The best thing we as New Zealanders can do is learn from our colonial past. The best thing the education system can do is make sure that that history gets taught in schools.