N.Z. free of COVID19: Where to from here for Aotearoa?

So there you have it. On 08 June 2020 New Zealand became the first developed nation to successfully rid itself of COVID19. We join just a handful of other nations, notably small Pacific Island nations whose borders were closed as soon as they realized the danger it posed, in being COVID19 free. The rest of the world including the rest of the O.E.C.D. nations are still fighting.

Level 1 will be nine hours old when this publishes.

So, where to from here?

Just because we are free of it does not mean we should automatically let our guard down. Nor does it mean that we will immediately reopen the borders. The very vast majority of nations around the world will probably keep their borders firmly shut until the end of 2020 at least, including – with the possible exception of Australia – all of our most important global partners.

In some respect, not having the border open for a short while is a good thing:

  • New Zealand’s many and great tourist attractions now have a golden opportunity to reconcile with the exiled locals who no longer felt welcome at many of them, or were physically priced out of the market in favour of big spending foreigners. They would be fools not to introduce “local rates” – say 25% discounts and those operators who own multiple attractions could offer year passes. The drop in prices would be offset by a hopeful surge in locals coming.
  • It is an opportunity to tighten up border controls, work out any new measures deemed necessary in the wake of COVID19 and implement them, as well as notifying appropriate authorities – Customs; Police; Immigration and give overseas diplomatic posts a chance to digest and act on them (embassies, consulates, and so forth).
  • Get more New Zealanders into occupations that have a lot of positions taken up by non-Kiwi’s, such as farming, horticulture and so forth

It is also a REALLY good time to think about a long term vision for New Zealand. What kind of country do we want to be in 20, 50, 100 years from now?

  • The same old country we have always been – one that is a bit too carefree and slightly ignorant about the world around it?
  • Do we want one that throws environmental common sense to the wind as some currently in Parliament would have us do?
  • Do we want a country that reassesses where it is going and enacts certain reforms, such as the cannabis laws coming, but nothing comprehensive?
  • Do we want a country that after a period of review, begins comprehensive reform that addresses the systemic and racial inequality; sees infrastructure reform as key to the economy; ends the drug wars and embraces our Pasifika neighbours and countries like Germany, Canada, Taiwan and South Korea?

What country, do you want New Zealand to be and why? With COVID19 gone, I believe we would be fools not to have a look at ourselves and our way of live and see what we can do better.


The case for voting YES in cannabis referendum

At the General Election of 19 September 2020, there will be a referendum on whether New Zealand should legalize cannabis.

There are numerous reasons why I am voting yes in the 2020 referendum on the legalization of cannabis. In the article following I lay out those reasons and explore some of the side issues around cannabis in New Zealand:

  • Low level cannabis offences take up police time, resources and tax payer money unnecessarily
  • The justice system is unnecessarily clogged with the resultant prosecutions from those offences
  • Minister of Justice Andrew Little has announced a probable regime that would be implemented should the referendum return a YES vote, which focuses on reducing harm
  • Recognition of need to address cannabis addiction as medical issue and not a criminal one

The regime that Mr Little has proposed, the regulatory regime would have the following provisions:

  • A minimum age of 20 for purchasing and using cannabis products
  • A ban on all marketing and advertising of cannabis
  • Requires harm minimisation messaging to be on products
  • No public use, but confined to homes and regulated premises
  • Restricts cannabis sales to physical stores
  • Regulations on the potency of cannabis products
  • A person over the age of 20 will be able to grow two cannabis plants on their property
  • Individuals will be able to carry up to 14 grams of dried cannabis in public places

Mr Little says that it will be an education and health based regime for those with addictions, assuming that they are willing to enter a treatment centre.

More critically we need to acknowledge as I have mentioned in the past that the “War on Drugs” has been an abject failure. It has driven the cannabis market underground and in doing so it has enabled growers, synthetic cannabis importers and others wanting commercial gain from growing it to thrive in a market that has no regulation and attracts the worst in society.

One of the more damaging aspects of cannabis in New Zealand and around the world has been the rise of synthetic cannabis or “synnies”. These are much stronger and more debilitating than regular cannabis, and can render users zombie like where they appear to be completely detuned from what is happening around them. Many of the users are some of the most vulnerable elements of society with no family, support networks or means of finding work, their drug use can lead to – in the case of women – being forced into prostitution to earn money.

On the whole I like the regime that Mr Little is proposing to implement if the referendum returns a YES vote. I do have concerns though about cannabis being grown on private properties, due to some of the secondary activities and behaviours that tend to be associated with drug manufacture. Specifically I am thinking of the tendency to have firearms, the construction of structures that will impede lawful surveillance and law enforcement; also the coming and going of people with connections to the criminal underworld, prostitution and gang activity.

So whilst I will be voting YES, I acknowledge that there is more work to be done yet on these reforms and I look forward to seeing what the final plan will look like.


New Zealand is ready for Level 1

When New Zealand went to Level 2 on 14 May 2020 I had no idea how it was going to go. The occasional COVID19 case was still occurring. There were a number of people still in hospital and the death toll had a few more people to claim. I thought I would show a screen shot of an Excel spreadsheet that I set up on the day of the first confirmed case.

A brief explanation of the Excel table below: White = Total cases; Dark Yellow = Confirmed new cases; Light Yellow = Probable new cases; Green = Cases recovered; Orange = Cases hospitalized; Red = Deaths

The row selected is 14 May 2020, the third of three days with no new cases before three consecutive days with 1 new case. This is part of a larger spreadsheet going back to the start of February and which will be concluded when there are no active cases (and hopefully one more in the Recovered column).

COVID data based on Ministry of Health figures (daily media releases).

COVID19 incubation takes 11-14 days to occur. New Zealand has now gone 12 consecutive days without a new case. There is only one active case nation wide and that case is not in hospital. Official advice was that 28 days of no new cases is needed before New Zealand can go to Level 1.

When we reach Level 1, pretty much all restrictions other than international travel will be lifted. Sporting fixtures, concerts, weddings, funerals, large functions will all be able to resume without social distancing, attendance limits

If Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern makes the decision to go to Level 1 on Monday, I understand it could take effect as early as Wednesday, 10 June 2020.

Then it is just a matter of making sure that the final victim recovers fully; that we have an inquiry into the COVID19 response with the Government implementing the recommendations from it and waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.

I think this would be a sensible compromise. Whilst 28 day caution is admirable, it is excessive in this case given that it is in a country separated in to two main islands, plus Stewart Island and the Chathams. That one of the two main islands has been completely COVID19 free for a week now just further undermines the case for continuing.

With Level 1, I hope though that some sensible permanent measures, which I have already mentioned before are enacted:

  1. Medical certificates become compulsory for everyone who has been sick entering/leaving New Zealand
  2. Sanitization of hands upon entry to any bar, cafe, restaurant; medical facility becomes compulsory and permanent – having sanitizer and signage becomes part of the prerequisites for compliance
  3. The number of paid sick days permitted each year rises to say 7 or 10 – noting the cost to employers, but recognizing that bringing additional staff down sick might be costlier still


Why I attended the Black Lives Matter rally

On Monday 01 June 2020 I attended the Black Lives Matter rally for the late George Floyd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch. The protest attracted about 500-700 people by my estimate and happened on the Queens Birthday holiday. Since then I have received significant criticism for attending the protest in light of the COVID19 laws. I explain what I was doing there in this article.

Fortunately very little if any of the criticism has been about the cause of the protest. But just in case anyone does decide to criticize the very cause of the protests even being considered, I will make my stance clear after explaining the protest.

I am an activist. I am also a law abiding citizen – 99% of the time. The 99% of the time being laws on very rare occasions are going to be broken because they are obsolete. You might say that this is no justification for going to the rally. But are you the same people telling Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that the COVID19 level is out of date? Possibly.

Lets be honest. If this had been at Level 3 and even 20 people had showed up, there is no way I would have gone. Because at Level 3 COVID19 was very much a live firing thing. It was presenting new cases daily. It was killing people. It was putting people in hospital. I went to a rally on an island with NO COVID19 cases at all. If any COVID19 cases were known to exist in the South Island, I most probably would not have gone.

And here is where the problem is. Sometimes the law simply cannot and does not keep up. The processes that need to happen before it can be amended are simply too slow, too unwieldy. Had these riots been going for an extra week longer, I would have expected that the Prime Minister would have become aware of protest action plans and been able try to speak in a way the protesters would have understood, and maybe try to explain or set down a position that might have made the protesters think twice. But three factors seen as a combination I think took matters into the unknown:

  • The American police doing such an A+ job of screwing up their response for consecutive days, a combination of anger;
  • the speed with which things were unravelling; and
  • the fact that New Zealand had a statutory holiday weekend in progress

Is a protest of more than 100 people in actually in breach of the law, when everyone – at least up until it reached 200 people – is kept at the 2 metre distancing recommended actually a gathering? If so, then perhaps one could argue some shopping centres, another focal point where there is a certainty of large numbers of people being in potentially close proximity, should not have been open.

On 22 May 2020 an African-American named George Floyd was stopped by a Minneapolis police patrol. At some point in the incident that has triggered the worst violence in the United States since the 1992 Los Angeles riots which were triggered by the same issue which I will deal with later in this article, he presented what I understand was a counterfeit note. The officers made him get out of his car. They forced him to the ground at which point officer Derek Chauvin knelt down on Mr Floyd’s neck. Mr Floyd began struggling to breathe and can be heard over and over saying he cannot breathe. He was taken to hospital but died from injuries caused by the officer’s knee being on his neck, which the autopsy results released today said were consistent with a homicide.

Let us get this straight now. I do not endorse the rioting, the violence or any killings that have happened. Protesters are one group. Looters are entirely another group, who function as opportunistic individuals who know that they probably have a good chance of getting away with what they have done because the police are distracted by the protesters – who for the very most part, are the lesser of the two problems. The looters were never there for the protests. They were never there for George Floyd or for anyone who died before him whose death led to events such as what we are witnessing now. Let us get that clear now.

If you think police brutality is an overseas thing and cannot happen in New Zealand, you are wrong. It can, it does and here are some disturbing statistics from Action Station to back it up. This was also an #ArmsDownNZ protest to make sure people are aware that there is fundamental break down between New Zealand Police and Maori and Pasifika communities. About those statistics:

  • In a survey on the Armed Police trial, 1,155 Maori and Pasifika people took part
  • 85% of them did not support the Armed Police trial
  • 87% of them said they felt unsafe and intimidated when they see armed police
  • 91% of them said that they would not call the police in an emergency

So in other words out of those 1,155 at least 1,051 of them would not call the police in an emergency. And we wonder why crime rates among these two ethnic groups are disproportionately high in New Zealand. Stop and think about that for a minute. We have a problem even Minister of Police Stuart Nash is too scared to say so out loud.

So, that is what happened. A fast moving flash of the pan type protest whose speed and size I don’t think anyone on Friday, or even Saturday afternoon could have honestly told you would go like this. Didn’t say it was necessarily right, but this is what happened. Live with it.

N.Z in lock down: DAY 41

Yesterday was DAY 41 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

For the last nearly 6 weeks New Zealand has been in first, LEVEL 4 lock down and now LEVEL 3 lock down as we approach what I believe will be the most important date in the war against COVID19. 11 May 2020 will be a date where the Government either, out of an abundance of caution chooses to continue at LEVEL 3 for a bit longer, or sets a date for some form of LEVEL 2 to kick in.

This date is critical for a number of reasons:

  • The economy is being absolutely battered and the longer it is on ice, the bigger casualty list of businesses and the higher the probability of lasting damage
  • New Zealanders are wanting their lives back – who can blame them; for a time the Government enjoyed an unprecedented level of compliance, but the social harm and the mental harm being done is increasing rapidly
  • New Zealand is nearing a stage where compliance will decrease in inverse proportion to non-compliance with COVID19 restrictions, a stage that I believe will be reached not later than two weeks from now
  • Given that LEVEL 2 still has restrictions, people will be wanting to reach it sooner rather than later so that they can get it over and done with and go to LEVEL 1 where New Zealand will be essentially operating again
  • The election – no more need to be said

Public compliance vs non-compliance will begin to change rapidly in the next two weeks if LEVEL 3 is maintained. SOURCE: R. GLENNIE

Thousands of jobs have been lost across the country and much needs to start happening soon to contain the economic damage before it becomes lasting. Employers big and small have closed shop, cut jobs or announced other substantial measures to reduce their exposure to COVID19. From Air New Zealand, one of New Zealand’s biggest and most distinct employers where 3750 jobs have gone or are going, to the Heritage Hotel at Mount Cook where 170 out of 178 jobs have just been cut, employers of national and regional significance are trying to minimize their losses on a scale not seen since 1987 and possibly before that.

The social and mental harm being done to New Zealanders will not be minor in the least, and it is showing up now. Mothers on social media are talking about their children having massive and prolonged melt downs for no apparent reason and then when they’ve calmed down enough to talk, they say they are missing the play grounds, their mates, play dates and so forth. For a young child in their formulative years this is not minor. For those who have lost loved ones and are hurting inside without being to grieve properly with their relatives and friends, the longer a funeral or tangi is delayed the greater the internal pain I imagine they must have to deal with.

With the onset of LEVEL 3 there was an immediate increase in non-compliance. Despite the Police saying that they will take a dim view of people breaching their bubbles, hundreds of New Zealanders have already been pinged by the blue arm of the law for having parties, ignoring social distancing requirements when in public. With COVID19 starting to appear to be on its last legs, people are getting impatient and that impatience is only going to increase. And it is not helped by Members of the Opposition parties – notably A.C.T. leader David Seymour, National leader Simon Bridges, M.P.’s Todd McClay and others who think civil liberties are being eroded and that the Government is is now on a piss take.

With COVID19 on the run and hopefully out of new cases to spring upon New Zealand, there is also the knowledge that LEVEL 2 has restrictions attached as well. Events with 500 people or more will not be able to happen. Social distancing will still be maintained, which in bars and restaurants where a degree of intimacy and interaction is a significant part of being there in the first place, is going to cause problems both for bar operators, the authorities and patrons alike.

New Zealand is in unchartered waters and how well we navigate these last few weeks of COVID19 territory could have an impact on how people voted at the election. Whilst I expect the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to get a high pass mark on the whole, blowing the public’s goodwill will cause unnecessary harm that National and A.C.T. will not hesitate to pounce on. Just because the Government is almost able to govern alone according to polls does not automatically guarantee it will have those numbers on election day. Ms Ardern and her Government would do well to remember that.