N.Z. in lock down: DAY 42


Yesterday was DAY 42 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

This is a short article. For several days now A.C.T. Leader David Seymour has been pressuring the Government to release its legal advice on the legality of the lock down. Chair of the Epidemic Response Committee Simon Bridges has summonsed the Inspector General to appear before the Committee, something that has never been done by a N.Z. Parliament before.

Whilst the Government for reasons of transparency SHOULD release the legal advice unless advised not to, I do not think Mr Seymour is going to get the answer he was looking for. I now explain why.

The Government issued an Epidemic Notice on 25 March 2020 under Section 5(1) of the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006. This cleared the way for a State of Emergency to be declared on the grounds of an epidemic. On the same day at 1221 hours a State of Emergency was put into force across New Zealand. The description of emergency in Section 4 of the C.D.E.M. Act 2002 includes epidemic.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield was exercising powers that were accorded under Section 70(1)(m) of the Health Act 1956, which was triggered by the declaration of the State of Emergency at 1221 hours 25 March 2020. I have seen notices published per 70(1)(m) in my local newspaper regarding the Civil Defence emergency. Others said they heard about it through radio and/or saw it on television.

The measures permitted under the above, include shutting down premises/locations/regions as required.

In other words I do not see anything in the legislation that Dr Bloomfield or anyone else may have exceeded.

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 39


Yesterday was DAY 39 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

For the last 5 weeks and 4 days we have been trying to limit the spread of COVID19 within New Zealand. To do that, the country has had to make substantial sacrifices, including briefly foregoing many of the activities we had come to take for granted. Thus far New Zealand has been very successful in containing COVID19 and restricting its ability to harm our communities. The very vast majority of New Zealanders have been stringent in their compliance with the restrictions and protective measures that have been put in place.

However, there is a small number of irresponsible morons who think that at LEVEL 3 they can have their lives back, that they can start attending parties and do not have to abide by social distancing any more. New Zealand Police in the first few days since LEVEL 3 restrictions came into force have prosecuted 135 people and warned another 342. In the last few days there have been several major incidents where people have not complied with social distancing:

  • A tangi in Christchurch where 100 people turned out, despite being told that only 10 people were allowed
  • A gang party in Christchurch

New Zealand Police need to get tough. New Zealanders are done with playing kind. We have been in LEVEL 4 for 5 weeks and now LEVEL 3 for a week. People cannot claim to not know any more. We have ample evidence both here and abroad of what happens if we are not firm on the safety measures that have been put in place. I propose:

  1. In the first instance a $500 fine payable in one week orĀ  – given the large number of people who live pay check to pay check, the impact in the bank balance and the resulting telling off that they should be getting from their bubble should be enough to make them not do it again
  2. In the second instance if a fine has failed to get the message through, a night in the police cells; should the fine fail to be paid without good reason, the punishment in the second instance is applicable
  3. In the third instance, jail time – if a person is really determined to ignore the laws and put the rest of us in unnecessary danger because all they could think of was themselves, then that person should be held until COVID19 is no longer a danger

Harsh? Well, to be honest, I heard that Australia was putting up $1,000 instant fines, so in that respect, not as harsh as people might think. And there is a simple reason for that. People who breach the rules will have to be accountable to their bubbles when they break them, and I am sure that those bubble members will not be happy at the prospect of LEVEL lasting beyond 11 May 2020.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 13


Yesterday was DAY 13 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

As a result of the course work for my university paper, I have been doing some thinking about how what I have learned about urban planning in the last 48 hours could affect my own views. Having had a diverse range of people speak to myself and my class – economists, council planners, N.G.O. and government agency staff – I feel as though my whole understanding of housing policy and the challenges it poses has been revamped.

There is no simple or singular solution to the challenges facing New Zealand housing, but a combination of changes as laid out below will certainly be a start. They are an attempt to acknowledge the legal, economic, market, policy and societal needs. Understanding how they are interconnected and understanding what the ebbs and flows are in terms of how these needs output and receive input is important.

In terms of legal obstacles or challenges that I think are potentially significant is in the area of covenants on land. Many are well established, and place restrictions on the nature of the housing that can be constructed, such as perhaps requiring nothing smaller than a 4 or 5 bedroom home to be constructed. That excludes potential buyers who might have been wanting to have a 3 bedroom house and a big enough area that they could later subdivide. Covenants might also be used to keep the “riff raff” out – people who come from lower socio-economic classes, but who might have, through a combination of hard work and assistance, to know how to get some finances together and enter the market.

There might well be good uses of covenants as a legal instrument – I would be keen to hear them – but I think I have just demonstrated that something that has uses, also has abuses.

One of the notions that I am certainly not sympathetic to is the market idea that all houses need to be 4-5 or more bedrooms in size. Multiple speakers pointed out that there is now a glut of large houses and it also does not represent an emerging trend that is expected to grow of smaller families after 2-3 bedroom dwellings. Developers want their money’s worth, so they build bigger more complex houses, which may be beyond the ability of most New Zealanders to purchase, or their needs.

Developers, perhaps unwittingly or perhaps deliberately, through not sharing data they have with council planners make it quite difficult for councils to anticipate land use needs. Because of that land use zoning, which normally requires a plan change, public submissions and a hearing to determine the suitability of the change, sometimes becomes an unintentional snag.

It is not to say that planners are always correct as sometimes resource consent applications are not properly notified – i.e. the consenting council underestimates the potential adverse effects and goes for either a non-notification or partial notification. This is never a welcome outcome for a council because it means a now potentially hugely expensive hearings phase with public submissions, reports summarizing those submissions and so forth. And it does happen – Mackenzie District Council is currently facing a legal challenge over a proposed hotel in Tekapo that was not publicly or partially notified.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 10


Yesterday was DAY 10 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Over the last several days I have been starting to think about what faces New Zealand once the time comes With the number of days since lock down began, now in the double digits, and long since shorn of any novelty it might have acquired, Zealanders will be looking at potential scenario’s that the country might confront when restrictions are lifted:

  • SCENARIO A: Will we experience a second big wave of COVID19 at some point down the track;
  • SCENARIO B: Will there be a long period of gradual easing off around the country over say 12-18 months with COVID19 completely erased
  • SCENARIO C: Will it be like a medical variation of of an aftershock sequence with the aftershocks (new waves of COVID19)gradually diminishing

After about not later than mid-May, the Government is going to have to make some pretty tough choices, and not just economically, but socially as well. With the economy potentially going to retract by 30%, we are talking about something that will make the Global Financial Crisis, and possibly even the 1987 stock market crisis look pretty tame. The huge numbers of people likely to lose their jobs will be several hundred thousand – my guess is possibly 450,000-500,000 people made unemployed.

There will also be the social aspect. New Zealanders love their bars, restaurants, cafes; going to movie theatres, rugby matches, gigs and other fixtures. At some point this is going to have to restart just to offset the potential problems if you keep the country in lock down for too long. People are going to need to have serious face time with relatives, friends, colleagues – I had a phone call from my boss yesterday to see how things were going, and pass on some employment information. Whilst it was nice to have a phone call and a bit of a laugh at the circumstances, outside of my parents it was the first serious verbal conversation I had had in over a week.

Very briefly I want to touch on SCENARIO A and SCENARIO B before I go to what I think will be the most likely one. In A, we treat COVID19 like a cyclone where there is an eye in the centre which is relatively calm. We find that after a lull with relative calm and people wanting to have things eased off, New Zealand gets slammed by the other half of the cyclone. This is bad and much of the country goes back to LEVEL 4, causing more misery, job losses and another round of bubbles (not bubbly – though I am sure much of that will be drunk!).

SCENARIO B is the longest and the hardest, but in the end the most successful. New Zealand somehow manages to completely kill off COVID19 and we can get on with rebuilding the economy and going back to doing the things we love. BUT it comes at a cost. 2020 is a complete write off. The economy takes the full 30% hit and 500,000 people are out of work. Would New Zealand be prepared to wait until maybe December?

So, lets suppose for a few minutes, that today is some day in say July. The restrictions have been scaled back. Most things are open again, though many in restricted capacity – such as cinema’s having to run at half capacity whilst the movie of the year (whatever it might be)is screening because there needs to be an empty seat between every single person. The scenario in play is Scenario C – COVID19 is coming through in pulses, but they are getting weaker with time and not all of the country is being affected at once: Auckland may have a pulse one week and then it might be in Canterbury the next, before going to Nelson.

My estimate is that New Zealanders will comply as well as they have been probably until no later than mid-May. At that point the Government is probably going to have to dial back substantially to LEVEL 2 across most of the country and LEVEL 3 in hot spot areas. The problems faced by New Zealand after about mid-May will experience 3-dimensional growth – in numbers, in complexity and severity – if this does not happen.

The Xinjiang problem that western nations must acknowledge


Xinjiang (Sinkiang) in northwest China is a high altitude area with mountain ranges and deserts. It is populated by Uighur Muslims, but also by Tibetan Xibe, Russians, Mongols, Han and other ethnicities. It has a population of about 26 million and is an autonomous region.

Unfortunately Xinjiang is being afflicted by Chinese state sanctioned human rights abuses that can draw comparisons with certain past regimes. The Chinese Government has marked the Uighur people down as a national security threat, which threatens the security of the Chinese Peoples Republic. With the utmost contempt for human rights, the Government has imprisoned over 1 million Uighur, or roughly equivalent to the population of the entire South Island in camps that are officially called retraining centres, but which bare the hall marks of concentration camps – grim, inhumane places characterized by rape, torture, murder, state sanctioned brain washing.

Where have we heard that before?

But there is more and it concerns us and our consumerist appetite. Xinjiang has significant cotton factories that are allegedly using slave labour. I cannot tell you what human rights abuses along the lines of slave labour have been alleged, but one can imagine those allegations are pretty damning and would bring China’s questionable human reputation into further disrepute. It would be lowering it to the level of the likes of Joseph Stalin and his notorious gulag system.

In order to hide the fact that somewhere between 800,000 and 2 million people have disappeared into these camps, China is relocating thousands of ethnic Han from other parts of the country into Xinjiang. It has clamped down massively on media access being granted and getting petrol from a service station or even sugar from a supermarket requires identification.

But how many western nations know about this and acknowledge that Xinjiang has been turned into one vast prison camp, never mind taking action against Chinese authorities? Many western nations actually do know of and acknowledge that China is conducting massive large scale human rights abuses in Xinjiang province. The United States and United Kingdom have both considered how to deny Chinese companies the ability to purchase western software and other products that might be used to expand the capability of the giant state security apparatus operating in Xinjiang.

New Zealand is also aware of what is happening in Xinjiang. The Government in July was one of 22 foreign nations to call on the Chinese government to stop the repression. But without doubt, our continued opposition to this will have its challenges. As the Government looks for new ways to express its concern, it will be aware of Beijing’s capacity for an angry response. It is an interesting and tricky tightrope to walk if one thinks about this. China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner.

I support New Zealand trying to find new ways to show its concern. As we go forward towards the 2020 election I hope New Zealanders think about how we want to be viewed by the world on this. I would not want to think that we are complicit in the abuses that are going on in Xinjiang province by way of the products we purchase. I would hope that New Zealanders ask their Government irrespective of who is in office at the end of next year to remember economic prosperity cannot come at the expense of human rights.