Monday, October 18, 2021

On Vaxathon, gangs and double standards

A few thoughts on that Covid-19 Vaxathon.

First, it was a public relations triumph. Mainstream media obligingly gave it saturation coverage all weekend, unblushingly functioning as cheerleaders for the government’s attempt to make up some of the ground it had lost through complacency, poor or non-existent planning and incompetent management.

Whoever dreamed up the idea of invoking the spirit of Telethon, the televised money-raising extravaganzas of the 1970s, is a marketing genius. It was a case of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

Those old enough to recall the Telethon phenomenon would have been smitten by nostalgia for a simpler, more innocent time when New Zealanders loved to unite behind a worthy cause. For the majority of the population with no memories of that era, the event would have seemed a captivating novelty. For one day, the country was able to live out the fantasy that we really are a team of five million, united in pursuit of a common goal, rather than a polarised society in which minority interests are encouraged to compete for political favour and influence.

Suddenly the focus was conveniently shifted from the multiple failings of the government’s Covid-19 strategy – the delayed vaccine rollout, the MIQ fiascos, the mulish refusal to use GPs and pharmacies to accelerate the vaccination programme, the inexplicable reluctance to approve rapid testing – to the carnival-like atmosphere of the Vaxathon. Almost literally overnight, a cause of national anxiety became something to celebrate.

The record vaccination figure for the day was the subject of admiring headlines in left-leaning media (notably the Guardian and New York Times) around the world, reinforcing Jacinda Ardern’s global image as a politician who can do no wrong. But the headline figure of a triumphant 130,000 jabs disguised a more telling statistic.

I had to search hard in media reports to find any breakdown of the figures, but I eventually came across one in a Newshub report, tucked underneath a breathless list of all the “influencers” – such as Lorde, Taika Waititi, Patrick Gower, Jason Gunn, Robyn Malcolm and Benee – who turned out to amplify the vaccination message (and, it must be said, to burnish their own images in the process).

According to Newshub, by 5.30pm on Saturday a total of 124,117 jabs had been administered. But of those, 87,106 were second doses. Only 37,011 recipients – roughly one-third of the total – received their first injection.

I’m no epidemiologist, but it seems to me that this rather underwhelming figure suggests that while the Vaxathon was highly successful in reaching people who were already convinced of the need for the Pfizer jab (and were further incentivised by free food, entertainment and other treats), it was significantly less effective in immunising the substantial segment of the population that has been slow to come forward.

To put it another way, the cheerleaders and teams of vaxxers on Saturday were largely preaching to the converted – people whom it can be assumed were likely to get their second dose anyway. What should have been the priority target group appears to remain stubbornly vaccine-hesitant. That rather diminishes the Vaxathon’s effectiveness, but don’t expect to see that deflating statistic highlighted in any of the rah-rah news stories.

By pointing this out, I probably risk being dismissed as a churl, a killjoy and a party-pooper, but that’s only partly true. Of course it’s a good thing that all those people got vaccinated - but no one should be in any doubt that the Vaxathon was a giant PR stunt as well as a public health initiative.

Meanwhile, other issues continue to simmer away on the periphery of the Covid-19 crisis. Such as:

■ We still don’t know the identity of the two Auckland women who used false papers to break lockdown rules and visit multiple locations in Northland, and then compounded the offence by refusing to provide information on their movements, even after both tested positive for Covid-19.

Calls for them to be named and shamed have been disregarded by police and health authorities, in stark contrast to the treatment of (1) the privileged Auckland couple who incurred the fury of the nation when they flew to Wanaka, and (2) the two Auckland sex workers who went to Blenheim and were named when they appeared in court (one was even shown on national TV).

Neither do we know whether the Northland rule-breakers will be charged with any offence, as the accused were in both other cases. Why the discrepancies?

According to the Northern Advocate, police say it could be several weeks before a decision is made on whether to lay charges against the two. Police showed no such hesitancy in the other cases, which inevitably leads to the suspicion that they’re playing for time in the hope that public interest in the case of the Northland pair will abate. If so, why?

Ardern, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and health authorities have been evasive when asked about the Northland women. Meanwhile, persistent rumours continue to circulate about their supposed gang connections and their reason for travelling north. Inevitably, questions arise: are the women being protected? Again, if so, why? Such suspicions are bound to arise when the women's behaviour is hidden behind a dense smokescreen.

A quid-pro-quo kicks in when the government appeals to New Zealanders for their co-operation in fighting Covid-19. In return for its goodwill and not-inconsiderable sacrifice (especially in the case of locked-down Aucklanders), the public is entitled to be told the truth and to be assured that the rules are being applied consistently, even-handedly and transparently. That certainly can’t be said of the Northland case.

■ Speaking of inconsistency in the enforcement of the rules, why do gang funerals appear to be exempt from any form of control? Twice recently, gangs have brazenly flouted Covid-19 regulations relating to large gatherings. In one case, police belatedly took what looks like token action, making two arrests and impounding four vehicles after a procession of more than 120 cars travelled from Porirua to Plimmerton, with gang members hanging out of car windows and travelling illegally on the backs of utes. The local police commander, presumably trying to excuse his officers’ failure to enforce the law, lamely said that the majority of those taking part in the procession behaved within the rules. I’m left wondering whether the police would have acted at all had their hand not been forced by publicity.

In the other case, at Onehunga, police were nowhere to be seen, although they must have known the event was in progress. The noise from the motorbikes and cars taking part in the funeral procession was deafening. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the police made a considered decision to stay away. Too hard.

News coverage of both funerals was relatively low-key too, leading to the suspicion that media as well as the police are more comfortable going after soft targets – for example, Brian Tamaki and a house-full of idiotic North Shore party-goers – than the Mongrel Mob or the Head Hunters.

The gangs have decided, quite rationally, that they can defy the law with impunity, secure in the knowledge that if it comes to a show of strength, the police will blink first. The consequences hardly need to be spelled out. Public confidence in law enforcement will be undermined – and the longer police and the government allow the gangs to get away with it, the harder it will be to re-assert the rule of law.

Friday, October 15, 2021

The cabal that controls the national conversation

Cabal (noun): 1. A secret intrigue. 2. A political clique or faction.

These are the two main definitions in my Oxford Dictionary. There’s a third, historical one which reveals that the word originated under King Charles II, who had a committee of five ministers whose surnames happened to begin with the letters C, A, B, A and L (who knew?).

But it’s the modern understanding of the word that I’m concerned with, because in many ways “cabal” seems an apt description of how New Zealand is being run in 2021.

Okay, cabal implies a small, secretive group, which is not what I’m talking about here. The cabal I’m talking about is neither small nor secretive. On the contrary, it’s big and far-reaching, with an agenda that’s very much out in the open. It’s a cabal so supremely confident about its power that it feels no need to be furtive.

In fact as I’m writing this I realise I’m effectively proposing a new definition of cabal. Mine would read something like “a group wielding power and influence disproportionate to its numbers, characterised by a common ideology and constantly reinforcing itself through mutual support”.

The cabal I’m talking about reaches across politics, the bureaucracy, academia, arts, the media, the churches and even sport and business. It dominates the public conversation to the extent that dissenting voices are largely excluded, at least from traditional mainstream platforms.

The common ideology that unites this cabal is not easily summarised, since it’s multi-faceted. Some would call it “woke” – an unsatisfactory term because (a) it’s too easily resorted to and has therefore been diminished by over-use and (b) its meaning is so diffuse that it can be hard to pin down.

If forced to define the groupthink that binds the members of this cabal, I would suggest it’s an adherence to the ideology of identity politics – the idea that disadvantaged minority groups (more of which seem to emerge with every passing month) have needs, grievances and interests that, when push comes to shove, supersede those of the majority.

Identity politics involves a relentless focus not on what unites us – in other words, the interests and values that all New Zealanders have in common (such as freedom, prosperity, peace and respect for the rule of law) – but on grievance and division. Proponents of identity politics see society as an aggregation of disadvantaged groups that must compete for power and influence against a privileged and hostile majority that’s indifferent to their needs. It’s a world view that arises largely out of Marxist theory but which, oddly enough, is not endorsed by all Marxists.

These aggrieved minorities may define themselves by their ethnicity, their gender, their religion, their disabilities or their sexual identity. The desire to protect these groups and promote their interests, even if it means over-riding the wishes of the majority, has become an all-consuming objective for the cabal that now dominates New Zealand politics.

We see this reflected in many of the political initiatives pursued by the Labour government since it was freed from the restraining influence of New Zealand First. Obvious examples include proposed hate speech laws (still conveniently vague), Maori co-governance proposals, taxpayer-funded government capture of the media, centralisation of power via radical new arrangements in health and local government (e.g. the Three Waters), indoctrination of school pupils through a distorted history curriculum, and the imposition of Maori place names and Maori terminology unfamiliar to most New Zealanders without any mandate.

Now, I know what some people will be thinking as they read this. They’ll be thinking: “Hang on, there have always been cabals in politics.” Which is true: in virtually every government, there’s a select group – sometimes known as the kitchen cabinet – which calls the shots.

But what sets the 2021-style cabal apart is the sheer scale of its influence. A homogeneity of thinking extends across virtually all the public institutions that influence New Zealand life. What debate there is mainly takes place on the margins – for example, on talkback radio (which the media elite regards with contempt), in social media and on blogs like this one, where dissenting opinion can be quarantined as if it were a contagious disease.

The dangers hardly need spelling out. A country where government policies largely go unchallenged by the institutions that normally hold politicians to account is a country that risks acquiescing in the face of an authoritarian state.

Two obvious examples are academia and the media. In liberal democracies, both institutions typically subject governments to close, and often harsh, critical scrutiny. But in New Zealand in 2021, academics and the media sing from the same song sheet as the people in power. Media outlets publish just enough dissenting opinion to avoid the accusation that they function as compliant government mouthpieces. Academics, apart from a tiny minority of courageous dissenters, serve as cheerleaders.

Some media go further, actively promoting narratives that favour the government; witness Newshub political editor Tova O’Brien’s sustained, malicious and deliberate undermining of Judith Collins. Contrast that with the same organisation’s very occasional (and mostly polite) reporting of government failures. O’Brien’s exposure of Kris Faafoi’s inability to explain his own hate speech proposals, and Michael Morrah’s valiant chronicling of the government’s failings and dissembling over Covid-19, stand out precisely because they contrast sharply with the deferential tone of most Newshub journalism, especially in relation to Jacinda Ardern.  

Some political journalists appear to compete for the prime minister’s favour, like school children begging for the teacher to notice their upraised arms. The penalty for asking awkward questions at Ardern’s “Pulpit of Truth” sessions is that the questioner is likely to be snubbed in future. It’s a more subtle form of control than that exercised by Robert Muldoon, who banned journalists he didn’t like, but just as effective. Small wonder that Barry Soper, the most experienced member of the press gallery, has exposed Ardern’s promise of transparency as a sham.  

We even see media outlets actively suppressing content for no better reason than that it’s ideologically unacceptable; witness the New Zealand Herald’s shameful refusal to publish an inoffensive advertisement for the feminist group Speak Up for Women, which has struggled to have its voice heard against a barrage of  rhetoric from the fiercely aggressive transgender lobby.

Once the guardians of free speech, the press has become complicit in the suppression of opinions that run counter to the tenets of identity politics. That media outlets like the Herald now align themselves with radical fringe groups such as transgender activists, who only a few years ago would have been regarded as deranged, demonstrates how out of touch they have become with the public they purport to serve.

But back to that cabal. For a micro-example of how it operates, and of the cosy symbiosis between government and the media, look no further than Newshub’s recent coverage of an Official Information Act release to blogger Cameron Slater relating to two of the cabal’s most feted figures, Ashley Bloomfield and Siouxsie Wiles.

On the BFD blog, Slater had called microbiologist and media darling Wiles a rank hypocrite after she appeared to breach Alert Level 4 rules – and contravene her own public advice not to go out and socialise – by sitting with a friend on an Auckland beach, in close proximity and both unmasked.

A delighted Newshub crowed that in an exchange of text messages released to Slater, Bloomfield (or as I prefer to call him, Dr Spin) told Wiles that “I don’t think that Cameron Slater has much cred these days”. The focus of the story was thus obligingly shifted from Wiles’ flouting of the lockdown rules – a matter of clear public interest – to the denigration of the right-wing blogger who potted her. It was the perfect illustration of how the cabal works to protect its members and turn its wrath on anyone who challenges it.

In this case the self-supporting mechanisms kicked in big-time. First, there was Bloomfield reassuring Wiles in a chummy, we’re-all-in-this-together spirit that she shouldn’t be too concerned about Slater, followed by the insipid bromide “Take care” and adding: “Keep up the great work and plenty of good people … will stand by you”. Then there was the sneering tone of the Newshub report, which implied that the only person tarnished by the affair was Slater himself. (After all, if the sainted Bloomfield pronounced that Slater had no cred, who could possibly argue otherwise?)

Others soon piled on. “Kiwis on social media thought the whole affair was hilarious”, Newshub reported – citing, as evidence, a sniggering, sub-literate tweet by Hayden Donnell from RNZ’s Mediawatch: “Imagine OIA’ing a government official’s comms all their texts are just about how much you suck.”

Let’s just consider that for a moment. Donnell is paid by the taxpayer to provide fair, measured, non-partisan analysis of the news media, and here he is (a) revealing himself as unable to string a few coherent words together, and (b) joining in a social media gang-up on a figure the cabal loathes because they can’t abide anyone holding political views different from their own.

I supposed we should be grateful to Donnell for confirming just how puerile and bigoted he is. We now know not to rely on anything he says about the media we pay him to comment on. In an ideal world he would be sacked because he has forfeited his credibility, but we know he won’t be. He can make comments like this with impunity because the cabal protects its own – in fact, applauds people for displaying bias, just as long as it’s the right type of bias.

The cabal’s influence, incidentally, reaches beyond New Zealand, and I’m not just talking about the Guardian, which is the cabal’s newspaper of choice. In a recent BBC World Service discussion, Newsroom political journalist Marc Daalder, after playing down a key failure in the Ardern government’s management of Covid-19 by saying the tardiness of the vaccination rollout was due to “supply constraints” (not true), then smeared the country by making the claim (also untrue) that the vaccination programme prioritised whites and left "marginalised" communities behind. “The government hasn’t always been the friend of Maori communities,” Daalder said, citing the smallpox (1913) and influenza (1918) epidemics as evidence of New Zealand’s supposed indifference to Maori suffering. (Neither could be compared with the current pandemic, but hey - let's not get too picky.)

Daalder’s casual slander aligns with a commonly held view within the cabal that New Zealand is so irredeemably racist even Ardern’s enlightened leadership can’t fix it. Overseas listeners would have formed the impression that Maori had been denied vaccination opportunities as part of a deliberate strategy, when both Kelvin Davis and Peeni Henare placed the blame squarely on Maori themselves for not coming forward despite government publicity campaigns targeted directly at them.

Distortion is just one of the weapons in the armoury of the cabal that controls the public conversation. Ridicule and scorn are others, as evidenced by Newshub’s report about Slater. The purpose is to intimidate dissenters into silence. And we’re paying for it, because the media elements of the cabal are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer through the Pravda Project, aka the Public Interest Journalism Fund. That's the cabal’s master stroke.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Judge's meetings with Oranga Tamariki: nothing to see here, folks

Marty Sharpe of the Dominion Post has another story on the Judge Callinicos affair this morning, this time reporting a law academic’s concerns about Chief Family Court judge Jackie Moran having regular meetings with Oranga Tamariki’s chief executive and senior lawyers.

Auckland University law professor Mark Henaghan is quoted as saying our legal system is based on the separation of powers between Parliament, the courts and the executive. Meetings between Moran and Oranga Tamariki, whose staff and lawyers are frequently involved in contentious cases before the Family Court, appear to cross that line.

Henaghan says they give the appearance of “undermining the separation of powers and potentially weakens the checks and balances principle and the independence of the judiciary”.

But hey, there’s nothing to be concerned about. Sharpe’s story then quotes Caroline Hickman, chairwoman of the NZ Law Society’s family law section, as saying she didn’t find such meetings unusual because Moran’s role was “to ensure the orderly and expeditious discharge of the business of the Family Court”.

She said Moran also regularly met with her own organisation to discuss issues relating to the smooth functioning of the Family Court, and co-operation between Oranga Tamariki and the Court.

But there’s a crucial difference, as Hickman must know, between discussing matters of procedure and administration – which is what she seems to be talking about – and actively intervening in a case while it was still in progress, and thus creating the impression of trying to influence the outcome.

That’s the key issue in the so-called Moana case, in which Family Court judge Peter Callinicos accused two senior judges – Moran and Chief District Court judge Heemi Taumaunu – of compromising  his judicial independence by contacting him after Sir Wira Gardiner, then acting CEO of Oranga Tamariki, complained that Callinicos had “bullied” OT social workers during the hearing of the case. Callinicos was extremely critical of OT's conduct during the hearing and issued a decision thwarting the ministry’s attempts to remove a vulnerable Maori girl from a loving, safe Pakeha home on the pretext that her cultural needs were  not being met.

Barrister Tony Ellis, in a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, has accused the two senior judges – known as the Heads of Bench – of unlawfully lobbying Callinicos. It's also alleged that Callinicos was the subject of discussions, without his knowledge, involving second-ranked Supreme Court judge Sir William Young, who is claimed to have criticised Callinicos in a “scathing” letter to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, Alan Ritchie – and that Ritchie formed a conclusion about the affair without even giving Callinicos a chance to respond to the accusations against him.

All this has spilled out into the public arena in an unprecedented judicial squabble, with Callinicos engaging lawyers to act on his behalf and 60 fellow judges reportedly contacting him to express their support.

The affair has been exacerbated by a campaign against Callinicos dating back to his decision in an unrelated marital case involving a woman named only as Mrs P, whose case was taken up by feminist academics and sympathetic (for which, read partisan) journalists. All this has made the Hawke’s Bay judge a marked man, targeted both from within and outside the judicial establishment. It’s likely he has also made an enemy of Hawke’s Bay iwi Ngati Kahungungu, which wanted Moana placed with Maori caregivers.

I suppose it can be considered progress of sorts that the Law Society has at least found its voice on the Moana controversy, even if Hickman’s comment seems disingenuous. When Sharpe approached the society’s president, Tiana Epati, for comment after he first broke the story in August, she hadn’t bothered to look into the case and wouldn’t speculate on whether it raised matters of public importance.

As I wrote at the time: “This seems extraordinary. If you entertained the fanciful notion that the Law Society had an interest in ensuring judicial probity and upholding public respect for the law, you were clearly deluded. The society’s so unconcerned that it hasn’t even bothered to acquaint itself with the case beyond what the rest of us have read in the paper.

The good news is that Sharpe is not allowing the story to fade from the public view, no matter how keen the legal and judicial establishment is to kick the ball into the long grass.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Once upon a time on the East Coast

I came across this wonderful piece of bush poetry by East Coast farmer Graeme Williams and asked his permission to publish it. It recalls a distant time that may come to be known as the BIP (Before Identity Politics) Era. I have left the punctuation as it is – that is to say, non-existent – so as not to detract from its rough and raw charm.


 Dear Aunty Jacinda

  I need to write to you again

Because this ridiculous Three Waters nonsense

  needs rapidly flushing down the drain

I was born and raised in Tokomaru Bay

  and for that reason luckier than most

I think that you and the rest of the country

  should behave as we do on the Coast

 

You see when I was at primary school

And  it’s only now I stop to think

That all my mates had brownish skin

  and only two of us had pink

Freckles I had plenty of

   and copped a bit of flak

I learnt that when you cop some flak

  you simply throw it back

 

Nothing was a problem

  cause we thought we were the same

It mattered not our heritage

  or from where or how we came

We lived a rich and happy life

  the envy I suggest of most

A mutual respect by unity

  that is synonymous with the Coast

 

Our forefathers worked the land together

  having cleared it from the bush

They also toiled in the trenches together

  when shove it came to push

In every way in every respect

  they were equally brothers in arms

Whether it was at Gallipoli

  on the rugby field or farms

 

I took a stand at Ihungia*

  the year was 1979

An 8-stand gang of Ju Maraki’s

  the only pinkish skin was mine

I was treated as an equal

  after all it’s all we knew

A pity the rest of the country

  do not do what coasters do

 

5  till  5  the daily runs

  there were tens of thousands to be shorn

My contribution was minimal

  but no criticism there was borne

Legend Frankie Wharehinga

  one of the most gracious men you’d meet

Shearing right beside me

   500, consistently and neat

 

A beer together at knock off time

  it was always Lion Red

Heaps of fun and laughter

  to the quarters from  the shed

Showers were by hierarchy

  despite it being an English tank

We were in a gang together

  but we never preceded Frank

 

You see the water belonged to all of us

  and equally we did rely

Ownership’s a crock of shit

  when its falling from the sky

We’re all in the same shower together

  and of that we should be proud

The shower belongs to all of us

When she’s falling from the cloud

 

Ihungia’s now in carbon credits

  and that’s a bigger crock of shit

For when it comes to logic

  There’s not even a teenie weenie bit

Perhaps Aunty Jacinda

  you could explain to me just why

How a German owning a Kiwi tree

  can pump endless crap into the sky.

 

I worry about the future

  for our grandies and tiny totters

With the illogic, logic of carbon credits

  and the bureaucracy of 3 “whaters”

“whater” we going to do about it

  “whater” we going to say

“whater” we going to do in the shit

  when sure will come the day

 

I return you back to Ihungia

  an iconic station before the trees

Beef and lamb and orchards

  with honey birds and bees

I think of all our forebears

  and the ilk of those like Frank

Logic says,  3 “whaters” and carbon credits

  best put in a septic tank.


*Ihungia: one of the last great sheep and cattle stations on the East Coast, now planted in forestry and overseas-owned.

 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Toxic Tova's weird obsession with Judith Collins

Newshub has ratcheted up its attacks on wounded National leader Judith Collins. These have progressed from being merely pointless to sadistic and even pathological.

Political editor Tova O’Brien, aka “Toxic Tova” (I normally avoid using nicknames, but this one is 100 per cent apposite) seized on the findings of the New Zealand Herald’s latest Mood of the Boardroom survey to aim another kick at the head of a politician who’s already reeling and on the ropes.

This isn’t journalism; it’s blood sport – and a particularly savage form of blood sport at that.

O’Brien could have extracted a number of angles from the Herald’s survey of 150 chief executives. The finding highlighted by the Herald itself was that “Jacinda Ardern’s Covid honeymoon has soured,” in the words of Mood of the Boardroom editor Fran O’Sullivan. Ardern’s rating was down from last year’s 3.91 out of 5 to a far less complimentary 3.03.

That’s significant news, indicating that the business community, which generates New Zealand’s wealth, is losing confidence in the country’s leadership. But what O’Brien considered most newsworthy from the Herald survey was a peripheral and inconsequential finding that business people (the traditional backers of the National Party, as newsreader Mike McRoberts’ gratuitously reminded us) had issued a “brutal report card” on Collins and were calling for her to go. 

"This is bad, real bad," said a delighted O'Brien, before proceeding to recite a string of uncomplimentary comments about the National leader. 

Not a word was said about the unflattering result for Ardern, which can only reinforce the impression that much of the media – and Newshub especially – functions as the unofficial propaganda arm of the government.

You don’t need to like Collins, or even to be National supporter (I’m certainly not) to regard O’Brien’s constant attacks on her as grotesque, vicious and weirdly obsessive. What journalistic purpose is served by mauling a lame and politically impotent Opposition leader while the politician wielding real power gets away scot-free – in fact avoids situations where she might be asked awkward questions about the government’s multiple failings? (I note that this week Ardern was out in the boondocks smiling for the cameras – anything to avoid having to explain the government’s about-face on its Covid-19 elimination strategy.)

This is the prime minister we’re talking about – the person making decisions that will affect New Zealand for a long time into the future. Aren’t journalists supposed to “speak truth to power”, to quote a pompous phrase much favoured by leftist media academics? Well, let's see some of it. If O’Brien is as tough and merciless as she doubtless wants us to think she is, let's see her apply the blow-torch to the prime minister. I'm not holding my breath. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

A British view of Labour's Covid-19 strategy

 A follower of this blog has kindly forwarded the following piece from Britain's Daily Telegraph:

Jacinda Ardern has come crashing back to Earth

With little acquired immunity and low vaccination rates, New Zealand finds itself vulnerable to an explosive epidemic

UK Daily Telegraph

 ROSS CLARK

5 October 2021 • 12:06pm

New Zealand was to Covid what Kabul Airport was to the Taliban: the last bastion of hopeless resistance. Yesterday, it finally fell. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would ‘transition’ from an elimination strategy to one of vaccination – a journey which most of the rest of the world embarked on nearly a year ago. It means that residents of Auckland will be able to leave their homes to socialise – in a very limited way -- for the first time in weeks. So much for the boast, so often made last year, that zero Covid had given New Zealanders the sort of freedoms which our lax covid policy had stolen from us.

As Covid fires its guns in the air and Ardern scrambles on board the last transport plane out, it has to be asked: why did she, or indeed anyone, ever think it would be any different? It was clear from the beginning that Covid, by virtue of being able to transmit asymptomatically, had the ability to sneak into a population unaware – and establish itself before anyone had really noticed. New Zealand now is pretty well in the same position as Britain was in March 2020, with pockets of cases erupting into what threatens to become one large outbreak. What New Zealand has done for the past 18 months – attempt to become a Covid-free island by sealing its borders – never was an option in Britain’s case, just as continuing with a zero Covid policy is no longer a choice for New Zealand.

Was New Zealand’s experiment worth it? If the country can get its vaccination rate up quickly it might very well be possible to argue that yes, it was – although the economic damage will still be massive. Unfortunately, however, Ardern’s government has not used its extra time to get ahead with vaccinations. According to the CNN tracker, only 41.5 percent of the country’s population is fully-vaccinated, against 65.9 percent of the UK population. That puts it among the very lowest of developed countries. Moreover, because Covid has been largely absent from the disease to date, very few people have acquired immunity through natural infection. The country is vulnerable, therefore, to the kind of explosive epidemic that Britain saw early on in the crisis.

Ardern’s hubris was fuelled by her international status as a rockstar of the centre-left. I discovered the extent of this a year ago when I wrote a piece that was critical of her zero Covid policy – pointing out that in the initial fight against the disease she had done very little different from Boris Johnson’s government, and that as Covid became endemic elsewhere in the world New Zealand faced long years of self-imposed economic downturn as it sealed itself off. 

I have never had such a strong reaction to anything I have written, with tirades of abuse flowing in from all over the world. To many on the soft-left, Arden represented all that they advocated in a government: compassion, competence and vision. She was the living example of why we should have more women in charge of politics, business and everything else (this from the same people, naturally, who lost no chance to launch personal attacks on Britain’s two female Prime Ministers).

If Ardern is a rock star, I’m afraid she has reached second album syndrome. What looked so clever to many people a year ago no longer looks quite so smart. The world can finally see that zero Covid was a dead end which delayed but did not eliminate Covid, while drawing out the economic damage from repeated lockdowns as far as the eye can see. There was no easy policy for dealing with Covid, and Britain can hardly claim to have set an example – something which I am sure Boris Johnson and every other government minister would freely admit. 

Yet Jacinda Ardern did think she was teaching the rest of the world how to cope with a pandemic. She has been brought down to Earth with a very loud bump.

There's a lot that I agree with in this piece. But like several other critical commentaries from the UK (there's a certain type of condescending Pom who likes nothing more than to scoff at quaint little New Zealand), it overlooks one important consideration. New Zealand has had 28 deaths from Covid-19 compared with 137,000 in Britain. Reluctant as I am to defend Ardern's government, that must count for something. I'm sure the families of British victims of the virus would think so, as would many New Zealanders who are relieved to have been spared an uncontrolled outbreak, at least so far. As with many issues, it's a trade-off - but the government's approach (if not its relentless barrage of patronising, dishonest spin) is defensible, which is more than it's given credit for. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Important update on Judge Callinicos

David Farrar of Kiwiblog has read Judge Callinicos's judgment in the Moana case and covers it fully here. I recommend readers of this blog check it out. The more we learn about this affair, the more shocking it becomes. Even Martyn Bradbury has weighed in. Meanwhile the mainstream media largely ignore the scandal and the silence from the government and the Law Society is deafening.