The worst possible crime one can commit in New Zealand today is to in any way criticize or challenge the government’s response to the Covid19 pandemic.
Our government, according to a range of adulating media sources, shows outstanding leadership verging on the sublime and supreme-no mistakes or cock-ups; daily confidence-building briefings complete with melodramatic performances to assure us that “we are all in this together”.
To “politicise” the pandemic is anathema, a crime of the utmost disgust-how dare anyone challenge what our government is doing? And social media seems to be at the forefront of this adulation campaign, with thousands of posts condemning anyone who dares to question the government’s actions or omissions.
Well, let’s have a brief look at some obvious political activity being fostered during Covid19, but denied by our government in the current pandemic crisis:
1. Ethnic community roadblocks
How is it possible that the government and the police have condoned roadblocks, masquerading as “checkpoints” mounted by various ethnic communities around the country? Ostensibly, these roadblocks have been set up to ensure” vulnerable communities” are not infectiously- invaded by outsiders. However, there are many “vulnerable communities” which, under this rubric, could also have justifiably established similar roadblocks to prevent “outsiders” from entering neighbourhoods where there is a majority of elderly people, such as the one in which I live. I can just imagine the response if I closed off our cul-de-sac and required any visitors to stop, state their business, and be excluded or prevented from entering. How long do you reckon I would last before being dumped on by the local constabulary? And there we have our Prime Minister, in a RNZ item of 30 April, unequivocally stating that such roadblocks are illegal and that no person is required to stop or give information at these roadblocks unless requested by a police officer. Really? Then why are they still operating, apparently with the full approval of the NZ Police? There is NO legal authority which allows communities to act on their own volition. It now appears that the police did have the power to remove the roadblocks but in the case of iwi, decided” to take a softer approach”- why? And why are we hearing about this only now, weeks after the roadblocks were set up illegally? And, leaked emails show Attorney General Parker is refusing to release a controversial report from the Crown Law Office regarding the legality of this matter. So much for democracy.
Apart from these legal failings, if the NZ Police did not or do not have the staff available to man such roadblocks, the NZ Defence Force could have been or still could be requested to provide ”aid to the civil power”, as it did during the Christchurch Earthquake cordons. Why was this not implemented during Alerts levels 4 and3? Could it be a “bad look” for our politicians who are enjoying such huge adulation, to have the Army on the streets? The Police Minister has declined to comment on such questions as “operational” issues! How could the public have any knowledge if the police themselves were/are in doubt?
A comprehensive statement by the Police Commissioner on the iwi roadblocks issue has appeared in the Dominion Post 5 May, in which he endeavours to justify the condoning of illegal roadblocks on not only medical, but also cultural grounds. But he completely misses the point, which is that people with no authority or legal basis have been stopping and questioning members of the public on public roads. The discretion he mentions, whilst noteworthy, is unconvincing. If roadblocks were necessary, then a) they needed to be conducted by an agency with the authority to do so, b) If not the police themselves, such authority needed to be formally assigned to another legitimate agency such as the NZ Defence Force, or even Maori Wardens, and c) this authority needed to have been widely promulgated to the public before the roadblocks were put in place. It was not. This statement does little to enhance the reputation of our police force for impartiality.
But then “we are all in this together” aren’t we?
2. Cell-phone tracing
How potentially invasive is this recommendation? Whilst it could be argued that such an invasion of privacy might be justified in a crisis situation, once the crisis is over, or seriously diminished, what then? Our Privacy Commissioner has been very silent on this one. No doubt the population will react once they realise their privacy is seriously compromised.
3. The $1 Billion Green Party bonanza
Encouraged no doubt by the Prime Minister’s edict that “climate change will not be taking a back seat in the economic recovery”, the Green Party has been quick to applaud a $1 billion fund for “shovel - ready” projects, together with proposals to block off streets in our CBDs to convert streets into pedestrian and cycle ways. No consultation. No discussion. Just do it. The post-Covid19 environment presents the Greens with a heaven-sent opportunity to move in and secure huge funding for their pet projects. Stuff the population-no need to discuss or debate this, a view considerably enhanced by accelerating resource consents under a revised RMA with little or no public input. But contrast this $1 billion fund, to the Malaghan Institute’s request for $10 million to accelerate research into a Covid19 vaccine. Our “fantastic” government is “thinking about it”!!!
A $ 1 billion dollar, shovel-ready” programme of environmental projects reminds us of the “relief workers” of the 1930s Depression, of whom my dad was one. Deja-vu? Oops, sorry, this time it is different isn’t it? “We are all in this together” aren’t we?
4. Availability of the flu vaccine in NZ
Just a couple of weeks ago, our Prime Minister, in one of her highly melodramatic daily Covid19 briefings, publicly attacked those who dared to suggest that there was insufficient flu vaccine in NZ to inoculate the most vulnerable of our population-the elderly. Yet on 1st May, reports in the media (confirmed on 2 May) provide evidence that we do not indeed have sufficient vaccine to inoculate communities and must wait at least another couple of weeks or longer, for supplies to arrive in country-assuming that they will.
Surely, this is a case of the government misleading the country? Or at least being so out of touch as to be frankly dangerous?
5. Closing our borders early
The NZ First leader dropped a bombshell on 30 April, revealing that the Cabinet had overridden the advice of the Director-General of Health to close our borders to returning New Zealanders to reduce the likelihood of those returning bringing in the virus with them. It is now very clear that some of those returning Kiwis did indeed bring the virus with them, prior to the belated closure and compulsory quarantining. This is a difficult one, given that many of us were keen to ensure family members got back before the borders were closed. Nevertheless, the fact is that an earlier closure, as recommended to, but rejected by, Cabinet, just might have prevented both the introduction of the virus and its sad consequences. But the real point here is why are we just now being appraised of this-even though it was obviously the right decision? Probably because it might have looked bad politically at the time. Or, looks good for Winston now? Hmmmm. Politics? Nah!
6. The Over-70s and the rise of ageism
In an ominous comment in the Dominion Post of28 April, our Prime Minister stated that she was “mindful of intergenerational equity, with the young shouldering more of the economic pain to come, than the old.” In spite of her oft -quoted maxim “we are all in this together”, it seems that some sort of ageist inference is starting to bubble up (excuse the pun) to the surface where the elderly are concerned. In some countries (notably Italy), an early Covid19 report suggested that medical intervention might have to be focused on the young, and withheld from the elderly, on the grounds that younger people once recovered would contribute more over their lifetime than an oldie-who was going to die sooner, of something, anyway. This perspective was recently resuscitated (forgive another pun) in part by a New Zealand academic-that oldies would be dying soon of something anyway, inferring that why waste scarce medical resources on lost causes? And, it appears that the Mobile Surgical Unit in Canterbury, having recommenced operations, is not taking over-70s as they could be at risk to Covid19 exposure. There are also several DHBs which are not performing surgery on the over-70s, again because of the risk of Covid19.But surely, if a person needs surgery, why differentiate on the basis of age? Surely, hospitals now have procedures in place to ensure people are not exposed to Covid19? The sheer callousness of these inferences, in some respects well-intentioned, beggar belief!
Is this not redolent of 1930s Eugenics in Nazi Germany which held that only the fittest should be allowed to survive? How utterly disgusting. However, at least some seriously ill oldies have been transferred from their rest homes to hospitals for more urgent medical treatment. Whew!
Oops, I forgot, the End of Life Choice Bill is coming up! Now there’s a thought.
Us oldies also have savings-remember the Reserve Bank Governor’s pre-Covid19 musings about “helicopter” money and taxing savings? The Prime Minister’s inference about where the economic pain will rest, could be interpreted as a reference to the elderly being an economic burden as well as a source o f funds in a severe economic depression. It would not take much to appropriate our savings and replace them with short-term government bonds instead. Or perhaps a wealth tax on savings? Surely an inheritance tax? No? Well, these options and others have already appeared in the media. Hmmmm.
(Stop Press: Just been advised by my bank that interest on my savings account has been further reduced by 0.5 per cent-not now much above 0 per cent)
Let’s hope that such musings remain just that, and that medical treatment in particular will continue to be available to everyone who needs it, regardless of age, ethnicity, or any other “ism” which might be thrown up to claim special treatment. Why should we be differentiating on the basis of age or ethnicity, at all? After all “we are all in this together” aren’t we?
Ageism in drag? Nah!
At least the over-70s are now allowed out to visit the supermarket and the pharmacy-whoopee! Oh, yes, and they are getting some funds for home heating as well. Another whoopee!!
7. Social distancing and Alert level 3 breaches
On 1st May, the Finance Minister, standing in for the Prime Minister, issued severe warnings to Kiwis about partying and gatherings which clearly breach the government’s own level 3 requirements. Yet, on the same day, he states his “disappointment” at a gathering of over 100 at a tangi in Canterbury. It transpires that the police were well aware of this tangi but apparently declined to intervene in a clear breach of the gatherings rule. Are there separate warnings and penalties or outcomes depending upon one’s ethnicity in breaching the Alert level 3 requirements? For a bunch of rule-breakers partying, the full force of the law will be invoked-but for a tangi, a mere expression of ministerial “disappointment” and no police presence. Ethnic separatism? Rules for some but not for others?
One of the biggest problems of the pandemic is the obfuscation surrounding the “rules”. There has been virtually no information provided to the public regarding the legality of the “rules” and their enforcement. On the one hand we have the Prime Minister anxiously exhorting Kiwis to abide by the rules and “to play the game”, and others who regard the “rules” as laws, with consequent penalties such as jail. Are the Covid19 statements simply suggestions? Exhortations? Expectations? Requirements with legal consequences? The government has been very remiss in not equivocally publishing the legal status of these “rules”. Perhaps the true legal basis is contained in the Crown Law Office report on the legal aspects of Covid 19 which Attorney General Parker is refusing to release?
But in many ways, the worst is still to come. If I were a small business owner whose future has been ruined by the lockdown, I would certainly want to know how lawful the pandemic rules are and would certainly be looking at substantial compensation.
So, already the irony of the government’s own declaration of “no politicking during the pandemic”, compared to its own overt politicking, are very obvious and serve to emphasise the hypocrisy of an administration using the pandemic for political advantage. Supposition? Just look at some recent polling. But once again, “we are all in this together” aren’t we?
An appropriate response is a word beginning with “B”.
Henry Armstrong is retired, follows politics, and writes.