Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Henry Armstrong: Politics and the Pandemic - who to believe?

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. 


Don said...

Having lived through WW2 I can assure Henry that such a rant would have earned him a charge of subversion, indeed such views against the actions of leaders in Nazi Germany would have found him dangling from the nearest lamp post. Sure the govt.has faltered in places, humans are not perfect, but our overwhelming task is to eliminate the virus by working together in the best way we can.Our unity of purpose is essential and if we jeopardise it the virus will win. Accept that mistakes will be made but applaud that progress has been made also and stop whinging but do what you can in support of our common campaign.

Unknown said...

I think that the points made by Henry are valid. To call the facts contained in the article a rant is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Henry, let's not forget Michael Baker, from Otago University who wanted to quarantine all the people over 70 on an island! Now I understand the need to quarantine people with a very infectious disease - regardless of age!! But even to think of putting everyone over 70 on an island - for their own safety we were told - is utter lunacy! He received quite a backlash from people on social media! The ones I feel sorry for are the thousands of New Zealanders who have lost their jobs. Others with small businesses, which will never recover. Many of them very well qualified like the Air New Zealand pilots and staff just laid off. Where will all these people find work given the present circumstances? The truth is that this situation has raised more questions than answers.

Mervyn said...

What we have done is traded freedom for safety. Having done that we now cannot simply ask for our freedoms back because we then concede that it can be taken from us at will. The only way to earn freedom is to be prepared to die for it, and this will be the inevitable cost of the covid19 response.
War is always inevitable. What the covid19 response has brought that inevitability a whole lot nearer, not only as a philosophical necessity but an economic imperative. The lockdown has triggered a shortage of consumption through unemployment and fear of the future over productive capacity. In short a "depression" 1.5 billion people , that is half the work force of the world now has no means of economic support..The only remedy is to use that overcapacity and re-employ the workforce is the production of something that is absolutely useless by being self destructing. That is what war does. Instead of blasting one another to pieces we could agree to make the winner he who can blast the moon out of the heavens or some such competition. But that wouldn't earn our freedom.
The first commentator says they lived through WW11. Having seen the price to get freedom how can they be so sanguine at giving it up?
It astounds me that me how readily NZers have traded freedom for safety. What the hell have we done during 1945 to 2020?

John said...

Well George Orwell was on the button when he wrote his novel 1984.
Aunty Cindy is almost following it to the letter. Yeah I get the feeling that BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING ME everytime I go out to do the shopping.

Allan said...

Thought you would have been aware of APARTHEID NZ by now Henry.
Just to enlighten you; Maori signed the 'Treaty', not to become one people in one nation, as stated. But to become 'PARTNERS'. So if you Pakehas can set up a road check-point, then we Maori must be allowed to do the same. That's why, when we Maori receive $56million as compensation for the Chinese Flu, then, all you other fullas should get the same. NO, that's not right, that would be racism. See, told you we had well entrenched APARTHEID in now to be known as AOTEAROA. And as for the economy of this country. We Maori established all the farms & factories, long before you Pakeha turned up. so it's only fair that we are paid extra compensation when the economy collapses.

Owen said...

" We Maori established all the farms & factories, long before you Pakeha turned up. so it's only fair that we are paid extra compensation when the economy collapses."

Is that a deliberate attempt to rewrite history?? or a tongue in cheek attempt at stupidity??

Basil Walker said...

Why bring racism into a health and employment narrative . Parliament said "We are in this together". Covid 19 was introduced into New Zealand presumably by humans travelling by air or sea . All humans were introduced to New Zealand by travelling on water by vessels with sails. Captain Cooks journey were well documented and the often quoted canoes from the pacific are NOT compelling but if proven, fundamentally disproves claimed indigenity.

Allan said...

OWEN; If you can't work out the sarcasm & tongue in cheek attempt to make you realise just how PATHETIC the acceptance of the disgusting laws introduced by disgusting governments are in this country, then you deserve everything that we now have. Cheers : Allan

Owen said...

With some of the crap being circulated, and believed on this subject, I could but hope it was a tongue in cheek statement.

So I am happy that it was and not another attempt to rewrite history.