But what I am opposed to is all the sickening hype that has accompanied it. Especially since everything has been so predictable. From the first signs of the emergence of the Delta variant the government should have been fully aware of the inevitable risk to New Zealand, given its capacity for rapid spread and our abysmal approach to rapid community vaccination. When Covid19 Response Minister Hipkins first threatened a “short, sharp lockdown” last week, the government’s planning for such an event should have been in full swing.
Then, when the case was detected on Tuesday, the lockdown button should have been pushed immediately. It did not require the staged drama of the Prime Minister, her deputy, and others rushing back to Wellington for an emergency Cabinet meeting to decide what to do. The plan should have been in place and able to be activated at literally a moment’s notice.
Indeed, it is unimaginable that any responsible government would not have a contingency plan well in place for such an emergency, suggesting that the real point of the contrived urgency was more about showing the government was bold, decisive and in control. If, as the Prime Minister has implied, they were awaiting further information before reaching a decision, then that suggests the government and the Ministry of Health were hopelessly ill-prepared for such eventualities, something the public should be extremely concerned about. It must be hoped that the Prime Minister’s hints were yet more spin, not an accurate reflection of the real state of play.
Nor did the lockdown decision require the false concern of how the decision would be conveyed to the public. It should have been announced immediately it was decided upon. But, instead, as is customary with this government, there was the predictable silly pre-announcement that there would be an announcement a few hours later.
And when the announcement was eventually made, the sanctimony and arrogance were palpable. All New Zealanders wanted to know was when we would be going into lockdown and for how long. Even then, they were kept in suspense when it was announced that the Prime Minister was running ten minutes late – a deliberate ploy to attract attention if ever there was one. Worse, when she eventually deigned to appear it was to be a further twelve minutes of generalities and slogans before she eventually got to the point we had all been waiting to hear.
All the appeals to live in your bubble, remember you are part of the team of five million, and to be kind are so much humbug. All they do is raise the hairs on the back of the neck more rigidly. Just as bad is the obsequious way the Director-General of Health begins all his waffling presentations thanking the country’s health workers, for just doing the job they are paid to. Nurses and midwives threatening strike action over unresolved pay claims might prefer he demonstrated his support for them in a more tangible way. And when the announcements were eventually made I would have liked some critical analysis from TVNZ’s political editor, not the drooling sycophancy about how good the Prime Minister is in such situations that was dished up instead.
The government’s primary focus once it became aware of the case should have been on giving people and businesses as much time as possible to adjust to what was being imposed on them. Delaying the announcement several hours until the 6:00 pm television news and then not even turning up on time to deliver it suggests the process was more about keeping the focus on the government, than meeting the public’s concerns.
Moreover, if we really are a team of five million all playing our part, then the government should have shown its trust in us by releasing in unredacted form all the advice available to it so that we can see for ourselves the extent of the risk we faced, the government’s pre-planning to deal with such an event and the basis for its decisions. Now, of course, that will never happen, confirming the cant of the government’s approach that we are in all this together.
I would prefer the government when dealing with complex but not unexpected situations like this week’s outbreak to keep its focus solely on the facts, without the extraneous, embellishing drama. People simply need to know what is happening, how it affects them, and what they need to do. They can work the rest out for themselves without the saccharine laced platitudes masquerading as announcements that have become so much a part of the process.
We will get through the current situation for no other reason than people’s focus on their own and their families’ wellbeing. It has nothing to do with being kind, staying in bubbles, or being part of some mythical team of five million. That is all just so much unctuous poppycock. People will respond because they appreciate it is in their best personal interests to do so. Anything else is just puffery. Therefore, we deserve to be respected as mature and responsible beings, capable of sound decision-making, not errant children to be given morality lectures at our leaders’ convenience.
The greatest absurdity of this week’s announcements, in response to a situation brought on almost entirely by our poor vaccination rates, was the abrupt decision to suspend vaccinations, only to be just as abruptly overturned less than 24 hours later. It suggested a complete lack of forethought, planning and organisation. Or, as the ever-curmudgeonly Eeyore of Winnie-the-Pooh fame would say, “They haven’t got Brains any of them, only grey fluff that’s blown into their heads by mistake, and they don’t Think.”
Peter Dunne, a retired Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, who represented Labour and United Future for over 30 years, blogs here: honpfd.blogspot.com