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Peter Dunne says next week’s events will set off a further process of major adjustment for the government, just as it will for every other New Zealander

Peter Dunne says next week’s events will set off a further process of major adjustment for the government, just as it will for every other New Zealander

By Peter Dunne*

The welcome and overdue resumption of Parliament next week will be another step-up in our Covid-19 response.

The days of virtual one-party government we have endured in recent weeks will be at an end, and Ministers (even the long absent Minister of Health) will have to front up and be accountable to the House on a daily basis, required to give answers to the difficult questions the lockdown has so far enabled them to avoid.

Also, the government will be able to progress some of its other legislative initiatives that have been languishing because they are not Covid-19 related, and the Minister of Finance will be able to deliver the 2020 Budget on May 14. Altogether, this more democratic process will mean the dynamic under which the government has been operating since the imposition of the lockdown will have to change.

Since the middle of March, the government has been following pretty much the usual political norms for dealing with a major crisis, albeit with the few inevitable slip-ups along the way.

First, was the identification of the crisis. From the time Covid-19 burst on the scene and the seriousness of the threat it posed to the whole world started to become obvious, the government began, slowly at first, but then steadily thereafter, framing its narrative in terms of the threat the virus and its rapid escalation posed to New Zealand.

By early March it was moving to the types of solution New Zealand might have to look to imposing, if the virus continued its rampage. Soon thereafter, the Alert Level system was mooted, and the possibility of closing borders raised, although the tardiness with which the latter was implemented is still hard to understand.

By the time the move to Alert Level 3 followed by the almost overnight transition to Alert Level 4 occurred, the seeds that the country was facing a major, hitherto not experienced crisis had been well and truly sown in the public mind.

That made the next stage of the suspension of Parliamentary government and its replacement by government through emergency regulations easier to bring about.

At the same time, this was cleverly covered by the resort to inclusive language – like “we are all in this together” – both emphasising the extreme nature of the crisis the country was facing, and making compliance with the impositions on freedom about to be made that much easier. It also made it that much harder to be critical of what was happening, and it was no coincidence that public tolerance for dissident views or awkward questions fell sharply.

All this was reinforced by the daily press conferences with the Prime Minister, the Director General of Health, and initially the Commissioner of Police, to make clear in the early stages where the true authority lay, and to become the sole and dominant means by which official information was conveyed. We were even told not to believe things that had not been stated at the press conference. As time has gone on, and the numbers of new cases have dwindled, so too has the relevance of this daily event, which should disappear altogether once Parliament resumes.

Far preferable and more accountable that the Prime Minister make her regular announcements to the House where she can be questioned with more precision than at a press conference, where she controls who asks the questions and any follow-up. That change alone will start the process of winding back the highly centralised and controlled nature of our Covid-19 response.

Of course, critical to this whole process of crisis management is there being an actual crisis to manage.

That has been clearly the case in places like the United States, Britain, Italy and Spain, for example, as the numbers of cases and deaths have been spiralling out of control and the public reaction has been one of desperate panic.

While the potential impact for New Zealand was just as serious, the perverse consequence of acting early to avert the extent of the crisis has been that the extremes seen overseas have been averted. But an inevitable consequence is that some now question whether there was ever a crisis here in the first place.

Yet it is a more than reasonable conclusion that without the actions taken, the number of cases here could have been at least 10 times higher than they are.

On relative population terms that would have been about on a par with the United States and Britain. Which is why in its public presentations the government has been treading a fine line between too much celebration of our unexpectedly low numbers and continued warnings of the need for ongoing vigilance. It will need to maintain that balance for some time to come.

Nowhere will the line be more tested than in the process of withdrawing from the various Alert Levels.

In many senses, that will be the hardest part of all.

Winding back the emergency regulations and structures will not occur overnight. That is why the exit process will be gradual, no matter the decline or even ultimate absence of cases.

The government will be reluctant to relax too much of the control structure built up in recent months but will have to adapt to doing so.

It will also have to be seen to be looking beyond the Covid-19 outbreak and shifting its future focus to the enormous economic and social restructuring that now lies ahead. So, it will have to reshape its narrative in the same clear way it did at the outset to meet the new situation.

In short, next week’s events will set off a further process of major adjustment for the government, just as it will for every other New Zealander, so pervasive has been the impact of Covid-19 to date.


*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

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62 Comments

11
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I'd argue we're still in a crisis - just that it's now an economic one, not a health one.

This makes the necessity of scrutinising government policy and decisions all the more important.

And don't be so fooled that we are out of the health crisis, far from it, it is still wreaking havoc around the world, which reverberates here

if its a health issue still --- and not arguing - Consider how many lives could have been saved, suicides prevented, operations carried out, nurses trained, teachers paid, children fed and clothed, victims of domestic violence protected, homelessness housed with the 600 mill a day being spent in subsidy's

In comparison - here is the government investment in other health issues -- that they say is the largest ever - note ANNUAL not DAILY figures below!

480 mill a year for suicide prevention and mental health -- about 16 hours of subsidy
80 mill a year for domestic violence just over 3 hours
27 mill for nurse training 1hour
460 mill for health facilities 16 hours
385 mill as year - for teachers pay rises 12 hours

in the meantime --we have stopped all elective surgeries - placed DV victims with their abusers for 5 weeks destroyed our economy, placed millions of Kiwis into financial hardship, doubled our unemployment, crippled small businesses many forever and added a debt that will take 20 years to pay and take about $3-4 billion a year out of our health , education and social support budgets for the next 10-20 years annually - with all the resulting poorer health outcomes

And as everyone knows - the poor and minorities suffer most in any depression -

First order of business...........get rid of the lame duck minsters , starting with Health and Education

10
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And replace them with who ? Ardern's senior team is largely composed of people who have zero real world business experience just as we head into a period when the social health and mortality consequences of the post lockdown period are about to confront us. As examples of cabinet depth we have a deputy PM who cannot understand a form that 99% of over 65 NZrs have no problem with and thinks its OK to post photos of himself fishing from his expansive front lawn when hundreds of thousands of kiwis are grimly locked down in small houses with kids bouncing off the walls and facing desperate employment prospects, an education minister struggling to create coherent and workable return to school operational plans and a health minister so morally dull he is unable to perceive when he's engaging in criminal conduct and thinks it OK at a time of the country's worst health crisis in 100 years, to run for cover to his deep south bunker and allow an obscure unelected medical bureaucrat to effectively assume crown ministerial powers. Where was Megan Woods when cabinet was considering the weight that was to be given to the mortality modelling used to determine lockdown strategy? Her academic background ought to have ideally equipped her to critically challenge its assumptions that we now know to have contained flaws. Perhaps she did and was dismissed, who knows. But with the exception of the surprise package that Robertson is proving to be, and maybe Parker, although he seems to be keeping his head down, Ardern and her crew are largely absent the depth that the nation desperately needs to see us through the dark days ahead.

And there is your trouble. Governing is not "running a business"

'Experience of'. Obviously they don't 'run' a business.

So?

Exactly. This is where the cornucopians bleat 'business as usual'.

Except what they want, was actually 'business which was unusual and which was already hitting the wall but didn't recognise it yet'.

We managed from Breetton-Woods until 1970ish, staggered on by avoiding the rising degradation, hit the wall in 2008 and have been on steroids since.

T'aint coming back

You'll eventually be right, the system can't carry on as it is for ever. Change must occur, global consumption distribution and volume will have to be modified. But geo political forces will ensure the existing playbook has a few more chapters to run yet; well past our lifetimes.

Amazing the number of people who were all for the Key model of growth, growth growth and lets forget about investment in reducing poverty, suicide, violence, homelessness, health and all are suddenly referring to it now.
It's bad luck bro when it's the poor part of town but when it turns up on your own, suddenly its WTF is Labour going to do to help poor ol Moi?

And how have homelessness, child poverty and surgery numbers been tracking recently since spending was increased and we finally got a competent health minister ? I ask because the daily diet of terrible stories about these issues disappeared from the MSM following the election.

poverty has gone up by most measures since Coalition came to power - the result of policy choices driven by feel-good rather than analysis
https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA2002/S00160/20k-more-children-in-pover...

The Labour government is like the 1990s NZ cricket team - crap first choice players and no depth.

And National is more like the 2012 team with Ross Taylor about to get stabbed in the back by Hesson/McCullum.

More like the Oz under arm team.

Say we had some bipartisan members in what is effectively a war time cabinet do you have any one in mind?

Pls dont say just anyone. All NZ knows the quality of National is breathtakingly abysmal. Even Farmer who Nat voters seem to fondly remember, was a proven liar and his devout family record that garnered so many political votes was very questionable.

Seymour for all his viciousness, is the only one that comes to mind, simply for being practical.

'All NZ knows the quality of National is breathtakingly abysmal' ... Which makes quite the statement then about the 44% who voted for the nats.
Student politicians, ex unionists and activists who have never sweated over meeting the next payroll are ill equipped to lead us through the rapidly approaching hurricane. Speculating about who in the opposition benches might or might not have been better is futile. Peter's decided Ardern would be better than English, the die is now cast.

Moot question. Those that voted for the current shambles need to own the outcome and pay for it.

Yep, nice thought but it doesn't work that way does it. If the CoL make a hash of this all of us pay, now and in the future, 'unto generations to come'. Deaths from C19 are cinematically visible but the slow creeping death from economic decay is hidden, its bitter cost never billed to the ideology that directed this pathway.

Gee, you are being charitable to GR.
Average, in my opinion.

Hmm, I guess my low expectations and his calm measured style and willingness to act boldly have combine to give him a tentative thumbs up. We have a long way to go though, he is about to be tested. The MSM is currently ramping up the litany that our infrastructure deficit is due to English over tightening spending post GFC, presumably conditioning the punters to support the minister having an open cheque book as 2008+ now comes calling. The irony that Robbo wouldn't have the stimulus headroom had English not been conservative is lost in the storyline.

Andrew Little into Health is the obvious choice.

After observing how different countries deal with this pandemic crisis, a conclusion can be drawn.

That is democratic system is capable of managing a country of a size UNDER 25 million people with the condition of being geographically isolated from other nations -- the AUS and NZ.

All other democratic countries without these two conditions will end up being forced to herd immunity.

Xing. Any update on the actual throughput numbers for Wuhan's crematoria?

I wonder if their major cell phone carriers might have some numbers.....on the missing numbers......

I follow XMW with mild amusement. But re herd immunity, he may well be right:

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the research charity Wellcome Trust, said: "Around 8 billion dollars is needed for a vaccination that can be developed and manufactured at scale, and to distribute that around the world leaving nobody behind."
Speaking during a telephone conference, he said the current pandemic is unlikely to be a one-off, describing it now as "an endemic human infection".
"It is likely this is here for the human race for the future and so we are going to have to find ways to deal with that," he said.
That’s the reality. An Inconvenient Truth, Mark 2.

Geoff Bezos could pay for it, rummaging round down the back of his couch for loose change.

Or raid his 'just in case we have to pay tax' kitty.

Clearly being either much larger in population or of a federal sale of government make things more difficult but I don't see any proof in either of those points that a democratic representative government is a handicap.

It's also been an advantage being an island at the bottom of the world.

Being an isolated island nation is only advantageous if there are ample resources per capita. To be isolated and short of resources would be dire in our current situation. I hope NZers reflect on this and hold our govt to account for their continued drive to growth NZ population for little gain.

I suspect there is an element of truth to your conclusion. History seems to demonstrate that democracy functions best at small scale. As NZ and Australia population grows via continued mass migration the efficacy of our democracies will continue to decline.

and Taiwan?

13
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"Far preferable and more accountable that the Prime Minister make her regular announcements to the House where she can be questioned with more precision than at a press conference, where she controls who asks the questions and any follow-up. ".

Indeed. Care Bears and Happy Unity in Adversity only goes so far before citizens with a functioning cortex start noticing the disparities between on-the-ground experience (PPE, contact tracing, retirement homes clusters and deaths etc) and the soothing syrup being dispensed at the Daily Briefings. The Verrall report stopped short of using the adjective 'shambolic' but it might as well have, re contact tracing and the utter debacle that characterized the early days.

The talking down at those briefings has set many a tooth on edge. Perhaps much of the intended audience is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. But the net result for some, is a slow and perhaps irrevocable loss of Trust in their Masters. Too many half-truths, too many evasions, too much playing fast and loose with the data, and too little honest fronting up to the succession of mistakes that have occurred.

Now, any rushed response will have mistakes: it's not the case that we expected none. But the instances of medical staff being denied PPE, being asked to remove PPE, being inadequately supplied with PPE and then as a direct result (poster child: Burwood Hospital, Christchurch, with WuHuFlu-infected staff now) incurring casualties, are both public, obvious, and were avoidable. Then being papered over with vague assurances about 'stocks' and 'there, there, no need to worry' is just not gonna cut it.

Mistakes Were Made, and serious ones at that. Roll on the Royal Commission.

And quit with the honeyed tones, smiles, and happy-clappy invocations to National Unity. Some of us can still string some Thoughts together, can take the bad news, and expect to be treated as the high-functioning Adults that we are.

Your comments are worth subscribing for.

Mercifully she has dropped from her line of spin the 'our response is gold standard' fallacy.

If find it sad that one of such obvious intellectual capability makes most of them.

Waymad runs solar panels, which sort of clashes with a lot of what he says.

Yep, welcome back waymad.

Peter Dunne: Yet it is a more than reasonable conclusion that without the actions taken, the number of cases here could have been at least 10 times higher than they are.

Is that a reasonable conclusion? It seems there are many approaches to Covid-19 that work. I don't want to make this a debate over what Jacinda did, if your argument is that based on the advice she got, and our ability to do contact tracing, we needed to do what she did, I think there's little to argue.

My argument is more that she was ill-served by her advisers. We can easily quote countries that took earlier action, or take less severe actions. To me it seems this whole pandemic fields needs one big shake up. Why are we having professionals paid to concern themselves their whole live with public health, and we didn't close borders earlier? Why didn't we have better contact tracing ability? Why did we need level 4? Why are pandemic models so bad? Many reasonable actions are possible, not just the ones we took.

I hope a Royal Commission (perhaps with Australia?) will study what we did and how we can do better.

This whole business has been an exercise in incompetence, adding to the CoL legacy of talk, talk & talk some more & then deliver very little, & in the covid case, too late. The covid shambles has currently cost our business two-thirds of our revenue for this calendar year. Thanks for nothing JA. We never actually had a health crisis. We had a health issue, then made into a crisis of leadership & economics. Sorry, but come September, they're gone.

Not unless Bridges is too. Poorest Nat leader ever, totally unelectable.

Pietro. You may be correct but I suggest you judge too soon. The hyper reaction of much of the MSM to Bridges latest clumsy comments indicate they are aware their idol Jacinda is soon to face the first real test of her leadership that her PR adviser will be unable to shield her from.

lol

Or at least that's the line that the left's armies of bots and robo-trolls (were many examples on twitter yesterday) would have you believe.
Labour are riding high on Jacinda's huge and nearly exclusively positive and uncritical exposure over last month, and would win an election today. But in 6 weeks (earliest an election could occur) the economy will be absolutely wrecked with huge numbers in dire financial hardship. Hard to see Labour surviving that. Simon lacks charisma and is probably not best choice in Nats (though I don't pay enough attention to Nats to be able to point to someone better)

LJM. Our family businesses are taking a severe hit too but despite that the unanimous view of the stakeholders is still that elimination is worth a crack. Ardern is now twisting the meaning of elimination to create future plausible deniability but her obfuscation will be rendered irrelevant by the business crisis rapidly bearing down on us. Already Hipkins is floundering with workable level 3 education protocols and MBIE business advisers are creating rules on the hoof with disparities in advice depending on whom you talk to there. We have evolved through multiple iterations of trading interface rules over recent days, each one requiring changes to our plans. There is a growing likelihood that L3 will dissolve into an unenforceable shambles.

Unfortunately it is now clear that MMP has hampered rather than enhanced good government. The irony is that it was seized upon by the electorate, including me - I admit it, to introduce controls that probably the disquieting antics of Muldoon in his last term had provoked, yet it has got worse, far worse.The increase by another 30 mps, not necessary said the Royal Commission, has weakened the calibre across the board and combined with the cross legged nature of coalition politics has encouraged the swamping of parliament with academics. The electorate of NZ is too small and immature for MMP to work effectively. For example a minor party in a coalition is condemned for either doing nothing or when it does get something done is accused to of being the tail wagging the dog. As MM concludes in his post today the present lot have revealed just how poorly an academic fares when it comes to a real test in the real world. In the previous Labour government we had a PM academically conceited and a deputy academically cynical, especially the final four years. In between times National sauntered in and set about creating Corporate New Zealand, became complacent, conceited and careless too, and got to treating the ordinary folk of NZ in the same way those institutions treat their minor shareholders. NZ is now on the crossroads of a crisis of immeasurable risk and it seems to me that our politicians, just about all of them, are of a very inferior quality to see us through. That leaves it to the bureaucracy then. God defend New Zealand!

My concerns exactly. MMP was a giant step backwards. I too thought it a good idea at the time, but we now only have 60 MPs subject to direct feedback from their electorate in the form of a steady stream of people who have had their lives buggered by government bungling. That is, only half our MPs are elected. The rest are drafted in by Party Central Committee, chosen for good looks and for ideological allegiance to the current set of Party approved fashionable ideas.

Traditionally, candidates would be known to their electorates and would have some claim to competence in the real world. They would be chosen by the local party, not by Party Central. To me this is the crucial reason that representative democracy worldwide is having something of an existential crisis. The representatives no longer represent their constituency, they only represent their tribe.

The current government is only in power because they won the bidding war between National and Labour for El Presidente Winston's personal consent.

'Tis a dangerous road we have chosen.

FG - it was the arrogance of the Douglas era, rather than Muldoon. He was trying to preserve an unpreservable paradigm. As are the neolibs, currently.

LJM - and money is sooooooooooo much more important than...........

than people?

Than the habitat-parameters our species needs to survive?

MM - she was elected by an electorate kept in the dark (as too the real pending issues). We can argue that the Dunne-types kept us in the dark, or rhe MSM, or maybe they can be grouped together :) but before you get a leader going in the right direction you have to have an electorate informed enough to be wantng to go there.

PDK, we agree on your last clause. But she's a forlorn hope me old hearty. The god of mammon is propagating her virus at colossal speed through asian subcontinent teeming masses and nothing will stop their desire to become Americans. Africans watch on waiting for the day when they too will join the movement. NZ is swept up in this inexorable current and voices of protest drowned out by the thundering tide.

It's a great pity, because there IS a better way. Some of us are living it, and it's a lot more satisfying that the lives most lead, I suspect.

And it's a ton of fun.

Go well

And replaced with who John?

If you say nats or act you may see a revolt in lifetime. Those dirty stinking flithy xxxxxxx xxxxx will open the borders then hock the place and i can tell you that is NOT ACCEPTABLE!
You might as well just advertise your house for sale in China.

One other thing that is required is a rethink of our health system which is pleading for a bailout now as because of their actions and caution is now going broke with GP,s looking at losing their jobs we tried to get a booking for a consultation and the local clinic is impregnable gave up in the end several others in different areas I know found a similar response from pharmacies for repeat prescriptions even . Hopefully the parliament will apply some scrutiny to many of these areas our whole hospital system has ground to a halt with the director general of health now pleading for people who need acute symptoms treatment to persist to get help all this for a dozen or so people nationally requiring treatment.

Where as my GP did a 2 minute phone consult and whacked me with a $47 bill. And the the automated online repeat I got they whacked a $15 bill on

Just watched the PM justify overturning the ban on hunting. And explaining why the duck shooting season will be extended??? Can someone explain why walking through dense bush with high powered rifles, shooting along swamps and river banks with shotguns, or chasing feral pigs with knives and dogs is less dangerous than going fishing in a boat or tramping? Shooting mosquitoes and swatting elephants. Yes, we need Parliament and a proper Question Time back asap. Things are becoming farcical in my view. And iwi checkpoints? One law for all, please. And the hypocrites... Hone Harawira, Lance O'Sullivan, David Clarke. Why haven't THEY been charged like the other hapless fools, who can at least plead that they are plain stupid and aren't 'role models'?

Because those in the world of academe know as much about hunting as one who would go hunt polar bears with a swiss army knife. wish some of them would actually.

Hear hear one law for all no room for vigilante patrols masquerading as concerned citizens. Hunting rules absolutely tripe the duck season is getting late at these times may interfere with breeding.

interfere with the ducks or the hunters? Perhaps that answers why have always wondered why the latter’s quarters are called hides.

Hunting is a LOT less dangerous than the idiots riding their bikes on the open road, and it seems in these times they can ride in whatever part of the road they see fit.

Shall we note here how many cyclists have died riding on the road over lockdown?

Hunting is a LOT less dangerous than the idiots riding their bikes on the open road, and it seems in these times they can ride in whatever part of the road they see fit.

Shall we note here how many cyclists have died riding on the road over lockdown?

The suspension of democracy that has taken place is really quite shocking. Why could Parliament not have convened using this new fangled internet thingy? Too hard? Too inconvenient? Why not an all party emergency cabinet that represented the whole country? Why the power grab? Instinctive response or wonderful opportunity??? Crises are where tyrants steal power.

Crisis response does not mean autocracy. If our politicians were not reasonably decent for the most part, then we would never return to the civilised society we enjoy. There are deep issues here.

Our civilised society is not based on the Tyranny of the Majority. That is not democracy as our forefathers understood it. That is Democratic Oligarchy, as practised in South American Republics, where the party in power steals freely from the other party's members, until the process is reversed. Please, let's not go there.

I think our politicians are reasonably decent (I mean god help us should they be unreasonably indecent) but the quest for power is more for the good of the party and/or themselves rather than the good of the nation, in too many cases it seems. MMP has camouflaged shortcomings. All parties have introduced MPs who had nowhere near the qualities and capacities that should be required, and some of dubious morals as well to say the least. When we had each MP representing an electorate then there was some direct accountability and some of the dunces and moonlighters that now sneak into parliament on the list, just would not feature.

Absolutely.

certainly been the most undemocratic government of my 50+ years -- start with the ban on oil and gas exploration - without talking to the industry or even her own parliament - and even this week announcing schools and ELC would be opening without a conversation with head teachers or teachers -

and by the way - if the virus is eliminated - her goal -- there is absolutely no need for L3 L2 or any restrictions at all -- all we need to do is protect border integrity -- whats left of business can try to restart -- with no business tax relief it would seem -- and workers can look forward to a lifetime of higher taxes to pay for the 50Billion they are borrowing

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See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.