ACT Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden calls out Govt for having a disregard for 'wellbeing' in its Covid response

ACT Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden calls out Govt for having a disregard for 'wellbeing' in its Covid response

By Brooke van Velden*

The Government made a pretty big deal out its “wellbeing approach” when it did its first budget. The principles were good, to weigh up all the costs and benefits to human welfare for each decision it makes. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t actually apply those principles to Budget 2020. But we shouldn’t just abandon the concept. The wellbeing approach would enhance our response to COVID-19. It would allow us to count and weigh all the costs of COVID-19 and our response to it. 

In my last column for Interest, I argued that lockdowns are unsustainable and we need to have an honest conversation about the way forward. Since then, ACT has released our COVID-19 response policy and it centres around the wellbeing approach.  

Being COVID-free is one dimension of wellbeing. We should also think about students and their life-defining exams and non-COVID healthcare like delayed elective surgeries, not to mention, the stress on business owners and the financial costs. Some estimate the Level 3 Lockdown in Auckland has cost around a billion dollar. 

A billion dollars is Pharmac’s entire budget for a year. We just spent a year’s pharmaceutical budget on a lockdown in one city. 

Some say the alternative is Sweden. But what kind of choice is that? Living with the virus should mean living with it, not dying with it.

After the nationwide lockdown ended there was lot of self-congratulation from the Government. The Prime Minister talked about ‘doing a little dance.’ If the Government had spent less time doing victory laps and more time focussing on contact tracing and securing the border, we might not have found ourselves back here.

We’ve watched as the Government compared us with the worst places in the world, rather than the best.  

Look at Australia. The Government and media have spent the past month talking about Victoria. It makes us feel good. Except there are eight other States and Territories doing well, arguably better than us for having had lighter lockdowns and, now, letting international students back. 

Instead of focusing on Sweden’s six thousand deaths without lockdowns, we should be asking ourselves how Taiwan has had only seven deaths amongst twice as many people, also without lockdowns.  

On every measure of COVID their approach is superior. Their economy is forecast to grow this year, life carries on for students, non-COVID patients, and businesspeople. 

Our approach should incorporate the things Taiwan has done well, such as establishing a multi-disciplinary Epidemic Response Centre. The Government should act as a referee, not as a player, and allow alternative isolation where it is safe and where people can be electronically monitored with strict punishment for rule-breakers. We should adopt a risk-weighted response and treat different countries and travellers with different levels of caution. Importantly, we should use a technology-driven response and use innovations such as the COVID Card, GPS locatable cell phones, and Datamine’s ëlarm. 

This should all start with an honest reflection. Taiwan is not ahead of us because they are better or smarter people, but because they survived SARS and subsequent events. Having fought imperialism and dictatorship to be free and democratic. Stereotypes of a pliant Asian population are just wrong.  

With the wellbeing approach we could be safe from COVID. The Government just needs to stop talking about wellbeing and actually apply the principles.  

 *Brooke van Velden is the ACT Party's Deputy Leader and Wellington Central candidate. As part of an election series van Velden will be writing regularly for between now and the October 17 election. Vanushi Walters, the Labour Party's Upper Harbour candidate and 23 on the list, is also writing for

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"The Government just needs to stop talking about wellbeing and actually apply the principles."

Fat chance. This government doesn't do delivery. It's all about aspirations and appearing to do something..

Anyone know whether we would similarly be able to triangulate cellphone connection to a 50m location radius as they can and do in Taiwan? I'm wondering whether the density of their mobile infrastructure might be a unique feature of that functionality/capability.

We can easily do that in any of the main population centres, outside of that as you suggest the density of the towers reduces the accuracy. However, I think (not 100% sure) that we (NZ govt) aren't legally allowed to conduct mass surveillance on our own people in that fashion. We'd have to ask another member of the Five Eyes to do it for us.

Depends where you are in the country. Auckland it's definitely technically possible. Privacy issues make it not legally doable without a government directive I would have thought.

Map of cell towers around Auckland

Just listening to a Judith Collins interview and she too is suggesting the Taiwan approach. I think they ought to clarify whether they would introduce new surveillance powers in this regard, as that seems to me to be the only difference between our methods and those of Taiwan.


Jeez spare me - a libertarian party lecturing other political parties on the concept of 'wellbeing'. Next they will be trying to tell us how important 'society' is to them. Wolf in sheep's clothing comes to mind.


I am 100% certain that an ACT government, if in power, would have been absolutely gung-ho on the Swedish approach. It's not even a question, their ideological affiliations would demand it.

And if Brooke van Velden honestly thinks the 'wellbeing budget' is a good idea, she's joined the wrong party. Doesn't she know that economic efficiency is the sole arbiter of value? Where's Roger Douglas to set her straight?

Think Brooke was highlighting the hypocrisy of the current government re well-being rather than proposing well-being herself.

An ACT government? Well... it aint going to happen so its a moot point. Even if they were in govt with National we would be looking at lockdown and ACT would only be questioning whether Level 3 was warranted given ICU capacity and the impact on the business community. I am sure all those business owners who didnt survive the last lockdown or wont survive the next one will be asking the same question.

Can a political party not change its policies over time? Look at the policy trajectory of Labour (of which Roger Douglas was a member) from 1930's until the present day. They have still called themselves the Labour Party for that entire time.

Over time... sure. But less than 18 months ago we all got fed the first ever well-being budget.... which seems to have fallen out of the vocabulary with Labour now.

Pretty sure it's still encapsulated in all our Treasury measures. In fact, the framework and dashboard was updated on their site as recently as December:

Meaning a lot of ongoing work was being put into it.

Arguably all budgets are wellbeing budgets, just not all have that in their name. Governments operate on behalf of the people. The economy is affected by Government. Government provides the majority of health and education services. The police operate to protect the people (by upholding laws). All these things are regulated by the Government's allocation of resources, so are wellbeing budgets. Those are the principles Brooke is applying.

Want some wellbeing, stop looking for someone else to solve your problems, get off your backside, and get some exercise.

Joe explains the mental and physical well being connection well.

I found the book Lost Connections by Johann Hari a great read in regards to depression and wellbeing. Of course, exercise is one of the topics covered.

These are a couple of good reads of a similar nature, but not with diet and exercise side that really are critical to getting brain chemistry right. We live in a world where the ability to find meaning in work is being eroded for those new ones coming into the system. Depression is a huge problem with teenagers. And if anyone is wondering, the pursuit of money is not a purpose.

Agree, that was an incredibly interesting book. That and Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning are two I found great reads (in the same rough hemisphere of topics).

Weird that a neoliberal-economist would be sucked up into the alarmism by advocating more costly, and pointless interventions. The virus is already globally endemic! people just dont realise it yet. We just need to take the hit and move on. Rip the band-aid off! Open the boarders and get everything back to normal like they've done in Europe. The death rate from COVD in Sweden and other parts of Europe is now very low. The emperical data shows that herd immunity appears to be attained when around 10% of the population have antibodies. It's speculated that's because of T-cell immunity.

The chance of eliminating the virus at this stage is close to zero. The only virus in the history of mankind that's been eliminated is smallpox. The likelihood of getting a safe and effective vaccine in the next year is also remote. Apparently it's a running joke in the Epidemiology field that a Strep vaccine for Rheumatic fever is only 5 years away. Every 5 years they have a conference and say the same thing. So it's not just one low probability event that we're betting on it's two - elimination and a vaccine. We're betting the house on a lottery ticket. It's crazy.


Love it

Best one of the day

"adopt a risk-weighted response and treat different countries and travellers with different levels of caution"

this is surely the only way forward. Its easy for Jacinda to dictate a 'go hard, go early' approach cos its not her funding the cost of business closures.

Why are we treating travellers from Western Australia, NT, Queensland the same as those from Victoria? Why are we looking at Australian travellers the same as those from India or USA? How many taiwanese students will not come to NZ next year cos of the quarantine and residency restrictions when in fact they are safer than NZ?

As per the first comment from mlpc above "This government doesn't do delivery".

NZers are asking how do we move forward and manage this.... dont think we have the stomach to digest more frowny faces and "Go Hard, Go Early" kindergarten messaging when the next govt border fustercluck comes along.

People just need to wear a mask and use hand sanitiser often.
If not you die, I die and everybody die !!! so simple.

* Brooke and Act talk about "wellbeing" .. yet Brooke has publicly called for beneficiaries to take a 'pay-cut' during these Covid-19 times - strange. Was that a 20% pay-cut for NZ's most vulnerable?

* Act has promoted the Covid-19 response of many countries .. Taiwan is the only example they have left .. very intellectually dishonest and selective of Act.

This article, to me, comes across as an uninsightful, strawman, puff piece. Not up to's usual high standards. Sorry, not sorry. Even Peter Dunne can do better than this piece.

Come on, surely you think more of your readers than this?

This is an article written by the Deputy Leader of a political party in NZ in an election year, not by an Interest writer. Interest have committed to reporting to their readers on the parties and policies this election as best they can, and this is part of it.

Read the article and make your own judgement of it, but don't have a crack at Interest - they are doing a great job of it. If Act want to put their foot in their own mouth, they can.

Just making sure we ALL know their tactics .. their Facebook page is a borderline hate group, I hear (don't quote me) Facebook has warned them about misinformation and asked them to amend/remove posts.

Even Act's youth wing is cracking and plagued with gossip of sexual misconduct and bullying. Just shocking what the media lets Act get away with. No understanding of Modern Money Mechanics either. Lord help us ALL.

You hear, but don't quote you? Why are you spreading hearsay? This isn't a rumour mill, mate.

Appreciate your comments, however. Now I know to completely ignore anything you have to say about Act. Have a nice day.

Typical Act tactic .. pick at the innocent to distract from party failings.

Could not disagree more.... the article rightly questions why the government proudly boasted about being the one of the best in the world at managing COVID rather than asking "what could we do better?" or "what are others doing that we aren't?"

It also asks important questions of what next.... how do we open up and who should be first to open up to..

In terms of i salute them for giving the parties a stage to submit their views on. As is stated at the foot of the article, the Labour Candidate for Upper Harbour has also had an article published. I criticised the quality of the article, but fair play to for publishing it and properly disclosing its source and basis for publishing..

Sounds like the article is standing up a straw man to burn down, in that case.

Or do they really believe that no one is asking how each part can be done better over time and what can be learned from overseas experiences? Surely they're not that unrealistic?

Morgan said the CovidCard project had been “buried among people who are useless deep inside ministries who just can’t deliver this”

Well this is the Govt of slogans not delivery.

Smile and waves boys... smile and wave

Sounds like Morgan ain't too bad at slogans either. The health system does contain some useless people, mostly because anyone with an ounce of competence and leadership was taken out under the last National Government. Yes... I once worked there as a contractor, and was impressed by the 'carefully efficient' people at second and third level who got stuff done and managed the risks (via processes too robust to be acceptable to the private sector mind you, but that's the public sector's job). Most of them were shown the door under that totally incompetent pairing of Jonathan Coleman and Chai Chua.

Instead of throwing your toys out of the cot Mr Morgan, try to support the braver and less useless people you've met along the way!

I cannot imagine our COVID response had we had Chuah instead of Bloomfield at the helm. Thank goodness for the change of government in that regard.

How ironic, or perhaps oxymoronic NZ's most right wing party talking about wellbeing.

The wellbeing approach requires a social cost benefit approach that seeks to increase the welfare (wellbeing) per capita of all New Zealanders. This includes looking at the distributional effects of policy and taking these into account.

Most of ACTs policies would not clear this hurdle.

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