In this horrible year of 2020, we have learned some important lessons about the importance of leadership and the power of science, Chris Trotter says

In this horrible year of 2020, we have learned some important lessons about the importance of leadership and the power of science, Chris Trotter says
The Jacinda & Ashley show.

By Chris Trotter*

The boys would have heard them coming. The roar of dozens of powerful motorcycles telling them everything they needed to know. Bandits in the pay of Boko Haram. A raid.

Of the more than 800 pupils at the Government Science Secondary School, in Kankara, North-West Nigeria, 500 managed to flee. The rest, more than 300 teenage boys, were taken prisoner and marched at gunpoint into the forest, where military helicopters could not track them. They would be ransomed by the Nigerian Government and released, mostly unharmed, a few days later – for an undisclosed sum.

After an earlier raid, in which 100-plus teenage girls were taken, ransomed, and returned to their distraught parents, Boko Haram – Islamist terrorists with a deep hatred for everything associated with Western science and education – had a chilling message for the local population: “Don’t you ever send your daughters to school again.”

Over the past twelve months, in the Northern states of Nigeria, more than a thousand people, many of them children, have been killed by Boko Haram and their proxies. More than 100,000 have been displaced: refugees in their own country.

Worse afflictions than Covid-19 have beset the peoples of the world in 2020.

Boko Haram’s terrorists do, however, have more than a little in common with at least some of the citizens of the world’s wealthiest nations – especially when it comes to science. In the United States, especially, there are many equally fanatical religious believers who, like Boko Haram, see science as a deadly threat to their faith. More than that, they see it as a threat to their whole conception of the world, and to their roles within it.

Multiple reports from the United States describe evangelical Christians, only hours away from succumbing to the Covid-19 virus, still breathlessly insisting to their professional carers that the whole pandemic is a hoax: part of a grand political conspiracy to rob them of their faith and their freedom.

New Zealand had these people, too. Billy Te Kahika and his Public Party courted them on social media and brought them to their feet at indoor and outdoor rallies across New Zealand. Alongside the former National MP, Jami-Lee Ross, and his Advance NZ Party, Te Kahika sought parliamentary representation in the October general election. When all the votes had been counted, however, it was clear that, in this country at least, the political market for anti-science is extremely small. Fewer than 30,000 New Zealanders cast their votes for Billy TK and his outlandish conspiracy theories.

The scale of Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern’s electoral victory attests to the considerable faith New Zealanders are still willing to invest in the twin pillars of modern society: science and democracy. From the moment it became clear that the world was facing a pandemic of huge potential destructiveness, the country’s political leadership made the crucial decision to be guided by their scientific advisers – rather than business lobbyists.

That this was a decision made in their interests, to keep them safe, very soon became clear to the New Zealand electorate. The voters had only to look at the Covid-19-related death and havoc unleashed in the countries whose politicians refused to be guided by the scientists, to grasp how fortunate they were in their Prime Minister and her Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield.

Most of those delinquent countries were located in the West. That New Zealand followed a different path is, therefore, unusual. As one of the key scientific voices in New Zealanders’ ears throughout the pandemic, Professor Michael Baker, observed to Jim Mora on his last Sunday Morning show for the year: New Zealand, throughout its history, has taken its cue from Europe and North America; but in relation to Covid-19, we allowed ourselves to be guided by Asian nations. Is it possible that New Zealanders, looking back on their country’s handling of the pandemic, will see it as the moment we finally and irrevocably relocated our imaginations from the North to the South?

What became indisputably clear to New Zealanders, as the pandemic raged across the planet, was that their political leaders and their scientific advisers had reclaimed the state for the people. From the mid-1980s onwards, as the veteran political journalist Colin James has observed on many occasions, New Zealanders ceased to look upon the state as their friend – as their parents had done since the days of “King Dick” Seddon and Mickey Savage – and began, instead, to see it as an inhumanly programmed apparatus for the advancement of “market forces” and the businesses who benefited from them.

In the daily performances of the “Jacinda and Ashley Show”, however, it was made very clear that the business voices decrying the Government’s decision to lock down the economy, and demanding a less rigorous and costly approach to managing the pandemic, were not being heeded. Business journalist Bernard Hickey’s angry imprecations notwithstanding, the Government’s Covid response was very far from being a gift to our biggest capitalists. On the contrary, the full resources of the state were being rolled out on behalf of its citizens: a frankly socialist gift to the New Zealand people, for which, on 17 October, they showed themselves to be extremely grateful.

That socialist response would not have been possible without the ideology-defeating power of science. For nearly 40 years now, the makers of the “free market revolution” have done everything within their power to convince people that their economic nostrums are, in fact, scientific truths. Faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the perceived interests of business, and the facts of epidemiological science, began to diverge.

In other Western nations, the UK and the USA in particular, the political leadership responded to this divergence by side-lining the scientists in favour of re-starting the economy. In New Zealand, however, that did not happen. Prime Minister Ardern and her key Cabinet colleagues, in accordance with the best scientific advice, opted to “go hard and go early”.

New Zealand’s lockdown, one of the most Draconian on the planet, was predicted to produce dire economic consequences. Treasury warned the Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, to expect an unemployment rate of around 14% – Depression Era stuff.  But, as Ardern consistently argued: getting on top of the pandemic is the only sure way of getting the economy back on its feet. She was right. New Zealand’s GDP fell sharply, but then it roared back, as New Zealand’s “Team of Five Million”, in marked contrast to the citizens of other Western nations, succeeded in eliminating community transmission of the virus – thereby freeing themselves to resume living something pretty close to a normal life.

What the people of Northern Nigeria would give for a normal life. For a country in which science, far from being denounced as the work of Satan, was the guarantor of the people’s health and well-being. Where girls could not only be educated in perfect safety, but go on to lead their people to a better future.

In this annus horribilis – 2020 – we have discovered two things about the power of science. The first is that science, rationally applied, can preserve and enhance our lives, and keep us safe. The second is that who controls the power of science is a matter of the utmost importance.

Because, behind Covid-19 there still lurks the much vaster threat of runaway climate change. In combatting this truly existential danger, will our leaders be guided by the science – as they were in this country over Covid-19? Or, will the bandits of business kidnap science and extract from us all a ransom the planet cannot afford to pay?

*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. He writes a weekly column for His work may also be found at

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Thank you Chris. A sensible summation.


Some degree of revisionism. The initial plan was to 'flatten the curve' and we moved back a deadline for people to self-isolate (in order to avoid having to go into MIQ) so that more people could get back in. People who went through early MIQ weren't tested before being released. And going hard and early was apparently not high on the priority list when March 15th memorials and Pacifica was still going ahead right until the last possible minute (and many had already traveled to be here for them) - despite MOH suggesting in early March that restricting indoor gatherings and events was something we needed to be prepared to do.


Revisionism plus
For this is Chris' Christmas Message to the faithful.
Chris has a great sense of humor.

JA (& team) runs on the opposite of science & critical thought, much more social media & emotion.
Feelings for ever.

We are covid free thus far because of social media and emotion? Well, if that is the case, then long may they reign


Distance, low population density and good luck had big input into outcome.... but hey, subscribe all the accolades you want

Indeed. There's so much wrong with this article, and Chris needs to "stick to his knitting". Ignoring the straw man arguments Chris is proffering, any individual or group who promotes an "us and them" rhetoric has no place in any country I want to live in. Great countries like nz are founded on what people have in common not what makes one group better than another. And any pure ideology becomes polluted the moment you add people to it, as we're inherently greedy, self-centered and self-serving. Just look at the property market!

As a final rebuttal and at the risk of invoking Godwin's law - never forget that the Nazis moved science forward a long way during their tenure. And thousands of scientists were quite happy to go along with it. Please don't confuse science for moral backbone ever again Chris.

If you want them to pay your bill? then please, 'be kind'..

Have a great holiday JA and her colleagues.

We have a deeply troubled 2021 ahead of us.

The year 2021 will be marked in NZ's history as the turning point for The Great Divide (TGD).

The year of those third largest ethnicity population (Asians), just wake up from being played by the govt. (majority ethnicity) to pay more tax from low cost labour hours and forever to give their contribution to support second & fourth largest ethnicity. eg. Govt job recruitment, placement, priority research grant, university health science study seat quota etc. The reasons that make most of those Asians shifted their brain contribution across the ditch, but keep their capital to stay in NZ circulating in RE to be more successful landlords for other favorites ethnicity. The clear winner is OZ from banking, grocery & IQ point of view.


"Business journalist Bernard Hickey’s angry imprecations"

imprecation - the act of calling down a curse that invokes evil

That's a new one - can you provide a link to that/those imprecations


“Or, will the bandits of business kidnap science and extract from us all a ransom the planet cannot afford to pay?”

The last line is a poetic.


For the 50% of NZers not born in NZ - know this
Prior to 1984, if you wanted a stereo system or a VCR or high end electronic equipment you had to fly to Fiji to buy that sort of stuff and bring it back. This country was seriously controlled and buttoned down


Yup - we sold our souls for easy access to cheap junk.

Yes, because Fortress New Zealand was definitely a viable long-term strategy. How are those Aussie car manufacturers doing these days?

And if you needed a house or even a loaf of bread then you could afford to buy it.

We did used to make such things here, we always had a stereo, but never went to Fiji for one

Really great commentary.


Framing this debate as "science vs. anti-science" is misleading. The science is clear, NZ's approach was always going to result in better public health outcomes. Aside from a small handful of crazies who can safely be ignored, I don't think anybody ever disputed that.

The question was whether public health outcomes should be prioritised over individual liberties (Sweden et. al.) or the economy (US et. al.). This is not a question of science, but one of morals.

I think NZ made the right decision, and achieved a good public health outcome without impacting individual freedoms or the economy too much. But it was not a decision for or against science, as this author seems to claim, as do many others. It is a question of values.

Science also tells us that lockdowns stop the spread of flu, which kills hundreds of people in NZ each year. Are you all for yearly influenza lockdowns, then? Or are you anti-science?

Spot on. Well said.


Furthermore, in the case of America, they restarted their economy because enough of the population weren't going to take the necessary precautions anyway, that keeping the economy closed was the worst of both worlds - economic destruction and they'd still have people dying from the virus. They re-opened and managed to do an OK job of keeping it under control over the summer - they clearly didn't prepare their contact tracing or testing responses to the level necessary, and seem to not have appropriately considered lockdown fatigue in their planning.

UK and Europe was much the same - although they had a more compliant population, they never had a chance of eliminating the virus without total adherence to mask wearing and proper social distancing, which unlike Asian countries they still couldn't achieve. So again, opening the economy was inevitable and necessary.

New Zealanders aren't actually particularly much better than the Europeans in this regard, mask use and social distancing simply aren't as ingrained behaviours like they are in Asian countries. We got on top of the virus here largely because of luck - it arrived here much later than elsewhere and we simply didn't have pernicious undetected pockets circulating, and once people saw it was possible to eliminate it they actually were willing to make an effort to stay on top of it - on the assurance life would go back to normal once successful. People in other western countries have no reason to believe that, and so aren't following all of the precautions they would need to for it to be eliminated.

By contact with our old neighbours in the USA, that community situation has boiled down to either you take precautions or you don’t. Our old friends go to the supermarket at an early time dedicated to seniors. They place golf only as their own pair. They go and get restaurant take outs. They shop a lot more on line. Whenever out and about, refuelling the car for instance, they wear masks and disposable gloves. So eight or so months of that and much more still to come. Their danger lies in their family, contact with grandchildren, family gathering have always been often and cherished. The USA as a nation collectively, was never ever going to control let alone limit CV19. Once it was in it was up and gone, far and wide coast to coast. Therefore, unlike NZ, the people of the USA, like our old friends there, have had to manage their lot individually. Not a good lifestyle as accustomed for such seniors but much more manageable and less perilous for them compared to those that have to be out there in the workforce.

We don’t need yearly lockdowns for flu because the flu won’t overwhelm our health system.... COVID is Covid... the flu is the flu.

If you are in denial why don’t you take a flight to LA and report back to us



What a poor piece of writing for CT to end the year on.

Science also tells us why hundreds of thousands of NZ get Asthma, giving us one of the highest rates in the world, yet Govt. does nothing to solve that.

Does that make them anti-science or just politically incompetent?

Hold up mate, the team of five million passed the Healthy Homes Bill. That means preventable asthma has been eradicated and we aren't allowed to talk about it anymore.

Crisis, what crisis (other than Covid)?

Healthy Homes by NZ standards would be illegal in most developed countries.

Rising house prices, in her own words, JA is just giving us what we expect/want, therefore, all those other things like homelessness and increases in inequality that are also increasing must be also what we expect/want.

The irony with the Healthy Homes Bill is you can now legally build a house for an owner-occupier that would be illegal for you to rent out.



If you are new to this site, welcome and well put. Overall, it becomes ever clearer that the government chose the right path. Of course mistakes were made and more will be made, but overall we are in much better shape than most countries.

I know that those on the Right want the border open tomorrow if not sooner, but I and I think most Kiwis would urge caution. Do we really need as many overseas visitors and students as we had before? I doubt it, however painful that would be for some businesses.

Very well said.

Another stat: 400 people die from melanoma each year in NZ. That is scientific fact. So surely we should ban everyone from going outside between 10am and 4pm? it would undeniably save lives.

Versus 9,008 mortality per year in the US for Melanoma. >318,000 US mortality in 12 months for COVID19, even with the isolation of large portions of their population so far. I think we can see, via science, that there's a significant correlation between mortality rate and the level of public health response required. We can also take into consideration the ability of personal responsibility to affect the level of required public health response. Everyone should know by now, due to science, that it is your personal responsibility to slip slop slap and wear a hat etc to avoid skin cancer. Governments, as yet, cannot control the sun, but have been producing public health advice on how to avoid skin cancer for decades. The 400 people per year, whose condition is 100% not influenced by other members of society, fail to head that public health advice and effectively use widely available sunscreen products and/or overexpose themselves. Where as governments can affect a highly damaging and deadly microscopic organisms unintentional and rapid transmitted to large and vulnerable portions of a population.

Our science is clear, buying us 'more time' but what NZ missed is to build a resilience in nationwide DHBs systems in term of preparation for community outbreak during 'this break time', more resources, gear, staffing, isolation/ICU prep, lab facility,worker,capacity etc. our border isolation play a lucky card here, but our initial border testing blunder is just that too indicate that even the economic stimulus is not flowing to those 'non-house' owner of essential staff.. bang! they change it to Army personnel. So yes, good immediate border shut, economy? is based on over stimulus & over subsidy. Flatten the curve? yes, further prep? no, crush the pandemic/break virus bone? now, that's a catchy tune. More of that values questions, directly to those front liners essential workers.. your wage/salary up yet? you can buy a house yet? your rental is up yet? we knew you support our value in preserving life, .. but let's skip the part of .. how we 'value' you.

There is significant difference between the overall transmissibility, immediate and ongoing systemic physical effects and fatality rates on vulnerable populations as well as a lack of vaccine availability for COVID19 versus existing flu strains and their ongoing mutations. If we truly did put public health and science above economic concerns we would all be wearing masks in public settings, at a minimum through flu season and insisting people not attend communal environments such as public spaces and work environments while sick. Some Asian nations have been doing some or all of this for decades.

And who funds those extremist schools in Nigeria? Either way they are going to start killing each other soon enough

We do. We buy Saudi Arabian petrochemical products, particularly as we have curtailed our own exploration. Maybe if we cared more about North Nigeria we'd incentivise hybrid or electric vehicles.

And that would screw the Congo.

Nope, we should be self-sufficient and long-term maintainable.

Which neither Left nor Right, are. Which makes the tired nigglers seem a little ridiculous.

There have been a few countries that have done well with varying approaches (Iceland, Taiwan, Australia etc.) and I'd be hesitant to say any one approach was superior. However given the shortcomings of New Zealands health system and geographical isolation of New Zealand our "draconian" approach was likely justifiable.

I don't know much about the lives of the people inhabiting Northern Nigeria but I'm sure they're on the same journey we have been. If you consider New Zealand, at least in part, a daughter of the Western tradition we also had the dark ages following the collapse of the Roman empire.

Taken back the State for the benefit of the people eh?
New public management, non-responsiveness of services to Ministers supposedly elected to control them (due to separation demanded by 1989 Act); contracting out and competitive tendering still in charge; eternal consultations and non action that might impact on the interest of the richest via tax measures; rising and eternal increases in inequality that State refuses to counteract; not enacting end to homelessness 3 years after promising to do so. Lachrymosity and no action.


They might want to consider reclaiming home ownership for New Zealanders too. More and more people are enjoying our reclaimed state while living out of their cars.


That something has been retrospectively effective does not means it has ever been ethical. The means do not justify the ends. Our COVID-19 response is first and foremost a moral and political question, not a scientific one. "Science" as a deity does not demand that we have a lockdown to satisfy it. A scientist can prognosticate about the contagiousness and danger of a virus, but not about what is a viable economic response, let alone an ethical one, or whether we should be sacrificing social and religious freedom for the sake of public health. You can come down on the side of public health if you like, and it seems many do. But don't pretend it's objectively the best decision since it has obvious drawbacks—I'd start you at "missed cancer diagnoses" if you want that discussion.

It's also abundantly clear that NZ has been extremely lucky. We don't have the resources or the culture of political repression to achieve an East Asian COVID-19 outcome. But we do have a very large moat and a dispersed population. Almost every day we're still importing multiple cases of COVID-19 into the country.

Good point, I remember the scientists saying that NO ONE should be allowed back into the country at one point, even NZers wanting to return, but the PM went for the moral (legal?) and political solution saying they would never stop NZers being able to return.

The decision to 'save' one group, obviously is at the expense of others. The degree in which we all support it is whether we are in the group that is not at risk either way, or are in the group that would have died of Covid without the restrictions, or the group that has died of something else with the restrictions.

Bollocks. Many put others first.

That's the point, they put Covid others over eg, cancer patient others.

One of many well written pieces Chris. Being a Team JA fan in a very much Chrusher neighbourhood, the October result was very interesting. As it always is the Chrusher Crew around here were despairing of the election, the lockdown, shut the borders 100% then let in fruit pickers. Honestly the good ship NZ has been steered a steady course since late March and now many Kiwis regardless of who they voted for are starting to see that the relatively unruffled PM has stopped more than just COVID but wild swings in policy trying to keep too many factions happy. Talk to anyone in England right now. Many are expecting more announcements form Boris this week that will lock them down more.
Looking forward to your views next year Chris, thank you and Merry Christmas.

Apply the opposite of what CT has just written and this is actually what we are faced with.

Kachinga is all about and only about advancing her political career.

If a few emotive photos with scarves, a few tears, head nods, furrowed brow, hand on chin and the like necessitate so be it. She's also a massive "hand talker". Everything is utterly contrived with Kachinga.

We, the peeps, are but cannon fodder to her and her cronies. Science-based they are definitely not. School curricula attest to that with her religion-based climate change fervour she has whipped the peeps into. Never mind geological aeons... primary age children are now taught that 30 years is a satisfactory time span for studying meteorolical/ geological patterns.

What's GDP? we the peeps heard her once say.

No matter - feelings and kindness are all that matters in her world and the world of her completely out of touch with reality seat polishing chardonnay socialist cancel culture 10x average income housing costs is OK voter fan club. The sooner she leaves the better.

Personally, that would be the best Xmas present ever.

It is because of thought processes like theoracles is why the world is constantly faced with an uphill battle. This sort of comment highlights the failings in the education system and the importance of prioritising it in NZ. You can understand why they don't use their own name, they would be pretty embarrassed. I suggest putting the bottle down also.

Despite the rambling aspect to it, he's right. We got lucky, we lurched from one crisis to the next, the government has done its level best to bury critical information and independent reports that show the yawning gap between what they said at 1pm and what was actually happening, and now we are stuck with a worse housing and affordability crisis than the one that the current PM decried as immoral when Labour was in opposition. But you won't find any of it in the glowing 'Year in Reviews' the news networks run, because they're not interested in homelessness or migration or the difference between Labour's campaign promises vs. what it actually did. Life might be pretty good in Grey Lynn for the journo set, but the rest of us are getting a bit tired of the hagiographies.

I guess one would have to have travelled and lived in other countries to see things form other than a myopic viewpoint. Try living in the States right now where some top advisers in the administration really should be held on genocide charges for their complete promotion of mass rallies, ok to travel and eat out at restaurants etc, because half the people are too uneducated or devoid of common sense to make their own decisions and look up to what used to be a leadership position of the president which has now been reduced to the rantings of a delusional madman.
The Government in NZ is way ahead of the game when you compare it to other world 'leaders'. I am not referring to politics, just comparing it to what we could have in a leader.
The complaints against current policies need to be continually debated, not just taken at face value, but we could be doing SO much worse...ranting against Jacinda without providing any constructive comment is a waste of oxygen. And it doesn't matter who is the leader, you will always get these types of people who have nothing constructive to say. Carry on if you must for your own amusement, but people with a modicum of intelligence can see the bullshit meter.

I think people with a "modicum of intelligence" wouldn't accept "hey, things could always be worse" as a reflex response to criticism of the flawed aspects of our response - nothing to do with having to have lived somewhere else or whatever bizarre way you're trying to claim a moral high ground here.

In one paragraph CT the baddies are Islamic terrorists, then in the next religious fanatics, then in the next business people. Did he mean to compare business people to terrorists?

You know, those people who take a mortgage out on their home, start a business, work 80 hours a week, pay their staff (and PAYE, GST, FBT etc. etc.) and maybe come out with a bit of profit at the end of they year if they're lucky. Those people? Ew yuck, yes, let's burn them all at the stake. Science says so.

'Did he mean to compare business people to terrorists?'

I think the answer lies in the fact he did compare business people to terrorists.

CT is not up with the latest trend in using Islamic terrorists - far-right MAGA hat-wearing white supremacist groups are the comparison now.

By missing that trick he now fits that rhyming trifecta of being male, pale, and stale.

Minor point. Businesses don't pay paye or gst.
Employees pay paye and businesses are gst neutral.


If you're making money you are forwarding GST to the government. Yes I suppose you collect it from customers and forward it on. Acting like an unpaid tax collector.

PAYE is a funny one in that if businesses didn't create the positions, then no PAYE would be paid. But I take your point.

I guess these people from Stanford, Oxford, Auckland etc. don't count as scientists?

I guess they hold the 'wrong view' and must be re-educated.

Imagine having (roughly) half the population feeling angry like some of the above posters. That's scary for sure.


Garbage: Not a victory for the people.
This government is pandering to the business whingers wholesale. eg. Just yesterday extending work visas so the hospitality industry can continue to pay pittance wages.
All in the industry favour and a slap in the face of the New Zealander labourforce.
Hardly the political party that calls itself "Labour".

Translation; Government is about the people, not money.

Any politician or political party who thinks otherwise, or adds a 'but' to that statement, just doesn't get it, and doesn't deserve the opportunity for power.

Power of science huh? initial plan is to flatten the curve, now with adrenaline rush it's been stated that NZ crush/break the back bone of the virus, border isolation luck has no play part at all? - Well, some news to all from the inside Healthcare point of view; DHBs nationwide still not prepare 'scientifically' to handle EU style of community outbreak, 52mil covid grant to Maori? no one dare to ask details about it, more protective gear? isolation/ICU unit?, staffing?, Lab testing/capacity?, those essentials border testing staff being praised by Jacinda & celebrities? - coming to Christmas, still without wages/salary increase despite more stimulus by RBNZ, subsidy upon subsidy by the Lab govt. and promise of pay cut (.. heard PM just cough..'bs'..)

Chris misses the point that NZ, our, Covid 19 "approach" relies on, a vaccine.
Without Trump making a vaccine "happen" in 9 months, rather than 9 years, people would be feeling much different.

Operation Warp Speed.
If no Trump, when, would a vaccine be avaliable?. And what would that mean for us, each of us here.

CT also misses the messed up management.

Nobody in their right mind would think that with Sleepy Joe's controllers in charge, Covid things in USA would be any better than they are, and have been.

There are people who actually believe that Trump made vaccines happen...?

What a wild world we live in.

Rick, you have been living in a bubble
You gotta check your news sources.

Of course there were 4 or 5 nations that started distributing the vaccine before the USA. Wasn't the phizer vaccine a collaboration between and funded by Germany? There are many governments ahead of the game than the US, if another administration was in charge whos to know how it would have panned out. Not taking away any credit that may be due but lets be at least truthful about it. trumpty DUMBty just happened to be there and for once didn't cursorily dismiss the scientists.

Two things. Boko Haram are Moslems aren't they?
And if the government's Covid response was anti big business, why did so many of them give their Covid aid money back?