Monday, 15 February 2021

Free Press Monday 15 February 2021


ACT Maiden Statements

If you’d like to watch last week’s Maiden Statements by six new ACT MPs, you can do so by clicking the names. Mark Cameron, Damien Smith, Toni Severin, James McDowall. We especially recommend Karen Chhour’s powerful accountof growing from a ward of the state to a successful business owner, and Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden’s tour de force heralding a new ACT.

These followed Nicole McKee, Chris Baillie, and Simon Court’s speeches from the end of last year.

Why We Need Honest Conversations

The Politics of COVID has shown how desperately New Zealand needs honest conversations. The Prime Minister failed, requiring a third of the country to go under house arrest, and is reported as a hero.

Here’s some real chutzpah: She triumphally announces that enough vaccine for 30,000 people (0.6 per cent of the team of five million) has landed at Auckland Airport (where the outbreak appears to have started). The same day the 15 millionth Briton has been vaccinated, along with citizens of 77 other countries where vaccine has started.

It’s not that only countries with people dying had vaccinated. Singapore began vaccinating all front-line air and maritime workers this time last month. Had New Zealand taken the same approach, we probably wouldn’t be in lockdown because our border workers would be less vulnerable to COVID-19.

That media reported the arrival of the vaccine like bread and circuses of ancient times shows how we lack Honest Conversations about our future. When mediocre performance can be obscured by a brazen communications strategy, we have little hope for improvement.

There is a better way, and we’ve been saying it since August. ACT’s five-point plan for responding to COVID-19 remains good advice. If the Government had taken it on board last year we wouldn’t be in lockdown, but here we are.

At the heart of the Government’s failings is a failure to organize. How you organize is how you execute, and the Government organized around the Ministry of Health.

As we said last August, “ACT would establish a specialist multi-displinary epidemic response unit… The Ministry of Health has a charismatic leader but not the ability to deliver…” We didn’t know that, the next month, Heather Simpson and Brian Roche would report to the Government.

All stakeholders we spoke to had difficulties at times, with the level or quality of the engagement between government agencies, between the Ministry of Health and the private sector, and between different agencies within the health sector.

We only found this out when the Government cynically dumped the damning report on the Friday afternoon before Christmas.

ACT said that the Government should augment its approach with technology. Imagine if the Government had implemented COVID-card, thermal imaging at the airport, and saliva testing, used in other countries.

Saliva testing alone might have caught this outbreak two weeks ago, saving us all the current restrictions and their effects on lives and livelihoods. The Ministry of Health started rolling them out on January 22nd, then stopped because they couldn't focus on the Northland outbreak and that at once. This morning the Prime Minister said they weren't very good. Now the Private sector is getting on with it anyway.

We also said that the Government should be a ‘referee, not a player.’ The role of Government should be to make good rules and enforce them consistently. The first lockdown turned out to be illegal and the ban on butchers, bakers and greengrocers opening never made sense.

The Government hasn't learned. This morning, Police’s Auckland Boundary checkpoints 20 km from the Auckland Boundary because the rules weren't clear. We wish we were making this up. More importantly, the rules for testing were inconsistent, and that is why we now have an outbreak.

When the new ‘U.K.’ and ‘South African’ strains (somehow these descriptions are not racist) were discovered, the Government rightly tightened the MIQ testing regime. They added pre departure testing for some locations and a test on arrival for all. So, to come to New Zealand, you have to be tested on day negative three (or later), day zero, and day 12.

But, requirements for border workers such as the airline services worker at the centre of the current outbreak didn’t change. The person in question appears to have been tested voluntarily by their employer on January 18, then wasn’t tested again until they became ill nearly a month later.

ACT said the rules should be made proportional to risk. "Where else is the risk equal to that posed by those arriving in MIQ?" They might have asked. "We know, people who interact with new arrivals at the airport, and their colleagues…"

ACT’s policy concludes that the Government’s goal should not be to stand still, but improve continuously. We should be looking to get better every day, managing risk with better technology under clear rules thanks to a purpose-built Epidemic Response Unit.

That’s the promise of honest conversations. If you agree please share this email with your contacts, sign up if you’re not a member, and support ACT. The alternative is a Government patting itself on the back for delivering a tiny number of vaccines late by any standard except its own. You deserve better than that.