“ACT welcomes the Government holding a Royal Commission into its Covid-19 response, after we first called for one in May 2020. We note it is now conveniently too late for the Commission to report before the election, so it won’t inform the people’s judgement of this Government, and misses key issues in its terms of reference” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“ACT has repeatedly said New Zealand literally cannot afford to repeat what people have just gone through, so we all need a frank assessment of how to do it better. The only issue is, it should have been done earlier to report before the election. In a democracy, people should be able to judge Governments with full information.

“The Government has now been making excuses all year so they can say ‘sorry, it’s going to report eight months after the election. Had they started nine months ago in March, it could have released a draft report, at least, before the campaign period.

“The Government’s response to COVID has significantly impacted on kids’ education, mental health, benefit dependency, crime, social cohesion, business strength, and infrastructure for years to come.

“Kiwis deserve better than another $106 billion debt from an experimental response the next time a pandemic arises.

“Among other questions, the Royal Commission should have considered whether:

  • the borders should have been closed earlier;
  • the pandemic plan was world class, like Taiwan’s, or an outdated response informed by the 1918 Spanish flu, and even that was ignored;
  • the national PPE stockpile was adequate and distribution was sufficiently organised;
  • contact tracing capabilities were adequate;
  • the Government had adequate testing, including planned epidemiological studies to provide data for decision-making;
  • the rules set by the Government appropriately balanced Covid-19 elimination with other goals;
  • The Government partnered with business, iwi, and sectors such as the country’s network of GPs, or was overly captured by the Ministry of Health;
  • the Government acted in accordance with the rule of law.

“However the Terms of Reference for this inquiry say the inquiry “may assess whether New Zealand’s initial elimination strategy and later minimisation and protection strategy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and supporting economic and other measures, were effective in limiting the spread of infection and limiting the impact of the virus on vulnerable groups and the health system, having regard to New Zealand’s circumstances, what was known at the time, and the strategies adopted by comparable jurisdictions.”

“It goes on to explicitly rule out “the operation of the private sector, except where the private sector delivers services integral to a pandemic response.” One of the key issues of the response was the failure to take an overall wellbeing response. Considering the effects on education, business, and mental health is effectively ruled out from the get-go. Like the whole pandemic response, these terms of reference are blind to the wider issues of human wellbeing. This is a major fail.

“Being unprepared for the first major pandemic in 100 years may be understandable but repeating our mistakes if it comes back next year is totally unacceptable.

“Crisis thinking is very different from honest reflection on how we could have done better.

“New Zealanders responded to blunt imperatives to get through the crisis. ‘Stay home, save lives.’ ‘Unite against COVID-19’ as a ‘team of five million.’

“The approach needed in a crisis, though, is not the approach needed for avoiding the next one.

“We need open, honest debate. New Zealanders have accepted unprecedented restrictions on their lives with little scrutiny.

“ACT was the first to call for a Royal Commission into the Government’s COVID-19 response, but Jacinda Ardern is pathologically unable to admit fault. As we saw in the Charlotte Bellis saga, you need to take the Government to court to get an apology for malice and incompetence, and even then it’s not certain. Under Labour, the only illumination we get is from gaslighting.

“Any investigation can’t be an in-house affair. New Zealand is too small for an objective investigation. We need an investigation that would lean on experts from a range of countries that did things well, and not so well, to give an honest review. As well as Australian epidemiologist Tony Blakely, the Government should as ask Taiwanese and Swedish experts, for example, to be part of the investigation.

“The investigation is not simply about learning what Labour did wrong. It is about working out what we need to do right. There will be another pandemic. Hopefully not in the next decade, but almost certainly in our lifetime. In the future, it could save New Zealand billions of dollars in costly mistakes. We literally cannot afford to repeat Labour’s handling of this pandemic.”

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David Seymour