Friday 16 April 2021

Why Haven’t They … ? How to Explain this Government’s Baffling Refusal to Solve New Zealand’s Problems.

Yes They Can - So Why Don't They? In matters relating to child poverty, homelessness, mental health, climate change and, of course, Covid-19, the answers are right in front of the Government's collective nose - often in the form of reports it has specifically commissioned. Why can’t Jacinda and her ministers see them? How are we to explain this government’s baffling refusal to solve New Zealand’s problems?

THE LONGER this government lasts, the more its supporters ask: “Why haven’t they … ?” On just about every front, Labour and Green voters, see solutions just begging to be adopted by their government of “kindness”. In matters relating to child poverty, homelessness, mental health, climate change and, of course, Covid-19, the answers are right in front of their noses. Why can’t Jacinda and her ministers see them? How are we to explain this government’s baffling refusal to solve New Zealand’s problems?

For example: Why haven’t they used the twelve months since the outbreak of the global pandemic to …

Recruit a nationwide “Covid Army”?

It was obvious very soon after the Pandemic was declared that the country was going to need a massive and highly co-ordinated response to keep Covid-19 at bay, and that the Ministry of Health (which was never intended to take on an operational role of this size and complexity) was probably not the best institution to provide it.

From the very start, the whole effort should have been presented as the moral equivalent of war. Calling for volunteers to serve on the “front lines” of the “fight against Covid-19” would have attracted hundreds, if not thousands, of New Zealanders. Just as happened in the days of Compulsory Military Training, the jobs of all those who stepped forward to serve “for the duration” of the crisis could have been preserved by law. Just as happened in World War II, volunteers would be feted as heroes.

The whole quasi-military organisation could have gradually taken over the handling of the pandemic response from the Ministry of Health. Its leadership co-opted from DHBs, Medical Schools, the Armed Forces, the Business Community, Universities and Trade Unions, the “Covid Army” would have featured an “MIQ Division”, a “Track-n-Trace Division”, a “Testing Division”, a “Communications Division” and, ultimately, a “Vaccination Division”. It would have operated as a single, national, publicly-owned and operated entity, with a unified chain-of-command answering directly to the responsible minister.

Had such an entity been created, it is most unlikely that the second and third lockdowns would have been necessary. More importantly, were such a Covid Army in existence right now we would be in the midst of one of the biggest public education campaigns ever mounted in New Zealand.

With the largest vaccination exercise ever attempted in this country looming, radio and television, the newspapers and social media should be driving home the need for all citizens to be inoculated. Co-opting the most creative “creatives” our advertising industry has to offer, this public education exercise should be as relentless as it is imaginative; as hard-hitting as it is surgically targeted. That no such campaign is yet in evidence, with the major roll-out of the vaccine just over three months away, speaks volumes.

Why is it proving so difficult to get any of these things done? Why are private security guards not being tested every fortnight as required? Why has MBIE failed to get the state-owned security firm, promised months ago, up and running? Everywhere we look we find potentially disastrous failures. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, New Zealand has benefited hugely from a large measure of plain, old-fashioned good luck. It would, however, be the height of folly to base our continuing Covid response on the assumption that our luck will hold.

A politically paranoid person would long ago have concluded that the failure of the government to establish an altogether more coherent and streamlined approach to fighting the Coronavirus is deliberate. Such a person would point to the deeply ingrained resistance throughout both the public and private sectors towards anything smacking of “heavy-handed regulation” – let alone “compulsion”. They would argue that the advice so far tended to the government has almost certainly eschewed anything remotely resembling establishing publicly owned and managed organisations fully equipped with the legal and moral authority to get things done. After three decades of neoliberal indoctrination, most of the government’s advisers would likely consider such a Covid “cure” considerably worse than the complaint.

Perhaps the best piece of luck we have had in the whole Covid crisis, is the speed with which Jacinda, her Cabinet, and the legally designated bureaucrat responsible for combatting epidemics, the Director General of Health, were forced to act. There simply wasn’t time for ideologues to throw their spanners in the government’s works. Almost instinctively, New Zealanders like Siouxsie Wiles and Michael Baker grabbed whatever weapons were at hand and began returning fire against the virus. Jacinda Ardern, in particular, proved to have superb instincts. Her communication skills, combined with those of her accidental hero, Ashley Bloomfield, somehow tricked a bureaucracy framed to resist collectivism into acting decisively in defence of “the team of five million”.

Looking back at our extraordinary delivery from the horrors that still plague Italy, the USA, England, Brazil and India, it is easy to adopt a smug and self-congratulatory attitude towards the stunning success of New Zealand’s elimination strategy. But, it could all have ended so differently – and it still could.

Because people aren’t dying, it is tempting to confer retrospective competence upon a bureaucracy which, in the months since the decisive battle against Covid in March and April of 2020, has demonstrated almost unbelievable ineptitude. The government’s response to these repeated failures has been insufficiently forceful to prevent their recurrence. What’s more, in the absence of bold measures to reconfigure and reinvigorate them, our public institutions’ disturbing propensity to fuck things up may finally overwhelm Godzone’s good luck.

Why haven’t they solved this (and so many other) problems? Because Jacinda and her colleagues have yet to fully appreciate that they can.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 16 April 2021.


greywarbler said...

My thought - they should stop focussing on focus groups and have a thinking bunch that they have regular unpublicised and unsurveilled meetings with and discuss problems and successes with people in touch with ordinary life, the vast majority of whom would be New Zealanders and half of them being born in NZ, as well as the specialists and some high flyers. And get away from the beltway and the usual suspects.

Don't allow any media people in or allow comments to be made after to anyone. This would allow better free flow of ideas and limit the nit-pickers who want to undo the threads that enable robust discussion to hold together under stress from competing suggestions, back and forth. It must however, have a time-keeper with a beer glass and a teaspoon, with agreed times for speaking to an idea, and some sort of conclusion voiced that people can agree or express doubts with.

Odysseus said...

Because, quite simply, the members of this government are not very bright, competent or motivated by a work ethic. They are almost all children of the comfortable Middle Class. For them Politics is about striking a pose, rather than something born of necessity. I expect this administration will gradually fall apart, especially when they encounter full throated popular protest on freedom of speech and the erosion of civil liberties.

aj said...

I don't quibble with other aspects of your post, but the the covid response needed higher skill and cohesive organisation than a cobbled together, well meaning Home Guard could ever provide.

Geoff said...

Rhetorical question Chris......because we are in fact governed by morons ! Ardern is a mouth piece for the undiscerning, but is a cerebral pygmy...sorry !

Jens Meder said...

But are there not always limits to what can be done in an acceptable and sustainable way ?
With universal vaccination before long, have we not actually done extremely well on the corona virus containment so far ?

Kat said...

You already know the answer Chris, it ultimately necessitates a serious amount of govt control of the public service and strategic utilities. Jacinda has already voiced concern over repeating the follies of the 80's especially when it would require significant legislative, social and economic dismantling of those follies. The govt has to be assured of qualified buy in from the electorate for such radical change. Jacinda is fully aware her govt "can" however she has the intelligence and leadership smarts to know that timing is everything.

This is why there isn't already a reinstated 21st century MoW, even though anyone with an iota of grey matter knows that such a ministry is whats needed to solve issues such as the housing crisis in NZ. The 3.8b govt funding for infrastructure is just the clock being wound up.

Sam said...

To a point Jacinda could be said to be incompetent I just don't think that's the primary issue here. She's not a dictator and neither does she poses the desire to be. She's just too bloody kind.

Tom Hunter said...

I have to chuckle about this. It seems very much an Old Leftie heartbeat to talk of things like some sort of social army. The same sentiments inform The War On Poverty and so forth.

Hence Woodrow Wilson's "War Economy" of WWI, which was his technocratic dream come true: an entire society harnessed to a single goal of winning the war. No wonder FDR, then merely a humble Secretary of the Navy, was so enraptured by the idea of a vast, central-government-controlled world that he tried to recreate it a decade later.

And since then there have been countless Left-wing governments and parties that have embraced this "Just like a war" approach - with Climate Change being merely the latest example. Fight it or we all die!. While some on the Left have, thankfully, pointed to the downsides, the mass of the Left, including you, think this is the way to go in solving society's problems.

Has it ever occurred to you that the Left have picked all the low-hanging fruit with this approach and that you and yours have no idea how to proceed along these lines for anything else?

Has it also never occurred to you that Adern and company, never having been tested by the fires that forged a Fraser, Nash, or Savage, simply have no idea what to do?

I don't deny Jacinda Adern's political skills in terms of the necessary PR face of politics, but the best Leftist politicians like FDR, LBJ and Bill Clinton, knew both that and the practical slog of policy.

Jacinda Adern is every advertising agency's dream.

David George said...

Chris: "our public institutions’ disturbing propensity to fuck things up may finally overwhelm Godzone’s good luck." Hear hear!

The cock ups continue with no apparent accountability; the bad ideas, the lazy and the incompetent are left in place.

"It’s hard to imagine a more stupid or dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong." Thomas Sowell

greywarbler said...

What a depressing sight. Waking from a troubled dream on your sickbed and finding yourself surrounded by Uriah Heeps rubbing their hands together, waiting for your demise so they can divide up your carcase for their own purposes. They left the obstacles in the way that you tripped over but they take no responsibility for your pain and suffering and unfortunate demise. That's what I feel when I read here the eager diagnoses of chronic disposition. Their answer to the ailments - 'Death, the cure for all diseases'. A pox on all their houses I say.

John Hurley said...

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel gave a speech before the march, where she said her own grandfather came over from Scotland.

“Every single one of us has a migrant story, whether they came by waka like the first Māori settlers, by ship, or by plane. It’s one of the foundations of our society.”

She said that while Covid-19 has unfortunately sparked this latest wave of anti-Asian sentiment, the virus of hate did not come from Wuhan, or from China.

“We have 160 nationalities calling this city home. Their diversity adds strength to our society.

“I think we can be the place that found the cure.”

If you aren't on the Labour waka; if you think New Zealanders have no identity beyond having a migrant in the family tree; if you think it is o.k to bring in large population of people with a different identity; if the benefits aren't obvious (to downright negative) then lets just label that hate. The alternative would be to admit that Labour's "social experiment" was reckless and arrogant.

sumsuch said...

Hope you're right, these privileged children of Helen's 'winter of discontent'. They seem to be learning.

David George said...

Kat, I think you're seriously overestimating the value and capability of a Government run ministry of works but ten out of ten for effort. It worked reasonably well in it's heyday; it was run by competent, committed and conscientious people, survivors of war and economic collapse, people with the work ethic and tenacity to see the job done and a common morality, religion and culture to guide them.
I don't fancy the chances of trying to recreate that, not with this outfit. A ministry of woke more like.
Can you imagine it? It'll be all Te Tiriti and wall to wall waiatas with the board chosen for conformity with gender proportion and 50% Maori in accordance with He Puapua plus 10% alphabet (LGBT.....) people and a compulsory Wahine Maori at the helm. Bogged down in health and safety and cultural impact reports (only one culture to be considered) any self respecting, competent and qualified engineers they manage to recruit will be on the next plane out of here. The private contractors and builders will be out of business so those people, the best of them anyway, will be lost to the country. No thanks.

Jack Scrivano said...

@ John Hurley ... 'If you aren't on the Labour waka; if you think New Zealanders have no identity beyond having a migrant in the family tree; if you think it is o.k to bring in large population of people with a different identity; if the benefits aren't obvious (to downright negative) then lets just label that hate. The alternative would be to admit that Labour's "social experiment" was reckless and arrogant.'

I'm sorry, I don't understand what you are trying to say. Would you care to try to explain?


John Hurley said...

Complaint (1)
I’m writing to complain about 'We are not a virus, we are people:' Protesters march against Asian hate in Christchurch Amber Allott 16:57, Apr 17 2021.
I’m complaining because I am fairly confident this is a story which our current crop of journalists considers has only one side worthy of representation. To agree is correct to disagree is “hate”.

The issue is an ideology which considers modern states do not need to be made up of members who voluntarily recognise themselves as “us”. Membership is a “common humanity” and “we are all migrants”. By this we are an open country governed only by the market.

George Megalogenis calls immigration the fifth pillar pillar of the open economy (1. exchange rate 2. tarrifs 3. labour market 4. interest rates 5. immigration). Allegedly we have a demand for skills such as IT skills and a “growing economy”. In Australia a rising middle class in India and China are landing at the top (best homes, best jobs, best skills). Livability suffers, however the migrants don’t notice as they are escaping a degraded environment and over population. He says three Australias are developing (Asian in south eastern; Anglo in Western and central and Pacific in Northern. This leads to problems of cohesion and difficulty governing. The answer (he stresses) is to be ready with infrastructures such as light rail.

In an RNZ interview Bernard Salt noted that the bond with Australia was weakening thanks to a demographic shift (as described above).

Here in NZ it could be argued that immigration has not been the positive story portrayed in the media over the past decades. I could quote Michael Reddell, Geoff Simmonds, Kerry McDonald Paul Glass and others. What I have observed is a strong presence in the real estate market, motels, coffee shops and competition for bus parks outside the Canterbury Museum.

As for racism in 1987 the Labour Party set out to create a new type of country in which no ethnic group is dominant (with the exception of Maori who are deemed a different category of citizen).

John Campbell in an extremely hostile interview questioned Peter Brown who had stated that the expected number of Asian arrivals would create “division and friction”. An angry Campbell’s point was “but 160,000 of those will have been born here Mr Brown. You know that”. Meanwhile Professor Paul Spoonley stated “__ will have been born in NZ. Our research shows that they have quite different expectations of what it means to be a New Zealander. We may have to look at things like the national anthem and flag”

As noted in an RNZ program A Slice of Heaven people were welcoming in the beginning until (allegedly) the politicians stirred them up. That is false Humans never evolved for a multicultural society. We have a need to live in a “coherent moral order” (Jon Haidt).

Professor Eric Kaufmann argues that majority ethnic groups are the architecture on which nations are built and if that group is self confident they welcome new comers. If they are governed by self-abnegating elites the result is populism.

Meng Foon speaking to Maori says that in NZ relationships are “paper thin”. He talks of an “inter generational mindset”; “time is nothing” and “land is mana”. We (on the other hand) are told that you can’t object to Chinese buying farmland as that is racist.

We are also continually reminded that we excluded Chinese. What is not mentioned is the limited migration into Asian countries. How many migrants does China take? Answer = less than 2000 in total.
If our populations and circumstances were equivalent you might have more of a case for arguing that we are racist.

John Hurley said...

Complaint (2)

Underlying post-ethnic cosmopolitanism is a theory that a melting pot is created and a new type of individual. There is a problem with this theory. It requires us to have no agreed standard beyond inclusiveness and acceptance of others cultures, values and beliefs. By this we are to value China as much as Europe and Islam as much as Christianity and high fertility groups as much as moderate fertility groups. We are to have no agreed vision of the future such as who are we and how many of us. That is just a lottery and there is no guarantee we will (on average) be better off. Yes “the market” could be better off but we (the future) could be Argentina.

Through all this the media have monopolised one voice over another. Journalists are the least trusted section of society (and with good reason). Journalists don’t receive an education they receive an indoctrination in Critical Theory.

John Hurley

What Ranginui Walker said about elites disregarding Maori over immigration.

John Hurley said...

Are you ready for your Christchurch experience?

In Christchurch, no one is a stranger. We are one people, one city. We are so proud to be a city of love and social change. Our city of exploration is at the heart of the beautiful canterbury region.

"It's just very international and cosmopolitan"
"a still tongue makes a happy life"

The Prisoner 1961

greywarbler said...

John Hurley Yes Labour's economic experiment was a mistake. But it wasn't social, it was to bring in outside money into NZ and b..ger that it disadvantaged many of the citizens. Labour aren't full of thoughtful ideas for other's welfare you know, that they are a bit better than National is what you can say for them. They have potential but it is feared they will get not further than sitting on the pot and the ink will run on the rest of the word.
Your point is well understood so for goodness sake stop hammering it.

CXH said...

Until the arrival of Covid, Jacinda and friends were looking at a large defeat. Their luck in not having an outbreak, despite less than stellar decisions, was aided by National having a complete meltdown. This lead to a large number of party votes going Labour's way and their eventual clean sweep of parliament. Since then they have been behaving like a rabbit in the headlights, unable or unwilling to use their position to be transformational. Instead doing their best to keep everyone happy in the vain attempt they will get the same votes next time.

Sadly they are wasting the opportunity to actually help drive change. It may not be the direction I would chose, but we are failing at present and could it really be any worse.

Kat said...

@David George............Oh well then if it's not an "overestimation" I would say we are all doomed. Jacinda and her govt cannot fix anything. That leaves the opposition...crikey, we are now doubly doomed.

John Hurley said...

@ greywarbler
I think Labour did make a conscious decision to (attempt) to create a new type of society

The immigration policy review in 1986 was part of a much larger agenda for change in New Zealand (Bedford 1996). It was not essentially a change in state policy with a primary focus on one region of the world, as Parr (2000:329) suggests, although clearly through the 1980s and 1990s immigration from countries in Asia was a highly topical issue for both politicians and the public. The attitudes of New Zealanders in the mid-1990s towards immigration may not have reflected the positive perspective on the value of diversity in our society that is contained in the Review of Immigration Policy August 1986. But this does not mean that the globalisation of immigration to New Zealand was an “unintended consequence of policy changes in 1986”. It was a deliberate strategy, based on a premise that the “infusion of new elements to New Zealand life has been of immense value to the development of this country to date and will, as a result of this Government’s review of immigration policy, become even more important in the future” (Burke 1986:330).

Two academics: "Yes I know what you mean about nation. It comes from natio "to be born".
What to do about that is one of the central tasks"

This was the time of the ending of apartheid.

Rangitira of Immigration - Pathways Conference 2016 Marking the events that transformed NZ - opened it to the world
1986 "Trlin observed that 61% of residential approvals were white. It is hard not to draw the conclusion that NZ continues to adopt a white NZ policy".

61% mind you.

greywarbler said...

John Hurley
About immigration - I consider that the Jewish escapees from the Nazi sickness who came here have been an inestimable value to our European culture and provided an interested and sophisticated audience appreciating Maori culture that caused NZ to rethink its settled opinions. Also my great-grandmother was German and was registered here as an alien, and encountered prejudice from NZ family. One set of grandparents came from England, I have to research the other pair.

Trlin quoted above was from a line of (then) Yugoslavs who brought their determination, and hard working culture with them to NZ. He didn't learn to speak English till he was five.
He understands what drives people to distant lands to settle. It is a human trait. When he refers to 61% he is stating a fact, and putting one construction on it of a number that would be applicable. He apparently liked to be a bit provocative; I think you have picked up on that.

Your text refers to NZ's Review of Immigration Policy August 1986 and the aspects of that encouraging immigration as a good. This was after 1984 when our country was turned upside down and being readied for an export drive to grow the economy. That would mean that we had to reach out to other countries and other languages. We had to replace our previous certainty that we were a valued partner to the UK with reliable quotas for our food production. Everything was in flux. I am sure there was not a deliberate attempt to overwhelm this country with foreigners and their ways. But we had to look further than Australia and historic connections for trade. Then we signed up to multi-lateral agreements and gradually signed away our sovereignty and rights, under economic suasion. The more dependent we are on export returns, the more vulnerable we become to foreign memes that do not benefit all. The government is not under our control, but of those with most money and the international interests that come looking for a sweet spot or a bargain. For standards we compare ourselves with the OECD league tables. So you are right there was an attempt to create a different sort of society, but not for diversification per se, but more for enhanced economic outcomes.

sumsuch said...

Yep, we're right here, not reliant on pollutant mines like Oz, nor not that violent plutocracy America. But I would be interested in your view of the vital prong of Fox in overthrowing their 'democracy'. It is my main reason to suspect 'free speech'.