Friday 22 October 2021

Jacinda’s Choice: “Freedom Day”, Or Failure.

Lining Up With The Right: Though Jacinda Ardern hasn’t endorsed the John Key-Act-National preference for 1 December as Auckland's “Freedom Day” in as many words, that is clearly the timeline she is working to. The Prime Minister of New Zealand cannot assure 1.6 million Aucklanders that they will be free to visit their families at Christmas – wherever they may be located in New Zealand – and then renege on her promise. Not without all hell breaking loose.

The following commentary was written on the afternoon of Thursday, 21 October – about 18 hours prior to the Government’s latest Covid-19 announcements. For those interested in my take on the Announcements themselves, please read the appended postscript. – Chris Trotter.

THE AUCKLAND BUSINESS COMMUNITY has told the Labour Government that it expects 1 December to be “Freedom Day”. Since the Labour Party has consistently done the Auckland Business Community’s bidding for more than 30 years, putting a decent sum on 1 December as the day all double-vaccinated Aucklanders get to fly away would seem like a pretty safe bet.

If 1 December does not turn out to be “Freedom Day”, then you can put a big blue ring around Election Day 2023.

It is certainly no coincidence that 1 December was the day chosen by Sir John Key in his in/famous op-ed intervention; by the Act Party; and, finally, by the National Party itself. For those unaccustomed to reading the political runes, this is the New Zealand Right presenting the Labour Government with a united front. If Labour fails to take the hint, then every gun in the Right’s possession will commence firing at it, and they will not stop until the right-wing parties are in a position to form a government.

It has happened before. As soon as it became clear the Labour had won the 2005 General Election by spending money that wasn’t, strictly speaking, its own, the New Zealand Right declared total war on Helen Clark’s Government. There was no respite. The attacks came from everywhere. From National and Act, obviously, but also from the mainstream news media and high-ranking civil servants. Labour also faced the slings and arrows of blogs and websites run by persons whose political connections ran into some very interesting places, and linked them up with some very important people.

This war was as unrelenting as it was successful. In 2008 Helen Clark and her party were cast out of office like an errant puppy that has just been caught widdling on the carpet. John Key didn’t need to say: “And don’t come back until you know how to behave!” Labour had been given the message loud and clear. It would take the Party nine long years to find someone who could open the door and lead Labour back inside the House of Power.

That’s why it would be a political miracle if Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues did not meekly line up alongside the Right and announce 1 December as “Freedom Day”. Auckland is, after all, New Zealand’s largest city and its most crucial political marketplace. Without a fair old swag of the 1.6 million Aucklanders in tow, electorally speaking, a political party’s chances of winning the next General Election are pretty slim.

Keeping Auckland in tow electorally, and keeping its citizens locked-down until Christmas and beyond, don’t really add up as a winning political formula. Especially when a good 70-75 percent of Aucklanders have dutifully presented themselves for their double-dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The idea that they must remain confined within their city’s boundaries, while the unvaccinated of Auckland – and the rest of New Zealand – are wooed and cossetted in what is beginning to look like a futile attempt to persuade them to do the decent thing, is becoming less-and-less saleable as a political proposition.

As a politician with an instinctive flair for political marketing, it is very hard to envisage Jacinda attempting to make that sale. Far easier to see her joining with all the other “serious” parties (and, yes, you’re right, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori are not included in that group) by making the date of “Freedom Day” a matter of partisan agreement.

The Greens and Te Pāti Māori will, of course, complain that by joining with the right-wing parties Labour is effectively abandoning Māori to the ravages of the Delta variant of Covid-19. The Government, and the parties of the Right, will likely respond with Judith Collins’ argument that delaying the opening-up of Auckland, and the rest of New Zealand, solely on account of the low rate of Māori vaccination would only expose Māori to all manner of racist abuse. It would make them the scapegoats of every Aucklander with a failing business; a job hanging in the balance; and/or a family member whose mental health is faltering.

Te Pāti Māori will protest that “Freedom Day” will amount to “Genocide Day” for tangata whenua. To which a great many of their fellow citizens will reply: “Not if you use the next four weeks to get vaccinated!”

There will also be many Kiwis who angrily lament the fact that making 1 December “Freedom Day” flies in the face of “The Science”. They may well be right, but, sadly, that boat has sailed. It sailed the day the Labour Government decided, against the advice of its medical scientists, to move out of Level 4 and down to level 3. After that crucial decision, “The Science” no longer entered into it. After that, the decision-making became, first and last, political.

Inevitably, the business community, the right-wing parties, and the right-wing news media have coalesced around a political solution that would leave the Labour Government with just two choices: Stand firm – and lose. Or, join the consensus – and at least retain the chance of winning in 2023.

Not quite Sophie’s Choice, but definitely Jacinda’s.


THE FIRST THING to note about the Government announcements of Friday, 22 October 2021 was the staging. Clearly, the dimly lit Beehive Theatrette is no longer considered an appropriate setting for the Prime Minister’s communications. Accordingly, proceedings were moved to the Beehive Banqueting Hall. (The change may have been dictated by the sheer number of journalists clamouring to attend, but still.)

The second change was in the cast. Where was Ashley Bloomfield, the Director-General of Health? Today’s drama featured no experts. As noted above, our Covid universe now rests on politicians – all the way down.

As for the script, well, the date of 1 December may not have been mentioned, but it was there nonetheless. With Auckland declared to be about a day-and-a-half away from topping 90 percent of Aucklanders with one jab, it follows that the city is less than a month away from 90 percent being double-jabbed. That’s the cue for New Zealand’s largest city being set free from its Level 3 Lockdown, on, or just after, 1 December. When asked if that meant Aucklanders can join their families for Christmas, the Prime Minister said Yes – although travelling beyond the city will require a Vaccination Certificate (according to Chris Hipkins, empowering legislation is on the way for employers keen to enforce vaccination mandates) and quite possibly a negative Covid-19 test.

So far, so Key-Act-National.

Likewise with relation to the announcements of Finance Minister Grant Robertson. The appropriate quote here would appear to be: “Mo money! Mo money! Mo money!”; for another month, at least.

And Māori? Ah, yes, that’s where the fancy-footwork really got going. The nationwide goal of double-vaccinating 90 percent of the adult population, and then transitioning to the new “traffic-light” system of managing the virus, makes no mention of the Māori vaccination rates also topping 90 percent. That’s a significant omission. Like Judith Collins, Jacinda Ardern is clearly unwilling to have the whole country “held hostage” to Māori vaccine hesitancy – let alone refusal.

The Government has masked this by opting to tick-off the 90 percent vaccination target DHB by DHB. This will allow Māori leaders to identify where the extra $120 million for the double-jabbing of their people might best be spent. But that’s about as far as the Government is prepared to go.

That Peeni Henare’s Banquet Hall contribution gave every appearance of having been brutally truncated – by someone – may indicate that Labour’s Māori Caucus is less than happy with the Labour Cabinet’s decision. Notwithstanding their objections, however, the Key-Act-National position on Māori vaccination rates also seems to have been embraced by the Labour Government.

Colonisation’s roots are very deep and exceptionally strong.

As for the PM herself, Jacinda Ardern seemed more comfortable and on top of her game than she has been for weeks. Though she hasn’t announced 1 December as “Freedom Day” in as many words, that is clearly the timeline she is working to. The Prime Minister of New Zealand cannot assure 1.6 million Aucklanders that they will be free to visit their families at Christmas – wherever they may be located in new Zealand – and then renege on her promise.

Not without all hell breaking loose.

- Chris Trotter, Friday, 22 October 2021.

This essay and its postscript were originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 22 October 2021.


Anonymous said...

Your optimism is of "freedom day" in early December isa stunning. South Auckland is less than 60 per cent, Taranaki is 58 per cent, . Not only that the notion that \being able to visit your family at Chrismas is freedom makes no sense

Kat said...

Just as well we have a PM "on top of her game" then isn't it, rather than the crocodile tears on display from the leader of the opposition.

Glenn Webster said...

"If 1 December does not turn out to be “Freedom Day”, then you can put a big blue ring around Election Day 2023."
More likely an early election.
The PR nonsense has already run its course.

Mark Simpson said...

Once again, thanks Chris for elucidating the manifold issues/sub-issues manifest at this time. To bastardise Lincoln: You can't please all the people all the time, and our Prime minister is having to do some deep soul searching of what her rock bottom core values are. The very first lockdown last year saw ~$50 million given to Maori specifically what for, is unknown. Now another $120 million. In the NZ Herald this week, Ngawera-Packer complained that the vaccine rollout for Maori is still underpinned by racist protocols. There is not another national leader, past or present, who would not have done his/her very best for Maori, and to have her own Maori caucus, as you suggest, not give her 100% support is unfair to say the least.
Along with significant outliers of anti-vaxxers means that the "team of five million" is now a misnomer.

DS said...

The Prime Minister of New Zealand cannot assure 1.6 million Aucklanders that they will be free to visit their families at Christmas – wherever they may be located in new Zealand – and then renege on her promise.

Did it never occur to you that we humble provincials don't want infected Aucklanders bringing the disease into our communities?

Anonymous said...

Huh, who would have thought we see pragmatism from this Government

David George said...

"no mention of the Māori vaccination rates also topping 90 percent................... Ardern is clearly unwilling to have the whole country “held hostage” to Māori vaccine hesitancy"

I'm sure there was no realistic way she could allow that Chris, not without creating a tsunami of resentment towards Maori and towards her government. I can't imagine anyone serious (or seriously) suggesting such a thing. Why not be totally provocative and advocate implementing freedom passports based on race. Never mind what's going on in your DHB area, once your race gets to 90% and you're vaxxed you're good to go? That'd go down a treat!

As an aside I was looking at the stats on vaccination by ethnicity on the Herald website. In the small print they state that, where two or more ethnicities are entered for an individual, say European and Maori, or Asian and Maori, that person is classed as a Maori. Thus I, with a small percentage of Maori blood (and no real interest in, or affection for, the culture) would be classed as a Maori for the purposes of the statistics. With such a loose definition you really do have to wonder at the real validity of any statistics by ethnicity.

David George said...

I'm not at all hopeful that we in Northland will get even the orange light this year, 90% double vaxxed looks a long way off. We've not only the large recalcitrant Maori sector but large numbers of new age type greenies. No way a GMO vaccine is going to be injected into them. On that here's an interesting essay "Vaccine Rejectionism and the Left. It has quite a lot on New Zealand in particular, including this:

New Zealand’s environmentalist lobby offers a revealing case study. It’s small but hugely influential—especially since the election of charismatic progressive Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in 2017—and provides a microcosm of the attitudes emerging in other Western democracies. The country’s Green Party is an ally and former coalition partner of the current left-leaning government, and it has (like its fellow Greens the world over) consistently opposed genetic biotechnology while steadfastly supporting draconian GMO restrictions first drafted in the 1990s.

This has resulted in a staggering irony: biotech research that could help mitigate the climate impact of New Zealand’s agricultural industry and protect the country’s endangered native fauna from introduced predators is being stymied by the very party that claims to prioritise the natural environment. The NZ Greens’ official policy demands that “Public funding should focus on fundamental and applied scientific research”—so long, of course, as genetic engineering never leaves the lab. As an example of inconsistency and scientific incoherence, this is hard to beat.

New Zealand’s anti-biotechnology views are so entrenched that when COVID struck, vaccine proponents were forced to walk a political tightrope, fearful that bioengineered vaccines might fall foul of the country’s strict GMO legislation. In the end, the sheer magnitude of the crisis overwhelmed political correctness, at least in part, and key influencers downplayed the contradiction for fear of fueling latent anti-vaccination sentiment. Playing the anti-capitalism card, the environmentalist Left ignored the biotechnology angle altogether, and focussed instead on the need for a “People’s Vaccine” that, in the words of the New Zealand Green Party, “put[s] human lives before the interests of multi-billion dollar pharma companies.” This is boilerplate anti-GMO activist rhetoric.

This is a farcical state of affairs, and it highlights the selective absurdity of restrictions targeting crops but not medicine. After all, if the process of bioengineering makes crops dangerous to our health—as Green propaganda claims—it ought to wreak havoc when used to craft treatments in which human life hangs in the balance.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I would regard not being able to visit my family at Christmas as a positive to be honest. :)

Gary Young said...

Now that Auckland is approaching 90% would it not make more sense to ring-fence the provinces that cannot or will not get themselves up to speed with vaccination rates rather than the regions that are largely now protected? I'm not convinced that those of us who have made the personal sacrifices, put in the hard yards and done our socially responsible duties should continue to be held hostage by the willfully ignorant and scientifically illiterate.

I've always been a bleeding-heart liberal, tree-hugging greenie but, as you may gather, I am so over the refuseniks.

Gary Young said...

DS, it is not Aucklanders, infected or otherwise, that you must protect yourselves from. Be assured, the Delta variant has no interest in petty regional politics and it will find you eventually no matter what.

Wayne Mapp said...

I am generally supportive of the government's overall approach to Covid, including the latest measures. I much prefer 90% to another Party's 85%. It was very smart to go for DHB's as the way to measure 90% across the country. As Peeni Henare noted, it has avoided the possible spectre of stigmatising groups of people.

I am not convinced that Aucklanders will be able to travel out of Auckland prior to Christmas, no matter how much the Prime Minister desires it. At the minimum I would have thought DHB areas of Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Lakes also need to be at 90%. At the moment both Northland and Lakes are well short of 90%. However, it should be possible for fully vaccinated Aucklanders to travel to the South Island prior to Christmas. The only way they can get there is by plane or by ferry. That enables proper checks of vaccination status.

Shane McDowall said...

Anyone know how many Covid-19 cases there have been in Rotorua?

I do.

It is a nice round figure ... Zero.

And Rotorua is a three hour drive from Auckland.

I have got very tired of hearing that Maori and Pasifika are under-vaxxed. The truth is that people who are poor, stupid and believe in conspiracy theories are under-vaxxed.

Darwin Awards all round for anti-vaxxers.

Oh, and I am double pfizer vaxxed and do not live in a leafy suburb.

greywarbler said...

I think when we are trying to discuss this weighty Covid problem that we keep emotional, slighting, opinionated language out of the discourse such as here '...Delta variant has no interest in petty regional politics...' 'Petty' is emotional and scathing and the rest of that phrase is unhelpful. That it is a very transmissible disease is already known.

The news from Australia is startling, though Victoria seems on a downward trend from the recent 2000 new cases per day arising while they are out of lockdown. But Melbourne Cup day is due and there is much money and interest on the event. How long can they manage on 2000 a day?
More than 73 percent of Victorians aged 16 and above have now had both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
It brings the state closer to an 80 percent target, which is projected to be hit within the week.

While in NSW:
New South Wales has recorded 296 new community cases of Covid-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night and four more deaths.
There are now 480 people in hospital with Covid-19 in New South Wales with 119 of them in ICU.
In NSW, 93 percent of people over the age of 16 have now had the first dose of a vaccine, while 84.4 percent are fully vaccinated.
The government is expected to make an announcement today about what freedoms will be granted once the milestone is reached.

(I hope they remember that it takes some days after vaccination to become effective.)

greywarbler said...

David George and his piece referring to our left-leaning government.
People in Pisa still know which way is up but right-wingers round the world seem to have lost any human graces that once we aspired to being universal. And so doing anything for the people by the government in a way that is publically good, is left leaning.

Nick J said...

After watching Jacinda and the doctor and the epidemiologist on the Covid communique I have come to the conclusion that none of them are versed in freedom. They communicate beautifully, Bernays would give them an A plus. But under the smooth polished delivery I hear all the worst messages from the more woeful regimes of the last century. They have identified the enemy to their team, those who are not with them. And they must be made pariahs, untermenschen. They called Key the "smiling assassin". Jacinda has a lovely set of teeth too. This has to stop.

David George said...

Greywarbler, that essay (by two eminently qualified academics) was about left leaning antivaxxers not our government. The inherent contradiction of the anti GMO Greens does get a good look at though. Your contribution reads more like an ill-informed dig than an attempt to add any understanding of the subject.

sumsuch said...

My best stroke was backstroke so I'm always surprised by new things (hated knocking my head against the wall). Thanks for doing the crawl or breast-stroke. Though , in this vein, I wish you did the hardest stroke, butterfly, like my oldest brother.

I'm just a little tired of this all. It's the Malaysian airplane disappearance -- the MSM thought it was the most important thing. If covid gets to 1 % deaths I'll give a shit, though not much more.

greywarbler said...

David George - The ability for thinking people to understand that we live within a system that is cobbled up with inherent contradictions is paramount to enlightening discussion. I suggest for those dabbling with such outrageous ideas to read Douglas Adams. I have just read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency where some nuggets of truth might be found. Possibly more than from some eminently qualified academics referred to at 09.16. I think there is a word for scientific bias that finds positives prevailing when negatives are strongly indicative.

And your comment seems to have swayed from the effects of Covid policies on the populace to GMO's which is another contentious matter requiring full and wary stares of concentration. But I think many people like the once-over lightly and the cliches, 'It's the way of the future' and There is money in it', and tagged on the end 'It will feed the world' and the thinking is finished.

I did a search on primitur-truth etc. So much of what we say and do seems built on Roman law. Are we still at their level only with poorer water systems?
Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.Truth is lost by excessive altercation. Hob. 344. Veritas, quae minime defensatnr op primitur; et qni non improbat, appro bat. 3 Inst. 27. Truth which is not sufficiently defended is overpowered; and he who does not disapprove, approves. Veritatem qni non libere pronnnciat proditor est veritatis. 4 Inst. Epil. He who does not freely speak the truth is a betrayer of truth.

John Hurley said...

See what National and Labour are doing Chris