COVID19 worsens around the World; New Zealand heading for Level 1 – again


Some days when I look at the COVID19 of New Zealand and then look at the response of other countries, it seems like we are a different planet all on our own doing our own thing. Having successfully fought off what I think was the second wave of the pandemic, New Zealand is once again heading towards COVID19 Level 1, where the country is effectively functioning normally, but with precautions in place. And as we do, I cannot help but look in the revision mirror at the madness engulfing other countries that did not so proactively respond to it.

What I find really off putting is how poorly the western world has done in fighting COVID19. With the exception of Germany, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand, most western countries have had and continue to have a torrid time – it is not to say that it was a walk in the park in New Zealand, far far from it, but thanks to a proactive response New Zealand has managed to avoid the case explosion that has happened in the United States, Brazil, India and elsewhere. With support across the House of Representatives, New Zealand has been able to tackle this as a nation and not as individuals. With effective communication, New Zealand has avoided the chaotic responses seen in European countries. And with the comparative lack of socio-political division, we have avoided becoming like the United States, the wealthiest country in the world tearing itself to bits as violently as it can without a second Civil War starting.

Yes, there are countries that we could be more like. I am particularly impressed with Taiwan’s effort. Taiwan has had in the 8 months that COVID19 has been around, 509 cases and 7 deaths. It is recording one or two new cases a day and its death toll has not increased in months. But unfortunately Taiwan is more of an exception, rather than the norm.

The few countries that have lesser cases than Taiwan and are considered to be first world are non-existent. The few countries at all that have less cases than Taiwan are Pacific island nations such as the Cook Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu, and so forth. These countries by their isolated nature, small size and lack of connection with the outside world pre-emptively shut down without waiting for recommendations to do so. However their very weak health systems mean even just a few cases of COVID19 could be disastrous.

Brazil, after peaking on 29 July at 69,000 new cases a day, has tapered off somewhat, but is still recording 33,000 new cases or the equivalent of the entire population of Blenheim each day. It has had 138,000 deaths from 4.59 million cases. Its President Jair Bolsonaro, denies the existence of COVID19 despite testing positive for it himself. Like India, like other countries whose cities have large slum areas, Brazilian urban areas have been swamped by COVID and my guess is that whilst 4.59 million cases have been recorded, there are probably hundreds of thousands more that are unknown.

India is finally facing up to something I had long dreaded would happen. Because of the relatively large size of India and poor transportation, I thought COVID19 would take a bit longer to spread around the country and it appears to have done so. But at the back of my mind I worried that when COVID19 did eventually arrive it would be potentially catastrophic. The acceleration of cases in India is truly shocking to watch – in one day last week, the equivalent of the entire population of Palmerston North (95,000) was infected; 5.6 million cases to date. Mortality rates though are not as high as I thought, with 1,053 dying on 22 September 2020.  With poor hygiene and sanitation practices, I expect that India’s case rate will worsen for a while longer yet.

And then there is Australia, a country that for the most part has COVID19 in check. Yet at the same time, Victoria, its second most populous state is locked down and has been for six weeks. Its politicians are arguing over whether to individually open up their states whilst Victoria finishes mandatory lock down. The cost to Australia, like New Zealand will be substantial, but if the former can successfully shrug off COVID19, it might be able to join New Zealand and other nations that have seen off the second wave in a COVID19-free bubble.

And so here we are. How did so many other nations with much greater resources, man power and expertise manage to mess up so badly, not once, but twice?

COVID Level 1 for New Zealand from Thursday


On Thursday at 0000 hours COVID Level 2 will take force in Auckland, nearly 6 weeks after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sent the country’s most populous region back to Level 3 (2 for the rest of New Zealand). At the same time Level 1 will take effect across the rest of New Zealand.

The country has spent the last nearly 6 weeks at an elevated COVID19 level as it stamps out what appears to be the inevitable second wave. In that time 200+ more cases have been added to the New Zealand tally, whilst 3 more deaths were also recorded.

It has not come without significant controversy though as conspiracy parties such as Advance New Zealand try to make people believe COVID19 is a cover for a takeover of New Zealanders rights by the Government. They point to actions by the New Zealand Defence Force, and Police during the first lock down – actions that are actually sanctioned by decades old legislation: the Health Act 1956; Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act 2002 and the Pandemic Preparedness Act 2006.

However it also means New Zealand has possibly achieved something no other country has yet done: seeing off the second wave of COVID19 without it merging with the mayhem caused by the first.

COVID19 waves and their impacts (IMAGE: VICTOR TSENG)Whilst we had a second wave, the strategy employed meant that only the Auckland area was made to shut down to Level 3, whilst the rest of the country went to Level 2. For the second time this year Auckland will be reopening on Thursday to an elevated alert level and wondering how much of 2020 can be salvaged from two lengthy shut down periods. For the first time too, campaigning for the 2020 General Election will be able to take place.

Many on the far right will continue to say that New Zealand is bent on destroying its own economy. They will continue to claim that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a Communist whose goal is a takeover of the country. These people could not be more wrong, and potentially could not be less empathetic with the families of the dead and the people who have suffered it, if they had tried. But not only that, the level of deceit being foisted upon New Zealanders just trying to get their lives back on track in what has been a very testing year by any reasonable measure, is quite shocking.

As for other countries, Australia, despite having the misfortune of having to watch Victoria slump back into lock down, is still the best friendly country. Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales as well as the Northern Territory are all largely open to domestic travel. Like New Zealand their border is largely shut, with only a few people who are citizens or permanent residents being allowed back.

Watching from a far, it seems like COVID19 is some sort of sinking ship. New Zealand and Australia, plus a few other nations have somehow managed to paddle their life boats away from it, whilst the rest of the world continues to struggle to get away.

Labour employment policy a win-win for all


Yesterday, Labour announced that sick leave for workers would be doubled from 5 to 10 days.

It was one of several changes announced today by Workplace and Safety Relations Minister Andrew Little. It comes in a year when COVID19 has put unprecedented pressure on New Zealanders in their places of employment, where essential workers have been supermarket workers, bus drivers, cleaners as much as police, fire and ambulance personnel. Those other important changes are:

  • Recognising security guards as vulnerable workers to ensure their terms and conditions are protected.
  • Ensuring that Seafarer Welfare Centres provide better services.
  • Raising the age for workers to be allowed to perform hazardous work, and ensure all workers have the right to elect health and safety representatives.
  • Strengthening the Employment Relations Act to make it harder for collective agreements to be undermined.

Ultimately though, it is a win-win for all New Zealanders, because whilst employers in the short term feel the pinch, in the longer term their employees will be more productive because they will not feel the financial pressure to come to work when they need to be recovering. In turn the vast majority of workers will be able to return to work at 100% capacity.

Five days has never been quite enough. I do not get sick very often, but when I do get sick, I have been known to lose an entire working week getting over it, then running at about 3/4 speed for another week after that. That means I could lose all of my sick days in one go, and if I were to get sick again later in the year, I would have no paid sick leave to cover it. If one has a sick child and they have something infectious, it might well be that one needs a couple of days off to get better, but if a person is the solo money earner in the house, that might make finances tight.

There will always be a couple of nit wits who think that the extra days sick leave will give them more opportunities to skive off and go to the beach, or engage in activities that be normally only carried out someone well enough to be working. They deserve to be disciplined. The worst of them deserve to lose their jobs if their absenteeism is becoming a problem. But that will not be the vast majority of workers.

Trade unions, advocates and the Green Party all welcomed the move as a major step forward and said they would work with Labour to make sure that the measures are implemented.

 

What is New Zealand Public Party doing with its finances?


It has emerged that $255,000 has been donated to the New Zealand Public Party, despite that party never actually registering. But whilst an academic says that this is unprecedented, due to a perceived loop hole in the law, it is entirely illegal.

N.Z.P.P. has been around since June. It was one of a flurry of little parties that started up in early and mid 2020, but unlike the other small parties – Real New Zealand, Prosperity and Hannah Tamaki’s Vision Party – N.Z.P.P. has flourished on the back of its view that COVID19 is a scam; the United Nations has a one world agenda and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is bent on taking away ones rights. Its leader Billy Te Kahika Jnr (not to be confused with his father, a known and respected musician) rose to prominence over lock down for how rapidly he went from embracing it to calling lock down a scam.

In that time its existence has been a wild ride. From leading street protests against lock down to having to answer questions about the state of its finances, policies and association with disgraced former National M.P. Jami-Lee Ross, it has been full on. But today’s announcement might be the biggest hurdle to over come yet, or possibly an embarrassing indictment on our electoral finance laws.

So, a question has to be asked as to whether this is a loop hole in New Zealand electoral law that New Zealand Public Party has taken unethical advantage of. Or is it a case of N.Z.P.P. actually – as Mr Te Kahika claims – not being able to register the party in time?

So, perhaps this is not as straight forward as people are making it out to be. A simple time line of N.Z.P.P.’s history shows that its first meeting was on 11 June. The New Zealand Electoral Commission advises an 8 week wait for a political party to be registered, meaning a party wanting to be registered by the Writ Day, would have to have submitted its registration by 21 June. Writ Day is when Parliament declares an election campaign period to be in progress, and the N.Z.P.P. database shows it would have had 1,200 members at point.

As this was a first registration, it actually IS possible that N.Z.P.P. did run out of time to submit its registration. Compiling the registration and donation details of the 500 members necessary to complete the Party’s application would be difficult enough, never mind another 700 on top of that. From the first meeting to 15 June, which is when Mr Te Kahika said he would have needed to put the application in the post to ensure it arrived in time is four days.

This said, I expect the public will be demanding to know answers about what is going on. There will now be a lot of public scrutiny on what N.Z.P.P. is doing with its finances. There will be pressure on the Electoral Commission to explain the loop hole in the law. As Parliament has dissolved, the 52nd edition of it will not be able to address the matter should a law change be required. Whoever wins will find themselves under pressure to look at appropriate amendments to the Electoral Finance Act to  ensure that no such loop hole exists.

I cannot pass judgement on whether something illegal has happened, but I think New Zealanders would be alarmed that this has managed to happen. Illegal or not, it does raise some interesting questions about the use of finances around election time.

New Zealand politics: Steady as she goes


New Zealand politics are, for the most part a serious case of “Steady as she goes”. No wild swings across the political spectrum, left to right; libertarian to authoritarian.

How have we managed to keep such a steady ship for so long, one might ask. Over the years I have come to identify three key drivers of this which I describe below.

Part of the answer is that Mixed Member Proportional governance has never promoted this by way of encouraging coalition governments instead of single party ones with an outright majority. Coalition governments require deals to be cut with other parties that mean some bold policies that may have been acceptable have to be cast aside in order to secure the co-operation of a larger party (think Labour and the Greens; Labour and New Zealand First; National and New Zealand First). In 1996 for example when New Zealand First did a deal ending nine weeks of negotiations with National, the latter had to agree to give up the privatization of state assets.

A second aspect has been the li(n)es that are told. Politicians who say that they are working for the greater good of the country are often scared to implement changes that might be recommended by an inquiry or by the Ombudsman. Very often they will take the route that appears to be the shortest and easiest to get out of having to handle hot topic issues. In doing so, the legislative might offer up a half cooked solution that will not do the intended job. The politicians of the day will then say “It is the best solution available”, when they actually mean “it was the best solution that we thought was acceptable”. And being largely uncritical of the Government, most New Zealanders will swallow the story whole without thinking twice.

A third aspect is whether political parties are who they claim to be. In New Zealand we have the centre-left Labour and the centre-right National. New Zealand First claims to sit somewhere between the two, whilst the Greens and A.C.T. define the left and right field limits. At its heart, both Labour and National are not so much parties of the centre as their 21st century iterations are two shades of neoliberal. As is New Zealand First, despite its claims to not support trade agreements in their current format, or giving state owned assets to the private sector. Probably only the Greens and A.C.T. are true to their word. A.C.T. is an unashamedly neoliberal party who think market economics are the answer.

Last but not least, New Zealanders have an attitude in society, almost casual in nature to believe that wrongs will somehow come right in good time. It is a carefree attitude that has led to a toxic combination of lax safety at work, casual attitudes to socio-economic policies announced, which is unnecessarily coming to bite many people when and how they least expect it.

Our mediocre progress on economic, social and political changes as needed can be in large part put down to the above three factors and the dash of “she’ll be right”-ness that too many people believe in.