Winston Peters wants Level 1 now – Not so fast Winston


It has been revealed that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants New Zealand to go to Level 1 now. Mr Peters, who believes we have been at Level 2 for too long, said that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted at a Cabinet Meeting that she thought we need to get to Level 1 as quickly as possible.

Not so fast Mr Peters. Whilst it is true that at the time of sending this to publish, there had been no new cases for 5 consecutive days, New Zealand needs to 28 consecutive days of no new cases to completely break all transmission. After 28 days with no new cases, two full incubation cycles will have passed. After 28 days if the current run continues, there should also be no active cases left in New Zealand.

Then we can move to Level 1. And I would fully expect to do so at that point. I understand the desire to get out of Level 1 quickly, but COVID19’s tail is still thrashing around. There are still 22 live cases that need to be fully recovered before we can move along from running at 2/3 speed.

At Level 1 COVID19 will be like a bad storm disappearing into the distance, and people can get on with cleaning up the mess it left behind – all the while hoping that when the borders reopen a second storm does not come marching in and put all the hard done recovery work back to square one. New Zealand will need to have a much more robust quarantine system in place than the one currently in use to protect the country from those who are coming from jurisdictions where COVID19 has not been so well managed.

We will need to work closely with Australia and our Pasifika neighbours whose weak health systems cannot sustain the level of care that COVID19 hospital patients require. So it was welcome news yesterday to hear that $37 million has been allocated to supporting research for a vaccine and to help ensure that our Pasifika neighbours do not miss out because of nationalist politics in larger countries.

For myself personally, Level 2 still seems like Level 2.5 despite the easing of restrictions. My work requires cars to be sanitized before they are handed over to customers. Our staff room still observes social distancing and higher level sanitization requirements. We bring our own cutlery and glasses. I still observe the distancing where possible in public.

At Level 1, with COVID19 hopefully permanently consigned to the history books, we can overhaul hygiene legislation with the hindsight gained from from nine weeks of lock down. Among the changes I want to see are:

  • Requiring all people entering bars, restaurants, cafes and eateries to sanitize their hands
  • Require inspectors to check the availability of sanitizer stations as part of their (re)licencing of premises
  • Suspend licences for any premises that are non-compliant; cancel licences for any premises that do not meet requirements when the second check happens

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 37


Yesterday was DAY 37 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

It has been interesting to look at the news from around the world these last few weeks and observe the hugely varied reactions of politicians and the public to COVID19. The diversity of reactions and responses has been quite profound. From the grim unity of New Zealanders going into lockdown to the increasingly violent division in the United States; from the quiet success of Taiwan to the flat out denialism over taking Brazil and some third world despots, the variation in the reactions and subsequent responses have been startling.

I will not concentrate on New Zealand so much as that is well documented and now receiving high praise from around the world, warranted or not. Instead I will look at some of New Zealand’s major international partners and where those partnership might go in the post-COVID19 environment.

A few days ago I examined the Australian response to COVID19 and noted that it is doing per head of capita, slightly better than New Zealand. The governments of both countries are talking to each other about how reopening the borders might happen, which is good. However, there are other nations that New Zealand and Australia should start talking to about an extended bubble. Taiwan is one of these nations. The island nation east of China has been one of the true success stories in the global campaign against COVID19. It has had just 429 confirmed cases, of which 324 have recovered with 6 deaths. No new cases have happened since 26 April. New Zealand and Taiwan have good relations and share similar democratic principles. South Korea is another one that could potentially be invited to join the bubble. It has 10772 cases of which 9072 have recovered, with new case rate per day in the single digits.

I now examine the risks posed to our small Pasifika neighbours like Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and our Melanesian neighbours in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. These little island nations might have dodged a bullet by being remote and not having large numbers of tourists arriving like Tonga, Fiji and Samoa do. All of these islands have weak health and social welfare systems, which means a potential outbreak in any of them could be absolutely catastrophic. The last serious pandemic to affect them would have been the 1918-1920 influenza, which was transported around the world by ships carrying soldiers returning from the battlefields of Europe. A ship that was carrying infected New Zealand soldiers was allowed to dock in Apia during that time and 7,000 Samoans or about 1/5 of Samoa’s population then died.

It is not just these small nations that could be devastated. It is also the even smaller territories such as Wallis and Futuna, Niue, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, Kiribati, Palau and other tiny land masses could potentially have their entire populations wiped out. Because of the great risks posed to these nations, no one should be surprised that they were quick to slam their borders shut.

New Zealand and Australia need to take charge of aid to these little nations. They cannot afford the lack of transparency and the potential for agenda setting that goes with Chinese aid. Nor can we rely on American aid any for them any longer in the age of Donald Trump. Given the size of some of the smaller territories like Wallis and Futuna, a sum of say $200,000 directed through the Red Cross would be quite substantial.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 25


Yesterday was DAY 25 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

I monitor a range of media, political, economic, environmental and social commentators on Twitter. They include columnists such as conservative columnist Matthew Hooton and socialist commentator Chris Trotter, China specialist Anne-Marie Brady and a host of others.

Over the last 3 1/2 weeks, it has been really interesting watching the commentary flow about how New Zealand is doing, how we compare to other nations. But one thing that everyone seemed to have overlooked was how are our little Pasifika neighbours going.

It turns out, very well.

Last night Professor Brady, who works at University of Canterbury, had an idea on Twitter that I quite like about how New Zealand’s border might initially reopen. Professor Brady noted that the vast majority of small Pacific Island nations are clear of COVID19. In this she is thinking of – but not limited to:

  • Fiji
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Vanuatu
  • Solomon Islands

Her vision is of a small islands super bubble. Other commentators on the thread thought that if we do that, New Zealand’s role would be to ensure that the bubble is not breached by anyone with the virus, which would be done by requiring them to quarantine at N.Z. facilities before they travelled to anywhere else in the bubble.

Due to the heavy reliance of many of these places on tourism, but also recognizing that outsiders carrying COVID19 could potentially completely destroy the smallest of these states, this would be the most fool proof way. The United States is too risky by simple virtue of their lack of organization in defeating COVID19 and Autstralia, whilst having a falling rate of cases, has in effect detuned from its South Pacific responsibilities.

Even if this idea does not fly, this is a great opportunity for New Zealand to steal a lead in the South Pacific by offering to help them build up their health sectors. An investment in that could be looked as both an investment in their well being, but also an investment in New Zealand’s national security, by helping to ensure that these nations are not crippled in the future.

 

Why New Zealand and Pacific Islands need to stand against whaling


This is not about scientific research, irrespective of what you hear from the Japanese Government and the fishing crews. It is about what it has always been about: killing whales for commercial consumption as food.

Japan has an appalling record of whaling, alongside Iceland and Norway, which carry out similar activities in the northern Atlantic Ocean in equally hostile environments.

I want to see Japanese whalers barred from entering all ports in Pacific basin countries other than their own. New Zealand has always been one of the more admirable nations when criticizing Japan on the subject of whaling. But it is time to step up a notch and flatly deny them use of our ports.

The case for not slaughtering whales is compelling. Aside from being a highly unethical industry to be a part of, whales make substantial environmental contributions. A whale has significant natural ability to absorb carbon. A sperm whale for example could absorb a similar level of carbon to 694 acres of forest.

There is a second strong strand of reasoning for supporting the end of whaling. Whale watch tours contribute substantially to the local economy of many countries. In New Zealand the marine environment off the coast of the seaside town of Kaikoura is a natural home to whales. Here a deep canyon starts just a couple kilometres off the coast from South Bay on the south side of the Kaikoura Peninsula. It quickly plunges from the beach to 6,000+ feet below sea level in just a few kilometres. Because this is where the plankton and other food that they feed on is most concentrated it brings whales in close to the shore and it is not at all uncommon to see whales, orca, dolphins and seals.

Pacific Island nations can be helped to develop such tourism projects as well. Many of them have a wide range of whales and other sea life in transit passing through their waters. It would be a potentially significant source of income and help prop up economies that are going to suffer heavily as a result of climate change impacts on their physical environment.

Whilst Japan can be made to move out of the Antarctic fisheries, it is important to note that the closer one gets to Japanese whalers the more resistance they will put up. Indeed the whaling programme in Taji is the site of what environmentalists consider to be mass murder, as the sea turns a bloody shade of red from the mammals being slaughtered. Documenting this is a dangerous exercise as the whalers are extremely hostile to anyone who tries, with scuffles, blocking of all media and threats of prosecution to anyone watching. Not only that, but the Japanese police in Taji are considered to be sympathetic to the whalers.

It is important to raise this issue as a bloc of New Zealand + Pacific Island nations. We cannot rely on Australia to support this as long as the ruling Liberal-National coalition remains in office, but in order to stand up to super power interference, the island nations are too weak to stand on their own.

 

Treading the South Pacific foreign policy tight rope


Over the years New Zealand has been involved in many events on the world stage. Most for the right reasons and a few for somewhat questionable reasons. New Zealand has – depending on the Government of the day, said we have interests overseas and closer to home in the South Pacific.

When one looks at the major problems around the world, particularly in the Middle East and Europe, New Zealand is a comparatively minor player. Most of those problems are not ones worth investing our time, money or resources in. Our time, money and resources are best invested in the South Pacific, which is our proverbial back yard. And there are good reasons for doing so.

China has been expanding its interest in the South Pacific for years. It has turned a blind eye to the Frank Bainimarama regime of Fiji committing human rights abuses against Fijians. In return for such activities being ignored, South Pacific nations have permitted Chinese mining and forestry companies to set up businesses on their lands. One might ask what the problem with this is?

Simple. These island nations will not see the economic benefits. They might be employed to work on building the roads, but there is unlikely to be any sharing of the royalties taken from the business. It also remains to be seen how much tax if any that the Chinese companies will be made to pay to their Governments so they can provide basic services for their people.

It is not to say that Western companies are any better. The Ok Tedi mine where tonnes of pure copper sulphate solution was allowed to pour straight into the local river, completely destroying the ecosystem is one example of a mine project gone bad in Papua New Guinea. The company responsible was B.H.P. Billiton. Whilst litigation of the case happened and resulted in a $29 million pay out in the 1990’s the environmental, economic and social costs of the damage will take an estimated 300 years to fix.

These countries have very weak legal systems, and endemic corruption at all levels. Because of this, several South Pacific Island nations are potentially at risk of becoming failed states with governance that simply does not work properly any more. The corruption means that there is a risk that organized crime or militants linked to terrorist groups might use these nations as a back door into Australia and New Zealand.

A good example of this was Papua New Guinea’s decision to import 40 Maserati vehicles for A.P.E.C. which was held over the weekend just gone. Despite not being able to properly fund its social welfare, education or health systems, Papua New Guinea, with China’s help was able to somehow spend tens of millions of dollars on a three day talk fest that wound up being a farce.

A.P.E.C. was meant to be a summit to talk about the economic challenges facing the Asia Pacific region. Instead it became a U.S./China debating competition. The tensions rose to the point that Chinese officials barged into the Papua New Guinean Prime Ministers office and demanded changes to something that had been agreed to and only left when threatened with arrest. No joint statement was agreed to by the delegations and the other nations including New Zealand were reduced to being spectators to a super power argument.

Few of the issues on the agenda that need tackling would have been.

All nations are quite vulnerable to climate change and the outlying parts of Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue are at risk of becoming uninhabitable in the next 50 years. Over fishing and deforestation are also likely to impact on their economies.

This is where New Zealand and Australia become very important players. As the regional powers with the means to influence the United States and China, both nations have an obligation to look after their smaller Pacific Island neighbours and act as role models in terms of how their governance should be in an ideal world. The bulk of our foreign policy effort should be in the South Pacific. New Zealand should be showing that we are their best friends.

And in terms of understanding the underlying problems, the culture and the needs of these nations, New Zealand and Australia are best placed to do so.

Mr Peters will also be well aware of the growing influence of the United States on Australia. The United States is expanding the deployment of U.S. forces in Australia, which is part of a change in doctrine that President Donald Trump’s predecessor Barak Obama instigated to counter Chinese influence in the South Pacific.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence talked about protecting the South Pacific nations maritime and sovereign interests. I found that interesting since alongside Chinese influence, the next biggest threat to their sovereignty is environmental degradation making the smallest of them uninhabitable – something the U.S. Government of Donald Trump all but denies existing.

So, tell me now. Who has the the South Pacific’s interests most at heart? The U.S.?
China? Or New Zealand and (maybe) Australia?