We’re all human – even members of Cabinet. And oftentimes the biggest mistakes seem so innocuous at the time. Take for example the actions of Health Minister David Clark and his family. During the first weekend of the COVID-19 lockdown, they took a trip to the beach. While going to the beach isn’t forbidden, driving 20 Km (12 miles) to do so is considered “non-essential” and therefore prohibited.
Parliament is in recess during the current crisis, and the oversight of government is currently being undertaken by a parliamentary Select Committee – the Epidemic Response Committee. This has very wide ranging powers, has a majority of opposition MPs (Members of Parliament) and is chaired by the leader of the opposition Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party.
The Epidemic Response Committee had requested the Health Minister provide a summary of his movements since the the nation went into the COVIC-19 level 4 lockdown after it was discovered that he had travelled 2 Km (1.2 miles) to a mountain cycling track.
While 2Km is stretching the definition of local, it was the risk involved in cycling on a mountain track that was the issue. We’re being discouraged from undertaking risky activities because should we get injured, lost or otherwise needing rescue, we’re putting responders and their families at risk as they would need to break their isolation bubble.
David Clark Clark had provided the Prime Minister with a complete picture of his activity outside his home during alert level 4, as part of his preparation for the Epidemic Response Committee. Jacinda was not amused. If it wasn’t for the fact that sacking him would be too disruptive, he would have been fired. From the Prime Minister:
Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses. But right now, my priority is our collective fight against Covid-19. We cannot afford massive disruption in the health sector or to our response. For that reason, and that reason alone, Dr Clark will maintain his role.
But he does need to pay a price. He broke the rules. While he maintains his Health portfolio, I am stripping him of his role as Associate Finance Minister and demoting him to the bottom of our Cabinet rankings. I expect better, and so does New Zealand.
It’s activities such as those undertaken by David Clark, that put in jeopardy a relatively short period of being at a nationwide COVID-19 Alert Level 4. We are all expected to forego our walk in the park. It’s good to know it’s also expected of those at the top.