Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Police Armed Response Teams

Aotearoa New Zealand is one of just a few jurisdictions worldwide where the police are not routinely armed. I have had great concerns that that was about to change.

Last year Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced that a patrols with armed police known as Armed Response Teams (ARTs) would be trialed for six months in selected areas of the country. If they were successful (what criteria would be used to measure “success”?), ARTs would be rolled out across the country. The trial ended in April.

I was one of tens of thousands of Kiwis who were sufficiently concerned about the prospect of police being routinely armed on patrol that we communicated our concerns to the police and to our Members of Parliament. It seems our concerns have been listened to.

In early April the Commissioner retired and was replaced by Andrew Coster. On the 9th of June Commissioner Coster announced that ARTs have been abandoned permanently. The pushback from the public and especially minorities has been strong. That’s good news.

In an interview on The AM Show on Wednesday, he said that police listened to feedback from the public before scrapping the ARTs. He said:

“The key issue here is having people routinely carrying firearms – I’ve made it really clear that’s not part of the policing model that I would support for New Zealand.

“Absolutely, we do have access to firearms when they’re required but the point is, 99 percent of the time when we’re interacting with the public we are not carrying a firearm and that, for me, is the style difference that’s important.

“We need to remember it was a trial and we are going to take a range of learnings from the trial, particularly in terms of how we keep evolving the skills and training available to the frontline to deal with the high-end firearms incidents.”

In an interview with Stuff, Commissioner Coster said:

“We have a model of policing by consent and that means we need the vast majority of people to see as legitimate the style in which we’re policing and it’s been clear to me that there has not been acceptance of this as an appropriate style of policing in New Zealand.”

How much of the decision to scrap the ARTs was based on public pressure and how much was based on the personal preference of the Commissioner, we’ll probably never know, but what concerns me is that our politicians considered that the arming or non-arming of the police is an “operational matter”.

As commissioner Coster said, policing is by consent, and on this basis, I believe it is important that any change in operations only occur with public consent after widespread consultation. While I don’t want to see politicians become involved with normal police activity, I believe there is room for legislation that would prevent major operational changes from occurring without parliamentary approval.


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Two significant events today

We’re out of lockdown, and the 2020 budget was released

1. COVID-19 Alert Level 2

The lockdown has ended! No more isolation bubbles!

Most businesses are now open, although not necessarily back to “normal”. All businesses must operate under strict health and safety measures such as social distancing. One of the minor inconveniences is the necessity of businesses to keep some form of register (typically a record of name and contact phone number) to make tracing of possible infectious contacts easier if required.

Unlike in Australia, the government has not made any decision on employing an automated means of tracking movements and contacts. The issues of (a) privacy and (b) compliance have yet to be resolved to a satisfactory level. If community transmission remains extremely low or non-existent, then really there’ll be no need for any type of electronic tracking. There’s been no new cases for three consecutive days.

The hospitality sector has probably been faced with some of the most challenging requirements due to the requirements that patron must be seated, no buffet service, and only one waiter per table.

Bars can not open for another week, as there’s a concern that the lowering of inhibitions that often accompany alcohol consumption may lead to a spike in transmission of the disease. Some bars will no doubt make changes to what they offer so that food and not alcohol as the “principal purpose” of their business, thereby allowing them to open earlier.

Of course there are some aspects of the remaining restrictions that are perceived by a minority as being unnecessary and in some cases part of a long-planned scheme to create a “new world order”. One restriction in particular has bee singled out by the Christian fringe as being a plot by the government to destroy religion in general and Christianity in particular.

One of the restrictions is that no event can have more than 100 participants. However some events are more restricted. For example, weddings and funerals were to be restricted to 10 persons, but the funeral directors association provided evidence to the authorities that they could manage saftey requirements for larger groups. Consequently, funerals can now de up to 50 people, while weddings are still limited to 10.

Religious services are also limited to a maximum of ten people, and extreme Christians claim that as sports events and other venues can accomodate 100 people, the limit of 10 for religious services is a deliberate and targetted attack on religious freedom.

More reasonable religious leaders acknowledge that in many ways, religious events more closely resemble social gatherings where social distancing will be difficult to manage. Social gatherings are limited to a maximum of ten people due to the increased chance of community transmission at such events.

2. The Budget

The other significant event was the release of the government’s budget for the 2020/2021 financial year. It’s involves spending at an unprecedented level, Whereas the Labour government typically runs with a surplus (7 billion last year) it will occur a 20 billion dollar deficit over the next year. The government has allocted 50 billion dollars specifically for pandemic recovery – 30 billion has been allocated and a further 20 billion for future demands due to

While 50 billion dollars may not seem much compared to the recent 2 trillion package in the US, it can be put into better perspective by measuring the deficit against our GDP. The deficit will average 9.3% of the GDP over the next two years. It’s not expected that debt will return to pre-covid levels until 2028.

A significant outcome of the current pandemic is that it will necessitate a major restructure of our economy, not because of the shutdown but because of the changes occurring in world economy. I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball that can predict when or even if tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels. It’s an industry that employs one in eight Kiwis, and in the short term, it’s going to need intensive care if it is going to survive at all, and if it does survive, it’s only going to be a shadow of its former self catering for the domestic market for years to come.

The government predicts unemployment to reach 10% by the end of June and not return to pre-COVID-19 days until 2022.

Some perspectives of the NZ budget:

From NZ:
Newshub: Budget 2020: Where the Government is spending big to rebuild New Zealand after coronavirus
New Zealand Herald: Budget 2020: Government’s Covid 19 wage subsidy scheme extended by 8 weeks, now up to $14b
Scoop: Welfare Or Warfare? Military Spending In Budget 2020

From overseas:
The Guardian on MSN: New Zealand budget: Robertson lays out $50bn plan to return jobs to pre-Covid-19 levels
The New Your Times: New Zealand Unveils Record Spending to Stop Massive Job Losses


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The bleach “cure”

Kia ora

It was inevitable that questions around Trump’s suggested bleach treatment of COVID-19 would be asked here. Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Director General of Health has been a regular presenter, along with the Prime Minister at the daily COVID-19 briefings, and in late April a reporter did ask Dr Bloomfield to comment on the POTUS’s suggestion.

It takes a lot to faze the good doctor, but this has been perhaps the only question to have left him speechless:

Transcript

Reporter: Dr. Bloomfield, what do you make of suggestions by some leaders overseas that people should be injecting themselves with bleach to kill COVID-19?
Dr A: [silence]
[laughter]
Dr A: I don’t think I need to comment on that, Prime Minister?
PM: No. I think we’ll let your silence speak for itself.
Reporter: It is worth asking about though, isn’t it, because…
PM: Is it?
Reporter: after the president raised it, there were cases in New York where people needed to go to medical facilities because they had actually ingested disinfectant. I know you don’t want to dignify the response, but can you maybe just send a clear message to people that obviously this not the thing to do?
Dr. A: Indeed. Under no circumstances should they even think about doing that.
PM: I don’t think we’ve had any suggestion of any reported cases in New Zealand of that occurring, and so that suggests to me that no New Zealander has listened to or given any credence to that suggestion.
Reporter: Will you make a statement that the president said that at all?
PM: Obviously here in New Zealand we haven’t seen it picked up, responded to, [or] acted on in any way, and that’s what we are, of course, here to do to look after the New Zealand population.

Perhaps it’s what Jacinda didn’t say but is implied by “we’ll let your silence speak for itself” and “that’s what we’re here to do – look after the New Zealand population” that actually speaks volumes.

kia haumaru, kia kaha
Keep safe, Keep strong.


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A Trump milestone

Yes folks, Donald Trump passed an amazing milestone on the 12th of April this year, and almost nobody noticed.

It’s an outstanding achievement, one that probably no one else has achieved, and might be a very long time, if ever, before anyone else can ever hope to match him. He’s not resting on his laurels either as he has increased his efforts over the past month. Surely it deserves shouting from the rooftops.

The milestone?

Drumroll please…

His 2000th tweet attacking the press.


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Contrasting styles

The leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States of America have radically different styles and perspectives. I’m quite confident that a majority of Kiwis hold similar values to those expressed by our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Can the same be said of Americans regarding the values expressed by Donald Trump?

Below is a clip taken from parts of the UN speeches of the two leaders. For those who find the Kiwi Accent difficult, I have included a transcription below the video clip.

JA: If I could distill it down into one concept that we are pursuing in New Zealand, it is simple and it is this: kindness.

DT: America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.

JA: In the face of isolationism, protectionism, racism, the simple concept of looking outwardly and beyond ourselves, of kindness and collectivism might just be as good a starting point as any. So let’s start here with the institutions that have served us well in times of need and will do so again.

DT: We withdrew from the human rights council and we will not return until real reform is enacted. For similar reasons, the United States will provide no support and recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority.

JA: New Zealand remains committed to continue to do our part to building and sustaining international peace and security, to promoting and defending an open, inclusive and rules-based international order based on universal values, to being pragmatic, empathetic, strong and kind.

DT: The United States is the world’s largest giver in the world, by far, of foreign aid but few give anything to us.

JA: Tēnā koutou. Tēnā koutou. Tēnā koutou katoa.
[Salutations to you all.]

DT: Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the nations of the world. Thank you very much.


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Is New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown lawful?

Two law professors, Professor Andrew Geddis, Faculty of Law, University of Otago, and Professor Claudia Geiringer, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington raise some questions about the legality of the lockdown orders that we in Aotearoa New Zealand are currently living under. We are, as from midnight last night, at Level Three, whereas we were at Level Four for the previous 33 days.

It will be interesting to see if there are any genuine challenges to the legality of the current lockdown orders. Such a challenge is likely to come in the form of a request for a judicial review. Two badly formulated claims for habeas corpus (A v Ardern [2020] NZHC 796; B v Ardern [2020] NZHC 814) have failed, but the article by Geddis and Geiringer certainly raise some issues that I think need clarification.


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Here’s to Level Three

Kia ora!

Last night, the wife and I raised our glasses (Giesen NZ Riesling 2017 if you’re curious) to celebrate the news that the nation will move from COVID-19 Alert Level Four to Level Three as from 11:59 PM on Monday, 28 April.

In practical terms, going to Level Three will make little difference to our personal lives. Our isolation bubble will not expand – it will remain at just two people. All retail facilities in town will remain closed apart from those that have been allowed to remain open during Level Four – supermarkets, pharmacies and service stations.

However it will mean that we will be able to drive the few kilometres to Kitchener Park and take the boardwalk through the forest. One difference here will be that when the wife needs to sit to ease her back pain, she’ll use a collapsible 3-legged stool instead of the fifteen or so park benches scattered along the walk – all in the interests of preventing contamination of our bubble.

Perhaps the most significant easing that Level Three provides for us will be that many more items will be able to be purchased online for delivery to our home. Currently deliveries can be made only for products that are considered essential.

We have also been given a start date for our home renovations – 1st of June, provided the Alert Level has dropped below Level Three. As almost all work will be inside, there’s no way we can keep our bubble protected from the various trades people who will be working on the project.

Unlike in the US, where we have seen news clips of shoulder to shoulder demonstrators calling for the end of COVID-19 restrictions, here we’re seeing concern that the relaxations are happening too soon. Under Level Three, child care facilities can re-open as can and schools for students from Year 1 through to Year 10. The emphasis is on can. Government advice is to keep kids home if at all possible. But there is considerable apprehension from staff mostly around managing social distancing for children – something that will be almost impossible to control.

Our Prime Minister has an approval rating of around 90% for her handling of the pandemic, even though our nationwide lockdown has been one of the most restrictive of any nation – certainly among those with a Western style democracy.

This is no more readily apparent than the public reaction to a comment on facebook by Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party and the Parliamentary Opposition, and currently chair of the Epidemic Response Committee, where he was critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. Most see it as political grandstanding, including many National Party supporters. At time of writing, the post has attracted over 28,000 comments – mostly negative.

News headlines are suggesting there’s leadership coup being planned within the National Party, but of course they’re being denied. National Party support has plummeted to around 30% – way down on its pre-pandemic rating of low to mid forty percent, and doesn’t bode well for the party in the upcoming general elections currently set for September. I can understand why Jacinda Ardern is reluctant to push the election date back to November – a call being made by both the opposition and her coalition partner.

For anyone interested in NZ style politics, have a look at live streaming and recordings of previous sessions of the Epidemic Response Committee. This committee oversees government actions while Parliament is in recess during the lockdown.

Before the current crisis, the National Party had a comfortable lead over the Labour Party – often by as much as ten percentage points even though support for its leader trailed far behind that of the leader of the Labour Party – 5% – 10% for Simon Bridges compared to 40% to 50% for Jacinda Ardern.

We now see National have the lowest support for more than a decade. In Aotearoa New Zealand, our MMP electoral system means that parliamentary representation almost exactly reflects party support at time of a general election. Although in opposition, National has has been the largest party in Parliament. If an election were to held today Labour would be able to form a government with support of the Green Party.

I can’t see National and Greens being able to form a coalition in the foreseeable future, being at opposite ends of not very wide NZ political spectrum. Think of Biden as National, Sanders as Labour and Greens as Andrew Yang. There’s no popular support here for an equivalent of the Republican GOP.

kia haumaru, kia kaha
Keep safe, be strong.


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Foolish Trump

In an interview, Helen Clarke (our Prime Minister from 1999 to 2008) has labelled Trump’s decision to freeze contributions to WHO as foolish. “I can’t think of anything more foolish in the middle of a global pandemic which has gone beyond being a health crisis to being a full-blown economic and social crisis,” She said.

Trump had”no substantive point” in making the move based on his concerns about the organisation’s management of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“At the end of this ghastly matter… for sure the WHO will do a full review and lessons learned as it did after Ebola. And after Ebola where it had initially not responded well, a whole lot of new mechanisms were put in place, and that has put the WHO in a much better position this time to be handling the epidemic.

“But this is a virus which we knew absolutely nothing about four months ago, almost nothing about three months ago, and everybody is scrambling to keep up.

“So in a sense to defund and make accusations against WHO is to shoot the messenger, that’s been trying to tell the world for several months, that this is serious, and countries need to prepare.”

“Of course, he has half a point around the travel restrictions. WHO doesn’t advise those, and I think one of its concerns is that countries might be less honest and transparent if they knew they were going to be, those sorts of consequences,” Clark told Checkpoint.

“Obviously New Zealand also moved by the end of January to stop people who were not New Zealand citizens or residents coming from China, or even transiting through China in the previous 14 days,” she said.

“I understand the kind of sensitivities in the WHO around travel bans but countries like the US, New Zealand and many others have got on and put them on anyway.

Helen was critical of the delay in Beijing reporting the outbreak to WHO, but acknowledges this might be due to local factors and not the central government:

“On the issue of transparency, yes, of course, with an authoritarian society which doesn’t operate the way the US does or New Zealand does – with our free and open media, and the ability to say what you want and raise whatever questions you want – things are different.

“And the reality is there was knowledge in Wuhan at least a month before the notification of the disease to the WHO.

“I might say from my experience of dealing with China with such a critical issue, which was over the milk powder scandal back in 2008, our experience was that when we blew the whistle in Beijing, Beijing moved at the speed of lightning.

“Down at the regional level they’re not always so keen to tell Beijing about a problem. But if you go in at the top, Beijing can act very quickly, and my impression is that it may well be that the regional people withheld knowledge from Beijing, as well.”

Helen was also critical of the UN’s reaction the pandemic:

“There has been a crisis mechanism that was activated by WHO some weeks ago but it’s at the Mike Ryan director level. What Dr David Nabarro – who used to advise Ban Ki-moon on pandemic response – has recommended is that the Secretary-General should convene a pandemic emergency coordination council.

“I think that should be a standing body to be activated whenever something like this arises.

“This is the sixth public health emergency of international concern since 2003. On average, these horrible events are going to come around every three years.

“So a standing capacity, which would be the Secretary-General, the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and the Director-General of the WHO.

“Their networks are huge – the IMF and World Bank – they have the ears of every finance minister in the world.

“And what’s going to release money now for a response that will fight the health aspects of the virus, and the economic crisis and social crisis, is the finance ministers.”

Helen said another action the UN could make would be for the Secretary-General to go the Security Council to formally state the pandemic was a threat to global peace and security, and ask it to make a resolution to that effect.

“Security Council resolutions are binding. If it says that, as it did with Ebola six years ago, and calls on all member states to use all necessary means to fight it, that really ups the ante for global coordination.”