Ardern govt surprised by news of Aussie decision to buy nuclear subs and form new security partnership

What do you do when your neighbour goes nuclear?

The Ardern  government will be tackling that question after being taken aback by news the Australians are to buy US nuclear attack submarines and will form a new trilateral security partnership to be called AUKUS.

Our Beehive connections tell us PM Jacinda Ardern was briefed by Australian PM Scott Morrison last night.

We are tempted to say these developments confirm how far NZ has slipped off the map in terms of a regional defence power. Our contacts say the Beehive is still grappling with how come NZ wasn’t consulted about the new security partnership – or even invited.

Canberra will acquire several Virginia Class nuclear attack submarines. A $A90 billion plan to buy French nuclear submarines and convert them to diesel-electric power will be abandoned. Continue reading “Ardern govt surprised by news of Aussie decision to buy nuclear subs and form new security partnership”

While Biden’s challenges grow, Christie shows signs of limbering up for a tilt at the Republican nomination

America spent the weekend commemorating the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Washington DC and at Shanksville, Pennsylvania where the fourth terrorist-commandeered aircraft crashed.

President Joe Biden led proceedings along with former presidents George W Bush, Barak Obama and Bill Clinton.  Donald Trump was conspicuous by his absence – intentional on the part of the White House.

The public mood appears pessimistic, reflecting the cost of 9/11, the loss of some 7000 US servicemen and women in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the resurrection of  the Taliban, aligned with a perception that the US has lost both respect and its way in the world.

Trump continues to tease supporters and opponents alike over whether he will run in 2024.  Most analysts and pollsters feel his decision won’t be made until after the mid-term elections in November 2022 – and how Biden and the Democrats rate in the polling.

Biden has had an awful August and early September. Even his own advisers agree the withdrawal from Afghanistan was botched, leaving many behind and unnerving allies around the world.

The South of the US suffered a hurricane which caused billions of dollars of damage from New Orleans to New York and caused several deaths.

California’s wildfires rage unchecked and the state is rapidly running out of electricity thanks to low hydro lake storage in neighbouring states and the state government’s decision to shut down nuclear, coal and gas-fired power stations. Continue reading “While Biden’s challenges grow, Christie shows signs of limbering up for a tilt at the Republican nomination”

Aussie ministers head overseas on defence and security mission – their Kiwi counterparts seem to prefer foreign affairs via Zoom

Australia’s defense and foreign affairs ministers have begun a four-nation tour to press economic and security relationships within the Asia-Pacific region as tensions rise with China.

Peter Dutton and Marise Payne are visiting Indonesia, India and South Korea and will  end their travels in the United States.  In Washington DC they hope to conclude a raft of major defence and strategic agreements, including the provision of new missile technology.

This raises the question of New Zealand’s Defence Minister, Peeni Henare, and his handling of those sorts of issues.  Apart from issuing the occasional media statement, he seems to be missing in action.

True, he does have other portfolios – Minister of Whanau Ora and associate minister of Health, Housing and Tourism.  Beehive insiders say he seems to pay little attention to the Defence portfolio.

As with his mentor, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, he is said to be reluctant to travel.  This  seems at odds with the demands of both portfolios because each of them requires a network of personal contacts, which is impossible to sustain by Zoom. Continue reading “Aussie ministers head overseas on defence and security mission – their Kiwi counterparts seem to prefer foreign affairs via Zoom”

Petition (that disappeared) was signed by Pakeha mums who fear race now comes first in Plunket’s baby-care priorities

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Mothers are aggrieved by what some say is a racist policy instituted by New Zealand’s most cherished parenting organisation. Graham Adams argues it is just one example of growing dissatisfaction over preference granted on grounds of ethnicity.

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In terms of the nation’s traditional iconography, it’s hard to decide whether Sir Edmund Hillary or Plunket nurses rate more highly in the popular imagination.

For many New Zealanders, Hillary represents the epitome of individualistic adventure while Plunket nurses looking after anxious mothers and vulnerable babies represent the best of community spirit.

Nevertheless, news came this week that Plunket is a “white supremacist” organisation, for which root-and-branch regeneration will be inadequate. (See Cate Broughton’s Plunket takes on its history, and future, to be ‘a better Treaty partner’, and a response to this by Linda Bryder: Plunket founder driven to reduce high infant mortality rate.)

This assault on Plunket’s reputation — let alone its very existence — will seem to many as outrageous as someone demanding Sir Ed’s image be taken off the $5 note because he was a white supremacist who denied Tenzing Norgay the chance of being the first person to stand on the summit of Mt Everest.

The case against Plunket — a charitable trust largely funded by taxpayers — rests mainly on views on race and eugenics held by its founder, Sir Truby King, who died 83 years ago in 1938. Continue reading “Petition (that disappeared) was signed by Pakeha mums who fear race now comes first in Plunket’s baby-care priorities”

Afghanistan: China and Russia will be strong influences on the Taliban as they fill void left by the US and its allies

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This article has been contributed by CHRISTIAN NOVAK, who has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in history from the University of Sydney.  He is working for a private company in Wellington in a government relations role.  

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While attention has been focused largely on the US and its allies as they abandoned Afghanistan, China and Russia have been waiting in the wings to fill the void.  From energy and construction projects to military and diplomatic initiatives, both countries will be an integral part of any international effort to influence and/or reign in Taliban behaviour.

Although Beijing senses an opportunity to press its belt and road interests, it worries that the disorder created by the Taliban could spill over the narrow border it shares with Afghanistan into Xinjiang province.  Indeed, the Taliban has long acquiesced to the presence of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which contains Muslim Uyghurs from Xinjiang – where more than 1 million are being held in “re-education” programmes.

When Taliban representatives travelled to Tianjin for a two-day visit in July, the delegation assured China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, that it would “not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China”. Beijing, in turn, reiterated its commitment to not interfere in the country’s internal affairs.

But such goodwill doesn’t immediately translate to trust. Over the past two decades, Uighurs have launched several terror attacks in China in pursuit of their own independent state.  As a result, Beijing will be watching on closely to see if Taliban leaders can bring some sort of control to the beleaguered country.

But Beijing remains pragmatic and is prepared to exercise patience in pursuit of potential returns, such as its Mes Aynak concession.

Back in 2007, the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation won rights to lease the giant Mes Aynak copper ore deposit in Afghanistan, which is said to be the second largest in the world. Continue reading “Afghanistan: China and Russia will be strong influences on the Taliban as they fill void left by the US and its allies”

Biden’s ratings are rocked by chaos in Kabul but the US appreciated NZ’s contribution to the evacuation

The war in Afghanistan is over after 20 years, according to a defiant speech by President Joe Biden, but the withdrawal  has left him and his administration wobbling.

Biden’s  personal poll ratings are now at 36%, down from 50% previously, while those of his vice president Kamala Harris are only 46% and she is failing to make political headway.

He faces strong domestic challenges. The House and Senate have passed two bills to fund infrastructure and a huge $US3 billion bill to fund a rang of measures from healthcare through education to social welfare.  The latter is mired in internal Democratic party struggles, largely because Biden wants to fund it largely through raising taxes from an average 23% to 28% and capital gains to 43%.

This sticks in the craws of moderate Democrats and most Republicans and is unlikely to proceed in its current form.

Later in 2022 the US will hold mid-term elections and already the parties are gearing up. The Democrats need lose only five seats in the lower house to surrender control to the Republicans (and end the career of Speaker Nancy Pelosi) while the Republicans need to gain only one seat in the Senate to control the upper house. This would leave Biden a lame duck.

On past results over 60 years, the party holding the White House also loses the lower house.

But  let’s get back to the war. Continue reading “Biden’s ratings are rocked by chaos in Kabul but the US appreciated NZ’s contribution to the evacuation”

The perils of COVID-zero — how our policy-makers should manage endemic COVID-19

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New Zealand and Australian elimination strategies in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic were defendable – but as we learn more about the virus, it has become increasingly hard to justify the continued policy of COVID-zero.  That’s the contention of Nicholas Kerr, a New Zealander (son of the late Business Roundtable executive director, Roger Kerr) who now is a marketing consultant in Dallas, Texas.  

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As the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved and we’ve learned more about the virus, the way we manage it should have evolved as well.

From a policymaking perspective, step one is acknowledging that it’s one of many risks we face in life – we need to weigh up all of life’s risks as we decide how to tackle this problem.

Second, it’s important to note that, as we learned early on, COVID’s risks differ dramatically across age deciles and health conditions. At the onset of the pandemic, when we knew little about the coronavirus, it seemed reasonable to adopt a stricter set of blanket policies until we could properly assess risk.

But because risks differ dramatically for those two metrics (age and underlying health conditions), we should design policy approaches that are weighed against the risks faced by each subset of our population.

Third, COVID-19 and its variants are going to be with us forever  In other words, we’ve moved from a pandemic to a virus that is endemic.  It’s not something we’ll ever be able to eliminate like smallpox, because while smallpox was something isolated to humans, the coronavirus is also found in animals. This means it’s futile to approach this problem with an elimination or “COVID-zero” policy.

Where states or countries fell short initially was protecting the elderly population and the sick. New York state and Sweden both failed on this count. Because these population groups face the highest risks, the policy settings for them need to involve isolating them from transmission until they can be vaccinated and continuing to adopt strategies to minimise the risks of transmission now that we are seeing even the vaccinated get infected.

For other age groups, unless they have underlying health conditions, their risk of a serious problem from COVID is low. The policy for them should involve arming people with information about how to minimise their chances of getting it (social distancing, not touching your face or eyes, consider getting a vaccine if you’re eligible), and then letting families assess their risks and develop their own strategies.

Only in extreme circumstances (such as hospitals working at capacity) does it seem reasonable to implement mandates like lockdowns, and then for only very limited periods (weeks, not months).

New Zealand’s and Australia’s elimination strategies in the early months of the pandemic were defendable, especially as they were in a relatively unique position of being able to easily close their borders. But as more has been learned about the virus, it is become increasingly hard to justify the continued policy of COVID-zero.

Once the virus’s risks were properly known, the strategy should have pivoted, but it has continued as if COVID is the only risk in life.

This has come at an enormous cost to many people who can minimise their risk of infection – and who would most likely be asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms and recover rapidly if they contracted it .

Take, for example, the four people in Sydney who recently died after contracting COVID-19 as the country’s most populous city and business capital enters it third month of strict lockdown, which many anticipate will continue through November or beyond. All four of them were at high risk from COVID-19:

The deaths include a woman in her 40s in palliative care who was unvaccinated, a man in his 70s who had pre-existing conditions and was vaccinated, a man in his 80s who was not vaccinated, and a woman in her 70s whose vaccination status has not yet been confirmed.

In addition to the enormous number of deaths of elderly and infirm, another major tragedy from COVID-19 has been the astronomical learning loss among children as a result of schools closing. In Texas alone (where most schools were open last year, but offered a virtual option), 800,000 more students fell below grade level in math than we’d usually see in a non-COVID year.

In other words, across all states, we’re probably talking tens of millions of American children with a huge learning loss, which in many cases will never be made up.

For large numbers of these children, this will translate into lower life expectancy, lower lifetime earnings, mental and physical health issues, and more. Of course, these are also the people who were least likely to get COVID, least likely to transmit it if they did, and least likely to suffer any consequences from the virus.

They’re paying a terrible price, which was entirely avoidable.

Fortunately, in the United States, the school year has begun as normal and here in Texas at least, most schools are not offering a virtual learning option. Sadly, in New Zealand and major states in Australia, schools are closed again.

We should also spare a thought for all of the businesses, especially small family ones, that have permanently closed or are barely hanging on. For example, the New Zealand Herald reports that 70% of travel agents in the country have left the industry as tourism and travel have dried up.

In 2020, the country’s economy shrank a record 2.9%.

Again, the harm to children and young families—those least likely to be impacted by COVID-19—will be profound. This loss of income and employment will translate to poorer nutrition, mental health issues, broken families and more.

Unfortunately for New Zealand, there is no end in sight to these snap lockdowns. It just entered another, which – if the country is lucky – will ease to level 3 by October and all will be well by November. However, the country is far from being able to open its borders again.

The country’s vaccination rollout is the slowest in the developed world. It was paused as the country entered lockdown again.

Even more problematic is that the country’s universal healthcare system is simply unable to deal with the inevitable cases that arise when the borders do reopen some time in 2022.

As Matthew Hooton noted last week, the country ranks 21 out of 22 OECD nations in terms of ICU capability, with less than a third of ICU beds per capita than the OECD average. This was known when the country adopted its elimination strategy in March 2020, but the government has failed to address it a year and a half later. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she’s not giving up on this elimination strategy, which means more harsh lockdowns are inevitable.

As is the case with so much in life, the wealthy in New Zealand and Australia have the resources to ensure their families come out of the current lockdown (and future lockdowns) relatively unscathed.

The countries’ least privileged citizens aren’t so fortunate. They’re the ones that suffer the most from this strategy and the costs they’re being asked to bear will be with many of them for life. These lands down under are failing their most vulnerable with a policy of COVID-zero.

NZ and the zero risk “fetish” – a policy that allows Ardern to lock us down and keep us under state protection

While the PM was announcing an extension of the Covid-19 lockdown and urging us to be kind, Point of Order staff were reading an article in The Telegraph which was not so kindly towards her and her government.

It was headed Poor Jacinda Ardern, trapped in her arrogant Zero Covid policy

The article was written by a Matthew  Lesh who kicked off:

Poetic justice is beautiful. Last week, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, announced that the antipodean nation would indefinitely pursue a zero Covid strategy. This week, it entered a stringent nationwide lockdown after the emergence of a single Covid-19 case. The pandemic giveth, the pandemic taketh away.

Since the lockdown announcement, Lesh wrote, a further 20 cases had emerged.

And even more have emerged since then.

Lesh goes on: Continue reading “NZ and the zero risk “fetish” – a policy that allows Ardern to lock us down and keep us under state protection”

At last, our foreign affairs minister will venture overseas – she’s got a ticket to Dubai to promote indigenous and tribal economies

Excitement is mounting in the Beehive.  Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta is contemplating her first overseas visit.

Not, we might think, to Australia or the Pacific Islands.  No, this is further afield, to Dubai, no less, for Expo 2020 in November.

Not much chance to hold bilateral chats with other foreign ministers there but a chance to display substantial Maori content at the New Zealand Pavilion.  

The minister is quoted in an enthusiastic release from trade officials: Continue reading “At last, our foreign affairs minister will venture overseas – she’s got a ticket to Dubai to promote indigenous and tribal economies”

The Herculean challenge of getting the RNZAF into the skies

The Point of Order team was wondering why it took the RNZAF so long to ready an aircraft for the Afghan mission.

One of our contacts provided this information:

The problem is that the air force has only three out of five Hercules in service (one of them only recently back from an extended operational training exercise in the US).  Two are in long-term maintenance at Blenheim.

Currently there are no active Boeing 757s. One of these is in heavy maintenance in Christchurch while the other is grounded without engines at Whenuapai, awaiting new engines being recycled from a US boneyard  It seems the air force had been unable to secure regular supplies because of Covid and the demand for freighter engines.

Then there is the question of pilots. Some of the 757 and Hercules pilots are undergoing training on the new Boeing P-8A Poseidons and the air force has not, in recent years, been over-endowed with aircrew.

As if that wasn’t challenge enough for the air force, the government is under pressure from Finance Minister Grant Robertson to strip around $4 billion from the long-term defence capability programme.