IT LOOK LIKE the prospect of a long Easter holiday weekend triggered an unusual burst of energy in the Beehive yesterday.
Newspapers don’t publish on Good Friday, of course, which means those press releases probably won’t generate as many headlines as normal. Perhaps minimum publicity was the objective, in some cases.
Energy Minister Megan Woods had some news that involves drilling, for example. And mere mention of the word “drilling” (unless the work is done by a dentist) is bound to raise the hackles of greenies.
Other ministers were splashing public money around – into an offshore fisheries partnership between New Zealand and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency ($5 million); a Mayoral Relief Fund to support people and communities most affected by the recent severe weather in Wairoa ($100,000); and support to strengthen the rural advisory sector (more than $25 million).
Then there’s news of New Zealand/Australian government funding of a new initiative to support indigenous business, targeted towards Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Māori communities. The money will provide e-commerce training and business development to help up to 82 indigenous businesspeople. Alas, the sum involved was not included in the statement from Associate Maori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta
Drilling is about to get underway for one of the key options of the NZ Battery Project geotechnical feasibility investigations, in what has the potential to be the largest hydro project in New Zealand.
Increasing employment and economic benefits from the Pacific’s offshore fisheries is the focus of a new NZD$5 million partnership between Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
The Government had successfully assisted more than 1500 people to travel from Afghanistan to Aotearoa New Zealand since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, as the taskforce set up to lead the mission comes to an end.
Police Minister Poto Williams was responsible for one of just two new ministerial press statements at time of checking on what the Beehive mob are up to.
She was obviously delighted to be able to end the week with something to crow about (she used the word “celebrated”):
Police Minister Poto Williams celebrated today the graduation of Wing 352 at the Royal New Zealand Police College, which marks the 3,000th new police officer since October 2017.
“The 79 recruits graduating from Wing 352 bring the total new officers since we took office to 3,000. The milestone reached today is a testament to our Government’s record investment in Police,” Poto Williams said.
Whose turn is it for funding in the name of Covid-19 relief and the government’s sense of need to help people adversely affected financially by it?
Oh yes. Sport and recreation – but only in some parts of the country.
The Government is providing $4 million of support for sport and recreation organisations in the Auckland, Northland and Waikato regions financially affected by the extended COVID alert level restrictions between August and December last year.
An hour or so after this was announced, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced New Zealand was providing humanitarian aid to support the people of Ukraine.
This aid will help deliver essential humanitarian assistance, with a focus on supporting health facilities and meeting basic needs (such as provision of food and hygiene items) in a country being mercilessly bombarded and battered by troops unleashed by the despotic Vladimir Putin.
It amounts to $2 million, which is half the amount of financial assistance allocated to support local and regional sport and recreation organisations and providers.
The government’s help for Putin’s victims might also be compared with the $12 million from the Jobs for Nature fund for “a suite of projects” in the Hokianga Catchment area announced last week by Environment Minister David Parker.
Charity palpably beings at home, but fair to say, Mahuta said this is “an initial $2 million”.
Furthermore, New Zealand provides annual funding to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, which has announced it has allocated $20 million to help humanitarian agencies scale up their Ukraine response.
On the other hand, it should be noted that – yet again – Mahuta has denounced the Russian invasion of Afghanistan without mentioning President Putin.
In other Covid-19 news from the Beehive, Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio has delivered something headed “Intervention Speech delivered online for UN High-level Thematic Debate on Universal COVID-19 Vaccination”.
Intervention suggests he had to interrupt someone else’s speech, although speech-language pathologists use early speech intervention to tackle problems among children with speech impediments.
Sio told his audience that here in New Zealand,
“… we believe in — and are bound by — the value and responsibilities of whanaungatanga: this value speaks to our deep connections and sense of belonging as human beings and our geneaological ties. We share as whanau, or family, through history, experiences (good, bad & sad), cultures and working together.
“Whanaungatanga underpins our place in the Blue Pacific Continent, as neighbours, and as part of the Pacific family. It also underpins Aotearoa New Zealand’s place as part of a global family. And when our family suffers, we have a duty — a responsibility — to respond. Our elders often say – in times of crisis – we put aside our differences and support one another – for we are one body, we are flesh and blood.”
The team at Point of Order must confess we did not realise we believed in and were bound by something called Whanaungatanga.
We thus have been enlightened on this matter and appreciate that when our global family suffers, we have a duty — a responsibility — to respond.
But Sio wasn’t about to tell us about our response to the suffering being inflicted on Putin’s orders in Ukraine. News of that (as we noted earlier) came from Nanaia Mahuta, who said New Zealand stands by the people of Ukraine impacted by Russia’s unprovoked invasion.
“It is deeply disturbing to hear reports of the growing numbers of deaths and injuries from this conflict. The harrowing and horrific images of displaced, or suffering civilians, in Ukraine speak volumes of this unfolding tragedy, and underlines the consequences of Russia’s unprovoked aggression.”
New Zealand was providing an initial $2 million but:
“These are early days and we will continue to monitor events closely as the scale of the conflict, and the resulting humanitarian crisis, becomes clearer. We know the consequences of Russia’s actions will be significant, and tragically many of these will fall on innocent civilians.”
Sio, however, was speaking of New Zealand doing all it can to meet the World Health Organisation’s 70 per cent vaccination target by June, this year.
“And, we will continue to work alongside the World Health Organisation and COVAX to ensure all communities can access the vaccines they need. We encourage all donors and vaccine companies to do the same.”
The only other fresh announcement posted on the Beehive website today (at time of writing) came from Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.
They announced the horticulture and winegrowing sector will have access to 1,600 more workers this season after the Government agreed to increase the Recognised Seasonal Employment Scheme (RSE) cap to 16,000.
“We’ve increased the cap for the 2021/2022 season from 14,400 to 16,000 so employers in the horticulture and winegrowing sector can access more labour to help with planting, maintenance, harvesting, packing and winter pruning. It will also help set the sector up for the next season,” Damien O’Connor said.
Returning to the news which opened this post, Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson announced the $4 million of support for sport and recreation organisations in the Auckland, Northland and Waikato regions financially affected by the extended COVID alert level restrictions between August and December last year.
The new fund, which has been allocated from the $265 million Sport Recovery Package comprises $4 million:
$2.2 million for Aktive Auckland Sport and Recreation
$485,000 for Sport Waikato
$315,000 for Sport Northland.
A contingency of $1 million will also be available across all three regions if required.
The “investment” follows $5.3 million in funding announced last October to support sport and recreation organisations, outdoor education providers and whānau in Auckland and elsewhere financially affected by last year’s lockdown.
The Government is providing more support for sport and recreation organisations in the Auckland, Northland and Waikato regions financially affected by the extended COVID alert level restrictions between August and December last year.
Just two weeks ago the prime minister was standing in the Beehive theatrette to tell the country the government was still aiming to return to zero cases. This week she was promising a phased end to Covid restrictions in Auckland, under a three-step plan, which moves away from the current elimination strategy.
She acknowledged the elimination strategy was coming to an end, saying it had served New Zealand well.
Since then, the PM has said Cabinet has agreed to the use of vaccine certificates in New Zealand as a tool in high-risk settings including large events and the government is consulting on their use in places like hospitality.
More money to help Covid-affected business, more money for humanitarian work in Afghanistan, more money to protect kauri …
Ministers have been busy dishing it out over the past two days.
But there’s no hint of a “$” sign or any mention of the word “payment” in a joint statement released today in the names of Bernard Monk, Andrew Little, Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry, and the Attorney General of New Zealand.
A note accompanying the statement says:
“The Parties have agreed on terms to fully and finally settle the proceeding and will jointly issue the below statement.”
At Point of Order, our monitors are programmed to try to winkle out the cost to taxpayers, when the government talks of a full and final settlement.
But money was not mentioned in the statement on this settlement, which is rooted in litigation stemming from the deaths of 29 men in the Pike River mine on 19 November 2010.
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.
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.
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.
Defence Minister Peeni Henare in Parliament yesterday stoutly defended the government’s actions in Afghanistan — even though an estimated 375 people were left behind when evacuation flights were halted.
Critics contend that if Cabinet hadn’t taken the weekend off, many of those 375 might have been airlifted out.
Henare brushed aside questions about why the Immigration Department had turned down resettlement applications in July.
“Biden’s Debacle”: The Economist said it all with those words on its cover page headline last week. The Guardian Weekly chimed in with “So Long: The End of the American Century”.
In its editorial, The Economist said:
“If the propagandists of the Taliban had scripted the collapse of the 20-year mission to reshape Afghanistan , they could not have come up with more harrowing images….Afghans were left in such a horrifying bind that clinging to the wheels of a hurtling aircraft seemed their best option.
But a Canadian farming newspaper has drawn attention to a much more critical issue: famine is looming as developing countries struggle to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus with unpredictable and limited vaccines.