What must be embedded to modernise our research and science system? The treaty, of course (and don’t forget mātauranga Māori)

Latest from the Beehive

What had become a surge of ministerial announcements this time yesterday had turned into a tsunami at time of writing (around noon today).  Frankly, we can’t keep up.

We ended yesterday’s roundup of Beehive announcements with a statement on the PM’s virtual attendance at the East Asia Summit.  Since then, ministers have posted 16 new statements.  Several were Covid-related.

This was a good time for a smart press secretary to unload news of dubious government spending, hoping it will be buried by the other stuff, including Grant Robertson’s latest boast about how well the government’s finances are being managed.

Sure, core Crown expenses at $31 billion were $3.2 billion above forecast in the three months to the end of September – but, hey, that was all to do with Covid and the payment of wage subsidies and COVID-19 resurgence support payments.

But how well is spending being keep under control?

We wonder about this after Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti got to announce the news we were all bursting to hear – that Fifty Kiwi Kidsongs have been launched through the Ministry of Education’s Arts Online website. The project is a collaboration with Music Education New Zealand Aotearoa (MENZA). Continue reading “What must be embedded to modernise our research and science system? The treaty, of course (and don’t forget mātauranga Māori)”

Paul Hunt brings the govt to heel on mandatory vaccinations – don’t forget the Treaty and our human rights, he urges

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Business responses to the Government’s announcement on vaccination requirements for workers were supportive.  The Human Rights Commission response was more tentative.

It welcomed the announcement but said human rights and Treaty of Waitangi considerations must be examined.

Back in 1840 the examination of those treaty considerations would not have taken long.  The treaty’s three articles can be read in a matter of minutes and none of those articles mentions vaccines.

Nowadays the examination can be expected to take much longer, keeping a small army of academics, lawyers,  social scientists and what-have-you engaged in earnest deliberations on the need to recognise concepts such as “partnership” and “treaty principles” that politicians and the courts have introduced in recent years.

The government’s announcement essentially was that: Continue reading “Paul Hunt brings the govt to heel on mandatory vaccinations – don’t forget the Treaty and our human rights, he urges”

Nothing from Nanaia on NZ’s envoy in Turkey (if she’s still there) but you can read about an APEC meeting and vaccination rules

Latest from the Beehive

Covid-related issues and health have dominated the news from the Beehive over the weekend but Point of Order is keen to highlight developments in the foreign-policy domain.

First, we have noted a press statement from Grant Robertson after he chaired an APEC meeting (a virtual meeting, of course). More of this later.

Second, we can’t find  a statement from Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta on developments in Turkey where our Ambassador (according to the news media) has been declared persona non grata.    

Maybe the Minister is busy with Three Waters stuff – or maybe reports of our Ambassador  being one of several envoys declared persona non  grata are the mischievous products of anti-Turkish propaganda.   

If our Ambassador is given a diplomatic eviction notice  – of course – we wonder what arrangements will be made by officials who run our Managed Isolation and Quarantine system.  Will she have to wait until she wins one of those lottery spots? Continue reading “Nothing from Nanaia on NZ’s envoy in Turkey (if she’s still there) but you can read about an APEC meeting and vaccination rules”

It will be 4pm soon – and (here’s hoping) the press will have an opportunity to question the PM

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Cabinet is scheduled to meet today to assess alert level restrictions, with announcements to be made during a 4pm press conference.  We look forward to hearing from the PM at that time.

So, too, will National Party leader Judith Collins, who has been pressing the PM to “come out from the shadows” after several days of no-shows at previously daily press conferences.

Collins’ demand for the PM to front up to news media followed the release of the latest Covid-19 numbers, which suggested the outbreak was slowly spreading around the North Island (the news has been somewhat brighter today).  She said:

“New Zealanders will be unsettled by the news – delivered via written statement – that we have 60 new community cases today and yet our Prime Minister did not even get one of her senior ministers to stand in for her at the podium.” Continue reading “It will be 4pm soon – and (here’s hoping) the press will have an opportunity to question the PM”

More govt money for recreation, conservation and vaccination – too bad about the lift in interest rates

More than $17 million in government spending (by our count) was declared in two of the latest batch of ministerial announcements.  The costs involved in other announcements weren’t mentioned in the press statements.

Grant Robertson exchanged his Finance hat (a portfolio requiring him to maintain some sort of fiscal discipline) for his Sport and Recreation hat to announce the Government is providing $5.3 million to assist sport and recreation organisations in the Auckland region financially affected by the latest lockdown.

Compensation for government decisions to severely constrain economic activity in the Auckland region, in other words

We imagined Robertson would have been preoccupied with examining the ramifications of the Reserve Bank decision to raise the official cash rate to 0.5 per cent today.

His political opponents most certainly were making a noise about it.

National’s Shadow Treasurer Andrew Bayly said the Government’s failure to rollout the vaccine and prepare our Covid defences had resulted in the Reserve Bank having to make this decision in the middle of lockdown, even though it is “incredibly risky for the economy”.

He said:

“Obviously, the Reserve Bank has seen that the cost of living is rising too quickly, and its hand has been forced. This has been exacerbated by huge amounts of wasteful, untargeted spending from the Government on matters entirely unrelated to the Covid response.”

Fair to say, Robertson’s handout of money was related to the Covid response.  Continue reading “More govt money for recreation, conservation and vaccination – too bad about the lift in interest rates”

The Treaty gives government a tonic to deal to family violence – but science is called on to deal with Myrtle rust

Vaccine announcements have dominated news from the Beehive over the past few days, but while the vaccine deals to Covid,  the Treaty of Waitangi has been prescribed to deal to family violence.

ACC minister Carmel Sepuloni announced the ACC is investing $44.9 million over four years to establish “a fit-for-purpose sexual violence primary prevention system”.

This is bound to be successful because it is based on the Treaty, a document signed in 1840 comprising just three articles.  But when interpreted by the Ardern governmnent,  this document holds the key to ridding us (apparently) of pretty well anything from warts to citizens’ rights to challenge local authorities’ race-based governance proposals.

And so:

“The new Te-Tiriti-informed primary prevention system announced today, will provide long-term, sustained investment and enhance our Government’s effort to prevent sexual violence.

“The package includes $11.715 million of targeted investment for kaupapa Māori approaches. It will enhance the primary prevention system in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Who provides the money?

Most of us, we imagine, although when it comes  to determining who should be given priority in the spending of this money, the government unabashedly brings race into calculations.

“As Treaty partners, ACC will prioritise Māori and partner with whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori communities,” Associate Minister for ACC Willie Jackson said. Continue reading “The Treaty gives government a tonic to deal to family violence – but science is called on to deal with Myrtle rust”

Come on, Joel – more research should show that classism and the pox weren’t the only exports sent here by the Poms

ACT​ leader David Seymour (who is doing nicely in opinion polls) irked many people when he sent out priority vaccination access codes intended for Māori.

The critics (no surprises here) included

  • Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, who said the move was “despicable” and she would be writing to Speaker Trevor Mallard about it.
  • Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who said it was a “low-life move” aimed at intentionally sabotaging the Māori vaccine campaign.

This week, former Stuff reporter Joel Maxwell pitched in, too, to huff:

I’ll admit, Māori like myself were pretty angry about it. Some might accuse us of being ideologically driven, and that’s true – if the ideology was not wanting our whānau to die.

Having told us what he thinks of Seymour and his politicking, Maxwell proceeded to a bout of Pommy-bashing: Continue reading “Come on, Joel – more research should show that classism and the pox weren’t the only exports sent here by the Poms”

Oops – our PM’s halo has slipped in overseas critiques of NZs Covid elimination strategy

The  Ardern government is  clinging  to  its Covid elimination strategy, even  as  the  Ministry of  Health   is  looking  at the  need for  booster shots for  those  who were  vaccinated  six months  ago.

A new  study  by researchers  in Britain has found that  protection offered  by the Pfizer vaccine,  which is 88% effective  in  the first  month,  begins  to  fade  within five to six months  of  the  second injection.  By  then  it is  only  74%  effective   The Astra-Zeneca  vaccine   is  only  67%  effective   after  about  five  months.

New Zealand’s Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, today confirmed officials are considering booster injections for those who received their Pfizer vaccines in  February, March  and April.

Among NZ  experts  there  has  been debate  on  whether    booster  shots   would be  necessary. They  agree the Pfizer vaccine is highly effective at preventing serious disease, hospitalisation and death.

Vaccines continue to perform well, including against the Delta variant, and serious cases worldwide are generally only occurring in the unvaccinated. Continue reading “Oops – our PM’s halo has slipped in overseas critiques of NZs Covid elimination strategy”

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.

Opposition leaders press the PM to spare Parliament (and democracy) from the lockdown – oh, and keep an eye on the debt

The Covid lockdown has been the subject of most press releases posted on The Beehive website – and those distributed by other political parties  – in recent days.

The flow of statements includes the thoroughly reasonable demand from Opposition leaders that democracy not be put into lockdown, too.

ACT leader David Seymour called on the PM “to ensure democracy continues and that the Government is held to account”.

Sure, the Government was elected by a majority of voters, Seymour acknowledged, but the people who voted for other parties still deserve to be represented.

His reasoning:

“If the AM Show and Seven Sharp can go ahead while socially distancing, there’s no reason our democratically elected Parliament can’t.

“If Jacinda Ardern decides against that, the question will be whether this is about safety, or avoiding scrutiny.” Continue reading “Opposition leaders press the PM to spare Parliament (and democracy) from the lockdown – oh, and keep an eye on the debt”