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Covid-19 and a digital democracy

Written By: - Date published: 7:30 pm, March 15th, 2020 - 20 comments
Categories: community democracy, democracy under attack, democratic participation, health, Parliament, Politics, uncategorized - Tags:

Government has for the last decade been pushing for as many government services as possible to be primarily accessed digitally rather than face-to face. Funnily enough, the one public service they forgot to push to digital is themselves.

Now’s the time Trevor.

Since Parliament is one of the most intensive, sustained and necessary mass people-gatherings in the country, when is it time to tell Parliament to take a break and for M.P.s other than Cabinet Ministers to self-isolate?

C’mon Mr Speaker, I’m sure you’ve rehearsed an earthquake to Wellington that requires a temporary shift of premises. Isn’t it time to shift MP debate online? After all, that’s where 99% of public political debate is already.

There’s no need to be physically near all that hot air, all that flying phlegm, is there team? It’s not as if you like each other anyway.

They’ve stopped all kinds of other massed gatherings – so it’s time for Parliament to consider doing the same.

And there’s really good historical reasons to do so.

In the 1918 Influenza epidemic, the House kept sitting, but Prime Minister Massey was forced to adjourn twice and close the public galleries. Two Members of Parliament died of it: Alfred Hindmarsh the leader of the Labour Party, and the Reform Party’s David Buick. That’s how Harry Holland got to lead the Labour Party.

At least 18 MP’s got sick from it.

Dr Maui Pomare was the MP for Western Maori and Minister for Native Affairs. He got really sick, and also had a relapse after trying to go back to work too soon. He was also a powerhouse of medical help to Maori from the Manuwatu and up through to Thames. I’d love to see more M.P’s from across the House show courage like he did.

The Health Act that emerged at the end of that national crisis was a really strong reflection of the work that the whole House put in, and its structure and powers permanently shaped public health policy. Historian Geoffrey Rice has described the Health Act 1920 as “the most useful legacy of the 1918 influenza pandemic”.

It was with these powers that the Government of 1948 was able to deal with the polio outbreak of 1948.

Polio was a disease that really got to children, so it didn’t carry the risk of hitting parliament directly. The Government shut all schools down from January through to Easter. My father-in-law recalled to me that Dunedin was stopped to all traffic with armed guards at the entrance to all entry points.

You get a good sense of its social history here.

Now sure, once the virus goes through Wellington it will of course hit Parliamentarians and staff. Thankfully their average age is not as old as that of the U.S. Congress, which makes the functioning of the United States Congress particularly vulnerable to this virus.

But what all Departments are doing is dusting off their Business Continuity scenarios, which have assigned names and positions of those who really need to keep going, and those who aren’t (all major businesses are doing the same). Plans for continuity of the Courts, the Police, Customs, the Armed Forces, the health services, all come through the New Zealand Influenza Pandemic Plan. It’s worth a good read here.

With all those B.C. plans rolling out, it’s time for Parliament itself to do the same and lead by example.

There is no reason the need for necessary parliamentary scrutiny of Cabinet decisions can’t be achieved without a massed gathering of our Members of Parliament. Minister Robertson could certainly try something more creative than last time when presenting his 2020-2021 Budget.

Hey Parliament, never waste a crisis: go digital!

20 comments on “Covid-19 and a digital democracy ”

  1. Andre 1

    If Trevor's got anything to do with it, it won't happen. He's an aficionado of one of the rituals that requires a physical presence.

    I refer, of course, to the parliamentary punchup.

  2. RedBaronCV 2

    i'd have thought teleconferencing as a substitute would be relatively easy to implement. either individually or on a small group basis or a mixture – say groups for urban MP's and individual for outliers, interjections by typed messaging, feed for parliamentary tv. Save the risks of internal travelling with the high rate of casual contact. Even if it was used to include any MP in isolation as a test – why not?

  3. The SARs epidemic in China is credited with really kicking off the rise in online shopping there; this time round it's going to be remote education.

    My brother in law is stuck in an apartment in Shanghai teaching his classes via Skype and reports that it's taken a few weeks to get used to it, but now it's becoming the new normal.

    Just one new rule, the kids are not allowed to wear their pyjamas.laugh

    • David Mac 3.1

      I think your brother is dabbling with the future Red.

      Bruno Mars pointing out the differences between Nouns and Verbs.

      • RedLogix 3.1.1

        lol … He teaches math, so it's more likely the difference between differentials and integrals. But that's a detail. laugh

        • David Mac

          I'm not sure how old you are Red, or where your taste lies but if a hologram of Jim Morrison was going to do a few numbers and have a word to us about common denominators that's a class I'd make and the chances are good I'd retain much of what Jim had to say. I'd wear leather jeans.

          • RedLogix

            It shouldn't surprise you when I confess that my tastes are more Mark Knopfler (especially his post DS era). Middle of the road maybe, but immensely competent.

  4. A 4

    There are still too many people without internet access. For the charity I am associated with last year we had 30 out of around 320 service users without internet access. That’s shocking even considering most are beneficiaries.

    What we need is to solve this first…and no, paying $3 for 30 harried minutes at a public library is not working. Neither are free Wifi because of limitations and often security. Some cannot afford a phone and while YOU can figure out the cheapest option some of us are so strapped for cash it is stressful to think they might do something that results in the waste of even $5.

    Seriously, if the public needs instructions on how to wash their hands why is it assumed they will just know how to access everything digitally? Digital communications are a must have in our modern society and we aren't there yet.

    Hope they close the damn border off and then focus on resolving this ^^ for any future events.

    • RedLogix 4.1

      I'd like to see regulation in this space that required say the first 10GB per month provided free.

      • mikesh 4.1.1

        It's probably not a good time, though, to introduce free public transport. That could come later.

    • RedBaronCV 4.2

      Spot on . I've been looking at affordable options for cellphone broadband home phone. Quite an education. Devices alone cost $ either a phone /laptop or both – way beyond benefit levels.

      The taxpayer has contributed towards fibre broadband cost but it doesn't seem to be reflected in line charges and fees.

      One of my biggest gripes is the bundling. If you want broadband and home phone then either you go with the one provider or pay excessively. Home phones (pots over copper) is $55 a month and pots over fibre is $50. then broadband is on top of this A large local telco can't even put these prices on the internet. 20 years ago Pots over copper was around $25 a month. Want to reserve your home phone number- about $23 a month – used to be $3. Can't say that the copper investment has doubled over 20 years.

      Spark no longer puts contact phone numbers on its home phone invoices- must be a challenge for those with no broadband.

      The major telco's seem to be buying the competition when they get to a certain size .

      Cellphones aren't a lot better- If you have a no data cellphone model it's still possible to get by on the "pay as you use" vouchers but the unit prices for minutes or texts is pretty solid. What is called prepay is now a monthly rental fee to access various limited bundles of data, minutes, texts but if you don't pay each month then carry overs vanish. Kinda wonder if this is allowed as truth in advertising.

      Regardless of how anything is configured the annual household rentals are north of $1200 for a reasonable service package.

      So expecting low income or beneficiary's to have anything more than very limited access is utterly unrealistic. Doesn't stop all those government departments from demanding everyone uses websites and online banking. Plus the cops seem to be notified of cellphone holders details for their database. Supposedly for emergencies.

  5. A fresh point along a theme I've often touched on. This event is a global problem and demands a solution at this same scale.

    I remain deeply disappointed in the initial response of the WHO, but they have staged something of a recovery in the past week. Sadly they have burned a lot of moral authority at a time when they needed all of it to impose global standards and consistent responses across the whole planet.

    The current fragmented and often contradictory responses from different nations is going to prolong this crisis and expand the death toll way beyond what it could have been. It's starkly exposing the limits of the sovereign nation to deal with global challenges.

    • tc 5.1

      "responses from different nations is going to prolong this crisis…" Like Europe and the UK allowing crowds to gather at football games and horse racing (Cheltenham) when it was well known at that point the dangers.

      What else can we honestly expect with the likes of Blojo/macron etc in charge across the globe waiting for their strings to be pulled.

  6. Ad 6

    MPs in isolation now or overseas so will be shortly:

    – Mahuta

    – Bishop

    – Martin

    – Swarbrick

    – Bakshi

    This will hit parliament faster than we might imagine

  7. Ad 7

    We are now odds-on for the New Zealand and U.S. elections being put off until 2021.

    • weka 7.1

      Based on what?

      Under section 17 of the Constitution Act 1986, parliament expires three years "from the day fixed for the return of the writs issued for the last preceding general election of members of the House of Representatives, and no longer." The writs for the 2017 election were returned on 12 October 2017. As a result, the 52nd Parliament must dissolve no later than 12 October 2020. Consequently, the last day for issuance of writs of election is 19 October 2020. The writs must be returned within 50 days of their issuance (save for any judicial recount or death of a candidate), which would be 7 December 2020.[12] Because polling day must be on a Saturday,[12] and two weeks is generally required for the counting of special votes, the last possible date for the next general election is 21 November 2020.


      Is there a work around for that?

    • Andre 7.3

      The current presidential term ends at noon on January 20, 2021. Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1 of the constitution says " He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years" and there is no mechanism for modifying the term nor has there ever been any attempted amendments to modify the term.

      The Election Day is chosen by Congress, and it has been set by law since 1845 as the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. While Congress could change the day, it would require legislation to be passed in both the House and the Senate.

      The more realistic way to change or cancel the election (but still highly improbable) is if the states with Repug legislatures decided to just not bother with elections and pick a bunch of toadies to act as Electors and tell them to vote for Genghis Don. There's 28 states adding up to 294 Electoral College votes with Repug legislatures. Yes, they have the power to do that, in theory.


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