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National’s politicisation of Covid over the past two years

Written By: - Date published: 9:07 am, March 21st, 2022 - 34 comments
Categories: covid-19, health, Judith Collins, national, same old national, Simon Bridges, todd muller - Tags:

On Friday there was this big policy announcement by National where Chris Luxon announced National’s proposal for how the Government should handle Covid.  From the Herald:

National Party leader Christopher Luxon says it is time to dismantle Covid restrictions and get back to normality.

He spoke to media this morning with his Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop after issuing a call for the Government to immediately scrap vaccine passes for all but large, indoor events.

In a statement this morning, Luxon also called for all scanning requirements to be dropped immediately and to get rid of vaccine mandates for all young people aged under 18.

He also called for a move to a five-day isolation period for Covid-19 cases and their household contacts, down from seven days.

The statement caused a sense of deja vu.  Haven’t they announced essentially the same policy many times before?

This caused me to do a deep dive of National’s previous announcements during the past couple of years and boy they have been all over the place.  The basic response has either to be loudly and indignantly claiming that we should loosen things up or acerbic criticism of the most transient fault by the agencies of Government.  This post is a compendium of different things I have said at different times.

We are now in a situation that we have anticipated but avoided for two years, a full blown local Covid wave.  We are in pretty good shape, vaccination rates are high and there are a couple of country comparisons to show how well we have done.

But from the noise that has emanated from National’s ranks and from its cheerleaders for the past couple of years you would think that the country’s performance was a disaster.

Like in February of this year when National wanted to end all border restrictions.

Chris Bishop put it plainly:

We think the time has come to end the misery of human lottery that is MIQ and essentially allow fully vaccinated kiwis in Australia and around the world to return and self isolate without going into MIQ.  That is the critical point.

Susie Ferguson then asked him if National would open up the borders “now”.

Bishop replied by contradicting himself and agreeing that it needed to be phased in.  From Radio New Zealand:

There was an argument for phasing in the changes, but the most pressing need was to get New Zealanders in very desperate situations home, from wherever they are in the world.

It is interesting that as Omicron was hitting us Bishop thought there was an argument for phasing in changes but now National thinks that the whole apparatus should be dismantled, every single piece of it.

This was also the month of the Wellington protest where Maureen Pugh gave the game away and admitted that National Party members had been meeting with the protestors on an almost daily basis.

In January of this year Chris Luxon criticised the Government for not having a comprehensive plan for dealing with Omicron.  Now he proposed there to be essentially no plan, apart from sick people staying at home.

Last December Luxon said:

“Why is Auckland in red light? That is designed for when the country has an overwhelmed healthcare system and the Prime Minister says it is fine. And we have some of the highest vaccination rates of any city on planet Earth.”

Luxon said the sector was “ready for Auckland to go straight to green”.

Omicron then hit and with the benefit of hindsight the extra time we had to prepare and get more people treble vaxxed was very important.

In November last year National essentially wanted to let the virus rip because it was affecting their privilege too much.

Here is the video proof:

And here is the Hansard report:

If we step back and ask ourselves, having got vaccinated—we’re nearly 90 percent; over 90 percent of first doses. Our simple view is that we don’t need any of this at all anymore. We can move on to a stage where the vaccination rates are high, we don’t need traffic lights, we need to just open up and accept that people have had the opportunity to get vaccinated—most of them have—and let’s get back to a semblance of normality. So that’s why we oppose the bill. Full stop.

It also came up with a campaign to just open up for Christmas.

At the time I said “… in the middle of a pandemic where the numbers in hospital are increasing and a number of Kiwis have died from a virus that is spreading promising the loosening of current restrictions is the most irresponsible, stupid, foolhardy, idiotic, imbecile thing I could ever expect a political party to do.”

In October last year previous leader Judith Collins wanted the mandate dropped once the country reached a 90% vaccination rate.  I thought at the time this was crazy.  We did not know what the situation was at that time.  As shown by Japan’s response which has recently dramatically reduced new covid cases it is a combination of responses that are important.  Vaccinations by themselves will not suffice and we may need to draw on multiple responses to suppress the spread of the virus.  As it was Omicron hit us after we had reached the 90% vaccination level and if ever there was a time that we needed the extra vaccinations that mandates incentivised it was then.

In September last year National said that if 75% of the population over the age of 12 were vaccinated then we would no longer need lockdowns.  Three weeks later the figure was 70% to 75%.  A goal for adult vaccinations of 80% to 85% was also mentioned which is absurd given that in terms of first jabs we were already pretty well there.

During that month it also released its Covid opus.  Clearly the policy had been developed over an extended period of time.  How they must have hated it when John Key released his list of cafe reckons on the Sunday just before official release.  The problem with its proposal?  It admitted that our health system could not at that time cope with the subsequent run of infections.

In August last year Chris Bishop admitted that he saw National’s role as not to ensure the best response to the crisis but instead to gum up the works.

In May of last year Chris Bishop showed that he was concentrating on the issues that mattered by complaining that doctors were trying to get too many vaccines out of a vial.

In April of last year (and for many months before then) National complained bitterly at how slow the roll out of the vaccine was.  History will show that our roll out was world class and that a phenomenal proportion of the population have been vaccinated.

In January of last year there was the great why has New Zealand not queue jumped and paid more to purchase Pfeizer vaccines debate.  Judith Collins asked why we were not being vaccinated as fast as other Western nations who were at the time struggling to deal with massive outbreaks.  Her complaint speaks volumes, if our world is going to deal with the virus then the distribution of vaccines have to be equitable and as a priority to those in need.

The election period of 2020 is but a blur.  And the result spoke volumes about what the country thought about National’s proposals.

Who can forget July 2020 when a then National MP made the allegation that a stream of covid infected Indians, Pakistanis and Koreans were on their way to Queenstown.

And that it was based on information supplied by this National operative?

In June 2020 Todd Muller gave this speech where he urged the reopening of New Zealand.  From the Otago Daily Times:

“The New Zealand strategy cannot be that we stay locked up until everybody else gets to zero or we have a vaccine. This country would be on its knees if that was the case.”

Earlier in his brief leadership, Muller said the National Party believed Australian skiers should be able to come to New Zealand this winter.

But Muller said the “shambolic” response to testing people in quarantine of the past fortnight meant New Zealanders were now less willing to talk about how we might allow people to visit or travel internationally.

“It has reduced New Zealand’s confidence in having a conversation, because even having a conversation right now creates the sense that ‘oh, you mean we’re going to open the border and get overwhelmed’.

Muller did not last much longer.  Then Judith Collins took over.

Simon Bridges can also directly link his demise as National leader in May 2020 to his handling of the issue and especially this social media post.  The content was predictable, the Government was being too slow and it was being too strict.  The twin attacks of incompetence and maintaining an excessive response has been repeated and repeated and repeated.

The Government is currently considering a relaxing of the current settings.  Like Professor Rod Jackson I prefer that changes be kept to a modest level while we struggle handling the Omicron wave.

But the negative rhetoric that National has engaged in since 2020 has played a significant role in undermining public support for beneficial health measures and putting pressure on the Government to loosen up more than is ideal.

I can understand why people are so grumpy and worried.  It has been two long years and it does not matter how many times you point out how well the country has performed people are over it.  National’s continuous stoking of the fires of discontent is something that I will never forget and reinforces to me strongly how important it is to keep them away from the levers of power for as long as possible.

34 comments on “National’s politicisation of Covid over the past two years ”

  1. Tiger Mountain 2

    “National’s continuous stoking of the fires of discontent is something that I will never forget and reinforces to me strongly how important it is to keep them away from the levers of power for as long as possible.”

    Well put Micky. And now, how to keep the Natzos away from those levers? Virtually anyone with some institutional memory or ability has been shed or left over the leadership and factional instability. So we are looking at the Nat remnants, a motley crew of chancers and worse, who seem to view this country as a shallow money trench.

    The Labour Caucus needs to keep acting on the fly, without running things past the fifth columnists in the Public Service. Then just maybe, they will turn things around on results that working class people can feel and enjoy.

    • Free Wifi nationwide to overcome the digital divide that COVID clearly showed exists between school kids from different locations. Such Wifi to include a basic device if needed and Super Gold Card holders to be included.
    • Basic Income trial of several hundred dollars pw paid to all citizens via IRD, once people start earning reasonably IRD can take some back
    • Free Dental Care and eye wear means tested
    • Fare Free Public Transport, with coverage and frequency updated nationwide
    • Massive subsidy on EVs, boot Rio Tinto after they have cleaned up and use the power they bludged on for decades
    • State House and apartment MEGA BUILD including tiny houses for homeless and emergency housing in every corner of the country. Life time and transferable tenancy options for study, work and vacation.
    • Repeal the NZ Neo liberal state–Reserve Bank Act, State Sector Act etc. etc.

    • Shanreagh 2.1

      Good points for a way forward.

      Nats continue to play around with 'shock, horror' and repetition for Covid.

      I think we should be minimising the Covid stuff to the 1.00pm figures while working and giving in person updates on other aspects.

    • Patricia Bremner 2.2

      yes

  2. tc 3

    Good post mickey. The lies and deception combined with that born to rule arrogance whilst kicking the lesser off is the last thing we need in power.

    Housing, health education, cost of living and transport are areas national have an ideological issue with providing adequately for.

    Luxons just a new coat of paint on the old neoliberal clunker that's still focused on the last century

  3. Reality 4

    The head-spinning erratic lucky dip "answers" to the pandemic in New Zealand leaves one wondering about their fitness for government. I'll never ever forget "open the borders", and plan B demands.

    Not to be forgotten, their unsavoury candidate selections, their unsuitable leaders, the very inappropriate MPs who had to depart under clouds, Michelle Boag and her ilk lurking in the shadows, Simon Bridges' crude conversations, Michael Woodhouse and his toilet seat "humour", leaves one wondering does NZ deserve being governed by such a weird bunch. We all can make mistakes, or make a wrong decision, but they surely take 1st prize.

  4. Ad 5

    I have the same but worse criticism of National as I do of Labour.

    National have picked away at minor administrative glitches, but just can't get the gumption to ask the higher order questions:

    Where are we?

    Where are we going?

    How do we get there?

    How long will it take?

    How much will it cost?

    All I'm generally getting out of Luxon is a few blowsy abstract nouns.

  5. Peter 6

    To me the Michelle Boag / Hamish Walker incident still stinks.

    Audrey Young said, "MP Hamish Walker’s confession to being the person who sent the names of Covid-19 patients to media outlets was bad enough — but his apology has reinforced his shocking judgment.

    It is an apology for an apology. It smacks of self-righteous post-fact justification, and downright deception."

    But suddenly other events. Michael Woodhouse came out strongly, strangely, saying, "This is unconscionable and unacceptable that those suffering from the incredible dangerous virus now have to suffer further with their private details being leaked." He then went quiet, laid low.

    Nicky Kaye announced her resignation.

    The State Services Commission report on the incident, led by Michael Heron QC, concluded that a privacy breach involving the personal information of Covid-19 patients was committed by "motivated individuals" within the National Party. The assumption became that the motivated individuals were Boag and Walker. Only them. It was as if they were the only crumbs to be cleaned off the counter.

    Young's assessment of "downright deception?" Maybe it should have been applied far further than just to Walker.

  6. Obtrectator 7

    "National Party leader Christopher Luxon says it is time to dismantle Covid restrictions and get back to normality."

    Oh for the love of Pete: when are these imbeciles going to accept that the old "normality" isn't there to go back to?

    • Shanreagh 7.1

      Yes it is boring isn't it…instead of being enthusiastic about a way to move forward in a better, more vibrant, interesting way he lines up behind torpor. Well actually in lining up behind torpor they line up behind their pocket-lining selves achieved by boring and safe means such as taxation.

    • ozaki 7.2

      On RNZ the other day when confronted with there being no going back to the old normal, Luxon said something like "well, let's go back to the new normal".

  7. Peter 8

    Of course it was political. Everything he does is political.

    I wondered why he ignored official advice.

    He said, "What I will say around individual cases in general is that we've only generally released information where there's been a very good reason to do so – so a public interest in doing so or where we've been responding to concerns raised by individual people – but generally speaking we've been very cautious about releasing any personal or individual information." The implication of course is that he thought there was a good reason.

    (Do politicians always take the advice of officials implicitly?)

    You can have my thoughts on "be kind" too. A parent says they are going to "be kind" to their child. They are a hypocrite if they tell the child off, discipline them in some way?

    Ardern making reference to "being kind" and "team of 5 million" was silly. There are those who are determinedly petty, negative and puerile so the notions would be chucked in her face, forever. There were lockdowns, not nice, MIQ, not nice, and so on ad infinitum.

  8. My biggest shock, and I mean that, was when the Covid announcement was made in the House in early 2020 and Bridges did not cross the floor to stand next to the PM in support of an 'we're all in this together approach'.

    Everyone would have realised that doing this would not have stopped the disagreements on approach, and neither should it have.

    It just signaled to me that the Nats actually did not believe we are all in this together as people despite their political beliefs.

    It signaled to me that the Nats believed that people are political animals first and foremost and I do not accept this. There are some innate beliefs that transcend political beliefs.

    They signaled that they believed there is a political approach to everything and this combative approach overrides health and the best way forward.

    I can tell you that the last time this happened in front of me, when the better person did not emerge at a point of crisis, was watching the underarm bowling incident. The sickening realisation, almost in slow motion, that the best thing was not going to be done.

    Having failed this moment it has been no shock to me at the rabid politicisation of Covid by the Nats.

    • ozaki 9.1

      Absolutely! Bridges could even have been with her at the 1pm stand ups, he would have looked like an alternative leader.

      And to Peter above, lockdowns saved lives, 1000s of them.

      • Shanreagh 9.1.1

        No I did not mean appearing at the 1.00pm stand-ups. The announcement that Covid as here etc it was a pretty shattering and worrying moment for NZ when we had to confront this Pandemic for the first time. It would have been hugely symbolic and also a display of 'we've got our backs' as a collective.

  9. Patricia Bremner 10

    Woodhouse laid low as he had received the "List" from Boag, but had sat on it and threw the other recipients under the bus.

    Don't forget Woodhouse's lies about the homeless man in MIQ which cost a great deal to disprove. He never apologised. That rankles, and for Luxon to talk of "committed and talented team" is hot air.

    They have one plan. Discredit the PM and Government, any way possible.

    • Anne 10.1

      Yes Patricia Bremner and it showed that DP never really stopped. I find it significant that since Luxon took over, it appears to be moving to the forefront again.

      I'm glad mickysavage included a link to Professor Rod Jackson's interview on RNZ this morning. It served to remind me of the pernicious way the govt's opponents had constantly discredited the Covid responses throughout the pandemic and in the process… contradicted themselves time and again. Micky has exposed that very well.

      Jackson was careful not to name anyone or any group (apart from the anti vaxxers) but he made it clear that the derogatory claims over the Covid response was purely political and bore no relation to available evidence. It says so much about the Right's tactics. They don't care how many people die or what damage they are doing to the country as a whole, just so long as they can gain power… for themselves and their wealthy backers.

      Here is a re-link of the Rod Jackson interview for ease of access:

      https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/2018834988/covid-19-not-time-to-remove-vaccine-passes-yet-rod-jackson

      • tc 10.1.1

        Luxons use of DP is no surprise when you look at who is around him and who backed him.

        When you have no policy throwing shit continually looks like action to the easily won over.

  10. Reality 11

    I was pleased to see Rod Jackson had spoken out about caution still being very necessary. He has always been balanced and good to listen to. Common sense hopefully prevails, given the numbers of deaths occurring each day.

    Where has Des Gorman gone – he was always going along with whatever National was saying. Even was at one of their conferences I recall. Strange silence from him since Omicron arrived. Maybe has belatedly seen sense.

  11. Mike the Lefty 12

    We should also remember that nearly a year ago National were screaming that purpose built MIQ hotels were needed NOW and why wasn't the government building them NOW.

    Just a few weeks ago National were saying that MIQ is no longer necessary. If Labour had done what National proposed the first purpose built MIQ facilities would be ready probably about now – just ready in time to be rendered pointless.

    More millions of dollars spent for nothing. Doesn't exactly fit in with National's promise to cut "wasteful" spending does it?

    The point is that National's COVID policies have always been like the Monty Python argument sketch – just automatic gain saying coupled with knee-jerk reaction, populism and hindsight.

    The Labour government, when it had the time to do so, thought hard about its actions and responses rather than the knee-jerk responses that right-wing commentators like Mike Hosking were demanding. This was often interpreted as "sitting on their hands" but the best advice you can get about pandemic diseases is from scientists and medical professionals, not narcissistic Breakfast Show hosts chasing ratings. COVID was a rapidly changing scene. The original wave, delta and omicron are quite different in nature, effect and transmission and require different strategies – but this is often not apparent at the time, more in hindsight.

    I believe that essentially the Labour government has handled COVID pretty well, at least so far and it isn't over yet. Its efforts have been hampered by a run-down public health system that can't cope with an outbreak of the common cold let alone COVID and the actions of a small but very vocal bunch of anarchists who seem intent on sharing their COVID and their bad manners with the rest of the nation.

  12. small but very vocal bunch of anarchists who seem intent on sharing their COVID and their bad manners with the rest of the nation.

    Very good turn of phrase there MTL! wink

  13. I thought the title of this post was a bit rich given that, in my view, Labour has sought to politicize the Covid crisis at every opportunity with their 1 pm press conferences and the like. LOL.

    It is true that National has changed its position on the crisis a number of times. But so has the government. For instance, it opened up the border with Australia then closed it again. It set dates for the border reopening before Christmas then changed that. Now it has changed the goal posts again for tourists arriving.

    The reality is that in the constantly changing and uncertain environment that Covid has created that plans need to adapt to what is happening. National has only been able to do that in its announcements. Whereas Labour has been able to do that with actions. But it is all the same side of the coin.

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