Analysis – New rules are coming for masks and scanning, but the question is asked: has the government itself become complacent? The prime minister gets herself in a muddle with proposed hate speech laws and takes a lashing from the media, a former National minister berates his own party and the Three Waters proposals run into problems.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday there would be stronger rules around mask wearing and QR scanning.
Ardern said use of the app was consistently low across the country. Of the 2600 potential contacts of the infected Sydney man who visited Wellington a fortnight ago only 585 had used it.
The plan was to make scanning compulsory at high-risk locations, she said. The Cabinet has sought advice on issues such as enforcement, with decisions to be announced on Tuesday.
Masks are expected to become compulsory in high-risk locations. At present they have to be worn on public transport under level 2 but not elsewhere.
The new rules would apply at alert level 2 and above.
Ardern emphasised the danger posed by the Delta strain of the virus, carried by the visitor from Sydney, and used the scanning figures to warn against complacency.
That put the government itself under scrutiny. Had it become just as complacent before the latest scare, the New Zealand Herald‘s Derek Cheng asked in an article about the proposed new rules.
“The first measure, looking into mandatory QR scanning in bars and restaurants, has been called for since January by public health experts including Professor Michael Baker,” Cheng said.
“Baker and his colleagues have been calling for wider use of masks for over a year to reflect how common aerosol transmission is.”
Cheng reported only 7.5 percent of the population was fully vaccinated and 12.5 percent had been given only one dose. “The rapid spread of Delta cases in India, Russia and Indonesia shows how vulnerable our unvaccinated population is.”
Vaccination was an issue the next day, when Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins was unusually candid at a press conference. Supplies of the Pfizer vaccine would be “close to zero” on Tuesday unless a shipment, due on that day, arrived, he said.
Hipkins admitted he was losing sleep over that, although Ardern told reporters there was no reason why the new shipment wouldn’t arrive on time.
Supply was the big issue holding up jabs for people in Group 3, Hipkins said. They are the over 65s and people with underlying conditions. He said they should all be contacted for a booking by the end of July.
Ardern, Faafoi feel heat
The government’s proposals for new hate speech laws got Ardern and Justice Minister Kris Faafoi into trouble this week and they came in for some scathing criticism.
Faafoi was first up during Newshub’s The Nation, when he gave some peculiar answers about the scope of the proposals.
Then, on The AM Show, Ardern demonstrated she didn’t have much of a grip on them either.
Describing the proposals and what Ardern and Faafoi didn’t know or got wrong would take hundreds of words. Bryce Edwards has covered it in detail in his article on RNZ’s website titled Confusing and concerning hate speech reforms.
The reaction was intense. The Herald’s Audrey Young said it was obvious from Ardern’s comments that she didn’t understand the proposals.
“Ardern does not understand the extent of what is proposed, as was evident by her comments on the AM Show,” Young said. “She was factually wrong when she said the proposals don’t include political opinion.”
“She also gave the wrong impression that the threshold of the proposed changes to the law were around comments that incited violence against religious groups.”
Young said that wasn’t good enough. “She and Faafoi would have a much better chance of persuading the public if they a) got their facts right and b) were prepared to discuss hypothetical examples so the public had a good idea of what is intended by the proposals.”
Newshub‘s Tova O’Brien was even more blunt. “Jacinda Ardern is wrong about her own hate speech law. Completely and utterly wrong,” she said, and asked how the laws would be enforced “if even the politicians don’t understand them”.
Finlayson roasts National
At this point it seemed, for a change, that the prime minister was having a worse week than the leader of the opposition, Judith Collins, who was breathing easier following the Todd Muller debacle the previous week.
That didn’t last long. Enter Chris Finlayson, former National Party MP, cabinet minister and attorney-general. In an interview with Stuff, quickly picked up by other media, he let rip about the state of his party.
It was guilty, he said, of the worst “brand destruction” he had seen in his life.
“Brands go off but I’ve never seen brand destruction like I’ve seen in the National Party in the last year or two,” he said.
Finlayson placed the blame squarely on the leadership, both in Parliament and the wider party organisation. “They deserve everything that’s come to them. Put that in your article: they deserve everything they’ve got,” he told the interviewer.
Finlayson said he was particularly irritated by the litany of mistakes the party apparatus had clearly made during several candidate selections. He would not divulge the list of those he thought were unworthy but made it clear that some should never have been nominated, Stuff reported.
His comments came after resignations of failed MPs over several years including Todd Barclay (secret tape recordings), Hamish Walker (leaking confidential patient data), and Andrew Falloon (sending lewd messages to women).
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson relished the opportunity gifted to him by Finlayson to trash National during Wednesday’s general debate. It’s an occasion when MPs can have a five minute rant about anything and it’s rarely worth reporting. Robertson’s roasting of National, however, was widely covered, with video.
For details on that, and what other antics MPs got up to, read Jane Patterson’s MPs Behaving Badly.
And then there’s water …
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta revealed reform proposals for the Three Waters project (drinking water, waste water and storm water) and they ran into immediate problems.
Basically, she wants the councils to hand over their pipes and other water infrastructure to four enormous water entities, Stuffreported. Once established, those four entities will provide water services for households, businesses and cities.
The reforms are a response to a crisis mainly caused by councils underinvesting in water structure – Wellington’s crumbling network being a prime example.
Mahuta says the reforms will save ratepayers thousands of dollars a year and ensure the estimated $120 billion to $185b investment that’s needed for water services over the next 30 years goes ahead.
Most mayors don’t like the idea, particularly and most importantly Auckland’s Phil Goff.
“Aucklanders have invested heavily in building up Watercare’s more than $10 billion worth of assets, with a further $11 billion invested in our current 10-year budget,” Goff said.
“Control of those assets, and our ability to ensure that Aucklanders’ needs are put first, is undermined by the reform… Auckland Council could have less than 40 percent of the representation in the governance of the new entity.”
Kapiti Mayor K Gurunathan said the proposals were “a turd-degree burn” for his region’s ratepayers. He said Kapiti’s pipe infrastructure had been kept in much better condition than other areas and his residents would be paying for other councils’ underinvestment.
When the government started the reforms it promised they would be voluntary, Stuff reported. But since then Mahuta’s language has hardened and she hasn’t ruled out forcing the councils to accept them.
She has also acknowledged, in Parliament, that a patchwork of councils in and out of the reforms wouldn’t work.
There’s stormy water ahead for the Three Waters, that’s clear.
Other political news this week included:
- Former prime minister Sir John Key revealed he was a personal friend of China’s President Xi Jinping. This emerged during an interview with RNZ. Key was one of the few strongly pro-Chinese Western leaders, RNZ said. Key said his closeness to the Chinese president gave him an insight into his thinking.
- An interesting Herald-Kantor poll revealed public attitudes to Team New Zealand’s rejection of the $99 million offered by the government to keep the defence of the America’s Cup at home. The poll showed 43 percent thought the money on offer was sufficient, 25 percent thought Team NZ shouldn’t have been offered anything, 11 percent thought it should have been offered whatever it wanted and 21 percent weren’t sure. Team New Zealand could decide to take the defence offshore.