PoliticsFebruary 16, 2023

To Elon Musk, from MP Dr Shane Reti


As the recovery effort continues after Cyclone Gabrielle, one MP has sought help from the second richest man in the world.

New Zealanders need help. That much is objectively true. Cyclone Gabrielle has cause devastation across the north island, taking out power, cell service, water supplies and, most tragically, at least five lives. The government has undertaken an “enormous logistical effort” to supply basic needs to the thousands of New Zealanders stranded, cut off from the rest of the country – mobilising the army, defence force and emergency response teams.

We need help, and Shane Reti has gone looking for it.

The National Party health spokesperson has penned an earnest plea to billionaire and Twitter owner Elon Musk.

“To Elon Musk.” So begins the letter, which was sent in the form of a tweet. A formal approach to take on the supremely informal platform.

“You heard the call of myself and others and provided Starlink to Tonga in their time of need.” In January 2022, Tonga’s connectivity was cut off (then severely reduced) after a volcanic eruption. In response to the country’s needs, Reti had – presumably in his capacity as a concerned citizen – sent Musk a letter (via email). In it, he asked Musk to supply Starlink terminals to Tonga to help them get back online. He then shared the letter on his Twitter page. Musk did not reply to Reti personally, but did reply to a separate tweet about Tonga, asking if his help was needed. Reti and others replied yes. In February, it was confirmed that Musk’s SpaceX had provided 50 Starlink terminals to Tonga, which were distributed to remote islands.

“Thank you.” Good manners.

“The time of need is now in NZ with the worst cyclone in a century.” Objectively true.

“We need bulk shipment of several hundred terminals.” The terminals are available at Noel Leeming and while some stores are low in stock, more terminals are arriving. It is unclear how long it would take for shipments to arrive from overseas if Musk were to respond to Reti’s plea. Meanwhile, Ngāti Porou has been gathering donations and purchasing Starlinks to distribute to isolated communities on the east coast. So far, 30 have been sourced and are being distributed as I (and Reti) write.

“Can you assist please.” Reti reaches the end with a blunt ask.

“MP Dr Shane Reti”. A formal sign off. Given the different government systems, it’s debatable whether Musk knows what “MP” stands for or means.

The tweet was broadcast into Space(X) at 12.38pm on Thursday, February 16, 2023. Reti did not tag Musk in his tweet, therefore relegating it to an open letter rather than a direct request. Fifteen minutes after the tweet letter was sent, fellow National MP Simeon Brown lent his support, replying with “@elonmusk”.

Two minutes after that, Reti realised his oversight and added a follow up, also tagging in Musk’s account.

Others have added their “@elonmusk”s to the thread, grains of rice in the planet of Musk’s 128.9 million followers.

Reports indicate Noel Leeming have good levels of Starlink terminals throughout the country and while some stores are low in stock, more stock is arriving in stores. Any delay in them getting to stores is likely shorter than the time it would take for Musk to sort through his mentions, respond, mobilise his team and send a shipment of terminals.

Musk has not yet acknowledged Reti’s tweet. He also hasn’t acknowledged Brown’s tag.

Keep going!