Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Assessing some of the bizarre recent international interventions on NZ’s Covid policy, documents reveal what ministers knew about border staff testing, and Gerry Brownlee under pressure for deputy spot.
Apologies in advance, because I don’t normally make a habit of using the Bulletin to magnify morons. But there has been a spate of quite unhinged criticism of New Zealand’s Covid-19 response in the last few days, from figures with large platforms who can make a lot of noise as a result. And it’s worth getting into why that might be happening.
In the US, a particularly odd attack came from the show of Fox News host Laura Ingraham. In it, some guy from an organisation called the Hoover Institution “condemned New Zealand’s institution of coronavirus quarantine “camps” – mischaracterising the rules around testing requirements in managed isolation. The fellow said the policy made no sense, because New Zealand has had only 25 deaths from Covid, without ever actually making the connection between the extremely low death toll and such policies.
From the UK, a thought leader and former senior figure in the UK Independence Party described New Zealand as having a “fascist government”. As Newshub reports, this was also based on the testing requirements. Suzanne Evans followed up by likening the replies she was getting from New Zealanders to the enabling efforts of Germans in the leadup to the Nazi regime taking power. It’s not the first time such comparisons have come from Britain.
Much as we might like to think of ourselves as the centre of the universe, these interventions aren’t necessarily about New Zealand. Rather, they’re arguably more about the domestic politics of the country they’re coming from. The Fox News story was particularly notable in how it barely skated over New Zealand, before pivoting towards propaganda about the upcoming US election – raising the (misleading) spectre of something horrifying, and then asking if that is what Democrat candidate Joe Biden would put in place. In the UK, an intense battle is currently underway about how fiercely the country should respond to an alarming new wave of cases. A massive recession has arrived, despite the policies pursued there to date ostensibly being about protecting the economy.
There’s another example in this canon – the widely shared attack from columnist Gideon Rozner on the re-election of the Ardern government in (paywalled) The Australian. In it, Rozner actually made some fair points about the government’s non-delivery on major projects to date, mixed in with some highly ideological posturing. But he also concluded with a pop at the state government of Victoria, a favourite target of the Murdoch-owned media at the moment.
In a similar vein, even some of the commentary coming from overseas in praise of New Zealand’s response is much more about what’s happening domestically. A great example of this is the satire of The Borowitz Report, which hoodwinked plenty of readers into thinking that “Donald J. Trump accused Jacinda Ardern of competently handling the coronavirus pandemic in order to get reëlected.” Trump didn’t say that, but it’s the sort of paraphrase that plenty of his opponents could easily imagine. Other reactions to the election have been collected here, many of them from publications where writers yearn for their governments to respond like New Zealand’s has.
Of course, it’s fair enough for people to make whatever points they like. After all, we’re living in one of those unusual sorts of apparent fascist dictatorships with freedom of speech. But when those criticisms come from people with an obvious axe to grind of their own, and only the vaguest understanding of what New Zealand is actually doing to combat Covid, we don’t have to dignify them with a respectful hearing.
Now for some news about what the government actually might be getting wrong. New information about what cabinet was being told has contradicted claims from ministers about the lack of testing of border-facing staff, reports Newsroom’s Marc Daalder. It comes from proactively released documents which have been looked over in forensic detail.
Meanwhile on health, minister Chris Hipkins has vowed the government will press on with DHB consolidation, reports Stuff. That’ll be based on the recommendations out of the Simpson report, which called for a large reduction in the number of DHBs, along with an end to DHB elections. Hipkins says the government hasn’t completely decided which bits of the Simpson report they’ll implement, but in general terms they’ll be pushing it through.
Gerry Brownlee appears to be under pressure to hold onto the deputy leadership of National. Stuff reports he’ll face a confidence vote next month, and the story includes an understanding “that several National MPs are unhappy with Brownlee’s performance”. However, as Radio NZ reports, several MPs have actually gone on the record backing Brownlee, including former leaders Simon Bridges and Todd Muller, and repeated leadership aspirant Mark Mitchell. Leader Judith Collins is currently in the process of one on one meetings with her MPs, and will announce portfolios when she knows who will be taking ministerial roles for the government. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Claire Trevett is worth reading for insights on who might get what, with Shane Reti mooted as a potential deputy, and Simon Bridges tipped for a possible move into finance.
Severe congestion is being seen at Auckland’s port amid a change in systems, reports BusinessDesk’s (paywalled) Brett Melville. The union says a shift to automation has reduced the numbers of stevedores on the ground able to deal with challenges as they come up, with backlogs being the result. A Ports of Auckland spokesperson says that there are problems through the whole supply chain.
One of the two people on charges over the NZ First Foundation has pleaded not guilty, reports the NZ Herald’s Sam Hurley. They continue to hold name suppression, after media companies were unsuccessful in getting it lifted ahead of the election. The accused also hit out at the media during their day in court, saying they had been the victim of leaks. The other person charged will appear in court today.
Three pieces from a journalist who has got the inside stories on the campaigns of the five major parties: Stuff’s Andrea Vance has put together a remarkable series based around on the record briefings and off the record tips, outlining how each party’s campaign succeeded and failed respectively. The first looks at the implosion of National, the second looks at how ruthless professionalism of Labour harnessed grassroots energy (and touches on the Greens) and the third contrasts the ups and downs of Act and NZ First. Keep an eye out for photojournalist Iain McGregor’s pictures too, they’re really rather telling.
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Right now on The Spinoff: We ask a range of famous figures about what biscuits they’d put on the table to win a negotiation, in honour of the Labour-Green talks. Henrietta Bollinger writes about the lack of disabled representation in the new parliament. Ayla Miller tells the story of accidentally becoming a landlord, and the challenges that involved. Hatch GM Kristen Lunman explains day trading, and why it’s a risky thing to get involved in. Natasha Lampard argues that New Zealand should strongly oppose the nomination of Chris Liddell to head the OECD on moral grounds. Emma Espiner talks to Dr Maxine Ronald, the only wahine Māori consultant breast cancer surgeon in the world, about inequities in breast cancer outcomes for Māori. Alice Webb-Liddall talks to lingerie designer Chloé Julian about stepping out from major brands as a solo creator. The Drax Project project talk to Sherry Zhang about returning to New Zealand, and some of the major collaborations they put together in the States.
And speaking of musical collaborations, Sam Brooks has collected some of the best covers of New Zealand songs performed at Silver Scrolls events over the years. For me, Three Houses Down absolutely monstering The Naked and Famous was a particular highlight.
For a feature today, a look at how Britain is dealing with neurological complications from Covid. One of the longer term impacts of the virus is that it can in some cases hit the brain hard, with possible outcomes ranging from delirium and ‘brain fog’ to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. This piece from the Telegraph outlines how many cases are being seen, and what’s being done about them. Here’s an excerpt:
There was inflammation of the brain too, potentially devastating for an organ trapped in a hard shell and, unlike several other organs, with little regenerative capacity. “One of our patients had brain inflammation,” Manji recalls. “We had to take off half his skull to reduce the pressure.”
What neurologists are now struggling to determine is whether these few, truly serious brain complications of Covid are linked to the far greater number of enduring cases of “brain fog” and fatigue that can contribute to long Covid. “These people who’ve got the milder symptoms in the community, the brain fog, do they represent the continuum of those with severe neurological disease who’ve been hospitalised?” asks Michael. “That’s the big question. That’s the real controversy here.”
Certainly, says Manji, there is no obvious physical reason why milder syndromes like brain fog, where scans reveal no brain damage, should not eventually clear up. “Though it may take months.”
The Silver Ferns have comfortably beaten England in their first international game in close to a year. The NZ Herald reports it was a win built on strong defense, with plenty of intercepts and turnovers coming the Ferns’ way. In the end, the margin was 58-45, giving the Ferns plenty of momentum to claim the three match series.
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