Week in Politics: Does New Zealand Really Look Like North Korea?


Analysis – Sir John Key stirs pandemic debate and maintains comparison with North Korea, government scorns National’s plan to end lockdowns and reopen border, new MIQ allocation system described as “virtual disaster “and there is a poll that should confuse both main parties.

Sir John Key has criticized the government for its handling of Covid-19.
Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

In a week filled with important political events, one of them made more publicity than any other: Sir John Key lashed out at the government for its handling of Covid-19 and described the New Zealand as a “hermit kingdom”.

The former prime minister’s article appeared in the Sunday papers and the next day it was everywhere on radio and television.

The Herald political editor Claire Trevett Said it was a horror story for National boss Judith Collins. “He’s had more publicity in one day than Collins has handled since the outbreak began.”

Stuff’s Henry Cooke said those who were still a little knocked out at 7 a.m. could be forgiven for thinking they woke up in 2016.

In his article, Key said New Zealand has become “a sufficient hermit kingdom … some people might like the North Korean option, I’m not one of them.”

He accused the government of pursuing a “fear and hope” strategy in response to Covid-19.

Trevett said setting aside the “rhetorical flourishes” of Key’s article amounted to a call for certainty about when New Zealand would join other opening countries, a call to do more to do so. arrive and a valid criticism of the inadequacy of the MIQ system to meet demand.

Key offered his own suggestions on what the pandemic response should look like. The article is on the media sites.

Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said ‘sufficient hermit kingdom’ comment was an insult to New Zealanders who had achieved some of the highest freedom rates in the world under the government’s go hard, go early policies.

“I think this is a great piece of politics,” he said on TVNZ’s question and answer show.. “But in fact, a lot of the things John Key is pleading is already happening now.”

Key said Morning report it was no exaggeration to compare New Zealand to North Korea and said all the government did was scare people. “All they’ve done is lock us up… any prime minister can do it.”

Anna Fifield, editor-in-chief of Stuff’s Wellington took issue with Key’s comparison with North Korea. She said she had visited the country 12 times on behalf of the Financial Time and the Washington post, and had written a book on its leader Kim Jong Un.

“New Zealand is not North Korea. Key’s hyperbolic headline grabbing is completely wrong,” she said.

“It dramatically lessens the suffering of 25 million people in the world’s most totalitarian state. The people of North Korea… do not deserve to be your punchline, Sir John Key.”

Fifield said Key would not have been able to voice such criticism if he was in North Korea, and described how Kim Jong Un had his defense minister killed with an anti-aircraft gun after killing himself. asleep in a meeting, among other acts of disrespect.

Key said he was unaware National had developed its own Covid-19 response plan and intended to release it on Wednesday.

Collins and Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop pitched it.

He calls for an end to the blockades, then for the reopening of the border on the basis of two vaccination targets – 70 to 75% for the end of the blockades and 85 to 90% for the reopening of the border.

There would be a risk-based traffic light system to prioritize entry without quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers.

Collins said his party believed all Kiwis stranded abroad awaiting MIQ slots could return home for Christmas, if they were fully vaccinated.

She said Morning report the country could not continue as it was. “We have had 17 weeks of lockdown in the last 18 months. It cannot continue like this. The government has to accept it. Their elimination strategy is no longer working.”

Collins dishonestly offered the whole plan to the government so that it could implement it immediately.

Far from accepting it, the government laughed at it and attacked it. Ignoring the precautions surrounding the plan, Hipkins said it would mean hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. Preventing Covid from entering would be impossible.

All National promised was “Covid for Christmas,” he said.

In Parliament, Grant Robertson sang to the tune of Twelve days to Christmas: “On the first day of Christmas, National gave me… Covid.”

The contrast between the government’s cautious approach and National’s bolder plan has prompted comment.

“Political strategy may well be tactical folly,” said Luke Malpass, political editor for Stuff.. “Almost all of the poll data suggests the public is on the government’s side on this one.”

Malpass said there was real conflict in the community.

“On the one hand, people want all of this to be over, to see their friends and family, to do business, to study or to work abroad,” he said.

“Some sectors of the economy are asking both professional experts and tourists to return and, most urgently nationally, provide a way forward without lockdown.

“On the other hand, many of the same people don’t want Covid in New Zealand either.

“Depending on the strength of that second impulse, it will entirely determine the reception of National’s plan.”

The Herald Derek cheng analyzed it and had this to add: “It is a luxury to be in opposition to pretend they would just do things better than that. It is also a curse if they have done little to make voters believe that ‘they are likely to do a lot better than that so far. “

Meanwhile this week, the true scale of the MIQ problem was revealed when the second slot installment was offered through the virtual lobby system and 31,319 people lined up for 3,800 slots.

Under the old first-come, first-served system, the number of people trying to book was not known with certainty. It is now.

The Herald Trevett described it as “a virtual disaster” and said that even when rooms for the rest of the year were drip-fed, there would still be at least 20,000 people to wait.

Despite numerous reports of distraught Kiwis unable to return home, there has been no wave of public outrage at the system’s vast incapacity, and no obvious wave of sympathy for those who have waited months.

Instead, you often hear comments about people who have gone on vacation and should have inquired better. The government may not be very worried about the political fallout of what is happening, although it has frequently expressed deep concern.

What should concern the government and the National Party is the TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll published this week.

He showed Labor lost three points, to 43 percent. National also lost three points to 26%. ACT was the winner, gaining five points at 14 percent.

ACT chief David Seymour climbed to 11% as preferred prime minister while Collins fell to 5%.

RNZ political editor Jane Patterson told Checkpoint that while Labor could afford to lose some support, National could not.

The fact that Collins was behind Seymour as the preferred prime minister was “the worst news” for National.

“There are certainly active movements or discussions about removing his post as leader of a number of MPs who are very, very unhappy with his leadership and not just his performance but also the kind of culture that prevails. currently in caucus, ”Patterson said. .

The Herald Thomas Coughlan pointed out that Labor has now fallen in back-to-back polls and that Ardern has also lost support as preferred prime minister, although she still rated 44%.

Ardern should be worried as the decline in support for Labor manifested itself in polls taken during the lockdown, he said.

“The 2020 lockdowns rewarded Ardern, sending Labor soaring in the polls. The drop this time around indicates that people are losing patience with the measures they are asked to take – and blame the government for it. ‘mood is changing. “

Seymour’s optimistic comment was: “This puts us on the right track for a change of government.”

Other political events this week, which would have gained more publicity had the news not been dominated by Covid-19, included:

The government has announced a unique possibility for migrants with temporary work visas to apply for residency.

There could be around 110,000 applicants, RNZ reported, including more than 5,000 health and elderly care workers, around 9,000 primary sector workers and more than 800 teachers.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said around 55,000 family members already here would be covered.

“We are offering a way forward for our migrant families who have been long disrupted by Covid-19, while ensuring that businesses have the certainty they need to plan for the future and continue to drive economic recovery,” said he declared.

In Parliament, the bill was passed. Labor and National supported it at third reading, ACT, the Greens and the Maori Party opposed.

He makes planning or preparing for a terrorist attack a criminal offense and was put on the fast track after the Auckland supermarket attack in which Ahamed Samsudeen was shot.

The Crown had attempted to indict him under the Terrorism Suppression Act, but the intention to commit a terrorist act was not considered an offense.

Details of the home isolation pilot program have been released. The objective is to find out how an alternative to MIQ could work for citizens and residents who have been vaccinated and not considered to be at high risk.

There will be 150 participants selected from applicants traveling for business purposes. Depending on the results of the pilot, the program will eventually be expanded.

* Peter Wilson is a life member of the Parliament press gallery, 22 years as NZPA political editor and seven years as NZ Newswire parliamentary bureau chief.


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