The job of Opposition Leader and “the difference between responsible and political”

The job of Opposition in a democracy such as ours is important, it is a way of holding the Government to account (along with the media who generally do this).

To do Opposition well a good balance needs to be found between criticising the Government and highlighting failings, but not being seen as petty politics or a constant whine of negativity.

The current Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, has had two problems. He has been seen by many to be too negative too often, and his method of delivery either annoys people or turns them off, making his overdoing of negative attacks sound worse. He has been widely criticised, including by what looks like a majority of commenters on the right tending National linked Kiwiblog.

In times of crisis there is some expectation that opposition parties and MPs will put the good of the country before their own re-election ambitions, so the balance should shift towards more cooperation and less nagging and niggling.

Bridges’ speech in response to the Government economic package announcement on Tuesday was widely criticised as negative, petty, tone deaf and inappropriate in the circumstances (although some National supporters praised it). His speech:

A speech by National’s spokesperson on finance, Paul Goldsmith, was praised for a better tone (he said many of the same things), and for praising good aspects of the package while including reasonable criticisms. His speech:

The argument between Opposition negativity versus cooperation flared up in Parliament yesterday between Jacinda Ardern and Bridges.

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, especially the package that was announced yesterday by this Government in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19, including the $12.1 billion package that is split between business certainty and continuity—making sure that consumers have enough money in their back pocket to keep the economy going but also that we look after older citizens; and, obviously, the half-billion – dollar investment directly into health to support the response to COVID-19.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she still stand by her statement in the House yesterday that nobody displaying symptoms has been denied a COVID-19 test when Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, stated in the media yesterday that “There needs to be a reason why people are tested for COVID-19. This means along with symptoms of COVID-19 they should have either a history of travel or close contact with a possible case.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Both the Director-General of Health and myself stand by the case definition for testing of COVID-19, which is exactly both as the director-general described and also as I described yesterday, which adds the ability for a clinician to make that decision. I want to say this again very seriously to the member on the other side of the House: this is a time where New Zealanders need to know that this House—

Hon Simon Bridges: Don’t give me a lecture. I’m doing my job in the interests of New Zealand.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —is united. We are politicians, and it is not for us to determine—

Hon Grant Robertson: They don’t think you’re doing your job.

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —when people are tested. It is for doctors to.

SPEAKER: Order! I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister, but the Minister of Finance should not engage, and I understand that the Leader of the Opposition and a couple of the members were also interjecting. But in his engagement, his volume was coming through the Prime Minister’s mike, and, frankly, it is a matter better not discussed in this House during this serious time.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that GPs have received the clear message from Ashley Bloomfield to stick to the case definition for testing symptoms with a history of travel or close contact with a case, given the letter he sent to all GPs on Sunday, which stated, “I ask you to continue to apply the case definition when considering who you should test, and to use testing supplies and personal protective equipment with prudence.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I don’t think anyone would disagree with giving advice that applies some criteria to who is tested, because at a time like this, there will be people who have, for instance, cold symptoms that are unrelated to COVID-19 who simply won’t need a test. It is of course prudent that we allow clinicians—not politicians, not members of the public—to make that decision. My final point is that the best thing we can do is not create an environment where everyone who has a symptom that may be a cold or may be a flu believes they need to be tested for COVID-19. That is not responsible either. Yesterday, 620 tests were undertaken—620 tests. We are testing and, as you’ll see from those tests, those cases continue to be linked to overseas travel.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that answer, will she simply accept, then, that if it is simply symptoms and no other criteria as set out in the definition for testing, there will not be, automatically, testing in this country today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There has never been a situation where every single people who asks for a test would receive one, and nor would that be a responsible response. That is not what countries anywhere in the world are doing. That is not the way the World Health Organization is asking countries to respond, and nor should it be the way we are. I am listening to experts, clinicians, and doctors. I ask the member to do the same.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it quite clear from both her answers and Ashley Bloomfield’s that we have a rationing of testing in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister: has there been universal support from the professional medical fraternity with respect to Ashley Bloomfield and the Prime Minister’s criterion on this matter?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve read some of the writing on this by experts in the field, and there is absolute agreement with the approach that is being taken. I again want—

Hon Members: It’s the Prime Minister’s criteria.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is an outrageous suggestion. I again want to make clear to the other side of the House: this is a national issue. There is no politics in testing; there should only be expert clinician advice. I ask the member again: if you would like to receive a briefing on this, I am happy to provide it, but the member is becoming borderline irresponsible.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that last answer, what does she say to the half a dozen doctors who have contacted me by email and other means in the last 24 hours to express their frustration, given the difference between what she’s saying in this House and what Ashley Bloomfield and the Ministry of Health are quite clearly directing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I ask the member to read for himself the case definition I advised in this House yesterday. Whilst, yes, it does set out specific circumstances, it then makes a note: given the changing global environment, if the clinician believes that they should be testing, then they are able to. But what we do not want to do for doctors is create a pressure environment where every person demands a test, regardless of whether or not there’s any likelihood of their symptoms even being COVID-19, when there isn’t a need for one.

Hon Simon Bridges: Are media reports correct that until Monday, there had been an average of just 11 COVID-19 tests conducted a day?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ll do the same that I did with the journalist who asked that question: that was, I believe, an inaccurate way to display what’s happening with our testing. As you would expect, when New Zealand had no cases, there weren’t many tests. Over time, they have increased. We had 620 tests processed in one day yesterday.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t the reality that it’s not that there weren’t any cases; it’s simply that there wasn’t much, if any, testing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think the member will find that when there are no cases, it’s hard to spread, and therefore there is no rational reason to be testing everybody. Again, I ask the member not to listen to me if he does not choose to but listen to the experts.

Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the 76-year-old Wellingtonian woman who got off a cruise ship and had symptoms but wasn’t tested this week because the GP said, “We’ve been told not to test unless we absolutely have to.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: She would’ve fallen within the criteria. Obviously, the doctor believed that there weren’t symptoms there that meant that they should. I am not going to second-guess a doctor, because that person would have fit within the case profile. Again, my final plea is to the member: think about the audience he is speaking to right now. This doesn’t have to be political.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that it is my constitutional duty to ask her questions and try and get answers on the most significant issue this country has faced in many, many years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have been in that seat and I know the difference between responsible and political. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! It ill behoves the Leader of the Opposition to react. As I’ve warned the Minister of Finance earlier, sometimes people have to take a deep breath when people are winding them up.

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6 Comments

  1. Reply
  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  19th March 2020

    Bridges was asking the right questions. In fact the media should have been asking them too if they were not simply Labour’s fan club.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  19th March 2020

      Even some national supporters on Kiwiblog ( a sneak peek) were saying it was Goldsmith and Woodhouse who were asking the right questions in the circumstances.
      Not a good look to be outshone by your own underlings…Bridges has the Tony Abbott disease, relentlessly negative, dont concede anything and promise the world with no hope of delivery if you do win. Even Paula has pushed him off the front pages of the Womens mags and they are real fully styled photo shoots not rehashed pap shots

      Reply
  3. John Colbert

     /  19th March 2020

    Bridges as the Opposition Leader, as in any democracy, is correct in questioning the Govt’s Corona Virus package.
    As he points out, it should be focusing on ALL businesses where employees are going to be affected, and not giving $25 per week handouts to beneficiaries, who are not impacted on the work front.
    The PM has used this package as a sop to her traditional voters.
    Ironically, beneficiaries will always vote Labour, so no extra votes there for her.
    It’s just another example of Ardern’s naivety, and more evidence of that , when she states, that she also “trusts” that all arrivals into NZ will be honest & self isolate for 14 days.
    Yeah, right.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  19th March 2020

      “The PM has used this package as a sop to her traditional voters”
      So why did Australias Liberal PM do exactly the same 5 days ago… Ill tell you, the economists say its the fastest way for the money to be spent and stopping an ‘expenditure’ recession as everyone else reduces their spending on non essentials

      Reply
  1. The job of Opposition Leader and “the difference between responsible and political” — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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