Summary of the David Clark bike ride

The Minister of Health David Clark was in the news for going for a mountain bike ride between conference calls on Friday. See: Minister of Health Clark drove to bike park for a ride under lockdown

Here’s a summary of what I have seen about this.

Yes, it actually is permitted to (say) drive five minutes to a local mountain bike park where there are few other riders, and then ride up and down a gentle, well-groomed trail at a reasonable speed. It may not be politick or wise to do so if you are the Minister of Health, but for the rest of us “the rules” do allow for it.

  • But it was against the repeated advice of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and both she and Grant Robertson (“We don’t want the minister of health out mountain biking” said Clark had apologised, and they both said he shouldn’t have gone for the bike ride as it was too risky.

Robertson: “I certainly think it’s important for the minister of health not to put himself in any risk … We don’t want the minister of health out mountain biking.”

Ardern: “What we need people to do is stay local and also stay away from risk. And that’s really important because ultimately we don’t want our emergency services or other people having to come to your rescue., and that’s why that’s so important right now.”

  • Clark and others have played down the mountain biking by saying ‘The Big Easy’ was a relatively low risk mountain bike trail. But it is on the side of a hill, and Clark was not “available to front anytime” as Robertson claimed.

““He’s available to front anytime … He has a young family, and we all have to understand at this time we’re operating in a very different world. He’s involved in every single cabinet and cabinet committee meeting.”

  • Demands for the Minister to resign or be sacked were little more than the usual knee jerk automatic response from political opponents and appeasing radio stirrers.
  • Criticism of Clark wasn’t confined to those from the right. See David Clark at The Standard:

But what kind of message is being sent when one of the government’s own upper middle class twats imagines it’s fine to do what David Clark did? Do lock down rules only apply to people without four wheel drives and the ability to go for a day out?

If David Clark can get away with a simple “sorry”, then why the fuck would anyone else feel the rules around lock-down are to be taken seriously?

I mean, is this lock-down serious? If so, the government needs to demonstrate how seriously it is and jettison David Clark.

The Government has acknowledged the error (bad PR and politics at least) but otherwise not demonstrated much seriousness, certainly not Ardern in this interview:

Ardern interview – lockdown, eradication, data, duration, business on hold 

This will,probably blow over now with Clark still in his job as Minister of Health, working from home in Dunedin. In a Government where optics are carefully managed as much as possible sacking a supposedly key Minister in the middle of a health crisis would be ‘bad optics’.

But it has highlighted two things.

This is the biggest health issue New Zealand has faced in a century and one of the biggest situations faced by a Minister of Health, but Clark is working from home a long way from the epicentre of the handling of the crisis, Wellington.

Why is Clark absent (in person from the main decision making loop? See Dominant Ministry of Health, weak Minister – and weak Government

Also, a comment from The Standard:

I’d rather Clark spent his time really asking his ministry hard questions about the policy they are demanding the country follow. The Minister is after all the meeting point between that Ministry’s policy and the rest of the interests of the the country. The Health ministry is rightly concerned with Health, but not the overall health of the country as it were. So they’ll just do what they do and with no questions asked how are we to know what the best policy is?

Right now they seem to be ruling the roost and Clark isn’t really visible enough, imo.

If he’s got to go it should be for that reason, not the bike ride. His performance reminds me a bit of Justin Lester’s and we all know what happened to him…

Muttonbird had been defending Clark’s bike ride at The Standard a day earlier.

And maui:

So arguably the second most important person in the country is in lockdown seperated from all the other key people. Great…

I pointed that out in a prior thread at The Standard and was criticised for it.

stunned mullet:

Minister Clark has completely abrogated responsibility to Ashley and the ministry who are now running the show.

And possibly related to that, the general competence of Clark as Minister of Health has been highlighted – quite a lot in fact at the normally defensive of Labour The Standard.

stunned mullet:

On his performance as a Minister as Health he (or the Ministry under his time) has been poor.

  • The meningitis vaccine fiasco in Northland
  • The decrease in vaccination coverage
  • The removal of a number of measures to track DHB performance
  • Running out of flu vaccine last year and what looks like a supply chain rupture this year

and there are no doubt additional examples..

If this was one incident in isolation where we weren’t advising the general public to isolate and not needlessly drive away from one’s locale then no issue but he is the Minister of Health and it is not reasonable behaviour from the Minister of Health at the current time.

adam:

As for making mistakes- sure we all human.

I’m just not seeing him do anything of great worth, all I’m hearing is small towns struggling with keeping doctors clinics open, the same amount of homeless sleeping in cars, and I have other concerns about planning and communication from the MoH. And lets leave aside the complete and utter mess around support for disabled, that clark and co (MoH) have once again forced on disabled people and their families. Mistakes I’ll accept a few,  but as you said, what they do after what counts.

The last word is from Corey Humm:

But I’m labour through and through, still , this guys a plonker if the nats did this wed we up in arms about this, but labour supporters are acting like football supporters,Fafoi is useless and Clark has “flouted” the rules, time to go! After the crisis of course, right now  yeah would be crazy, he’s dog Tucker though,I really  hope the pm uses  the time after lockdown to get rid of her entire front bench bar Robertson and little before the election, a new young team, the incumbents are a bunch of hopeless automotons being carried by the PM,  political non entities who not only do the public not know who they are, the ministers themselves couldn’t tell you who they were they have no identity,the front bench of labour shows exactly why we were out of office for 9 years, it’s infuriating as there is so much talent in the 2017 class of labour it’s sad that they won’t get any leadership roles until we’re in opposition. Which will be another nine years out of office because of the power vacuume the pm will leave

Imagine what this pm could achieve with competent ministers.

It’s notable enough that comments like this are coming from The Standard, but at least as notable is the fact that they are barely criticised or challenged, and no one has supported Clark’s performance as Minister of Health, nor defended him.

The problems are twofold – the bad optics of replacing a key Minister in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, and also (and possibly more critical), who would replace him? Clark is also an ordained minister with little background in the health field prior to taking this job on. He is a symptom of a lack of experience and talent in the incoming Labour crop of MPs in 2017.

Someone like Liz Craig looks well qualified based on her health background, but she was a new MP in 2017 and the first term would be a huge challenge for one of the most difficult portfolios.

It seems likely that Ardern and Robertson will have to keep covering for Clark for the rest of this term – and unfortunately, probably the worst of the Covid-19 virus.

If Labour retain power after the September election Clark will probably be moved to less demanding roles. While he simply doesn’t seem to be up to the job few people can manage the Health portfolio without difficulties.