Pressure grows on Cabinet to review Alert Level 2

Last week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern indicated that the current Alert Level 2 lockdown would not be reviewed until next Monday and Cabinet agreed that they would consider “no later than 22 June” whether to move to Alert Level 1 or not.

It is the Government’s view that we should also move as quickly as we safely can to alert level 1. On that basis, Cabinet will check in again on our settings on 8 June, and we’ve agreed that no later than 22 June, four weeks from today, we will consider then the move to alert level 1

…and I should add: this is based on the advice of the Director-General of Health, who supported these recommendations and made these recommendations.

25 May 2020

But there is increasing pressure to review the level move earlier, like when Cabinet meets today.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters had already broken ranks with the collective Cabinet decision, and Leader of the Opposition Todd Muller has also mildly pushed for a move back to most business as usual.

Yesterday’s Black Lives Matter protests where hundreds of people gathered in various places, contrary to Level 2 rules, ramped up calls for change.

So far Ardern has remained silent.

NZ Herald: Social distancing concerns as thousands attend protests

In Wellington one person went as far as temporarily tying himself to the fence of the US Embassy following a vigil attended by around 500 people.

Earlier in the day an estimated 4000 people gathered in central Auckland to attend the Black Lives Matter March for Solidarity. The group travelled from Aotea Square to the US Consulate General on Customs St.

Very little social distancing occurred at any of the main protests, prompting concerns from deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Act leader David Seymour David Seymour and microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles about the risk of spreading Covid-19.

Despite constant calls from organisers for social distancing, people gathered close due to the sheer immensity of the crowd.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declined to comment on the protests or on the death of George Floyd.

No sign yet of Ardern commenting on alert levels either. She will have to front up on this today publicly, and peters says that it must be discussed at today’s Cabinet meeting.

.RNZ – Winston Peters Peters: If protests condoned ‘why are we not at level 1?’

Cabinet meets today and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says alert level 2 restrictions have to be discussed.

Peters said the breaching of alert level 2 rules at the protests should have resulted in prosecution for the organisers.

And if they won’t be prosecuted, then there’s no choice but to move to alert level 1, he said.

“If they condone that and there’s no prosecution of the organisers of these two events then why are we not at alert level 1?”

“Why is this going on against the rules we’ve all agreed to?

“It’s a question for all of us. We cannot have rules where some people decide that they don’t wish to comply and there are no consequences.”

There have been no new Covid cases for the last ten days, and there is only one active case known about.

However there is also pressure from health people to continue with the lockdown.

Dr Siouxsie Wiles (@SiouxsieW:

“Absolutely gutted to see so many people joined the NZ BLM gatherings/marches without taking covid precautions. If you went today, please please please self isolate for the next 14 days. The last thing any of us want is to see a surge in cases.”

And epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker has been on RNZ this morning saying we should remain at Level 2 – he has recently been pushing for compulsory wearing of masks in public.

So this is shaping up to be a clash between health experts and Ardern versus Peters, Seymour, National and a lot of the public who seem to have already decided that Level 2 is too restrictive.


Ardern is being interviewed on RNZ.

“I understand the sentiment and  urgency” in protesting.

But “we have the rules there for a reason” but she says it is an operational matter for the police in how to deal with clear breaches of the rules “their call, not mine”. She appears to agree with the police approach to not try to restrict the protests.

Ardern certainly did nothing to criticise or condemn level 2 breaches by protests.

“We always want too keep under review” decisions on levels and Ardern suggests that Dr Bloomfield may have underestimated the success of the lockdowns.

Ardern has specifically committed to Cabinet reviewing the alert level next Monday 6 June. She indicates that we could go down to alert level one a couple of days after that if we continue to have no or few new cases.

So that’s a move by Ardern, but is it enough? A week of Covid restrictions is a long time for businesses already severely impacted by over two months of no or restricted activity. It’s also a long time for the public who have been moving on from restrictions before level changes have happened.

Another problem for Ardern and the Government – by saying she is bringing forward a decision on reducing the alert level by a week and indicating that if we continue with virtually no Covid cases then the Alert level is likely to drop in just over a week, the public are likely to continue to act as if we are already there.

RNZ: Cabinet to consider alert level 1 move on 8 June

It’s trickier for businesses who could get shut down for breaching the Level 2 rules. from what I’ve seen rules are not being strictly applied anyway. Are we already in a virtual Level 1 now anyway?

If protesters who have a good cause to promote can do as they please, why not the rest of us with causes of our own?

Businesses have a good cause – their survival.

The Government appears to have lost control.

 

Alert level decision today

Today Cabinet will make a decision on whether to lower us to Covid Alert Level 2 or not. That will be announced at a 4 pm news conference.

There seems to be a growing public desire to loosen the restrictions after 6 weeks in fairly strict lockdown, with an increasing number of people going on walks and doing other activities in sometimes quite crowded public situations.

The revised rules for Level 2 were announced last week – see Alert Level 2 information.

But there is some talk of the need to strengthen some of the restrictions, and to phase in the change to level 2. From NZ Herald: Cabinet meets to decide if New Zealand is ready for alert level 2

If Cabinet decides the country is ready to come out of level 3, New Zealand could move to alert level 2 as early as Wednesday.

That’s misleading. 11:59 pm on Wednesday is effectively Thursday for everyone.

And if level 2 is greenlighted, one of the country’s top epidemiology experts says the Government should consider making masks on public transport compulsory.

“This would give us another line of defence,” Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said.

Baker supported a phased approach to level 2.

“Thinking logically, you might begin with the most controlled environments, like workplaces and schools, where risk can be minimised.”

Then, once officials are sure level 2 was showing signs of success, the Government could loosen restrictions on places like bars and nightclubs, he said.

But the Level 2 rules have already been announced. If they were changed again, and in effect a level 2.5 was introduced, that would be confusing and would be likely to be even more ignored than the current Level 3.

He told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking today that complacency and rule-breaking were common right now.

They would become more common if they start dicking around with Level 2 rules at this stage.

Losoening restrictions to soon or too fast do raise the risks of Covid re-establishing itself. The virus has proven to spread quickly and easily.

But if the Government decides to keep us in Level 3 for longer they risk losing the support of the public, who willingly did the level 4 lockdown thing in the interests of their safety and public safety, but now Covid looks to be under control and very low risk to nearly everyone it will be hard for even Jacinda Ardern to convince people of the need not to relax some more.

We will find out this afternoon, but I think that Government would have to have a much stringer and more specific reason to not lower the lockdown level than “we must stay the course for another week (or two)” and other overused phrases.

This sort of headline won’t help keep the public on side: Alert levels two and three could be in place for ‘moderate amount of time’ – obviously that’s possible, especially level 2, but talk of an extended period on level 3 is unlikely to be popular.

Cabinet decision on Covid-19 lockdown level today

Cabinet will be meeting from this morning to decide whether the Covid lockdown level should remain at 4 or lower to 3. The decision will be announced at 4 pm.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made it clear Government intends to be cautious in lowering the level, despite growing pressure to allow businesses who had to shut down to crank up again, albeit with limits as Level 3 is still quite restrictive. Under level 3 businesses will have to prove they are safe to operate, and most shops and all cafes, restaurants and bars will remain closed.

RNZ: Will we leave level 4 this week?

Ardern recognised the huge toll on business in particular, but said it was in everyone’s interest to stamp out the virus

She stood by the decision to put New Zealand into lockdown and said the success so far was due to having a plan, sticking to the plan and doing it together.

“We have stayed home, we have saved lives and we are breaking the chain of transmission.”

But the government would be moving “cautiously” as it considered what the next step should be, said Ardern.

“No one wants to lose the huge gains we’ve made as a country off the back of the hard work of every New Zealander.”

Cabinet would have to be satisfied it was “unlikely” the virus wasn’t spreading or going undetected, along with strong border and quarantine controls, and the ability to contact trace and test.

We will have to wait until this afternoon to find out what the Government decision is.

Andrew Little vague on timing and form of cannabis referendum

I am seeing increasing uneasiness about what form the recreational cannabis referendum might take, in particular whether the vote is on confirming legislation already decided by Parliament.

The commitment from the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement:

19. Increase funding for alcohol and drug addiction services and ensure drug use is treated as a health issue, and have a referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis at, or by, the 2020 general election.

That’s unfortunately quite vague, leaving the decision up to Labour and NZ First Ministers in Cabinet.

Yesterday on Newshub Nation:

Okay, let’s talk about the referendum on the personal use of cannabis. You confirm you’re taking a proposal to Cabinet next week?

No, look, we’re still going through a process with our coalition and confidence-and-supply partners. We will make announcements on the issue about that hopefully very soon.

So not happening next week?

Look, I’m not going to say exactly where we are in the process, but we have been in a process, negotiating this through. I think we’re at a pretty good point. Eventually, we’ll get to the point where Cabinet will make a decision, and once that happens, we’ll make announcements.

Could we have a timeline?

I would hope sooner rather than later. I would expect in the next few weeks as opposed to, you know, too much later than that.

And have you got all your coalition partners on board on this?

I’m very pleased with where things are at. In the end, what—

Is that a yes?

Well, in the end, what is most important is Cabinet gets to make a decision. Once Cabinet has made a decision, then we’re in a position to announce—

Have you decided the wording of the question?

Look, I don’t want to go into a whole lot of detail. This has been, obviously, the subject of discussion. it’s been very intense discussion; I think very constructive discussion. I’m pleased with where things are at. Cabinet will be poised to make a decision fairly soon, and once they do, then we’ll make those announcements.

Cabinet. NZ First. No Green MPs.

I think there is cause for concern.

Important Pike River evidence missing

There has a lot been said and claimed over the Pike River mine disaster, but this seems like a big deal.

1 News:  Former chief mines inspector says missing piece of evidence could point to cause of Pike River Mine disaster

The mystery around a missing piece of evidence could point to the cause of the Pike River mine disaster, according to a former chief mines inspector in the UK.

The door from a fan control box was photographed nine days after the first explosion in 2010.

Tony Forster, who is now advising the families affected by the Pike River disaster, has tried to track down the object with no success.

Stuff:  Pike River families claim ‘vital’ evidence from mine explosion has been lost

A group representing some of the families of men who died in the Pike River Mine say critical evidence disappeared during the initial investigation.

The cover of an electrical cabinet was blown to the surface in one of the explosions that rocked the West Coast mine, north of Greymouth, in 2010, killing 29 men.

After it was photographed, Tony Forster, a former mines chief inspector now advising the Pike River families, told TVNZ he understood it was flown by helicopter to the Pike River office. Its current whereabouts are unknown.

“It blows my mind that something as significant as that, in an area that the Royal Commission centred on, has gone missing,” he said.

Efforts are ramping up to re-enter the mine. Police said last week they would not accompany the first re-entry team due to safety concerns, but would reconsider if there was a critical find, such as human remains.

Obviously, electrical equipment and wiring in a potentially highly flammable environment is an important thing to check when a mine explodes. So the location of the cabinet will be aan obvious thing to check when the mine is re-entered.

The electrical cabinet cover being blown 100m up a shaft and out of the mine is a big deal. As it it going missing.

UK Ministers resign, confidence vote likely for Theresa May

Missy has summarised developments (overnight NZ time) in the UK political split over Brexit plans, with a number of Cabinet Ministers resigning (7 so far), and a confidence vote in Theresa May likely.

(Thanks for this Missy).


Her ‘deal’ has been compared to Chamberlain returning from Munich.

A quick review of this morning’s happenings (rather than re-posting everything I posted this morning).

Five Members of the cabinet have resigned, they are:

  1. Shailesh Vara – Junior Minister for Northern Ireland. He claims that the deal leaves Britain in a half way house.
  2. Dominic Raab – Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. He said the indefinite backstop threatens to break up the Union.
  3. Esther McVey – Secretary of State for Work & Pensions. She said the deal does not honour the result of the referendum.
  4. Suella Braverman – Junior Minister for the Department for Exiting the EU. She warned that the concessions do not respect the will of the people.
  5. Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Education Secretary. She said the deal is unacceptable to Brexit Voters.
  6. Ranil Jayawardena – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice. He said the deal does not deliver a fair Brexit.
  7. Rehman Chishti, the PM’s trade envoy to Pakistan and Vice chairman of the Conservative Party for communities has resigned, saying that the deal is contrary to their Manifesto commitment.

May gave a statement in Parliament after which she received no support. During the questions after Jacob Rees-Mogg asked May why he shouldn’t put in a letter to the 1922 Committee Chariman. This is quite a big thing, whatever you think of him JRM has always supported the PM, he hasn’t supported the deal, but he has always said he supports the PM of the day, and that he has indicated in Parliament that he is thinking of putting in a letter of no confidence is quite a big deal, and he has influence among other Brexiters.

When he spoke in Parliament JRM obviously already had his letter written, he has just submitted it to the 1922 Committee. The key part is this: ‘It is of considerable importance that politicians stick to their commitments or do not make such commitments in the first place. Regrettably, this is not the situation, therefore, in accordance with the relevant rules and procedures of the Conservative Party and the 1922 Committee this is a formal letter of No Confidence in the Leader of the Party, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May.’

JRM has said that the Brexit deal has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the PM.

It is expected that the required number of letters will be received by the Chair of the 1922 Committee by tomorrow, and if so then a vote of confidence in Theresa May as leader on Tuesday is expected.

There has been some speculation on who may run for leader, though I think we may get a better idea when the Chair of the 1922 Committee are closer to receiving the 48 letters needed and we see which Cabinet members resign then.

Leading contenders at the moment are:

  • Dominic Raab (odds about 11-2)
  • Boris Johnson (odds about 5-1)
  • Sajid Javid (odds about 5-1) he is the most credible leading contender, despite having voted remain he is against a soft Brexit and for delivering Brexit. He has gone against Theresa May on several occasions, and he was reportedly behind a tougher stance on EU Migrants post Brexit than was originally positioned by TM. Has the advantage of being an ethnic minority (Pakistani parents) and a (non practicing) Muslim, despite having been brought up in a Muslim household he doesn’t practice now, and has stated on a number of occasions the only religion in his house is Christianity (his wife is apparently a practicing Christian). So looks good for the moderate Muslim vote, but isn’t a problem for the extreme anti-Muslim vote.
  • Jeremy Hunt (odds about 8-1) he won’t be a popular choice, he is universally disliked by the public.
  • David Davis (odds about 11-1) he is a popular choice among many party members to bring in as an interim PM until Brexit is done.
  • Amber Rudd (odds about 50-1)

Sources are reporting that Michael Gove was offered the Brexit Secretary job, but he has turned it down unless he can go back to Brussels and renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.

 

Labour lacking in gender balance – and female capability?

Labour is going backwards with their ideal, gender balance, especially in their senior ranks.

In October 2017 (just after she became Prime Minister) Ardern vows to improve Cabinet gender balance

Women would hold just six of Labour’s 16-strong Cabinet posts, and just one of its five ministerial roles outside of Cabinet.

Ms Ardern said that was not good enough and she was vowing to bring more women up to the top level.

“I’m going to make sure that we continue to work on bringing through more of our team”.

“We set ourselves a goal as a Labour Party that we would bring more women into our caucus. When we set that goal we set it at 50 percent, and we came very close to achieving that this election and I’m proud of that”.

“We’ll continue to make sure that we try to see that reflected in our membership as they come up through roles and responsibilities through both our caucus and through our Cabinet.”

That’s not happening yet – in fact it’s deteriorating.

With the resignation of now ex-Ministers Clare Curran and the sacking of Meka Whaitiri there are now:

  • 8 female of 26 ministers
  • 6 female ministers of 19 in Cabinet
  • 3 female ministers on the front bench (top 10)
  • 5 female Labour ministers

As a comparison, the last National-led line-up (April 2017):

  • 9 female of 27 ministers
  • 7 female of 22 in Cabinet
  • 2 female ministers on the front bench
  • 9 female National ministers

In the Labour-led government, NZ First and Greens balance each other out. NZ First has 1 female of 3 ministers, while Greens have 2 female of 3 ministers.

Labour now has just Jacinda Ardern (1), Megan Woods (6), Carmel Sepuloni (9), Nanaia Mahuta (12) and Jenny Salesa (15) – five out of fifteen.

And there’s not many stand outs there, yet at least.

Gender balance in Parliament and in Cabinet are great ideals, but to achieve that requires enough quality female candidates standing for Parliament, and enough of them capable of handling roles as ministers and in Cabinet.

Both failures as ministers have been Labour MPs.

While I think that most people would like to see approximate gender balances in Parliament, I think that most voters – male and female – would choose competence over tokenism and making up the numbers with MPs not up to the job.

Less than a third of Cabinet are female

Jacinda Ardern has been a staunch supporter of equality. Just yesterday she promoted equality in rugby – see Rugby doesn’t deserve to be New Zealand’s national sport, equality or not.

But the day before she diluted the female presence in her Cabinet, from 35% to less than a third, by demoting Clare Curran to reduced ministerial duties outside Cabinet. Now:

  • 3 of the top 10 Ministers are female (still)
  • 6 of the 19 Ministers in Cabinet are female
  • 2 of 6 Ministers outside Cabinet are female
  • 2 of 3 Supporting Party (Green) Ministers are female (still)
  • TOTAL 10 of 28 Ministers are female

In the place where Ardern could walk the walk on her equality ideals, Government, she is falling well short.

It could be that there are not enough female MPs in the three parties in Government who are experienced enough or capable enough to fill the top positions in equal numbers to men, but this must be a bit embarrassing for Ardern.

 

Clare Curran voluntarily dumped, partially

In the traditional time for releasing news you want buried in the weekend, Jacinda Ardern and Clare Curran gave slightly different versions of Curran’s demotion today for repeating a failure to properly record a meeting.

Ardern says Clare Curran removed from Cabinet

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has removed Clare Curran from Cabinet and accepted her offer to resign her Government Digital Services portfolio and Open Government responsibilities, following a second failure to properly declare a meeting.

Dr Megan Woods will take over as Minister of Government Digital Services and Ms Curran’s delegated responsibilities in relation to Open Government will revert to Chris Hipkins, as Minister for State Services. Minister Curran will retain her responsibilities as Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, and as Associate Minister for ACC, but will now sit outside Cabinet.

In February this year Minister Curran met with Mr Derek Handley at her Beehive office in her capacity as Minister of Government Digital Services to discuss Mr Handley’s interest in the vacant Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role. This meeting took place after the first unsuccessful recruitment round for the CTO. As with approaches from other interested parties, the Minister directed Mr Handley to register his interest with MBIE officials. Applications reopened for the CTO role in May.

The meeting was not recorded in the Minister’s diary and neither the Minister’s staff nor officials were made aware of it.

The meeting was subsequently mistakenly left out of an answer to a recent Parliamentary Question for Written Answer. The meeting should have been included in the answer and the error has been corrected. Ms Curran has advised there have been no other meetings between herself and Mr Handley outside the application process.

“The failure to record the meeting in her diary; inform her staff and officials; and accurately answer Parliamentary questions has left the Minister open to the accusation that she deliberately sought to hide the meeting.” said Jacinda Ardern.

“While this was not the Minister’s intention, this is the second misjudgement and is not in keeping with my expectations, or the Minister’s expectations of herself. As a result I have chosen to remove Minister Curran from Cabinet.

“Transparency is important, even more so for Hon Curran given her Open Government responsibilities.

“I have accepted the Minister’s offer to resign her responsibilities relevant to this issue, which clearly she can no longer continue in.

So Ardern accepted an offer to resign, but removed her, or something like that.

The demotion from Cabinet but loss of only some of her portfolios must have been at least discussed, it’s hard to see Curran offering to resign exactly as Ardern dictated.

Curran’s statement:

So she is still promoting her retained responsibilities. Some have said it is a bit of a Claytons dumping.

And it has been pointed out that it’s a bit cynical for Ardern to claim “Transparency is important” when she waited until late on a busy news Friday, with the Bridges leak fiasco and Australian leadership fiasco dominating news.

I don’t think the loss of Open Government will disappoint many people, Curran has failed to live up to her responsibilities in a number of ways. She is probably a popular demotee.

I’m not sure how will Chris Hipkins will fit with the open Government role alongside his job as Government Whip.

 

 

Ardern – “absolute given” no announcements before Cabinet discussion

Prime Minister Jacinda has said it is “an absolute given” no announcements should be made by Ministers before Cabinet discussion  – except when it is “normal decision making process”.

After Andrew Little had to scrap his plans to scrap the 3 strikes legislation when it became obvious NZ First wouldn’t support it, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made it clear Ministers shouldn’t make announcements before discussing them in Cabinet.

From NZH:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters it was a “given” that ministers did not make announcements before discussing them at Cabinet.

“There’s always a given that we wouldn’t do that. It’s something that doesn’t really need requirement to be repeating. It’s an absolute given,” she said.

“Three strikes makes up only a very small part of a much wider agenda and we are continuing to pursue that agenda as a Government. None of these decisions are finalised until we have that discussion as Cabinet. All our ministers know that,” Ardern said.

Ardern is a bit liberal with her use of ‘absolute’, given her announcement (along with a Labour minister, a Green minister and an NZ First minister on oil and gas exploration permits without discussing it with Cabinet.

Stuff: No Cabinet paper written, no Cabinet decision made, in “political decision” to ban new oil exploration

Cabinet has made no decision on ending oil exploration, documents being released today will show, with April’s announcement made on the basis of a political agreement between the coalition parties.

On April 12, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led a group of ministerial colleagues into the Beehive theatrette to confirm news that the Government had decided it would offer no new offshore permits for oil and gas exploration, with onshore permits offered in Taranaki for as little as three years.

Although the news was delivered by ministers affected by the decision and in a forum usually used to discuss decisions made by Cabinet, politicians made the decision in their roles as party leaders.

Today the Government will release a series of documents generated in the making of the oil and gas exploration decision, but it has already confirmed to Stuff that no Cabinet paper was created and that Cabinet has not voted on the matter.

“There was no Cabinet decision,” a spokesman for Energy Minister Megan Woods said.

In a statement, Ardern defended the handling of the decision, but said it was not how most decisions would be made.

“The decision on future oil and gas block offers was a political decision made by the government parties. It was consulted on and agreed between the parties and taken to Cabinet for confirmation,” a spokesman for Ardern said.

“This is a normal decision making process when it comes to coalition wide matters, but does tend to be the exception rather than the rule.”

An “absolute given”that ministers did not make announcements before discussing them at Cabinet except when it was part of the  “normal decision making process” that is “the exception rather than the rule”.