Doublespeak document dump while schooling Ministers on avoiding accountability

Government Ministers have been instructed by the Prime Minister’s office to avoid interviews and questions over a large release of documents dumped on Friday afternoon. This manipulation and avoidance of openness was the only think proactive about what was headlined Proactive release

The Government did a release yesterday afternoon, with journalists complaining of a ‘Friday dump’ – a long used practice of dumping a lot of documents late in the week as Ministers head home for the weekend( and journalists would like to head home) to avoid scrutiny. The hope and intention is that media attention will have largely moved on by the following Monday.

The dump had a doublespeak headline – – journalists and opposition MPs have been asking for details of what had informed decisions made in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic for weeks.

Proactive (creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened) is the opposite of how this has been handled by the Government – except for their management of their Ministers

RNZ:  Ministers told to ‘dismiss’ interviews on Covid-19 documents – leaked memo

The prime minister’s office has directed all ministers not to give interviews on a Covid-19 document dump, saying there is “no real need to defend” themselves.

A leaked email, sent to Beehive staff today, directed them to issue only “brief written statements” in response to media queries about the documents.

“Do not put Minister up for any interviews on this,” it stated.

The directive stated that the government had no need to respond because of the overwhelming public support, and should instead “lead the changing conversation”.

“There’s no real need to defend. Because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt is doing”.

“Instead we can dismiss.”

This is not surprising but very disappointing. The Government simply seems to think they can get away with stonewalling because they have the confidence of the public.

If the public feels stuffed around with the may dismiss support for the Government.

But doing this risks losing confidence fast, especially as the public increasingly looks forward to moving on from strict restrictions of lockdown, which will last another five days at least.

The directive also demonstrates a standard political PR tactic – provide glib talking points to use in lieu of decent answers.

The memo also included “key messages” for Ministers and staff to stick to in their written statements, including:

“No one had the luxury of time”

“Tough calls had to be made”

“Evidence shows our decisions were the right ones”

“The results speak for themselves”.

What they seem to be trying to get across here is that no matter how they managed the severe restrictions – whether they sought or followed the best advice, and whether they ignored warnings of possible illegality – can be swept under the carpet if the end result is acceptable to the general population.

One Court has already found that the Ministry of Health failed to allow for their own legal directive that allowed for compassionate grounds and exception circumstances in allowing people to visit dying relatives.

Two other courts have said that serious questions should be asked of the legality or otherwise of the lockdown restrictions, and a judicial review of the Ministry of Health directives is currently before the High Court.

But the Government seems intent on fobbing off questions and moving on because the public are happy enough.

If the Prime Minister and her Government continue to follow this carefully managed avoidance of openness, transparency and public accountability then the wheels could quickly fall off their popularity.

Jacinda Ardern is an accomplished communicator, doing particularly well when dealing with crises with unprepared speeches. But she is increasingly at risk of being seen as a glib, preachy politician who is little better than the rest of politicians who have earned a very low credibility rating.

I’m prepared to excuse some mistakes along the way in dealing with rapidly evolving health, economic and social crises, but I have a very low tolerance for being fed glib platitudes after the fact to try to avoid accountability.

Ardern may be better than the alternative at the moment, but she should understand that an aura of kindness can be smothered by a barrage of managed bullshit quite quickly, and she is heading in that direction.