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.

Ministry of Health ‘reviewing procedures’ for compassionate and exceptional quarantine rules

There was confusion between the Prime Minister and Ministry of Health yesterday after a court judgment was released that found the Ministry of Health should not have refused leave for a man to leave Covid quarantine to see his dying father – see Court rules man under Covid quarantine can visit dying father.

Both the PM and MoH gave assurances procedures would be reviewed after confusion between them over numbers of people granted compassionate of exceptional exemptions – 18 had applied but it turned out the be none had been granted.

RNZ: No exemptions from border rules given on compassionate grounds

None of the travellers returning to New Zealand to see a family member who is close to dying have been allowed out of managed isolation.

Figures provided to RNZ suggest 24 people have applied for an exemption to visit someone dying or close to dying and all have been turned down.

In some cases the traveller was still in isolation when their relative died.

About 50 other people who applied for an exemption from the mandatory 14-day isolation on other compassionate grounds were also rejected.

The Ministry of Health said the border rules could be “very distressing” but it was taking a precautionary approach.

It looks like it has been more than ‘precautionary’.

However, during a media briefing after her Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told media 18 of 24 requests where a relative was dying had been accepted.

“Information that I’ve received from the Ministry of Health, though, sets out that there were 283 requests for an exemption to the conditions of isolation having been received by 30 April, and that 24 exemptions was sought in cases where relative was dying or close to dying, of which 18 were granted.

“That does suggest that there has been due consideration. That is advice I’ve received from the Ministry of Health, but I’m sure that they will be reflecting on this judgment.”

Questioned about the discrepancy, the Ministry said the Prime Minister’s figures were incorrect, and no exemptions had been granted for compassionate reasons.

“The layout of Ministry of Health figures supplied to the Prime Minister’s Office may have contributed to confusion over compassionate exemptions. The Ministry sincerely apologises for this.

“As of 30 April, the number of requests from a returned traveller, or travellers, for an exemption to the conditions of their isolation totalled 283. The number of those requests for exemptions granted was 18.

“To the same date, the number of ‘compassionate’ or similar requests for exemptions totalled 73. The number of these where this was to visit a relative dying or close to dying totalled 24. None of those 24 exemptions were granted.”

NZ Herald: Judge overrules lockdown, allows son to visit dying father

Speaking at her post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said authorities needed to make sure “we learn” from the Christiansen and other rulings.

It appeared the response to his application was an automotive response, so it was her expectation the Ministry of Health would take the ruling into consideration.

‘Automotive response may be a typo, it doesn’t make sense. Does it mean automatic? That’s what was suggested in the judgment. That would be an awful way to deal with compassionate or exceptional circumstances. Or unemotive?

Stuff:  Jacinda Ardern asks for review of all cases where family members were denied permission to visit relatives

“The Prime Minister has spoken to the Minister of Health this evening and asked that each of these cases now be reviewed in light of the Court’s ruling.”

That will be too late in cases where people have already died.

The Ministry of Health would not comment on whether it had apologised to the Christiansen family.

Instead, the spokeswoman said each request for leave from isolation on compassionate grounds or exceptional reasons is considered on its individual merits.

“The fact that the Court decided to intervene in this case does not mean that it would take the same approach in respect of other decisions by the Ministry not to allow leave from isolation.”

She said the Ministry is reviewing its processes for considering requests for leave on compassionate grounds and exceptional reasons to prevent this issue arising again.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield is speaking about this on RNZ now and is explaining and defending the way the Ministry of Health has dealt with requests.

Ashley Bloomfield, the Director-General of Health, tells Morning Report that every case is considered individually, not automatically.

Dr Bloomfield says he spoke with the team who run the process and told them to carefully consider the man’s application.

Dr Bloomfield does not know how many people had now died in the 24 cases but assured a quick review of the cases.

The RNZ interview:

Update – RNZ report: Ashley Bloomfield defends staff after judge overturns quarantine decision

There were 283 requests for exemptions to 30 April, and of those 24 were on compassionate or similar grounds. None of those on compassionate grounds were granted, Bloomfield said.

But the High Court ruling didn’t mean the team had failed to apply the criteria, he said.

“What the staff do is they apply the criteria and look at all the information they have objectively and fairly … and with great empathy. They don’t just say this is a no, they have to – and they do – look through the information very carefully.

“What the judge was saying is that they didn’t feel from the information that was presented that it was obvious that that process had been followed.”

The decisions on mandatory isolation also had to be fair, and in line with the process for people applying to travel within the country.

“That has very strict criteria and many New Zealanders will know of people who during the lockdown in alert level 4 were unable to either attend funerals or visit dying relatives because we were on a really clear pathway to try and stop the transmission of Covid-19 in our communities to protect everybody.”

A hard to ignore leaked poll: Labour 55%, National 29%

The bottom line for a UMR poll (warning – leaked private poll) conducted between 21-27 April as we approached the end of the Level 4 lockdown:

  • Labour 55%
  • National 29%
  • NZ First 6%
  • Greens 5%
  • ACT 3%

(But RNZ have NZF and Greens swapped: “It has polled the Green Party at 6%, New Zealand First on 5%”)

With NZ First and Greens on similar levels to other recent polls this suggests a big chunk of ex-national supporters have swung to Labour, but at the same time ACT has improved.

This looks grim for National, and it’s no wonder the talk of Simon Bridges and leadership has ramped up lately.

There’s a lot that can happen before the election with Covid and the economy, but it’s a big challenge for National to turn this around without changing their approach or their leader.

Also Preferred Prime Minister:

  • Jacinda Ardern 65%
  • Simon Bridges 7%
  • Judith Collins 7%
  • Winston Peters 3%

If a Labour activist could make up a poll result that was sort of credible but great for Labour and terrible for National it would look something like this, but all they have had to do is leak their actual poll. There have been similar numbers mentioned over the past couple of weeks.

NZ Herald: A leaked poll shows National has dropped below 30 per cent, and Labour at 55 per cent

But speaking to the Herald, Bridges rubbished the poll.

“UMR are Labour’s pollsters and are consistently, badly wrong.”

He added that Labour “should be focused on getting New Zealand back to work, not leaking dodgy numbers”.

But this is a big pig of a revelation for National, and Bridges is rough at applying lipstick.

Polling under 30 per cent is a huge psychological barrier for National and means many of their current list MPs would lose their jobs at this year’s election.

It wasn’t long ago that 40% would have been seen as pretty bad for National.

And perhaps more good news for the Government – the poll shows that 78 per cent of New Zealanders believe the country is heading in the right direction.

The number of people saying New Zealand is on the right track hasn’t been this high on a UMR poll since 1991.

“This can again only be attributed to a rallying around in a national crisis and a related current confidence in the government steps taken to combat Covid-19,” UMR said in its commentary.”

Again, things could change, but I expect this poll will be in a post at The Standard very quickly and not so fast at Kiwiblog.


  1. As far as it’s possible to determine I think that Labour’s internal polls conducted by UMR have tended to favour Labour.
  2. Leaked polls should always be viewed with some suspicion but more details seem to have been made available this time to media.
  3. At a time of crisis with a Government generally seen to be managing things well it is going to benefit, and the Opposition is likely to not benefit

UPDATE: The Standard posted on this an hour and a half ago – UMR’s bombshell poll result

By my count National have 39 electorate MPs and 18 list MPs. If they got 29% in the election they would not get enough MPs to get any list MPs, there would be an overhang of a few MPs.

I can imagine a few list MPs will be getting a bit nervous about their futures – like Paul Goldsmith, Michael Woodhouse, Alfred Ngaro, Melissa Lee, Juan Yang, Brett Hudson, Nicola Willis etc

‘Ethical leadership’ of Ardern praised – is it world changing?

There seems to have been a few people with time on their hands under lockdown putting time into praising the leadership of Jacinda Ardern. Here’s another from Lola Toppin-Casserly (Newsroom): Is Ardern going to change the world?

Jacinda Ardern seems to be nailing it.

She is receiving international attention for “a triumph of science and leadership” through the Covid-19 crisis. She has made difficult decisions to prioritise saving lives over prioritising the economy (rightly so, says The Economist magazine).

Her approach has resulted in New Zealand being one of few countries with a low death rate from Covid-19, and a chance at elimination. Compared with the results of other leaders’ efforts globally, her approach is clearly successful.

“One of few countries with a low death rate” is a highly debatable claim, and in any case is too soon to call the New Zealand approach an outstanding success. Australia (under Scott Morrison’s leadership) is getting similar results with Covid but with lighter restrictions on business.

This is not the first time either. She made headlines with her empathetic response to the Christchurch mosque attacks. She is an inspiration and a hope to many of us.

That’s obvious, glowing praise is being lavished from a number of directions.

For a long time, we have had a global leadership crisis and a prevailing view that our leaders are inadequate and failing. We have unethical scandals in our organisations made public frequently and we have a plethora of narcissistic and incompetent leaders, often men, to refer to, according to organisational psychologist Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.

Coupled with Ardern’s extraordinary empathy, emotional intelligence and ability to integrate and embody these talents through honed communication skills, she has demonstrated a values-centred approach.

To an extent, yes, but she isn’t the Government on her own, and the values of some around her are more questionable. The Winston based approach of her deputy Prime Minister contrasts with Ardern, and Minister of Health David Clark has been an embarrassment to Ardern’s empathy and values.

There are different ways we might categorise her leadership through the Covid-19 crisis. She has been hailed for providing a masterclass in crisis leadership. Alternatively, resonant and primal leadership would align with her emotional intelligence and self-awareness, directives to be kind and compassionate, and motivating and collaborative approaches. Authentic leadership has received much airtime in recent years and holds that self-awareness, openness, transparency and consistency are at its core.

In the case of Covid-19, Ardern has demonstrated much of this, but more importantly her communication has explicitly prioritised saving lives over the economy.

But Ardern has tried to straddle both, claiming her stringent health priorities will be better for the economy in the medium term (we are yet to see evidence of this).

Other countries have taken a different approach, including Italy, where a recent analysis of the country’s high infection and death rates concluded they were due to an approach based on early advice to keep people and economic activity moving instead of lockdown.

Pretty much every country has grappled with trying to get a balance between health, social and economic impacts.

We might interpret Ardern’s focus on saving lives as putting ethics at the core of New Zealand’s approach to Covid-19.


There is a significant body of academic work on ethical leadership, but there is still debate on what exactly it is and the best approach to thinking about it.

There will always be debate about things like ethical leadership.

A general consensus is that leaders who are honest, caring, principled and make fair and balanced decisions communicate with their followers about ethics and ‘walk the talk’ on ethical conduct.

Most New Zealand leaders could make claims to making “honest, caring, principled and make fair and balanced decisions”, with some justification.  Honesty is probably the trickiest of these to live up to, especially when associated with openness and transparency, and Ardern is flawed in this respect like the rest of them, to a degree at least.

Awareness, care and concern for others, prioritising others’ needs over self-interest, and considering the ethical consequences of decisions also make up ethical leadership. We might say this is just good leadership in general.

But the absence of it in society in current times is why it is worth focusing more specifically on the ethics required of leadership.

There isn’t an absence of it in our society. Ardern may have more successfully promoted it, but she hasn’t suddenly invented it.

Despite debate on the merits of different models of ethical leadership, if we could see more of these items in our leaders’ practices the world would be a far better place.

It is not difficult to see examples around us of where more ethical leadership would create the changes the world needs. Ardern therefore prompts a critical question for us: why are we not seeing more leaders like her?

Every leader is different, in style and substance. Ardern has certainly been noticeably better at some things, but it’s arguable whether New Zealand has done better than many other countries in dealing with Covid-19, and it’s certainly arguable about how well Ardern’s government has performed overall. It has dragged the chain on a number of important social issues like homelessness, poverty and mental health.

The interesting thing about Ardern is she seems to provide us with a role model for a new type of leader, arguably an ethical leader. This is why she gives us hope.

According to theory, we may now start to see ethical followers. And if we have more ethical leaders and followers emerging in our world, we may start to see some of the change we need.

So is Ardern going to change the world? I do hope so.

Ardern and her style of leadership has certainly made an impact, and she needs to be applauded for some things she has achieved. She could end up making quite a positive impact on the country and to a lesser extent the world.

But her ‘ethical leadership’ is hardly an immaculate conception.

I think that some adulators may be confusing Ardern’s actions and speech matching their ideals (selectively) with it being the best and only way to lead.

Lola Toppin-Casserly is a PhD candidate in the School of Government at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

David Clark’s ‘full disclosure’ questioned after house move revealed

Minister of Health David Clark emerged from lockdown in Dunedin to attend Parliament yesterday, but his lockdown laxness has flared up again.

Earlier in April Clark was demoted to the bottom of the Cabinet ranks and stripped of the Associate Finance portfolio after it was revealed that he was abusing the spirit if not the rules of the lockdown that he must have played a part in defining.

First he was found to have driven his van to a mountain bike track, and it then took Clark days to front up and admit he had also taken his family to the beach.

But he didn’t say anything about moving house.

1 News: Health Minister David Clark confident he didn’t break Alert Level 4 lockdown for third time despite moving between homes

Dr Clark was seen repeatedly moving boxes between the two properties during the Alert Level 4 lockdown. The properties are believed to only be a few hundred metres apart.

“I moved house, using the services of a moving company, on the Wednesday immediately before the Level Four lockdown began. My new house is just up the road from my old one,” Dr Clark told 1 NEWS.

“During lockdown I used my old house as my office and occasionally walked the odd item or box back with me, as is within the rules.”

Dr Clark’s office has confirmed he was working at times during lockdown from his old house, which he still owns and said it provided a quieter work environment.

The story seems to have changed a bit. A Kiwiblog post quotes a NZ Herald article that quotes 1 News:

Clark was spotted repeatedly between two Dunedin properties during the month-long lockdown period.

He and his family are believed to have recently moved into a new home before the country went into level 4, with the minister seen moving large furniture and appliances as the country went into the mandatory nationwide restrictions, 1 NEWS reported.

So both the Herald and 1 News seem to have altered their stories online, but

Working from home was supposed to be working from home, but perhaps more damaging for Clark is his lack of full disclosure in a Statement from David Clark made on 7 April that stated:

Last night as part of my preparation for the Epidemic Response Committee, I provided the Prime Minister with a complete picture of my activity outside my home during Alert Level 4.

That included the fact that on the first weekend of the Alert Level 4 lockdown I drove my family approximately 20 kilometres from our house in Dunedin to Doctor’s Point Beach for a walk.

In the interest of full disclosure, since the lockdown began I have also driven my family to a walking track approximately 2 kilometres from our house for a walk and gone for occasional runs, all of which were local and within the rules, and one bike ride which is already in the public domain.

I don’t know whether Ardern was provided with ‘a complete picture’ then, but Clark seems to have not provided full disclosure in his public statement.

All Ardern disclosed in Statement from the Prime Minister on Dr David Clark was:

“Yesterday evening the Health Minister advised me of his trip to a beach during the lockdown and offered his resignation,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses.”

Again what Clark did may seem relatively trivial, but what he stated looks to have been misleading – and may have misled the Prime Minister, unless Ardern mislead the public.

Newshub has a bit more:  Prime Minister told David Clark’s house move took place prior to lockdown

Dr Clark’s new house was just down the road from where he used to live, and though most of the moving – including shifting his family and hiring a moving truck for heavy furniture – took place before the country went into lockdown, Dr Clark continued to move some boxes after the alert level was raised.

The Health Minister’s office told Newshub he was using the old place as an office, so he would shift some things when he returned home.

That seems minor, but it still seems outside the rules.

Richard Harman at Politik: The Minister’s new house: up the road and into trouble

Then came a statement from a spokesperson for the Prime Minister:”A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said based on what the Health Minister has advised her he moved house prior to lockdown, and based on his description of events, had not breached the rules of lockdown.”

The repeated “based on what the Health Minister advised her” and “based on his description of events” would seem to suggest the Prime Minister is not entirely convinced that what he said happened is exactly what did happen. But then, he has form.

He has form for not fully disclosing already. He could have an awkward day in Parliament.

On the eve of a lesser lockdown

Some more people will be able to go back to work tomorrow as we drop to Level 3 lockdown, but most of us will be still confined to our homes and neighbourhoods except for essential trips to the supermarket and for healthcare if required.

RNZ: Building firms gear up to reopen tomorrow under alert level 3

Under level 3, workers can resume on-site work, provided they have a Covid-19 control plan in place, with appropriate health and safety and physical distancing measures.

Building firm Naylor Love’s chief executive, Rick Herd, said plans would be different at every work site, where each site had varying numbers of workers.

“There will be additional cost in some sites where shift work will be required or there will be separation of people which will require a lot of management,” Herd said.

“Some sites will be less efficient than they would have been pre Covid-19 level 3.”

Herd said the lockdown meant clients could see some projects finishing later than anticipated.

Even essential businesses that have operated through the lockdown have been operating on reduced capacity – I know of a freezing works that has been operating under social distancing requirements and has been about half their normal capacity.

The economic effects will be felt for some time for most businesses.

Some people seem to have been suffering from fast food withdrawal and may soon be able to appease their cravings, if they’re prepared to wait their turn in the online queue.

But returning to work has it’s complications for some.

RNZ: Union worries fast food outlets may breach level 3 restrictions

Unite Union spokesman MIke Treen said he has been in touch with McDonald’s about training photos, which appear to show food passed to drive-through customers, closer than 2 metres away. New Zealand will be at Alert Level 3 from Tuesday 28 April

Under Golden Rules for life at Alert Level 3 we are still being told “If you are not at work, school, exercising or getting essentials then you must be at home, the same as at Alert Level 4.

Some people may have fast food outlets in their neighbourhood, but it is still non-essential travel and it challenges “Keep your bubble as small as possible”.

The Covid level 3 rules are contradictory, as Golden Rules for businesses at Alert Level 3 say “Your customers can pay online, over the phone or in a contactless way. Delivery or pick-up must also be contactless.” So pickups of fast food are ok?

I thought most of the food would be delivered, but obviously pickups will pick up.

This won’t worry me, I won’t be racing to the nearest fish and chip shop (which is sort of in my neighbourhood) but I can imagine the possibility of a flood of fast food famished fix finders.

I wonder if any fast food outlets try opening at midnight tonight? That could be more chaotic than the supermarket congestion (that seems to have settled down as people settle into lockdown routine).

NZ Herald: Last day of lockdown – Jacinda Ardern’s message to New Zealand

The headline is misleading – for many if not most of us the lockdown will continue much the same under Level 3.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned people not to get too complacent during the final lockdown hours.

“Our marathon will take patience and endurance but we need to finish what we started. Lives and livelihoods depend on our success as a nation.”

That’s right, it’s going to take a lot of time yet to get through this. and the transition to level 3 is going to pose some challenges for some people.

Are the media critical enough of the Government?

The media, in particular political journalists, are seen as playing a critical role in a healthy democracy, being required to hold politicians and parliaments to account.

While commenters at Kiwiblog are as bitter about media coverage of the Ardern government, commenters at The Standard were as disatisfied with media coverage of the Key Government. It seems you can never please any of the opponents any of the time.

But for most of us do our media do a good enough job of casting a critical eye and pen and camera over the actions of the incumbent government? Media certainly earn some criticism, but that not just from the public, it also comes from politicians being criticised.

A few days ago the Government announced an initial support package for media, who were struggling to compete with online megacompanies for revenue before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and now have been hit by a major business pause and another major drop in advertising revenue. Even before the support package a lot of advertising revenue was from the Government via Covid messages.

Going by comments at Kiwiblog (noting that there they are dominated by strongly anti-Government views) one might think that the support package makes the media a paid-for extension of Government public relations. They represent just a small but vocal right wing minority never happy with a left leaning government is in power – and again yesterday in response to a post ridiculing a ridiculous president comments predictably swung to ‘but Biden’, ‘but Clinton’, ‘but Obama’, ‘but Ardern’ (they are well indoctrinated by Trump’s anti ‘fake news’/critical media diversions).

It’s always easy to find things to criticise about the media in general – too much over sensationalising and too much ‘click bait’ trivia were problems long before Covid.

Media have a very important role to play in a democracy, which is why in 1787 Edmund Burke said (from Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship):

“There were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Political journalists have difficult jobs to do. They spend a lot of time with a few politicians and risk getting too personally affected. And they constantly have to battle against ex-journalists now working in large politician defending PR departments.

Jacinda Ardern has had an unusually good ride with journalists, quite a few of whom are fellow females of a similar age or younger, so empathy with Ardern probably came naturally.

But John Key was popular with media too – he was also easy to get on with and he could be entertaining in an often dour field. Helen Clark had a lot to overcome in her early years as Labour leader but became widely admired (most of the time) in her job as Prime Minister for nine years.

Media tend to favour the people in power, incumbent Governments, in part simply because that’s who the biggest stories come from.

But media also have a tendency to hunt in a vicious-looking pack when they smell political blood, no matter who the victim. One problem is that if some media get their teeth into a big and damaging story the rest tend to join the frenzy because that’s where the attention grabbing stories come from. David Lange referred to this media mob mentality as “demented reef fish”.

Media will never do enough for everyone, and will never do any good for those wallowing in opposition to the current government.

Are media critical enough of our politicians and our Government? Or as well as could be expected in the circumstances?

Even if seen as poor at times, the alternative to inadequate political journalism – no political journalism – is far worse.

Are media critical enough of our Government and politicians?

Are we too critical of media?


Failures with habeas corpus writ against Ardern et al over lockdown ‘detention’

Last Friday an application was heard in the High Court where two men were seeking a writ of habeas corpus against The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claiming they were being illegally detained through the Covid-19 lockdown. Yesterday Judge Peters J delivered her judgment that shows multiple failures in the action.

  • An application to transfer the case to be heard by a full Court of five Judges in the Court of Appeal was declined.
  • A and his family are not subject to detention within the meaning of the Habeas Corpus Act 2001.
  • If A and his family are detained, the detention is lawful.
  • Application for name suppression based on vague possibilities, declined but extended pending appeal

One of the men, who has interim name suppression and was described as A, appeared in person as the Applicant. He is currently serving a term of home detention unrelated to the pandemic.

Respondents were names as JACINDA ARDERN, ASHLEY BLOOMFIELD AND SARAH STUARTBLACK (represented by Mr Powell).

A, the applicant, submits the terms of order subject him and his family to “detention” within the meaning of the Habeas Corpus Act 2001 (“Act”). By application of 14 April 2020, A challenges the legality of the detention he alleges and
seeks a writ of habeas corpus, for himself, his partner and two other members of his family. The effect of the issue of the writ would be to release A and his family from the restrictions imposed by the order.

But presumably it wouldn’t release A from home detention.

Transfer to the Court of Appeal

A sought an order transferring his application to the Court of Appeal, ideally to be heard by a full Court of five Judges. A submitted the significance of his application made this an appropriate course.

I declined A’s application. Any decision to transfer a proceeding from the High Court to the Court of Appeal is one for the Court of Appeal, not the High Court.

So that application was pointless in the High Court. And the significance of the application is the poor arguments made.

A’s application raises two issues. The first is whether the terms of the order effect a detention within the meaning of the Act. If so, the second issue is whether the respondents can establish the legality of the detention. If not, I must order A’s and his family’s release.


The Act defines “detention” as:
detention includes every form of restraint of liberty of the person

A submitted the terms of the order subject him and his family to detention. This is because they may not leave their house for whatever purpose they wish, such as to swim, hunt or tramp, or to travel as they see fit etc, but only for essential personal movement.

In this case, the effect of the order is to limit the purposes for which A and his family may leave their home, and it also limits some forms of interaction with friends and other family.

But, as the respondents submit, A and his family remain free to engage in many of their usual activities. In my view, the freedom to exercise whenever they wish, to go to the supermarket whenever they wish, to talk to whomever they wish, and to access the internet whenever they wish is quite different from being “held in close custody”, which the Court of Appeal said in Drever is required for detention. A greater degree of control of the time and place of movement and/or association would be required.

… I do not consider A and his family are detained within the meaning of the Act by the terms of the order.


If I am wrong in this, it becomes necessary to consider the lawfulness of the detention.

The order was made pursuant to s 70(1)(f) of the Health Act 1956 (“Health Act”)…

The medical officer of health may make an order under s 70:

(a) for the purpose of preventing the outbreak or spread of any infectious disease; and
(b) if, amongst other things, a state of emergency has been declared or an epidemic notice is in force.

Mr Powell submits, and I accept, these requirements were met in the present case…

Although A did not dispute the pre-requisites in s 70(1) for the making of the order were met — his argument as to the lawfulness of the order being quite different — A did raise a point as to whether s 70(1)(f) permits the Director-General to require everyone in New Zealand to be isolated by staying at home. On this point, A’s submission on the text of s 70(1)(f) was that “persons, places, buildings …” connotes smaller, confined groups of persons, not the entire population.

In response, Mr Powell submitted the word “persons” in s 70(1)(f) is sufficiently broad to cover “all persons within all districts of New Zealand”, being the ambit of the order.

I accept the orders that may be made under s 70(1) are very broad.

As I have said, however, A’s argument as to the proper construction of s 70(1)(f) was not his main submission on the issue of legality. Rather, A submitted the order was unlawful on numerous, quite different grounds.

A submitted the order constituted a gross breach of all New Zealanders’ human rights and “fundamental inalienable freedoms”, such as those conferred by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Act, that, as a matter of principle, it could never be lawful.

A also submitted the order was unlawful because it was “unreasonable”, in the sense there was insufficient evidence to warrant its making in the first instance. He also submitted the evidence that now exists — and which he believes was or might have been foretold — as to hospitalisation and death rates, the sector of the population most likely to be adversely affected (the elderly), and the effects of the “lockdown” on the New Zealand economy render the continuation of the order unlawful, even if its making was lawful, which he refutes.

A also submitted the order was not made for a proper purpose, namely to control the spread of the disease, but for many other extraneous reasons, including to enhance Ms Ardern’s prospects of re-election.

Kiwiblog comments type arguments don’t fit well with a court of law.

I accept the respondents have established any detention effected by the order is lawful, for the reasons in [31] and [35] above. I am also satisfied the arguments A relies on are not suitable for determination on an application for a writ of habeas corpus.

In fact, s 14(1A) of the Act permits the Court to refuse an application for the issue of the writ if satisfied the application is not the appropriate procedure for considering an applicant’s allegations. This is such a case. The appropriate procedure is an application for judicial review.

So a writ of habeas corpus was not an appropriate way to try to deal with this. I hope ‘A’ does not take the court’s suggestion of the appropriate procedure as a signal to try another approach in another action.

…the habeas corpus procedure is not suitable for the arguments A wishes to pursue. His arguments do not go to the lawfulness of any detention but the underlying decision to make the order, which is a different issue.

A and his family are not subject to detention within the meaning of the Habeas Corpus Act 2001. If I am wrong, and A and his family are detained, the detention is lawful.

Name suppression

A seeks an order for permanent suppression of the publication of his name and other identifying details. A perceives that, in the past, publication of his name in connection with other legal proceedings in which he has been involved has led to death threats against him, and threats to harm him and his family. These threats are distressing to A and his family, and exacerbate serious health conditions affecting all concerned.

Serious health conditions that may make ‘A’ a high risk with Covid-19.

As to why publication of his name in connection with this proceeding would be likely to lead to further threats, A said this has been the general consequence of publication of his name in the past and there is no reason to believe the result will be different on this occasion.

I may make an order prohibiting publication of A’s name and identifying details if necessary to serve the ends of justice.

However, the starting point is a presumption that all aspects of civil court proceedings are subject to disclosure and there must be sound reason to displace that presumption.

I am not persuaded a sound reason exists in this instance. The advice from A, to which I have referred above, was not on oath. I have no other evidence of the threats to which A refers or any evidence of a link between the mere fact of  publication of his name, in connection with any legal proceeding, and the making of any such threat.

Even if such were established, it is for the police to investigate any threat to A and his family, rather than for the Court to prohibit disclosure.

It would seem odd to grant name suppression for claims that something may (or may not) happen in the future.

I therefore decline to make the order for permanent name suppression sought.

A advised me he would wish to appeal any refusal of name suppression. At the end of the hearing, I made an order for interim suppression pending further order of the Court. I continue that order, again subject to further order of the Court, for 20 working days from the date of this judgment to enable A to pursue an appeal if he wishes.

The court has to allow the chance of appeal on suppression so this is standard procedure (appealing isn’t necessarily standard).


That will be strictly applied here.

The arguments here seem to have been very weak and misconstrued. If it wasn’t for the suppression it could have looked like a lame publicity stunt by someone who has enough knowledge and ignorance of legal procedures to be a time wasting nuisance to the courts.

Full judgment here

Politicians and evolving New Zild

There’s been a bit of discussion about pronunciation of the English language in New Zealand.

Pronunciation of any language keeps evolving, and English varies enormously around the world, and in New Zealand regionally and over time.

Quite a bit of attention is paid to the pronunciation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who seems to use a lot of lazy language, and also Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges who seems to be more of a mangler. The two pronounce things quite differently to each other and to many others here.

What about the other leaders? James Shaw is different again, and Green co-leader Marama Davidson is a bit different again. Like them ACT leader David Seymour seems to escape criticism of his accent.

Winston Peters sounds different again, and so does Shane Jones for that matter.

Our accents all sound quite different to New Zealanders in video or audio clips from 50 years ago, and 70 years ago.

There’s southern variations, and rural North Island variations, and South Auckland variations, and other parts of Auckland variations depending on concentrations and origins of immigrants.

The only think fixed about language pronunciation is that it will always keep changing, and these days in New Zealand  the variations can be quite noticeable across generations.

Because we here politicians speaking more than most people outside our normal lives we notice their nuances and mangles and variations more than most.

There’s no correct way to pronounce anything. Few people actually speak ‘the Queen’s English’, which is quaint and dated and to me sounds more unnatural than Ardern or Bridges.

But it gives us something to talk about other than the weather.

New Zealand to go down to Level 3 next Monday night, 27 April

Jacinda Ardern has just announced that we will be lowering our Covid alert level to level 3 next Monday 27 April at 11:59 pm (after the Anzac Day long weekend).

The Government has announced New Zealand will move out of Alert Level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm on Monday 27 April. We are still in Alert Level 4 until then.

We will hold at Alert Level 3 for two weeks, before Cabinet reviews how we are tracking and makes further decisions on 11 May.

The Government’s decision today allows many businesses to get going again, and for many people to go back to work.

Schools will be able to open soon after we move into Alert Level 3.

This will allow more business activity like construction and forestry, but it won’t allow any more social activity, which is close to bugger all.

They still want the vast majority of people working from home, and the majority of children working from home.

We will then go to Alert Level 3 for 2 weeks.

This is what was recommended by the Directory General of Health.

The virtual ban on weddings and funerals continues under level 3.

The Government has announced that New Zealand can safely move out of Alert Level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm on Monday 27 April.

The Government has announced New Zealand will move out of Alert Level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm on Monday 27 April. We are still in Alert Level 4 until then.

We will hold at Alert Level 3 for two weeks, before Cabinet reviews how we are tracking and makes further decisions on 11 May.

The Government’s decision today allows many businesses to get going again, and for many people to go back to work.

Schools will be able to open soon after we move into Alert Level 3.

At Alert Level 3 we will need to be even more vigilant. All of us will need to unite against COVID-19 by sticking to the rules.

The Golden Rules for life at Alert Level 3

  1. Stay home. If you are not at work, school, exercising or getting essentials then you must be at home, the same as at level 4.
  2. Work and learn from home if you can. We still want the vast majority of people working from home, and children and young people learning from home. At risk students and staff should also stay at home, and they will be supported to do so. Early learning centres and schools will physically be open for up to Year 10 for families that need them.
  3. Make your business covid-19 safe. Covid-19 has spread in workplaces, so the quid pro quo of being able to open is doing it in a way that doesn’t spread the virus.
  4. Stay regional. You can exercise at parks or beaches within your region, but the closer to home the better. Activities must be safe – keep 2 metres away from anybody not in your bubble. Make minimal trips.
  5. Keep your bubble as small as possible. If you need to, you can expand your bubble a small amount to bring in close family, isolated people or caregivers.
  6. Wash your hands often with soap. Then dry them. Cough and sneeze into your elbow.
  7. If you are sick, stay at home and quickly seek advice from your GP or Healthline about getting a test. There is no stigma to COVID-19. We will only be successful if everyone is willing to play their part in finding it wherever it is.
  8. If you are sick, stay at home and seek advice from your GP or Healthline about getting a test.

There is no stigma to COVID-19. We will only be successful if everyone is willing to play their part in finding it wherever it is.

This week businesses will be allowed to get ready to open, including employers re-entering premises to receive stock if necessary – but we ask that in doing so they stick to social distancing and their bubbles.

The Golden Rules for businesses at Alert Level 3

  1. If your business requires close physical contact it can’t operate.
  2. Your staff should work from home if they can.
  3. Customers cannot come onto your premises. Unless you are a supermarket, dairy, petrol station, pharmacy or permitted health service.
  4. Your business must be contactless. Your customers can pay online, over the phone or in a contactless way. Delivery or pick-up must also be contactless.
  5. Basic hygiene measures must be maintained. Physical distancing, hand washing and regularly cleaning surfaces. Workers must stay home if they are sick.
  6. If you used PPE in your business before COVID-19, then keep using it in the same way. If you didn’t use PPE in your business before COVID-19, you don’t need it now. This is advice for retailers, manufacturers and the service industries. Different advice applies to essential healthcare workers, border agencies, courts and tribunal staff, first responders and corrections staff.
  7. You must meet all other health and safety obligations.

Beehive: Prime Minister’s remarks on COVID-19 alert level decision – April 20