Lockdowns essential for suppressing Covid but not long term solution

Returning to Covid lockdowns in New Zealand, in particular in Auckland, has meant a return to arguments over whether they are effective or a sustainable means of reducing deaths and long term health problems inflicted by the virus.

People lacking in expertise pushing for so-called ‘herd immunity’ using flawed analysis based on limited data, even if well intentioned, adds to a lot of misinformation.

But while lockdowns are a short term means of preventing large scale infections and deaths, and by preventing barely adequate at the best of times health systems from becoming overloaded. But:

“It is clear that this is not seasonal flu.”

“No country can just ride this out until we have a vaccine.”

Political pundits like Matthew Hooton are not knowledgeable enough about viruses to ton use their usual media ‘opinion’ advocacy to advise us what is the best approach to dealing with Covid.

In Hooton’s latest “armchair epidemiological reckons, I emphasised that he does not have the skills to analyse epidemiological data…he unfortunately makes rookie mistakes again.”

Dr Jin Russell takes issue with the opinion column by Hooton. This gives more insight into dealing with the pandemic than a political pusher.

In my last set of tweets on @MatthewHootonNZ‘s armchair epidemiological reckons, I emphasised that he does not have the skills to analyse epidemiological data. In his latest Herald piece, he unfortunately makes rookie mistakes again.

He includes a table of the 1330 covid cases in NZ; and describes a hospitalisation rate of 4%; with no deaths under 60 years; and “only” a 30% chance of dying in the 80+ group.

I think that most people would see a one in three chance of people over 80 dying from Covid as a very good reason to try to minimise it’s spread. Quarantining all the elderly only is not a viable option, nor i think socially acceptable, nor practical.

The gist is he’s minimising the risk of covid based on NZ MOH data; but this is really flawed.

Flawed in two ways:

1. The only variable he is taking into account in his mortality projection appears to be Age; and

2. Because he accounts only for mortality and not for morbidity associated with Covid-19. Let’s explore these.

Let’s explore these.

1. The only risk factor he highlights is Age. Yes, increasing age increases risk of mortality from covid, as we can see even from our small NZ sample. But that’s not the only risk factor for dying from covid.

This July paper published in Nature analysed other risk factors – Factors associated with COVID-19-related death using OpenSAFELY

Comorbidities such as diabetes, obesity, asthma, and others are known to correlate with increased risk of mortality from covid. Let’s look at these risk factors for the NZ population.

Diabetes: We have very high numbers of people with diabetes in NZ. An estimated 200,000 people in NZ have diabetes; with the prevalence in Māori & Pacific persons three times higher than NZ Europeans.
– MOH: About diabetes

Obesity: New Zealand has the 3rd highest obesity rate amongst adults in the OECD, with 1 in 3 adult NZers obese, and 1 in 10 children. Once again, this is disproportionately found amongst deprived communities; Māori and Pacific families.

Asthma: NZ has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world; the Asthma Foundation estimates 597,000 NZers take medication for asthma (1 in 8 adults, higher for children) with a very high burden of respiratory admissions amongst children amongst deprived families.

The Nature paper also found that people of “Black” and “South Asian” ethnicity were at increased risk of mortality. It’s important to realise that so far our current NZ covid cases are overwhelmingly amongst Europeans.
– see Stats NZ: COVID-19 data portal

In epidemiological terms, we would refer to our NZ dataset of a miserly 1665 cases (cases! deaths only 22) to be a “biased” sample; with a hopelessly small sample size. In other words, we are unable to draw any accurate predictions on how covid would impact our population from the MOH data we have.

We can’t look at our MOH data and make inferences that the virus would have this many in hospital, this many dead or chronically affected, etc, as the sample is too small, and not representative of how covid impacts populations as a whole

This is why review of the literature, and understanding of other factors is so important.

It’s not just deaths that are a problem. There are serious long term health implications for people who get Covid.

Let’s talk about morbidity from covid – what complications can it cause?

A paper published in Nature Medicine describes non-pulmonary complications from Covid-19. If it doesn’t get you in the lungs, how does it harm you? Amongst those hospitalised or seriously unwell, 30% had acute cardiac muscle injury, up to 30% acute kidney injury, 6% stroke, up to 52% signs of liver injury, 8-9% confusion or impaired consciousness.

figure1

See Nature Extrapulmonary manifestations of COVID-19


It is clear that this is not seasonal flu.

On top of that, there is increasing evidence of a post-covid syndrome, with chronic breathlessness and fatigue.

So far, we have understood that we have a very high burden of comorbidities that would make NZers more likely to die or do poorly compared to other countries, and that it would disproportionately affect our Māori, Pasific and South Asian communities. What about other factors?

Hooton doesn’t discuss this at all – a really, really important variable to consider – our healthcare capacity. In March, prior to lockdown, NZ had a total of 153 ICU beds.
RNZ (March 2020) – 153 intensive care beds in country – survey

And, of those 153 beds, just to drive the point home, only 24 were at Auckland City Hospital. Of the 24 ICU beds at our country’s largest hospital, only 6 were isolation beds. Those beds are not empty all the time, they run close to capacity.

So…we had to lockdown.

The number of ICU beds was supposed to be tripled – RNZ (May 2020) ICU beds increase as ministry tries to triple capacity

I’m not sure if that has happened yet, but even if we had the target 358 beds, that wouldn’t even get us close to the figure we would need if things got out of hand.

Our healthcare workforce is VERY thin and PPE stocks are in short supply internationally. I work in paediatrics. During Level 4 lockdown, there were plans to completely reorganise health services to treat covid patients. Thank goodness we didn’t need to go there.

To sum up – Hooton has a LONG way to go to draw any valid conclusions from our MOH data on covid. To form great public health policy, you need more skills than this. You need local understanding of our inequities, health care capacity, and distribution of comorbidities.

You need to be informed by the literature, and come to considered judgements. This is very sloppy opining, what a shame he didn’t contact some of the many very lovely, very experienced epidemiologists and infectious disease experts within his own institution.

As well as business and economic experts.

Covid is too serious and too complex for the pundit political pusher approach.


See also, from WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 21 August 2020

Globally, there are now more than 22 million reported cases of COVID-19, and 780,000 deaths.

But it’s not just the numbers of cases and deaths that matter. In many countries, the number of patients who need hospitalization and advanced care remains high, putting huge pressure on health systems and affecting the provision of services for other health needs.

Several countries around the world are now experiencing fresh outbreaks after a long period with little or no transmission.

These countries are a cautionary tale for those that are now seeing a downward trend in cases.

Progress does not mean victory.

The fact remains that most people remain susceptible to this virus.

That’s why it’s vital that countries are able to quickly identify and prevent clusters, to prevent community transmission and the possibility of new restrictions.

No country can just ride this out until we have a vaccine.

A vaccine will be a vital tool, and we hope that we will have one as soon as possible.

But there’s no guarantee that we will, and even if we do have a vaccine, it won’t end the pandemic on its own.

We must all learn to control and manage this virus using the tools we have now, and to make the adjustments to our daily lives that are needed to keep ourselves and each other safe.

So-called lockdowns enabled many countries to suppress transmission and take the pressure off their health systems.

But lockdowns are not a long-term solution for any country.

We do not need to choose between lives and livelihoods, or between health and the economy. That’s a false choice.

On the contrary, the pandemic is a reminder that health and the economy are inseparable.

But there doesn’t seem too be many experts on both epidemiology and economic matters.

Hooton leaves Leader of the Opposition office

Well known PR strategist/lobbyist and political commentator Matthew Hooton raised political eyebrows when he promoted Todd Muller’s bid for National leadership – he told RNZ “I gave him personal support as a friend” – and then took on a job in the office of the the Leader of the Opposition when Muller took over on 22 May.

He stayed on when Judith Collins took over from Muller on 14 July, but Hooton has now announced he is going “back to family and other interests in Auckland”

He made this statement on Facebook:

Well, I spent yesterday thinking about whether I could do another seven weeks commuting to Wellington, decided I didn’t want to, slept on it, and called Judith Collins this morning to say I wanted to finish in Wellington and get back to family and other interests in Auckland.

Judith was very gracious. (She’s as tough as I knew she was but I didn’t realise she is also kind and also very funny until she took over a couple of weeks ago.) I thanked her and Gerry Brownlee for the opportunity and support they had given me, especially after Todd Muller’s demise, and said I think they now have a terrific team who has a good chance of winning the election, or at least can ensure the National Party will remain a broad church after 19 September.

But I said it was time for me to move on now. I can’t justify the impact on my family and other personal and professional responsibilities for another seven weeks. Cathy Wood seems quite pleased!

I’m pleased to have contributed to getting some of National’s basic messaging done, including the standard stump speech, and also to have helped kickstart the A-to-Z policy process again. I still think the Te Puna speech I wrote for Todd was pretty good.

I will watch with great interest to see how it all unfolds over the next seven weeks. Ideally what would have been spent on my fees can now be redirected to the much more important cost centre of boosting Facebook posts!

So to all the team down in Wellington, all the very very best for the next seven weeks – and hopefully the next nine years.

And you may be hearing from me here and there sooner than you may think.It certainly has been another very interesting life experience, these last nine weeks.

And I will try to renew the resolution that I made when I got back from London last year never to visit Wellington again!

Response from Cathy Wood:

Thanks for listening to my pleas ❤️🙏🏼 Solo-mumming/full-time work was ok when you were doing philosophy in London but it’s not ok for Wellington politics!

Hooton:

 Probably should have listened nine weeks ago!

Judith Collins:

Matthew, Thank you very much for all your excellent work and sage advice. We are now in a great place. Judith

Hooton:

Thanks Judith. It has been a whole lot of fun in a very bizarre way!

Megan Campbell:

Enjoyed working with you, Matthew. Thanks for your advice, contribution and friendship.

Hooton:

Same Megan. But let’s not quite do this again! 😄

No doubt people of different political leanings will make of this whatever they like, but regardless, this moving on by Hooton is likely to make little difference to the election campaign.

Political operators and lobbyists being used by media promoting leadership coup

The media were always going to give a lot of coverage to a major party leadership challenge, as they did when Simon Bridges outed the challenge of Todd Muller and the subsequent showdown and change of leader. It was big political news and should have received prominent coverage.

But it also showed a major flaw of the media – their use of political operators and lobbyists to comment on the story.

Matthew Hooton is often used by the media in support of stories, even though he is a professional lobbyist. He was given a shot at promoting his agenda without having to disclose any possible involvement in the challenge.

And Michelle Boag suddenly popped up out of the woodwork to and was quoted a number of times in support of a change. She would be most unlikely to be an independent observer.

NZ Herald – Anatomy of a coup: How Todd Muller felled Simon Bridges and who helped him

This is behind their paywall, but a key part is repeated on Twitter:

Image

RNZ 18 May: Labour surges, National plummets in Newshub-Reid Research poll

“Clearly the leadership has failed. Simon Bridges is down to 4.5 percent. The public simply does not like him, that isn’t fair, the public simply did not like Andrew Little.

“He’s a perfectly pleasant person Andrew Little but the public did not like him, and so Labour had no choice in the end but to get rid of him, and National is now at that point.”

RNZ 19 May: Political poll results with Hooton and Jones

“This is a 25-point gap between National and Labour and that’s simply extraordinary. And the National Party has to take that very seriously, they are taking it seriously, although they do expect another poll to come out on Thursday from TVNZ by Colmar Brunton, and they’ll just see what that has to say.

“If it is as bad as this, I would expect there would be enormous pressure on the current leader and deputy leader to at least offer their resignations to the caucus.

However, a better showing in the Colmar Brunton polling might give Simon Bridges a lifeline, he says.

A “hunk” of National MPs are reluctant to be responding to polls, Hooton says.

“Their views on this is what’s going to decide Simon Bridges future.”

RNZ 21 May (audio): Collins key to National Party battle – Hooton  Political commentator Matthew Hooton speaks to Kim Hill.

RNZ 21 May: Simon Bridges’ tactics likely to lose him the leadership challenge – commentator

Political commentator Matthew Hooton said Bridges’ move to call the leadership vote was an own goal.

“I think it was another example of the poor political judgement that has plagued his political leadership quite frankly.

“I think Simon Bridges’ move yesterday was probably one of the most extraordinary acts of political harikari that we’ve seen.”

Hooton said Muller’s supporters would likely have lost their nerve there would have been no challenge.

“But by taunting Muller, forcing him and … Nikki Kaye to act … there is now a vote on Friday.

“And I think, the way this is going, Mr Bridges will lose and Muller will become leader of the party.

If Bridges survived the leadership vote it would cost the party any chance of winning the election in September, he said.

If Muller and Kaye failed in their challenge Bridges would demote them to the backbenches which would cost the party votes.

“He cannot afford to lose Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye from his senior team, or else he will lose support from both farmers, provincial New Zealanders, and also urban liberals in Auckland.

RNZ 22 May (audio): Commentator backing Muller to win National Party challenge Political commentator Matthew Hooton is supporting Muller to win – Kim Hill asked him how close does he expect the vote to be.

But Hooton was promoting leadership change – in a last NZ herald column last month (24 April) Matthew Hooton (column): Simon Bridges’ leadership beyond salvaging

Hooton is a regular on RNZ and in NZ Herald and is usually a worthwhile commentator, but it’s fair to ask whether his opinions promoted this week were independent of the leadership coup.

If it turns out he was working for Muller that would not reflect well on him due to lack of disclosure, but woukld also refelct poorly onn the media who give him free publicity.

Michelle Boag is not a regular on media, but managed to be given a say on the challenge too.

Newstalk ZB 19 May – Michelle Boag: Bridges could be another victim of Covid-19 fallout

Michelle Boag says it’s no surprise people have responded positively to the Prime Minister – whose ratings shot up to almost 60 percent.

She told Chris Lynch Arden’s been visible everywhere during the pandemic and Bridges hasn’t.

“There is no doubt there’s a good chance of him becoming yet another victim of Covid-19.”

She says that will be up to the Caucus to decide the leader’s fate.

RNZ 21 May: Former National Party president Michelle Boag on leadership challenge Former National Party president Michelle Boag speaks to Corin Dann.

RNZ 21 May: Simon Bridges’ tactics likely to lose him the leadership challenge – commentator

Former National Party president Michelle Boag told Morning Report Bridges shot himself in the foot by holding the vote tomorrow rather than next week.

This was because it made it harder for other leadership contenders to jump into the race, and those unhappy with Bridges’ leadership could rally around one candidate rather than their votes being split between a number of challengers.

However calling for the leadership vote was the right decision, she said.

“I think it’s the right thing for the National Party to get this sorted as quickly as possible and I think the caucus will be really pleased to have an early opportunity to do that.”

She said the need for a leadership vote was not solely prompted by the recent poll.

“It is about months and months, and sometimes years, of these MPs having negative feedback about their leader, not only from party members but from constituents.

“So while the poll may have been the thing that sparked [it] – the catalyst for this challenge – there’s no doubt this has been building for a long time.”

Boag popping up in media is a sure sign that she is promoting some sort of outcome.

I think that with important political issues, and leadership changes rank right up there, media should take care not to promote people with interests in the outcomes.

Cameron Slater, one of the most agenda driven political operators around, was given some oxygen by John Banks on radio during the week to talk about the National leadership challenge, but the only leader Slater seems interested in promoting these days is Winston Peters.

How much have the mosque killings changed New Zealand?

Two different views on whether we have been changed by last year’s Christchurch mosque killings.

I’m somewhere in between those views. I don’t feel changed, but some things have changed.

Obviously there has been significant change to our firearm laws, with high powered semi-automatic firearms mostly now banned and handed in. It should also be even harder to get a firearm license, but in my experience the renal process was already rigorous.

There have been large and widespread expressions of sympathy and support for Muslim communities in New Zealand. While the visible expressions have been a change, those expressing would have mostly if not entirely been sympathetic to this sort of tragedy anyway, regardless of who the victims were.

Going by online opinions and exposure of far right extremists intolerance of Muslims and Islam hasn’t changed for some, but they are likely to be a small minority.

In some ways things will have changed for Muslims and Muslim communities in New Zealand – they will now be more cautious and probably fearful of something similar being repeated. That change will be fundamental to them.

To an extent prejudice, intolerance and abuse continues. The amount of this may or may not have changed much.

Every big tragedy changes things, but it’s difficult to judge by how much. A lot also remains much the same.

Ardern is partly right, there has been fundamental changes.

But Hooton is also right, “by and large we were “good-hearted, practical, commonsensical and tolerant” – they majority of us anyway.

 

Polls hardly help Simon bridges

While one of the poll results just released may give Simon Bridges some confidence he may hang on to his job as National leader the rest of the results remain dismal for him, with his personal results very low (and lower than Judith Collins), and National slumping to 37.4% in one party poll.

The good news:

  • Colmar Brunton has National bouncing back to 44% (up 4), close to Labour on 42%.

The bad news:

  • Colmar Brunton ‘preferred Prime Minister’ – Bridges 5%, Collins 6%, Ardern 45%
  • Reid Research – Labour 50.8%, National 37.4%
  • Reid Research – ‘preferred PM’ – bridges 4.2%, Collins 7.1%, Ardern 49%
  • Reid Research – government performing well 72.5%
  • Reid Research – “Was National right to seek out and release Budget details before Budget Day?” yes 32.6%, no 55.4%

Poll: Most New Zealanders think National was wrong to leak Treasury Budget details

“We did the right thing in exposing weaknesses in the Government,” Bridges said.

“I think it’s something you can’t be driven on polls by.”

His near future as leader may depend on what Natikonal’s internal polls are saying. If they are anything like Colmar Brunton then Bridges may hang on for a while yet, but if they are closer to Reid Research then National may decided that decisive action is required.

At Kiwiblog in A tale of two polls David Farrar focuses on the poll discrepancies and ignores National’s and Bridges’ results and says:

Bottom line is that at least one of those polls is wrong. They can’t both be right.

What he doesn’t say (and can’t really) is how National;s internal polls compare. His Curia Research does these polls for National.

One comment (Captain Mainwaring):

Looks like TV3 did their poll at the teachers union HQ and TV1 did theirs at the RSA.
Polling is expensive, got to do it the cheapest way possible.
But whichever one you believe, Bridges is toast. Lets get it over quickly and cleanly, preferably by QT Tuesday.

Most other references involving Bridges are complaining about Tova O’Brien emphasising the poor polls for Bridges (she and Newshub have habits of trying to make big news out of little numbers) – National nosedives into dreaded 30s, could trigger leadership coup

Matthew Hooton (@MatthewHootonNZ):

Great night for . We all get to choose our poll to suit our spin. Except on one matter.

  1. The leadership situation in reminds me of that in until a couple of weeks ago. It is obvious the current leadership is unsustainable and that there is only one alternative that would be credible to the party membership, media and public.
  2. However, that alternative scares or is opposed on other grounds by sufficient numbers of MPs to prevent the change, keeping the incumbent in the job.
  3. In both cases, the incumbent does not have any genuine support in the party except a very small group of advisors whose own careers depend on hers/his.
  4. But the opposition to the only credible candidate prompts fantasies of other alternatives, and those being speculated about to get their hopes up.
  5. While the MPs waste their time on naval-gazing, the party’s position only gets worse. Moreover no real policy progress can be made because everyone is waiting for the leadership change.
  6. There are even those who say “well, the next election is obviously lost so we are better to let the incumbent take the blame for that and then the successor can take over after that”. This is an insult to those who genuinely see Ardern/Corbyn as needing to be defeated.
  7. Eventually what happens is that the situation gets so bad it forces events. That has happened with the but not with .
  8. Those in the National caucus taking the cynical “Simon can take the fall in 2020” attitude need to search their consciences. They have a responsibility to take whatever steps are needed to maximise the chances of defeating a totally incompetent and increasingly corrupt govt.
  9. Just as Boris Johnson is the candidate most likely to defeat Corbyn, is the candidate most likely to defeat . She has a duty to step up. And the caucus has a duty to back her even if some of them don’t like her very much. More tomorrow.

There will no doubt be more about the National leadership.

See:

Members of ‘digital and media expert group’ respond

Yesterday members of the ‘Digital and media expert group’ advising on social media regulation revealed.

There was some interaction on this on Twitter with two of the members, Nat Torkington and Lizzie Marvelly.

@MatthewHootonNZ:

What are its objectives? What is Its work programme? It looks to me like a sinister Labour move so censor dissent, like they did with the Electoral Finance Bill.

@LizzieMarvelly responded with information that the Prime Minister’s office withheld from Hooton’s OIA request – what the objectives of the group are:

It is an informal group of tech sector, legal and media folks that can provide feedback on request to help the Government to make sure its work in this area is effective and well-informed. This is an important kaupapa, particularly given what happened in Chrischurch.

To be clear, by ‘this area’, I mean social media policy proposals.

@MatthewHootonNZ:

There is no such thing as an “informal” group if it is set up by DPMC and the PM discusses it the day of its first meeting with the political editor of the NZ Herald.

Why haven’t you declared your involvement in it? How much have you been paid? What is the work programme? Has there been a second meeting?

At that point Marvelly disengaged from the discussion, but Torkington joined in.

@gnat (Torkington):

Oh hai, Lizzie. Is it normal for you to get this kind of pig-dog blind aggression? I’ve never encountered it before. It’s like being hassled by an uppity mall cop. “I know you think you’re a knight defender of Western democracy, but your cap gun and plastic badge fool nobody.”

Pig-dog blind aggression? Torkington’s lack of encountering what looks fairly reasonable questioning to me suggests that he is not much of an expert on social media, or politics. I wonder if he has ever watched Question Time in Parliament.

@AlisonMau:

It’s very normal, Nat. For Lizzie and lots of other women.

And men. While women like Marvelly are subject to some awful stuff, that’s not what happened here, so this is trying to swing the conversation to a different agenda.

Torkington:

I understood that intellectually, but this is my first time in the Flappy Asshole Blast Zone. And I know this is tame in comparison to threats of sexual violence, doxxing, families, professional fuckery, etc. that y’all get every day. You deserve a🏅for showing up every day!

Later in the day Marvelly got involved again.

If the expert advisory group had been announced and named by the Prime Minister, and it’s objectives revealed rather than kept secret, then this sideshow wouldn’t have happened.

There are benefits with being open and transparent, but the current Government seems intent on avoiding walking that talk.

 

‘Digital and media expert group’ advising on social media regulation revealed

It has taken an Official Information Act request to reveal the members of a digital and media expert group assembled by the Prime Minister to advise her on possible regulation of social media.

Information about the objectives of the group was withheld – “I have considered the public interest considerations”, but surely secrecy is not in the public interest here.

NZ Herald (6 April 2019): Ardern changes down a gear from speedy gun reform to social media landscape

The areas of policy in which Ardern will be more deliberately paced are in regulation of social media, and other issues that impinge on media generally, free speech and the free exchange of ideas. The effects would be more wide-ranging and could be insidious.

Ardern has put together a group of digital and media experts who met with her for the first time in Auckland yesterday to discuss what happened and may be a sounding board and think tank for future policy proposals.

NZ Herald (8 April 2019):  Jacinda Ardern calls for global approach to block harm on digital platforms

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the global community should “speak with one voice” when it comes to blocking harmful content on social media platforms.

Ardern has criticised the role of social media in the Christchurch terror attack on March 15, and she met with a group of digital media experts in Auckland on Friday to learn more about the issue.

“I wanted to make sure I had the views of those that work in the [social media] space, particularly given that questions are being raised around what role New Zealand could and should play in this debate at an international level.”

Many people ‘work in the [social media] space’. Meeting with an unnamed group is only going to get a small number of views.

She said she would be happy to say who she met with, but would seek their permission to do so first.

So if people she meets with don’t want to be revealed Ardern would keep this secret?

Matthew Hooton spotted the reference to the ‘expert group’ so put in an OIA request asking who the experts were, and also who had been invited but couldn’t attend. Yesterday he received a response.

Official Information Act request relating to the digital and media expert group the Prime Minister met with on 5 April 2019.

The group provides an informal way to test policy ideas and inform government thinking about its response to the role of social media in the events of 15 March 2019 in Christchurch. The people currently involved are:

  • Jordan Carter, Chief Executive, Internet NZ
  • Nat Torkington, technologist
  • Miriyana Alexander, Premium Content Editor, NZME
  • Rick Shera, Internet and Digital Business Law Partner, Lowndes Jordan
  • Michael Wallmansberger, cybersecurity professional, independent director; Chair of the CERT NZ Establishment Advisory Board
  • Victoria Maclennan, Managing Director, MD OptimalBI Ltd; Chair of the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group; Co-Chair, NZRise
  • John Wesley-Smith, GL Regulatory Affairs, Spark
  • Lizzie Marvelly, NZ Herald columnist, Villainesse.com co-founder and editor

Not all people involved in the group attended the meeting on Friday, 5 April 20129.

The Office and the department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet assembled the group to have a mix of technology sector, media and legal expertise. The Government Chief Digital Officer and the Minister for Government Digital Services, Hon Dr Megan Woods, provided input on their selection.

To the question for “5. Information on future meetings and the objectives and work programme for the group”:

With regards to question five no formal work programme has been established.

Information was withheld on future meetings and the objectives, and also on these requests:

  • What were the objectives for the group at it’s first meeting?
  • All notes taken by officials or ministerial staff at the first meeting.

So until now we had a semi-secret advisory group, and the objectives and work programme are still secret.

What happened to Ardern’s Government’s promises of openness and transparency?

Ardern’s Chief of Staff closed his OIA response with:

In making my decision, I have considered the public interest considerations in section 9(1) of the Act.

From the Act:

9 Other reasons for withholding official information

(1) Where this section applies, good reason for withholding official information exists, for the purpose of section 5, unless, in the circumstances of the particular case, the withholding of that information is outweighed by other considerations which render it desirable, in the public interest, to make that information available.

I would have thought that it was desirable in the public interest for discussions on social media regulation to be as open as possible.

Social media is used by and affects many people. This sort of secrecy on an advisory group on possible social media regulation is alarming.

Consultation should be as wide as possible, and given the medium involved, that should be easy to do.


Martyn Bradbury makes a reasonable point: Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm shouldn’t an advisory board to the PM on censoring the internet require some academics and experts on civil rights and freedom of speech?

How hopeless is National’s current situation?

Now that National seems to have settled in the very low forties in the polls, below Labour and well below Labour+Greens+NZ First, they have a big political hill to climb before next year’s election, especially with the surge in support for Labour and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Even if either or both of Greens and NZ First miss the threshold next year Labour is in a strong position, with a leader who is widely liked versus National with leader Simon Bridges who appears to be widely disliked, or dismissed as not up to the job.

Which means National is in a weak position. This could change, but that would probably need a bad turn for the worse for labour, or for the economy. And it would probably also need National to find a new leader who is respected. Bridges is being written off by National leaning voters as much as anyone.

Matthew Hooton is either being realistic, or is trying to shock National into dumping Bridges: Jacinda Ardern on track for triumph in 2020

Moving towards the election, National will argue that a vote for NZ First is a vote for Ardern, which will be true as far as it goes. But just as truthfully, as more centre voters recognise National’s position as hopeless, Winston Peters or Shane Jones will be able to pitch that a vote for NZ First is a vote to keep the Greens out of Cabinet and major social or economic change off the table.

National now needs to face facts: it and Act are close to 20 points behind the three governing parties.

Bizarrely, some on the centre-right seem to take comfort from the most recent 1 News Colmar Brunton poll — completed before Ardern took the CGT off the table — putting National and Act on 41 per cent. They seem to overlook the fact that this puts them a full 17 points behind Labour, NZ First and the Greens, who were on a combined 58 per cent.

To put this in perspective, gaps of more than 15 points between opposition and governing blocs are exceptionally rare in New Zealand.

Were such a result to occur on election night, it would sit alongside the two worst political debacles in living memory.

By and large, National MPs remain in denial about how hopeless their position is, especially following Ardern’s CGT move.

They misunderstand that, in a country that is generally content, Ardern’s very flakiness on any substantial policy matter is one of the Coalition’s strengths.

That her every utterance is devoid of content and that her Government has no meaningful policy programme is exactly the way the median voter likes it.

Sadly for centre-right voters, it looks as if National will need to repeat its trauma of 2002 and Labour’s of 2014 before it wakes up to the magnitude of the task and difficulty of the decisions required to become a viable alternative government again.

There have been various reports recently about Bridges being poorly supported by National MPs, and numbers being counted.

But do they have the gumption to actually do anything? Or are they going to wait until it gets worse for them before they act?

There are suggestions that prospective alternate leaders see next year’s election as lost anyway so don’t want to try to step up before then. That defeatist approach is bad enough as a strategy – taking over from the captain of a sinking ship isn’t a very smart plan – but it also shows a lack of leadership potential.

Judith Collins is often suggested as waiting in the wings, but it seems that she is not liked by enough MPs to get win their confidence. So who else is there? Ardern wasn’t rated until she got elevated in an emergency situation. There could be someone in the national ranks who could do a good job of stepping up.

The problem with politics is showing good leadership skills – and intent – is frowned upon, especially by current leadership, so it is difficult to judge the abilities of all National MPs.

If the National caucus has any serious contenders hidden in their midst they should be showing leadership and try to take over before things get too bad,

Otherwise they look to be in a hopeless political situation, and just accepting that and struggling on makes them look undeserving of voter support.

Sroubek texts to Ardern released under OIA

Texts to the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about the decision to grant Kaerl Sroubek residency were requested under the Official Information Act.

RNZ:  Texts to prime minister about Sroubek released

A text message from social justice campaigner Richie Hardcore to the prime minister thanked her for granting Czech drug smuggler Karel Sroubek residency.

Jacinda Ardern’s office released the text message following pressure from the Opposition last year.

The text message was in response to Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway granting Sroubek residency.

The minister subsequently issued him a deportation notice after new information came to light.

Mr Hardcore’s text said he and his friends wanted to pass on their respects and praise for the residency decision and, while Sroubek had made a “bunch of really bad choices”, deep down he was a good guy.

Ms Ardern didn’t respond to the text, which was sent at the end of October, not long after Sroubek’s case hit the headlines and it was revealed Mr Lees-Galloway took less than an hour to approve his residency.

A second text message was also received by Ms Ardern on 9 November from convicted fraudster Alex Swney.

It said: “U r too polite to say it but I will – Bridges & the Nats r being bastards about this Sroubek saga. I want to assist with information I hve included in an email I hve copied u in on. If I can please advise [redacted] … Best – Alex.”

Swney spent time in prison with Sroubek.

A spokesperson for Ms Ardern…

…said the government was deporting Sroubek and “Ministers did not have all the critical information when making the first decision, but now that we have all the info he is being deported”.

“This correspondence proves the PM had no involvement in this case or any of the decisions made about it. Text messages to her were sent after the first decision. They were unsolicited and not replied to.

“People write to the prime minister and offer their opinions about government decisions every day. She can’t control their opinions but has taken the step of changing the phone number she’s had for years, to limit unsolicited contact on her phone.”

Surprising it has taken over a year to switch to a more private phone number.

National Party immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse:

“Why was Sroubek’s main supporter texting her directly to pass on his ‘respect and praise’ over the decision to allow Sroubek to stay in New Zealand in spite of Sroubek’s criminal history and the fact he came here on a false passport?”

“Why was one of Sroubek’s fellow inmates – Alex Swney – texting and emailing the prime minister information on the case, which has only now been revealed in spite of months of questioning? And what was that information and what is her relationship with Mr Swney?

“The whole thing stinks. Karel Sroubek should never have been granted residency, the government should never have tried to keep it secret, and the prime minister should not be involved in any way in such a decision, especially ones which allowed a convicted criminal to remain in New Zealand.”

Ardern’s office:

There had never been an issue with releasing the messages, “but [we] wanted to get guidance from the ombudsman to make sure we don’t infringe on others’ rights to privacy, the spokesperson said.

“Given that advice we are happy to release them now.”

On Friday afternoon, a time favoured for releasing unfavourable information, texts have been released.  Ardern is heading to Europe, which will increase the impression that she is avoiding fronting up on this issue.

Matthew Hooton was one of those who requested that the texts be released.

 

 

Hooton: “the real corruption in the New Zealand media”

Matthew Hooton gets good coverage in media, but he is quite critical of the hand that feeds him publicity in ‘I’m completely squeaky clean’: an interview with Matthew Hooton (The Spinoff):

“I think the real corruption in the New Zealand media comes from so-called academics frankly and Labour Party operatives embedded in the media.

“If I look at the people in PR who commentate and the people who work for unions I don’t think they represent any threat to the integrity of the New Zealand media compared with people who are basically political activists posing as journalists.

“…in New Zealand – and it’s a worldwide problem – commentary has moved into reporting. It’s terrible. When I started doing political commentary 30 years ago the basic facts of what might have occurred were established by reporters and reported in quite a bland almost boring manner. And then there were the commentators.

“One of the big risks, one of the problems that’s occurred, and Fox News is the most notorious, is the merging of reporting and commentating. That’s a far greater issue than some PR person or union boss popping up and saying what they think.”

I think he could have a solid point here – especially as the media has control of which PR person or union boss pops up and what is published, but at times seem out of control with their own involvement in commentating and influencing politics rather than just reporting. At times the lines between journalism and activism seemed badly blurred.

“Corruption” was the word he chose in August last year to describe TV3 political editor Tova O’Brien’s reporting on the Simon Bridges expenses story – which, of course, ended up mutating into the Jami-Lee Ross saga. His remarks at the time seemed – how to put it? – a bit hysterical.

“Oh, it’s a phrase,” he breezed. “They enjoyed that and ran it on the news. It was good for their ratings.”

‘Good for their ratings’ is a major factor in the evolution of political media. Most functional politics is quite boring and un-newsworthy, so there tends to be an overemphasis on the sensational and over-sensationalised.

“It’s hyperbole. That was taken from a talkback context and they put it on the news, right? It’s all fine. But that’s the biggest risk in the New Zealand media I think – where does reporting stop and where does commentating begin?”

One change has been more prominence given to the reporter over the report – media (mainly television) try to make celebrities out of reporters.

Another change is the way news is presented to us. Newspapers (the print versions) still tend to have news sections and opinion sections so you have a good idea what you are getting in each part of the paper, but online (on their own sites these articles are arranged by popularity and clickbaitability.

Or by Twitter or Facebook, who may not care about differentiation between news and opinion.

There is probably nothing we can do about this. Some of us may be discerning and able to differentiate between news, commentary, opinion and activism, but to most people it is mostly a big mash up and they see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear.

But this has diverted from a key claim made by Hooton – “the real corruption in the New Zealand media comes from so-called academics frankly and Labour Party operatives embedded in the media”.

However this angle was not explored in the interview. This deserves more attention.

It’s well known that many journalists get recruited in political PR departments – but ‘Labour Party operatives embedded in the media’, if true, is a serious accusation with no sign of evidence.