Claytons denial from Ministers about the PM gag memo

A curious Claytons denial from two Ministers about the memo sent out by the Prime Minister’s office s that directed them not to have interviews or answer questions about the Friday dump of documents.

Both James Shaw and David Clark said they didn’t personally receive the email, but the news reports clearly stated that the memo was sent to Ministerial offices.  Ministers don’t personally deal with a lot of email. Ministerial staff also manage what interviews Ministers do, and deal with Ministerial statements.

James Shaw was asked on The Nation on Saturday:

“It seems that the Government wants to be transparent by dumping all these documents on Friday afternoon, yet there’s been a directive from the Prime Minister not to talk to the media about it. Did you get that memo, is that the kind of politics you want to play?”

Shaw began his response somewhat awkwardly:

A Ah um I I personally didn’t.  Um my understanding is that that went out to agencies…

Ministers don’t personally deal with a lot of correspondence including emails. They have staff for that. And the news of the memo didn’t say the memo was sent to Ministers: 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.

Clearly this states “sent to Beehive staff “.

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

“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.”

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

It looks a bit like another memo may have been sent out with another ‘key message’ directive. On Sunday Minister of Health David Clark had a similar response: David Clark rejects idea Government ministers were gagged following COVID-19 document dump

Dr Clark said he didn’t receive the leaked email and only heard about it once the media reported it.

As with Shaw that doesn’t rule out his office receiving the email. Clark also made the point that he was ‘fronting up’:

At a press conference on Sunday morning where he announced increases to Pharmac’s funding, Dr David Clark said he was fronting media and answering questions on the documents “right now” and he’d also answered additional questions in interviews on Saturday.

“I’m comfortable and confident talking about the release of materials [about] the advice that the Government had received. As a Government, we’ve been transparent about the decisions we’ve made,”

Clark hardly ever sounds confident talking to media, including at this time. And his announcement of the Pharmac funding could have been timed and staged to try to contradict the directives from the memo.  It was a pre-budget announcement, they are typically done as part of the Government budget PR strategy.

One of the memo talking points was “”Evidence shows our decisions were the right ones”.  Clark had a similar response but worded differently.

“I think overaching all of this is the results, and um and you know they speak for themselves…that suggests that going hard and going early was the right strategy”.

Back to Shaw at Newshub: James Shaw defends gag on ministers talking about COVID-19 documents

A Ah um I I personally didn’t.  Um my understanding is that that went out to agencies ah and that is because it is really important in a time of crisis that the Government speaks with one voice, and the prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been that voice, and I think it’s appropriate she continues to be that voice..

So Shaw defended the intent of the memo – that Ardern is ‘the voice’.

Asked: “So ok, so Ministers can’t talk about their respective areas and it all has to come from the Prime Minister, are you happy with that?”

A very hesitant response from Shaw – a common sign of thinking through what one should say in advance:

“Um, well I am talking about climate change Simon, I’ve been talking about climate change the entire time…

A similar response to Clark, saying he is talking about his portfolio.

Asked “Ok, but in terms of the way of operating are you happy with that, for other ministers as well, you’re buying into that?”

“Well like I said, ah I think it is entirely appropriate at a time of national crisis, the scale of which we haven’t seen since the  great depression and World War 2, that the Government speaks with one voice, I don’t think that there’s anything strange about that at all.”

Again he defends the aim of the memo, for Ministers to avoid talking about the Covid response and contents of document dump apart from with suggested phrases.

It could be a tough campaign for the Greens if they can’t claim any credit for the handling of Covid. Wil they really be happy for Ardern to attract all the votes for that?

Clark and Shaw may be technically correct that they didn’t personally receive the gag email, but they both made similar denials that aren’t really denials.


From NZ Herald:

Former MP Peter Dunne said today that email was a sign this Government was no different from any others in practising 9th floor “grubby” tactics.

While the PM’s office has called the email “clumsy”, Dunne told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking “that doesn’t hide the fact they see themselves as bullet-proof, ‘we don’t need to explain, everyone loves us’.”

“People have not seen [Jacinda Ardern] a control freak before… this reveals the reality. It also acknowledges the fact this is a Cabinet with some mighty weak links, probably more than average.”


More from Stuff:  Beehive scrambled to contain email telling ministers to ‘dismiss’ questions about Covid-19 response

The prime minister’s office now says the email — which was provided to press gallery journalists hours after the Government publicly released hundreds of Cabinet papers — was a “clumsy instruction”.

Stuff can reveal the Beehive asked public servants to delete the email, after it was wrongly sent beyond parliament’s walls.

The email from Rob Carr, a senior ministerial adviser to the prime minister, was sent to the staff of Government ministers and to staff at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) who had worked on making public the documents.

A spokesman for the prime minister on Sunday said it was an error to send the email to public servants, due to the political messaging it contained, however it was “simply intended to be a heads-up” that the documents were being made public.

Again clearly sent to the staff of Ministers, so the Ministers denying receiving it personally are correct but misleading by major omission.

“[The email] was more about not re-litigating the past, and it shouldn’t have been framed as dismissing … It was more a clumsy instruction.”

Sounds to me more like an embarrassing reveal of PM PR procedures.


Tim Watkins: Gagging Order Is Double Dumb: Disrespecting Public Sacrifice & Damaging Brand Ardern

With much power comes much responsibility. And the government has a phenomenal amount of power right now, in the midst of a pandemic that has seen public money propping up the national economy, parliament on furlough and public officials granted special powers. Which is why any talk of gagging leaves such a bad taste.

…All of which is why the gagging order delivered by the 9th floor to ministers on Friday stands out like a sore, distasteful thumb.

It’s dumb on a range of levels.

Morally – or perhaps constitutionally – the New Zealand public has allowed this government at this time extraordinary powers and deserves at the very least in return full and frank information from cabinet. They deserve respect for the sacrifices made, not dismissal. To tell political staff to “dismiss” the questions of journalists working to keep that public informed is deeply cynical and defensive. It’s bad enough in the normal sweep of events; in these troubled times it’s shameful.

New Zealanders haven’t stayed home and saved lives, loss their livelihoods, skipped funerals and put their lives on hold to have questions about how and why decisions are being made dismissed by those paid to serve them.

Second, it undermines the brand.

For Jacinda Ardern, its about being kind and open and different from all those other politicians who, well, aren’t. Through several crises now she has dissolved Labour’s reputation in Opposition for a lack of competence. But key to her political success is this sense that she is not just a power-monger, but a caring and sensible person who gets voters and can be trusted to act in our best interest, even with extraordinary powers.

So for emails to be coming out from her closest advisors implying her office doesn’t trust voters with full and frank disclosure and that those voters’ confidence in her is being taken for granted – banked and exploited – is damaging. Any way you slice it.

Watkins obviously not impressed.

 

Jacinda Ardern’s statement marking halfway point of lockdown

From the Beehive:

Prime Minister’s remarks halfway through Alert Level 4 lockdown

Today is day 15 of Alert Level 4 lockdown.

And at the halfway mark I have no hesitation in saying, that what New Zealanders have done over the last two weeks is huge.

In the face of the greatest threat to human health we have seen in over a century, Kiwis have quietly and collectively implemented a nationwide wall of defence.

You are breaking the chain of transmission. And you did it for each other.

As a Government, we may have had pandemic notices. We may have had powers that come with being in a national emergency. But you held the greatest power of all. You made the decision that together, we could protect one other. And you have.

You have saved lives.

Modelling provided to my office by economist Rodney Jones on the eve of the lockdown suggested New Zealand was on a similar trajectory to potentially Italy and Spain and that our 205 cases on the 25th of March could have grown to over 10,000 by now without the actions we have taken together.

And new modelling due to be released later today by Te Punaha Matatini suggests that the current controls at Alert Level 4 have already had a significant impact on new case numbers and we are on track to meet their most optimistic scenario.

Instead of the horrific scenes we have seen abroad we are at 1239 cases, and the total number of cases has fallen for the last four days with 29 new cases today, the lowest daily number of cases since the 23rd of March, before the lockdown began.

We are turning a corner, and your commitment means our plan is working.

But to succeed, we need it to keep working. Success does not mean we change the course. Removing restrictions now would allow the virus to spread rapidly once again and we would be back to the starting line within two weeks. That’s also why we will keep enforcing the rules. In addition you will have seen an increase in police enforcement in recent days, I expect that to continue, including road blocks in some places this Easter weekend. While most people are doing the right thing, some are not. We cannot let the selfish actions of a few set us back. And we won’t.

Especially after all that everyone has sacrificed to get us here.

I have read messages from those who have lost loved ones they couldn’t come together to grieve for, brand new parents whose most joyful time has been made so difficult because of separation. Businesses who are worried for their livelihoods and for the family that are their employees.

I am acutely aware of the pain many New Zealanders are feeling.

Over 1 million of our fellow citizens are now supported by a wage subsidy, many of whom will be experiencing a cut in income.

At the end of March there were already an extra 4,866 Kiwis on a benefit, and last week that number increased by another 10,000. And many businesses are reporting that they may not be able to re-open at the end of the lockdown period.

I want to give you all the assurance that I can, that the health and wellbeing of you and our communities has always been on our minds as we have made decisions on COVID-19, but so has your livelihoods.

We will continue to stand alongside you.

We have made record investments to keep as many businesses as possible afloat and people in jobs. We are doing what we can to cushion the blow and plan for our recovery.

But as I’ve said, this is going to be a marathon.

Our plan for that marathon, is to keep eliminating the virus from New Zealand. We can do that by keeping it out of the country, but also by rapidly stamping out any outbreaks that flare up. And that plan is the very best thing we can also do for the New Zealand economy.

The best economic response continues to be a strong health response.

That’s why I am announcing the next stage of initiatives to scale up our health response to put us in the best position possible to exit Level 4 and prepare for Level 3.

No matter what level we are at in the future, there are three areas where we need to become water tight.

Firstly, our borders must be tightly managed.

That’s why from midnight tonight every New Zealander boarding a flight to return home will be required to undergo quarantine or what we have called managed isolation in an approved facility for a minimum of 14 days.

I am also signalling that the requirement for 14 days of quarantine or managed self-isolation in a government-approved facility, will be a prerequisite for anyone entering the country in order to keep the virus out.

As an island nation we have a distinct advantage in our ability to eliminate the virus, but our borders are also our biggest risk.

The Government has gone harder earlier with border measures compared to other countries, but even one person slipping through the cracks and bringing the virus in can see an explosion in cases as we have observed with some of our bigger clusters.

The quarantining of returning New Zealanders will be a significant undertaking.

For context nearly 40,000 New Zealanders have returned home since the 20th of March, when we closed the border to foreign nationals. That is more than all of the hotel rooms across the country that we could have properly housed people in.

There has always been urgency around this matter, but simply put, we could not have done it from the beginning, but we  can and are doing it now.

A network of up to 18 hotels will be used to implement this approach, of which one to two will be specifically set aside for those under strict quarantine conditions.

The second aspect of our ongoing COVID-19 response is significantly scaled up and faster contact tracing and greater use of technology.

The more we improve the speed and effectiveness of our contact tracing, the better placed we will be in breaking the chain of transmission.

The Ministry of Health is already working on a locally developed app that will assist with contact tracing.

I should caution that it is in the early stages, it will have basic functionality, but even that will be important as it will help update our national health database with users contact details.

Then they will look to add functions. We are investigating the Singaporean Government’s Bluetooth-based app TraceTogether that can record interactions between a phone and any other phones nearby that have the app installed.  It will often pick up phones at a distance so is not perfect.

The data is stored on the phone and if the user tests positive they then release the data to the government for contact tracing. Close contacts can then be automatically notified of their need to self-isolate and be tested.

Singapore are planning to open source their technology in the next few weeks. We have made initial contact with the Singaporean Government and registered our interest, and I have a phone call with Prime Minister Lee of Singapore this evening where I will be discussing this technology further.

I think it’s important to note that these kinds of apps are useful, but don’t solve everything. What’s most important is that you have good people, and enough people, working on contact tracing as quickly as possible. We do, and we continue to improve every day.

And finally, this ongoing plan must be underpinned by testing.

We already have incredibly high rates of testing compared to others, but we want to be even better.

We will be maintaining high levels of testing and supplementing it with additional testing to ensure we have greater levels of certainty around the decline in the viruses’ spread.

With these three pillars, border controls, rigorous testing and contact tracing,  and making sure we use all the technology available we have what we need to win this marathon.

But I know in a race it’s important to have some signposts.  To know where we are, and exactly what we need to do when we get there so we can all plan.

Let me set out the timelines then for some key decisions that will affect everyone.

Level 4 has come with some heavy restrictions. That has required difficult decisions around services and businesses that can and cannot operate.

We need to give similar more detailed guidance on what life at Level 3 looks like, and we will do that next week. That will give us a window to iron out questions and issues, and make sure we’re as prepared as we can be when it comes time to move.

It is then my intention that on the 20th of April, two days before the lockdown is due to finish, Cabinet will make a decision on our next steps. That’s because we need to use the most up to date data that we have to make that decision.

That means, if we are ready to move to Alert Level 3, business we will have two days to implement arrangements.

But let me say again, we will not be moving out of Level 4 early. If we move too early, we will go backwards.

In the meantime I ask every business to use the time you have to prepare for what every alert level may mean for you. Treat COVID-19 like a health and safety issue. Ask whether it’s possible for your business to have social distancing? Can you build in contact tracing tools or mechanisms to keep track of your supply train and customers?

Help us get ready as a nation for the marathon we must all run together.

I know we can do this. And I know that, because we are already.

So as we head in to Easter I say thank you to you and your bubble. You have stayed calm, you’ve been strong, you’ve saved lives, and now we need to keep going.

Ardern’s leadership

Post from Gezza:


A fan-girl piece by Suze Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Executive Development at Massey University:

As someone who researches and teaches leadership – and has also worked in senior public sector roles under both National and Labour-led governments – I’d argue New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is giving most Western politicians a masterclass in crisis leadership.

Imagine, if you can, what it’s like to make decisions on which the lives of tens of thousands of other people depend. If you get things wrong, or delay deciding, they die. Your decisions affect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, resulting in huge economic disruption, mass layoffs and business closures.

Imagine you must act quickly, without having complete certainty your decisions will achieve what you hope. Now imagine that turning your decisions into effective action depends on winning the support of millions of people … success or failure hinges on getting most people to choose to follow your leadership – even though it demands sudden, unsettling, unprecedented changes to their daily lives.

Three communication skills every leader needs
Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker … said New Zealand had the “most decisive and strongest lockdown in the world at the moment” – and that New Zealand is “a huge standout as the only Western country that’s got an elimination goal” for Covid-19.

American professors Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield’s research into effective leadershp … highlights “direction-giving”, “meaning-making” and “empathy” as the three key things leaders must address to motivate followers to give their best.

Being a public motivator is essential – but it’s often done poorly. The Mayfields’ research shows direction-giving is typically over-used, while the other two elements are under-used.

Ardern’s response to Covid-19 uses all three approaches. In directing New Zealanders to “stay home to save lives”, she simultaneously offers meaning and purpose to what we are being asked to do. In freely acknowledging the challenges we face in staying home – from disrupted family and work lives, to people unable to attend loved ones’ funerals– she shows empathy about what is being asked of us.

The March 23 press conference announcement of New Zealand’s lockdown is a clear example of Ardern’s skilful approach, comprising a carefully crafted speech, followed by extensive time for media questions.

(In contrast, Boris Johnson pre-recorded his March 24 lockdown announcement, offering no chance for questions from the media, while framing the situation as an “instruction” from government, coupled with a strong emphasis on enforcement measures. Where Ardern blended direction, care and meaning-making, Johnson largely sought “compliance”.)

[And Trump … yesss … well … all over the place – in typical Trumpian chaorder. – Gez] )

Ardern has used daily televised briefings and regular Facebook live sessions to clearly frame the key questions and issues requiring attention. Also she has regulated distress by developing a transparent framework for decision-making – the government’s alert level framework – allowing people to make sense of what is happening and why.

Importantly, that four-level alert framework was released and explained early, two days before a full lockdown was announced, in contrast with the prevarication and sometimes confusing messages from leaders in countries such as Australia and the UK.


More …
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/120858256/coronavirus-three-reasons-why-jacinda-arderns-response-is-perfect-crisis-leadership
… … … …

This article has made me reflect on Jacinda’s leadership.

Even though I have expressed some criticisms on YNZ of what I perceive to be some oversights, unforeseen adverse consequences, & other minor failings in Jacinda’s “Go hard & go early” Covid-19 “lockdown response – overall I agree that Ardern has done a remarkably good job as the country’s leader at this time of global health emergency.

I also agree that she stands out from many other democratic country leaders in the strength & determination she has demonstrated, AND in the relative clarity & consistency of her Pandemic Response Team’s communications to businesses & the public of what the different alert levels & restrictions are (an excellent Our Plan – the four alert levels a detailed & well-laid out A3 poster-style leaflet delivered to all households, & a variety of other targeted information material, including notices for Rest Homes, for example).

Yes, there was some early confusion over policing of the lockdown (more a reflection on senior police leadership & the difficulties for them, caught on the hop, of clarifying & codifying actual vs police management’s preferred responses to situations “on the ground”, & then internally communicating up-to-date & comprehensive guidelines for front line staff, than on Jacinda).

And there were/are occasions where Jacinda’s press briefing assurances on what airport checks, self-isolation follow ups, & Covid-19 testing were being done that were just not matching what was actually happening out there in Kiwiland.

But even some of Jacinda & the coalition government’s most constant critics on this blog have noted their satisfaction at times with at least some aspects of the Pandemic Response, & of Ardern’s willingness to front for the strategy – to take the (mostly) bouquets, AND any brickbats for the government’s actions & the rather draconian restrictions now imposed on all New Zealanders & visitors, unparalleled in a century for a non-wartime situation.

One thing’s for sure; it’s a lot easier to criticise the PM than to be in the job & be the one who will be held responsible for how it all works out longer term for New Zealand, when the crisis & the emergency are over.

Some have predicted we are headed for an economic disaster. Certainly according to the economic pundits national & global economies will be facing major disruptions & a recession – perhaps even a depression – & New Zealand will no doubt find itself having to do a rejig. People have lost their jobs, although significant interim measures have been taken to encourage as many good employers as possible to keep locked down workshop workers & office staff on payrolls.

A few have even predicted the start of a new world order, as it were. The demise of Capitalism and /or the last gasp of finacialism, corporatism & the 1 %, in favour of a more inclusive, sharing society – perhaps one based around a UBI.

I dunno. Personally I doubt it. Although around the world maybe there might be an increased focus on whether it is worth implementing policies that encourage increased local manufacturing – by thinking smarter, minimising costs to remain competitive enuf with trade partners to allow small scale local production to be economically sustainable – so that future trade & economic shocks don’t leave governments too captive to overseas suppliers, without any capacity to manufacture needed goods & equipment in the event there are global shortages or supply chain disruptions?

My feeling at the moment, though, is that things will remain largely the same as they have been, with perhaps a few tweaks & improvements here & there, once the country & the workforce gets back up & running again & jobs become available. Maybe new jobs for folk who discovered new interests & marketable talents during their enforced break from their old ones?

I don’t know why, exactly, but I’m feeling quite positive about the future. Maybe it’s because this government is showing itself to be very agile? It certainly seems to be listening, adjusting, & prepared to be pragmatic. And to be now looking forward & starting to plan for the end of the crisis & the resumption of normal life & work.

And maybe also because of Ardern’s agreeing to the establishment of the Epidemic Response Committee, stacked with opposition members and chaired by the leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, as a mechanism for holding the government AND the bureaucracy to account. From my perspective anyway the Committee has been doing a sterling job. We may end up with better politicians & senior public servants overall as a result of the functioning of this Committee.

I think I agree with something Parti said the other day. Not about a brave new world along the lines of Frank E. Warner’s dream. But that Jacinda Ardern is possibly going to be recorded very favourably in future history books. Maybe even one of our greatest PMs? Who knows – it’s very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future 😉.


PM declares National State of Emergency to deal with Covid-19

Jacinda Ardern
RT HON JACINDA ARDERN

A State of National Emergency has been declared across the country as the Government pulls out all the stops to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

“Today we put in place our country’s second ever State of National Emergency as we fight a global pandemic, save New Zealanders’ lives and prevent the very worst that we’ve seen around the world from happening here,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“As the country moves into Alert Level 4 – Eliminate, at midnight, we need all the tools at our disposal to ensure everyone reduces down contact with one another across the board.

“Through the early and hard measures we’ve taken at the border, using the powers under the Health Act, the signing of Epidemic Notices, and now, being in a State of National Emergency, we have all of the legislative means possible, all the enforcement powers, all the tools we need, at our disposal to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002, today’s State of National Emergency declaration allows the Director Civil Defence Emergency Management to direct and coordinate personnel, material and other resources, and provides access to other extra-ordinary powers that will support delivery of an effective and timely response to COVID-19.

While in force, the State of National Emergency will allow the Director and local controllers, as needed, to provide for the:

  • conservation and supply of food, fuel and other essential supplies
  • regulate land, water and air traffic
  • to close roads and public places
  • to evacuate any premises, including any public place
  • and if necessary to exclude people or vehicles from any premises or place.

“Failure of anyone to play their part in coming days will put the lives of others at risk, and there will be no tolerance for that.

“We do not expect to use the full extent of these measures but, as with everything we have done in response to COVID-19, we plan, we prepare, we have in place everything we need to get through.

“For now, I ask that New Zealanders do their part. Stay home, break the chain, save lives,” Jacinda Ardern said.


More detail in Prime Minister’s statement on State of National Emergency and Epidemic Notice

Having considered the advice of the Director Civil Defence Emergency Management, the Minister of Civil Defence declared a State of National Emergency for the whole of New Zealand under section 66 of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002 on March the 25th 2020 at 12.21pm.

This is to manage the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic within New Zealand.

The Minister of Civil Defence took this step because of the unprecedented nature of this global pandemic, and because he considered the response required to combat COVID-19 is of such a degree that it will be beyond the capacity of local Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups to respond to on their own.

This pandemic also requires a significant and coordinated response by and across central and local government.

Also, under section 5 of the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006, yesterday I issued an Epidemic Notice, nationwide, to help ensure the continuity of essential Government business due to the unprecedented effects of the global pandemic, COVID-19, which is likely to significantly disrupt essential governmental and business activity in New Zealand.

This Epidemic Notice came into effect today, the 25th of March 2020, just after midnight and it will remain for three months with ongoing review, and from which, now further Epidemic Management Notices and Epidemic Modification Orders can be given – particularly across local government, immigration and social services – crucial services that now need flexibility to operate due to the effects of an epidemic in our country and an impending lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At 11.59pm tonight, we move to the highest Alert Level of 4, and we, as a nation, go into self-isolation.

Statement continues…

Russian PM and Cabinet resigns, Putin power push?

RNZ: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev resigns

Russian President Vladimir Putin has formally put forward Mikhail Mishustin, the little-known head of Russia’s Federal Tax Service, to be Russia’s new prime minister, the Kremlin said.

Putin gets to choose who Russia’s Prime Minister is?

It came after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said his government was resigning to give Putin room to carry out changes to the constitution.

And Putin gets to decide on what changes can be made to the Russian constitution?

The unexpected resignation, which came shortly after Putin proposed a nationwide vote on sweeping changes that would shift power from the presidency to parliament, mean Russia would also get a new prime minister.

Wednesday’s changes will be seen by many as the start of Putin’s preparations for his own political future when he leaves the presidency in 2024.

Whoever he picks as prime minister will inevitably be viewed as a possible presidential successor – echoing the way that Putin stepped down from the presidency in 2008 to become prime minister under Medvedev, who then stepped aside four years later to allow Putin to resume the presidency.

Reuters: Putin unveils shake-up that could extend his influence as cabinet quits

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes on Wednesday that would give him leeway to extend his grip on power after leaving the presidency, and picked a new prime minister after Dmitry Medvedev and his cabinet resigned.

The dramatic moves were widely seen as preparing the ground for 2024, when Putin, now 67, is constitutionally obliged to leave the presidency after occupying the Kremlin or the prime minister’s job continuously since 1999.

Critics have long accused Putin of plotting to stay on in some capacity to wield power over the world’s largest nation – and one of its two biggest nuclear powers – after he steps down. Putin, a former KGB officer, has always kept mum on his plans.

But the constitutional changes he set out, which he suggested should be put to a referendum, would give him the option of taking an enhanced role as prime minister after 2024 or a new role as head of the State Council, an official body he said he was keen to build up.

Under his proposed constitutional changes, the powers of the presidency would be diminished and those of the prime minister’s office beefed up.

Opposition politician Leonid Volkov said it looked as though Putin was digging in.

“It’s clear to everyone that everything is going exclusively toward setting Putin up to rule for life,” Volkov wrote on social media. Dmitry Gudkov, another opposition politician, said Putin had decided to re-arrange everything around him now rather than wait until closer to 2024.

Putin told the political elite in his annual state-of-the-nation speech that he favored changing the constitution to hand the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, the power to choose the prime minister and other key positions.

“It would increase the role and significance of the country’s parliament … of parliamentary parties, and the independence and responsibility of the prime minister.”

And it could increase the future power of Putin, designed by himself.

Boris Johnson now PM of UK

In the increasingly less united United Kingdom the Conservative Party has chosen Boris Johnson to take over as Prime Minister from Theresa May.

Missy reports:


Anyway, as you will know Boris won the leadership election as expected, today he was officially sworn in as PM by the Queen and immediately set about doing his cabinet reshuffle.

24 July 2019 is becoming known as the summer’s day massacre as Boris culls the cabinet.

So far he has sacked 18 from cabinet.

The big appointments so far are:

Chancellor – Sajid Javid
Home Secretary – Priti Patel

Expected: Dominic Raab to be named Foreign Secretary


Financial Times: Sajid Javid picked as chancellor in first Boris Johnson appointment – latest news

Guardian: Boris Johnson cabinet: Sajid Javid, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab given top jobs – live news

An interesting lineup of names with just ‘Johnson’  being of English origin (the new Prime Minister’s multi-cultural full name being Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson).

Guardian: In full: Boris Johnson’s first speech as prime minister – video

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.

 

Ardern and Macron to attempt to “to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron will chair a meeting in Paris next month which will seek to “to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online”.


NZ and France seek to end use of social media for acts of terrorism

New Zealand and France announced today that the two nations will bring together countries and tech companies in an attempt to bring to an end the ability to use social media to organise and promote terrorism and violent extremism, in the wake of the March 15 terrorist attacks in Christchurch New Zealand.

The meeting will take place in Paris on May 15, and will be co-chaired by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The meeting aims to see world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge called the ‘Christchurch Call’ to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

The meeting will be held alongside the “Tech for Humanity” meeting of G7 Digital Ministers, of which France is the Chair, and France’s separate “Tech for Good” summit, both on 15 May. Jacinda Ardern will also meet with civil society leaders on 14 May to discuss the content of the Call.

“The March 15 terrorist attacks saw social media used in an unprecedented way as a tool to promote an act of terrorism and hate. We are asking for a show of leadership to ensure social media cannot be used again the way it was in the March 15 terrorist attack,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“We’re calling on the leaders of tech companies to join with us and help achieve our goal of eliminating violent extremism online at the Christchurch Summit in Paris.

“We all need to act, and that includes social media providers taking more responsibility for the content that is on their platforms, and taking action so that violent extremist content cannot be published and shared.

“It’s critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism, and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism. This meeting presents an opportunity for an act of unity between governments and the tech companies.

“In the wake of the March 15 attacks New Zealanders united in common purpose to ensure such attacks never occur again. If we want to prevent violent extremist content online we need to take a global approach that involves other governments, tech companies and civil society leaders

“Social media platforms can connect people in many very positive ways, and we all want this to continue.

“But for too long, it has also been possible to use these platforms to incite extremist violence, and even to distribute images of that violence, as happened in Christchurch. This is what needs to change.”


RNZ: ‘This is about preventing violent extremism and terrorism online’

Ms Ardern told Morning Report that since the attacks, there had been a clear call for New Zealand to take on a leadership role in combating violent extremism online.

“There is a role for New Zealand to play now in ensuring we eradicate that kind of activity from social media, in particular to prevent it from ever happening again. We can’t do that alone,” she said.

“This isn’t about freedom of expression, this is about preventing violent extremism and terrorism online.

“I don’t think anyone would argue that the terrorist, on the 15th of March, had a right to livestream the murder of 50 people, and that is what this call is very specifically focussed on”.

Ms Ardern said she’s met with a number of tech CEOs, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and held meetings with executives from Microsoft, Twitter, and Google.

“When we actually distil this down, no tech company, no country, wants to see online platforms used to perpetuate violent extremism or terrorism. We all have a common starting point. It all then comes down to what it is we are each prepared to do about it.”

Technology correspondent Bill Bennett…

…said a voluntary approach was the only option for getting technology companies to sign up to a crackdown on terrorist behaviour through social media.

“They don’t see themselves as being responsible for content that’s published on their sites anyway. They see themselves as being some kind of neutral thing”.

National Leader Simon Bridges…

…questioned whether the global conversation would translate into anything meaningful.

He was cynical about why Ms Ardern was focusing on the issue.

“I think New Zealanders will say, hey, if you’re not also progressing policy, plans and actions around our housing, health, and education, why is this the big thing?

“Is it just a distraction tactic?”.

New Zealand needed to be cautious about going down a path that would see the casual erosion of freedoms, Mr Bridges said.

NZ Herald: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to lead global attempt to shutdown social media terrorism

Speaking to Newstalk ZB this morning, Ardern said she was confident all major social media companies would sign up to the Christchurch call.

“We have been working on something behind the scenes for some time now, since the 15th of March. I have also recently had calls with a handful of chief executives.”

The call, she said, would place the onus on Governments, in terms of their ability to regulate, as well as on the social media companies themselves.

“I think that’s where we need to move; this can’t just be about individual country’s [ability to] regulate because this is obviously global technology and we need to have those companies accept responsibility as well.”

She said that the principals of a free, open and secure internet would “absolutely be maintained”.

“If we want to prevent violent extremist content online we need to take a global approach that involves other governments, tech companies and civil society leaders”.

“Social media platforms can connect people in many very positive ways, and we all want this to continue.”

But she said for too long it has been possible to use social media platforms to incite extremist violence, and even to distribute images of that violence, as happened in Christchurch.

“This is what needs to change.”

A worthy aim, but it will be difficult to come up with an effective means of preventing the use of social media by terrorists but maintaining the freedom of use of social media generally.

And even if social media companies do put effective control mechanisms in place, it is likely that those seeking to promote and perpetuate violence online will find ways around the controls.

Fine for Ardern and Macron to be seen to be trying to do something about it, but being seen to be trying, and doing anything effective ongoing, will be a big challenge.

Prime Minister’s post-Cabinet statement on terror attacks

A statement from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on progress on dealing with issues related to the Christchurch mosque massacres, including announcing an inquiry into the attacks, and plans for firearm law reform.


PM statement on Christchurch mosques terror attack

Before I begin I want to acknowledge again and use this opportunity to again highlight 1737 as the contact number that anyone can text or call if they are feeling distress, if they have any mental health concerns for themselves or a loved one.

We have had, I’m advised, over 500 calls or contacts to the 1737 number. It has ranged from people who simply feel distressed to those themselves — those who have been caught up in the terrorist attack on Friday. So it is a line that has specialist support available and I again encourage those who need it to utilise it.

Let me give you an overview to begin with of the coming days. Tomorrow, as the Leader of the House has advised, members of Parliament will gather in the House at 2pm to make statements of condolence for victims of the Christchurch mosques terror attack. The House will then adjourn for the day and will meet again on Wednesday at 2pm for members’ day.

On Wednesday, I will return to Christchurch. I will be meeting again with first responders, including St John’s ambulance and front-line support staff. I plan on meeting with family members, but I’m also very mindful that families are receiving their loved ones for burial and I certainly intend, and I ask others also, to be respectful of course at this hugely sensitive time.

Today Cabinet was expanded to include representatives from our confidence and supply support partner, the Green Party. It was an opportunity to discuss several key issues and pieces of work, and having all parties around the table has helped to expedite that process. I’ll run through now several preliminary decisions that have been made.

Firearms laws

Cabinet today made in-principle decisions around the reform of our gun laws. I intend to give further detail of these decisions to the media and public before Cabinet meets again next Monday. This ultimately means that within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer.

In the intervening period, we will be working hard and as quickly as we can to finalise some of the details around the decision Cabinet has made today and the consequences of it.

As a Cabinet, we were absolutely unified and very clear: the terror attack in Christchurch on Friday was the worst act of terrorism on our shores.

It was in fact one of the worst globally in recent times.

It has exposed a range of weaknesses in New Zealand’s gun laws.

The clear lesson from history around the world is that to make our community safer, the time to act is now. I know that this might for a short period create a small degree of uncertainty amongst some gun owners, including those who possess guns for legitimate reasons, and I particularly acknowledge those in our rural communities. I want to assure you that the work that we are doing is not directed at you.

In fact, I strongly believe that the vast majority of gun owners in New Zealand will agree with the sentiment that change needs to occur. I, in fact, believe that they will be with us.

In the meantime, I want to remind people: you can surrender your gun to the police at any time. In fact I have seen reports that people are, in fact, already doing this.

I applaud that effort, and if you’re thinking about surrendering your weapon, I would encourage you to do so.

Inquiry announced

Today it was also agreed that there will be an inquiry to look at the specific circumstances leading up to the Christchurch mosques terror attack on March 15. The purpose of this inquiry is to look at what all relevant agencies knew or could or should have known about the individual and his activities, including his access to weapons and whether they could have been in a position to prevent the attack.

It will look at whether there were any impediments to the sharing of information, such as legislative or intelligence sharing challenges. The key agencies we’ll be looking at include the New Zealand SIS, GCSB, Police, Customs, and Immigration I want to highlight again, though: this is an inquiry that these agencies absolutely support.

The inquiry will also look at the individual’s travel movements to and from New Zealand, and internationally; his activities in New Zealand; and his use of social media and his connection to others.

The terms of reference are currently being finalised, and decisions around who will lead the inquiry and what form it will take will also be made shortly. Our key considerations will be public confidence in the work, timeliness, and the management of classified information. We’re also mindful, of course, that criminal proceedings are under way.

Commemorations and future memorial date

The Government has also had preliminary discussions around ensuring New Zealanders have the ability to commemorate as one the lives lost at Deans Avenue and Linwood mosques. A number of vigils have already been held in local communities throughout New Zealand; I have no doubt that these will continue.

In fact, I encourage people to come together. While I will not be announcing the memorial date today, I can assure you that the Department of Internal Affairs will be working in conjunction with the Muslim community, iwi, local government, and the mayor of Christchurch, police, and other agencies.

I can confirm the memorial will not be held this week. We want to ensure that the priority for the coming days is the families’ opportunity to grieve together. I will, however, look to announce a date as soon as I am able.

ACC grants

As I said yesterday, the families of those who have lost a loved one can apply for a funeral grant of around $10,000, which is made available via ACC.

What I’ve made clear to agencies today is that further costs should be covered upfront for these families taking their loved ones overseas. Details around these provisions are currently being finalised by officials, but Victim Support will help manage this process with the victims’ families.

There will continue to be high police visibility and presence over coming weeks in Christchurch. I understand this may concern some people, but it is not about a specific threat.

As I’ve said before, this is about taking a precautionary approach and providing reassurance as investigations continue into the terrorist attack on Friday.

Stardust in New York but Ardern’s New Zealand garden needs urgent attention

There has been a huge contrast between Jacinda Ardern wowing the world with her week in New York, and they stuttering struggles of her government back in New Zealand.

On New York

NZ Herald editorial: Stardust and substance – PM Jacinda Ardern at the United Nations in New York

Although embattled Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been facing flak on various fronts at home this week, there can be little doubt she has delivered both “stardust” and substance in New York.

She has certainly been in demand on the sidelines, undertaking interviews with media and talk show heavyweights CNN and The Late Show, meeting UN goodwill ambassador and actress Anne Hathaway, and generating media interest the world over with pics of her baby Neve in tow in those hallowed halls.

The images of a smiling, capable, young, progressive female leader and young mum are priceless PR. Some of the engagements may have seemed trivial, but Ardern has ensured mention of motherhood and even hobbits have presented an opportunity to highlight New Zealand as a tourist destination and a progressive, supportive, inclusive society.

She has met other heads of state, taken part in a range of substantive meetings, discussions and panels on issues such as climate change, trade and the sustainable development goals. She has talked about refugees, steel tariffs, foreign investment, foreign aid, gender equality, child poverty, compassion and collaboration.

She has been nothing but diplomatic about US President Donald Trump in the face of difficult meetings on trade and many testing questions – not to mention outright contempt from the General Assembly floor in what must be one of the most extraordinary scenes in that chamber ever witnessed.

Ardern has effectively and memorably presented New Zealand’s interests and values to world leaders and a global audience. Job done.

And generally, done very well. Good on her for that.

Duncan Garner: Jacinda Ardern was masterful in trumping the Don

The prime minister returns from New York this weekend as the big apple in the eyes of her many international admirers.

Her international stocks are high, she’s played her limited cards superbly, and she made dancing through the foreign affairs minefield look effortless.

In reality, it’s not as easy as she made it look, especially with America (well, Trump) all passive-aggressive, and isolationist. In short, Ardern smashed it out of the park.

But she also painted a rosier picture than reality back in New Zealand.

And guess what? The PM got away with not telling the world how we have failed spectacularly to curb our carbon emissions and how they continue to grow at unsustainable levels.

We also don’t punish our big polluters, we don’t punish pollution from transport, we don’t have incentives to drive electric cars, and we can’t swim in 60 per cent of our rivers.

Imagine if Ardern had told the truth about us overseas.

She wouldn’t have been so lauded and applauded if she had.

She didn’t go to Woodstock while she was in the US, but some lyrics come to mind.

We are stardust
We are golden
But we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden

Ardern now has to get herself back to the New Zealand garden, where the pests and weeds look like getting out of control.

John Armstrong:  Jacinda Ardern must stop the rot in ‘drunken sailor’ Government

Stop the rot. And stop it quickly. That has to be Jacinda Ardern’s absolute priority on her return from overseas.

The incumbent three-party governing arrangement was displaying all the coherence and co-ordination of the proverbial drunken sailor long before the Prime Minister left for the relative sanctuary of a Winston Peters-free New York.

The unwieldy contraption has since appeared to be even more sloshed in her absence as its components stumble from one mini-crisis to the next minor scandal with such regularity that you can almost set your watch by it.

This three-headed hydra needs to go on the wagon — and pretty darned soon.

Viewed in isolation, each blunder or botch-up has not amounted to very much in the grand scheme of things.

Viewed in total, however, the various mishaps and miscues add up to a fair-sized catalogue of catastrophe.

Voters will soon forget the details of who was involved in each episode of woe and what happened and when.

What will stick in their minds from this epidemic of embarrassment will be the hard-to-erase impression that Ardern’s regime is riddled with incompetence.

It will leave the public wondering whether Ardern has lost control. That is where the damage is really being done.

Ardern’s has fiddled with aplomb on the world stage, while her government shows increasing signs that it risks crashing and burning.

In her Speech from the Throne last November Ardern said something that highlights the gulf between some of her rhetoric and reality: “This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information”

NZ Herald editorial: Govt’s greater transparency vow nowhere to be seen

The Government’s domestic woes continue this week even as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continues to bask in the global limelight in New York.

First there was the fallout from Derek Handley’s released communications in the chief technology officer saga, then there were allegations in Parliament which reminded the public about the investigations regarding recently appointed Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha.

Now, the Department of Internal Affairs is set to investigate how the draft report of the investigation into the Meka Whaitiri incident was leaked to the Herald.

The draft report finds it was agreed Whaitiri did have words with her press secretary for not alerting her to a photo opportunity with the PM during a function in Gisborne. It showed the staff member was allegedly left with bruising to her arm.

Although Whaitiri denies touching the staffer, David Patten, the lawyer who conducted the inquiry, found on the balance of probabilities the staff member’s version that she was grabbed was the more likely explanation of what happened.

That is damning — and clearly what led to Ardern’s sacking of Whaitiri as a minister last Thursday, a day after seeing the draft report.

So why the ongoing secrecy?

At the very least it raises questions about anger management and suitability for public office. And, for those who believe the alleged incident is minor, teachers now have strict new rules that prohibit manhandling pupils.

The public had the right to know exactly why Whaitiri was stripped of one of her roles. It would still be helpful to know why she was deemed okay to remain the Māori caucus co-chair, or whether there was any thought of expulsion from the party.

This Government promised to usher in a new level of transparency and openness. But there has been little evidence it is any more transparent than any other administration it seeks to better.

So returning from the euphoria of a very successful trip to New York Ardern has a lot to do in her real job, as Prime Minister in a government that looks lacking in leadership beyond Winston Peters’ wagging of the Labour dog, with the Green flea clinging on.

Ardern only had a temporary gig at the United Nations, for now at least.  She will return to a far more difficult job as Prime Minister of New Zealand.

The stardust of New York won’t keep masking the garden back home looking increasingly unkempt.