PM furious over poor communication over Covid testing in Auckland

On Friday incorrect official advice was circulated which encouraged people South or West Auckland to have a Covid test.

This wasn’t corrected until Saturday, and the Prime Minister Jacinda Arxdern was reported to be furious.

But a bunch of people on social media seem to have been furious that Ardern was ‘repeatedly questioned’ on it.

The Government’s Unite Against Covid promoted this via their daily newsletter and social media:

Say yes to the test

Widespread testing is a critical part of our COVID-19 elimination strategy. COVID-19 tests are free and should be easy to access for everyone. We have more than 1,100 testing sites nationwide, including at most GPs.

If you’re in South or West Auckland, or if you have a greater risk of poor health outcomes if you were to get COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms, please have a test.

If you develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19, wherever you are, please call Healthline (0800 358 5453) or your doctor immediately and have a test.

The Spinoff describes it as:

Some alarmingly poor health communication went out over the weekend, leading to a furious response from the PM. The all-of-government Unite for Covid-19 group basically wrongly everyone in South and West Auckland to get a test, even if they didn’t have symptoms, in a message that stayed online for a full day.

NZ Herald: Incorrect message results in people queuing up for testing

Incorrect messaging telling people in West and South Auckland to get tested even if they don’t have symptoms has resulted in people queuing up at testing stations today.

That mistake resulted in queues of cars snaking out from a Covid-19 testing site in Massey West Auckland.

But Ardern said it had not been reported to her that testing sites have been overloaded.

A witness at a testing station in Massey, said cars were around the corner stretching onto Triangle Rd soon after the station opened at 8am today.

Another witness told the Herald the testing station was a lot busier than it was yesterday and the majority of people were wearing face masks.

United Against Covid said the advice had been removed ‘to avoid confusion’:

That’s a poor response.

RNZ: PM ‘incredibly angry’ over wrong call for South and West Auckland testing:

In a social media post, it said people who live in those areas, or who are at greater risk of poor health outcomes, should get themselves tested.

But at today’s Covid-19 briefing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this was an oversimplification.

“That is not the ask coming from health officials currently … from what I understand of that message that has gone out, the detail of the message is correct, some of the topline headings were oversimplified and it is wrong.

“We’re working very hard now to deal with what’s that created within the community and we’re working very hard to correct that.”

She said was “incredibly angry” that it wasn’t clear and the government had to be “very direct in our asks”.

“There’s been an attempt to keep a message simple and it’s just been done badly.”

Jason Walls (NZ Herald): New Zealanders have every right to be ‘incredibly angry’ at the Government over incorrect Covid messaging

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is quite rightly “incredibly angry” at her officials for pushing out incorrect Covid-19 testing information.

But New Zealanders have every right to be incredibly angry at the Government for letting that official message remain unchanged for almost an entire day.

The fact that the stuff-up occurred in the first instance beggars belief.

The information affected roughly 700,000 people in South and West Auckland.

Ardern was “incredibly angry” about this “wrong” information being published on official channels, and rightly so.

She said she was told about the incorrect messaging late this morning and made it clear it needed to be fixed.

But the information was still up at almost 1.30pm.

Officials getting something this major so wrong erodes public trust in the Government.

People need to be able to rely on the Government for key information like this.

Ardern does get off the hook when it comes to the blame for how the stuff-up occurred.

She does not approve every single bit of Government messaging that goes out, she has officials for that.

In fact, she clearly shifted the blame to those officials when pressed about the issue – saying no ministers had uttered that information.

But Ardern needs to take responsibility for what happened next.

The incorrect post went up at roughly 5pm last night; it was reported on by most major news sites and made it to some Sunday newspapers as well.

Despite this, no formal correction notice was issued until the next day, according to Ardern.

And by formal correction notice, Ardern meant the All of Government communications team – the people in charge of the post – had notified newsrooms across the country, telling them the information was wrong.

The Herald, which ran the story that the Government was advising all people in South and West Auckland, received no such notice.

This is despite reporters seeking comment on the post.

In fact, Health Minister Chris Hipkins was interview by MediaWorks radio this morning and made no mention of the fact this critical bit of information was wrong.

Ardern revealed the information was incorrect at her 1pm press conference this afternoon.

Even then, she waited to be asked about the post rather than issuing the correction in her opening statement – a statement watched by hundreds of thousands of people each day.

Ardern said she had made it clear to the officials involved that they needed to fix the error.

Despite this, the post remained on the Unite Against Covid-19 Instagram page until almost 1.30pm.

Ardern should be furious at officials for this botch up – but New Zealanders should be equally as angry at the Government for not fixing the issue faster.

Was Ardern furious that the public was ‘misinformed’ and testing facilities were put under strain? Or because Government handling of this was criticised, and by association she got some poor PR?

On social media quite a few people seemed to be furious with journalists for highlighting the mistake to the Prime Minister.

To some it seems that Ardern is beyond reproach no matter what stuff-ups are made.

Despite fine, reparation and sentence police restrain all company’s assets for ‘proceeds of crime’ over a Health and Safety offence

A workplace accident and employee death in 2015 resulted in a costing a company nearly $400,000 in fines and reparations, and the company owner, who accepted responsibility, being  sentenced to four and a half months home detention in 2017.

But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Two years later, late in 2019, police restrained all of the company owner’s assets under the proceeds of crime legislation.

… it was in relation to the same health and safety prosecution in which Ron and Salters Cartage had already pleaded guilty and been sentenced.  Having already secured a criminal conviction, the police had decided to take the extraordinary step of pursuing a business owner through the civil courts for the alleged “proceeds” of a health and safety offence.

It looks like a fairly ordinary Kiwi family bloke and business owner could lose everything he had built up over 38 years.

This is an extraordinary story, and quite alarming, unless there is something else to this story not yet revealed by the police.


The police want to take every dollar Ron Salter has ever made

A South Auckland businessman is under siege by police who are using laws designed to target gangs and drug dealers to come after his family business, his home, and even his children’s assets. At a time when we’ve handed police extraordinary powers to deal with a health pandemic, Matt Blomfield argues that trust is being betrayed.

Over the last five years I have carved out a role for myself as a person you turn to when things go bad. And when I say bad I have seen some pretty spectacular f*ck ups. When you are in the business of fixing life’s little mistakes, you find that your work comes from all walks of life and try as I might I like to think I don’t discriminate when it comes to my clients.

During that time, I have worked for some amazing people and also some infamous individuals. Often the balance between what is morally correct and my own personal view that everyone deserves help is something I struggle with.

When I discuss it with friends and family, I often reference the obligations that lawyers have when representing a client. Everyone has a right to justice and should have an opportunity to have their side of the story heard.

The slight difference is that I like to  think that my role includes an added bonus in that I can attempt to get things back on track and show my clients that life is just that little bit simpler if you play by the rules and remove some of the complication that comes with pushing boundaries.

In saying that sometimes I have clients where a clear cut injustice has occurred, and there is zero moral ambiguity. Where bad luck has combined with an extraordinary set of circumstances to result in an unjust outcome. These are the ones I enjoy the most.

So with the blessing of my client I would like to ask you to listen to a story not about Covid-19, but about an unfortunate sequence of events which has left my client fighting for their very survival.

In late 2015 I was introduced to Ron Salter who is the owner and founder of Salters Cartage, a South Auckland waste collection and recycling company.

A few months earlier, on September 15, 2015, Jamey Lee Bowring, an employee of a contractor to Salters Cartage, called Raceworks, working at the Salters Cartage business, was killed after the 100,000-litre fuel tank he was welding exploded.

It was a tragedy, a young man losing his life at just 24 years old. There were no winners in this story. I recall thinking about Jamie’s mother and how she would have reacted when she got the news. I have two daughters and in my mind I’m not sure if I could think of a worse situation than me outliving one of them.

Like all of the cases I work on, the first thing I try to do is understand the client. What am I dealing with and what is really going on here?

Ron Salter is by trade a truck driver, who over several decades built up a very successful business. He is a hard man and initially that was all I saw. It wasn’t until I had spent a couple of months working with Ron that I actually found out who he is.

Ron is first and foremost a family man, and Salters Cartage is a family business.  The kind of business that is the backbone of New Zealand’s economy.

The more time I spent with the Salter family the more I came to understand that this was the quintessential Kiwi family running their own business and Ron was that hard arse dad who secretly was a big softy and loved his family unconditionally.

Just prior to lockdown I noticed a picture of Ron on his daughter’s Facebook page. He was in the swimming pool with his granddaughter. His daughter commented: “As a kid growing up I don’t remember my dad getting in the pool/water but little miss says “pop pop come in water” and he’s in”.

That side of Ron is why, at the earliest opportunity, he said sorry for the accident and accepted he made a mistake. This was something Ron insisted on.

Just over two years on from Jamie’s death, on November 23, 2017, Ron was sentenced to four and a half months’ home detention and he and his company were ordered to pay nearly $400,000 in fines and reparations, which they did.

The same day a story was published in the New Zealand Herald entitled “Auckland business owner sentenced for fuel tank explosion which killed worker”. The story includes a video interview of Ron which captures the man I know and the hurt that he and his family went through.

That’s not to say what happened to the Salter family could ever compete with losing a child. Jamie’s mother Sarah Ferguson has said she does not accept Ron’s remorse and I don’t think I could if I was her.

My role with Salters Cartage finished up in early 2018. It was an interesting project, it touched on so many aspects of life, a mother losing a child, a business owner dealing with the guilt and responsibility for the part they played, the all-encompassing litigation process, something that I understand all too well, the toll that can take on individuals, and the support of wider friends and family unit that rallied around during this awful time. There were no winners in this story, but it was finally over. Justice was done.

Moving forward, I would check in with Ron and the family on occasion. They had a job to get on with and didn’t need my help. They were rebuilding their lives and getting their Salters Cartage family back on track. I heard through a mutual acquaintance that Ron was looking at selling the business and retiring and I recall thinking that it was not surprising. Ron had done it hard over the past few years.

Then in December last year I heard that the police had restrained all of Ron’s assets under the proceeds of crime legislation.

At the time I had limited knowledge of proceeds of crime laws and my immediate reaction was ‘what have I missed’? My mind conjured up images of drug dealing and gangs. It just made no sense.

After further clarification I realised that it was in relation to the same health and safety prosecution in which Ron and Salters Cartage had already pleaded guilty and been sentenced.  Having already secured a criminal conviction, the police had decided to take the extraordinary step of pursuing a business owner through the civil courts for the alleged “proceeds” of a health and safety offence.

I called Ron and he explained in a slightly panicked fashion, “they are wanting to take my house, my daughter’s house, the bach, the business, everything”. His life’s work and his legacy. I was lost for words. It just didn’t make any sense to me.

I recall thinking about double jeopardy – the principle that a person should not be subject to two prosecutions or punishments for the same offence. And then wondering whether a claim to forfeit assets constitutes a second punishment or a severely harsh punishment when viewed together with the original sentence.

It was a major, the Salter family stood to lose a lifetime of effort. This was not just Ron’s business, it’s the Salter family business which includes the families of their 30 employees, who are essentially an extension of the family.

Police have sought restraints over more than $8 million of the Salters’ personal assets as well as business assets over and above this.  An application to forfeit those same assets will inevitably follow.

To be clear, this legislation was brought in to go after drug dealers, gang members, money launderers and other sophisticated criminal enterprises that break the law for commercial gain. It operates on a simple philosophy: the police say ‘we think you’ve obtained this by nefarious means, prove us wrong’.

The reach of the legislation extends to anything that the police believe is “tainted”. The example I use is if a drug dealer owns a house and pays for a new roof with drug money, the police can take the house. The police can also take untainted assets to the value of the benefit they say you have received as a result of criminal activity.  It’s hard for me to draw a parallel between a gang member selling methamphetamine and Salters Cartage collecting and recycling waste oil.   As bizarre as it sounds, the police are saying the income that Salters Cartage received is like drug money. If it is, so too is the income of the hundreds of businesses convicted of health and safety offences in New Zealand every year, let alone other regulatory offences.  What’s next – resource management breaches?

In the five years to July 2014, police restrained nearly half a billion dollars worth of cash, property, cars, boats, motorcycles with gold-plate rims and every other trapping of a drug dealer’s lifestyle you can imagine. Police estimated half of that came from methamphetamine.

The recovered money goes into a contestable fund that has provided millions to drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, mental health services and crime reduction initiatives. Proper Robin Hood stuff.

However, in the Salters Cartage case the police are using the proceeds of crime legislation for the first time in the aftermath of a health and safety case.

In an exit interview with the Herald just a few weeks ago, the former commissioner of police Mike Bush summed up one of the key tenets of his six year tenure as follows: “How we apply our discretion is critical to building trust and confidence.”

“The one thing people look for is the consistent application. And that’s what we’ve been driving hard.”

If that’s the case, why didn’t the police attempt to seize Watercare’s assets, after the 2011 explosion that killed one of its workers and left another a double amputee? Or Canadian Piping, the firm convicted of failing to protect employees in the same blast. Should the directors of Watercare have feared that their family homes were at risk?

There have been around 700 workplace deaths in New Zealand since 2011, and more than two dozen firms have been prosecuted for breaching the health and safety legislation where death occurred.

Where is the consistent application of the law that Bush is so proud of?

It is no secret that New Zealand’s small to medium enterprises are the backbone of this country. Right now, as we emerge from Level 4 lockdown, they are at once under unprecedented strain while being needed more than ever to jumpstart our post-COVID 19 economy.

According to one Government estimate, they make up 97 per cent of all New Zealand businesses, employ more than 630,000 people or 29 per cent of all New Zealand workers.

It’s tough enough running your own business, as a business owner you take responsibility for the livelihoods of all of your staff, you take responsibility for the risks that come with owning your business from loans to compliance to tax.

If it goes badly you can’t just walk away. These business owners are brave and they should be respected, they should be looked after, and they should be supported.  Without them, the economic landscape in New Zealand would be very different.

We spend plenty of time making sure that employees are looked after and that they have the support of their employers.  And rightly so.  But less time is spent thinking about the brave directors that take on the responsibilities and risks that create employment. I can imagine that many will say that with risk comes reward and I accept that but, in this case, we are talking about a family that could lose everything they have earned in the past 38 years.  There are many, many other businesses out there just like Salters Cartage.

This will have an effect on three generations of this family. Putting aside the inevitable closure of Salters Cartage as we know it if the police are successful, we are talking about Ron and his wife Natalie’s daughter’s home, the family bach, the home in which Ron and Natalie planned to live out their retirement, and finally the livelihoods of all of the staff and their families.

So, most of my lockdown was spent trying to find a way through for the Salter family. That now includes dealing with Covid-19 and the fact they have all but closed the doors over the lockdown.  They have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars but, unlike many other businesses, all of their staff still have their jobs.

The Salter family is doing it hard.  Ron and his family accepted responsibility for what happened;  Ron and Salters Cartage performed the sentence imposed.  In addition to funding this litigation, which will could take years to resolve, now they have the added complication of Covid-19.  In my mind it’s just not fair. I really wish the police would use their resources, budget and energy to take down gangs and drug dealers because isn’t that what the proceeds of crime legislation was intended for? I can’t rationalise in my mind why the police have put the Salters family, and family businesses just like theirs, at the top of their to-do list, while many who have clearly profited from crime flaunt their wealth on Instagram. It just does not make sense!

Salters Cartage is truly a family owned and operated New Zealand business. It is an example of what makes New Zealand great and what we need to focus on to get through this Covid-19 debacle. I am confident that the police will be unsuccessful in their case but my hope is that the fight doesn’t destroy this amazing family and the New Zealand-owned family business that was almost 40 years in the making. That’s not justice and not what New Zealand wants or deserves from the New Zealand police.

Matt Blomfield is a business consultant and the subject of Whale Oil, a book about standing up to bullies and his quest for justice. It was nominated in the best general non-fiction category at the 2020 Ockham Awards.

Homelessness and living in cars

On The Nation this morning:

A year after Mike Wesley-Smith reported on working families living in their cars in South Auckland, he catches up with some of those families to see where they’re living now, and asks whether the Government has done enough to fight homelessness.

Labour and South Auckland

Chris Trotter writes about the importance of South Auckland to Labour’s chances this election.  Much has been said lately about Labour and the Maori vote, but the Pacific Island vote is a big deal too.

Stuff: Chris Trotter: Labour appeals to its South Auckland base

South Auckland is also Labour country – and that is not something one can say about many other places in New Zealand. In 2005 it was the voters of South Auckland that saved Helen Clark’s Labour-led Government and sent her back for a third term as their Prime Minister.

If Labour is saved again – if it avoids a fourth consecutive defeat at the hands of the National Party – then it will be the people of South Auckland that Andrew Little and his party have to thank.

In part – party votes across the country are what count.

To be sure, the Labour MPs from that part of the world: Jenny Salesa (Manukau East) Su’a William Sio (Mangere) Louisa Wall (Manurewa) and Peeni Henare (Tamaki Makaurau) all offer a comfortable ethnic fit with the communities they represent, and all of them were present in the hall. But, none of these politicians are members of Labour Leader Andrew Little’s inner circle of confidants and advisers. That group remains an overwhelmingly Palangi affair.

  • As with all of Labour’s current Maori electorate MPs Henare is not on the party list. He is currently ranked 20 in their caucus.
  • Jenny Salesa is ranked 19 in caucus and is 18 on the party list.
  • Su’a William Sio is ranked 15 in caucus and 15 on the party list.
  • Louisa Wall is ranked 28 (near the bottom) and 25 on the party list.

The party list placings are better than they would be if the Maori electorate MPs were on it, with three of them ranked above all the South Auckland MPs in caucus.

So the South Auckland MPs are all ranked near or in the bottom half.

The Pacific Island vote may be as crucial for Labour as their Maori vote, but how much will South Auckland benefit from their support?