Former Prime Minister Sir John Key yesterday filled the vacuum which has been National’s indifferent response to the Covid crisis.
Key’s much-read “op-ed” on both the NZME and Stuff websites captured a growing frustration within the business community over the overloaded Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) system.
The former Prime Minister said New Zealand had become a “smug hermit kingdom” when the goal of Covid policy should be to get back to a life where New Zealanders can travel overseas – for any reason – knowing they can return home when they want to, and where we again welcome visitors to this country.
His comments came after last Monday when only 5364 people managed to secure MIQ rooms after 31,800 applied.
A proposed further release of rooms last week did not happen.
And though another release is promised for “early” this week, so far, no details have been released.
A trial self-isolation scheme for business people returning from overseas, which was announced on August 27, has so far to get off the ground.
And POLITIK understands that a New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) scheme to reserve MIQ rooms for returning exporters has been allocated only 50 rooms until the end of the year.
The founder of the innovative TV graphics company, Animation Research, Sir Ian Taylor, trying to get staff to Australia to work on coverage of the Ashes, said on the NZME website yesterday that MIQ was as big a threat to keeping businesses operating as was COVID.
Taylor has proposed a self-managed rigorous regime of testing and self-isolation to allow workers to exit and enter the country.
What is surprising about Key’s intervention is that it stands in stark contrast to his former Parliamentary colleagues in the National Party who last week, after the Monday overload in the MIQ voucher system, asked not one Parliamentary Question about it.
His decision to speak out has to reflect a frustration, not just with the Government but the Opposition as well.
Though National Leader Judith Collins says she has a plan to open New Zealand up and will release it this week her Covid response is one of a number of issues being raised about her leadership.
Key is believed to be one of a number of former National Government Ministers who are currently quietly talking to caucus members and Simon Bridges and Christopher Luxon about the future of the party’s leadership.
Speaking on Newshub’s “The Nation” at the weekend, she maintained that she was secure.
“I want to make this really clear. I am staying. I’m not going. I am staying. I have a job to do. I’m doing that job,” she said.
But also at the weekend, former leader, Simon Bridges, left the door open to his taking over the leadership.
Bridges is being careful to say he is not seeking the leadership. But he is also careful not to say that he would reject it if the Caucus offered it to him.
Asked on TVOne’s “Q+A” if his candid self-analysis in his book “National Identity” might make him more relatable as leader, he said: “Maybe, hopefully, actually, I mean, we all want to be that. I genuinely don’t know what the future holds for me. All I think I do know is my protestant work ethic, my DNA, the way I tick, I want to contribute.
Q+A: “ What if you were offered the leadership, though?”
Bridges: “I don’t want to deal on those sort of hypotheticals. It’s certainly straight up, but there’s no guile or cleverness in this; it’s not my intention to become the leader of the National Party.”
Bridges will know that there is a long tradition in New Zealand politics of caucus members signing petition-like letters declaring no confidence in one leader and their support for another.
It is thus possible for the new leader to say they did not seek the position and therefore cannot be accused of undermining the defeated leader.
Caucus members are adamant they will not countenance any leadership change until the whole Caucus can be in the same room at the same time; that will depend on when Auckland comes out of lockdown.
So Collins has a reprieve, but the countdown clock is ticking.
But Key also had plenty to say about Jacinda Ardern and her Government.
He claimed it was ruling by fear.
“Public health experts and politicians have done a good job of making the public fearful, and therefore willing to accept multiple restrictions on their civil liberties which are disproportionate to the risk of them contracting Covid,” he said.
Friday saw what appeared to be an unwillingness on the part of the Deputy Prime Minister to defend one of the latest elements in the scare campaign; the forecast by University of Auckland modeller Shaun Hendy that 7004 people could die if the country opened up when only 80 per cent of people over 12 had been vaccinated.
That forecast assumed that the Pfizer vaccine was rated only at the median level of effectiveness when in fact, both the Ministry of Health and the United States Centres for Disease Control say it is rated as highly effective.
If it was rated as highly effective, the number of deaths would reduce to 2560.
The Ministry of health’s Director of Public Health, Caroline McElnay, confirmed on Friday that the Pfizer vaccine was highly effective against Covid when it came to preventing death.
“Very high level, about 95 per cent efficacy against death and severe disease,” she told the daily Covid media press conference.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson was then asked if, in the light of that, he believed Hendy’s 7004 projection.
“I’m not going to wade into the debate about modelling,” he said.
“One of the things that has been present throughout the pandemic is that there are different views and, therefore, different models that get created about the impacts.
“The one thing I know for certain is that every modeller believes that every New Zealander should get vaccinated.
“The message people should take from modelling and peoples’ response to modelling is that every New Zealander should be vaccinated.”
But what neither Labour – nor National — may have, is a vaccination against the introduction of John Key into the debate.