I love the smell of baby formula in the morning
So it turns out the threat to New Zealand came from within not without and was small, not great, tiny in fact, invisible to the eye: a bacteria, clostridium botulinum: botulism. For months, New Zealand’s largest company (and the spine of our economy) sat on information that, due to a broken pipe at one of its processing plants in the Waikato, whey used in the manufacture of products including baby formula, had potentially been exposed to a dangerous, sometimes lethal toxin. In publicity you cannot buy, New Zealand made the papers around the world. But not for our 100% Pure or 100% Middle Earth status. Like the ‘Unsinkable’ Titanic, our hubristic claims came back to bite the arse of NZ Inc in the worst possible whey. Baby formula! Tim Groser, left holding the proverbial on Q&A shunned discussion of blame. “We will return there when we’ve sorted out the immediate risk to babies – our own and in other countries.” If ever there was a duty of care to consumers and a guide-line for capitalism, “immediate risk to babies” would be it. And yet there it is. And we are the culprits. Not North Korea or Iran or any of the world’s usual suspects. It is New Zealand, good citizen of the world, who posed an ‘immediate risk to babies’ in several markets, including China, already spooked by a couple of baby-killing scandals in this area. Russia, who didn’t even receive any of the products has banned Fonterra. Russia bans Fonterra. It’s come to this! Unbelievable doesn’t quite capture the scope, scale, genesis and exodus (of overseas customers) of this economic catastrophe. We can be assured that heads will roll. Indeed a guillotine might need to erected in Aotea Square to cope with the demand. Our economy might be destroyed but at least the public will have free entertainment.
The worst economic news ever to hit us, our very own iceberg of contaminated whey, was struck over a very busy weekend. Late on Friday afternoon, just as the USA announced a world-wide (though non-specific) al-Qaeda threat warning, 150 pages of emails were dumped into the public arena. This tried-and-true political convention made for a lot of late-night reading for concerned parties. But read they did and on Q & A, Russel Norman and Grant Robertson convincingly and compellingly joined the dots of doubt over the Government’s actions and political mismanagement with regard to Andrea Vance, Peter Dunne, the freedom of the press, free speech and other issues of considerable constitutional importance. For the Government, Steven Joyce had no such luck. He attacked the question, the questioner, the Opposition and the media for their hypocrisy. Having long called for the Government to get to the bottom of the matter, the Opposition now complains when we have got there he shouted over Rachel Smalley. The truth is, the Government has got to the bottom of the matter. The rock bottom. The barrel scrapings. Complicit or incompetent? To quote Joyce “You can’t have it both ways”.
In any event, it seems that John Key’s long honeymoon with the press is over. It’s been a long one, longer than most, but all too-good-to-be-true things must come to an end and one suspects this divorce is going to get ugly and a lot of dirty laundry is going to be aired. Perhaps the greatest scandal is that this country faced serious issues before Fonterra exponentially (and perhaps irrevocably) made them worse. Child poverty, unemployment, the still-devasted state of our second-largest city have all taken a back seat whilst the PM devotes his time to extricating himself from a series of scandals and crises of his own creation. In the House, the topic of debate is no longer about policy and good governance but rather who did what and when and can they (dis)prove it.
No news is good news. This week, we made world news: the PM made the news, the GCSB Bill made the news, Andrea Vance and Peter Dunne made the news, Wayne Eagleson made the news, a senior public servant quitting made the news, police accessing ‘Teacupgate’ emails made the news, the domestic al-Qaeda threat as announced by the PM to Simon Barnett on More FM’s breakfast show made the news and, most damning for us all, “the immediate risk to babies” posed by New Zealand’s biggest company made the news. The future prosperity of you and your loved ones didn’t get a look in.