On The Manufactured Outrage Against The Government’s Covid-19 Communications Budget


I must confess myself slightly perplexed at the “outrage” that the Government put $250,000 into working out how to do comms for its Covid-19 strategy. I mean, think about what was involved at every step – what New Zealanders were being asked to do.

You’re asking 5 million people to lockdown, then social distance/mask up/scan/vaccinate .. all new behaviors at a national level and requiring outreach to quite a range of communities across the country. It’s not just communicating what to do but why it’s necessary.

And hopefully actually encouraging the vast majority of New Zealanders, regardless of political preference, to buy into that response and actively help carry it out.

I’m sure somebody out there is muttering about how “could have just stuck Jacinda in front of a camera to say any old thing and people’d have bought it” – but that’s simply not the case.

I’m also not sure how far people think $250,000 really goes as far as political communication and education is concerned.

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The referendums staged last year cost more than ten times that in terms of comms – and that was for something as simple as two ticks in boxes on one day.

The National Party alone spent more than $250k on just its party facebook advertising for the last Election (i.e. not including individual candidates buying ads on the platform, or anything else, anywhere else).

The inference opponents of the Government seem to have drawn on this issue is that spending money is held to be necessary in order to secure some form of unfair advantage in communication – because, of course, it’s “unfair” if we co-ordinate a successful public health strategy…

They – still – feel ‘crowded out’ by the Government’s ability to put out crisis messaging during a crisis which, quelle horror, actually gets listened to and acted upon by a reasonable swathe of the population (even people who don’t then go on to vote for said govt in election).

Seymour has a slightly different tac on it, of course – that being the general opposition to taxpayer expenditure , but also loudly proclaiming that this ‘proves’ that the Government’s Covid-19 response hasn’t been based on science but rather on sentiment.

Now that’s doubly curious – because first and foremost, interviews with leading scientists in the relevant fields in the Herald today had said scientists supporting using public money to craft and hone a decent public communication effort.

It’s literally listening to science.

Yet second, Seymour has set up an implicit duality between “following the science” and “listening to New Zealanders”. He is opposed, in a democracy, to the democratic will of the people guiding Governance. I’m not sure how else to put it.

Now, we’re going to hear a LOT more of that kind of thing going forward, for the simple expedient that various portions of our right-wing commentariat have realized that what THEY want to do (“learn to live with it”, “open the border”, “roll the Government”, “kill an orca”, etc.) …

… is pretty heavily unpopular with much of the electorate and won’t fly democratically. Most of it won’t fly scientifically, either; meaning that a comms strategy which listens to the electorate and is scientifically valid MUST be attacked as somehow neither of these things.

Instead, we get what’s tantamount to declamations of the World’s Most Cost-Efficient Brainwashing Campaign. A mere $250,000 to hoodwink (indeed, to congeal) the Team of Five Million – twenty cents per person in and of this fair land to establish the JacindaRaj.

Although what REALLY sticks in their collective craw is the deep and abiding knowledge that even were they to spend ten times that amount themselves, they’d be unable to beat the Government and its tangible track-record of both communicative and Covid-related success.

Hence – what we have here is an attempt to generate well more than a quarter million dollars in outrage … for free – fact-free and otherwise.


  1. The biggest problem for the right is they’ve been saddled with the general failure of the political right everywhere to manage covid. By extension, the public don’t trust National/ACT on the subject – hence the frantic efforts to undermine the governments covid response.

    • ‘Frantic’ is the right word. Chris Bishop now denies that National wanted to open the border, despite putting his name to a petition demanding just that. Muller demanded that Australian skiers be allowed into the country for the 2020 ski season, but according to the national Party Spokesperson on Covid ‘that never happened’. ACT demanded that Butchers, Bakers and Greengrocers should be open during a lockdown while claiming the MoH backed him. They did not. Taiwan was held up as a model to follow. Not so much now. The Bish even went as far to claim that NZers were receiving ‘short doses’ as part of some sort of govt plot despite MoH denying that was happening. Who can forget Big Gerry and his conspiracy theories. And an honourable mention to former National party MP’s and former presidents caught out undermining the covid response. It’s all a bit of a bugger for the right wing at the mo. National party supporters demanding Peter Goodfellow be sacked, awaiting the arrival of the ‘anointed one’ to replace placeholder Judith, 20+ National MP’s now either been sacked, retired or resigned since they were last in office (not counting those that lost their seats), the NZ economy going gangbusters, unemployment down, no covid in the community, Aussie going into lockdown every 5 minutes proving that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, the UK showing that right wing politics is not about caring for their people, the US right wing now beginning to call for everyone to get vaccinated after fueling anti vaxx shtick for the last year (Laura, Rand and Tucker not withstanding), Fiji showing what happens when things go wrong, and yet, the right wing still demands (not requests) that the Govt obey their every utterance as if they are relevant or even care about anything other than regaining power. Chris Bishop on the radio this morning claiming all he wants is for all NZ to be vaccinated yesterday. I call bullshit on that. All right wing want is to undermine the Govt to regain the treasury benches by any means necessary. ‘Hold the Govt to account?’ my arse. If you want a definition of National/ACTs favourite word (shambles) then look no further than their response to the pandemic.

  2. I agree – the Natz, Act and the right wing media and bloggers and the moaning old men are quietly envious of the success of Jacinda in managing the Covid pandemic and making Aotearoa the safest and most-free country in the world. I’m amazed at the hate expressed by the mainly old men talk-back listeners (encouraged by the hosts) against Jacinda herself. An example is the National party rally last friday where all the radio stations, TV shows and newspaper provided all that free pro-tory promotion and the old boomers got to express their rhetoric. The right wing just go from issue to issue and in between deal with internal dissention but have no positive outlook.. $250k still seems to be inadequate going by the number of oldies not getting vaccinations.

    • Now, now we can’t be having right wingers being all positive now, it doesn’t fit their brief. Just read John’s posts as examples.

    • Nikorima I agree that $250k isn’t much. I can’t see why you’re so optimistic about JA and her Government. I’m one of those boomers that you dislike but the issues that they bang on about are mostly true aren’t they. JA says good stuff but her minions achieve fuck all. The Covid response is ok since this would be one of the easiest countries to secure but vaccination rates are very dodgy when compared to the UK. Every election promise made was either a lie or made with complete ignorance of projects to be taken on. A cynic like me would say they were made to win an election but then I’m just a hateful boomer. I should go for your optimism but I’m old enough to smell bullshit when I tread on it.

  3. Curwen, please be accurate and get this right! The govt is NOT trying to work out to HOW TO DO comms for its Covid strategy!!!
    “Ardern said the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet spent $252,945 on OPINION POLLS and focus groups to find out how the COVID-19 response WAS BEING RECEIVED.”
    There is a massive difference there!!!
    Think about it…the govt with the help of some very very very expensive advertising agencies devised ‘special branding’ and a full-scale campaign to communicate their CV19 strategy from day one last year. It worked like a dream. We bought in! We took in the messages. We all complied. We got the app. We scanned. We stayed home.And now we are going for our vaxxes. We did exactly what was asked. Covid stayed out of NZ (mostly) and here we are – in relatively good place.
    So why the hell do we need 250K taxpayer money to see if it worked????? It did and still does! It is so patently obvious. That research they commissioned is like taking selfies of yourself in a mirror so you can see how good you look taking selfies in a mirror – then you post it on social media. It’s also right up there with spending 45K re-branding a secret spy agency – we don’t even know what the branding looks like, it’s that secret.
    Now if you are a low or middle income mother with three children shopping for food and clothes, that 45K or that 250K is a massive amount of money. Just on those grounds of govt wasting money, that mother should not vote Labour again. Besides, they should have given that money to Mike King!!!!

  4. Well said Curwen. The thing that amazes me, even with this drivel from ACT & National, they still manage to poll so highly. Right wing voters should be up-in-arms protesting about their lack of credible representation; I can only assume their political bias is making them blind to what is actually happening in the oppostion benches.

  5. Must be the only four people that think the government is doing a good job going forward. There seems to be no plan to get workers into the country and I see now a law firm is taking action against the immegration dept in their dealings with those trying to get here to reconnect with families. Like many thinks with this government they started well and made lots of the right noises but feel down in completing the deal wether it is housing, transport , mental health , health in general .

    • Geez Trevor, aint you seen the polls lately? Majority might not be happy with all policy and performance coming out of this Govt, but sure as hell don’t want Nat/ACT in charge. Judith and Seymour to to fix housing, transport, mental health and health in general? How? ACT now full of conspiracy theorists and gun nuts while pretending that they aren’t pro drugs and have libertarian values (coz that might scare their new fans) while national slowly disintegrates under Judith Collins as she goes to war against dissenters in her own party while appealing to the redneck vote while also pretending she isn’t a social progressive as the christian conservatives sharpen their knives. If all this is too upsetting for you, may I suggest Kiwibog where railing against the current Govt is the subject du jour.

      • Where in my comment did I say National would do better .If you look back while I admit to being a Nationally inclined voter I am not a cheer leader for them in their current form.
        I have nothing to do with Labour but for the sake of the country if you are a card carrying member then you need to speak up to make the leaders aware the people are not happy . It seems to me they cannot see the tide turning against them and if they do not change it will be a sunarmi just like it was in 2008

        • as you are a self described National Party inclined voter, I’m heartened that you agree they are a shambles and so can only assume that you also agree the worst thing for NZ would be them gaining the treasury benches if an election were held tomorrow. I’m not a ‘card carrier’ so have little sway over policy (some I agree with, some i don’t) but the expectation that any govt will make everyone happy all the time is a road to disappointment. I’m picking Labour/Greens to win a majority 2023 (at the moment) and i think National is picking that too. 2026 Luxon/Bridges? might be a different story with some well researched policy and some quality high profile candidates, so their time will come again just as it always has. But that should be left to a public vote called ‘an election’ rather than be decided on a blog site. My Grandad used to say ‘the people vote Labour when they think they need them, then vote them out when they think they don’t’. Thinking that the majority of NZers don’t support this govt at the moment is burying your head in the (blue) sand despite what ZB and Magic are spouting today. But maybe you are right. Maybe there is a groundswell of support for a right wing alternative. Maybe the turnout for Labour/Greens will be so low that National/ACT win by default. If so, I, like you, will be measuring them on their results as well (for the sake of the country). If the issues you claim to care about are not addressed by either party, then what?

  6. How many of you have got sofar the vaccination?
    How many of you expect to get the vaccination this year?
    That is the only thing this government should be judged on. Next to how many more people are homeless, how much more does it cost to buy or rent, how many motels will they buy in order to house the homeless, how many kids are poor cause their parents are poor, how long does one need to wait for a bog standard knee / hip replacement etc. How many people could have been helped if the 2.7 million drug money ahem, drug rehabilitation money that went to the Mongrel Mob rather then to Mike King?
    The covid response was a panic response, and for what its worth, many here are still in panic mode.

    • Yep got fully vaccinate 8 weeks ago so the government are bloody legends seeing how you said we judge them on that. Buggar all people homeless as the government have housed them rather than Nationals policy of keeping the m on the streets.
      Actually your post is just an irrational rightwing diatribe like all your other posts.

  7. “The covid response was a panic response, and for what its worth, many here are still in panic mode.”

    So you will line up first to jab yourself with covid and prove to us all that it’s no worse than the ahem, flu Sabrina?

    All I can say is thank christ you aren’t in charge or there would be a lot more dead.

  8. It’s nowhere near as expensive as the Ministry of Primary Industries rebrand, which is basically changing the background color and over $900,000.

    • Z
      I take it you are responding to my rant about the 45K for the spy re-branding? Is your comment merely another such observation (in disgust perhaps?), or are you saying because they wasted 900K on MPI re-branding, it makes the other waste of money ok? This is how it works…there are many many many layers of dept managers sitting in Wellington, earning 200..250K or more, with job titles like ‘Customer Engagement Mananger’ or Brand Activation Manager’. Bullshit titles to be precise. But they have to show something at their annual review…so they do stuff like ‘re-brand’. Nice jobs ey!

  9. As much as I have always disliked Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand politics, because I saw some of these negative things coming a Mike off, despite the fact that I have mostly been a Labour voter and definitely was in support of Helen Clark during her nine years in power, I do feel I should praise Jacinda Ardern and HER team for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It does certainly seem that, had National been in power, we would have reopened our borders with Australia too early, and goodness knows who else National would have let in prematurely.

    Furthermore, despite the flak that our current PM has been shouldering due to being the “President of the Youth Socialist Movement” or something similar to this title in her younger years, she does actually carry the courage of her convictions. Here is a woman who has used her own beliefs, whatever they may be, to guide her decision on every single conscience vote she’s made while she’s been in Parliament. And here is a woman who sat down with Winston Peters on one particular occasion in the lead up to the 2020 election, absolutely racked with worry about the possibility of the Opposition getting into power, extremely concerned about the future of our nation if such a fate were to Dawn upon us. Thankfully, in the context of the global pandemic and the matter of reopening our borders, it didn’t.


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