GUEST BLOG: Ian Powell – Wellington now faces a public health emergency

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There have been many things said about the escalating debacle involving the occupation in and around Parliament grounds in Wellington. I’ve already blogged an assessment in my previous Political Bytes post:  Rights, responsibilities and far right agendas.

 

Much has changed since then. Abuse and intimidation (including threats of violence) has increased for residents, local workers and bus drivers, parliamentary staff, journalists, mask wearers and others unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. The far right has migrated to the anti-vaccinators activists like vultures to a carcass.

The occupation now extends further along Molesworth St and in other nearby streets, and in Victoria University’s Pipitea campus (which has now been closed down for students on the grounds of safety).

Threats of harm and death to politicians, journalists and others continue with the added dimension of a call for a military coup. This is not an insurrection but there is no doubt that the far right, who have to date the greatest influence on the occupation leadership and its tactics, would like this to be the outcome.

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What about the ‘dispossessed’?

There has also been an overblown narrative suggesting that the ‘dispossessed’ are driving the occupation. There are certainly many people in New Zealand living in dire circumstances as a result of both cruel government decisions and neglect. Dispossessed of secure employment and other basics they have good reason for feeling marginalised and disenfranchised (‘declassed’ in other words).

However, while the ‘dispossessed’ are among the occupiers they are not the drivers and their involvement is overstated (certainly in respect of leadership). This was certainly my experience walking through the occupation on its first day.

Further, the ‘dispossessed’ tend not to possess utes, SUVs and campervans that block Molesworth St unless I’ve misunderstood what the word means. Nor does the presence of a millionaire’s partner help this narrative.

Voice of the dispossessed (millionaire’s partner)!!!

 

Good reads

There is more that can be said but the situation is well described in two published articles. I don’t necessarily agree with all their observations but broadly speaking they are on the mark. The first is by Stuff journalist Charlie Mitchell (18 February): Police failure to understand.

 

 

The second article is by Newsroom political editor Jo Moir 19 February): Behind political manoeuvring. Both articles are good reads.

 

Failure of police leadership

What stands out is the failure of the police leadership (which isn’t a reflection on rank-and-file police). Leadership was unprepared. Better preparation and an earlier more strategic response may well have made a huge difference. Initially the convoy was described as being one of trucks. That was clearly not the case (utes, SUVs and campervans instead).

But this clearly signalled an intention to block roads with Molesworth St being both a major arterial road and running alongside Parliament. There were no plans to redirect these vehicles when numbers were much smaller. They were simply left to blockade the street at their will.

It was as if the police leadership were unaware of what was already happening in Ottawa on their own television screens including the far right involvement.

It also begs the question of what the security services were doing – the Government Communications Security Bureau and Security Intelligence Services should have been well aware of the risk including the international connections from the United States and advising the police accordingly.

I was stunned to learn that when parliamentary security guards requested police support to remove illegal tents in the grounds while numbers were very small this was denied. No attempt was made to prevent tents being erected at all even it would have been increasingly more difficult as numbers grew. Thereafter it got worse.

At least up until around 3pm this morning, the police leadership had, in effect, conceded defeat and given virtual free rein to the occupation’s far right influenced leadership. Worse than no longer protecting the abused, intimidated and threatened public, the police leadership then downplayed the significance of this behaviour although it now appears to have reversed its position.

The far right and those it influences gained open entry to those areas they had taken over. No wonder they feel emboldened and believed they have beaten the police. With some justification they can consider that they had won and that the sky was their only limit.

It is extraordinary that a disunited and factionalised far right could outmanoeuvre a police leadership that has a much larger disciplined and trained workforce at its disposal.

The likes of far righter Kelvyn Alps outmanoeuvred the police

 

Remembering the past

I can still vividly recall witnessing police violence over 40 years ago in 1981. This was  the same street blocked by wealthy vehicles today (Molesworth). The violence was against peaceful anti-Springbok tour marchers.

I was in about the 8th row from the front of the march where the assault occurred. For the entirety of the eight-week tour police moved heaven and earth, including violence, to protect this racist tour.

Surely it is not too much to expect that the police now would move heaven and earth (without violence) to protect the public from the risk of Covid infection and worse, as well as intimidation and threats of physical harm (and worse)!

Biggest danger: risk to the public’s health

But intimidation and threats of violence (and worse) are not the biggest danger to the public  We are now left with a worsening public health risk in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its highly transmissible variant (Omicron) is out of control quickly spreading throughout New Zealand. It is expected to soon overrun our already overwhelmed public hospitals.

While Delta is more deadly (a higher likelihood of death for those infected), Omicron is potentially more devastating. Its transmissibility is so high that the previously successful elimination strategy (including lockdowns) is  rendered ineffective. We can only hope to mitigate rather than eliminate Omicron. Mitigation may take months.

We are already at a record high of hospitalisations. Hospitals will struggle to cope with just Covid-19 patients. Many other patients requiring critical treatment such as cancer and cardiac will miss out or be dangerously delayed. Even worse so might diagnosis.

Through its higher transmissibility and the dependence on mitigation rather than elimination, it is possible that Omicron could lead to more deaths than Delta.

State of public health emergency

So where does this far right shaped occupation fit in? The last thing New Zealand needs are virus spreaders. Large crowds without public health measures, such as social distancing and masks, are potential virus spreaders.

This is even more so when many or most are unvaccinated and in a very crowded environment. It is the unvaccinated who are already disproportionately putting hospitals under pressure. This will escalate as Omicron continues to run rampant.

This particular occupation (which is unlike any other occupation we have experienced) is a huge virus spreader extending well beyond its participants; to those they encounter or threaten both during and after the event. This is the expert advice of leading epidemiologists and other medical specialists.

When the pandemic first hit New Zealand in March 2020 the Government declared a state of emergency. This was the right decision. Declaring a state of emergency is a critical part of a country’s response arrangements. It allows relevant authorities and people to exercise extraordinary powers designed to deliver an effective and swift response.

The far right and those they influence have created an illegal huge virus spreader. This justifies a state of emergency as much as the arrival of Covid-19 did nearly two years ago.

Presently the Government is caught between a rock and a hard place because of the strong sensible tradition of not being involved in police operational decisions. But these are exceptional circumstances.

A state of emergency on the basis of the current level of intimidation and threats in Wellington can’t be justified. But it could be on the basis of the threat to public health. It would strengthen the ability of the police and other authorities to first protect the health (not to forget personal safety) of the public in and around Parliament and beyond.

Encouragingly the police initiative this morning in blocking in the occupation (including preventing access) and protecting workers and others on the streets is an intelligent step in the right direction.

This needs to be followed by reclaiming other occupied or threatened premises like the university and courts. Gradual well-planned removal of the vehicles blocking roads should follow.

Then there should be a firm (but non-violent) gradual strategic removal of tents from the grounds. This will take time but should be assisted by the earlier activities. The threat to public health should be the biggest driver of this direction.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government should not be blamed for this debacle but it must provide leadership to put it right

If the current situation is allowed to continue unabated (or even if reduced) then the probability of affecting the health and wellbeing of the innocent will exponentially increase (including otherwise avoidable mortalities). This has to be turned around quickly.

Otherwise, not only will have the far right won (they have won enough already) and the police failed, but the Government will have failed too.

Responsibility for this debacle should not be apportioned to the Government given these exceptional circumstances. But it is the putting right that counts.

Ian Powell was Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, the professional union representing senior doctors and dentists in New Zealand, for over 30 years, until December 2019. He is now a health systems, labour market, and political commentator living in the small river estuary community of Otaihanga (the place by the tide). First published at Political Bytes

96 COMMENTS

  1. Look at Chris Trotters piece today and The Platform poll ,all be it small doesn’t suggest Big Right wing influence.I’m in contact with many of the fine NZs in protest and have all come from the “Left” mainly Greens .This is the party who are going to be punished most their unwavering support for Labour will have them throw out this time round.This from a supporter of Green\Values for 50 years ,never again

  2. In Chch there were 5 tents and the police and council argued who was responsible to get them to move on . Now there are a 100 plus . Police are being poorly lead at a time of crisis by both their top personnal and their political masters.

  3. Ian – If public health in a time of COVID (rather than politics) is the overriding concern, presumably you agreed with the far-right influencers who wanted Trump to use police and the feds to disrupt the BLM protests after George Floyd was murdered? A time of zero percent vaccination and a more deadly variant.

    Be carful what you wish for.

    • This is a bandwagon protest.
      Every fringe dwelling, dispossessed, marginalised,
      extremest thinking redneck, bogan, hippie and mentally ill fantasist neo nazi prepper is seizing the moment for their time in the sun.
      Like our imported American culture it is an attempted apeing of the Capitol hill riots and the Canadian trucker blockade without the guns and trucks.
      Add to that, protest tourists, influencers, rubberneckers and social media whores……you get the picture.
      This is not left or right.
      This is not protest for collective good or to right wrongs or injustice.
      It is a selfish mock outrage display of misguided selfish individule rights over the wishes of the vast majority

      • Jack – even if your confetti of ad hominem were a 100% correct (which I doubt) my point was questioning the author’s consistency/selectiveness in invoking the same public health emergency to end/not end protests. You implicitly raise the question of what is a good protest or bad protest without any reference to actual protestor behaviour (throwing shit, violence against the public, rioting etc, are all good reasons for a police intervention), however you seem to think ‘bad people having bad’ thoughts is enough and presumably people like you should be the arbiter of what constitutes that.

        It never fails to amaze me how short-sighted so many people on the left are today.
        To fight fascists they seem prepared to dehumanise and cheer state power in an incrementally fascist direction, so pure and so righteous they never imagine it would have blowback on them and ‘right thinking’ people.

        Basic civil liberties question – Why do you think the ACLU (and many Jewish and black leaders in Chicago) defended the right of the KKK to march in Skokie?

        ps – Just so you don’t get it twisted, I’m double vaxxed and do not support the removal of mandates during the current Omicron wave.

  4. “The far right and those they influence have created an illegal huge virus spreader.”

    where is your Proof of Far right being heavily involved in this protest? I have seen zero. Absolutely nothing. The crowd is very diverse. Maori are in fact OVER represented. This does not scream “right wing” at all.

    Where is your proof this is a “huge virus spreader”? There is none, More emotional clap trap.

    From battling with the coppers in 1981 in the name of a just cause to cheering them on the police as they arrest citizen protesters in 2022: you have fallen a long way

  5. First off, this is a protest, not an occupation. Oh, how quickly mainstream media can shape ‘anything’ into ‘anything’ and even worse, how quickly the public buys into this coverage. We want to talk about threats to our so-called democracy – look at how easily mainstream media shapes our views!

    Next, the Police are blameless in this. They take their orders from above, it is that simple.

    As for the far-right, big effin deal. What doesn’t the government blame on the far-right? More importantly, is this protest championing far-right ideals? Clearly not, therefore invoking the far-right is merely a way to delegitimize/smear this protest, if not, most protests, these days.

    Finally, the so-called threat to public health. The public is over 90% vaccinated, thus there is minimal threat to the public, unless of course, one has little faith in the big V!

    • What utter rubbish AO. The main stream media is full of bitching and moaning about every f’ing Covid measure and, if anything, the MSM initially went out of their way to down play the freak show element despite the visuals. Are you suggesting the coverage is made up? Whatever your views on mandates you are trying to defend the indefensible. I don’t care what you want to call them, and I don’t care if they are right or left or upside down. Threatening the public, abusing mask wearing (while wanking on about freedom at the same time!!) and throwing shit at people is not justified full stop.

      • Don’t confuse bitching and moaning with challenging government measures. The two are not the same. The former enables, the latter questions – there’s your key difference.

        And no, the MSM has been more negative than positive towards this protest, with this balance becoming more negative with each day. This site alone keeps a running tally of daily headlines….and they speak for themselves https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2022/02/18/nz-politics-daily-18th-february-2022/

        Otherwise, your views essentially comes straight out of MSM coverage. Now if only MSM worked more for us little people than the corridors of power. If only…

    • Been to South Auckland lately, or West Auckland? This from yesterday, and that is with no demonstrations, just your bog standard over crowding, poor living conditions, underwhelming income etc etc etc.
      “The majority of today’s new cases – 1799 – are in Auckland, but cases are growing rapidly in other areas.”

      But hey, lets froth at the seems at the poor woke Wellingtonians that had to live with the ‘undesirables’.
      Never mind the cancer patients, surgery patients and any other standard sick person that can’t get medical help for lack of staff, resources and so on, cause this labour government has do ne nothing to better the DHBs, in fact they are in the pr9ocess of dismantling them, during the times of a pandemic. Cause Labour! Lol
      Darwin looked at our Government and decided that He Tangata are shit outta luck, specifically those that Live in South or West Auckland.

      • the govt does something bratty cries
        the govt does nothing bratty weeps

        maybe bratty isn’t interested in issues
        maybe bratty just hates jacinda
        in any and all circumstances.

        • good grief, you used to be so much better at this. And yes, you are right, can’t give a flying shit about St. Jacinda. This is her government and she is failing badly. She is failing as badly as did Sir John Key and his band of merry fuckwits.

          • Jacinda is a better leader than the hopeless Luxon, bridges and seymore who have thrown the towel in, raised the white flag and aremissing in action – deserted their troops

      • Hey I have been to West Auckland. Just last week. Its bloody tragic what has happened to this country and neither party have done anything to stop it. Too scared to change the tax system, killed off organized labour, allowed the housing market to become completely dysfunctional. These are all the result of policy decisions in the end. I understand why people are angry but this protest has allowed itself to be captured by a number of groups who are clearly using it for their own nefarious purposes.. Unfortunately we haven’t seen the worst of covid in this country. The Australians have modeled 370 deaths per 10,000 unvaccinated people who catch Omicron. Time will tell if this is correct but if it is close to accurate we are in for a hard time in the near future.

  6. Police, SIS, are public servants are too busy filling out their woke tick boxes and agenda, to keep NZ safe and secure with real actions and ability to see the future (capitol riots – follow who funded Trump (Russian and billionaire money) and the other libertarian right wingers who want no rules, hunger games style living). The democrats are probably just as compromised by their donors agenda and there is a lack of real choice for voters.

    Modern soft power destabilisation of democracy, is to destablise a democratic country from within and take over government policy for the wealth of a few to the detriment of society.

  7. Biggest “danger” to public health in South Auckland is the lack of state support services to counter covid here. Here where 40% of the outbreak is located but to get a test there is a 5 hour wait (IE Weymounth Road testing site in Clendon). Followed by a 6 day wait for results.

    If the good Docto9r was at all concerned how about fronting at the coalface and doing some work. No wonder people turn up at Middlemore looking for a test.

    So heartly sick of the politicians, acadamics and keyboard warriors, sitting in their ivory towers, that wont visit the front line and actually make a difference. Oh look Cjhristchurch is getting aother testing centre in Wigram blare the elite trumpets. Meanwhile at the epicentrew we wait in line for 5 hours.

    This is so beyond the joke this worry about an protest turning into a superspreader event when we have a huge superspreader environment in South Auckland that the landed gentry would rather not have to deal with.

    FRONT UP WITH SUPPORT AT THE EPICENTRE. pretty please, or would you rather we are forgotten, us who are the deplorables?.

    • Sorry dude, pointing out that the centre of this current outbreak again is in the poor areas of Auckland is ‘Jacinda Hate’. And sadly no the government ain’t here to help the poor, they are there to help themselves.

      • Mike the Lefty at last some sanity here, and some real anecdotes telling it like it is.

        And please respond to plea from Gerrit – can someone get behind South Auckland and lift them up, not just give them a shove. help where it is needed and they are keen to help.

  8. While I’m no rabble waiting to be roused I’d suggest it was, in fact, Wellington that was the public health emergency. Wellington is an awful place. It’s cold, windy and a garbled tangle of twee wee houses over looking a polluted back water but wait, there’s more?
    It’s also where the absurdly highly paid and soulless go to pretend they have our best interests at heart when really? After stripping away the lies, posturing and High Wankery? They’re there for their blown out egos and the money. OUR money. Wellington is a toxic over ground of blatant sociopathy, it’s where the best hair and make up is and it’s where the best drugs are but it’s not where the Class is dahlings. Is it?
    It’s more a nest where dirty deals are incubated then hatched. It’s where the plump and puffed up go to show us all how it’s done with their floff, floff, floff vowel-bobbles and brou ha ha, it’s where they s-wank about in designer clothing in full view of the wretched homeless they put there along Cuba St. ( That’s what I mean by No Class Dahlings. No Class.)
    Windy Wellington? Welliwood?
    Wellington. ‘Don’t Kid Yourself’ more like it.

  9. As of this morning clearly something has changed behind the scenes. Will it continue?

    But leading up to this point police leadership has been out to lunch for nearly two years now. Coster appears to be a liberal version of Judge Andrew Becroft, so that’s saying something. I suspect he looks at criminal activity through the very rose tinted lense of his privileged upbringing where good comfortable sane God fearing people can be reasoned with.

    From what I’ve read he actually has almost no front-line policing experience, a fast riser through the ranks with sabbaticals in Crown law and elsewhere to challenge his superior theoretical intellect but nothing practical, no years of reality, only text book theory. And as with any big organisation his executive will never dare question anything so we can’t rely on greater experience there. Hence when he ran the white flag up the poll telling us police were giving up, there was only deathly silence.

    Therefore the police going missing in action because of indecisive weak leadership was to be expected. We’ve seen it repeatedly throughout his tenure and although I’m sure his intentions are noble, it doesn’t help the rest of us.

    And I won’t hold my breath waiting for the PM to quietly sideline him, he was her pick!

  10. there’s video on youtube of a protest ‘official’ trying to restrict the access of a reporter to ground the protesters claim is free and belongs to all new zealanders….

    though it must be said she was quite polite and reasonable.

  11. Meanwhile in the UK. Bozo Johnson has cancelled covid. He’s removing all …. “Boris Johnson announced plans to end free testing for the general public from 1 April, saying it was time for people to “get our confidence back”.

    “People who test positive for Covid will no longer have to isolate by law from this Thursday – and from April will not even be advised to stay at home if infected, the prime minister said.”

    Who’s left in the west now for the PM to reference as to maintain NZ’s status quo? The flakey US? Or maybe those 50 Nazi Racists Fascist States in Europe she and her government supported at the UN just before Christmas? Probably.

  12. They are protesting government tyranny and are pulling back the curtain on the branch covidian cult, plus they inject money into the local economy. Winston visited the peaceful sit in as well bringing mana back to politicians.

    • inject cash into the local economy by threatening staff and customers and shitting on the floor as they did in the railway station bogs….that kinda boost to the local economy ethan, is that the benefit you’re talking about?

  13. People providing food at the location of ignorance today signalled that they would be establishing an antivax pass system to recieve food, in order to stop “people coming for a look getting a free feed”.

  14. Did you see the ‘super spreader event’ in Dunedin? Several hundreds of students that are still partying. Lol.

  15. apparently even the rev brians evangelical nutters are worried about right wing extremists infiltrating ‘hatefest 2022’

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