My brain took a loose turn this week when considering the New Zealand quarantine issues…
There’s an election in New Zealand in September. The current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has a large fan club. However, that popularity won’t form a complete protection against campaign challenges. Her second tier parliamentarians are weak and the government is struggling to prove itself in the economic sphere. Ardern has done a stellar job of leadership through a time of crises, from the Christchurch mosque shootings to the White Island explosion to the global pandemic. However, it is a lot easier to lead and be visibly successful in a time of a single focus, compared to a time when the issues are multiple and complex. As the economy moves into the spotlight, with COVID-19 disease currently under control, the government’s challenges are multiplying.
One of the greatest potential election risks is a resurgence of COVID-19 and an even greater threat would be a resurgence of a scale that required locking the country down again. It is looking like the virus is under control within New Zealand, so threat can only come in across our border. The government has instigated mandatory quarantining, as well as testing of those quarantined, and the country should be well practiced at these procedures given that they have been in place for 2 months. However, a process that operates well at a small scale, could easily fail under pressure if required to scale up. The most likely reason for scale-up would be if we form a ‘bubble’ with an offshore partner, most likely Australia.
There has been lots of pressure from within New Zealand to form a trans Tasman bubble. Ski fields and associated tourism would like a bubble already, as 30% of our skiers come from Australia. Interestingly, the Australians are not nearly as interested in a New Zealand-Australia bubble as New Zealanders are, because their economy benefits far more from exchanges with other offshore partners. The NZ-Oz relationship in this instance resembles the Pacific Island-NZ relationship. The smaller partner is desperate for commerce, the larger partner sees the risks and considers they don’t outweigh the rewards.
Notwithstanding a relatively cool Australian central government reception of the Trans-Tasman bubble concept, a number of the Australian states are pretty keen. Notable is Tasmania, whose leader has supposedly been in ongoing talks with Winston Peters on this matter. Winston is definitely pushing the bubble as part of his electioneering campaign, and starting to slightly distance himself from Jacinda, as politics in an MMP election require. On June 7th the National Party were urgenlty calling for a timeline for bubble development to allow businesses to plan for the future. However, by June 18th National was saying that the recent border blunder meant that we needed to back off the bubble concept.
What if you were sure that a trans Tasman bubble was risky, but you knew you would be pushed incredibly hard to open one up, possibly before the election? How might you create a scenario in which the likelihood of a bubble was massively decreased? You might just be a little slack about process. Not so slack that the number of ‘escaping’ COVID-19 cases overwhelmed our ability to track and trace and enforce self-isolation, but sufficiently slack that it was likely someone would slip through. You might even know who was likely to slip through, and thus be able to keep an eye on them.
Once the apparently tenuous state of the quarantine procedures hit the headlines, you could then apologise profusely, identify how to improve systems, bring in the military to be sure that the mistake wouldn’t happen again, and know that the chances of public pressure for a trans Tasman bubble have reduced way down into background noise. Without public willingness to open the borders, it would be a risky political move to push an international bubble as a point of difference in an election campaign. You would be safe from the risks of a pre-election bubble and have scuppered the chances of another party using this to gain an advantage.
No, no, no, no, no. I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t like conspiracy theories. I generally hypothesise that most organisations can’t organise their way out of transparent plastic bags, let alone plan and enact nefarious and complex political and social scenarios through to a successful conclusion. Why is my brain doing this?
Supposedly, the more dramatic and negative an event, the more likely people are to see conspiracies in action. This is because we would rather that bad things happen for a reason, than at random. However, in the case of the quarantine failure, one is not thinking of random events, more of systemic mismanagement. Social media is also blamed for the rise of conspiracy theories, however in this case my brain made the theory up all by itself, as far as I can tell. What I have concluded, is that a key element in my hypothesising is that I am no longer trusting anyone to tell the truth. I had faith in the government to tell the unvarnished truth, but the obfuscation around the chain of command, and organisations responsible for the border quarantine and testing, have left me feeling like I can’t trust them as much as I thought I could. In the vacuum created when truth and facts abscond, random hypotheses flourish.
I am definitely not suggesting you should believe my story, it has absolutely no evidence behind it whatsoever! Not to mention that, mismanagement of quarantine exceptions is a much more likely scenario that machiavellian action. But I am suggesting that we all need to consider what stories we might be inventing and telling ourselves, if not others, and what stories we might be spreading. If I, who am opposed to conspiracy theories, am spontaneously inventing such theories, I fear the world has become a very tenuous place in regard to the line between fact and fiction.