The failure of the Government to properly manage the border has provided many New Zealanders with a strong sense of deja vu. If you are experiencing that feeling, don't worry. We have in fact been here before, more than once.
I went back and re-read a column I wrote two months ago about the round of border failures at that time, and the hapless then-Health Minister Dr David Clark. The sad part is that every word still applies. Just swap in the name Hipkins for Clark and we are almost exactly where we were.
Except it's worse. The career-ending border failures under Clark's watch didn't result in a two-week-plus lockdown of our biggest city, which has cost taxpayers another $1.6 billion and plunged many hospitality and accommodation business owners across the country back into despair.
Those border failures also didn't cause another two weeks of learning from home for Auckland school students, or result in the cancellation of elective surgeries and consulting sessions in Auckland's hospitals and medical centres.
That's what happened this time. It is almost certain that the virus came back across the border — and we now know the border protections were once again not what the Government — from the Prime Minister down — repeatedly told us they were.
Clark could well wonder why he was given the axe while Hipkins gets to offer yet another band-aid on top of the Government's previous band-aids in his frenetic attempts to shut the issue down.
I've tried to apply my knowledge of how government works to determine how such a repeated comprehensive failure of the government apparatus to do what it said it was doing could unfold. And I think it comes down to about three things.
First, the Government and its Covid response is being run by a way too small group. The Prime Minister and her group of three core ministers hardly trust anyone to make decisions outside their inner circle. While there is always a core group, in this instance even senior portfolio ministers are being sidelined.
The whole Government currently seems to come down to the PM, Robertson, Hipkins, Woods, Bloomfield, and the ever-present Brian Roche and Heather Simpson.
Bolstering the ranks with a range of senior outsiders with different experiences would provide contestable advice and avoid capture by officials. Australia, for example, has a business-led Covid Commission that plans and prods the economic recovery.
In New Zealand after the GFC we had the Jobs Summit and other initiatives. Successive governments have brought in a number of independent health advisers to complement the often all-too-bureaucratic Ministry of Health. People like Des Gorman are straight shooters focused on getting stuff done.
With something this big, it pays to take advice from all quarters and forget the party politics for a bit. Unfortunately, the current Government has remained intensely political and self-protective throughout the Covid response, while maintaining that it isn't.
It's particularly egregious that Ashley Bloomfield is being shielded from fronting up to a parliamentary committee to answer questions about the border breaches and the lockdown. He's not a politician, he's a well-paid public servant who currently has extraordinary power over people's lives. He simply must front.
Second, Chris Hipkins has a ridiculous workload. Speaking as someone who has held a few portfolios in my time, the idea that any single individual could successfully manage Health, Education, the State Sector, and Parliament's business all at once is truly ludicrous. And so it has proven.
Chris Hipkins is a capable individual but he is clearly not completely across his health brief. On top of that, his statements this week suggesting first that conspiratorial rumours on Facebook were themselves a conspiracy, and second that the 1pm press conferences were the single source of truth — a statement reminiscent of Comical Ali of Iraq — suggest someone under a lot of stress.
Finally, the PM and her ministers need to stop thinking that politics is a game of how to spin your way out of absolutely everything. This has been their Achilles heel.
They have been caught too often saying one thing one week, and something completely different a couple of weeks later, all in the hope that the public have the memories of goldfish.
It is a politician's job to put a positive spin on most things, but you can't keep arguing that black is white when it obviously isn't. If you try, people stop believing you.
Sometimes an issue is so serious or the failure so obvious that you have to drop the buzz phrases, quit the dissembling and level with the public. They may even thank you for it, and they'll be more inclined to believe what you say in the future.
As it is, we are approaching a risky point where the public may stop believing the Government and its spin — which is tricky when you are dealing with a pandemic.
While there are always loopies around, the extent to which so many people latched onto some of the conspiracy theories last week following the lockdown announcement suggests many thought they weren't getting the full picture from official sources. And of course at that stage they weren't.
Many are also getting sick of all the political catchphrases, and suspicious at the certainty with which some of the Government's scientists impart their knowledge and brook no dissent, when it is clear that much about this virus is still uncertain.
A little more straightforward honest communication would go a long way. Lest the whole country do what many Aucklanders did last weekend after being told to lock down. Shrug their shoulders and go to the beach.
Steven Joyce is a former National Party MP and former Minister of Finance who now provides strategic advice to businesses