Peter Elms, Immigration NZ's national manager of border and visa operations, reckons three German nationals who arrived at Ōpua last week after being denied permission to come here demonstrated a "blatant disregard" for New Zealand's border restrictions," and would not be tolerated. Aspects of their situation were "unfortunate," according to the Ministry of Heath, but did not meet the required threshold of a compelling humanitarian need.
It's hard to say whether that threshold was met nor not without knowing exactly what condition they and their boat were in, but the ministry's steadfast refusal, over a period of months, to allow yachties come here in time to avoid the tropical cyclone season smacks of unbridled bureaucracy rather than a valid precaution against allowing anyone who might have Covid-19 to step ashore.
The ministry has seemingly accepted for some time that yachties parked around the Pacific have genuine cause for concern, but has refused to grant exemptions, resisting arguments that for many of these people these boats are their homes, that in many cases they have children aboard, and staying where they are poses genuine risks to their wellbeing, perhaps their lives.
And while it is laudable for these bureaucrats take every reasonable measure to protect us from a fresh incursion by Covid-19, they have never spelled out just what risk overseas yachties actually pose.
The trio who arrived at Ōpua on Friday had reportedly taken two months and 18 days to sail 4000km to get there, and had tested negative for Covid. They are now in forced isolation aboard their vessel for 14 days. It is difficult to imagine how, after such a long time at sea, they might be infectious. Certainly they were told they were not welcome but came anyway, but we don't know how desperate their situation was, or whether the refusal to allow them in was reasonable.
It would be fair to say, prima facie, that the rules governing people who have been in total isolation for weeks or months are ridiculous, and seem to have more to do with the wielding of authority for authority's sake than any rational interpretation of the threat they might pose to public health.
Immigration, of course, has a hard-earned reputation for making and enforcing silly rules. These are the last people to be trusted to make intelligent decisions regarding who may come here and who may not, or to consider genuine humanitarian grounds for permission to enter. Immigration NZ is a true bastion of bureaucracy, which rarely seems to miss an opportunity to remind us that it is in charge.
Covid-19 has given it even greater scope to wield its big stick, for no apparent benefit.
The Ministry of Health, which does not see these yachties as meeting the criterion regarding compelling humanitarian need, and apparently doesn't think that two months and 18 days at sea is sufficient to rule out their being a threat, has overseen a shambolic isolating and quarantining process. It seems to be on the improve, judging by what we are told, but the evolution from farcical, and dishonestly portrayed, to hopefully effective has been painfully slow, dependent more upon revelations of utter failure than any internal recognition that it was not meeting any remotely acceptable standard.
Don't forget that for 64 days, during which time the testing we were told was being done wasn't being done, this ministry said we had no Covid-19 cases in this country. Then, when it actually began testing, as it said it had been doing all along, new cases began popping up on a daily basis.
The inescapable conclusion is that for 64 days Covid-19 had a free pass into New Zealand, courtesy of a ministry that won't allow people who have been at sea for two months and 18 days come here.
To deny entry to people whose situation is perilous to say the least because they might bring the virus here makes absolutely no sense. If that decision is designed to have us believe that these civil servants really know what they are doing, after months of demonstrating that they don't, it isn't working.
Like the decisions that have allowed the likes of movie-makers and America's Cup crews into New Zealand but have denied entry to those involved in less glamorous occupations, like picking strawberries and milking cows, the ban of yachties seems to have been made on the familiar ad hoc basis that has typified the government's response to the Covid-19 threat. There is neither rhyme nor reason, and if those who are making these decisions refuse to explain them it is probably because they can't.
Honesty at last
Green Party leader James Shaw has dismissed NZ First leader Winston Peters' 'Ōrewa speech' as the politics of division, a tactic that had had its day and won't resonate with voters in 2020. Peters says he was simply reiterating principles that he and his party have long espoused. And, agree with him or not, he's right.
He had prefaced his remarks with the claim that his party had prevented the government from "doing a deal" over Ihumātao, owned by Fletcher Building but occupied since 2016 in attempts to stop a housing development. In July Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said no building would take place there while the government and other parties tried to broker a solution. The issue has yet to be resolved, according to Peters, thanks to NZ First.
From the outset Peters has based his opposition to a deal on the grounds that any sort of settlement would open the floodgates to renewed claims by iwi the length and breadth of the country, and a more fundamental call for one law for all New Zealanders. "Too many Maori… cannot shift their mindset," he said. They were "stuck in the past, and they want you to pay for it." He called colonialism ""a lousy excuse," saying he had never heard former All Black Buck Shelford say 'Don't tackle me too hard, I'm Māori."
One law for all had always been NZ First's mantra. Indeed it has, but it's taken a long time to resurface.
This so-called 'Covid election' will be remembered for many things, including a reluctance by the governing party to talk in any meaningful way about tax and a plethora of new parties that will (hopefully) never be heard of again. And now, just weeks out from polling day, we are finally seeing some honest expression of principles that have long been all but invisible.
Peters harked back to his fundamental principles in Ōrewa, and his Northland candidate, Shane Jones, showed a flash of his at a candidates' meeting in Kaitaia last week.
"We celebrate our right (to welfare) and ignore our obligations," he said, adding that parents were fundamentally obliged to look after their children and to live within their means.
Don Brash's (in)famous Ōrewa speech gave National an instant 17 per cent boost in the polls in 2004, which, funnily enough, was precisely the margin between Labour and National in the latest poll. Whether Peters' effort will have a similarly spectacular effect on his party's polling remains to be seen, but it is refreshing to hear senior politicians finally saying, without equivocation, what they believe.
It might have been a very different campaign, and likely outcome, if they had started doing that sooner.