Throughout the recent election campaign, enthusiastic reviews of Jacinda Ardern's performance as Prime Minister cited her response to three "crises": the Christchurch mosque attacks, the Whakaari/White Island tragedy and the coronavirus.
On the first and last, she did well. Her responses were decisive and made an international impact. But I can't remember anything she said or did about Whakaari.
Even at the anniversary on Wednesday she failed to address the two questions left hanging in the air after the eruption: How did a visibly active volcano become a tourist excursion? And when the inevitable happened, where were the rescue services?
Commercial helicopter pilots and boat crew went to the rescue but not our designated rescue services, the so-called "first responders". They were ordered to wait until it was safe for them.
Those who made that decision then ordered the commercial pilots not to make a second landing when the pilots knew there were people still missing who might have been saved or at least their bodies recovered. The pilots express their frustration to the media with suppressed anger.
Why is this not a bigger story, particularly now that the helicopter companies are facing charges from WorkSafe NZ?
This wasn't the first time the public has witnessed the reluctance of emergency services to take a risk. We vividly remember the so-called Mines Rescue Service being held back at the entrance to Pike River 10 years ago.
It is bad enough that there is clearly now no acceptance of risk in the official response to disasters, but it is infuriating to hear authorities pretend otherwise. On Whakaari (or rather, not on Whakaari) the policeman in charge solemnly and repeatedly declared rescue was their first priority when, just as at Pike River, plainly it was not.
The safety of their staff was their first priority. Let them openly acknowledge that and let's have a debate about it. It may be a perfectly reasonable and sensible priority and a majority of people might agree with it but, if so, let's stop pretending they are taking risks. Let's stop treating them as heroes.
Media are mainly at fault here. Disaster reporting seems to need a hero story, more than its audience does, I suspect, especially now that people see the word bestowed on just about anybody in any kind of adversity.
It adds insult to injury when the public is served the kind of pap screened by One News last Sunday evening.
An item prepared for the Whakaari anniversary described in heroic terms the body recovery operation carried out four days after the eruption. We saw footage of Defence Force personnel labouring in voluminous yellow spacesuits and a member of the team, who was interviewed in shadow, described how difficult and hot it was. I can understand her wish for anonymity.
It's a great pity the quality of heroism is being devalued in this way because it is a real and remarkable human instinct that should be celebrated when it really happens. It is not rational or sensible but thankfully it happens.
The pilots and boat crew went straight onto the island regardless of the heat and the possibility the eruption had not finished. They went in without protective clothing and they didn't have to wait for clearance from higher echelons.
They worked in the tourism industry, knew the island and knew they had to get burned people to hospital quickly. When they spoke to reporters they didn't think of themselves as heroes - brave people don't. They act on the instinct to take a personal risk when you must if you can save someone's life.
If the Prime Minister or anyone in the Government was disappointed with the performance of their rescue service, I have not heard them say so. Speaking at the commemoration in Whakatāne on Wednesday, Ardern was reported to have "praised the rescuers, first responders and the wider Whakatāne community". At least she drew a distinction between rescuers and first responders.
But she continues to resist calls for a commission of inquiry into all aspects of the disaster, claiming the WorkSafe prosecutions and a coroner's inquest will tell us all we need to know. WorkSafe would be the last agency to question a safety priority and a coroner, even if inclined to criticise the emergency services, is unlikely to have the means to properly investigate them.
A commission of inquiry could examine the principles governing safety and risk in emergency services and adventure tourism. It is not an easy subject. Tourists expect the thrill but not the risk. When there is risk, they have a right to know the odds.
WorkSafe seems exactly the wrong organisation to regulate this. The helicopter heroes were not registered, reportedly, for ground operations on Whakaari. Good on them for landing there when it mattered.