COMMENT:

Did you notice we were played like a fiddle yesterday? Well we were, if you weren't alert to it.

From nowhere comes Winston Peters, with his startling revelation that Cabinet was given advice by the Ministry of Health to lock all overseas New Zealanders out of the country.

What Cabinet deals with is under the Cabinet Collective. It's secret. We don't know what they've been advised, and by who.

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When was the last time you saw a press conference in which we are told what the Cabinet had been advised on any given day? You haven't, because it doesn't happen.

But yesterday it did. Why? I reckon it's because they're panicking. They are panicking about the reaction to the health side of their response and the growing reality that the economic fallout is going to be their nightmare.

So the Ministry of Health advised them of one thing, and they did another. To put in Peters' words, because we never turn our backs on our own.

How touching.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Cue Jacinda Ardern, who comes in to reiterate that it could never have happened because you would be hard pressed to find any country that would do such a thing. Quite true. And why? Because a United Nations convention specifically tells us you cannot leave a citizen stateless.

Therefore there was, in reality, no decision to make. The Prime Minister loves the UN, and there was no way they were going to breach a declaration I am sure we have signed up to.

We also know this because of the Shamima Begum case in Britain. She's the 15-year-old who left to fight with ISIS in Syria. She married a fighter, had children, the war was lost, and she decided she had made a mistake and wanted to come home. Britain said no.

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Helen Clark, no less, a well-known UN apparatchik, tweeted out at the time the illegality of leaving a person stateless. The case rolls on.

But back to yesterday's charade.

Given all that, we were leaving no one anywhere. All this shows us is ministries offer free and frank advice devoid of circumstances outside their mandate - ie health doesn't know, nor care, about UN conventions, they were merely worried about people coming back and infecting us.

And as irony would have it, they were quite rightly worried given we didn't quarantine. We favoured self-isolation, and we all know where that got us.

And I reckon the Government is now freaking out about the economic fallout, so they need a narrative that shows they care. More teddy bears, more hugs, more of what the Prime Minister does well, like empathy. But not cold, hard economic reality.

In essence, Peters' revelation is a non-story. Because despite their "oh my god look how kind are we" playbook, they never, given the UN convention and Helen Clark's tweet, had any real choice to make other than the one they did.

So why did they turn it into yesterday's pantomime, soaked up yet again by a compliant media? Because when it comes to playing us for suckers they know they have, tragically, an easy audience.

Correction: This opinion piece has been edited. An earlier version stated Shamima Begum had dual citizenship, that her ongoing case involved Pakistan, and that she had a child. These statements are incorrect. Begum was stripped of her UK citizenship in 2019. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission has said she could claim Bangladeshi citizenship because she was "a citizen of Bangladesh by descent". Bangladesh's ministry of foreign affairs subsequently said Begum was not a Bangladeshi citizen. Begum has appealed the British ruling. She had three children, who all died.