Thursday, June 17, 2021
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HomePoliticalDunne Speaks: Spinning, Spinning, Spinning

Dunne Speaks: Spinning, Spinning, Spinning


The question of whether Medsafe would approve the Pfizer
Covid19 vaccine was finally resolved this week. Up until
then, the constant and near fever-pitch “will they,
won’t they” speculation had been one of the biggest
“beat-ups” of recent times.

There was never any
doubt that Medsafe would approve the vaccine – for a
couple of reasons. First, the idea that New Zealand
regulators would find evidence against approving the vaccine
that no other regulators anywhere in the world had found was
simply preposterous. And, second, once Australia’s
Therapeutic Goods Agency (TGA) approved the vaccine, as had
happened a couple of weeks ago, it was really game-over as
far as any potentially different decision in New Zealand was
concerned. This is because since the Clark government’s
failed attempt in the early 2000s to merge Medsafe with the
TGA the standard practice on both sides of the Tasman has
been to regard approval of a new medicine in either
Australia or New Zealand as approval in both countries, to
save duplication of effort and resources.

New Zealand
Ministers and officials should have known this full well,
which makes their public statements that notwithstanding the
worldwide approvals, followed by the TGA’s decision, it
would be unwise to prejudge what Medsafe might conclude,
look utterly hollow and ludicrous.

But this needs to
be seen in a wider context. Having won the election so
decisively last year because of public approval of its
handling of the pandemic crisis, the government knows only
too well the political benefits to be derived from
continuing its close focus on Covid19 related issues. Given
the inevitability of Medsafe’s approval of the vaccine,
there was absolutely no justifcation for the Prime
Minister’s special announcement that Medsafe had reached a
favourable decision, let alone the separate detailed
statement from the Director-General of Health of how the
decision had been arrived at. None of it was news – it
would have been more newsworthy had Medsafe not approved the
vaccine – but it was just another occasion where the
government could play the Covid19 card to good effect. By
drawing out an announcement that anyone with any knowledge
of these issues knew was always going to be an approval of
the vaccine, the government was able to keep the focus on
itself and then look like the good guys when it was able to
announce as some dramatic breakthrough the only decision its
independent regulator could have made, the same one which
virtually every other regulator in the world had already
made.

Similarly, with the resumption of the daily 1:00
pm press conferences. There has been nothing said in any of
those over the last couple of weeks that could not have been
covered just as adequately in a departmental press release.
But a factual press release without the accompanying spin
would obscure the point that the government really is in
full control of the situation. The press conferences are
less an exercise in conveying information, than one of
showing who is in control.

One need only look at the
continuing number of cases being identified at the border;
the mounting questions about how secure and safe the managed
isolation and quarantine system is; the growing problems
surrounding the handling of cases of New Zealanders either
with terminal conditions themselves, or within their
families, desperate to come home; and now, the questions
about when vaccines will actually be made available to New
Zealand, to know that there is much about the ongoing
Covid19 situation the government has no control over. It is
hardly surprising, therefore, that the government will want
to make as much as it can out of those aspects that it does
control. Like it or not, it is simply smart
politics.

Meanwhile, as the housing crisis escalates;
the inbound tourism sector says it is weeks away from total
collapse; and more and more Main Street businesses (and even
Wellington’s last major department store) have either shut
up shop for good or have announced they are about to do so;
the government is stoically silent on any strategies or
plans to address these issues which affect the livelihoods
of many of its citizens.

But, true to form, it does
know the value of a good diversionary tactic, so its major
announcement this week was of a consultation process on the
content of the forthcoming New Zealand history syllabus in
schools. Whatever one’s view, this is likely to be a
controversial public debate, occupying a lot of media space,
that might otherwise have been dedicated to other issues.
Similarly, too with the follow-up announcement about making
it easier for local authorities to establish Maori wards,
topped off by the Prime Minister’s announcement of the
inaugural Matariki Day public holiday on June 24 2022.
Again, the politics of diversion and deflection at their
best. This is not at all to say that these issues are
unimportant – they are – and we need to show calm
reflection and maturity as a nation as we debate
them.

The government will say the timing of all these
announcements is based around the forthcoming Waitangi
weekend, and there is a convenient truth to that. But it is
hard to escape the feeling that they have rolled out now to
deflect public attention away from the hardening questions
about Covid19. Why, for example, is the border control
situation such a mess? Why the uncertainty about when
Covid19 vaccines will arrive in New Zealand, let alone when
New Zealanders will be vaccinated, given the original
assurance we were at the head of the queue? In view of the
high level of organisation there has been in other countries
to ensure efficient application of the vaccine, is there a
similar plan for New Zealand and who is developing it? These
questions are regularly glossed over at the daily press
conference, but no detailed information is ever
provided.

For most New Zealanders, who approves what
vaccine and by what process is secondary to knowing when the
vaccine will be available and when they will get it. They
would like hard and fast answers to these questions, rather
than just another dose of
spin.

© Scoop Media

 



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