The Week in Politics: Govt on point with vaccine for all

8:42 pm on 12 March 2021

By Peter Wilson*

Opinion - The government announces it has bought enough vaccine for everyone and a timeline is announced for the rollout. National's election campaign report is described as "political dynamite" and an Australian minister makes waves that sweep across the Tasman.

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Photo: RNZ

National began the week with a call for an inquiry into the Valentine's Day cluster and party leader Judith Collins had a point when she said testing, contact tracing and communications needed to be looked into.

The cluster caused a three-day Auckland lockdown followed by a seven-day lockdown, which Collins said had cost the economy half a billion dollars.

She criticised the government for ending the first one when the source of the original case wasn't known and not all the students at Papatoetoe High School, which was at the centre of the cluster, had not been tested.

The following day Prime Minister Jacinda upstaged that with the announcement that the government had purchased 8.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, bringing the total order to 10 million. That would be enough for everyone, she said, and promised more information on the vaccination rollout later in the week.

She told Morning Report New Zealand was on track to vaccinate the population by the end of the year and the bulk order had simplified matters. The Pfizer vaccine was 95 per cent effective, using a single vaccine meant everyone would get the same one and vaccinators would not have to be trained to handle different types.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins was next off the blocks with his announcement that a pandemic advisory group had been set up. The way he framed it, the purpose was to ensure the government could continue to improve its response.

The five-member group would be headed by Sir Brian Roche and would monitor testing and contact tracing as well as giving the government impartial advice on the performance of the system overall.

Its first priority would be to review the South Auckland outbreak. "I imagine as they look at the most recent response there will undoubtedly be things that can be improved for next time," Hipkins said.

One issue in particular that he wanted the group to consider was the four different categories of contacts.

There was confusion around that during the outbreak and questions were raised about whether contacts were clearly told what they had to do.

The government said it had been discussing setting up the group for some time and It didn't appear to be a response to National's call. Collins said she was really pleased to see it happen.

"I think it should have been done before, but I think we should give credit where it's due. We've finally got this and that's excellent," she said.

On Wednesday the government kept its word and Hipkins revealed the vaccination timeline, a rough guide as to when people could expect to get their jabs.

After border workers, their families and frontline health staff had been vaccinated the most vulnerable and the elderly would come next with the rest of the population getting theirs in the second half of the year.

The Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said he wanted to have 90 per cent of the population vaccinated by the end of the year.

Collins called it "half-baked" and said Australia had a better strategy. "New Zealanders who are living in Australia can go online, they can put their details in, and they can be told around about when they will be able to be vaccinated," she said.

There was some non-Covid-19 news this week, headed by the National Party's report on its inquiry into the disastrous election campaign, which saw it lose 23 seats.

The party's MPs were told about it at a caucus meeting but it hasn't been published and won't be.

Senior whip Matt Doocey described its contents as "confronting".

"It is something we are going to have to own, gain trust back in our members and learn from, and take a step forward for the next election," he said.

Stuff reported that an email was sent to party members after the caucus meeting which said the report found that "disunity, leaks and poor behaviour" were the chief causes of the election loss.

No surprises there.

The Stuff report said the inquiry had recommended a shake-up of the party's board, including the implementation of term limits for members.

Politik described the inquiry report as "political dynamite" and said party members would be sent an expurgated version of it. "Behind the scenes, among some MPs, senior party members and former staff there is at best cynicism, at worst anger, that the party will not share the full report with key stakeholders," it said.

"There are claims that the board is doing this to protect itself and keep its own role in the defeat hidden."

At the end of the week Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton made waves that swept across the Tasman when he said deporting Kiwis with criminal records was like "taking the trash out".

Ardern didn't have a direct response to that but Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said Dutton's comments "only serve to trash his own reputation".

Chris Hipkins went a bit too far when he said Australia was exporting its own garbage. He quickly tried to recover from that, explaining: "I probably should have chosen a better frame of words, I'm just reflecting back the question that I was asked. If that is Peter Dutton's view of it, then he is exporting his rubbish to New Zealand."

Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi was outraged and said Dutton's comments were awful. He demanded a retraction and apology, which wasn't forthcoming.

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.