It now uses the Bluetooth-based Google/Apple exposure notification (GAEN) framework. This allows Android and Apple (iOS) devices to communicate via a contact-tracing mechanism built into the devices’ operating systems.
Meanwhile, Australia continues to use the COVIDSafe app, which also uses Bluetooth, but with a different underlying system.
Quarantine-free travel is allowed from New Zealand to certain safe travel zones in Australia, as long as travellers haven’t visited a New Zealand COVID hotspot in the preceding fortnight.
But in this context, New Zealand’s COVID Tracer upgrade is unlikely to help as both countries are using different contact tracing systems that can’t communicate.
While COVIDSafe and COVID Tracer both use Bluetooth to determine proximity between users, and log close contacts with “digital handshakes”, both apps have different approaches to reporting close contact information to authorities.
If a COVID Tracer user tests positive for COVID-19, they can alert close contacts who also have the app. These contacts then receive a notification and are advised to self isolate.
New Zealand health authorities can’t know the contacts’ details at any point unless they themselves come forward.
On the other hand, if a COVIDSafe user tests positive, they can choose to send information about their close contacts directly to Australian health authorities — who can then follow up with manual contact tracing.
Both COVIDSafe and COVID Tracer use different underlying systems and therefore can’t work together. This means Australians visiting New Zealand would have to download the COVID Tracer app and use it throughout their visit.
Similarly, a New Zealand resident visiting Australia would need to download and use COVIDSafe. But this may not be possible for many, as setting up COVIDSafe requires a verified Australian phone number and postcode.
And even if travellers do use the other country’s app during their visit, this alone won’t mitigate the risk of bringing home the coronavirus.
For instance, if they contract the virus shortly before returning home (from someone who didn’t know they were infectious) and then delete the app as soon as they return, the news of potential infection won’t reach them.
While the update was needed, critics pointed out adopting the GAEN framework would have been a better option, as it’s more reliable and lays a foundation for cross-border contact tracing.
It’s also relatively straightforward to redevelop existing apps to integrate it within them.
But even if COVIDSafe were redeveloped to adopt this framework, developers would still need to put in time before both COVIDSafe and COVID Trace could work together.
Such a cohesive cross-border contact-tracing solution would also require agreement by both countries on several fronts, including policies governing the technology, data access permission and the location of physical data servers.
That said, this isn’t impossible.
Australia and New Zealand could choose to follow the European Union’s efforts. Several EU member states, including Germany, Italy and Ireland, have adopted an EU-established service called the “gateway”.
The gateway acts as a middle man which relays information between
different EU countries’ contact-tracing apps. Contact tracing can still occur while a person is travelling between the various countries, as long as their home country’s app has adopted the gateway system.
Using mobile-based technologies for contact tracing comes with a range of challenges. Besides the issues discussed above, it’s also crucial for contact-tracing systems to be widely adopted by the communities they’re meant to service.
This has proven challenging. Uptake of COVID-19 contact-tracing apps remains low globally, despite governments pushing for mass use.
Meanwhile, Bluetooth itself is fallible. Determining distance between two devices using Bluetooth has limitations, since signal strength (and therefore accuracy) can be impacted by environmental factors.
For example, the signal may be weaker if a phone is kept inside a thick pocket. Or the app may pick up a signal from someone on the other side of a wall, with whom the user never came into contact.
There’s probably no quick fix. But if more time and effort are invested, we may discover a more suitable technology that can provide secure cross-border contact tracing, which also doesn’t impinge on users’ privacy.
Jacinda Ardern’s new “COVID cabinet” is pretty much the same as — and completely unlike — every previous government under the mixed member proportional (MMP) system.
The similarity involves the political accommodation reached between Labour and the Greens. Every government formed since 1996 has rested on such arrangements. This one does too.
The difference lies in Ardern’s administration being the first single-party majority government since the electoral rules changed in the mid-1990s. Add to that the arrangement with the Greens and they have a massive 74-seat bloc in the House — 13 more than is needed to govern.
In brute political terms, Ardern is at the head of one of (and perhaps the) biggest parliamentary alliances in the nation’s history.
The deal announced over the weekend is a cooperation agreement. Think of it as the smallest of the consolation prizes, the thing you’re offered when your support is nice to have but not really necessary.
For the 15% of Green delegates who voted against it, perhaps it was just too small, and you can see their point. In the last government (when the party had eight rather than ten seats), the Greens held ten full or associate portfolios.
None of their ministers sat in cabinet, true, but there were four in the executive. Now there are only two, holding four portfolios between them — and they’re still not sitting at the top table.
Look more closely at the detail, though, and things get more interesting.
The Green ministers will participate in relevant cabinet committees and informal ministerial groups, have access to officials’ papers, and get to meet with the prime minister at least every six weeks. Labour and the Greens’ respective chiefs of staff will also meet regularly.
What’s more, the party will chair one parliamentary committee and get the deputy’s slot on another. In non-portfolio areas of mutual interest, Green spokespeople will have access to Labour ministers and departmental advice.
All that and they get to publicly disagree with the government on policies that fall outside Green portfolios. That is not a bad policy haul for a party Labour does not need to form a government.
And there is no way any of it would have happened under the single-party majority governments we used to see under the previous first-past-the-post system. So it may be a consolation prize, but in fact it’s not that small.
As well as being the first single-party majority MMP government, it is also a diverse one. In her first term Ardern acknowledged the importance of having more women in cabinet. Nearly half (47%) of the new parliament — and a majority of Labour’s caucus (53%) — are women.
To some extent this is reflected in the makeup of the executive. Eight of the 20 full cabinet members are women; in total, women comprise 43% of the wider administration. There are more women in the ministry than in the National Party’s caucus.
The executive also contains a solid number of people of colour: perhaps as many as a quarter of all ministers and parliamentary under-secretaries are non-Pākehā.
On election night, Labour’s Māori caucus conveyed a direct message to the prime minister about the importance of a solid Māori presence in Cabinet. She appears to have listened.
Between them, Labour’s Māori MPs get five seats in cabinet. Add positions outside cabinet as well as the Greens’ Marama Davidson and Māori comprise 25% of all members of the executive. Perhaps most noteworthy is that Nanaia Mahuta becomes the country’s first female Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Ardern has also looked carefully at her back bench and the clutch of incoming MPs, bringing some of them into the political executive. Jan Tinetti and Kiri Allan have been marked for higher things for some time, while the newly minted MP Dr Ayesha Verrall comes straight into cabinet as an associate health minister.
Under certain circumstances a large parliamentary caucus can be a challenge. Thwarted egos, stifled ambitions, fits of pique — once the thrill of the election result has worn off, managing relations between those who are in government and the wider parliamentary party will be one of the chief challenges facing Labour’s whips.
The Green co-leaders aside, Ardern’s executive comprises 40% of the Labour party’s caucus. Given the conventions of collective cabinet responsibility, this means that members of the government have a near majority within caucus, so discipline shouldn’t be an issue — yet.
It is hard to overstate just how much control Ardern has over New Zealand’s 53rd parliament. Even before special votes are counted, the parliamentary arithmetic renders National, ACT and the Māori Party virtually irrelevant.
Labour dominates the executive, and between them Labour and the Greens will dominate the legislature and its committees. Voters have placed considerable power in Ardern’s hands. It’s time to see what she does with it.
The recent reelection of the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour government in New Zealand offers leaders elsewhere a potent lesson about how best to respond to COVID-19. Saving lives is, not surprisingly, a real vote-winner.
The election outcome constitutes a compelling endorsement of Ardern, whose decisive response to the first wave of the coronavirus in March was a master class in crisis leadership.
It was commonly acknowledged that pandemic-related issues were always going to dominate this election. Ardern’s initial response to COVID-19 was grudgingly accepted as reasonably effective by the opposition National Party.
A clear majority of voters obviously did not accept these views. Indeed, the election result suggests voters have confidence in Ardern.
Key features of her leadership approach to COVID-19 are discernible – and offer useful lessons for leaders elsewhere – even given the specific advantages New Zealand has, such as its geographic isolation and relatively small population.
My case study “Pandemic leadership: Lessons from New Zealand’s approach to COVID-19” identifies Ardern’s resolute and persistent focus on minimizing harm to lives and livelihoods as one such key lesson.
Prioritizing both health and economic considerations as central concerns affords a fundamentally different strategy from the yo-yo-ing between either health or the economy, which characterizes the approach taken by the likes of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
While this dual focus doesn’t magically solve everything that might arise from COVID-19, emphasizing both as mission critical avoids the strategic misstep of allowing largely unfettered economic activity alongside weak levels of control over the virus’s spread.
So this dual focus has been made clear and is ethically defensible, which helps in garnering the support of citizens – who are, after all, the voters.
Ardern is persistent in her commitment to a science-led approach. Effective engagement with the media by New Zealand’s director-general of health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, has lent real credibility to Ardern’s claims that the political arm of government is listening to independent, expert advice. This practice of being led by expertise is the second key feature of Ardern’s effective pandemic leadership.
Ardern also has a strong focus on mobilizing collective effort. This involves informing, educating and uniting people to do what’s needed to minimize harm to lives and livelihoods.
Regular press conferences show Ardern doesn’t pull her punches when delivering bad news, but she balances this with explaining why government directives matter and conveying empathy for their disruptive effects.
She also has a strong focus on practicalities and avoids getting defensive when questioned.
To secure unfiltered feedback from the public, she runs regular, impromptu Facebook Live sessions.
All these measures help give people confidence that Ardern genuinely cares about and is interested in people’s needs and views, thereby mobilizing community support for government mandates.
Ardern also focuses on actions that help to enable coping. This involves a range of initiatives to help people and organizations plan ahead. One example is the government’s Alert Level framework, which sets out the different rules and restrictions that apply depending on the current risk of community transmission.
A focus on building knowledge and skills relevant for surviving the pandemic, on kindness and on innovation form part of this approach, addressing both practical and emotional needs.
None of this constitutes a magic bullet for easily overcoming COVID-19. Not in New Zealand nor anywhere else.
New Zealand’s economy is officially in recession. The August outbreak of new cases triggered a marked increase in misinformation and disinformation spread via social media, posing a clear threat to adherence with virus control measures.
And, looking ahead, the expectations on Ardern’s government to deliver economic recovery, as well as substantive progress on other key issues such as climate change and poverty reduction, are enormous.
But even though Ardern’s approach has not been faultless, her reelection makes it clear the effective pandemic leadership practices she demonstrates attracted strong levels of voter support.
That’s a lesson no elected leader ought to ignore. For U.S. President Donald Trump, who is seeking reelection on Nov. 3 and whose nation has suffered 220,000 COVID deaths so far, it remains to be seen if voters will punish or endorse the kind of leadership approach he has taken to the pandemic.
Even as the results rolled in on election night there were mutterings that a parliamentary majority controlled by one political party is somehow inconsistent with the spirit of MMP. The magnitude of the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour Party’s victory will no doubt encourage that view.
Wrong. In at least three respects the election result is exactly what electoral reform was about.
For the better part of the 20th century single-party majority governments in Aotearoa New Zealand were formed by parties that won a minority of the popular vote. The best example (or worst, depending on your view) was in 1993, when Jim Bolger’s National Party wound up with a manufactured parliamentary majority based on just 35% of the vote.
You need to go all the way back to 1951 to find the last time a governing party won a majority of the vote.
But you can’t get away with this under MMP. Ardern has already racked up Labour’s highest share of the vote since the 51.3% Peter Fraser’s Labour Party won in 1946. It’s also the best performance of any party under MMP.
She’s done it at a time when voting for a party other than Labour or National is both possible and pretty normal. If, once special votes have been counted, Labour clears 50% of the vote Ardern will have achieved something no prime minister has done in 70 years.
MMP was designed to accurately translate people’s votes into parliamentary seats — and that is exactly what it has done.
Ardern is a centrist, a self-avowed consensus politician. Her single-party majority government will not behave as the Labour and National administrations of the 1980s and 1990s did.
If MMP was designed to do anything it was to lock in policy moderation. In fact, in the early 1990s, the Treasury was concerned to implement its favoured neo-liberal reforms before the electoral system changed, precisely because it knew policy radicalism would be next to impossible under MMP.
Where the David Lange-led Labour and Bolger-led National governments of the late 20th century were doctrinaire and divisive, Ardern will be pragmatic and focused on results. For better or worse, she knows exactly where the median voter lives.
For reasonable people, one of the purposes of an electoral system is to produce legislatures that broadly reflect the people who choose them. On at least one count MMP is heading in the right direction.
In 1996, the first MMP parliament doubled the presence of women in the House of Representatives. By 2017 the proportion of women parliamentarians stood at 40%. That figure got another bump on Saturday, pushing the number of women in the 120-member legislature from 49 to 56.
Nearly half (46.5%) of all parliamentarians are now women, the vast majority of them — 73% — members of the Labour or Green parties. This lifts New Zealand from 20th on the international league table to ninth (two spots behind Sweden).
This election will change the way politics is done, discussed and practised in Aotearoa NZ due to three significant developments:
Labour has won big in the towns and in the country. National can no longer claim to be the party of rural people, and Labour can no longer be painted as the party of urban élites. In fact, the fundamental question confronting National now is: what kind of party are we?
Once special votes are counted, it is possible Labour will have over 50% of the vote. Not only will it be the first time this has happened since 1951, it will also mean most New Zealanders have chosen a politics of communitarianism over a politics of individualism.
For the first time in our history more people voted before polling day than on the day itself (a lot more — 70% of votes were cast early this year). The very nature of elections has changed, meaning the laws banning political activity on polling day need to be revised. (In the process, the problem of setting an election date to avoid an All Blacks Test might be avoided.)
There is more to be digested, including that this parliament contains no small-party tail to wag the big party’s dog. But right now one thing is clear: MMP gets two ticks for its performance this year. It has done exactly what it was designed to do.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews’ angst at the weekend about the multiple New Zealanders who arrived in Victoria via the travel bubble from New Zealand to New South Wales is, as much as anything, a pointer to the pressure the premier is under.
Andrews says his state chose not to be part of the bubble at this stage and he didn’t know these people were coming to Victoria. Now, he says, 55 have “turned up” from NZ.
The federal government counters that Victoria was at the meeting of the federal-state health officials committee where issues of New Zealanders travelling on were canvassed.
Andrews claims when Victoria asked the feds for details of the arrivals they were slow to pass it on. The feds deny a delay but say dealing with internal border issues is up to the states anyway.
The point is, this is a dispute of little consequence. New Zealand doesn’t have community transmission – the visitors are at the very bottom end of risk.
Andrews might be annoyed that these New Zealanders, and thus the Morrison government, have found a way to circumvent his refusal to sign up to the COVID “hotspot” definition and become part of the (one way) trans-Tasman bubble.
But Victoria has an open border for people going in (it’s a different matter for those exiting, for whom other states make the rules). So provided they’re told to abide by the current state restrictions, the presence of the New Zealanders is neither here nor there.
Western Australia is also complaining about New Zealand arrivals – it is in a rather different position because it has a hard state border.
The overall takeout is that those travelling from New Zealand in the “bubble” – which also involves the Northern Territory – might need to be given more information about the restrictions in particular states and internal borders before they leave NZ.
The micro takeout is that Andrews is picking an unnecessary fight. The verbal Victorian-federal tennis match over the New Zealanders is another indication of the tensions between the two governments.
Federal ministers tried to twist Andrews’ arm ahead of Sunday’s announcements about the next stages of opening in Victoria.
Andrews announced a range of restrictions would be relaxed from midnight. People can travel 25 kilometres from their home for shopping and exercise (widened from five). Groups of up to ten from two households will be able to gather in an outdoor places for exercise or a picnic.
Hairdressers can open, but people can’t have visitors over to watch next weekend’s AFL final (played in Queensland).
Retail isn’t scheduled to reopen open until November 2, when restaurants will be open to diners (with limits), and people will be able to leave home for any reason.
With new cases in single figures for the last five days, Andrews indicated the timetable could move faster than outlined.
The politically embattled premier is determined to minimise risks in bringing the state out of lockdown. The federal government and business community continue to rail. Andrews may judge that he’s taken the attacks from those quarters and the greater immediate danger to him is the possibility of a fresh tick-up in virus numbers.
The eventual fallout – in lost businesses, in the public’s judgement of Andrews – will be months, possibly years, in the coming.
In the meantime, whether his ultra-caution is excessive or well-judged will be fiercely debated.
He maintains it’s all on the health advice.
When asked how come his advice was at odds with the position of the federal government and epidemiologists who disagree with him, his edginess was obvious.
“I will put it to Minister [Greg] Hunt and anybody else
who has a view about these things, I don’t accept that anybody has a more complete picture of what this virus is doing in Victoria than the Victorian chief health officer, the Victoria deputy chief health officer, the Victorian health minister and the Victorian premier.” And so he went on.
Some Victorians will welcome the timetable as tangible hope in a bottle. More than a few small business owners will see the hairdresser across the road opening and ask, why not us?
The Australian Industry Group described the announcement as “plodding steps in the right direction”, while raising a nightmare scenario, saying businesses “still have no certainty that [they] will not be forced to shut again after they have been allowed to reopen”.
The federal government’s impatience with Victoria was on show again in a Sunday statement from Prmie Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt, which highlighted economic and mental health costs.
“Victoria’s three-day rolling average is now below two cases per day. Maintaining this result will make a strong case for the retail and hospitality sectors to reopen before the next review date in November,” they said.
“The continued health, mental health and financial impacts of these restrictions will be profound on many Victorians. That is why we encourage Victoria to move safely and quickly towards the NSW model of strong contact tracing and a COVID-Safe but predominately open economy.”
As Morrison and the ministers say, “the national picture is a positive one” in terms of case numbers and handling them. Yet politically, the national handling of COVID continues to fray.
The conflicts around the blunders and inadequacies that led to the Victorian second wave, the imminent Queensland election in which Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is relying substantially on her COVID record, with its tough border policy, and WA’s semi-secessionist mindset are all straining the federation.
The national cabinet initially managed dissent among the various governments. But presently the disunity is swamping the unity.
To the extent possible, it is important Morrison keep together what has become an unwieldy beast.
While COVID in Australia may be substantially under control when we say a thankful goodbye to 2020, 2021 will be a challenging year that would only be made more difficult by excessive fractiousness within the federation.
At Saturday’s New Zealand election, Labour won 64 of the 120 seats (up 18 since the 2017 election). This means a Labour eight-seat majority. The opposition National won 35 seats (down 21), the right-wing ACT ten (up nine), the Greens ten (up two) and the Māori party one (up one).
Vote shares were 49.1% Labour (up 12.2%), 26.8% National (down 17.6%), 8.0% ACT (up 7.5%), 7.6% Greens (up 1.3%) and 1.0% Māori (down 0.2%).
Under New Zealand’s system, parties are entitled to a proportional allocation of seats if they either win at least 5% of the overall vote, or win a single-member seat. The Māori party entered parliament by winning one of the seven single-member seats reserved for those on the Māori roll. The Greens and ACT also won single-member seats.
Since the 2017 election, Labour has governed in coalition with the Greens and the populist NZ First. NZ First will not be returned to parliament, as their vote slumped to 2.7% (down 4.5%), and they failed to win a single-member seat.
This will be the first single-party New Zealand majority government since the adoption of proportional representation in 1996.
In February, two polls had National ahead of Labour. But Labour recorded massive poll leads in May owing to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s handling of coronavirus. Labour’s lead narrowed somewhat as the election approached, but final polls understated Labour’s lead; they won by 22 points, not the 15 in final polls.
With 78% of enrolled voters counted at Saturday’s ACT election, vote shares were 38.4% Labor (down 0.1% since 2016), 33.1% Liberals (down 3.6%) and 13.9% Greens (up 3.6%).
The ACT uses five five-member electorates, with candidates elected using the Hare-Clark system. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Preference distribution sheets have been released based on votes cast electronically. Paper ballots will be manually entered.
In Brindabella, Labor has 2.5 quotas, the Liberals 2.3 and the Greens 0.7. The Poll Bludger’s analysis of preferences has it very close between Labor and the Greens for the final seat.
In Ginninderra, Labor has 2.4 quotas, the Liberals 1.6 and the Greens 0.8. Labor leads the Liberals for the final seat, but it could be overturned on late counting.
In Kurrajong, Labor has 2.3 quotas, the Liberals 1.6 and the Greens 1.4. Preferences from Labor and minor parties give the Greens a solid lead over the Liberals in the race for the final seat. So Kurrajong is likely to split two Labor, two Greens and just one Liberal.
In Murrumbidgee, Labor has 2.2 quotas, the Liberals 2.1 and the Greens 0.7. This is a clear two Labor, two Liberals, one Green result.
In Yerrabi, the Liberals have 2.4 quotas, Labor 2.1 and the Greens 0.6. This will be two Liberals, two Labor and one Green.
In summary, Labor is likely to win ten of the 25 seats, the Liberals eight and the Greens five, with two in doubt, one Labor vs Greens and one Labor vs Liberal. In 2016, the result was 12 Labor, 11 Liberals, two Greens. The current Labor/Green coalition has easily retained power.
The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A Newspoll, conducted October 9-14 from a sample of 1,001, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a three-point gain for Labor since a late July Newspoll. Labor’s lead is the same as in a YouGov poll that I covered in early October. YouGov conducts Newspoll, so it is effectively the same pollster.
Primary votes were virtually identical to that YouGov poll, at 37% Labor, 37% LNP, 11% Greens and 9% One Nation; the only difference a one-point drop for the Greens.
63% were satisfied with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s performance and 33% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +30. These figures are identical to a September Newspoll of the Victorian and Queensland premiers’ ratings.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a net approval of -7, up one point since the late July Newspoll. Palaszczuk led Frecklington as better premier by 57-32 (57-26 in July).
Channel 10 commissioned a uComms NSW poll after revelations of Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s affair with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire. 63% said Berejiklian should not resign, and just 28% thought she should go.
The only information provided on voting intentions was that the Coalition led Labor by 38-30. William Bowe says that uComms includes undecided in the initial table, and that this implies little change from the 2019 election result.
A YouGov poll for The Sunday Telegraph gave Berejiklian a 68-26 approval rating. By 49-36, voters did not think she had done anything wrong. By 60-29, they wanted her to stay as premier.
A Victorian SMS Morgan poll, conducted October 12-13 from a sample of 899, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead, unchanged since late September. Primary votes were 40% Labor (up one), 40% Coalition (up 0.5) and 9% Greens (down one). Premier Daniel Andrews had a 59-41 approval rating (61-39 previously).
The FiveThirtyEight national polls aggregate currently gives Joe Biden a 10.6% lead over Donald Trump (52.4% to 41.8%). It’s somewhat closer in the key states with Biden leading by 7.9% in Michigan, 7.8% in Wisconsin, 6.8% in Pennsylvania, 4.0% in Florida and 3.9% in Arizona.
Pennsylvania has returned to being the “tipping-point” state, and is currently polling 3.8% better for Trump than nationally. But Trump needs to get within five points to make the Electoral College competitive.
There appears to be a new surge of coronavirus in the US: over 70,000 new cases were recorded Friday, the highest since late July. Trump is perceived to have handled coronavirus poorly, so the more it is in the headlines, the worse it will probably get for him.
A pandemic can change the foundations of a society. But if this happens in New Zealand over the next three years, it will be for reasons beyond the control of the sixth Labour government. When it comes to the fundamental structure of state and economy, Labour is broadly committed to the status quo.
This was confirmed on election night when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, wearing a Labour red dress before a National blue background, declared: “We will be a party that governs for every New Zealander.”
In times of upset, people yearn for normality — and Ardern’s Labour Party was awarded a landslide for achieving something close to this. The risk of a further COVID-19 outbreak is ever present, as today’s announcement of a community transmission case in Auckland reminded us.
Nevertheless, international spectators view our pandemic response with a wistful gaze. At a time when many nations went sour on liberal democracy and rolled the populist dice, New Zealand appears on the world stage like a tribute act to third-way politics, a nostalgic throwback to the relative sanity and stability of the long 1990s.
Yet for many people who live in Aotearoa New Zealand, the status quo isn’t working, and hasn’t for some time. These tensions are only intensifying.
Housing unaffordability is on the rise again, with implications for wealth inequality and deprivation. This is compounded further by the cascading economic effects of the global pandemic and unconventional manoeuvres in monetary policy that are pushing house prices higher.
Without remedial action, this inequality will leave New Zealand society more exposed to future shocks, not only from COVID-19, but also the multiplying risks of climate change, biodiversity collapse, digital disruption and international instability. Inequality ensures uneven impacts, a recipe for further discontent and conflict.
Even from a purely electoral perspective, the Labour Party can’t afford inaction. It is easy to forget how precarious the prime minister’s position was at the beginning of the year. She could boast enough policy wins to stack an early campaign video, yet hadn’t pulled a fiscal lever large enough to convince the public that her government was truly “transformational”.
Entering a second term, her policy agenda is more recognisable by what she won’t do than what she will — no capital gains tax, no wealth tax, indeed no new taxes at all beyond a tweak for the highest earners.
This leaves us with the longstanding conundrum of what the Labour Party is and what it really stands for these days. Ardern and her colleagues are not ideologues, but no politics is without ideology — a system of ideas, values and beliefs that orients its efforts.
I’ve argued in the past that Ardern’s government has a spirit of civic republicanism. This has met with reasonable scepticism, yet in the midst of the pandemic it feels more relevant than ever. With borders drastically restricted, and old allies going wayward, there is a renewed sense of separateness, of independence in the world.
Might the pandemic seal New Zealand’s fate as the Commonwealth of Oceana, as a 21st century version of 17th century English republican John Harrington’s utopian island?
The first symptom of republicanism belongs to Ardern herself. She is the active citizen par excellence. She embodies civic commitment and public-spiritedness, along with a good dose of humility. Even in emergencies, she remains one of us: primus inter pares, “first among equals”.
Analysts of Ardern’s political leadership emphasise her openness, honesty, self-discipline, empathy and, above all, her authenticity. For civic republicans, the exercise of such virtues is the lifeblood of public life. Indeed, insofar as Ardern has a distinctive political agenda, it is centred on the virtue of kindness.
Arguably, this has displaced the more principled commitments that might guide substantive structural reform. But kindness also provided vital emotional leadership in the raw moments following the Christchurch mosque attacks and the outset of the pandemic.
As the 18th century philosopher Montesquieu said, “Virtue in a republic is a most simple thing: it is a love of the republic.” Few could doubt Ardern’s devotion to the nation. But for the Labour Party, as for republicans, this has an exclusionary aspect.
Given the emphasis on citizens, republicans have tended to prioritise “us” over “them”. In the Athenian republic, only citizens could participate in democracy, and only wealthy men could be citizens — not women, not slaves, not foreigners.
Similarly, in New Zealand’s “team of five million”, only citizens have the full spectrum of rights and entitlements. For more than 300,000 temporary visa holders, whose compliance with pandemic restrictions was vital for containing the outbreak, there was minimal solidarity from government.
Many were frozen out of jobs during lockdown, unable to relocate due to visa conditions, and excluded from social welfare support. Others were stuck outside the country until very recently, unable to re-enter. From a liberal or internationalist perspective, this is hard to swallow. But there is a nativist strain within the Labour Party which will relish these harder borders.
None of this is to say that Labour’s politics aren’t liberal or social democratic. Ideologies can be mixed in the same way that economies can be. It is to say, more modestly, that some of the qualities that characterise the Ardern government align with civic republicanism.
And this helps to resist the lazy analysis that this government is nothing more than a continuation of what came before, another phase in an undifferentiable centrist blob.
But where to next? Firstly, this is not a government of pure socialist intentions. Accusations of this kind come from a place of confusion, delusion, or plain mischief. Socialism, simply put, involves collective ownership of the means of production.
This government already relinquished an unprecedented opportunity to socialise the economy when it implemented its wage subsidy scheme at the outset of the pandemic.
Public debt is growing precisely to keep private businesses in private hands. Labour’s resistance to substantive tax reform, even to reduce the debt it insists it must pay back, reveals its abandonment of redistribution as a practicable tool for social change.
Secondly, this is not a government of purely liberal intentions. It is ambivalent about the free flow of people and capital. Attorney-General David Parker, in particular, has prioritised citizens through restrictions on overseas buyers of housing and the “national interest” test for foreign investment.
Ardern’s government is also unembarrassed about a more active role for the state. Its approach for housing is illustrative — not just its boost to state-owned housing, but especially its embrace of the state’s potential as a developer providing houses directly to market.
Liberals see this as mere interference, but republicans tolerate government intervention wherever it improves the lives of citizens. In the wake of the pandemic, voters will be prone to agree.
This touches on the defining feature of civic republicanism: its commitment to freedom from domination. Republicans accept the kinds of intervention that liberals fear, as long as they free people from situations of oppression and subjugation.
Domination should also be broadly understood to include regulations, poverty, sexism, racism, environmental degradation, employment relations — anything that thwarts our cherished projects.
This is where the republican spirit mostly clearly intersects with the sixth Labour government’s interest in well-being. The purpose of worrying about well-being is to improve people’s capabilities to live the kinds of lives they most value.
Because the aforementioned forms of oppression curtail such freedoms, we have a duty to overturn them, through intervention if necessary. Well-being economics isn’t merely about measurement; it is an emancipatory project.
Ardern’s government is most vulnerable to criticism when it falls short of this ideal — for example, the oppressive practices of Oranga Tamariki or ineffective infrastructure development. If voters won’t punish Ardern for not being socialist or liberal enough, they might still penalise her for failing to make real these republican impulses.
It is said that, in politics, what lifts you up is what will eventually drag you down. When the virtues of openness fail to strengthen transparency, when state intervention fails to deliver outcomes competently or effectively, when appeals to “the people” paper over vital differences, when the politics of kindness fail to prevent suffering — this is where trust will be lost.
The danger of electoral dominance is becoming your own worst enemy.