By early afternoon, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) lifted the evacuation order but stressed that people should stay off beaches and the shore.
All three earthquakes happened along the Tonga Kermadec subduction zone, where the Pacific tectonic plate dives under and then sinks beneath the Australian plate.
This subduction zone is the longest and deepest such system on Earth. It spans from just north of the East Cape, some 2600km to the north-east in an almost straight line to south of Samoa.
One of the questions seismologists around the world are now trying to answer is whether the three quakes were linked and the earlier ruptures triggered the magnitude 8.1 quake.
Potential links between ruptures
The Tonga Kermadec subduction zone terminates north-east of the East Cape, where it then becomes the Hikurangi subduction zone. The first 7.3 magnitude rupture struck at 2.27am, 174km off the east coast, where the Hikurangi and Tonga Kermadec systems merge.
The US Geological Survey recorded this event at a depth of 21km, not 95km deep as the first reports in New Zealand suggested. This quake had an unusual mechanism — an element of sideways movement known as strike-slip.
The other two quakes were about 900km north, but just west of the Tonga-Kermadec trench and at depths of about 56km (for the 6.40am magnitude 7.4 event) and 20km (for the magnitude 8.1 quake at 8.28am). These later events had thrust, or compressive, mechanisms, in which one body of rock compresses against another, sliding up and over it during the earthquake.
This is what we might expect in a subduction zone where one tectonic plate is sliding under another and creating a collision, which in turn gives rise to compression.
As the Pacific plate starts to slide under the Australian plate, it starts off at a shallow angle and then turns along a curved trajectory to finally fall away at a very steep (60 degrees) angle. But when it’s at a shallow level, it is only dipping at say 10-20 degrees and creates a lot of friction with the overlying (Australian) plate. This is typically where these large earthquakes occur.
Magnitude 8 quakes in these subduction zone settings are not unusual. Indeed, quakes up to magnitude 9 can occur, such as Japan’s 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, the undersea earthquake off Sumatra that set off the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and quakes in Alaska in 1964 and in Chile in 1960.
What is curious about this sequence offshore from New Zealand is whether or how the ruptures relate to each other. Certainly, the first of the two later quakes, located within tens of kilometres of each other, can be regarded as a foreshock, followed by the main magnitude 8.1 shock. But was the earliest 2.27am earthquake north of East Cape related?
Generally, seismologists regard a 1000km distance as too far for even a magnitude 7.4 rupture to disturb the ground enough to trigger another. But increasingly there are arguments that the Earth is critically stressed in plate boundary settings to such a level that just a small nudge can set off another event.
After the 2004 Sumatran quake, scientists made a good argument that it triggered further quakes an hour later, some 11,000km away in Alaska. But in this case, they were smaller events following a large triggering quake.
It’s also interesting that large earthquakes have happened off the Kermadec Islands in the past. In 1976, a magnitude 7.7 event was followed 51 minutes later by a magnitude 8 event. This mirrors what we saw today.
Both events in 1976 were thought to be thrust earthquakes like today’s shocks. Then in 1986, at a depth of 45km, a magnitude 7.7 event displayed both thrust and sideways strike-slip motion. The interpretation of this event was that it was not a plate interface event, but had happened within the subducted and bending Pacific plate.
This could explain the second earthquake this morning, as its depth of 56km seems to place it within the Pacific plate. We will need to wait until the final depths and mechanisms are resolved.
Timothy Stern, Professor of Geophysics, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington
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.
Comparing COVID Tracer and COVIDSafe
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.
Will the apps help form a travel bubble?
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.
Where to from here?
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 Greens’ consolation prize
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.
A new kind of MMP
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.
A more diverse government
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.
Power and control
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.
A COVID-19 election
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.
Lessons in ‘lives and livelihoods’
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.
Listen to and act on expert advice
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.
No ‘magic bullet’ … but
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.
Diversity of representation
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).
MMP was the winner
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.