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Tim Beveridge: Government seems preoccupied by optics

Tim Beveridge,
Publish Date
Mon, 1 Feb 2021, 12:15PM
(Photo / Supplied)

Tim Beveridge: Government seems preoccupied by optics

Tim Beveridge,
Publish Date
Mon, 1 Feb 2021, 12:15PM

It's been an interesting week, hasn't it? But a bit of a bad week for the government on one of its core values.

Of course, it's been a good week in the end, with the outbreaks which we were all concerned about. We maybe have got on top of that.

But in terms of one of the core values of the government – transparency – I think it's been a bad week.

Today, there's a story in the Herald on Sunday about WorkSafe having taken enforcement action against four hotels over physical distancing issues, training, donning and taking off PPE, and contractor management.

WorkSafe having taken enforcement action in August.  However, it's only been made public now.

How many months is that?

Do the maths on that: five months later. It's only been made public now after repeated questions to WorkSafe from The Herald.

Of course, problems are going to arise, but it seems that the transparency issue is still something the government and its agencies have yet to get to grips with.

Let's not forget the Roche/Simpson report, which was a report looking at the government's handling of Covid and was a fairly brutal and blunt assessment of the health ministry's control of our response to Covid-19 leading up to the August outbreak.

That report – delivered to the government in September – was only publicly released just before everyone went on break for Christmas!

In my view that is one of the most egregious failures in their stated aim of everything being transparent. It’s worth remembering because the government want you to forget it.

Remember, this government campaigned on their response to Covid-19, and yet that key report which was critical of the government's response was kept from the public.

Then there was last week. The two cases identified in Orewa.

How did we find out?  Hone Harawira - on Heather Du Plessis-Allan’s Drive Show on NewstalkZB.

In response to a conversation around roadblocks, the reason Hone was following through with those was that he had on good authority - I think in his words – “multiple and impeccable sources” confirming two new positive cases in Orewa.

I don't know when the Health Ministry were going to tell us. Was it because they were going to wait until they had had time to dress it all up and line all their ducks in a row, so it didn't look so bad?

So, what exactly is the core value driving some of the decision-making of the government and the ministry?

For me – it's all about the optics. It's all about how it looks, and it seems that the government doesn't trust us with information.

It appears to me that the government and its agencies are more consumed with presenting information in a way that doesn't make them look bad.

They're worried about our reaction to it – whether we're going to panic and so their claim of transparency is just words, words, words.

And it's led to the situation the government found itself in the last few days with the Wiggles, having sold 40,000 tickets, magically being given last minute places in mandatory isolation.

Look, you can imagine that's a lose-win-lose-win situation for the government because here we have 40,000 tickets sold; they entertain children; it's the kids - and the government could imagine themselves on a PR hiding to nothing if they had ended up having to cancel those concerts.

But then you get the case of Trev Ponting. A Japan-based Kiwi with terminal brain cancer and all he wanted to do was get home to see his mother. But the initial application for emergency spots in managed isolation for him and his family were turned down. Well, there's another core value that they're missing as well, which is the kindness thing.

Thankfully, it's been reversed. But you might wonder what would have happened if the media hadn't revealed that story as well as the news through Hone about the other positive Covid cases.

It now starts to look like, maybe, if you're trying to appeal to the government to get a decision in your favour – don't appeal to kindness, don't appeal to their hearts or to logic. Just tell them that the optics are going to look bad. Then you might finally get some action. 

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