Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Defending the indefensible

This morning Winston Peters dropped a bombshell: the Ministry of Health had recommended closing the border to returning New Zealanders, effectively summarily exiling every kiwi caught overseas by the pandemic:

The Government rejected advice to close New Zealand's border to anyone coming to the country amid the Covid-19 crisis, it has been revealed.

"The Ministry of Health recommended a total shutdown of the border, including to returning New Zealanders," Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters revealed in a speech this afternoon.

"From its health perspective this was understandable and appropriate advice," Peters said.

"But the Coalition Cabinet rejected that advice because it was and is inconceivable that we will ever turn our backs on our own."

They were right to do so, because it would be both immoral and illegal. The right to freedom of movement is affirmed in the Bill of Rights Act, which states clearly that "[e]very New Zealand citizen has the right to enter New Zealand". And that's given practical application by s13 of the Immigration Act 2009, which makes it clear that New Zealand citizens may enter and be in New Zealand at any time, and that the whole bullshit of visas and so on simply don't apply to us (you do however have to establish citizenship). So, it was a terrible idea, illegal, it should never have been made (or made it to Cabinet), and Cabinet was right to reject it.

And yet, as I type this, the Prime Minister is at the podium defending the Ministry of Health, and saying explicitly that they didn't need to consider human rights, or not consider them themselves. Bullshit. Firstly of course there's s3 of the BORA, which makes it clear that the Act applies to the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of the Government of New Zealand. So if they're not considering it in their decisions, they're both breaking the law, and simply not doing their job properly. And that's backed up by the Cabinet Guide - the government's guidance for doing Cabinet stuff - which has an entire section on human rights compliance in bills and Cabinet papers, which is crystal clear:
It is the responsibility of each department to make its own assessment and sign off on human rights implications in the department’s area of responsibility.
She's also pretending that the Minister of Health has no responsibility for the papers which go to Cabinet under his name, and which he (for OIA purposes at least) legally owns.

Its bad enough for a Ministry to apparently ignore the law and give terrible advice. But its worse for the Prime Minister to defend them and rewrite core government processes (designed to institutionalise human rights protection) by press conference in an attempt to minimise a bad headline. And I guess it shows us that politics-as-usual - the deceit, the lying, the spin, the bullshit - is back, and ugly as ever.

(None of this detracts from the amazing response of the Ministry of Health to the pandemic. They've literally saved tens of thousands of lives. But fuck, something went seriously wrong here).