Archives for March 2021 | Josie Pagani



Lockdown Blame Game

Josie's column was first published on Stuff.

The blame game went global. Agence France-Presse reported to the world: “Jacinda Ardern urges New Zealanders to ‘call out’ Covid-19 rule-breakers.”

Finger-wagging is the worst way to get people to follow the rules. Ask a teacher.

Blaming “south Auckland” for the latest Covid outbreak is not so much a “dog whistle” as a public announcement. It's coming from both sides of politics. “Throw them in prison.” “Call them out.” Once again, the voice of working people is missing.

The problem is not the people. It’s the system. Blaming the people is a sly way to avoid responsibility.

A well-designed system understands that people make mistakes. Understands why the rules get broken, then creates incentives to comply.

Not everyone speaks the language well enough to follow along with the ever-more-nuanced levels.

South Auckland community leaders should have been asked early to help. Who is most relevant in your life —a health official from Wellington wagging their finger? A powerful politician damning your neighbours on TV? Or someone you see every Sunday, someone whose counsel you turn to in need, your friends, your neighbours?

Why have South Auckland leaders mostly been left out of the virus control strategy?

Work with communities and they’ll tell you about people who live in the fringes, where reporting yourself means hardship and loss. It means your unregistered dog might be taken away. And no one gets a wage subsidy for losing a cash job. Perhaps they should make better choices, but a realistic system understands not everyone will.

It’s predictable that someone in a minimum wage job feels they have to go to work. How much cheaper it would be to pay people when we want them to self-isolate? We would be lining up to volunteer for compliance.

Now the KFC worker, who has been globally shamed, says she was told she didn’t need to isolate. She has a text message stating “casual contacts to isolate and test —families don't need to”.

Believe the woman.

I believe her because the system keeps letting people down.

Lines at Auckland Airport domestic terminal stretching out the door and along the footpath. I stood in a senseless queue at Auckland airport on Sunday, waiting in line as every passenger was screened before entering the airport. I expected screening. I did not expect to have to present an official document to prove my home address. Whoever changed the rules just needed to co-ordinate with the airlines. No one did.

Authorities have had a year to get this right. Twelve months, and the experience of previous lockdowns, to understand where the pain points are and to ease them.

The incompetence on Auckland’s southern motorway on Sunday afternoon was not kind. They treated every motorist as an offender instead of taking a risk-management approach, checking perhaps every fifth or 10th car. If the congestion is excessive, let more through. After all, the roadblock didn’t keep a single person safe. Its target was not people infected with the virus. It was to deter people from entering the city needlessly. It was heartless deterrence. They made children wait in a five-hour queue in a car in midsummer. They made 90-year-olds toilet beside the motorway and stock trucks idle in the heat. It was despicable to subject animals to needless distress.

The police commissioner has championed “policing by consent”. Fiascos undermine consent. I don’t care if the police commissioner is “woke”, I just want him to wake up. Nothing about Sunday was unforeseeable.

It was avoidable. Yet on Monday the Government implied they would do the same again.

The problem is not that we have been too trusting of working people. We have not been trusting enough.

People say: “Well, we all have to put up with some inconvenience.” Which is true, actually, and New Zealanders have been extraordinarily patient and resilient.

Plenty of experts say our virus fighting has been helped because we are a “high-trust” society. It’s true, we have a great deal of trust in our institutions, in the Government, in our police, in our public service.

But it is not fully reciprocated.

If the police, airport security and pandemic planners trusted us as much as we are being asked to trust them, they would not have created dangerous Sunday queues. They would have listened to why people might break the rules, and already have systems in place to stop them.

We’re hearing calls to punish the people that the system is failing. We should focus on the people who are making the system fail.

Was family told to isolate?

Josie joined Heather du Plessis-Allen and Tim Wilson to debate the controversy about whether a South Auckland family broke the rules of isolating, and whether the PM was right to ask the country to call them out.

Get Email Updates