• A Government System That Works

    The Covid-19 saga will no doubt produce many twists and turns for us before it is finally brought to an end. But one thing it has shown us – and what comfort it should bring us – is that our country’s government is in good hands. I am not thinking only of our political leadership but of our senior public servants as well.

    There can be no greater test (apart, perhaps from wartime) of the competence of our government than the current crisis – and every country, faced with the same challenge, is in the course of finding out whether it enjoys what is the basic requirement of a developed and civilised country – that is, a government that can function effectively under pressure.

    Some countries, including some unexpected ones, like the United States, have already failed that test. But we have had daily evidence, through the informative and therefore reassuring daily televised briefings provided to the public, that we have calm, decisive leadership to guide us through the crisis.

    I think particularly of Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Director General of Health, who – like his colleague, Sarah Stuart-Clark, the Director of Civil Defence – has shown that, even in such a fast-moving situation, he is fully on top of his job. And we can add to that list Mike Bush, the Police Commissioner, and John Ombler, the head of the Civil Service, who have also been rock-solid sources of good sense, advice and action.

    And we have had the benefit of skilled professional service from the broadcasters on whom we rely so much for accurate information and interpretation of what is going on. Simon Dallow, Katie Bradford, Jessica Mutch McKay, and others, have been dispassionate, intelligent, accurate and helpful in all that they have done. And a word, too, for those stalwarts who have provided sign-language interpretation for the hard of hearing.

    Ministers, too, so often in the firing line for supposed failings, have stepped confidently up to the mark. Grant Robertson, David Clark, Stuart Nash, Chris Hipkins, Peeni Henare, and others, have all offered safe pairs of hands and engendered confidence that they know what they are doing.

    Most of us will by now have become well aware, too, of the hundreds – rather, perhaps, thousands – of health professionals and carers who are fighting the virus in the front line. These often unseen and unsung heroes are essential to the workings of a competent administration in such trying circumstances, to say nothing of the lifeline they provide to those most at risk from the virus. Nor should we forget those workers, in workplaces like supermarkets, who are keeping essential services available.

    And then, of course, there is the Prime Minister. We had already learned, from the Christchurch massacre, that she is good in a crisis, and she has again demonstrated a remarkable clarity, calmness and decisiveness, and – above all – an empathy with all those thousands currently afflicted with anxiety and uncertainty.

    We are lucky to have her – little wonder that the Australians would like to take her over.

    We should also recognise the role played by the Opposition. Simon Bridges has commendably decided to forgo the role usually played by an opposition and has lent his and the National Party’s support to the efforts the government is making to resolve the crisis – yet another indicator of a mature and well-functioning democracy.

    When the crisis is finally over, we will be able to look back on the whole episode with renewed confidence that our political leaders and our senior public servants were up to the task, and that we enjoy a governmental system that would be the envy of many other countries. We might also manage to give ourselves a big tick; with very few exceptions, Kiwis have shown a remarkable ability to pull together, and voluntarily to subordinate their individual and short-term interests to the common good – the true mark, after all, of a society that knows how to look after all of its members.

    Bryan Gould
    7 April 2020