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Dr Liz Gordon: Mine is bigger than yours

I listened to the first parliamentary question that Christopher Luxon asked Jacinda Ardern today. Parliamentary questions are a very good test of people’s ability to be nimble and intelligent. Basically, a speaker can ask as many questions as they want, to try and get their point across. Luxon asked for a lot. The exchange went as follows (summarized and abridged by me):

CL: Why has it taken so long (21 months / since the start of the pandemic, etc.) for the government to announce funding for a whole bunch of new intensive care beds?

JA: Well, unlike other countries, our strategy has always focused on reducing and eliminating Covid so that additional intensive care beds are not needed. OECD lowest Covid rate, lowest hospitalization rate, lowest death rate, etc.

CL: Yes but you could have done it earlier …

JA: Well, there’s no point setting up new beds until you have trained staff – you need five nurses for each intensive care bed. That’s what we did. And the new beds haven’t been needed yet. Oh yes and I hope they won’t in the future because we also have the highest vaccination rates in the OECD so there.

CL: You prefer to finance the slaughter of wallabies rather than intensive care beds

JA: We are a full service government. We haven’t needed the new intensive care beds to date and I hope we never need them.

CL: Yes, but why did it take 21 long months…. 21… months…

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JA: (yawn)

Etc. In short, nothing in his first question as a leader indicated the confident, ambitious and prosperous future, he announced as national leader. On the other hand, he was very nervous and stuck very closely to his script (which he misplaced at one point). He can improve.

In terms of a score out of ten, it was one. It just became another showcase for Jacinda to describe the success of her government’s Covid policies in global terms. His repetitive questions did not recognize his answers at all. It was as if she hadn’t answered. Jacinda, meanwhile, was definitely a ten.

National under Luxon will have to do a lot better than that. The tactic of repeating and repeating a question isn’t brilliant – it’s a dumb tactic, unless the question is hijacked or not answered. It sounded like bullying, frankly.

There is also a gender policy here. I guess Christopher Luxon is more used to dealing with men than with women. Ignoring the answers she (clearly) provides exposes him to criticism that he doesn’t listen to women. Her blokish character (my dictionary says that’s another neologism – it’s two for two!) When dealing with Jacinda. (Sorry, too many parentheses) (again).

His team would have sat down in the morning and planned their first question. It would be fair to say that their inexperience has shown. Asking a fixed question about a possible bed shortage, when a policy to mitigate the risk had already been announced, was quite weak.

He probably should have asked questions about the likely increase in the number of Covid people across the country in early 2022 and the predictions of Covid-related deaths. Not sure – a researcher would be on that. But something that worries and concerns people and has real resonance for the future.

Bomber has let us know that we can “keep writing, comrades” for a little while, so I’m going to try a year-end retrospective soon.

Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and lawyer, with interests in the destruction of neoliberalism in all its forms and towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on topics related to justice, social protection and education.