Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Dobbing In, Via Smart Phone

In the beginning there was the word. In the end there will be the video. Inbetween there is the smart phone. First, though, let’s clear away one of the big questions: why do we need state surveillance when we have neighbours?

One of the most depressing revelations, as this anti-coronavirus lockdown turns out to be everything it was cracked down to be, is the enthusiasm for dobbing in people suspected of flouting the so-called rules.

For the media, “flouting” has overtaken freedom camping, legless drinking and begging as the most newsworthy morally reprehensible behaviour du jour.

Ambiguity and confusion in the so-called rules has allowed dobbing-in to go freestyle, open to all amateur snitches with a phone.

Spot your local MP’s campaign van parked near the start of a mountain bike trail? Thanks to modern communications technology you don’t have to use your phone to call your local Australian-owned daily news organ and wait for them to send out a photographer and a reporter. Use the phone as a camera — some new models have as many as five cameras such is the degree of choice in a consumer society — and then use the phone’s connection to the internet to transmit the pic or video to your local Stasi, er, Stuff office.

The picture of the MP’s campaign van — in a remote carpark as in the opening scene of a Nordic Noir series about a refugee smuggling ring — can then be transmitted to the phone of the prime minister for comment.

On its own, a picture or video of an MP’s van in a remote carpark would not warrant publication, unless the MP had gone missing, been murdered or was the Minister of Health in the middle of an anti-coronavirus lockdown. That the van had been driven 2km to the carpark could not, in itself, even on a slow news day, be considered an especially egregious example of rule-flouting.

Riding a mountain bike over exactly the terrain for which it’s designed might seem to be riskier than riding it on a road or footpath. If there are statistics showing the numbers of cycling deaths and injuries on off-road trails compared to city streets, they are surprisingly hard to find. But, on the same day that the Health Minister drove his van 2km to ride his bike on a bush trail: a cyclist was killed on the road near his home in North Canterbury, reported to have been hit from behind by a van; another cyclist was injured in a collision with a train in Napier; and an elderly former senior news executive, reported to have been riding on the wrong side of the road in Greytown in the Wairarapa, suffered a serious head injury when he fell and hit his head on the curb, received mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from bubble-bursting passers-by and was choppered to hospital in Wellington.

The Health Minister, however, had risked more than being injured and causing downstream bubble bursting and putting further pressure on emergency services and his own health system. He had exposed the government to allegations of hypocrisy by failing to observe the same standards and rules as it was imposing on the population.

Among calls for the minister’s resignation, NewstalkZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan, in a commentary paradoxically titled “Perspective”, said that, although Clark’s actions should not cost him his job, the prime minister should nevertheless fire him because he had broken a rule.

In fact, Ardern’s health minister had actually been following her guidance almost to the letter. Rejecting calls from du Plessis-Allan and others wanting to see the minister’s head roll, the PM said: ”It's my expectation that ministers set the standards we are asking New Zealanders to follow.

"People can go outside to get fresh air and drive short distances if needed, but we have asked people to avoid activities where there is a higher risk of injury, and the minister should have followed that guidance."

Out in the country, where most New Zealanders live, 2km is a short distance and 20km is how far many people have to drive to get to the nearest supermarket. That was also the distance that the Health Minister travelled when, on the fourth day of the lockdown and four days before his bike ride, he drove his family out to the beautiful beach at Doctor’s Point in Blueskin Bay, near Waitati, about 20km north of Dunedin.

This time he dobbed himself in, coming clean about his outdoor activities when briefing the prime minister on the night before his appearance before the Epidemic Response Committee on Tuesday 7 April.

The trip to Doctor’s Point had been “a clear breach of the lockdown principles of staying local and not driving long distances to reach recreation spots,” the minister said in a statement.

Leaving aside the question as to whether 20km is a long distance in a car, the government’s Covid-19 guidelines also say “You can leave your house to access essential services, like buying groceries, or going to a bank or pharmacy, or to go for a walk, exercise and enjoy nature.”

Where better to enjoy nature than a beach? What better place to self-isolate and maintain your bubble?

“Make the lockdown journey your own” suggested the headline on a double-page spread in the Sunday Star-Times Escape magazine of 29 March. “Head to your local park, riverbank, beach, forest or farm, to enjoy some botany, bird-spotting, cloud-watching, or maybe a jolly good roll in the hay”. Maybe not; “social distance” guidelines and all that.

His offer to resign rejected by his prime minister, Clark proceeded to take self-abasement to a whole new level. “As the Health Minister it’s my responsibility to not only follow the rules but set an example to other New Zealanders,” he said.

“At a time when we are asking New Zealanders to make historic sacrifices I’ve let the team down. I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me.”

Probably not. Outside the bubble known as Wellington, the furore over the wayward health minister quickly became just another of the many bizarre anomalies thrown up by the government’s Covid-19 lockdown.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Eric Zuesse: U.S. Empire: Biden And Kerry Gave Orders To Ukraine’s President

Eric Zuesse, originally posted at Strategic Culture On May 19th, an implicit international political warning was issued, but it wasn’t issued between countries; it was issued between allied versus opposed factions within each of two countries: U.S. and Ukraine. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Budget Cockups In The Time Of Coronavirus: Reporting Errors And Australia’s JobKeeper Scheme

Hell has, in its raging fires, ringside seats for those who like their spreadsheets. The seating, already peopled by those from human resources, white collar criminals and accountants, becomes toastier for those who make errors with those spreadsheets. ... More>>

The Dig - COVID-19: Just Recovery

The COVID-19 crisis is compelling us to kick-start investment in a regenerative and zero-carbon future. We were bold enough to act quickly to stop the virus - can we now chart a course for a just recovery? More>>

The Conversation: Are New Zealand's New COVID-19 Laws And Powers Really A Step Towards A Police State?

Reaction to the New Zealand government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown has ranged from high praise to criticism that its actions were illegal and its management chaotic. More>>

Keith Rankin: Universal Versus Targeted Assistance, A Muddled Dichotomy

The Commentariat There is a regular commentariat who appear on places such as 'The Panel' on Radio New Zealand (4pm on weekdays), and on panels on television shows such as Newshub Nation (TV3, weekends) and Q+A (TV1, Mondays). Generally, these panellists ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Welcome Deaths: Coronavirus And The Open Plan Office

For anybody familiar with that gruesome manifestation of the modern work place, namely the open plan office, the advent of coronavirus might be something of a relief. The prospects for infection in such spaces is simply too great. You are at risk from ... More>>

Caitlin Johnstone: Do You Consent To The New Cold War?

The world's worst Putin puppet is escalating tensions with Russia even further, with the Trump administration looking at withdrawal from more nuclear treaties in the near future. In addition to planning on withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Why Thinking Makes It So: Donald Trump’s Obamagate Fixation

The “gate” suffix has been wearing thin since the break-in scandal that gave it its birth. Since Watergate, virtually anything dubious and suggestive, and much more besides, is suffixed. Which brings us to the issue of President Donald Trump’s ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Ethics (and Some Of The Economics) Of Lifting The Lockdown

As New Zealand passes the half-way mark towards moving out of Level Four lockdown, the trade-offs involved in life-after-lockdown are starting to come into view. All very well for National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith to claim that “The number one priority we have is to get out of the lockdown as soon as we can”…Yet as PM Jacinda Ardern pointed out a few days ago, any crude trade-off between public health and economic well-being would be a false choice... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Brutal Choices: Anders Tegnell And Sweden’s Herd Immunity Goal

If the title of epidemiological czar were to be created, its first occupant would have to be Sweden’s Anders Tegnell. He has held sway in the face of sceptics and concern that his “herd immunity” approach to COVID-19 is a dangerous, and breathtakingly ... More>>


  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog