Covid-19 convoy protest: National’s Christopher Luxon says New Zealand ‘divided’, Jacinda Ardern ‘missing in action’
February 21, 2022 New Zealand has become a ‘divided society’ under the Labor government, says national leader Chris Luxon.
New Zealand has become “a divided society” under the Labor government and it’s time to phase out vaccination mandates – starting at the border and for children, said Christopher Luxon.
The national leader used a speech on the protest outside Parliament today to slam Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for being ‘missing’.
The government‘s response to Covid had pitted the vaccinated against the unvaccinated, Luxon said.
“The prime minister talks about a team of five million, but in fact she’s leading the most controversial government in recent memory,” he said.
“Tenants versus landlords. Business owners versus workers. Farmers versus cities. Kiwis at home versus those stuck abroad.
“Vaccinated versus unvaccinated.”
Speaking shortly after Luxon, Ardern told reporters at the post-Cabinet press conference that the wave of Omicron business should peak in three to six weeks.
Ardern provided details of the conditions under which vaccination mandates could be relaxed as protests continue around the grounds of Parliament.
She said the seven-day average for cases was now over 1,600.
“It is likely then that very soon we will all know people who will have the Covid.
“There was a time when that was a scary prospect, but it’s not necessary now,”
Ardern said New Zealand was in a stronger position than many places to weather Storm Omicron and in three to six weeks the number of cases would likely peak.
Luxon’s speech cited the protest outside Parliament to discuss wider issues with the Covid response, saying it was the culmination of “underlying issues that have been rumbling in our communities for some time”.
“It’s driven by Covid and vaccine mandates, yes, but the frustrations shared by many Kiwis are also driven by a government that seems to be stalling.”
Luxon said Labour’s approach to Covid “is far too much about controlling all aspects of daily life, rather than using tools like rapid antigen tests to manage risk. and give Kiwis a more personal responsibility.”
Prime Minister ‘missing’
He accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of being “missing”.
Luxon has repeatedly emphasized his desire to return to some kind of middle ground.
He said even people’s perceptions of the Covid response had been polarized, with some people thinking it was perfect and others thinking it was appalling.
The ‘truth’ about the quality of the Covid response ‘sits somewhere in the middle’, between people who think the response was ‘flawless’ and those who think it was ‘flawed’.
“We must chart a path back to that common ground that unites us, and not allow ourselves to be split into warring factions, inextricably and increasingly opposed.”
People should be allowed to engage with the issues behind the protest
Luxon said people should be allowed to sympathize with certain issues behind the protest, without being accused of “tolerating unlawful behavior or siding with anti-science conspiracy theorists.”
He said the government’s “reluctance to engage” on the issues that sparked the protest “has amplified the division.
“The sacking of anyone who questions the government’s approach has fueled growing mistrust.”
Changing Omicron’s Strategy
Luxon argued that the science behind the pandemic supports the shift to a more permissive approach.
He said the government’s Covid strategy needed to be changed, acknowledging that “Covid is very different in February 2022 than it was in February 2020”.
“Back then, we had no vaccines, limited testing and no effective treatment,” Luxon said.
But scientists have now recognized that “Covid has gone from a deadly disease to a much less serious disease”.
“Omicron is highly contagious, but milder. Covid is now manageable for the vast majority of people at home,” Luxon said.
He thought the transition to a more permissive approach would be difficult for some people who wanted more government intervention in their lives.
But he also pushed back against people who wanted a “let it go” approach, which he said would overwhelm hospitals.
Instead, Luxon said there was “a third way forward” – echoing his previous calls for a return to the centre.
He said that common ground would include maintaining “effective public health measures like vaccinations, boosters, testing and treatment”, while beginning to restore “normalcy to people’s lives”.
Remove money orders at the border and for children
Luxon said the government should consider starting to remove vaccination mandates, starting with border workers and children.
He said border vaccinations “made a lot of sense when we had an elimination strategy and border worker vaccinations were the tool to keep Covid out of the community.
“It obviously makes a lot less sense when we have thousands of community cases and
the border reopens to the world. They have to go,” Luxon said.
He described the mandates that were “most reprehensible” were those that applied to “children participating in extracurricular sports after school”.
“They don’t make sense. They should go.”
“Aggressive” reopening to the world
Luxon said New Zealand needed to “reopen aggressively to the world”.
He criticized the government’s slow reopening of borders.
The government had no strong case for asking people to self-isolate upon returning to New Zealand.
“We should quickly move to a rule that people take a test when they arrive in New Zealand. If it’s positive, they should self-isolate.
“If it’s negative, they should be free to go about their business – just like Kiwis do in New Zealand,” he said.
Luxon concluded with a pitch for his own leadership. He said the country needed ‘new leadership’, who ‘knows how to get things done and get our Covid toolset in place’, who ‘isn’t too proud to call it when we we cheat and admit mistakes” and that “shows when times are tough, not just in times of glory”.
Luxon previewed the speech in an op-ed in the Herald this morning, which explored whether the protest outside Parliament was symptomatic of a deeper post-Covid malaise.
Luxon questioned what the protest said about the direction of the country and asked what could be done to “repair the chasm of division that has opened”.
The editorial attempted to position Luxon as a leader of the political middle ground and explain why the issues that led to the occupation of Parliament are the responsibility of Jacinda Ardern’s government – shifting the debate from the police and the President, who have been responsible for responding to the protest so far.
Luxon wrote this morning that voters have asked him about healing divisions and the way forward.
“These are not issues the President can drown out with sprinklers or loud music. Good police cannot solve them,” Luxon wrote.
“What we are seeing outside Parliament, and the reaction to it, is a culmination of underlying issues that have been rumbling in our communities for some time.”
Luxon will be careful not to fall into the traps of former national leaders and launch a broadside against the Prime Minister and his approach to Covid-19.
In his op-ed, he paid tribute to his “wise decision to put New Zealand on lockdown”.
“[W]We were united in our determination to fight Covid-19, and we felt good about it.”
It will also attempt to guard against the allegation that National wants to quickly dismiss all Covid measures.
He wrote this morning that while it was “reasonable for unvaccinated Kiwis to wonder what conditions must be met before they can once again go to work, eat out and participate fully in civil society”, it was also important that any plan to get rid of the warrants “considers both the evidence about Omicron and the need to protect our healthcare system from overspill.”
There are possible signs of growing division, despite the fact that 94% of the eligible population is double-vaccinated, and a recent Horizon snapshot poll showed 64.5% of people supporting the mandate policy.
A recent poll by the Curia Taxpayers Union, the company that also polls the National Party, found that 42.9% of New Zealanders believe the country is on the right track, compared to 42.3% who believe the country is on the right track. he was on the wrong track – it’s the closest to both figures since the end of last year.