Dr Liz Gordon: Mine is bigger than yours

I listened to the first parliamentary question that Christopher Luxon asked of Jacinda Ardern today. Parliamentary questions are a really good test of people’s ability to be agile and intelligent.  Basically, a questioner can ask as many questions as they like, to try and make the point.  Luxon asked many.  The exchange went as follows (summarised and abridged by me):

CL: Why did it take so long (21 months/since the beginning of the pandemic, etc) for the government to announce funding for a whole lot of new ICU beds?

JA: Well unlike other countries our strategy always focused on minimising and eliminating the Covid so that extra ICU beds would not be needed. Lowest rate of Covid in OECD, lowest hospitalisation rates, lowest death rates etc.

CL: Yes but you could have done it sooner…

JA:  Well there is little point in putting new beds in place until you have trained staff – you need five nurses for every one ICU bed. That is what we have been doing. And the new beds have not been needed yet.  Oh yes and hopefully they won’t be in the future because we also have the highest vaccination rates in the OECD, so there.

CL: You’d rather fund a cull of wallabies than ICU beds

JA: We are a full service government.  We have not needed the new ICU beds to date and I hope we never do.

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

JA: (yawn)

And so on.  In short, there was nothing in his first question as leader to indicate the confident, aspirational and prosperous future he signalled as National leader.  On the other hand, he was very nervous and stuck extremely closely to his script (which he mislaid at one point).  He may improve.

In terms of a score out of ten, it was a one.  It simply became another showcase for Jacinda to outline the success of her government’s Covid policies in world terms.  His repetitive questions failed to acknowledge her responses at all.  It was as if she hadn’t answered. Jacinda on the other hand was undoubtedly a ten.

National under Luxon is going to have to do a lot better than this. The tactic of repeating and repeating a question is not a bright one – it is a stupid one, unless the question is being deflected or not answered.  It came across as bullying, frankly.

There is also a gender politics here.  I expect that Christopher Luxon is more used to dealing with men than with women. Ignoring answers she (clearly) provides opens him up to criticism that he does not listen to women.  His blokishness (my dictionary says this is another neologism – that’s two for two!) would not matter so much if he was up against a bloke (the more familiar “mine is bigger than yours” approach), but he needs to adjust his style when dealing with Jacinda. (Sorry, too many brackets) (again).

His team would have sat down in the morning and planned out his first question. It would be fair to say their inexperience showed. Asking a set-piece question about a potential shortage of beds, when a policy to mitigate the risk had already been announced, was pretty dim.

He should probably have asked about the likely increase of Covid numbers throughout the country in early 2022, and predictions for Covid-related deaths.  Not sure – some researcher would be onto 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 yet, so I will attempt an end-of-year retrospective soon.

Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.

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