Week in Review

MPs, it’s time to do your job

There's something rotten in the state of our health system. Anna Rawhiti-Connell shakes her head at the lack of support for the victims of the Christchurch terror attack and urges MPs to take their duties seriously.

COMMENT: It must be dreadful being an MP. Constant lists of things people want. Complaints about everything. Infinite demands on finite resources and time. Juggling budgets and policy, all while trying to win hearts and minds because another election is just around the corner.

Following the Christchurch shootings, demands on the Government grew. Fix Facebook, deal with racism, make the Crusaders change their name. Racism is a bit hard, and the Government doesn’t have much power over rugby franchises, so attention was directed towards gun reform and holding social media companies to account for their role in live broadcasting the horror and the dissemination of extremist content. 

Gun reform got done and then the PM headed off to Paris and the Christchurch Call was born. Facebook chucked in a few bucks and made some promises and forgive my cynicism, but I think that will be that. When writing about the legacy of the current Government, something tells me ‘Stopped social media companies and human beings from doing what they do no matter how harmful’ won’t be amongst their list of achievements. 

Meanwhile at home, victims of the shooting and their families struggled to access the millions of dollars of donations that poured in following the terror attack on March 15. It’s also recently emerged that Government ministers considered but rejected a ministerial directive from Ian Lees-Galloway to support those who’d been mentally traumatised after the shootings via ACC, despite advice from MSD and the Ministry of Health that it would be the more feasible option.

Maybe unequivocal, fast, and unwavering support for the victims of the shooting isn’t as impressive a legacy as stopping Facebook from live broadcasting mass murder but if I were doing one of those time and resource management grids where you decide what’s urgent and important, that would be in there. Attempting to tackle enormous technology companies with valuations bigger than our GDP while your citizens struggle with grief, physical injuries and severe trauma wouldn’t rank so highly.

To have the victims of the worst act of violence against total innocents this country has seen have even a tiny bit of difficulty accessing the support they need is a dereliction of government duty.

One of the legacies of successive American administrations over the last 20 years is the lack of ongoing care shown to 9/11 first responders. In 2017 and 2018, 48 members of the NYPD died of cancer reportedly linked to toxins from the 2001 terrorist attack. They are currently fighting to have the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund reauthorised. We might not even have to wait that long for a similar legacy of victim neglect to emerge in this country.

We haven’t had to wait too long to start writing the previous National government’s legacy into the history books. Occupying an equally important place in the urgent and important list I would have drawn up for them would have been ensuring that our hospitals weren’t in such a state that babies were dying because of under-resourcing. 

While John Key faffed about doing commercial radio, trying to get the flag changed and restoring Sir and Dame titles to our national honours systems, before accepting one for himself, South Auckland’s major public hospital was crumbling down. Multiple buildings at Middlemore, which services one of our fastest-growing populations, are leaky, earthquake-prone or riddled with asbestos, and in some instances, all three. The first sign of trouble emerged in 2012 after a cladding panel fell from the Scott Building.

Strain was so bad in maternity wards that the deaths of three babies in 2016, 2017 and 2018 have been attributed to a lack of resources. A Herald investigation published last Saturday found maternity care at Middlemore fell below safe standards over this same period with women being sent home too early due to a lack of beds.

Despite Simon Bridges claiming the Health Minster at the time, Jonathan Coleman, didn’t know how bad things were at Middlemore, we know the health sector went to the government asking for funding to deal with rising immigration, and they received a quarter of a billion dollar less than they asked for. From 2011 to 2016, DHBs received $834.8 million less than what they asked for in this area. Coleman described the amount requested in 2016 as a "wish list figure". 

When writing about the legacy of the current Government, something tells me ‘Stopped social media companies and human beings from doing what they do no matter how harmful’ won’t be amongst their list of achievements. 

What has happened at Middlemore is a dereliction of government duty. To have the victims of the worst act of violence against total innocents this country has seen have even a tiny bit of difficulty accessing the support they need is a dereliction of government duty. When we know what needs to be done, when we have the evidence, data, and trend forecasts to inform how it should be done, and the means to do it are at hand, it isn’t unreasonable for New Zealanders to expect it to be done.

It’s our duty to ask the questions. Those are simple. It’s our Government’s duty to deliver the solutions. Those are complex. As citizens, residents, voters, and victims, it’s simple to ask the questions. We say “we need” and expect the Government to deliver on that.

I recognise that imbalance,  but I’m not comfortable with it. I am but a simple columnist with no understanding of the complexities of government decision-making but it’s my humble opinion that requests for funding for the health sector, or indeed, a rapid and effective response to victim care, are never wish list material. A wish list is the place for a flag referendum or a wishy-washy promise from Facebook.

It must be dreadful being an MP. Constant lists of things people want. Complaints about everything. Infinite demands on finite resources and time. Well I’ll make it simple for them. Stick to your knitting for a bit. Prioritise the basic fundamentals of a functioning society. Do your jobs.

I don’t have all the answers but it would be a dereliction of my duties as a citizen and columnist to not do my job and ask our MPs to do theirs.

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