Opinion: Social sickness surrounding govt’s priorities


I wish I was in a position to help, opined Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, when asked by Duncan Garner on TV3 what the government would do to help Abby Hartley return to New Zealand from a Balinese hospital.

Jacinda had a Boeing 757 plus $75,000 of fuel at her disposal, so that she could visit Nauru and be serenaded by President Waqa and the island elders with the tune: “Aotearoa our friend: Jacinda our new star in the sky.” The PM justified this journey by saying that the military plane had fixed overheads anyway, and thus she was not utilising any additional resources.

Those resources could also have been used to save a life, as the plane in question returned to NZ without a single passenger. It could have been rerouted via Bali to collect a gravely-ill Kiwi citizen, but the mean-spirited PM wouldn’t make the effort. The Labour Party has the resources to double our refugee intake, but no resources to help a gravely-ill Kiwi citizen struggling in a foreign hospital.

A similar criticism can be levied when Jacinda again opined at the start of her term: “We will be putting families at the heart of everything this government does.” Not long after this bit of grandstanding our community had to organise a protest march to prevent the deportation of a community-minded Sri Lankan mother, resident here for over eight years, because her unexpected illness might cost the health department money.

Labour had money to welcome economic queue-jumpers from Manus Island, but none for the folk already here and contributing. There is a social sickness surrounding this government’s priorities.

Let me return to the lady who was in the Balinese hospital as it raises serious questions that should concern all of us. Anyone who has taken out travel insurance will be aware of the small print. Typically, pages of exemptions where you are not covered whilst abroad. Most of us never read the minutiae as our ability to decipher the legalese is minimal, and if an older traveller, our eyesight isn’t cognisant of the small print anyway, which makes it somewhat redundant.

Insurance companies do not cover pre-existing medical conditions, thus those so affected travel unprotected when abroad. They do not cover a raft of other stuff as well: undeclared wars, victims of terror, dangerous sports (a ski holiday can be included in this exemption) and many other exclusions, besides. The insurance cartels follow a pattern of exclusions.

The actuaries (mathematicians who calculate risk) are charged with minimising insurance company risk whilst maintaining profitable premiums. The customers (us) are the ones who pay the price should anything go wrong. Most of the time, we avoid the ‘go to jail’ card, but it is harrowing to read about those innocent folk who get caught in some very stressful situations.

Given that the insurance industry cannot help all insured Kiwis abroad when they become trapped, it falls to the only organisation that can help us. Government. That’s why we have government. To assist those in need. To help those who have made a bad decision (think mountain misadventures), to provide an emergency roof over people’s heads, and so on.

Successive governments have dropped the ball.

The rise of political correctness and the fall of pragmatic solutions create the fear of setting a precedent instead of preventing a death.

Concerns about what overseas countries might think of us trump our own people’s needs. It’s time government just sliced through the bureaucratic red tape, and delivered the goods. Their hand-wringing, “nothing I can do” excuses, are a confession of incompetence.

Mike Ramsay is a keen observer of the Wakatipu