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Parliament has adjourned for the year with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wishing all New Zealanders a wonderful break.
“You bloody deserve it!”
The House broke into applause when she announced that 90 per cent of New Zealand’s eligible population had been double-vaccinated against Covid-19 - although she was arguably premature.
At the time it was officially 89.82 per cent which she acknowledged in Question Time but said she would round it up (the 7417 more jabs to officially reach 90 per cent will be in arms today but will be in official figures on Thursday).
“We have not finished. In Tamaki Makaurau [Auckland] we are seeing some DHBs reached first-dose rates of 97 cent.
“Let’s keep going.”
In the latest figures, Pasifika first-dose figures overtook the general population “and we continue to see some of the fastest growth in vaccinations amongst Maori.”
The three Auckland area district health boards are now at least 90 per cent double-vaccinated with Counties Manukau reaching 90 per cent yesterday, Waitemata on 92 per cent and Auckland on 95 per cent.
She said New Zealand not only had the lowest level of hospitalisation and death rate in the OECD, it was among one of only three countries to see life expectancy rise during the pandemic.
She also said New Zealand’s economic recovery was outstripping Australia, Canada, Japan, and the European Union.
Unemployment was down to a record low of 3.4 per cent.
She paid tribute to Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson on the same day the half-yearly opening of the books showed projected net debt lower than previously forecast and the country returning to surplus sooner.
On a lighter note, she told Speaker Trevor Mallard he had united Parliament.
“Despite the unprecedented change in procedure this House has seen, you’ve never failed as parliamentarians to ensure that we are united, mostly through our shared experience of ‘Alert Level Trevor'.”
National leader Christopher Luxon began his speech on a light note saying he was saddened that Ardern would no longer have the annual exchange of gifts with Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking (she quit her weekly spot).
So Luxon came up with a gift list for her and a few colleagues and a prediction that Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson would be taking over next year.
• For Jacinda Ardern … a Kookaburra cricket ball. Now Ajaz Patel was my dead set sporting legend and hero of 2021, but frankly this year the Prime Minister made Ajaz Patel look very average. This year she’s taken her spin game next level – she’s spun every ball superbly and had the batters totally confused on the direction the ball was going.
• For Grant Robertson … a relaxing summer getaway package to the Kiwi holiday destination of his choice – because we know that being the Leader of the Labour Party will be a very taxing job, and we want him rested up and ready to go for when he gets ready to take over.
• For Nanaia Mahuta … I thought long about this. We’ve got her a special giftset of Three Waters – still, sparkling and tap.
• For Chris Hipkins … who’s had to walk back a lot of his colleagues’ public comments in recent weeks – Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits, so he can practise moonwalking with a bit more style next year.
• For Michael Wood … a new rug because the last one got pulled out from under him by Grant Robertson when he up-ended Michael’s grand plans for a $785m cycle bridge across the Waitemata.
• For Damien O’Connor … a pair of Red Bands. He might not know what these are, but I can assure him that Barbara Kuriger, Ian McKelvie, Nicola Grigg, Tim van de Molen, David Bennett and in fact the whole of the National Caucus do!
• For [Act leader] David Seymour … an Ancestry.com DNA kit, to find out whether we’re actually as closely related as some people seem to think.
• For [Green co-leaders] James and Marama … a bulk order of kombucha for you and the team to keep the thirst quenched over a beautiful Kiwi summer.
• For Rawiri and Debbie from Te Pāti Māori – who frankly have the best TikTok game going around in this Parliament (although God help us as Simeon Brown tells me he’s looking into it – don’t do it Simeon) – a Footlocker gift card so you can get yourselves some more pairs of Air Jordans.
• And finally for you, Mr Speaker … I know just how big a Hurricanes fan you are and that you haven’t tasted success for some time, so I thought you’d appreciate a jersey from my team, that costs me thousands of votes in Botany, the best team in the country – the mighty Canterbury Crusaders.”
On a more serious note, Luxon said that the Government’s decisions over Covid had crippled the livelihoods of many businesses.
“There’ll be empty chairs at the dinner table for many families come Christmas. A million missing Kiwis will be kept apart from their loved ones because of a cruel and heartless MIQ lottery system.”
Mallard wrapped up the debate, giving a personal account of how Covid had affected the family of his friend and former colleague Sir Michael Cullen, who died during lockdown.
It emphasised how hard it had been for people in a pandemic.
“It is only today, when he died in August, that his children can meet up with his wife [Anne Collins].
“I saw the video of his hearse going past the end of the street when they could not have a ceremony. That has been tough for New Zealanders and the separations that have occurred in New Zealand at really important times.”
He said was proud that Parliament had not become a vector for Covid-19 last year or this year in a high-risk work environment.
“I don’t quite have the same optimism for next year,” he said, although he noted the high level of vaccination in the buildings.
He paid tribute to deputy Speaker Adrian Rurawhe who, he said, “probably does a better job than I do.”
Mallard also acknowledged the departure of Tova O’Brien as Newshub political editor. Her first big hit as a television journalist had embarrassed him, when he onsold tickets to the Homegrown musical festival.
But he also praised her for her handling of the meltdown of ex National MP Jami-lee Ross in 2018, saying she had the choice of running “probably the biggest parliamentary story possible or a member’s mental health and she chose not to go for the hits and the sound-bites”.
“She decided to do the right thing.”
- By Audrey Young