The “explanation” by Police Minister Judith Collins for the $800,000 cost blowout in the diplomatic protection squad budget – there have been threats, she says, to the security of the PM – puts a brand new spin on accountability. Countering threats is, one would have thought, the squad’s baseline job. Can we assume that if the health system needs to treat more people it too, will be allowed to blow out its costs?
ON RNZ this morning, Collins sought to blame much of the situation on the Clark government which she said, had signed up to a collective agreement that allowed officers to take time in lieu rather than work overtime. Apparently, Collins opposes squad officers being paid time in lieu – and if that’s the case, what’s her plan for paying for the longer hours and extra work involved in keeping local and foreign notables safe and sound? Answer: she doesn’t have a clue. When for instance, she was asked on Morning Report about the potential cost blowout for security during the Rugby World Cup she gave this extraordinary answer to interviewer Geoff Robinson:
The fact is, the Police have to make those decisions not worrying about the budget. We can’t have a situation Geoff, where we have peoples’ lives at risk because the Police are worried that they’re going to end up having to defend their budget and what they’ve spent it on. … Its not just acceptable. …
Isn’t that what doctors and nurses have to do almost every day of the week? Consistently, they are forced to balance the quality of care against the need to defend the health budget. Such decisions of course, affect only the lives of ordinary people though – and not the very important people who qualify for diplomatic protection squad care and protection. Just one more sign that this government believes some lives are more important than others.
Interesting that the RNZ news bulletins ran with the angle that the cost blowout was allegedly due to increased threats to the PM. That’s a very sexy news angle, no doubt. (One person has indeed been arrested and charged in connection with such threats.) Yet the actual story also contained that claim by Collins that “over $600,000” of the $800,000 over-run was due to the ‘time in lieu’ provision. So less than $200,000 – spread through the entire year across all of the local and foreign dignitaries under the squad’s care, including other MPs, the governor-general and visitors from China who attracted protest attention – was spent on such things as additional threat scenarios. Clearly, fresh and unexpected threats to the PM were a negligible factor in the cost over-run incurred by the squad. Unfortunately, there is no way of telling how much the decision to send squad members to Hawaii – where the PM tends to holiday – contributed to the blowout.
Foot and mouth disease
Even more damaging than earthquakes and tornados, foot and mouth disease has long been a threat hanging over New Zealand’s agriculture-based economy. So we should be delighted by fresh research from Britain that indicates mass culling of herds may not be essential if and when an outbreak occurs. Apparently, animals show detectable signs of infection for 24 hours before the onset, and remain infectious for a shorter period than previously thought. Here’s the Guardian report:
….Scientists…have shown that it is detectable in cattle up to 24 hours before they become infectious. This could provide a window to quarantine infected animals and stop the spread of the disease to neighbouring farms. The researchers also found that cattle infected with the foot and mouth virus remained infectious for an average of only 1.7 days, much less than previously thought….. Until now, scientists had thought that cattle became infectious up to four days before they showed clinical signs, and then remained infectious for up to four to eight days afterwards.
But [researcher Bryan] Charleston also found there was a point where virus detection was possible before the animals became infectious. “After an animal becomes infected, you can start to detect virus in blood and in nasal samples approximately two to three days later, that’s before they show clinical signs and before they are able to transmit the virus,” he said. The government’s chief vet, Nigel Gibbens, said: “While these types of tests aren’t currently practical for use on the ground during an outbreak, we are continuing to fund their development and are working with the Institute of Animal Health so the best possible tests and equipment is available. Quick reporting of suspect cases of the disease by farmers and veterinarians and selective culling of animals, with vaccination where that can make an effective contribution to control, remain the best way of stopping this disease.”
The 24-hour window allows farmers and scientists to isolate and cull the infected herd before they can spread the infection to neighbouring herds. “It’s not the animals that are infected that are saved, it’s the ones they might have put at risk, all the animals in the next-door farms,”
OK. Are we putting a similar system in place – of quick reporting and up to date lab analysis, and with the capacity to deploy sufficient veterinarians to enable selective culling – that can handle a foot and mouth outbreak without resort to costly and unnecessary mass cullings? Given that the Earthquake Commission had been told in a report a year before the Christchurch quakes about its administrative shortcomings – and had failed to act on them before subsequent events proved the report’s findings about its inability to cope – we can probably assume the worst. By and large, these are the sort of preventive measures being axed by a government fixated on short term savings and the slashing of public services.