Gordon Campbell on how the tourism industry pressured the government to create the travel bubble

d9fc68b6f9d6fa677f08Today is when the fate (and date) of the trans-Tasman travel bubble will be announced by PM Jacinda Ardern and -already– Opposition leader Judith Colins has been demanding that the bubble needs to be put in place this week, or else. How come, Collins complained this morning, that Australia has been willing to accept quarantine -free travel from New Zealand for six months, but we haven’t been willing to reciprocate?

Duh. Once again, National declares itself unfit to rule. Short answer: they’ve had more Covid than we have. That makes it easier for them. With a couple of brief exceptions, they’ve been dealing with a country that’s virtually Covid-free. Victoria hasn’t been. Brisbane, a few days ago, had a couple of Covid community clusters. Moreover, we are only one country. That also makes it easier for them. Australia though, is comprised of multiple states and territories. We have had to deal with each, since Canberra has refused to negotiate a travel bubble with us on a federal, country-to-country level. And finally, neither New Zealand nor those multiple states and territories have been willing to embrace an unconditional travel bubble. More than once during the past six months, Australian states have closed their borders – as they should – to New Zealand when there has been a community outbreak in Auckland. Ditto for the traffic in the opposite direction. It is quite likely to be a stop/start affair.

Judith Collins knows all this. But once again, National is playing politics with the pandemic while the adults in the room do the hard work of trying to create a travel bubble fit for any contingency as Ardern has already warned, having a trans-Tasman bubble will not return us to normality. Travellers will need to shoulder the risk that if they journey across the Tasman, and a community outbreak occurs while they are on foreign soil, they may well suffer the consequences of being trapped for a potentially unlimited period of time. Now, it might be possible to confine any such community outbreak to a single region of New Zealand or to a particular Australian city or state– but until that success in containment can be verified, the traveller will have to stay put, and be willing and able to pay their own way for an unpredictable period of time. That’s the new reality.

In other words, a travel bubble won’t magically recreate the pre-Covid normality. It will be conditional, it will require a ton of co-ordination, and since it will involve a foray into unknown territory, some of the fine details will be subject to change. All of this, one suspects, will be too much for National and the Act party to comprehend.

Lobbying & Leadership

That aside, a viable travel bubble is obviously a welcome development. It needn’t be perfect to be useful. In passing, the very existence of a travel bubble is a tribute to the tenacity and lobbying skills of the tourism industry, and of Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) chief executive, Chris Roberts. If any academic is looking for a shining example of how to lobby central government effectively, then tourism’s efforts during the pandemic would have to be first in line. Roberts has been a constantly available and articulate presence in the media and -crucially– he has always been able to produce tourism operators in the field to back up and echo the TIA arguments for assistance.

Ever since the pandemic struck, the government has found it impossible to ignore the sector and -as a result – it has showered it with a series of massive assistance packages in last year’s Budget and regularly ever since. Sure, not every tourism job has been saved, but the scale of assistance has mitigated the losses. Most of this aid has been the direct product of an active and highly co-ordinated lobbying effort.

One can only contrast tourism’s success with the fate of international education, the other multi-billion expert sector that’s been hit hard by the pandemic. Compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars lavished on tourism operators, international education providers have largely been left to their fate and/or been told to put their expectations on hold until 2022 at least. The government has been enabled to do so by the ineffectual leadership shown by the sector, which appears to have had no pro-active media policy or any behind-the-scenes lobbying strategy, either. The nation’s education providers could be forgiven for thinking that their nominal representative body – Education New Zealand – has been asleep at the wheel throughout this crisis. Compared to Chris Roberts, ENZ’s CEO – he is called Grant McPherson- has been the Invisible Man of the pandemic.

Of course, lobbying that isn’t visible can be effective. Sometimes, it is more effective. But not this time, though. The proof is in the vast disparity in the allocation of resources to tourism, compared to the token amounts allocated to international education. One sector is being attended to as a matter of urgency, the other is being told to suck it up. When a crisis hits, it is the squeaking wheel that gets oiled. Tourism has grasped that reality and run with it, and it has been rewarded.

Oddly enough, a case could be made that international education is a better long term source of foreign exchange post-Covid, than tourism. Yet relatively speaking it has been ignored, mainly because the sector’s public acquiescence has enabled government to ignore it. Perhaps some stroppy members of the international education sector need to start complaining. Mever too late. Surely someone needs to tell the highly paid leadership of ENZ that they need has to do more than just put information up on the ENZ website.

Easter and Ramadan

In the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings, much has been made about the need for tolerance and understanding, but – while heart-warming – these commitments have tended to be somewhat devoid of content. Most of us know as little about Islam (and the Koran) as we did before the mosque attacks happened. This year, Easter and Ramadan occur soon after each other. Arguably, Easter is the most significant celebration on the Christian calendar, encompassing its central act of sacrifice and atonement. A week from now, the month of Ramadan will begin. This is a time of fasting, reflection and renewed devotion related to when Mohammed began to receive the revelations that comprise the Koran.

Unfortunately, the Easter story has always had a dark underside down through the centuries. For the past 2000 years, one of the main “justifications” for the violent pogroms waged against the Jews has been that they were responsible for the death of Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ. Currently, anti-Semitic white nationalists in Europe and the US perpetuate that myth. Yet given the prevalence of the myth, and the recent history of Arab/Jewish tensions in the Middle East, it is interesting that one of the most tolerant and explicit exonerations of the Jews for the death of Christ is contained in the Koran, as is explained here by the celebrated US Middle East academic, Juan Cole.

The charge that Jews were behind Jesus’ death is ahistorical, since crucifixion is a Roman method of execution, typically applied to robbers and political rebels. John Dominic Crossan argues that the later generations of Christians who produced the four gospels did not any longer have a firm grasp of the events that led to Jesus’ death. He suspects that Pontius Pilate, known to be a Roman hard liner who showed no sensitivity to local Jewish concerns, probably had Jesus summarily executed after briefly informing the Jewish high priest he intended to do so. That Pilate would have yielded to pressure from a Jewish mob is highly unlikely.

As Cole says, the Koran makes the case for tolerance strongly in the chapter The Women : Qu’ran4:157 which says this of the Jews of Western Arabia:

“And their assertion, ‘We killed Jesus Christ the son of Mary, the Messenger of God.’ But they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it was made to appear to them so. Those who disputed over this entertain doubts about it. They have no knowledge and are only followers of conjecture. They most certainly did not kill him.”

In Cole’s view, the idea of Jewish responsibility originated as propaganda coined by the Sassanian monarch Khosrow II who used it as a taunt against his rival, the Roman emperor Heraclius. (This was after the Romans had converted to Christianity.) In effect, it was a bit of fake news promoted by Khosrow to the effect of – look, you Romans have always been so inept that you even let the Jews kill your so-called Messiah.

Khosrow II, a Zoroastrian, is alleged in eastern Roman sources to have taunted his rival Emperor Heraclius that the Jews killed Christ. He implied that if the Romans are so weak they worship a figure summarily dispatched by Jews, they can hardly hope to win a war against a Zoroastrian empire. Iranians of the time gloried in the teachings of their own prophet, Zarathustra, whose Gathas are hymns to the one God Ahura Mazda. I think those Western Arabian Jews who made the boast were parroting Iranian propaganda and were probably allied with Iran. I think the Qur’an is largely pro-Christian and pro-Roman, and so is knocking down this Iranian propaganda. But it is also making a theological argument.

And that theological argument in the Koran is what, exactly? Basically, it is that Jesus death was at God’s will, and with Pilate being the mere instrument of that divine will. To that effect, Cole cites the Qur’an’s chapter of The Family of ʿImrān 3:42-56 – which contains an account of Jesus’ two trials, after the fashion of the Gospel of Mark. The passage speaks of Jesus encountering rebelliousness (kufr) among his own people and of some of them conspiring against him. Divine intervention however, foiled whatever steps the Jewish leadership had planned. Moreover, as Cole explains, the Koranic passage at 3:55-56 makes it clear that Jesus death was according to a divine plan (“ God said to Jesus, “I will cause you to perish”) via the actions of the “pagan” Roman ruler, Pilate. Cole’s whole argument is worth reading for s sense of the harmony between the Islamic and the Christian versions of Jesus’ death, and for the tolerance shown towards the Jews. In rebutting a key theme of modern anti-Semitism. Cole concludes:

So I believe that the Qur’an was upholding a version of Jesus’ two trials similar to the account in the Gospel of Mark, except that it takes the Jewish tribunal much less seriously than Mark does. From the point of view of the Qur’an, the Jewish conspiracy against Jesus was deflected by God and nipped in the bud. The whole blame for his death falls, it is implied, upon the pagan Romans. Some Muslims of the Abbasid era (750-1258) came to believe that the Qur’an’s assertion that the Jews did not kill or crucify Christ meant that Jesus was not crucified. The verse does not say that Jesus was not crucified, however, only that the Jews did not crucify him, which is certainly correct….What is important here is that the Qur’an denies that Jews, past or present, bear any guilt or responsibility for the crucifixion of Christ. It was, 3:55-56 insists, a pagan affair and any way the working of God’s will.

At Easter and during Ramadan, we need to keep in mind this reality, that the religious traditions of Jews, Christians and Muslims are deeply entwined, and share much in common. As Cole puts it:

Jews, Christians and Muslims are united in their worship of the one God and their reverence for Old Testament patriarchs and prophets– Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Solomon, David. Christians and Muslims share a reverence for John the Baptist, Mary and Jesus. By focusing on what they have in common rather than on their doctrinal and other differences, greater harmony can be attained in our multi-cultural societies at a time of globalization

Amen to all of that.