This is the Heath Minister breaking and undermining an extremely stringent set of rules his own government has put in place for health reasons. –Henry Cooke, Dominion Post, 8 April.
By Roger Childs
Some Mainstream Media folk seem intent on bringing the Health Minister down. One of the most strident is Tova O’Brien, the eager-beaver Newshub/TV3 political reporter. There are now three so-called breaches of lockdown rules by David Clark, but are these sacking offences? Let’s examine them.
- Going for a mountain bike ride at a park 2.3 km from his home.
This was definitely in the category of “staying local”. People were allowed to go out for exercise and mountain biking was not prohibited. It was stressed that people should not put themselves in danger, that might require emergency services or Search and Rescue to be called out. Clark was confident that he was never in danger and returned home unscathed after riding a track that was “not challenging”. If he had wanted to be secretive about it, he would not have travelled in a van that had his name, face and MP status clearly displayed on the side.
2. Driving his family 20 km to the nearest beach
His wife asked before they left if such as trip was allowed under the rules and Clark made a judgement call. He has since said that this was unwise. In the early days of the lockdown there was some confusion over what as local and the newspaper advertising said it depends on where you live. His trip was equivalent to driving from Peka Peka to Paekakariki in the Kapiti District. 20 km was probably a bit of a stretch, however, he was travelling within his family bubble.
3. Moving boxes from one house to another
Shifting house had begun the day before Level 4 began, but the subsequent moving of boxes over a short distance was not expressly forbidden.
One could argue that Clark was pushing the boundaries and that as Health Minister his behaviour should have been exemplary. However, as regards “breaches” 1 and 3 he had definitely stayed local and there was no movement out of his bubble. As regards “breach” 2 – this was probably unwise, but he remained in his family bubble. Nevertheless, at no stage was he in danger of spreading or catching the virus.
Many in the media felt that he should have been sacked after ”breaches” 1 and 2, and after the third “breach” Simon Bridges joined the chorus. He used the classic “three strikes and you’re out” argument. (Bridges himself was flying backwards and forwards between Tauranga and Wellington during lockdown.) But do the so-called breaches constitute missing strikes? There seems to be some justification for calling breach 2 an infringement, and Clark himself admitted that it was unwise and apologized.
However, the Prime Minister was angry; she demoted him in cabinet and removed him from his Assistant Minister of Finance role. His political career could be over, which is a pity because he was regarded as one of the government’s better ministers prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
One could argue that the 20 km drive was unwise, but on analysing all three incidents one could strongly argue that he has been hard done by. Those baying for blood should step back and reflect on whether David Clark did much that was wrong.