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Celebrity Jacinda’s pig mistake

Trans Tasman Relations Observed, by Colin Chapman

Man, woman, person of the year has become a rather tiresome exercise in many countries across the world, including Australia. Yet media and public relations folk seem to like it, so like many other awards, the practice will continue its weary way. Once, when presenter of BBC TV’s The Money Programme, in the grand surroundings of London’s ancient Guildhall I hosted the final of the UK Small Business Award. The judges included some of the City’s foremost including Sir Jeremy Morse, chairman of Lloyds Bank and the most successful banker of his generation, and Sir Kenneth Cork, a cebrated corporate liquidator and one time Lord Mayor ofLondon.

To my dismay, and to the sure disbelief of our live viewers, they picked a rank outsider called Grease-Eaters. As the name suggests, the company made its living by removing grease from industrial plant. Within six months the firm was bust.

Recalling this, my train of thought turned to the best known of these annual awards, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. In mid 2020, Time’s editors must be wondering who on earth to put on the shortlist.  Is there a world leader worthy of the title?  Or a business chief whose multi-billion corporation is paying its proper taxes?  Or a celebrity who has more substance than hype (and is not a ubiquitous cooking show host)? 

Time has made some strange choices in the past, so readers (who will soon be asked for their nominations) need not be too fussy. Picks have included many US presidents (but not Trump), very few from the Indo-Pacific, with China’s president Xi Jinping managing only to become a runner-up in 2017. There have also been some odd choices – Adolf Hitler in 1938, just one year prior to the declaration of World War II; Joseph Stalin, twice, before and after the war. These decisions were redressed in 1949 when Winston Churchill was chosen as the Person of the Half Decade. Since then there have been peacemakers, entrepreneurs, astronauts – all manner of people. More recently Time editors have gone for trendy people with short-lived reputations, like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate change activist from Sweden, who was chosen in 2019. 

So, who will be the 2020 Person of the Year?  Certainly not Donald Trump, for the simple reason he could be out of office by then, hopefully. Nor Boris Johnson – he’s told too many lies. Macron’s star is fading – and Time’s editors are not francophiles.  Which brings me, belatedly, to the point. One person who repeatedly in the news this year, and widely admired, is none other than Jacinda Ardern, 40th prime minister of New Zealand, who is in her 40th year. Ardern’s government has been one of the world’s most successful in containing the coronavirus, with her leadership widely praised in global media. She is expected soon to announce New Zealand is clear of the virus.  Of course, her strength and single-minded determination is to be admired, especially when compared with the hopelessness of Trump and the disingenuous Boris Johnson, whose ‘world-class’ test and trace system is his latest failure.

But some of our Australian readers have expressed irritation at the acclaim bestowed on Ms Ardern, one complaining she always appears to be smiling, with ultra-white molars gleaming.  Coalition supporters have groused that the same credit does not appear to have been accorded to Scott Morrison, whose firm handling of the pandemic has saved Australia from the kind of disaster now prevalent in the United States and Britain, achieving a parallel result to New Zealand but in a more metropolitan country.

This is factually correct. Australia has recorded the same number of deaths – four per million population – as New Zealand. In terms of cases per million, Australia has done better, only 285 cases per million, compared with 301 per million in NZ. (Compare with the UK’s 333 deaths and 5817 cases per million and the US’s 588 deaths and 4151 cases per million). The high death rate in British care homes may explain these figures. 

For those Australians who wish to indulge in a little trans-Tasman schadenfreude, I can report that Ms Ardern is not without some stern critics in her homeland, who have pointed out that she has allowed herself the occasional snarl, though seldom in front of the cameras of course. 

Ardern, daughter of a policeman, hails from the Kiwi’s metropolis of Auckland and, say her critics, is essentially an urban girl who favours the big supermarkets staffed by union members rather than the small shopkeeper. They cite the case of the prime minister deciding to shut down retail butchers as part of the national lockdown, a strategy that resulted in supermarkets becoming the major supply source for most of those who eat meat.

According to the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, pig farmers with unfulfilled contracts to supply independent butchers were unable to sell their stock, leaving them with a severe animal rights problem. Ardern’s ministers rejected her officials’ advice that retail butchers should be allowed to reopen. With a surplus of up to 5,000 pigs on farms every week, the Wellington government agreed to buy up to 2,000 pigs for processing and distribution to food banks. But they were not to be sold to the public. The scheme has a budget of $NZ 14.9 million. 

Yet the arrangement only covers 40 per cent of the surplus. The Taxpayers’ Union’s chairman says, in a note, “The other 60 per cent have to be destroyed. What a waste! Everyone knows how the life of a pig on the farm will end. Pigs are smart and sociable creatures and deserve to be treated with respect. When they do make the ultimate sacrifice, it should be for something noble like a bacon sandwich. Instead, 5,000 pigs a week are being killed for nothing. Where’s the kindness in that?”

My source tells me “They [the Ardern government] got so many things right so their failure to adjust their policy was seriously unfortunate and expensive. To me, the ministers’ decision reflected their seriously urban perspective on life. Doesn’t everyone go to supermarkets?    Answer no”.

The story would warrant a whole episode in my granddaughter’s favourite television series Peppa Pig, but for its tragic ending.

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