Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government - in accepting the resignation of embattled Health Minister Dr David Clark - has finally chosen to play by the “playbook” of a Ministerial responsibility under a Westminster model of parliamentary democracy. 

This brings hope that finally the government, which to be fair, is hugely occupied in managing a once-in-hundred years crisis, will eventually choose to return to following the playbook - an expectation from any modern, liberal democracy - in other domains of decision making. 

For quite some time, the Prime Minister and Ministers in the government and MPs outside the government have been seeking to avoid criticism of any apparent shortcoming in their govt’s response to Covid-19 pandemic on both health and economic management side, purely on the pretext that the pandemic had no “playbook.”

Prime Minister Ardern had sought to push back any criticism or an unpalatable line of questioning from either the opposition or the media by seeking to refute on the “no playbook” of the Covid-19 crisis - be it the announcement of first post-lockdown budget or the latest issue of bungle at our borders. 

Soon after the PM had first used the argument effectively in one of her media briefing on health updates, it was quickly picked up by all her Ministers and MPs in their respective interactions with the media or the members of public and applied for any line of questioning.

Can the govt now play by “playbook” on temporary migrant workers stuck overseas? 

Notably, where this argument was most markedly used was on the issue of thousands of temporary migrant workers being stuck overseas, as the clueless government chose to act with extreme caution and till now has stopped short of giving any assurance for an early entry back into the county. 

The idea that thousands of unsuspecting temporary visa holders who were travelling overseas for normal family visiting purposes could lose their visa status and the entire investment in the country as the government continues to keep its border closed can easily cause chills down the spines of many. 

Govt minister’s when being queried about how conservatively the Immigration New Zealand was applying discretion on giving exceptions to partners and families - even of NZ citizens and residents who were stranded overseas - along with work visa holders who have been working diligently in the country for years to enter back into the country, have been using the “no - playbook” card conveniently to deflect the line of questioning. 

In the case of temporary migrant workers stranded overseas, there has not been one single empathetic response from anyone in the government - apart from the usual “appreciation of their frustration” slog, - which could assure the temporary visa holders stuck overseas that they will not lose their visa status, for contributing in collective efforts of keeping NZ safe against the spread of Covid-19 virus. 

Is there any playbook for govt’s response to overseas stranded temp migrant worker situations?

Now that the government has returned to play by playbook mode, after accepting the resignation of one of the Ministers in the government as per the core principles of Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, is there any hope that it will not hide behind this annotation anymore?

In that regard, while the government might be right in terms of the logistical challenge that the current public health crisis and the sudden border closure had brought upon it in terms of deciding on the fate of the temporary visa holders stuck outside the borders. 

The question of our public health safety and keeping everyone safe in New Zealand is indeed paramount and non-negotiable, and mostly dependent on the government’s ability to shore up quarantine facilities to house the incoming travellers. 

However, there is always a playbook for the government to look compassionately on the situation of individuals and a large number of groups who have been falling between the cracks. 

At the end, it is a question of political will, and not capabilities, for any government to do what it wants to do genuinely. No matter how the government chooses to present the matter in public. 

To make it clear, most of the temporary migrant workers who are caught on the wrong side of the border, are willing to bear a share of the burden of the quarantine cost, or wait patiently outside borders for as long it takes - as long as the government can come out and give them a clear timeframe of the waiting period and an assurance they will be getting a fair chance as per their respective visas at the time of the border closure. 

Like all New Zealanders, temporary migrant workers ordinarily resident in NZ have already paid and are willing to continue to pay an exorbitant price of keeping our country Covid-19 free - all they are expecting is fairness and compassion from the government. 

And there is always a “playbook” for giving a little bit of compassion to those in need for any government to follow. 

Can this newly re-focused government play by playbook now in the case of temporary migrant workers?