Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Kiwi: a flightless bird

What I am about to say, about the Government and its reaction to the Bangkok Airport Crisis, may seem to you churlish, perhaps even harsh. I do appreciate that we are in the wait-and-see period for the new Government and should not be too hasty to reach judgment. However, the Honeymoon Period is now over, officially ending when Mr Key announced the deal he had made with Mr Hide - a deal made in haste so that Mr Key could get on a plane to Lima and wear a poncho with the grown-ups. In fact, so keen was Mr Key to wrap up a deal that apparently he offered Mr Hide two seats at the Cabinet table, but Mr Hide turned them down, preferring to stay outside Cabinet so his hands would not be sullied. This reminds me of a comment made by the great Ned Sherrin when the Marquis de Sade's chateau came up for sale - that the Masochists offered twice the asking price but the Sadists rejected their offer. Anyway, back to the point: we are now in the wait-and-see period, waiting to see whether it all turns out as horrible as we fear.

So, to the airport; or rather, not. Because (and here is where I might seem churlish, even harsh) it seems that the Government is unable to make a decision about what to do. The problem is that two hundred New Zealanders are stuck in Thailand (the New Zealand Herald, with its usual restraint, today had a banner saying that "hundreds" of Kiwis were stranded; I suppose, technically, two hundred is hundreds, but only just). People from other countries, such as France and Australia, are also stranded; their governments are making efforts to get them out but ours is doing... nothing. Yes, that would be it: nothing. The Government is having its own wait-and-see-period.

This is a funny state of affairs, given that Mr Key was touted as being decisive, the man who played the Forex markets and won because of his decisiveness and quick-wittedness. But no, he apparently is "assessing the situtation." This may take some time.

So serious is the situation that Mr Key allowed one of his Ministers to speak about it, a rare occurrence. Mr Brownlow was on Morning Report, where he explained why the Government was taking time to assess the situation. The reason is quite simple, I think you will see: the Government wants to find out how many of the two hundred New Zealanders have left Thailand without the Government's help, before it decides what to do with those left behind. I am sure that you, being an astute reader, will appreciate the cleverness of this strategy: the longer the Government spends Assessing the Situation (or, as cynics would have it, doing nothing) the less they eventually have to do: people will find other ways of getting home, so eventually there will be no problem to solve. Here is a perfect exemplification of the principle 'that government is best which governs least.'

Mr Brownlow's thoughtful answers explain some of the difficulties of moving two hundred people from Thailand. Although it may seem that the Australians are doing a much better job, moving many more people while we assess the situation, it seems that this is a misapprehension: in fact it is much easier to move more people than fewer, and we simply do not have enough stranded tourists to make this task easy. Logistics is, I am sure you will appreciate, an Art, not a Science.

The task is made more difficult still because Air New Zealand aircraft do not regularly fly to Bangkok. This is a very subtle difficulty; Mr Brownlee, a thoughtful man in more than one respect, thoughtfully saved us the strain of an explanation which we may not understand. It might seem, at first, that the point is irrelevant, given that any scheduled flight would not be possible; if it were, there would be no problem. But perhaps there are other difficulties which we have not considered. For example, the runway at Bangkok International Airport might be curved; or perhaps the Air Traffic Controllers only speak Rumanian. Perhaps Owen McShane has advised the Government that Thailand has different air levels to the rest of the world. Or perhaps Air New Zealand is caught in a logical paradox: that it cannot fly to any place it has not previously visited.

It is a pity that such difficulties, if they exist, are preventing the Government chartering an aircraft, because now would seem the best time in a long while to do so. After all, airlines are falling down like flies in this recession, leaving a lot of aircraft to charter. Air New Zealand apparently has eight percent of its own aircraft lying around doing nothing, due to lack of demand.

Perhaps the cause of the Government's apparent inactivity is more simple than Mr Brownlee is letting on. Perhaps, Mr Key, under his agreement with ACT, has to consult Mr Hide whenever he wants to spend some money. And perhaps Mr Hide has refused Mr Key's request, reminding Mr Key that it is a central principle of ACT (a party of principle) that the Market does things much better than does Government: the Market will decide how these people get home, if at all.


Robyn said...

Perhaps National are being pressured by ACT to not give the stranded NZers a free ride back to New Zealand...

Giovanni Tiso said...

Let the free market repatriate them, yes.

Anonymous said...

After nine years of having someone effortlessly in charge, having a Tory vacuum at the top again is quite unnerving.

Craig Ranapia said...

After nine years of having someone effortlessly in charge, having a Tory vacuum at the top again is quite unnerving.

Because Helen would have "effortlessly" whipped out her Amex, chartered a couple of planes, or perhaps just told the Thai Government (which seems to be on the verge of collapse as we speak) that we're just going to send in whatever military aircraft happen to be flight-worthy at the moment whether they like it or not.

Perhaps the principle that really matters here is the government is best that doesn't engage in magical thinking.

Unknown said...

Perhaps National are treating it as a Darwinian exercise. It's not like Bangkok hasn't had a perfectly good bus terminal, and indeed Thailand some perfectly good land borders, for several weks now.

Anonymous said...

Craig: Perhaps we also need a few less desperate wishful thinkers.

Anonymous said...

Why are there no gratuitous Gordon Copeland jokes in this post? For shame!

Craig y