Wellington, New Zealand — Official Information Act documents released to Lobby New Zealand paint a bleak picture for the current state of public health in New Zealand.

On 15 November, Lobby New Zealand received a response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) in regard to an Official Information Act request filed on 4 August. In the original request, Lobby New Zealand asked for:

“All information about, and all communications with, any individual or group from any United Nations organisation, in regard to the recent transfer of a COVID-19 case to New Zealand”  

“Specifically, as to whether any of these communications altered the view of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade or contradicted the advice given from other ministries, including the Ministry of Health”

In response to the Official Information Act request, MFAT supplied Lobby New Zealand with 171 pages of email correspondence between multiple agencies, including the MFAT, the Ministry of Health, the United Nations, and the Office of the Director-General of Health.

Key findings from the Official Information Act documents include:

#DetailsSupporting document(s)
1Former Prime Minister Helen Clark was mentioned in email correspondence between Jessica Thorn (MFAT) and Mark Ramsden (MFAT), and at some points through this decision-making process, was at the centre of attention among officials.   In email correspondences, Thorn says, “will let you know if we hear that Helen Clark has reached out to [Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta].”  

This is amid claims from Minister Mahuta that Helen Clark did not influence the final Fiji medevac decision.
This correspondence is on the document “OIA 27622 Part 1 Redacted”
2MFAT snubbed both the Office of the Director-General of Health and Middlemore Hospital’s requests for information regarding why New Zealand was chosen to accommodate the medevac over more developed regions such as Australia, with two explicit requests made by Dr Bloomfield’s office having been ignored by MFAT officials.   Email correspondence between Michelle Nicholson-Burr (Middlemore) and Tony Crane (MFAT) shows Middlemore requesting information regarding this, with Nicholson-Burr saying “whoever did the original referral probably had a choice. Do we know if Australia was ever asked?”  

No response from MFAT was supplied in the OIA documents, signalling no response was sent to Middlemore by the Ministry.  

On another occasion, Brenda Hynes (Office of Director-General of Health) emailed Helen Leslie (MFAT) saying, “The [Director-General] is asking why New Zealand and not Australia, can you please provide some information regarding how MFAT became involved in the process.” Yet again, no response from MFAT.  
This correspondence is on the document “OIA 27622 Part 2 Redacted”
3Correspondence between Mark Ramsden (MFAT) and Victoria Hallum (MFAT) suggests that New Zealand public health was overlooked and left out of consideration, in exchange for brownie points with the United Nations, during the medivac decision-making process, stating that the main purpose of seeking the medevac approval was “we have interests in the effectiveness of the UN in our region.”  

This is despite authorities claiming on 12 October that “[the case] was not given preferential treatment.” At no point in any of the email correspondence was the public health risk imposed on New Zealanders through such an operation considered by any ministry, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade solely focusing on the appeasement of the United Nations.  
This correspondence is on the document “OIA 27622 Part 4 Redacted”
4When questioned on why New Zealand had not sought out helping other Fijians in need of advanced hospital care for Covid-19, and why it was only focusing on the medevac of this particular Canadian UN Covid-19 case in Fiji, Victoria Hallum said, “I can see it is difficult to distinguish between different individuals in Fiji and there are others who are sick but this individual seems to be in the same situation as a diplomat.”  This correspondence is on the document “OIA 27622 Part 4 Redacted”

Remarks from Lobby New Zealand:

Lobby New Zealand calls on the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Health to front up to these significant developments in the Fijian Covid-19 medevac scandal. It is grossly unacceptable that the public health of New Zealanders was put at flagrant risk, all for an individual who received special diplomatic treatment based on their employment to an agency that holds no diplomatic power, particularly in New Zealand. In no way should New Zealanders have to face the substantial risks involved in the staff at MFAT’s dodgy dealings with the United Nations.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade must also face questions over its lack of scrutiny into the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) decision to choose New Zealand over other more suitable regions such as Australia for the medevac operation to occur. With a substantial lack of intensive care services available in New Zealand, MFAT must never act self-satisfied and must consult other agencies, and indeed the Director-General of Health, in medevac operation decision-making. The Director-General of Health must never be left in the dark in regard to such crucial information, amid a significant medevac operation.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta must explain to the New Zealand public in greater depth exactly what involvement former Prime Minister Helen Clark had throughout the medevac decision-making process. If a conflict of interest was present for a Minister, greater disciplinary action must be taken by the Prime Minister, especially in such a high-risk medevac operation.

ENDS

Attachments
PDF version of this press release
Response letter from MFAT
OIA 27622 Part 1 Redacted
OIA 27622 Part 2 Redacted
OIA 27622 Part 3 Redacted
OIA 27622 Part 4 Redacted

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