A Xmas Shout-Out to MIQ Staff

I usually write a piece thanking the New Zealand Defence Force personnel who are deployed overseas and away from their families at Christmas. That sentiment stands but this year I’m going to focus on those deployed on duty at managed isolation and quarantine facilities around the country.

Being away from family and friends is never easy and physical isolation is tough. Providing services to health order detainees who often resent you is nothing like the purpose we all signed up for on joining the defence force.

It’s disappointing, if unsurprising, that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, police, border, and public health officials are now being called “Nazis” in MIQ facilities. Recently, a soldier was spat at by a Covid-positive returnee while delivering food to their 4-star hotel room. There has been a shameful spate of verbal and physical abuse directed towards MIQ staff. There are any number of reasons why we should be appalled by this behaviour.

This was sent to me from a reader:

It’s interesting how some memories age. As a boy of around 8 I remember walking in the street with my dad, a soldier, in uniform. A group of men in their late teens began laughing and calling “heil Hitler” as he walked past. We could easily have kept on our way. I remember wanting to. But my father told me to stay where I was, a safe distance away, and went back to them. I couldn’t hear what he said but remember that he didn’t yell or try to intimidate them. He calmly made his point and walked back. I remember the young men looking embarrassed and shuffling away.

There is no parallel between MIQ service and the genocide and appalling war crimes committed by the Nazis in WWII. Some lessons should never be allowed to dilute over time.

Second, the women and men at our border are our own daughters and sons. They do not write policy or have the privilege to pick and choose their work conditions. They are not prison guards; they provide an essential coordination and logistics service. They spend substantial amounts of time away from their families, at high risk of exposure to Covid, because our elected leaders and expert advisors have deemed this to be the best way to keep vulnerable New Zealanders safe. Whether you agree with this approach or otherwise, MIQ workers are not responsible for your frustrations. Add to the list of memories which have aged poorly – the distinctions of service from policymaking, learned after Vietnam.

Not all Germans during World War 2 were Nazis. But one of the enduring memories of the German experience was the importance of speaking up when vocal minorities began espousing unethical ideas without critique. I know that the vast majority of New Zealanders do not support the false equivocation of our honourable service traditions with genocide. But we can’t look on ambivalently or quietly tut at some behaviours. Yes, it would be preferable to see stronger leadership in this area from the elected officials who put our servicepeople in these positions. But there’s an old saying in the military that “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. Our servicepeople, our society, and our democracy belong to all of us. What we say, or fail to say today, will be remembered by our children one day – or not.

Regardless of your view on the MIQ system, I ask the people of New Zealand to take a moment today to reflect on the thousands of service personnel, police, public sector and hotel staff who are making it possible for you to sit down for Xmas lunch together.

And to the MIQ teams – I know you’re too professional to react inappropriately to the hostility you are experiencing. So I’ve made this notional business card up for you. Next time someone spits, cusses or calls you a Nazi, just conjure this image in your mind, imagine you are handing it to them, smile and carry on. Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year to you and your families.

Dear Entitled Prick

I can see how your enforced stay in a luxury hotel room must make you angry

I know the barracks I’m staying in could use a bit of work. No room service, aircon or wifi either.

I’d like to stay and let you abuse me more but I need to phone your mother to see what she thinks of your behaviour.

In the meantime, if you have any further complaints, please call 0900 Get F*&ked. Calls cost more per minute than I earn.