Opinion

An ode to Charlotte Bellis: One of the most influential political disruptors of this year

Opinion: This is an ode to Charlotte Bellis, the pregnant journalist in Afghanistan who must surely be remembered as one of the most influential political disruptors of this year.

Bellis moved the dial on MIQ. 

There is little doubt her crusade from Kabul influenced the government’s thinking to reopen the border and hasten a long-promised shift to home isolation for some New Zealanders. 

The government positioned its hasty move on MIQ as being a decision entirely of its own making, but that's wrong. Bellis held the government's feet to the fire. Remember, earlier this year, we were still denying thousands of New Zealanders their right to come home. We were still living like hermits at the time.

It is highly unlikely Bellis planned such an orchestrated media campaign, but whatever the case, Bellis clinically and rightfully exposed MIQ as a rigid, merciless, bureaucratic beast that was no longer fit for purpose and was triggering more human suffering than it captured.

Think about it. What a state we were in. How was it that earlier this year, this year, we were denying New Zealand citizens the right to come home to their country of birth. Their country of citizenship. 

Meanwhile, at the time, the government was in damage control and it deflected those criticisms by throwing Bellis under the bus. They claimed she had been offered an MIQ spot. Chris Hipkins said that. It was false. They claimed Bellis had been offered consular assistance in Afghanistan twice and had turned it down, twice. That information - not only was it private - but it was false. Hipkins has also now admitted that MIQ had deactivated Bellis' application - quote - "In error". 

The impact of all of this false information from the government was horrendous. Bellis suffered immeasurably as a result. The abuse rained down on her from across this country and beyond. She was a piece of work, she was privileged, the commentary that was sent to her tore her apart using language and abuse that I can't repeat on this programme. 

And this was all because the government fed false information to the public and the media.

So, in the last 24 hours, there has been an apology. Chris Hipkins has agreed to apologise. Timing is everything. He's made sure Jacinda Ardern is out of the country, and he's apologised just before a public holiday. That's a government tactic. It will blow over, damage control, it won't hurt the pm, let's all move on people. 

I felt enormously sorry for Bellis at the time and I still do. She did what so many of us failed to do. She rose up. She found her voice. She used her platform. And for that reason alone, Bellis should be lauded. There is a lesson here for all of us. 

The government has only ever used one tool to measure the success of its COVID response; the death rate. Charlotte Bellis made this government shift its thinking to focus on the living. 

No one changes the world by sitting on the fence. Charlotte Bellis didn't sit on the fence, and New Zealand is a better place because of it.