As I write this from the comparative isolation of Ohakea, the world feels like a very different place than it was four weeks ago when we entered Level 4 Lockdown. For a start we have seemingly avoided the worst of Covid-19 and our isolation has certainly played a great role in that, as has our ability to secure our border, which many countries do not have the ability to do. There is an advantage to being a small group of islands at the bottom of the world with a very effective moat!
Many will have made huge sacrifices to enable the country to achieve this progress and the most important role for Government in the next months and maybe years will be to ensure those businesses and people who have suffered as a result of our gains are fully supported. Many businesses will close and many people will need to start new jobs and retrain to achieve this, and the government must support them in every way possible.
Those working to keep Health, Supermarkets, Farms, Supply Chain businesses, Law and Order and other essential services operating have played a great and at times a very brave role in our efforts and we should be very grateful for their efforts. However those who were effectively sent home on the 26th of March not knowing what to expect, or when they would be able to return to work are the real heroes. In many cases they will have sacrificed the life they knew to help save the country from a much worse fate.
It seems a little ironic that come Anzac Day we will be staying at home as we make sacrifices for New Zealand’s future not made since the World Wars, which ensured we are here today enjoying this amazing country. It is important that we make sure the sacrifices those men, women and animals made so many years ago are not lost on us as we fight a very different battle for our country today. While we can’t attend our traditional and very moving Dawn Services this year, we will be able to watch a virtual telecast of a National Service at 6am on ANZAC morning - and to use the words of the RSA President - stand at dawn.
New Zealand has one big advantage as we move to recover from the shock Covid-19 will undoubtedly cause our economy - and that’s our ability to produce food for the world. While the international recession will cause challenges for the industry with respect to market access, transport and price, I expect us to fight very hard to maintain our markets and continue to export out meat, fish, vegetables, milk, fibre and wood as best we can.
I believe our region will also be presented with some opportunities to do things a bit differently as a result of Covid-19. With no foreign workers able to come into New Zealand for the winter season, there must surely be opportunities for New Zealanders to replace this significant labour market which descends on National Park every year. If training is required for a potential new work force then let’s get it underway as soon as possible.
The Government’s decision to extend the Lockdown for an extra week and then move into Level 3 (or Level 4 with McDonalds as Judith Collins so aptly put it), essentially means we have at least another three weeks of Lockdown in front of us. It seems quite clear we will not see much more economic activity until Level 3 reverts to Level 2. Even at Level 2, many of our regions cafes, bakeries, restaurants and bars, along with hairdressers and beauty salons will continue to be hamstrung by the rules. I believe the Government seriously needs to address their grievances and offer further financial support as soon as possible or we risk losing many of these businesses.
I am concerned the Government has failed to sort adequately the testing regime and the provision of PPE for health workers let alone any other essential workers. The lack of provision of Flu Vaccines means there are many vulnerable people who are yet to be able to access the jab.
As for the Parliament, we seem to be asking essential workers and many other industries to get back to work, yet Members of Parliament are still not able to sit as a Parliament. Perhaps the Government does not want to be held to account and our Speaker seems to think we are somehow special and don’t need to work in our normal roles. What’s more, not being allowed to be in Parliament denies us as the Opposition, the ability to effectively hold the Government to account. Whilst I don’t for a minute think I am an essential worker it seems extraordinary that our elected and List MPs should be prevented from working in Parliament, which would allow our democracy to function as it is intended. It’s interesting to note that one of the unwritten rules of our democracy is that a Member of Parliament cannot be denied the right to travel anywhere in the country at any time.
Keep safe at this interesting and challenging time in our history.
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