Rangitikei Matters 12 April 2020

As we enter the third week of the Governments COVID–19 Lockdown we are in uncharted territory for most of us, only those who lived through the Second World War will recall anything like the social restrictions we are facing in our everyday lives today.

These have been bought about by the Government with pretty much unanimous agreement from the Parliament, the Health Specialists and scientists advising the Government and in fact most of our population seem to agree that the steps the Government have implemented to date have been correct. A little late and lax in implementing the border closure and very poorly managed for those New Zealanders left stranded overseas, hopefully these issues can be managed as we move forward.

Having said that, that was the easy part. Now the rubber really hits the road as the country moves to extricate itself from the brink of the worst recession in history, potentially the highest levels of unemployment and business failure since the great depression of the early thirty’s. Our total population was then 1.5 million and over 20% were unemployed when the next peak in unemployment levels came at the end of the Roger Douglas economic reforms  of the 1980s. Both these points are very pertinent today as we need to ensure we benefit from the mistakes of the past.

Two weeks closure of our economy has been enough to inflict immense damage on many businesses, families and even Kiwi Icons, as Air New Zealand becomes a shadow of its last month’s self, the Listener and North and South have gone and the Racing Industry and Rugby are in disarray – who was it said about New Zealand ‘Rugby, Racing and Beer’ and we’ve only the Beer left this week! John Clarke of course.

Agriculture, because of its unique ability to provide food not only for us here in New Zealand but for many other countries in the world who have to import food on a daily basis to feed their populations, is continuing to operate albeit in a much abbreviated form. However, there are significant challenges in keeping the meat works, fruit packers and pickers, dairy factories and other essential manufacturing or processing plants going whilst adhering to the COVID-19 health guidelines. There are also many producers who have been left right out, particularly those vegetable and fruit growers who don’t supply the Supermarket chains or the export market where it is operative, as are many of our pig farmers who supplied butchers and local markets.

Agriculture will no doubt have to lead the Country’s recovery but I am firmly of the view that the country needs to get business moving as soon as possible, starting with those who can commence work safely and there are many of them. The past two weeks have taught us much about how to behave at a time like this and I believe that discipline will serve us well as we get the Country back to work. Getting us all back to work as quickly as possible will also relieve anxiety and prevent some of the terrible behaviour that we have witnessed at supermarkets.

Whilst all this is going on, Simon is leading a very strong front bench team in the scrutiny of the Government through the avenue of the Emergency Select Committee. It is certainly worth a watch on Parliament TV on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday commencing at 10am. They are doing a great job for us all. Meanwhile, issues that are particularly occupying our National team are the closure of butchers shops and fruit and vegetable stores, the ruination of the country’s golf courses because of a very poorly thought out decision to prevent maintenance of sporting facilities, which has fortunately been reversed and the lack of action in the forestry industry. Some of our boutique industries are being partially destroyed by what is occurring at present such as the crayfish market, the fresh flower market battling a lack of international flights and local markets, the venison industry losing its food service component almost completely as has the boutique lamb industry and on it goes.

As we move to come out of the Level 4 lockdown we will need to get as many businesses up and running as soon as possible, particularly those in the export sector. It will be very interesting to get to understand the new norm in export marketing as international travel remains very restricted, people will not be able to move around freely and existing relationships will be so important as we renegotiate access, new contracts and even arrange new modes of transport for product as our old links are no longer available.

One point that is very obvious is that our very large reliance on overseas visitors both in tourism and education will be halted or very slow and will take many years to rebuild. This will leave a very large hole in our economy affecting everybody from the University of Auckland to the smallest little business providing service to the tourism industry. There will be much to be done in the north of the Rangitikei as tourism businesses wonder what the future holds for them. I do believe local tourism will kick in again once COVID-19 allows and we need to find a way of capitalising on that.

My offices are operating remotely and we are fielding plenty of enquiries about essential services, wage subsidy abuse and application, people stranded overseas and even foreigners stranded in New Zealand. We are continuing to provide service from home and its working pretty well. All you need to do is contact us through the normal avenues and we will answer.

I hope you all keeping well and safe in your bubbles.