Vigilance is the watchword over the next few months as we work to keep on top of Covid-19. With neither widespread immunity nor a vaccine we need to watch the border, test and trace effectively.
But the good news is both New Zealand and Australia – two sparsely populated, geographically isolated countries - have done well, so far. We should be proud of our efforts.
Those efforts allow us to focus on the critical economic question – how do we get New Zealand working again.
We're well placed in many respects. We produce quality food and many things that the world wants, and for which millions are prepared to pay good prices. We're smart, entrepreneurial people who have created a good standard of living – and we can do better.
The opportunity now is to prepare so that New Zealand can succeed in the post-Covid world.
We can break down the challenge to three phases.
The first priority is getting out of lockdown as soon as we safely can. I'm worried by the apparent lack of appreciation amongst some government MPs of the seriousness of economic calamity facing many businesses. The damage has been masked in the short term by 1.6 million Kiwis receiving the wage subsidy. Many otherwise strong businesses will not survive zero revenue for at least 7 weeks.
Over the next few weeks we should operate an intelligent lockdown, maximising what we can safely do, while providing sufficient relief to businesses most affected to save jobs.
We should look to Australia, which has been more pragmatic.
Second, as we come out of lockdown, the challenges are how best to stimulate the economy and how we can operate productively in the 2-metre world. Handled poorly, workplace rules will be a drag on our productivity for the rest of year; handled well, with clear and pragmatic rules, access to swift testing and PPE, we can regain momentum.
Third, in the longer term, how best do we position New Zealand to succeed in the post-Covid world.
On this, there will be a political divide. The instinct of the Labour/ New Zealand First government will be to assume that a committee of Wellington politicians and officials, with a couple of business folk, a union rep and two iwi leaders should steer our path into the new economy. The likes of Shane Jones and Phil Twyford will implement it.
We are sceptical of that approach.
Absolutely, there is a critical role for government, with its capacity to fund good quality transport and water infrastructure. We've seen shortcomings in the health system's digital infrastructure during this crisis; we should substantially upgrade this. Government has a critical role in ensuring the education sector delivers the skills we need to work productively.
A good example of government's contribution is the previous National administration's massive investment in Ultra-Fast-Broadband, which has made the past few weeks much more bearable and productive.
But the core engine of growth will always be private sector investment – men, women and their businesses taking on new ventures, rebuilding their businesses, expanding, hiring people – taking mad risks. No committee would have thought Kiwis should get into rockets, or into online accounting systems.
The recipe hasn't changed. Successful economies make it easy for the investment to flow to more productive activities – they welcome investment, they don't over regulate or over tax, they provide clear and consistent rules, properly enforced, and don't go changing them all the time.
Strong, private sector investment, supported by quality a government contribution in infrastructure and skills – both leveraging our unique environment and carefully maintained global brand – will provide the path back to work and prosperity in the next few years.
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