So the election date is settled: PM Jacinda Ardern says she won’t change her mind again.
Implicit in that is the assumption the current Covid-19 outbreak will be brought under control well before then. Didn’t we hear Winston Peters say:
“Holding an election during a COVID outbreak has the risk of serious interference in our democracy”?).
At least, with the delay until October 17, there may be a chance the more persuasive influences on voters’ minds will be re-weighted as they enter the electoral booths.
The halo enveloping the prime minister could have ensured a 50%-plus party vote for Labour, had the election been held on the original date.
Now Opposition parties, if they have the political smarts to do so (and Point of Order concedes there have been few signs so far they actually exist) can give the electoral tree a good shake.
What they have to do is to frame an economic plan for the post-Covid recovery which makes sense to the average Kiwi.
In Parliament’s next term, the government is set to spend about billions of dollars to help with economic recovery from Covid-19.
Labour says it’s all about “jobs, jobs, jobs”. And, along with NZ First’s Shane Jones, they are lining up scores of “shovel-ready” projects, the latest a $200m new cluster of buildings at Auckland University.
But many, if not most, of those seeking new jobs won’t be aspiring to get on the end of a shovel or even to sit on a bulldozer.
Planting trees may seem like a good idea to Shane Jones or climate change warriors, but it doesn’t appeal much to someone who has just graduated with an MA (Hons), except perhaps a graduate who has specialised in silviculture.
As one commentator put it this week, for the first time in living memory, the political debate is not about whether the government should spend money. Both major parties agree it should. The question is: spending on what?
That’s where the Opposition parties must be creative in putting before voters their specific plans for economic recovery.
In Parliament’s next term, the government is set to spend about 17 years’ worth of discretionary Government funding to help with economic recovery from Covid-19. Investing to make the most of every dollar is crucial.
The Reserve Bank, which earlier had earmarked $60bn for quantitative easing, last week indicated it is stepping that up to $100bn. It is also signalling the official cash rate could go negative next year (a powerful disincentive to saving).
The implication is that NZ’s national output is headed downwards by 15 to 20% over the next few years.
While some may accept it is necessary to inject $100bn (through the government bonds issued to borrow money), the debt eventually must be repaid. But that raises the question: why must the taxpayer step in to buy items or services that aren’t required?
Building new infrastructure alone won’t do the trick: there is evidence from current construction projects such as the Transmission Gully motorway north of Wellington that NZ has a shortage of skills required for the complexity of those undertakings.
The skills shortage is not limited to construction : the primary industries can’t find the tractor and heavy machinery operators they need.
And the Covid-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the need to expand the specialist workforce in the health sector. It is a blot on the university system that all those who are academically qualified cannot gain entry to medical school.
Beyond that, the health sector is constrained in what it can do in times of crisis, despite the extraordinary endeavours of some outstanding practitioners,
How about a government-funded laboratory that could research and develop vaccines for this and future pandemics? Or one that could manufacture vaccines under licence?
If the University of Queensland has the funding to research a Covid-19 vaccine candidate, why don’t NZ universities.
Covid-19 has thrown up the lesson that pandemics strike hardest at those who already are afflicted with conditions like obesity and diabetes.
Wouldn’t it be sensible for a political party to put before voters a policy that would not only expand medical training, and health research programmes such as the healthier lives science challenge, and indeed reform the Ministry of Health and the district health board structure?
Another sector where $5bn (let’s say) of the $100bn the Reserve Bank has earmarked to keep the economy afloat could be usefully applied is in research to lift NZ’s food production.
No less an authority than former chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman has argued the idea farming production is a mature industry is wrong. He sees major opportunities to advance the sector, but a more strategic approach to research and development is needed. NZ needs to make decisions about which technologies it should exploit, such as sensors, big data and artificial intelligence, and advances in life sciences such as gene editing, will dramatically change agriculture and food production systems.
Sir Peter says there is plenty of reason to believe that NZ can approach these challenges with confidence.
“Our primary sector produces the highest-quality protein meat, dairy and fruit products with a low carbon footprint relative to its competitors. However, while individual brands may be strong, NZ definitely needs to consider how it now promotes itself.”
What about a technology fund for the development of new initiatives in the hi-tech field?
NZ has shown its has depth in technology, from Peter Beck’s Rocket Lab to Rod Drury’s Xero. Among many of the promising stocks on the NZX are those in the tech field like Pushpay, Plexure, and Smartpay.
Point of Order believes New Zealanders – as they start to think about the election – will be hungry for evidence the political parties canvassing for votes will be offering up positive policies on how the country can recover and regain the prosperity eroded so heavily by not just the local repercussions of Covid-19 but by the global impact.