Parties are given more time to persuade us they have the best plan to restore NZ’s post-Covid economy

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.