Hurrah. The PM is back to posting her announcements on the government’s official website, her deputy is back in the business of self-congratulation, Rio Tinto is back in the business of sucking up cheap electricity to produce aluminium at Tiwai Point, near Bluff. And overseas students (some, anyway) can come back to New Zealand to continue their studies.
The fourth of those announcements is of note because it came from COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins just a day or so after he was banging on about the extra measures being taken to tighten border security against the corona virus in its various guises.
The PM’s announcement was a simple one: she has appointed Anna Curzon, Chief Product Officer for Xero and a former member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council, to the APEC Business Advisory Council.
We are delighted to see we don’t have to turn to Twitter to learn what’s going on.
News of a deal being struck between Meridian and Rio Tinto for the Tiwai smelter to remain open another four years prompted a statement from Grant Robertson (Finance Minister) and Megan Woods (Energy and Resources Minister). They said the Government was committed to working on a managed transition with the local community.
“The Government has been focussed on helping to ensure a deal is reached which kept the smelter open for longer than the year initially proposed by Rio.
“The four-year deal will help protect jobs and incomes in Southland and provides a timeline for the Southland community to work alongside the Government to map out a clear transition plan for the region for the time the Tiwai smelter is shut down,” Grant Robertson said.
“The strong relationship between the Government, iwi, local authorities and the Southland business community means we are in a good position to map out a transition plan which allows for high wage jobs to remain in Southland as the region transitions, while providing new opportunities for economic growth in the region,” Megan Woods said.
The Government and Rio Tinto remain in discussion around transmission pricing and remediation of the smelter site.
“Understanding the extent of the environmental impact of the smelter and removal of toxic waste from this site remain a bottom line for the Government,” Grant Robertson said.
With regard to the economy more generally, Robertson has welcomed the Fitch credit agency report affirming New Zealand’s local currency rating at AA+ with a stable outlook and foreign currency rating at AA with a positive outlook.
According to his press statement, the agency has praised the Government’s policy framework, saying the robust public health and macro-policy response to the global COVID-19 pandemic has enabled New Zealand to weather the economic shock exceptionally well by global standards.
“This is further confirmation that our decision to move quickly to protect our people and our economy was the right one, as COVID-19 took hold overseas. We used our strong balance sheet to support our workers and businesses through lockdowns as well as keeping in place a buffer in the case of a resurgence,” Grant Robertson said.
Fitch also noted the Government’s effective suppression of COVID-19 domestically and its policy response has meant New Zealand is in a V-shaped economic recovery, with GDP returning to pre-pandemic levels by the September quarter last year.
So – haven’t we done well, Robertson is braying.
“The economic bounce back was a result of our decision to act swiftly during the COVID-19 pandemic. We supported 1.8 million workers through the Wage Subsidy Scheme and invested billions in infrastructure, training and creating jobs,” Grant Robertson said.
“We went into the economic shock caused by the global pandemic with our finances in good shape, including with very low public debt. While we have borrowed more to protect our people and economy, our net debt as a percentage of GDP remains lower than many of our international peers,” Grant Robertson said.
Hipkins announced two days ago the Government is putting in place “a suite of additional actions” to protect New Zealand from COVID-19, including new emerging variants.
Today he announced the Government has approved an exception class for 1000 international tertiary students, degree level and above, who began their study in New Zealand but were caught offshore when border restrictions began.
The exception will allow students to return to New Zealand in stages from April 2021.
His statement draws attention to conflicting objectives.
“Our top priority continues to be the health, safety and wellbeing of all people in New Zealand,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.
“The need to carefully manage our borders is as critical now as at any time in the past nine months. We continue to learn more about the virus and adapt accordingly with stronger and more tailored border protections, depending on risk.
“Within our safety-first framework, we also have a responsibility to carefully balance our decisions, to support New Zealand’s economic recovery.”
But the government has more than one commitment to meet. Hipkins said the border exception delivers on a part of the recovery plan for international education.
“It underscores the Government’s commitment to the international education sector, which is important in the country’s long-term economic recovery from COVID-19.”
Curiously, Hipkins said the return of the students will not affect the ability of Kiwis to return home. Why might it have done?
He also said the decision is balanced against the requirement for skilled workers to enter the country.
“They will be subject to the same border rules and quarantine regime as all other arrivals – with any additional restrictions depending on where they come from.
“They will need to book their space through the allocation system and will be billed the standard charges for managed isolation. They also need to be able to do more to support themselves in New Zealand, with the living expenses that are required for international students to be granted a visa now raised to $20,000 – up from $15,000.”
This system would allow providers to welcome back students who have made the greatest commitment to New Zealand, and manage pressure on the MIQ system.
“The Government remains committed to working with the international education sector to ensure options for the broader return of international students continue to be considered, and that opportunities can be taken as and when it is safe and there is capacity to do so,” Chris Hipkins said.
“The annual economic value of this group of 1000 degree-level international students is estimated to be roughly $49 million in wider economic contribution, including approximately $27 million in tuition fees.”
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14 JANUARY 2021
13 JANUARY 2021