MIQueue – bringing Kiwis together

Scattered across time zones, united in desperation, Jacinda’s team of 25,000 hunched over PCs and phones on Tuesday to secure one of the coveted 3,700 rooms (more or less) for returning New Zealanders.  The two hours or so it took to work down the electronic queue were an opportunity to catch up on international coverage of the government’s acknowledgement that Covid elimination was not going to work. 

While the plucky-little-NZ line is still popular, the more general theme is that this only recognises, and none too soon, reality. A bracing shot of ‘Welcome to Covid’ and lucky you’ve had all that time to prepare.

From outside, New Zealand’s position still looks pretty good.  No one else got to start the pandemic with nearly half the population fully vaccinated.  And with the opportunity for near-universal coverage of the most vulnerable. 

The challenge for Ardern’s government is how quickly it can shift its mindset (as its overseas counterparts have been grappling with over the course of this year). This requires assessing what public health measures it can afford – in the broadest sense of the term – while moving briskly back to an environment which lets people and businesses plan and make decisions. 

You know the old guff about market signals.

Which are coming thick and fast as Covid support is removed:  inflationary pressures, supply chain disruptions, energy shortages and labour market bottlenecks.

Ministers have some useful lessons from the difficulties other administrations face in dealing consistently with these.  In the UK, for example, the government has been battered by threats of disaster from special interests pleading for an open door to immigration to meet labour shortages.  While it has made some short-term concessions, it has made clear that it sees the issue as one of long-term labour market strategy – and that this means it is happy to see rising wages in some lower-paid occupations. 

But political headaches of this kind might get a less comfortable ride from legacy media than the government is used to.  David Seymour’s analytical stuff – in Stuff – imparted the enjoyment of the job one sees in opposition politicians who sense they are getting a grip on the government’s throat.

The government’s future no longer rests on the genetic recombination of the Covid virus, but instead on the efforts of New Zealand’s farmers, processors, distributors and (some of the) service providers.  If they bounce back and restore the exceptional productivity growth of recent years, then it might just be possible to meet the expectations of the ruling coalition, which the pandemic does not seem to have diminished.  

Some factors – demand for primary products and low-ish government debt – provide a fair wind.  Others – like costly climate policies and lousy outcomes in building and construction – suggest more of a drag.

Seymour and his fellow oppositionists might want to focus on the scale and nature of the political reset that will be required if the headwinds prove too strong.

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