Last week we breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Government announced we were moving to Level 2. We can now resume much of our daily activity (while maintaining social distancing and increasing hygiene practices) – businesses can open, we can visit friends and family, go shopping, and children can return to school.
There remains some uncertainty about the size of gatherings – groups of no more than 10 people, though restaurants can accommodate up to 100. School communities (of hundreds) are permitted but gatherings for faith and worship are still restricted to 10. If you have such concerns, please voice them. We can create change with people-power and pressure. The Government must provide consistency and certainty in these ongoing uncertain times.
You can call or email my office - Whanganui 06 348 9150, Hawera 06 278 4059, Stratford 06 765 8464, email email@example.com Or go to the media – speak out against the Government’s restrictions on gatherings and also against the forcibly rushed new COVID-19 Public Health Response Act which gives the state (i.e. the New Zealand Police) powers to enter your private dwellings if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect large prohibited gatherings. I am sure the local NZ Police who work in and with their respective communities will feel most uneasy about having to do this. The new law also gives the PM powers previously only given the Director-General of Health, and also “enforcement officers” to take action as state agents in reporting ‘breaches’ and taking enforcement action. There is no specific requirement as to the training or criteria for ‘enforcement officers’ so this also creates much concern that NZers are being turned on by the state and also against one another to report on each other. The level of trust that NZers held by the PM and her government is no longer obvious under these new laws.
This law is now being reviewed by the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee. It is open for public submissions until 28 June. Click here for more info and to make a submission.
And in our communities –after coming out of a long lockdown, let’s where we can, back local business to get back out front. Continue to be the community-minded and supportive folks that we are and Buy Local - By local.
Read more details on the Covid-19 website here
With the health of the nation at risk, the Government has rightly focussed, in the initial stages, on the health of our people, our communities and our country. As did I along with my team – Kath in Stratford, Jenna in Hawera, Paul in Whanganui and Jordan relocating from Wellington to her home, also in Whanganui. The five of us worked from home and were kept busy throughout the Level 4 lockdown dealing with a variety of COVID-19 related queries and issues.
Extraordinarily, Parliament was suspended – so there was no voice of the people, no House of Representatives to question, challenge, or probe the Government. The Prime Minister and her Government had carte blanche and did as they saw fit without any scrutiny or accountability. Unprecedented times, a free-reign Government taking grip of a nation, as did a virus. The National Party’s focus was to help our communities, so pre-election campaigning was parked up and all efforts were channelled towards our local electorates and communities.
The range of enquiries and calls for help within our Whanganui electorate were varied – from accessing subsidies, business advice, employer and employee rights, utilities and home heating to families sourcing authorisation to travel out of the region to attend to family crises, or constituents overseas seeking to return. There were regular phone and Zoom conferences, and liaising with local community groups, DHBs, and emergency response teams. We sourced Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and closely followed the Government’s daily media announcements and PM stand-ups, as well as the Epidemic Response Committee meetings, televised as a de facto voice of the public to the Government, with no real powers to call to account, a ‘Clayton’s’ substitute or a toothless tiger of a voice.
And then of course, because I, like the rest of NZ, had been housebound, I had to use the reach of my voice out to our communities via radio interviews, newspaper adverts and columns – all writing, designing and recording – a busy time. Radio interviews with Hokonui Taranaki can be listened to live at 8:30am every Monday on 88.2FM (in Taranaki) or here.
The Government-led response to COVID-19 was a narrowly focussed prognosis, treatment and recovery weighted entirely on the physical health and wellness of the individual, in isolation of our greater wellbeing. An analogy to the now well-known and practiced NZ Maori model of healthcare “Te Whare Tapa Whā” the four pillars of health – physical, spiritual, social/family, and mental/emotional – all having a significant role and position in balancing our overall health and wellbeing, where one is out of balance/kilter with the other, we will see an out of balance recovery. Sadly, this approach was not factored into the Government’s remedy for COVID-19, with the entire focus and powers to act singularly focussed on a physical health response and safety.
Really interesting to note by way of comparison, is that Taiwan, a country of 24 million, a small geographical island nation (though much closer geographically to a large land-mass populated neighbouring country of China), had only seven deaths. A remarkable comparison New Zealanders have heard little about with the emphasis of the NZ Government, aided by the media, that “we went hard, we went early” - when comparatively NZ’s 21 deaths (all over the age of 60 with underlying causes, not just COVID-specific) of a population of 5 million (this figure confirmed this week) could have been statistically comparable to Taiwan, who in fact did act at the earliest and with stringent measures of border health checks, testing, tracing and quarantining. It is great that the COVID-19 ‘curve’ has flattened out – and it is likely to remain flattened due to the fact that New Zealand’s coastlines and waters are our security.
The infection came from overseas while our borders remained open with a free-flow of international visitors and no health checks, testing or tracing going on during the arrivals, even as late as early-mid March 2020. So despite the rhetoric and reports by the Prime Minister at the daily briefings, dominating the public airwaves that the govt went early and went hard– all is not as it would be repeatedly messaged it to be. Prime Minister Ardern has endeared and captivated the hearts and minds of New Zealanders and international onlookers – she is a polished communicator and has plead, implored, persuaded and reassured us all that she has saved a nation. And she is to be commended for her efforts, remarkable and impressive that we have ‘flattened the curve’ and stopped the virus’ spread and reach. However, let’s not forget and I will continue to remind us all, it was YOU and me, it was OUR efforts where we jointly did as we were asked, without the power of law (which the PM simply did not have during level 4 or 3) to be tasked and trusted to Stay at Home, in our ‘bubbles’ , Stop the Spread and Save Lives. However, over the course of 8 weeks, with the statistics of COVID flattened and the daily reports of no significant developments of any further spread, The Prime Minister and her Government have, through the long lockdown Levels of 4, 3 and 2, also regrettably helped to ‘flatten the economy.’ The balancing of health interests with livelihood interests has been and continues to remain alarmingly disproportionate to overall welfare of families, communities and a nation and the outlook, the prognosis although optimistic is adverse and challenging.
Legality of Lockdown
The Government and Ministry of Health have dominated and commanded the response. Over the past few week, stories have emerged from New Zealanders adversely affected by the restrictions on freedoms of movement. The cracks are starting to reveal. Surgeries, treatments, diagnoses and general health have been side-lined. The High Court was called on to overturn the Ministry of Health’s refusal to let a man visit his dying father, a woman described a harrowing and lonely birth under lockdown restrictions, and a family could not farewell or grieve their 18-year-old son’s death. It calls into question the legality of lockdown and the overarching control Government and the Ministry of Health have on civil liberties. It also questions the compassion, kindness and fair-mindedness of those at the helm. These decisions and restrictions are impacting the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders. National has persistently called for Attorney General David Parker to release the legal advice the Government received prior to lock down.
I understand full well the importance of making decisive decisions and taking decisive actions to protect our people and our vulnerable. However, as a lawyer – now MP, I also understand the importance of ensuring that the course of action taken to protect our people is legal and does not oppress our people, or deprive them/us of our legal protections and rights in law.
It will come to play and reveal in time that the actions of the PM and her Government, as well-intended and meaning as it was messaged, were measures imposed against a nation beyond the powers and authority permitted the Prime Minister. Interesting also, that after almost eight weeks of a nation willingly and entrusted to abide and comply with the requests to ‘Stay Home’ and ‘Stop the Spread,' the Government suddenly rushes laws through within 12 hours to empower the PM, the Health Minister, her Government and the Director-General of Health (the only one who had the legal powers to act at Level 4) to enforce any breaches of the Level 2 lockdown. In Level 4 lockdown the state did not have the legal powers to detain or arrest. And with a reduction in levels, the message to New Zealanders is ‘you can no longer be trusted,’ so laws are made with powers for the state to arrest. Bizarre and terribly worrying, because the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act, is a public stealth Act – where the PM and Government’s response in making this law erodes New Zealanders’ democratic rights to have a voice heard on the Bill before it was passed as law. The opportunity to voice and protect their lawful rights to a freedom of association, expression and movement under the NZ Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act.
Many New Zealanders refuse to accept that this is a slippery slope because of the power of the Prime Minister’s role and place, facilitated in dominating the 4th and 5th estates (the mainstream media and the social media/non-mainstream media outlets) effectively appealing to and enamouring a nation.
And with a virus seemingly flattened, we await what powers and skill the PM and her Government has in the re-build and recovery of New Zealand’s economy.
Now that the ‘curve’ has flattened, so too has our economy. But health and economy are connected. The economy provides for and nourishes us and it is the livelihoods of workers and business owners across New Zealand. The subsequent social burdens resulting from prolonged mandatory shutdown and a flattened economy will be an over-inflation in mental health presentations and situations, job loss, lower household income, and isolation, particularly in our vulnerable and elderly communities. A report from think-tank Koi Tū: Centre for Informed Futures, predicted an impending recession could create social division and increase rates of depression and PTSD.
In administering the treatment for COVID-19, it appears that the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment has had little early engagement counter-balancing the curve with an economic-impact strategy. As a result, our waka of wellbeing has taken a big hit. Many enterprises and the New Zealand economy are struggling to keep afloat. Many businesses and jobs already sunk. We have even more challenging days ahead to keep our heads above water.
The worst is yet to be seen. And felt. We are at the earliest stages of any economic recovery effort, which would benefit majorly if the PM’s COVID-19 catch cry of “we went hard and we went early” were applicable to recognising and realising the plight of SMEs and the New Zealand workforce. The Prime Minister said coming out of lockdown too soon would be “rolling the dice,” but it is employers who are rolling the dice, as each day passes with uncertainty and mounting pressure. Much like running a family and budget, we need jobs and money to feed, sustain and nourish the unit. Without this, the health and wellbeing of the unit falls into decay and decline. The state of our economy is beyond essential, it is critical. We now have a local and national economy in need of critical care. Our economy has, by the Government in the early response to COVID-19, not been deemed as a necessity of life.
The Budget offered up a $50 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. There is a lot of cash but little plan for economic recovery. Debt will balloon to $140 billion, that’s around $80,000 per household. Unemployment is set to skyrocket. These are truly sobering figures. Incredibly, given the scale of the spending in the budget, we saw nothing beyond the welcome extension of the wage subsidy, which will help keep people employed but that’s only a temporary fix.
To reduce job losses, we needed to get some cash into the hands of struggling small businesses, to help with costs such as rent. And unlocking private sector investment is the key to growth and innovation.
We should be confident that New Zealand will bounce back, and trust that Kiwis will make new plans and find new opportunities to get back on their feet.
National’s Plan to Get New Zealand Working Again
Simon Bridges announced National’s plan to get New Zealand working again. To reduce the damage and save jobs, we would offer GST cash refunds up to $100,000 for small businesses and tax incentives to boost investment. New Zealander’s need direct cash flow and every opportunity to get back to work. What’s needed is a responsible and capable Government to return New Zealand to growth and to manage debt wisely.
Read more about National’s Economic Plan here
Whilst we all struggle in the ongoing and continuing days of economic recovery, please make sure to shore up our local businesses and enterprises with as much support as we can give them to keep them afloat and their heads above water, until such time an economic recovery and buoyancy steadies their waka, their enterprise. If you have any spare money to spend, I am certain we are all like-minded in sparing our thoughts and our pennies to support and buy local where ever you and I, wherever we, can. There is simply nothing quite like locals backing locals to get back out in front!
Let’s keep liking local, by locals for locals, buy local for locals.
Regulations Review Select Committee
I’m a member of the Regulations Review Select Committee. The role of the Regulation Review Committee is to make sure that rules made by bodies that have been delegated rule making authority by Parliament have been made fairly and used consistently. These bodies make rules about common things like ACC fees, industry standards and civil defence responses that can have a nationwide impact.
To learn more about the Regulations Review Select committee click here
We have also been looking at Secondary Legislation made in response to COVID -19. Click here to download the report on Secondary Legislation made in response to COVID-19. The Regulations Review Select Committee has been dealing with concerns and complaints about the Government’s overreach and use of power during COVID-19.
Maori Tourism & Tourism
I attended the Epidemic Response Committee meeting on Tourism. I am deeply concerned for the businesses, operators and future of NZ Tourism and NZ Maori Tourism.
Tourism needs long-term industry specific support. Without international visitors, it will be one of the hardest hit, and longest to recover. The longer the borders are kept closed, the harder the hits and impacts will be. Businesses are bruised and desperate for information, guidance and financial backing, so they can plan ahead and make critical decisions like whether to retain staff or shut-up shop. For many, it is about survival.
The Budget announcement of $400 million to the tourism sector is a welcome reprieve, however the Minister has not provided clear, certain or decisive leadership. The NZ Tourism Industry including Maori Tourism has been in lockdown for 7-8 weeks during which time the Minister and Government could have devised and had at the ready, a plan of work and remedial action to implement. Instead the Minister’s standard stock answer to the industry was ‘wait for the Budget’. They did and it announced $400 million to the sector along with about 3-4 different review panels and working groups to come together and figure out how to “re-imagine” the sector. This should and could have been done during the lockdown and been shovel-ready to get the industry moving again. This industry relies on local loyalty and support, so again we as New Zealanders must come together to support our local communities, and our local tourism.
Whanganui and Taranaki have wonderful and rich histories, heritage, culture, and scenic mountain-, water-, coast- and land-scapes. We can all promote and indulge in the experiences of our local and regional tourism as well as our wider NZ tourism experiences.
As MP for Whanganui, my electorate and whakapapa embraces Taranaki. As National’s spokesperson for NZ Maori Tourism I doubly delight endorsing and promoting Taranaki as a place Like No Other, a place To Make Way For, as a taonga - a world to treasure.
Taranaki is steeped in rich history, heritage and culture. It is a region of bounteous beauty with so much to offer and invest in with many returns. This COVID-19 lockdown of Aotearoa NZ has been key to our health, but has also padlocked and paralysed economic prosperity.
It’s now important that we focus on recovery and rebalance the scales, because the health of a people, our wellbeing (physical, mental and social), is interlocked with an economy levelled and flattened.
New Zealand Tourism has been hit hard but it is ready to rise and recover. Visitors are vital and New Zealanders are keen and waiting to explore their country and support local businesses.
Taranaki is a weekend destination within a few hours scenic drive of the North Island’s major cities. The gateways north, south and east – an unforgettable Forgotten World Highway – welcome visitors to a world enriched with whakapapa/histories & herstories, tangata/people, whenua/landscapes, maunga/mountain, takutai moana/coastline. The experience of a ‘now’ moment is a ‘wow’ moment, invested as a memory of a lifetime.
The memories and experiences to linger of Taranaki too – E Tu Taranaki front-of-house, to greet and to welcome all who Come Venture. From near and afar to fortify and front and invest for a future. Backing our businesses, fronting our future, innovative, creative, energised and enterprising.
To Make Way for Taranaki. E Tu. Kia Kaha. Taranaki a place to Come Venture!
Thank you for playing your part in staying home & saving lives during Alert Levels 4 & 3. Now we’re in Alert Level 2, it’s still important to stay safe – so be sensible, keep social distance where possible, wash your hands regularly, and contact your GP if unwell.
Feel free to contact me anytime.