While we have been in lockdown to fight the spread of Covid-19, I have been amazed by people’s ingenuity to make this a positive experience. So many organisations and individuals in Papakura and all over Counties Manukau have grouped together to help others in the community. I want to acknowledge them. And also I congratulate all the families who have looked after each other while in their Covid-19 lockdown Bubble. And thanks to those who worked from home and were learning from home too.
People have kept in touch thanks to the amazing technology we have and many businesses and initiatives have been able to carry on because of this.
Now we are in Level 2 more businesses can re-open and we can travel around New Zealand for work or pleasure. Tertiary education facilities, schools and early learning centres all opened on Monday 18 May.
I also want to acknowledge those for whom the whole lockdown has been a terrible time for their small business. I know it has affected most small businesses and now it is especially affecting those in hospitality, travel, tourism and related businesses. I am hoping that the Government budget is going to be of some use to keep you going.
I fully support shopping local and avoiding the temptation to buy online from overseas. Our economy is shrinking due to the lack of overseas visitors and overseas students coming here. This is necessary if we are to keep Covid-19 under control but it does mean some new thinking is needed by the Government. We need initiatives to help New Zealand to rebuild.
At Level 2 there are still significant restrictions on our lives when it comes to public gatherings. Social distancing affects socialising, sport and recreational activities. My advice is to read the rules on Level 2 once over to ensure you adhere to public health guidelines at this time. See http://www.covid19.govt.nz for the latest updates. Businesses should check www. worksafe.govt.nz for managing the reopening of retail businesses, public venues and close proximity services. Worksafe will be proactive in checking that people in workplaces are not at risk or unreasonably exposed to Covid-19.
My colleagues and I are very concerned for those of you who have experienced the death of family members or close friends during the lockdown period. It must be so difficult not to have been able to reach out, to grieve and to remember in the usual way.
I offer my sincere sympathy to the families and friends of the more than 20 residents of Papakura who have passed away since 25 March. May they rest in peace.
What are we getting from the Budget?
All of the Treasury forecasts point to the economic impact of the Covid-19 lockdown being worse than the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. It predicts a 20 per cent fall in GDP this quarter.
Treasury predicts the economy will contract through to the end of 2021 and unemployment will at least double from pre-Covid levels. The worst effects will be felt by the tourism, aviation, and hospitality sectors. While this is unavoidable the Government needs to think creatively about using the organisational skills and the workforce skills of these sectors in other areas. Job creation is vital here especially as Treasury forecasts 150,000 job losses in the next six months.
How is the Government reducing the negative effect of COVID-19 on the New Zealand economy?
Apart from extending the wage subsidy they are not providing further cash flow support for thousands of struggling businesses. The Budget does provide retraining support for those who have lost their jobs and the plan is to redeploy workers into primary industry.
The budget provides infrastructure spending for rail and public housing. But there needs to be support for improving health and education and completing existing infrastructure projects.
Over $22 billion has already paid out in economic stimulus and now there is $50 billion in the Budget for spending but not committed to anything. Who will pay these debts back in the long term?
Borrowing is the only answer, which will see New Zealand’s public debt to GDP ratio double in the next couple of years. It’s clear that future Kiwis will be the ones paying for this government’s budget.
New Zealand’s government needs to have a strong plan around rebuilding our economy and getting the government books back into good shape.
You will know that my colleagues and I did not support the final reading of the Covid Public Health Response Bill (CPHR). It was passed into law with great speed on Wednesday 13 May so the country could move to Level 2. The new Law gives power to the Minister of Health to order lockdowns and quarantines. The Police, who must be in uniform, are given power to enter homes and other private property and marae without warrants. They just have to write a report afterwards.
As for businesses, the new Law gives any government employee ‘enforcement status’ and they may enter any business and close it if they feel rules are being broken. No written order or reason is needed. I will be looking for more rules to govern the actions of government employees around this.
Fortunately overall, the National Opposition were able to stop this Legislation lasting unfettered for two years. It now has to be voted on by Parliament every 90 days to keep it going.
I am excited to have new portfolios under the new Todd Muller - Nikki Kaye leadership of the National opposition that was announced recently. I will be working on the Economic and Regional Development portfolios as well as Pike River re-entry.
The role of the Opposition remains to scrutinize all the actions of the government and make sure it allows proper consultation on Bills presented to Parliament. We will not support political decrees but we will support the rule of law.
Judith Collins is the MP for Papakura, and the leader of the National Party.