New Zealand is shifting to a new period in our Covid response. We are no longer pursuing a strategy of elimination. We need to rethink our economic strategy.
National has today released ‘Back in Business’ – the plan that we believe the Government should be implementing immediately, given the unwelcome return of Covid into the community.
National believes the business sector should play a much bigger role in our Covid response. As we head towards our 85-90% vaccination milestone, business needs a clear plan for moving away from blanket restrictions to a more sophisticated model based on trust and technology.
Reopening the economy to allow businesses to trade is the best way to ensure their survival. We need to back our businesses to get back on their feet. We need to help Kiwis regain the confidence to take a punt, to start a business, to work hard and employ others.
Some businesses, particularly in the export economy, have been able to do well despite Covid, but many others have been decimated by multiple lockdowns, either forced to stay closed or otherwise constrained in their ability to operate, despite in many cases it being safe for them to do so.
In the two months before the latest outbreak, more than 11,000 businesses closed their doors for good. Without urgent action, this lockdown will see many more businesses and their workers go the same way. This can be avoided with the right plan – and National has it.
Our economic approach involves two phases – one that would take effect now, and the other that looks to the long term.
Phase 1 – Provide immediate support
This includes a raft of initiatives that National would implement to provide immediate support to struggling businesses. This includes fixing the wage subsidy, implementing a cash rental support, and extending the loss carry-back scheme.
We would provide clarity around public health rules for businesses, including vaccination requirements. We would develop smarter rules for operating under alert levels, and fix the alert level regional boundaries.
We would also reduce the burden on businesses and workers by providing tax relief to small businesses and high-impact tax cuts for workers. We would freeze any new regulations for two years, provide incentives for business investment, and deliver mental health support for small businesses.
Finally, we would deliver targeted support to save highly affected industries, including hospitality, accommodation, tourism and event businesses, and establish an insurance scheme for major events.
Phase 2 – Evolve the approach
Once we reach a target vaccination rate of between 85-90%, we need to stop imposing hugely damaging lockdowns and move towards a strategy of vigorous suppression of the virus, with safe, vaccinated workplaces that have a culture of regular testing.
This also means we can reopen the border and reconnect to the world.
We would allow Kiwis to come home, and the need for isolation will depend on them having a negative Covid test and the risk profile of the country from where they are coming. It also means giving priority to skilled migrants and Kiwis, such as ICU nurses. Given the few numbers of people here under the Working Holiday visa, we would immediately increase the RSE quota by 5,000 people to assist our farmers and horticulturists.
Our economic plan follows the release of Opening Up: National’s plan to tackle COVID-19, end lockdowns and reopen to the world, which was released in late September. National believes that getting vaccination rates up and filling in the gaps in our Covid defences is a vital first step to saving jobs and businesses. Placing the country in and out of lockdown and limiting the flow of people to and from our shores is not a credible long-term strategy.
New Zealand faces some broader economic challenges over the long term, such as our low productivity growth, declining educational achievement, persistently higher Māori and Pacific unemployment, and a growing infrastructure deficit. In time, National will set out detailed plans to address these problems and more.
But ‘Back in Business’ is about the here and now. It’s about the emerging crisis in business confidence and the need to address it. It’s about backing our hospitality businesses, our tourism sector, our retailers, our building trades, our farmers and growers.
It’s about making sure that once we’re through this pandemic and safely reconnected to the world, we have an economy left that can seize the opportunities of a post-Covid world.
Above all, it’s about acting now before it’s too late.
Back in Business: National’s plan to save livelihoods and unleash our economy is available on the National Party website at www.national.org.nz/back-in-business