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The challenges we face for 2022

Authorised by Andrew Bayly, 7 Wesley St, Pukekohe 2120

by Andrew Bayly, MP for Port Waikato

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The Port Waikato electorate spans the alert level boundary between Auckland and Waikato. This has been the battleground of the lockdown and as the elected MP I have seen at first-hand the incredible stress and anxiety the changing alert levels have placed on people.

Since the country was plunged into Alert Level 4 on 18 August, MPs across Auckland and the Waikato, and their staff in their electorate offices, have helped hundreds of people a day with issues created by the lockdown and the alert level boundaries.

These are people who have been unable to attend births, weddings and funerals of loved ones; been prevented from providing care and support for critically ill family members (including physical and mental health); principals, teachers and school students unable to return to school; and business owners watching their businesses melt away as they haven’t been able to get stranded staff across the border.

What has made it even more difficult is that both Auckland and Waikato at times have been at Alert Level 3, but Level 3 for Auckland has been very different to Level 3 for Waikato. Auckland has effectively been ring-fenced. Business and personal travel exemptions have only been granted in very exceptional circumstances.

The introduction of the ‘steps’ for Level 3, while designed to ease restrictions, has just muddied the waters even further. Even we have struggled to follow the changes and stay up to date with what is and is not permitted.

In many of the calls, people have been in tears. We have talked with several who have been contemplating or about to attempt to take their own life. Without exception, these have been people at the end of their tether, with financial, mental and health issues consuming their everyday lives. As an MP, I am usually in Wellington for three weeks a month, but under lockdown we were advised by the Speaker of the House to remain in our own constituencies. Then in late September, the Speaker’s Office set out new rules for MPs wishing to return to Parliament.

After completing five days of isolation in the capital and returning two negative tests, in mid-October I emerged from my Wellington flat into a totally different world. In Wellington, the streets were emptier as many government officials continued to work from home. Everybody, including the press, was consumed with keeping the rest of New Zealand in lockdown.

It hit me very hard. In Auckland, I had just spent two months trying to help people hold their lives together; in Wellington, it was all about Covid and keeping people apart. The Beehive, its ministers, and the bureaucrats in Wellington have little appreciation for how life is for many in Auckland and Waikato, especially for those trying to run a small business.

I spoke up in Parliament about the lack of support for business owners. I spoke from the heart. To lose something that you have spent your life creating, in which you have invested your life savings, perhaps mortgaged your home, is heart-breaking. The edited video of that speech is on my own and the National Party’s Facebook pages. It has been viewed over 500,000 times and been shared over 10,000 times. Someone called it a blistering bollocking of the Government. I have been deeply humbled by the responses.

Back in October, National released its ‘Back in Business’ economic plan which has been widely supported and well received by businesses large and small – you can read more about it here (https://www.elocal.co.nz/Articles/4117). Prior to that, National released its comprehensive response plan to tackle Covid-19, end lockdowns and reopen New Zealand to the world; and in November, we released ‘Back on Track’, our education plan to get school students back to school and to make up for lost class time.

These are part of our much wider strategy to help New Zealand face and prepare for our long-term challenges. Other issues include our low productivity growth, persistently higher Māori and Pacifica unemployment, and a growing infrastructure deficit. A comprehensive, clearly thought out and well documented plan is evidence of rational, strategic and considered thinking.

Compare this to the Government’s lack of planning for Delta, which is now being exposed on a daily basis. Will the whole country transfer to the new traffic light system at the end of November, or just Auckland? Or will the end of November simply be an announcement of when the next announcement will be made?

The new system depends on vaccine certificates and easier rules for businesses over vaccination requirements to determine who can open, when and to how many people. The Government only authorised the development of a certificate in July, but it was mid-October before the Ministry of Health signed its contract with MATTR to develop the vaccine pass system. Vaccine passes were finally made available on 17 November.

If the Government wants the traffic light system to be operational from late November or early December, when will the legislation which will enable the system to operate be introduced to Parliament? How long will it take to enact? Will there be time for the select committee process to account for public submissions?

Uncertainty is the biggest factor we face at the moment. Will traffic lights really mean the end of lockdowns? How will businesses and workers manage customers and vaccine passes? Will we see a return of regional boundaries and alert levels if case numbers blow out? Will Aucklanders be locked up again after the summer? When will rapid testing and alternative vaccines be available (as they are overseas)? And when will Kiwis be able to return home? By the time you read this, we may or may not have the answers. Either way, I wish you all the very best for Christmas, whoever you may be with and wherever you may be. This year has proved to be a challenging year, and I trust 2022 will be a better year for us all.
Authorised by Andrew Bayly, MP for Port Waikato, 7 Wesley Street, Pukekohe

What has made it even more difficult is that both Auckland and Waikato at times have been at Alert Level 3, but Level 3 for Auckland has been very different to Level 3 for Waikato.

Andrew Bayly is the MP for Port Waikato, the Shadow Treasurer (Revenue) and the National Party spokesperson for Infrastructure and Statictics.

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elocal Digital Edition – December 2021 (#248)

elocal Digital Edition
December 2021 (#248)

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