If, as many predict, we will have to learn to live with Covid-19 for some years, we need to get our border issues sorted out.
No, I’m not talking about our international border. I’m talking about the one down the road here on the edge of Auckland.
I’m talking about the borders you get when you lockdown a region or a city; the border that divides people who live in one zone and work in another.
In the latest lockdown, much of the debate has focused on the international borders.
Down here in Franklin, the border is an absolute shambles.
Since the start of lockdown I have been swamped with pleas for help from people trying to cross from level 3 Auckland to level 2 North Waikato or vice versa.
I’ve been receiving up to 300 calls and emails a day from people trying to get clarification about whether they can travel to their jobs, homes, farms or businesses. Last time many were deemed ‘essential’ workers or services. This time the Government changed the rules and everyone has had to reapply for an ‘exemption’.
My Facebook posts have recorded hundreds and hundreds of comments from people who are anxious, upset and confused by the lack of communication and inconsistent treatment at the border.
There is massive frustration at being turned back and with the significant delays when applying for Ministry of Health exemptions.
The Government needs to stand up for the essential primary sector workers who are wrongly being turned away.
Ten days into the regional lockdown and there was still no specific Ministry of Health exemptions to allow primary sector workers to carry out essential services across the Auckland border.
Those exemptions should have been ready to go at the first sign of regional restrictions. Instead, it took five days for exemptions to be approved for the dairy, horticulture, and poultry sectors.
But as I write, many other parts of the primary sector are still waiting for individual Ministry of Health approval - sheep and beef farmers, drystock farmers, beekeepers, horse breeders and racing industry staff.
Then there are numerous businesses supplying essential equipment, supplies and services to major New Zealand companies who are finding getting through the border a struggle.
This time we are definitely not “all in this together”.
All of this comes on top of significant cashflow problems for many small businesses following the first lockdown.
Businesses relied on the wage subsidy to get through but did not get rental support and still had to find the money for overheads.
Many survived by scrimping and saving whatever they could. But with the low level of trading, many have reached the end of their cash reserves.
The Government uses the word “pivot” when advising small businesses on how they might cope in this situation. To “pivot” a business, however, not only requires a lot of investigation and planning – which takes time - but, most importantly, it needs more cash.
Many businesses simply no longer have this financial capability.
It worries me that we will see a significant number of small companies going to the wall.
Those that do survive will likely find that the best – and possibly the only – way to survive will be to fire people. Many employees are facing a bleak future once the wage subsidy ends.
I am also very concerned about the mental health of our small business owners and their staff. Unfortunately, Franklin has already had its share of those unable to cope.
As an electorate MP, and also as a member of my community, I am very worried about the current situation.
Andrew Bayly is the MP for Port Waikato, and National's Shadow Treasurer (Revenue).