“Nothing makes me prouder than being a Kiwi. We are the country of Kate Sheppard, Edmund Hillary, and Earnest Rutherford, but also the Hamilton Jet, Rocketlab, and bungee jumping. We are leaders and entrepreneurs by nature. As maps of the world show, we are the people who travelled further than anyone so our descendants could have a better life.
But we should be honest with ourselves, there is also a dark side to our small isolated psyche. We are too quick to pull others down. People say we don’t like tall poppies. That is not true. We love the tallest poppies, but only at accepted activities. We often give the best openside in the country a knighthood, from Sir John Graham to Michael Jones to Richie McCaw. What we don’t like is different poppies. And that narrowness can hold us back.
Unfortunately, it has held us back through the COVID-19 crisis. It is admirable how willingly people followed the Prime Minister’s orders, and that voluntary compliance is one reason the virus has been beaten. But it is also true that we have shut our eyes to better ways forward at the same time. People have been keener to dob in their neighbours for minor transgressions than support them in debating the country’s direction. That is not an achievement climate.
We must be able to criticise the Government’s performance before we can demand better. That fact is it has been abysmal. PPE distribution has been a disaster, testing got to world-leading levels only after weeks of disingenuity by the Government, and we had to stay in Lockdown for an additional five days because the Government could not trace cases if they arose. We need to move beyond fear and conformity to open debate about our policy options as a country. Hilary did not become famous for climbing the highest hill in his hometown of Tuakau, or even Mt Cook. He took it to the world.
Instead of congratulating ourselves, we should be asking how Taiwan, 23 million people right next to China, got away with 400 cases and 6 deaths but no lockdown. The more affected an industry is by the state of the debate, the more urgent it is for them that this shift to openness occurs. Tourism needs this open search for better ways than any other sector.
Firstly, the Government’s support needs to recognise the costs its policies have imposed. By closing the borders, restricting internal movement, and banning activities that, by their very nature, bring people together, it has placed the heaviest restrictions on tourism. As the alert level lowers and restrictions lift, the Government should consider more targeted packages of support to those who can’t operate even at Level 2. That might include a second round of wage subsidy as other sectors open up, but tourism cannot.
More importantly it should perform its core role at world beating standards, so that the need for such support is minimised. Most business owners would rather earn a dollar from domestic tourists than have them stay home and take their taxes. Better still, they would like to earn foreign dollars, renminbi, and yen again. One core role is securing the borders against threats such as viruses while allowing freedom of movement.
We are usually pretty good at this. We have a unique environment and an agricultural sector that is vulnerable to all sorts of introduced species and diseases, but we still manage four million people coming and going each year. We must develop the world’s smartest borders with rapid testing and tracing of viruses to build our resilience to pandemics. Supporting that is proactive international relations. The Government needs to build arrangements with our friends around the world, beginning with our closest friend, so we have an international bubble of like minded nations. This should be a matter of urgency, not a task for next week or the week after, but now. Having secured the borders in an intelligent way, the theme of smart public health interventions should continue domestically.
Replace a dictatorial regime of bans that often seem arbitrary and are always disempowering. Seek the better side of our pioneering nature by setting clear rules of the game for Level two and beyond. Then innovation becomes possible. I predict that macroeconomic modelling of a dire future will be shown to be overly pessimistic because the modelers have not accounted for innovation at the micro level if the latter is allowed.
All the above represents is a subtle shift in emphasis from the current Government’s approach. However, a focus on empowering business with clear rules of the game and high performance at the things only the Government could do would save the tourism industry billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. It would also be in tune with the entrepreneurial bright side of our national psyche rather than its conformist underbelly.”
– By David Seymour, MP for Epsom and Leader of ACT New Zealand