By Todd Muller
National MP for Bay of Plenty
I think there’s been remarkable collective discipline through the lockdown. New Zealanders by and large saw what was happening overseas, and thought, “we’ll put our best foot forward” and they did.
In terms of the health response, the government has done a pretty good job, helped by the advantages of isolation and being able to close our borders. And they have provided relatively clear and effective communication.
But on the economic side, the government has not been focused enough on the balance sheet stress of small business in particular. An understandable focus has been on wages, but that’s only a part of their costs.
The government has a complete lack of understanding of how small and medium-sized businesses work. The SMEs – especially in the Bay of Plenty – are going to be what helps lead us out of the pandemic downturn.
It’s hugely important to get ourselves back into a situation where demand is stimulated in New Zealand. But we cannot grow our country out of this hole if we are wholly reliant on creating things to buy and sell domestically.
The way we really get out of this is to get export-oriented businesses back on their feet.
The government’s view that the recovery will be state-led is wrong. It’s got to be business-led and typically by export-oriented businesses.
If we can get their demand increasing and their capacity stood up to meet an increasing demand, then that flows through to all the service industries that are domestically focused, but provide support to all those exporters. Many of our exporters have strong relationships around the world.
Where it makes sense, we’ve got to move very quickly to the point where we can have an open border with Australia and start a much easier flow of people and goods between the two countries.
We need to be really innovative in how we get our business people back to China and some of those other Asian countries early.
Yes, the border might be closed for broader back and forth travel. But in the short and medium term, we’ve got to create an environment where we can get our business leaders back up in those countries with appropriate protections.
I think the fact we seem to be getting COVID-19 to manageable levels can give us the confidence to be able to have those conversations with the respective governments.
Our export supply chain is working with essential export businesses – of which primary produce is a large part. They have had to change their onshore supply chains, but the demand for our food and fibre is robust.
Yes, there is still significant risk to our markets if some of those export economies slump to such a degree that high value food products and even high quality commodities have a softening of demand.
But those markets include countries that are currently closed to much of Europe and the US, so we need to get up there as soon as possible. Ending the lockdown will only work in an enduring way if people can be sensitive and apply common sense. Sooner or later we are going to go back to work in an environment where we will have to maintain physical distance and hygiene.
The government needs to be more focused on imbedding in these principles, not by believing it will ultimately find the right formula and checklist to follow.
There are a number of businesses that unfortunately will find the next period incredibly difficult and some will find it impossible to exist in the way they are currently set up.
We’ve got to look at what you can do with and for those people to have the confidence and the assurance to have another go – to either restart their business, or recommence in a different way.
We need to focus on how we can assist people to reimagine another career with effective training and support provided to people who need it.