In light of recent criticism of the government’s support for the tourism industry, and Queenstown businesses in particular, and the frustration of alert level restrictions, I have given more thought to what we should expect from our government leaders.
I’ve had correspondence with Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance, and Kelvin Davis, Minister of Tourism, in my capacity as Queenstown Chamber of Commerce interim general manager about support for Queenstown.
Firstly, I thanked them for what they had done to date, particularly the highly effective wage subsidy.
Then I pointed out that the other forms of assistance being offered, while good for a few, were missing the mark for most businesses reliant on visitors.
The response from Wellington?
A laundry list of all the support initiatives that I had already acknowledged, and a tone suggesting that was plenty.
Mind you, Queenstown should be used to this attitude from Wellington — polite dismissiveness.
We don’t usually appear on the Wellington radar – unless, of course, you are counting foreign income and GST takings.
Never in a generation have we been subject to so much instruction from government as to our behaviours.
I get that these are unpr3*#&@!ted (please don’t use that word any more) times, but restricting people’s rights comes with a heightened responsibility to tell us what’s going on.
My gripe is there is no plan but the elimination plan.
What is elimination?
When do we know it has been achieved?
Can we expect to eliminate the virus on an ongoing basis while people move across the border every day?
What level of outbreak triggers what level of response?
What happens if there is no vaccine – or is it still years away?
I appreciate that ‘seat-of-the-pants’ decisions were required in March (remember, there is no playbook), but it is now nearly six months later.
I’m not questioning the initial response, but have we been told any more about how to deal with the virus than we were told at the start?
Other than masks all of a sudden becoming a good idea, I suggest no.
It strikes me that the health experts, and only the health experts, are calling the shots.
The economic experts get to measure the financial pain while Mr Robertson stacks debt upon debt while trying to dampen down the hot spots of economic disaster.
Handouts can’t be the long-term answer.
The relentless drive for elimination of the virus will only result in us living in varying levels of restriction as returning New Zealanders provide a path for community outbreak at any time.
There is no such thing as a perfect isolation process, as has been clearly demonstrated.
After almost six months there should be a playbook for the nation’s response and, equally importantly, we should know what’s in it.
We should not still be ruled by 1pm press conferences delivering the next set of instructions or restrictions.
We have been warned that the elimination plan will likely see us move up and down alert levels and suffer the associated restrictions.
The economic cost will compound each time we move.
The playbook should also have a plan B.
What is the plan if we have to live with Covid-19 in the community?
The government’s borrowed finances can only go so far to prop up the economy, especially in the face of an unknown timeframe for a vaccine or medication.
Queenstown’s visitor economy will recover.
We were beginning to see what a domestic-only market might be able to deliver, but the potential was cut off at the knees with a second Alert Level 3 lockdown in Auckland.
But we can’t fight our way out of this alone, we are now so reliant on the domestic travel market and Auckland, in particular, that we have become almost entirely dependent on the
government’s Covid-19 response.
Quite simply, government should be giving us more.
More credit for being able to understand a plan, more transparency about a plan, and more consideration for a real way forward to dealing with Covid-19.
Craig Douglas is the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce’s interim general manager