With much of the world watching us, how do we make the most of that attention? (Photo: Getty)

NZ is winning global kudos for our Covid-19 response. How do we use it?

With Ardern and New Zealand in headlines for what promises to be a successful elimination strategy, we have an opportunity to use that influence in international relations, write Nina Hall, Max Harris, Evelyn Marsters, Thomas Nash and Arama Rata of New Zealand Alternative.

The international praise of Jacinda Ardern’s response to Covid-19 means that New Zealand has the ear of the world right now.

When the prime minister speaks, news outlets with a large international reach listen. The political world is paying close attention to actions taken in New Zealand and what is said by New Zealand’s leaders. Winston Peters has taken part in at least 23 calls with other foreign ministers to share Covid-19 experiences. This means New Zealand’s actions on coronavirus can make some mark internationally.

Without overstating New Zealand’s influence or being opportunistic, we should think hard about how our actions could influence the international community. Three topics with an international dimension need political attention in the months ahead: migration and migrants’ rights, international solidarity through debt relief, and climate action and a just transition.

Headline on the Washington Post’s story

New Zealand rightly enacted early travel restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus. But existing discriminatory policy means “temporary migrants”still in New Zealand do not have equal access to access to healthcare or benefits. This endangers their health and livelihoods – and the health and livelihoods of others – at a time when many of these people are doing essential work. New Zealand had 300,000 migrants on a temporary visa at the end of February. With most of us in New Zealand now receiving direct state assistance, the government should widen access to social security and social services to migrants, while boosting income support for all those who need it.

As New Zealand emerges from this crisis, we should also support migrants who cannot return to their home countries ravaged by coronavirus. Restrictions on migration will have a particular impact for Pasifika communities, unable to cross borders for funerals, weddings, graduations, and work. New Zealand should consider support for families and villages that usually rely on New Zealand-based income. New Zealand’s progressive action on migration policy is critical as many other countries struggle with how to support immigrants working in the agricultural and food sector.

Support for Pacific families and villages is likely to come from New Zealand’s overseas aid budget, and it is imperative that New Zealand maintains and increases its aid contributions as less well-off countries are hit hard by coronavirus. We should do this not out of sympathy or charity, but as a matter of solidarity and justice.

As SOAS professor Adam Hanieh has pointed out: “Momentary victory by a rich country in controlling the virus at a national level, coupled with travel bans and border closures, may give a semblance of accomplishment. But… only global victory can bring this pandemic to an end”. Hanieh rightly notes that public services are weaker in less well-off countries partly because of histories of colonisation and the dictates from wealthy countries and international institutions for cuts to public services in exchange for loans.

New Zealand’s international aid agencies have called for the government to provide $25 million in immediate additional aid funding. That is the bare minimum. At a time of low public debt and low-interest rates for borrowing, New Zealand should raise its development contribution to 0.7% of gross national income for the duration of the crisis. There is also a strong case for us to write off debt payments for less well-off countries, as several African nations have called for. Some debt relief has already been offered by G20 governments and the International Monetary Fund so this is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. But these efforts fall short and New Zealand should use the platform it has earned to make the case for more robust debt relief.

International discussions of New Zealand’s response should fully understand and acknowledge community actions, as well as actions taken by the Crown. These include Ngāti Ruanui mobilising to check on members and providing care packages to the elderly. They include checkpoints set up by Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Porou and Te Tai Tokerau as a legitimate expression of tino rangatiratanga, in order to uphold community wellbeing. There are also examples of tikanga being adapted to online spaces, such as the live-streaming of karakia (church services). Such acts of generosity and solidarity have been seen around the globe and are a cause for celebration in these difficult times.

This year’s global climate talks in Glasgow have been rightly cancelled on health grounds. But as we emerge from lockdown, climate action must stay on the agenda internationally and domestically. The government’s economic package will be significant. It is the biggest opportunity in generations to reset our economy and give meaning to the wellbeing ideas embraced by this government.

From the Climate Change Commission to environmental organisations to political and business leaders, a chorus of voices are encouraging the government to advance climate action through its response. The government can do this by investing with hapū and iwi in job-rich natural infrastructure projects to regenerate native forests, wetlands and waterways. It can prioritise public and active transport projects and resilient water infrastructure.

This could be the chance for a generation-defining commitment to building energy-efficient state housing at scale. These projects should be devised in partnership with hapū and iwi and provide well-paid unionised jobs fit for a “just transition”. But parallel funding should also be provided to hapū and iwi to determine investments fit for their own communities.

We’ve shown the solidarity we need by staying at home out of concern for each other’s safety. We need that solidarity because, even though we’re all in this together, we’re not affected equally. Class, race, age, gender, disability, and nationality all shape experiences of coronavirus. The pandemic has exposed longstanding inequalities. Bonds of solidarity must extend to all of us, whether migrants or citizens, old or young, living here or beyond these shores. Solidarity will determine how well we get through this crisis and what sort of world we rebuild afterwards.

New Zealand Alternative is an independent organisation promoting a progressive role for Aotearoa in the world. 



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