It’s election year, but thanks to the not insignificant matter of a global pandemic, we’ve barely heard from the minor parties. So we decided to give them a chance to explain how they would have handled the Covid-19 response had they been in parliament.
Getting attention from the opposition benches is hard enough in politics. Getting attention from outside parliament altogether, especially over the last two months, is nigh on impossible.
But in just a few short months, the country will have a general election. A whole lot of politicians will be setting out their visions for how the country should be governed. They’ll be talking about a world that has changed radically since the start of the year, with huge pressure likely to be pushing on the social and economic health of the country.
So it’s fair to ask – if they were in parliament right now, what would they have done differently? And what needs to happen next? Given the changes that have already occurred as a result of Covid-19, it stands to reason to get a wide range of views on these questions.
Invitations to participate were sent out to all registered political parties in New Zealand that aren’t currently in parliament. The reason for that particular cut-off point is that parties that are registered with the Electoral Commission are eligible to compete for the party vote, and therefore could theoretically bring a caucus of MPs into the next parliament.
Responses were received from the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, Māori Party, New Conservative, Outdoors Party, Sustainable NZ, Social Credit, The Opportunities Party, and Vision NZ. Only the Mana Movement had offered no response by the time of publication.
In the interest of fairness and giving everyone equal time, parties were asked to give brief paragraph responses to the following questions:
1) What is your biggest concern to date about how the government has responded to Covid-19?
2) Looking ahead, what is your single biggest priority for future government action?
3) If your party was elected to parliament, what is the first Covid-19-related action that you’d push for?
Their responses have been presented as received by The Spinoff, in alphabetical order:
Maki Herbert – Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party
- We think that the government has done a great job of managing the Covid-19. The NZ government has proven that most of the population have done what has been asked of them. There will always be those that won’t follow the recommendations set, so damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And of course if cannabis was legal during this time, we are more than sure people would be coping so much better with the restrictions of lockdown.
- Legalisation of cannabis will all ways be our main concern.
- Stop all police action on search, charges and convictions of cannabis as soon as possible. Having enough supply. Saving the taxpayers millions of dollars that is spent on prohibition of cannabis.
John Tamihere and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer – Māori Party
- Māori have responded to the pandemic and supported our communities in a way that the crown has never done. The pandemic has revealed the extent of our whānau struggling to survive but also the power of a unified Māori response to address this, long before the government had set up any Māori response efforts. It was through our lobbying and engagement with the Crown as iwi and urban Māori leaders that they eventually announced funding for Māori responses. The biggest concern is the lack of real-time connection from government with Māori and the risk of lost opportunities in recovery.
- The priority must be a genuine partnership between crown and Māori response and recovery efforts. For example, with the recently announced RMA changes to fast-track consents on “shovel-ready” projects, it’s essential the government works closely with Māori communities to find clean, future-focused projects that will create jobs while still protecting environmental concerns, wāhi tapu and whenua Māori interests.
- Our first actions in parliament would be focused on ensuring Māori equity and that we don’t return to normal economic life but instead invest in our people and build an economy and society that deals with the generations of inequities and inequalities that our people have faced, and recognises the strength of the Māori economy and the importance of Māori economic leadership.
Leighton Baker – New Conservative
- The government took too long to shut the borders. Weeks after the news a serious virus was spreading, thousands were still arriving at our airports and disappearing into the community. We were the first party to call for border closures, proper testing and screening. As a small island nation, a quick shutting of the borders would have likely eliminated the need for the lockdown, thereby saving businesses, jobs and serious impacts on mental health due to the lockdown. Slow closing of borders has been the most devastating financial decision of any NZ government.
- The government needs to immediately end the lockdown and let people resume their lives. Caregivers of the severely disabled have no help and simply cannot continue, abuse in the home is rising, and we are seeing impacts on mental health. Essential surgeries and screenings are postponed and people have been unable to see their loved ones, including those dying. Frustration is building in the community as we have invested disproportionately in one area while there are multiple needs that are just not being met. We can still practise good hygiene and encourage wise self-isolation, but; give us our freedoms!
- When we are elected we will be pushing hard for a Buy and Tour New Zealand campaign which would have two main aims. The first would be supporting New Zealand businesses by encouraging individuals to shop and holiday local. The second is getting government departments to focus their purchasing in New Zealand wherever possible. Getting New Zealand businesses up and running is crucial for providing employment, increasing our GDP and providing social interaction for all New Zealanders. We will also be advocating for tax holidays for provisional tax payments.
Alan Simmons – NZ Outdoors Party
- The NZ Outdoors Party believes the government was too slow in shutting down the borders and has been saying this since March 9. Faster, tighter border controls would have avoided the lockdown crisis and the resulting public fear and economic chaos.
- The government lockdown response was illegal, unhelpful and unethical. The government’s encouragement of New Zealanders to dob in others for failing to comply with overreaching government notices undermined Kiwi culture and ethics. We must be able to trust our government. We urge the government to admit its errors, apologise to the public, withdraw unlawful prosecutions and commit to respecting the law and New Zealand culture in future.
- New Zealand will not be the same for a long time. The Covid response has shown us how vulnerable our lives are not only to globalisation but also to the whims of our own government. The NZ Outdoors Party seeks to empower New Zealanders and our communities to become more self-sufficient. Let’s grow community vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Let’s encourage people to stay physically, emotionally and spiritually well. Let’s reconnect people with each other and with nature. Let’s support local businesses. Let’s create a culture where small and local are beautiful. Let’s give power back to local communities.
Vernon Tava – Sustainable New Zealand Party
- This has been an extraordinary situation and, of course, hindsight is 20:20 but poor border control in February and March, ie initially relying on self-isolation when this clearly wasn’t going to work. This allowed the problem to escalate to the point where level level shutdown was required. Economic support has lacked targeting and little action beyond wage subsidy. Although the low and zero interest loans look promising, we will run out of tax dollars sooner rather than later.
- Gradually opening up the travel bubble to include “safe countries”: first Australia, then the Pacific Islands, then Singapore, South Korea and possibly China. We need to progress a working tracing app as soon as possible.
- The future will not be a return to business as usual and government largesse will only take us so far. In many sectors customer behaviour and the nature of competition will permanently change. Given the impacts of the current pandemic, driving productivity via innovation has taken on a new urgency. In lean times firms are often quick to cut R&D spending and become less concerned about sustainable practices, but this is the last thing we need during the post-pandemic recovery. This week we are releasing an integrated suite of programmes to create a world-leading and enduring “Innovation Ecosystem”.
Chris Leitch – Social Credit NZ
- The support packages put in place by the government are commendable. Where they fall short is that the $30 billion being created by the Reserve Bank should have gone directly to the government. Instead it has supported the financial markets and the government has racked up large debts by borrowing from those markets. Already approximately $5 billion of taxpayer money goes to pay interest on government borrowing and that wastage of taxpayer money will significantly increase. That money should be spent on healthcare, education, housing, infrastructure, and the environment.
- With thousands now unemployed and more being added daily, the priority must be to ensure they have an adequate income. Many will have mortgages to pay. In many households both partners may now be unemployed. A significant increase in benefits across the board is needed to ensure people have an adequate income for the basics and have money to spend. Customers with money to spend is what the business sector, particularly small business, needs in order for them to get back on their feet. That in turn will generate employment.
- In parliament, in addition to the above, we would push for the first $20,000 of income to be tax free, for the cost of visits to doctors and dentists to be capped at $30, and for trips on urban public transport to be made free. All these measures could be paid for with direct funding from the Reserve Bank without incurring additional government debt. This would require a commensurate decrease in the amount of money creation by the commercial banks to ensure that there was no overall increase in the money supply and therefore no risk of inflation.
Geoff Simmons – The Opportunities Party
- TOP supports the government’s recent public health efforts to eliminate Covid-19. Our biggest concern is the lack of preparedness at the beginning of the outbreak. Experts knew it was only a matter of time until another pandemic appeared, yet successive governments – both red and blue – have systematically underfunded preventative and primary health care. Ensuring Aotearoa’s preparedness by reinstating the Public Health Commission would have been a good move. We’ve relied heavily on our public health experts in recent months. Had we given them a crown-funded advocacy role from the beginning, we might have all fared better.
- We’ve reached exceptionally low Covid rates, and that should be commended. But we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Low-income earners are more vulnerable than ever, and food banks are struggling to keep up with demand. We had 50,000 working families living in poverty before Covid-19 came along. More than 50% of renters and young people lived paycheck to paycheck. The big problem remains the cost of housing. House prices and rents have risen faster than incomes for a generation, and housing needs to be addressed urgently so we can all have a chance at a fair future.
- A Universal Basic Income (UBI). $250 per week for all Kiwis, no questions asked. Covid-19 has shown us the future; a weak and disrupted job market. A UBI and 33% flat tax would put cash in everyone’s pockets, simplify the tax and welfare system, and stimulate the economy. A UBI also honours the unpaid work of parents, carers, and volunteers. Kiwis could retrain, start new businesses, or take time to care for whānau without going under. It means entrepreneurs can start new ventures to create more jobs. A UBI is our best shot at future-proofing our society.
Hannah Tamaki – Vision NZ
- New Zealand needs to work to its strengths. We are geographically perfectly placed to have locked this virus out, as we are an island. We should not have hesitated to close our borders earlier.
- We not only need to be planning for the financial “fall-out” that Covid 19 will visit on individuals, families and our communities, but the emotional and spiritual “fall-out” for those who have lost, and are going to lose their jobs. We know it’s coming, and financial assistance is only part of a “best response”, what about our compassionate responsibility.
- Kiwis First. Kiwis are the first to be assisted to get home in the event of this happening again. Then we help other nationalities to return to their countries. Close the border and look after our own as any family in crisis would.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.