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For all the many demands on the public purse and the myriad societal issues that confront New Zealand, it should be a very short list.
The Government’s Covid-19 response is the bedrock upon which the foundation of its remaining work must be based.
As new strains of Covid-19 bedevil the world and people die from the pandemic disease in record numbers, New Zealand sails blissfully on at Alert Level 1.
It is the Government’s first and foremost priority to ensure we can continue to live our lives free from the turmoil most other countries are being forced to endure.
Opposition leaders have tried to start a political stoush this week about the seemingly slow roll-out of a Covid-19 vaccination programme in New Zealand, but those demands miss a fundamental point.
Vaccination is a secondary defence, of use only if New Zealand’s border security is breached and Covid-19 is once more transmitted within the community.
Extending pre-flight testing to passengers from almost all countries, as announced earlier this week, will be an added complication for travellers, but is a reasonable imposition given what is at stake.
Australia and most Pacific islands remain outside that requirement, raising hopes that the long-mooted transtasman and Pacific bubbles might eventuate.
While tourism operators are keen and separated families are desperate for that to happen, caution should be the watchword here given events overseas.
Keeping Covid-19 confined within managed isolation and quarantine is New Zealand’s primary defence, and the Government must put all resources necessary — including Covid-19 vaccinations — into maintaining the Alert Level 1 status quo.
Should that task be accomplished, the Government can then turn the page and look at its next priority, New Zealand’s economic recuperation.
Thanks in no small part to Covid-19 lockdowns being — one ardently hopes — a thing of the past, New Zealand’s economy is in much better shape than predicted in last year’s Budget.
However, ‘‘better’’ in this context means not as bad as expected, and should not disguise the fact that in any other context the Government’s books would be in very bad shape indeed.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s task is to ensure economic activity remains high, that the promised infrastructure projects are rolled out and actually provide employment for those whose jobs were casualties of Covid-19, and that debt repayment obligations remain manageable and do not require additional taxation to be met.
He must also keep the Government’s Covid-19 emergency fund siloed off in case it needs to be called upon again: with the greater risk of transmission from the new strains of the disease, combatting any fresh community outbreak will almost certainly be a more complex task than controlling last year’s outbreaks.
Speaking of complex tasks, unravelling the tangled web of the housing market must figure highly among the Government’s priorities.
Summer headlines have been dominated by yet more record house prices, and New Zealand sits poised between its traditional expectation that everyone will be able to own a home and the modern reality that a life spent renting may be the only option for many of this generation.
The market stubbornly resists any attempt to talk prices down, and neither the Reserve Bank or Government have found an economic tool.
Having once been bitten, by KiwiBuild, in its attempts to solve what is accepted as a housing crisis, the Government cannot afford to be bitten again — but neither can it be shy of tackling the problem.
Thursday’s public housing plan announcement sounded good, but was largely a restatement of previous Budget commitments: more will need to be done to address the issue.
Add in the demands of all other portfolios — health, education, energy, climate change and environment are among those with urgent priorities to be resolved — and the Government will have plenty of issues to confront it in 2021.
However, Ms Ardern and her Cabinet must not allow themselves to be distracted from their first priority, for few of the others can be addressed from the confines of Covid-10 Alert Level 4 lockdown.