South Island’s plight: the pressure is on

Judith Collins
Judith Collins

Jacinda Ardern
Jacinda Ardern

 

1, 2. 1, 2. 1, 1, 2, 2. 1, 2. No, not a sound check prior to a concert - it is the sound of National, Labour and Act New Zealand squabbling about what Covid-19 alert level the South Island should be at.

There has been a rumbling of discontent in the opposition ranks for some weeks now about the South Island - which has not had a community transmission case of Covid-19 since May last year - remaining at Level 2.

Back at the start of September, just after the step down to Level 3, Act leader David Seymour was already calling for the South Island to be, at least, at Level 2.

Three weeks later all National’s South Island MPs banded together to write an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, which called for a reversion to Level 1.

Their leader Judith Collins has followed up with parliamentary questions on the issue, and despite the distractions of surging case numbers in Auckland and a potential outbreak in Waikato, the Press Gallery has started to ask the question too.

The rumbling became a roar this week as, in rapid succession, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean called for Ms Ardern to consider the South’s plight, National issued its Back in Business Covid recovery plan, backed by a general debate speech by Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse, and Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds sent forth another blast demanding the Southland economy be thought about at the Cabinet table.

All along, Labour has been consistent in its response to the matter: it only took one case for Auckland to be in the predicament it finds itself in today and the Government does not wish to see a single case turn up in the South Island - a real possibility given there remains significant travel across Cook Strait.

But not enough traffic to sustain southern businesses struggling to survive the effects of the pandemic.

As a resort area, Queenstown Lakes is more immediately hit by an economic downturn than the wider South Island, but it is a fair bet that the stone thrown into its waters by the Covid-19 lockdown is rippling outwards to affect others.

In its June quarter economic indicator, Infometrics recorded a 1.9% drop in regional GDP and a 7.2% drop in employment for the preceding 12 months - and bear in mind that this was before a ski season devoid entirely of Australian and other overseas visitors and mostly without Aucklanders hitting the slopes.

Kiritapu Allan
Kiritapu Allan

The recent school holidays will have provided a very slight hike in domestic tourism, but almost certainly not enough to influence the thoughts of businesses wondering whether it is worth struggling on.

As organisers of summer events consider whether or not to cancel, the Government yesterday offered a faint ray of hope with its new Covid-19 protection framework ... but only a faint one.

Alert levels will soon be a thing of the past, to be replaced by a traffic light system which sets out what activities, by how many, are permitted depending on how many cases of Covid-19 are kicking around at the time.

 Ingrid Leary
Ingrid Leary
But, and it is a big but, the whole thing is dependent on New Zealand reaching a 90% or better rate of double-vaccination by November 29, when Cabinet will decide if the country is ready for the system to be implemented.

Ms Ardern did remain open to the possibility that the South Island could enter this brave new world earlier, should all the island’s DHBs meet the 90% target before the five-week timeframe, but at current rates - the West Coast, for example, is at 60% and Canterbury at 62% - that seems a forlorn hope.

Act was quickly on to this point, claiming that as things stand all yesterday’s announcement did was set the date for the prime minister’s next big announcement.

National, which in its launch this week set its vaccination percentage target at 85%, said Labour’s target could take months to achieve and highly vaccinated areas such as, say, the Southern District Health Board, faced being held to ransom by other places slower to roll up sleeves and get jabbed.

In the meantime, in the breathing room it has bought itself, Labour will be hoping the carrot it has now dangled in front of the unvaccinated, of whom there are still many thousands, will be enough for it to be able to ease restrictions before Christmas.

It is a high-stakes gamble, and one which could easily backfire if case numbers, 129 yesterday and with every sign they will continue to climb, get out of control.

Labour will then be damned by the Opposition and will have to hope its likely counterpunch, that if National and Act had had their way we would have been in this predicament much earlier, resonates with the electorate.

Blast from the past

Nicola Grigg. Photo: supplied
Nicola Grigg

The Protection of Journalists' Sources Bill - a piece of legislation we are keenly interested in around here - had its first reading on Wednesday.

It is something of a pass the parcel Bill: it started its life nurtured by former Dunedin South Labour MP Clare Curran, was adopted by her colleague Louisa Wall, but on Wednesday had to be introduced by Ginny Anderson due to the Covid-19 enforced absence of Ms Wall.

National Selwyn MP Nicola Grigg, a former journalist and press secretary, made a thoughtful speech in support, in which Labour Taieri MP Ingrid Leary - a former journalist herself - made a cameo appearance.

‘‘I was just about to launch into the huge presumption that I was likely the only journalist in this chamber, and then Ingrid Leary walked in, so I can no longer assume that position,’’ Ms Grigg said.

Rachel Brooking. Photo: ODT files
Rachel Brooking

Political divisions

The eagle-eyed will have spotted a split in Labour’s ranks on Tuesday, when Dunedin Labour list MP Rachel Brooking quizzed Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan about recent announcements about kea protection.

Ms Brooking asked the minister to reveal which bird, or bat, she was backing for Forest and Bird's 2021 Bird of the Year competition.

Ms Allan is in the kea camp, but careful examination of Ms Brooking’s jacket revealed a brooch with a pekapeka or long-tailed bat, a controversial non-avian entrant in the annual competition, on her lapel.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

 

Comments

An interesting piece from Mr Houlahan especially on the Covid 19 alert level for the South Island. As he points out the Govt attitude to this has remained consistent throughout and the it is based on sound scientific evidence and advice. Against this we have the opposition, ably lad by David Seymour, clamoring and stirring for a removal of restrictions. Of course they are, It's their job to oppose. They don't care that the virus would rip through the South Island like a dose of salts, they're only interested in gaining a few more party votes from the South at the next election.
You can bet that when the current alert level is reduced and the virus floods the south Island, and it will, they'll be the same ones blaming the Govt for a cavalier and uncaring attitude toward the South.
Stick with the science NZ, all of you.

Ably lad??? Like a dose of salts??? You have no idea what you are talking about! The south island should have been isolated from the north? The science shows the vaccine reduces the impact of the disease, it doesn't prevent it! As long as people from the north can travel to the south, we are at risk. That's a whole of government problem not an "ably lad" problem. Get you facts straight and stop shrilling for labour! COVID is indescreminate in who gets infected. There is no party lines. Stop already with the partisan finger pointing, the entire government is to blame! Buck up mate! I for one am sick of the partisan posts!!!

The 'Ably lad' was David Seymour.

Saying "Covid doesn't discriminate" is not non partisan.

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