Free Press, 2 May 2022

Mon, 02 May, 2022

The Haps 

ACT’s Real Change tour has been an astonishing success. The largest crowd was 350 in Christchurch with Tauranga not far behind. The record, though, has to go to Pauanui, a town with a resident population of 1,100 where organisers counted 146 people, or 13 per cent of the population at an ACT meeting in a non-election year! Cameron Luxton’s campaign surges on in Tauranga. When Tova O’Brien asked Cam if he might get votes because of his name, he pointed out the National Party leader might benefit from being confused with himself. He is a class act and the distinctive voice Tauranga needs.

The Island Curse 

Free Press has been puzzled by a Newshub poll in early February. It asked "Would you support a lockdown if there is an Omicron outbreak?” 48 per cent said yes, 46 per cent said no (not sure about the other six per cent).

Think about the context for a moment. New Zealand by that time was one of the most vaccinated places on earth. The Omicron variant was clearly more infectious but much less virulent than Delta. It had broken through MIQ and, as the Chinese are now finding, cannot be stopped by even the strictest lockdowns. A lockdown would not be effective, and every country except China had moved on from them.

It would, however, add to the enormous pain lockdowns had caused. Missed cancer screenings and operations. Kids missing school. Small businesses in the tank and their owners struggling with mental health. Billions of borrowed and printed money used to fund lockdowns were (and still are) coming back to bite us as inflation in the cost of everything.

Bear in mind, that lockdowns imply closed borders. There’s not a lot of point in locking down to stop COVID if new people keep arriving to reseed it. There’s not much point visiting a country where you have to go and stay in one building for an unknown period.

How could nearly half of New Zealanders want another lockdown, even as the pandemic entered its third year?

One answer is fear. The Government has used fear throughout the pandemic, and has found it difficult to abandon COVID measures after telling people they would die from a killer virus without them. Fear is at least some of the explanation, but we wonder if there is not something else going on, something that explains that poll result.

We believe it might be that a sizeable portion of New Zealanders have different priorities. Yes, the reasoning goes, lockdowns are destructive. But in some ways, they’re kind of nice.  Everything slows down, you can enjoy staying home, focus on cooking and working on the house.

If all those big wigs and shiny bums who want to fly around and build things like businesses get taken down a peg, all the better! We didn’t all move here for the rat race. Those people can go to Sydney, Singapore, and London.

On this view the poll makes sense, and gives an insight into a tension at the heart of our nation. Most places that are geographically like New Zealand are island paradises with not much going on. Think Greece, Cuba, Fiji. Lovely to visit, but not great if you have ambition or need healthcare.

Among the world’s picturesque island nations with nice climates, New Zealand is an outlier. We, or at least some of us, want to be like Singapore. An Island that is not idyllic, but very successful. A country that’s gone from twice as poor to twice as rich as New Zealand in a couple of generations. 

But many New Zealanders don’t. They’d rather live in an idyllic island paradise, and a few weeks stuck at home is closer to their preferred pace of life. For them, a lockdown is as good as a holiday.

In a sense, every Labour policy is like a lockdown. More tax, more regulation, co-governance, compulsory unionism. It all drags New Zealand down to one-size-fits-all mediocrity where it’s harder to make tomorrow better than today through your own efforts. Comforting if you’re here for a good time, infuriating if you want to make a difference.

The poll result highlights a tension at the heart of our nation and a wrestle for its soul.

The pull of geography would make New Zealand a nice place to visit, so long as you can leave. Half the country don’t care if the Government locks us down, and it shows those of us who want a prosperous first world country filled with opportunities will have to work very hard up to the next election.