Opinion by Mark Knoff-Thomas: NZ we’re in a funk, but there’s light

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Thursday 21st July 2022

Some musings after talking to a wide range of business-people and putting some thoughts to paper.

It’s hard to know where to start. We had a government who offered a vision to fix things, build houses, beat down poverty, and bring a new style of politics. Their response to the Christchurch terror attack was a defining moment. The compassion was undeniable. They were gracious, kind, and powerful. They inspired many in those early days, with rousing speeches and “nuclear free moments”, and the vow to sort our climate change strategy. The Whakaari Island disaster was managed with aplomb. We bought into the initial Covid response by our government, they created such a strong sense of team, and we were all “in it together”.

We’d never seen anything like it.

We’d walk around during those early lockdown days and exchange reassuring nods with strangers, we didn’t mix bubbles, we obeyed rules with military compliance – we all knew what we had to do, and we were doing it, it was our game plan (and we all learnt to bake bread!).

The PM’s harshest critics would have watched her on US talk shows and felt some pride at how she eloquently represented our country. Her charm and humour and undeniable Kiwi self-deprecation, well, it has wowed the world. But despite all that, we’re not feeling all that flash. We’re in a funk. I think the impact of the past 2 years on our mental health, coupled with the state of geo-politics, inflation, crime, social issues, the labour crisis etc etc means we’ve hit rock bottom.

It’s fair to lay some of the blame for our woes on the doorstep of ‘outside influences’. Geopolitically things are at an historic low point, global supply chain issues are dire, the ramifications of the mixed responses to covid internationally have a long reach, climate issues abound - but many feel our government have poured their fair share of petrol on the fire. Almost everywhere you look, things have worsened.

Any government facing our cocktail of issues should wear this as a heavy cloak. No one can hide from the realities of NZ in 2022. We are seeing social issues like this country has never seen. Huge increases in people rough sleeping. People with mental health issues, who so desperately need care and attention - but there appears to be a total lack of support available for them. Town centres saw sudden spikes in anti-social behavioural issues as emergency housing took a grip on motels all over the place (a necessary response, but what is the end game?). Across the country we have seen random attacks of violence on retail staff. Ram raids and smash and grabs are occurring on a daily basis. Tagging is back like a dreaded revival of the 1980’s graffiti boom. These are things our small business owners experience on the ground every day. Unemployment is at historic lows, but it’s not cause for celebration, the labour market is broken. Businesses can’t recruit staff. Our current immigration policies appear to be choking productivity. We need thriving businesses to rebuild our economy. Now is really not the time to launch a new immigration philosophy. It’s quite astounding.

To be fair, the baggage that comes with being a politician is heavy. People who step up, regardless of their political colours, are needed, and we applaud that. It is a public service. But the desire to want to give to your country must be backed up with tangible skills and the ability to achieve results for the betterment of the country.

Ministers consistently raise the hackles of the business sector - often because they seem not to have a grasp on realities. Let it be law - any politician, at local or central government level must have completed at least five years in the private sector before they can even consider putting their hands up for public office! Words are performative, they don’t matter unless they are backed up with action and delivery.

But there is light. NZ is a robust land, we have weathered many storms – domestically and internationally, and will have to navigate many more in future. This special little country, blessed with natural assets, was built with a love of the land and sea, and with hard work and a dedicated spirit - this is what will set us right. We seem to have lost our underlying sense of positivity, for now. It’s winter - covid, the flu, colds - everything is raging, and the All Blacks lost the series! Spring isn’t far, the days are getting longer, the sun will still come out, the world will keep turning. We are good at talking ourselves down, but we can equally talk ourselves back up again. The world has seen better days, NZ has seen better days. But there are many worse places to be than here. However we shouldn’t settle for a degradation of our society, we all have to work hard to get it back.

See you here soon

Mark Knoff-Thomas