In his column for the Herald, Sir Ian Taylor claimed the Government was going on holiday at a dangerous time in the fight against Covid-19. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson responds.
As you know, I have long admired your work. You are a world leader in your field, and have taken a small Dunedin-based company to incredible heights. That is why the emotion I feel on reading your article on the weekend is simply great sadness.
Let's start at the beginning. You have taken the final words of the Prime Minister's speech during the Parliamentary adjournment debate totally out of context. You write that she is telling politicians and decision-makers that they should take a break. That is not what she said. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you did not see or hear what she actually said.
So, let's take a look at the final paragraph of her speech: "But let me finish where I started, and it is by thanking Kiwis. It's been hard. People have been weary, but Kiwis have done what it takes to put us in the best possible position to keep moving, to take on whatever comes next. And I, for one, will never underestimate New Zealanders. So to everyone, I wish you a wonderful break. You bloody deserve it!"
The Prime Minister is thanking all New Zealanders for the sacrifice and commitment they have made on getting us through 2021. A year that we finish with 90 per cent of our eligible population vaccinated, putting us in the top 20 countries in the world for vaccination rates.
As you note yourself, this has not been without costs. There are no costless decisions with Covid, but we finish the year with the lowest death rate from Covid in the developed world. We have approximately one death per 100,000 people. This compares to eight in Australia, 52 in Denmark, 118 in Ireland, 220 in the UK, and 245 in the USA. Is that not worth some celebration? Some consideration that perhaps, despite all your criticisms, the Government must have done something right?
Back to your leading accusation. Parliament has finished sitting for the year, but that does not mean the end of work for the Government. The Prime Minister, myself and other senior ministers will be working through the summer, as will countless officials. While I accept it's fair to criticise some of the decisions that we have made, I will not accept an accusation of lack of hard work.
Everyone has put energy into fighting Covid - frontline health and border workers, business owners, MPs from all political parties, ministers, officials and everyday New Zealanders. That is exactly the point the PM was making - everyone has worked hard.
Ian, I know you are frustrated that what you say with respect to Covid does not automatically happen. There are a lot of reasons for that - some legitimate and some you may well be right to be frustrated about. We should continue to work together to find solutions to the problems Covid throws at us.
What I do know is that at the end of this year New Zealanders can be proud of an economy that has coped better than most. As a Government, we invested in our businesses and our people and as a result, New Zealand's economy has been resilient and robust through this global economic crisis. We have low unemployment, solid economic growth across the year (notwithstanding the last quarter) and prospects for a strong recovery.
We are as well-positioned as anyone to take on Omicron, in part because of the MIQ that you deride so much as well as the health system that continues to roll out our vaccination programme.
I have reflected often over the last two years on what matters the most when we are faced with a global pandemic that is killing millions across the globe. And I can just cope with the enormous stress of this situation by knowing that we have done everything we can to keep New Zealanders alive. That is the basic duty of Government, and we have not wavered for one moment from that.