It was fascinating to hear Winston Peters in conversation with Mike Hosking today.
It’s been easy to forget with the extraordinary powers granted to Ashley Bloomfield, the Director of Civil Defence and the Police Commissioner to make decisions. Decisions which are then enacted by the Cabinet and sold to us by the Prime Minister and Finance Minister. That Winston is still Deputy PM, Foreign Minister and the leader of a party separate to Labour.
That gives him insight. He’s got a dog in the fight, along with a different point of view.
While he’s made some headlines with the trans-Tasman bubble, this is obviously just an aspirational goal rather than a hook to hang your hat on. As Mike pointed out this morning there’s no way that Scott Morrison is looking at flights between Queenstown and Sydney when Australians still can’t fly from Melbourne to Brisbane for a holiday in the sun.
You get the feeling that was always a diversion to keep us fantasising about the happier future to come.
Conversation then turned to debate about when we can reduce our alert level. While Winston said that he would never break the confidentiality of cabinet debate, you were also left in no doubt that he is advocating for a reduction. And that’s reassuring. With Cabinet having all the power in rule setting right now, it is good to know that there is a plurality of voices around the table.
He also gave an indication that nothing will change until May 11th. Which is exactly what Ardern said in parliament yesterday in response to Simon Bridges asking why she didn’t consider it every day.
Mike then asked why we shouldn’t reduce the limitations on business to be more like Australia. To which Winston said that Australia is not as open as you might like to think, which Mike didn’t challenge. Winston then said to come back in eight days and compare Australia and New Zealand then. Which also gave me hope that things are changing next week for the better.
But it also made me wonder just how free Australia is right now. It’s a popular perception that they’ve been freer to trade than us. So I’ve been checking this morning.
The first thing to remember is that Australia is a Commonwealth. The federal government makes guidelines and restrictions, but how they’re applied varies between each state.
So the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia are much freer than us but then again they have had much fewer cases and the presumption is because of their climate and low population density.
But the rest of the States are much like we are in Level 3 and have been for as long as we have been in lockdowns. New South Wales urged retail to stay open while simultaneously urging people to only leave the house for food and essential services. Sydneysiders may be buying cars but malls and the CBDs are just as empty as ours
Big Box retail is still marginally open is some states but they report that most business has moved online and people are wary of going out and trade is heavily down.
Today, the ABC has reported that 1 million Australians are out of work because of the virus. Analysing payroll data from the tax office, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found the number of jobs slumped by 7.5 per cent between March 14 and April 18.
The data only measures those workers on the payroll of their employer, of which there are about 10 million in Australia. The presumption is that level of carnage will also be seen amongst the self employed and contractors.
The point is that Australia is not markedly better off economically than us because some States were more lenient. It’s also worth remembering that at the start of this pandemic, Australia had a debt level over 40% compared to us at 20. So we’re better placed to provide stimulus.
I heard a talkback caller the other day saying that the Covid debates have been full of comparisons between oranges and apples and I think that’s true.
But, in my humble opinion, weighing up all the pros and cons, I’d rather be in New Zealand than Australia, now and in the future.