So the day after the Budget, the question is: what do we do now?
Yesterday, we spent a lot of money to keep the lights on.
But the money can’t roll out forever, so what do we do now to keep those lights burning?
Seems to me the government needs to find a way to make this new normal work for us as a country reliant on international trade, which has got mean, as a priority, opening the border.
We need people to be able to come into this country again. I’m not talking about tourism. That’s a long term goal. I’m talking about tertiary students and migrants. These are people who’ll be coming to live in the New Zealand for months or years, so a couple of weeks in quarantine is not a huge sacrifice in the scheme of things.
Start with the tertiary students.
Our universities are financially gutted by the loss of international students. They and others who care are trying desperately to come up with plans: quarantine facilities for students, charter flights out of Shanghai. They just need a yes from the government.
This is an industry worth $5 billion to the country. That’s money we could use right now to (a) pay back the debt we’re racking up and (b) stop job losses and shrinkage at the universities.
Then we have the migrants and skilled workers.
If we’re going to construct $20 billion-worth of projects - from roads to state houses – we’re going to need the workers for it.
Kiwis are not going to fill those jobs fast enough. The shovels need to hit the ground now, and we’re already short of workers.
Just look at what’s happened to Transmission Gully in Wellington. A 7 week lockdown’s led to a year’s delay in the project in part because swarms of the job’s contractors went home to Australia at the start of this pandemic and now can’t get back here.
Pumping out fully-qualified Kiwi workers takes 3 to 4 years. So, if we want this work done in a hurry, we’re going to have to bring people in from offshore again.
We’ve been relying on international students and international workers to pump our economy for years.
There is no way we’ll be coming out of this without those people.
And the good news is that finding a solution is not expensive. In fact, universities and work places and migrants themselves can foot most of the bill for the two week quarantine. That simple solution is a tiny spend when you compare it to what rolled yesterday .
It won’t cost $50 billion and it’ll be worth every dollar.