Duncan Garner: Why wait for the Budget when the COVID-19 crisis is now?

Opinion 09/03/2020

OPINION: Finance Minister Grant Robertson has come a long, long way from his days running the Otago Student Union.

He was in charge of organising alleged cultural events like toga and keg parties, which would run for days. He was in charge of antics and chaos with a $30,000 annual budget.

Now, suddenly Robertson is being called on to lead us through a coronavirus financial mess that threatens his $220 billion economy.

This will test him but he's not doing this alone.

We've been there before.

John Key's jobs' summit and response to the global financial meltdown. Been there done that, offered wage subsidies for workers, meaning many who would normally have lost their jobs in a brutal cull were kept on with a nine-day fortnight or four-day working week.

That was smart stuff and employers liked it too.

I expect a similar, if not exactly the same type of approach to be embraced when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Robertson announce a series of measures.

The first ideas will be floated on Monday. By Thursday we will see how deep this novel coronavirus has gone and how grave the concerns are for New Zealand's stuttering economy.

Robertson's last port of call is a meeting with all the CEOs of our major banks. They have hardly covered themselves in glory in recent months and surely the Government will urge them to go easy on businesses that are struggling. 

Lend as much as you can to keep people afloat but don't count on them doing too much.

I think Robertson should do a mini-Budget right now.

Why wait for the scheduled Budget when this crisis is now.

Fifty dead in Italy in 24 hours. Five with it here, maybe seven - we need the Government to act and the Government needs to be seen to be acting - and now.

Not in April, May, June or July. The need is now. Exporters are hurting and the pain needs to be addressed.

Mr Robertson, the floor is yours.

One thing though - why hasn't the Health Ministry taken out major ads in daily newspapers? Online? TV? Radio? Telling people how to avoid COVID-19? If they have, I haven't seen them. 

What are we waiting for?

Duncan Garner hosts The AM Show.