Building our way out of the COVID-19 crisis

Opinion 09/04/2020

By the Hon. Shane Jones, NZ First List MP and Minister for Infrastructure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created both a medical and an economic emergency in New Zealand. Closing our borders and placing our entire country is necessary to protect the health of our citizens but it comes at a cost to our economy.

Key major industries like tourism and hospitality and international education have been significantly impacted. Small and medium businesses forced to close during the lockdown are taking huge financial hits too.

Workers have either been axed from their jobs or have seen their pay diminish as a result of this economic upheaval. We’ve got 300,000 Kiwis potentially facing unemployment – a level of joblessness that my generation never saw, despite growing up under Rogernomics.

These include jobs in the construction industry, as building projects have been stopped due to the alert level 4 lockdown. Critical highway maintenance and emergency roadworks are still happening but all new projects have been halted and many face an uncertain future as we navigate our way through this COVID-19 crisis.

It is imperative that the infrastructure sector is enabled to help ease the brakes on this fiscal downturn as soon as practicable. As Infrastructure Minister, I see a massive opportunity for us to bring forward nation-building projects and streamline our ability to execute them in a timely manner. 

This needs to happen to help build our way out of an economic crisis. Minister Phil Twyford and I have asked industry leaders to identify shovel-ready projects that can commence as soon as possible.

Government is investigating what extraordinary powers may need to be used to fast-track such projects. Ministers will soon make decisions about how best to repurpose the Provincial Growth Fund into projects that are better placed to stimulate our regional economies in this new normal we all face.

We are looking at projects that will enhance productivity, allow our key industries to expand and create jobs.

As provincial champions, New Zealand First will continue to advocate for our regions, particularly during these tough economic times. Embarking on wide-scale building projects will help our regions and benefit the country as a whole as well.

None of this will be a worthwhile exercise if bureaucratic red tape impedes implementation. The Resource Management Act needs to be daylighted to ensure excessive regulations do not hamper our economic recovery plan. Building infrastructure will pump money into the economy, create jobs and provide training opportunities.

New Zealand First will ensure we don’t squander the opportunities that are often borne out of crisis.