By Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance.
OPINION: As we head towards Alert Level 3 it’s a good time to take stock of how well New Zealand has done in the fight against COVID-19. I think we can all be proud of what we have done as a team of five million to break the chain of transmission, save lives and put ourselves in a strong position to restart the economy.
The best economic response was always a strong public health response. Getting the virus under control now means we can get back to normal sooner. If we look around the world other countries who acted too slowly to get a lockdown in place face longer periods with restrictions in place or further periods of economic disruption as restrictions come off, only to be put back on again.
As any good tradie will tell you - do it once and do it right.
As a Government we acted quickly when we saw the pandemic take hold overseas – we did this to protect our people, their jobs, their businesses and our economy.
The Wage Subsidy scheme was open for applications on March the 17th, more than a week before the country went to Alert Level 4. Since then the Wage Subsidy scheme has paid out over $10 billion dollars to more than 1.6 million workers. To put this into context, that sum of money is more than all the new spending planned for in this term of government.
We put this safety net in place for as many Kiwis as we could. Keeping workers in jobs or connected to their employers during the lockdown will mean we are all in a better position to kickstart the economy on the other side of this health crisis.
I’m not going to sugar-coat what is happening to the global economy – it’s not going to be pretty, but I want to assure New Zealanders that this Government has their backs.
We went into COVID-19 in a strong economic position - our economy was already outperforming many of our global counterparts, so we were in a better place to begin with.
Our careful management of the Government books by running surpluses and paying back debt has given us the room we needed to be able to pay the billions of dollars in support for businesses, workers and their families that we have already provided – and will continue to provide.
We know as a Government we won't be able to save every job and every business, but we are doing everything we can to try. I recognise that this is a hard time for many, but we will get through this and back on our feet.
As we move into Level 3, more parts of our productive economy will open up, including construction, forestry and manufacturing. This will provide a real boost to these workers and communities.
The Government has already been working hard behind the scenes to make sure we have a strong list of infrastructure projects above and beyond the $12 billion investment in roads, rail and public transport we announced back in January. This is to make sure we’re doing our bit to invest in the future of the economy and give that certainty to our construction industry.
As we plan for this, it’s worth thinking about what you would like our economy to look like. New Zealanders are adaptable, creative people who think outside the box. I know that as we emerge from this lockdown and kickstart the economy again, Kiwis will come up with innovative ideas on how to make the most of the situation.
Together we will support each other to get through this, and have the chance to re-build our economy.
Grant Robertson is Minister of Finance.