New Zealand is in danger of missing out

The weather has been nasty lately, but there’s no mistaking a change of seasons is imminent: the daffodils are coming up and Auckland has welcomed its first cruise ship in two and a half years!

P&O’s Pacific Explorer brought around 1,000 passengers to the city with money to spend. Unfortunately, our hospitality sector was hardly in a position to maximise the benefits, as crippling staff shortages have meant many cafés and restaurants are running with restricted opening times.

The President of Carnival and P&O Cruises said: “Cruising in our part of the world is experiencing a strong rebound; much better than elsewhere.”

But are we ready for a resurgent cruising industry? Nowhere near it. Across the Tasman there’s been an aggressive campaign to attract working holiday makers since January, but our government has only now launched its new plan for the Working Holiday Visa.

Despite the evidence that New Zealand’s post-Covid rebound was being strangled by government complacency, Labour refused to act. When Immigration Minister, Michael Wood, was questioned about the staffing challenges in hospitality he said: "Employers in sectors that continue to pay low wages with insecure working conditions also need to consider what changes they will make to be genuinely attractive places to work."

Minister Wood chose to ignore the fact that unemployment is at an incredibly low 3.2%. At that level every industry is crying out for staff, not just hospitality. Healthcare workers, engineers, and workers for the primary industries are all in short supply.

Tourists are making their own beds, aged care vacancies are at record levels and in June The NZ Herald reported a shortage of over 4,000 nurses throughout the country. There are also about 400 bus drivers missing from Auckland’s roads. This isn’t just about whether you will be able to get a flat white at your favourite café; every employment sector in the country is struggling.

The point is, we all knew that Covid lockdowns wouldn’t last forever; eventually the border would open and we would all be rewarded for playing our part during the pandemic. Well the world is opening up and we’ve been left behind. So what’s Labour’s Plan B – more tax payer-funded bailouts instead of the vibrant economy that’s really needed?

The government has had plenty of time to develop a strategy for a post-pandemic economic resurgence. They knew that businesses had barely made it through the lockdowns and that they needed the cash to start flowing as soon as possible. Business owners large and small needed a plan similar to Australia’s at the start of the year, not a half-hearted approach at this late stage.

Labour’s politicians have let all of us down. The economy has been abandoned while the government has expended valuable time on local government changes that are still dead in the water.

Ensuring New Zealand was ready for a world that’s opening up should have been a key government focus and a core element of planning for a resurgent economy. Imagine how we could be leading the world right now if Labour had seized that opportunity.