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Politicians have always used many ploys to divert people’s attention away from the real issues of the day –– from exaggerated perceptions of external aggression and internal instability to global economic turmoil. These ploys in the political playbook are handy for delaying decisive action on the tasks often piling up in any government’s too-hard basket.

However, sometimes, luckily for the government in power, providence provides the perfect opportunity for diverting the public’s attention from the burning issues of the day. The discovery of the Coronavirus Delta strain in New Zealand this week has given this government that perfect opportunity.

The government can now legitimately justify any delays in taking the hard decisions on the mounting issues in its too-hard basket including the status of migrants stuck both here in New Zealand and overseas, separated from families for close to two years now and the constricting shortages in the workforce, not to mention the education and tourism sectors.

Both the Prime Minister and her government have recently indicated that decisions about onshore migrants who have been in limbo for far too long were imminent in the coming weeks. But we can now safely assume that they will not be dealt with during the current lockdown, which will in all probability extend at least for a few weeks. After all, and rightly so, nothing can take precedence over the safety of New Zealanders.

The latest polls in the last fortnight just before the onset of the Delta variant on our shores have shown this government’s popularity plunging to a level that it cannot govern alone –– for the first time since it came to power about a year ago. Still very safe, with two years to go and the main opposition party in complete disarray, any drop in popularity would of concern to any politician worth their salt.

The sharp drop is not hard to explain. This government’s management of a range of issues has been less than optimal and there has been mounting criticism all around. The government hasn’t countered these criticisms effectively. It has tended to frame its response to every issue referencing the pandemic, just short of throwing up its hands helplessly.

Issues have languished with no end in sight mainly because of this government’s seeming intransigence and flip flops, particularly in such matters like immigration that has torn families asunder, driven qualified professionals like doctors in the country’s remote areas – where their services were critical – to greener pastures because of unconscionable delays in processing their immigration status. This intransigence has also caused a severe workforce shortage in a slew of industries and businesses have been crying hoarse over the issues, some even contemplating shutting shop.

Ditto is the case with the situation for New Zealand’s once-thriving education industry. It’s no surprise that country is fast losing its once cherished status as a favoured destination for international students to other countries.

It will be no surprise either if qualified professionals wishing to migrate to New Zealand go elsewhere because of our falling reputation as welcoming nation for qualified professionals. In fact, this is the exact demographic that this government claims it is targeting.

The pandemic is a reality of our time. Governments can no longer frame its responses using the pandemic as an excuse – rather they need to respond with the pandemic as a given. Just as businesses and professionals are learning to do.

The government has shown a lack of vision in developing a response to working in the reality of the pandemic. For instance, its Achille’s Heel is its quarantine system, but it has done nothing substantial in the precious months of its zero covid status to improve its workings. Its vaccination progress has been tardy with a woeful twenty-something percent of people jabbed as the Delta variant arrived.

And, while the government’s full attention is absolutely necessary on the current response to the Delta outbreak, it would do well to set up a timetable for dealing with the pending issues and taking clear and firm decisions on them, many of which are a matter of life and death for a growing number of New Zealanders – and not use this outbreak as another excuse to delay the hard decisions.

First appeared in Indian Weekender August 20, 2021