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There’s one thing we Aucklanders can be absolutely certain about: the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel is red – and we will know on November 29 from the Beehive’s all-knowing red busy bees for how long we will be left staring at that red light.

The traffic metaphor does not end with red, orange and green lights. This government’s road to most things that matter – whether pandemic related or not – is riddled with potholes, U turns and roadblocks. As each week passes, it appears to be intent on running ever so rough shod over every issue in its path. New Zealand today is a nanny state on steroids.

It has long thrown out the window the very hallowed values of kindness and transparency which swept it to power ––except if you see the gratuitous billion plus dollars pumped into people’s wallets every week as some purported act of kindness. Also, with its new traffic light system it risks criticism of ‘vaccine apartheid’, dividing the team of five million into jabbed-therefore-jobbed and jabless-therefore-jobless, as it were.

Infinitely more meaningful would have been to invest, not throw away, those billions on shoring up and future proofing health infrastructure with equipment and personnel to deal with the succession of pandemics that are expected in the years ahead –or build a permanent solution to quarantining instead of persisting with the leaky, unfit-for-purpose system that brought in Delta in the first place.

At a time when the world is opening up learning to live with Covid, New Zealand remains completely shut, borders hermetically sealed. If all this while Kiwis stuck outside could not come home to their own homeland because of this government’s incredibly muddled border control regimes and broken MIQ system, Kiwis here can’t and won’t step out of the country because they don’t know when they can return. You’re forgiven if you said Auckland feels like Pyongyang.

India has jabbed a billion people, is delivering vaccines to its remotest regions with drones and has a range of techniques to test for Covid. Citizens get their digital vaccine certificates delivered to their mobile devices as soon as they are double vaccinated – and with that certification they are welcomed into Europe, UK and the USA without having to quarantine at these destinations. And New Zealand continues to keep India on its ‘high risk countries’ list.

One thing this government has done extremely efficiently is stop-gapping and buying time with levels, stages and traffic lights on its way out of Covid. Every time it sees public fatigue to some of the world’s severest restrictions, it announces some new system that only ends up perpetuating those very restrictions for a few more weeks if not months, with no demonstrable achievements or actions such as strengthening medical infrastructure or the MIQ system.

On other matters, too, this government has U turned and roadblocked with metronomic regularity. In the run up to COP-26, which happens this week, it released a discussion document that proposed allowing for more greenhouse gas emissions over the four years to 2025, postponing decisively engaging with New Zealand’s gigantic agriculture and primary industries sector, by far the country’s biggest polluter – spewing 91 percent of biogenic methane emissions. This casts a bleak shadow on New Zealand’s long-standing “clean & green” claims and seriously jeopardises its carefully cultivated brand over several decades.

And this week, it did another sudden, spectacular U turn on the Three Waters plan ramming the legislation with no opt-out clause for councils that did not want a bar of it, contrary to what it had proposed earlier. The government seems to have grossly underestimated the intensity of opposition to its plan, which does not portend well for its leadership.

Finally, the government’s Covid Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill also had a provision that smacked of high-handedness, giving it powers to adjourn local elections multiple times without constraint citing pandemic constraints. The opposition was fortunately successful in forcing the government to drop that clause.

The government would do well to remember that this is a team of five million – not a gang of five million.

Happy Diwali!

First appeared in The Indian Weekender dated 29 October 2021