Armed with the knowledge that managing Covid-19 in New Zealand is now a long-haul project, it is time for the Government to re-think its approach to the border.

As possibly the last place on earth to get any kind of mass population vaccination coverage – we don’t even have a plan for that yet – we cannot have the level of border closure we’ve got indefinitely.

Flexibility and clever thinking need to replace rigidity and rules that don’t always make sense. Appropriate levels of risk profiling need to be applied.

I do not want to start a barrage from concerned citizens saying we must keep our country closed off from the rest of the world for as long as it takes. We hear quite enough from them every day in the media.

I do want to start a conversation about the very real economic pain that is coming in 2021 as a result of a border closed for one, two, three years, or more.

We can both protect the New Zealand population and allow more people into the country, if we consider we are protecting the population from death and from overwhelming the public health system, not from the odd case of Covid-19 in the community. New Zealand is very good at contact tracing and shutting down any small outbreaks that might occur.

If you believed everything you read, you’d think we were being over-run by the sick from overseas. In fact, between March 2020 and December 2020 the number of people leaving New Zealand was 122,902 greater than the number of people coming into New Zealand (New Zealand Customs Services passenger statistics). We are losing population, not gaining.

We should also note the people coming into New Zealand are mostly New Zealanders, who by law, have every right to do so.

I know there are many people who will love that statistic because they think we can subsistence live in New Zealand. However, we are a trading nation and we need a regular flow of people and goods to maintain our standard of living. We also need people with different skill levels to power the productive elements of our economy. The truth is that the people departing from our shores are probably the very ones who will pick and box the fruit, oversee the COF of a truck, or be a retail worker. 

The flows of goods and people are being seriously impacted by the New Zealand Government’s stance. We have compounding supply chain issues that New Zealanders will be starting to see as they notice shortages, or no supply at all, of goods across the board.

We need to be focused on improving our ability to export and import, not slowing it down further and naively believing we can be self-sufficient. We need more people with skills than are currently available in New Zealand. Those people need to come from overseas.

Plenty of shade has been thrown at Ports of Auckland, as one of the main ports for goods coming into and out of New Zealand, regarding delays to the flow of freight. But to reach maximum capacity, Ports of Auckland need more skilled workers, particularly crane operators. Those skilled workers need to come from overseas.

This is not a situation that can be fixed by redeploying currently unemployed New Zealanders.

This is work that can take up to 18 months to acquire the training and skills to be competent in.

Importing a small number of experienced crane operators to work at Ports of Auckland would have an immediate impact on the supply chain by relieving the current extreme shortage of workers and the resulting congestion.

New Zealand needs to adopt a pragmatic approach to immigration if we are to trade our way out of the economic pain caused by Covid-19 around the world. We need our best “number 8 wire” innovative thinkers on the job to address our supply chain issues given our low population, distant location, and relatively small contribution to global markets.

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