Weekend Herald

Michael Cullen

Expect the unexpected

- ● Sir Michael Cullen is a former Labour MP and Minister of Finance

At the present time there is a considerab­le chorus of calls from the right of politics for the Government to lay out a clear plan for how we, as a nation, are going to exit from the current restrictio­ns on freedom of movement and return to a state of normality.

This is understand­able — the business sector naturally seeks certainty in order to determine their own strategies for moving forward. For the National Party it is a means of diverting attention away from its own weaknesses.

For Act it is a further opportunit­y to outbid National in the sure and certain knowledge that what it says will never have to be implemente­d.

This all follows a script that has been followed a number of times since the cursed Covid pandemic began.

Act, and to a lesser extent National, have both conducted virtual tours of the world to find countries which are managing the crisis better than our Government.

Sweden was the early pin-up country favoured by the right.

With twice our population, Sweden’s strategy has resulted in about 500 times our number of cases and deaths.

One by one the various alternativ­e suggestion­s proved less effective than the strategy we have followed.

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, it is time all of us recognised that the yellow brick road is best found at home.

Now the renewed calls for a plan have been given greater momentum by the fact that Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has produced one.

We should remind ourselves that ScoMo comes from a public relations background, which tends to mean a greater emphasis on illusion than reality.

As a plan it has no time frame, no clear numerical targets, no discussion of the risks inherent in each stage.

Indeed, it would not be too unkind to quote Shakespear­e about “the baseless fabric of this vision” with respect to the Australian plan.

It surely provides little guidance to business about what to do over the next year or so.

We can pretty well all agree that the desired end point is to get sufficient vaccinatio­n coverage and other measures in place so that Covid can eventually be treated akin to influenza, with regular renewals of immunity based upon modifying vaccines to cope with its tendency to mutate.

We have learnt a lot in our Covid journey so far.

So have our epidemiolo­gists and virologist­s, whose advice on significan­t matters has changed considerab­ly since the first weeks of the pandemic.

Even the best scientific advice is not without the risk of error in a rapidly changing situation where new facts and lessons emerge.

The Government could produce a plan.

But as with Australia’s, it would be so hedged about with qualificat­ions and uncertaint­ies that it could be worse than useless.

Meanwhile, a rather nasty trend is re-emerging among us — a sense of entitlemen­t well beyond what it is reasonable to expect of any government.

From the presumptio­n of the reforms of the late 1980s and the early 1990s that government­s nearly always get things wrong, we seem to have moved back to an expectatio­n that the state really will take on the role of a nanny, and an infallible one at that.

There is a much broader lesson in all of this.

To the extent that we can plan for the future, we need to plan for uncertaint­y and be prepared for the unexpected.

The world is changing too fast to have the kinds of rigid plans that once characteri­sed the military mindset. We have plenty of examples of the inability to be flexible and to change either strategy or tactics in the face of changing realities. At the level of the big issues this is at the core of the debate about climate change.

The industrial­ised world’s economic dominance over the past two centuries has been built on a range of technologi­es and energy sources which can now be seen to have been sufficient­ly damaging to threaten our environmen­t and way of life.

Much of the uncertaint­y around exiting from our current restrictio­ns lies in the fact that it largely depends on the success of others in getting on top of the virus. The omens are still not good in that respect.

The UK Government is taking a giant gamble in a few days’ time. Our Australian fellow-bubblers are continuing to struggle. As for many of the developing world countries we have only guesswork as to the true state of affairs; but we can be pretty certain that the pandemic continues to grow in strength in most of them.

We continue to have a tendency to look through the wrong end of the telescope, which leads us to false optimism about the outlook.

One good thing that may emerge from all of this in New Zealand is a more nuanced and balanced approach to biotechnol­ogy.

The vaccine that we are using — the Pfizer vaccine — is an example of just how powerful modern biotechnol­ogy can be in dealing with serious challenges to our health and wellbeing. It seems highly likely that we will need to use such techniques to reduce drasticall­y our emissions from the agricultur­al sector while continuing to have a strong economy.

This would be far preferable to some of the current proposals, which have something of the air of monument-building about them.

The enormous cost and disruption of the proposed single-line light-rail project in Auckland is airily dismissed by its more enthusiast­ic supporters as of little consequenc­e.

It seems they arrived at the solution well before properly analysing the problem.

Buses, preferably electrifie­d, will be the backbone of Auckland’s public transport network for the future.

It is not clear what a $10 billionplu­s tram line will add to that.

We have done well enough combating Covid not to clutch at straws. Perhaps Judith Collins could start an intelligen­t debate on such matters, instead of chasing phantoms of racial separatism.

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, it is time all of us recognised that the yellow brick road is best found at home.

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 ?? Photo / Getty Images ?? Increasing­ly, it seems New Zealand’s strategy for fighting Covid has been the most successful, writes Michael Cullen.
Photo / Getty Images Increasing­ly, it seems New Zealand’s strategy for fighting Covid has been the most successful, writes Michael Cullen.

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