Prime Minister, last week I suggested maybe it was time to look at the bench in your team of five million.
Reflecting on what made a great team, I recalled some wise advice from the great All Black coach Wayne Smith.
He said at the heart of every successful team there had to be trust. You needed to trust every one of your team mates to deliver their particular set of skills to the game plan when you called on them.
You showed that trust last year when you introduced a wage subsidy programme that was an exemplar to the world of how politicians and government agencies could move quickly when the situation demanded.
It was a remarkable display of trust that saw normal bureaucratic processes put aside to do what needed to be done. Yes there were those who abused that trust, but the vast majority of businesses played by the rules and the results were there for all to see.
Time for the bench?
We all acknowledge the great job of the starting line-up. They kept us safe and made us the envy of the world. We've admired how they've executed the game plan.
It was, in fact, a game plan that much of the world tried to implement as well. But, like our remarkable Olympic Women's Rugby Sevens, we executed it better than anyone else.
But now the rest of the world is playing to a different plan, which is why we need to go to the bench.
Who's on the bench?
Since the first Polynesian voyagers arrived here more than 1000 years ago we have built a formidable reputation as a nation of traders.
First trading through the islands of the Pacific, then the whalers and sealers, followed by those who harvested the fruits of our whenua, our dairy, wool, meat, kiwi fruit, mānuka honey, and now hi-tech companies like Xero, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Pushpay, Serko, Weta, Vend, Kami and Straker Translations.
These are the companies that will help fund the team of five million into the future. But they are slowly being shut out of the game by an MIQ system that simply does not work.
No way back
This week we had to walk away from a significant, multi-year contract because we could not risk sending our people out to service it without knowing when we could get them home.
It's the second such contract in the past month, and we aren't alone.
Businesses are sending people overseas with no idea when they will be coming home.
One business colleague who operates in nine countries around the world is now planning to move his entire family to Europe simply because he cannot guarantee an MIQ space for business trips that he regularly took to keep his business in New Zealand operational.
This is a hi-tech business employing more than 250 people.
These businesses are essential to keeping the export dollars coming that are needed to fund the entire team of five million - and the major road blocks to keeping those dollars flowing, are MIQ and the interpretation of what an essential business is.
MIQ - thoughts from the bench
Last week the Covid Response Minister said: "What people don't understand is that building a points-based (MIQ) booking system is very difficult!"
The advice from the bench would have been: "No Minister. Sending rockets into space from Mahia - that's difficult. Delivering real-time graphics to golf tournaments in New York, Prague and Scotland whilst also covering a 10-day yacht race in Keel, Germany, in the same week from an office in Dunedin - that's difficult! Building a points based booking system? 'Yeah/nah, not really'."
We have a tech industry sitting on the bench that could do that in a heartbeat.
Booking a space in MIQ: now that's difficult!
But there is far more value we can bring from the bench.
We, and others, have operated in some of the most Covid-ravaged countries in the world and we have kept our Kiwi staff Covid-free for more than a year and a half because of the protocols that have been put in place by the businesses we work with.
Gone in weeks
The United States is the perfect example. While its President was proclaiming Covid would be gone in a matter of weeks, our clients CBS, NBC and the PGA Tour had already moved to implement protocols that would keep them operating.
There were no vaccines, so their focus was on testing and working in isolated bubbles.
They had medical teams present at every tournament. We were tested every Monday on arrival at a new venue and those tests were freely available all week for anyone who wanted them.
The maximum bubble size was 12 and there were two complete crews, travelling on separate flights and staying in separate hotels, every week.
The companies carried all of the costs.
As for vaccinations: the latest figures show the US at 55 per cent.
The crews we work with in the US have been at 100 per cent for months.
Closer to home, NEP and Fox Sports, the company we will be working with on the upcoming Ashes Cricket Series, have introduced the latest antigen testing programmes and require all their staff to be tested daily.
No one enters their building without testing negative for Covid. It takes 15 minutes while they have a coffee and a bagel.
But the key is that everyone in the building knows they are safe.
That level of planning and care has been extended to the on-site production crew. The bulk of the cricket production will be delivered from purpose-built, hi-tech television hubs in Sydney and/or Melbourne.
These hubs have been in place for months and no one can enter them without being antigen-tested first. Only fully vaccinated people can work in them, but this protocol recognises that vaccination has to be supported by testing until the whole world is vaccinated, not just Aotearoa.
Why trust us?
What we have learned from our experience over the past year and a half is that businesses have a huge interest in keeping their people safe from Covid and they can do it faster than governments because they aren't having to look after entire countries.
We are only ever sending small numbers away at any time. The 250 staff company I mentioned earlier has a maximum of eight people who ever have to travel abroad. It's not an Olympic team.
When we look at opportunities, and that's what this is, we never explore why things might not work. We always ask: "What if we pulled it off?"
So, "what if" businesses didn't need to take up MIQ spaces. "What if" businesses could apply existing technologies and protocols that would guarantee that none of their teams would have Covid when they returned to Aotearoa from their essential overseas travels.
For the upcoming Ashes Series we have half a dozen fully vaccinated staff who will travel to Australia and work in mandated bubbles.
They will operate in public at our level 3 and be antigen tested every day. If they ever test positive they will be isolated immediately but, in a year and a half, that has never happened to any of our Kiwi crew offshore.
Three days before they leave Australia to return home they will go into isolation in an approved hotel, or self-isolation location, paid for by us. There they will be tested each day, including the day they fly.
On return to New Zealand they will be booked into an approved hotel or self-managed isolation location, again booked and paid for by us, where they will remain for three to five days, again being tested every day before returning to work. We have built our own tracking app which will be used for audit purposes.
Variations of this model could be used by any company needing to plan overseas travel with certainty.
Do we really need to do another trial when there are already models in play? Why can't we come off the bench and just make this happen? It's working now.
So now a 'what if' for you
"What if" the Government could put in place, quickly, the following:
• 1: An accreditation and audit system that approved the processes that individual companies could present for their people who had to travel abroad. To begin with, that would have to be for business reasons only but the option exists to expand it, if it proves successful.
• 2: Approval for a range of antigen tests already being used successfully so companies could set up their own programmes as part of their accreditation. Ideally you would prioritise Kiwi companies working on these tests because that also creates an enormous export opportunity for them. Approving these tests should be a priority.
• 3: An oversight government agency to work with businesses to implement their strategies quickly. NZTE or Callaghan Innovation spring to mind.
• 4: The same agency would be in charge of the audit process to ensure businesses are meeting the obligations in their accredited protocols.
'What if' we could pull this off?
We have implemented the best game plan in the world to date. Now we need to stay ahead of the game and show the world that we are ready to engage. You have the bench to do this, and they're ready to play. Let's do this!