Rob Campbell has fired a serve at company chairs and directors who refused to sign a joint letter to the Government calling for greater transparency on Covid, saying they were "protecting their own arses and doing a major disservice to their communities."
Campbell — who chairs SkyCity, Tourism Holdings and Summerset — was among five listed company chairs who went public in early March calling for more openness and clarity from the Government on its plan for getting New Zealand to "Covid normal".
"There were people who were directors and chairs of companies who didn't have the balls to sign the letter," Campbell told the Institute of Directors' 2021 leadership conference on Thursday. "That were worried about reaction, about being penalised, about being scapegoated.
"They were a gross disservice, those people, to the companies that they worked for and to the community because we need to be able to have open, constructive and critical responses and not be worried about whether you are going to get appointed to the next Government board or whether some Government Minister is going to be angry at you.
"I don't care about that stuff and directors who have a fiduciary duty to the businesses that they are involved in also shouldn't care about that."
Campbell had joined Patrick Strange (chair of Auckland Airport and Chorus) and Justine Smyth (Spark chair) in a panel discussion to brief directors on what led to the earlier call to the Government and what should happen next.
Strange related that the Government's initial response was to say "our door is always open, why didn't you come and talk with us?" But there was agreement from the IOD panel that the open approach changed the conversation. Suddenly there was engagement on what to do to get the transtasman bubble open — something which had been languishing since last August.
The Minister for Covid-19 Response, Chris Hipkins, named a group consisting of Rob Fyfe, Dr Debbie Ryan, Professor Philip Hill, Dr Dale Bramley and chaired by Sir Brian Roche, to provide independent advice to the Government on the management and strategic direction of its Covid-19 response.
There has also been more engagement between Finance Minister Grant Robertson and senior chairs. Air New Zealand chair Dame Therese Walsh hosted one dinner. There have been others.
But the brute reality is that there is still a lot to do to deliver on the chairs' March requests.
Strange suggested New Zealand should learn the lessons from Covid-19, in order to have heightened readiness for future pandemics.
He made the point that Taiwan's state of readiness for Covid-19 had been informed by the impact of the earlier Sars pandemic on the island nation.
Strange questioned why a central database was not in place and was instead being built in a "hell of a hurry" when it was known last August that New Zealand had to be prepared for the Covid vaccine rollout.
Other current issues included saliva testing, which he contended should be widespread, and the need to invest now in next-generation contact tracing.
There was broad agreement that this was an area where the private and public sectors could invest and work together. And, said Smyth, preparedness for the next stage of digital infrastructure.
But there was also agreement that businesses too needed to be more willing to get on and do things and make necessary changes.
Many government ministries and businesses were not fit for purpose and there were significant problems in getting good decisions implemented.
The trio's urgings came a day after former prime ministerial chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman warned at the same conference that the world may have to come to grips with an "arms race" between the Covid vaccine and the virus.
Gluckman contends that the race will be between the "global north and the global south".
Rich countries with high viral loads (like the US) and those with minimal viral loads (like NZ) could afford to buy Covid-19 vaccines.
Critically, he pointed out that it was a reality that global vaccine production is not unlimited and recurrent vaccination may be needed.
It could take three to four years until all populations are vaccinated.
Among businesspeople there is a growing recognition that life is going to get a lot more complicated.
Opening the border may well prove more problematic than closing it. And a recognition that as the virus cuts a devastating swathe through India, for instance, New Zealand — still way behind any sensible vaccine rollout pathway — may find its luck could run out.