Influential law firm boss Hayden Wilson says New Zealand has as a country been very good at adapting to the crisis response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But he warns the post-Covid world is not going to look like it was in 2019 before the virus emerged.
And business should step up and engage with government and support debate on NZ's future.
Wilson, who chairs Dentons Kensington Swan, reckons we cannot continue to look back and hope for things to go back to the way they were before.
"The only thing that is really certain at the moment is that things are going to continue to be uncertain," he says. "The real challenge for business is going to be how to adapt to a constantly changing world."
Wilson, who plays a key role in his firm's relationships with government agencies, says we should expect the Government to be able to manage uncertainty and communicate how it is dealing with uncertainty well.
"Take for example a date for reopening the borders," he says. "When you are dealing with a virus that is constantly changing, that we are still learning about, the idea that we can say at this point in time we are going to open the borders defies the science."
He says we need to be able to have a sensible discussion about what business and government needs, and what the New Zealand community needs to respond to changes — but those discussions are hard because that is not something we are particularly well-equipped to deal with as a community, in the media, or in our political environment. "We have to get comfortable with the fact that this means we're not going to have certain dates, deadlines and pathways.
"We've got to have a broad understanding of what the principles are on which decisions are going to be made, and how we're going to be engaged with that."
But business must lean in — not to support the government — but to support that discussion. "But I don't think we are any better than anyone else in the world at adapting to the slow burn changes that we're all facing like climate change."
Even putting climate change to the side, we have big tension points in the New Zealand economy that will require transformational change, and these will all impact business — even if not immediately. "It's our infrastructure deficit, which obviously affects business directly, but it's also the state of our education and health systems, housing and housing affordability, which will have a fundamental effect on business long term, but aren't necessarily seen as a business issue," says Wilson.
He says we have to take the opportunity to look at how to fix some of those longer-term tensions, especially when you consider the amount of money that's available to government in terms of Covid recovery.
There is a role for business to engage sensibly in discussions around these tension points, and a role for government to invite that participation in ways that are nuanced and more sophisticated than what we have previously seen in our political debate.
Wilson uses the feebate scheme, designed to promote lower-emissions vehicle sales, as an example.
"The Government made a fairly orthodox change that couldn't be seen as anything much more than a tinker around the edges, and there has been a massive pile-on, which makes it very difficult to do the incremental things that need to change."
It will require business taking a role as thought-leaders and engaging with government. "Sensible businesses need to start thinking about how they can take responsibility for being part of the debate," he says. Of course, for this to happen, Government will need to be receptive to business.
Wilson says that currently, government is not as receptive as it should be to feedback from business.
"Our political environment doesn't really facilitate that risk-free engagement," he says. "The media and other political parties treat it as a horse race."
He says while there are some parts of government that are interested in having these discussions, government departments will need to find a way to unlock risk adverseness where it's appropriate.
"We need to be much more willing to be open about having discussions in areas where we are looking longer term and planning New Zealand's response."
Wilson says the Labour-led Government is run tightly by a small group of senior ministers, in whom the Prime Minister has confidence.
"Some of them are doctrinaire, some are stubborn, some are cautious."
But, he says we have seen things like the wage subsidy where the approach taken was revolutionary, and gave some insight into what can happen if you have different thinking — "and I think increasingly there will be a push to do that."
Hayden Wilson's top three issues
• Covid — managed by borders and vaccination (and time)
• Climate change
• Ageing and strained infrastructure (broadly defined)