This benighted year is almost over, but it will cast a long shadow. We will be talking about 2020 for a very long time. The pandemic has dominated our lives for months and months and a simple year change won't alter that.
New Zealand and Australia compare very well with the rest of the world in handling Covid-19 to date. Our government has done a good job in managing the response, and was thus well rewarded at the October election.
However neither country should feel smug. There are many reasons we are experiencing a gentler pandemic, beyond going "hard and early". Remote countries in the Pacific can be sealed off much more easily than more heavily populated and economically consequential ones in close proximity to each other. Right now the EU and the UK have an almost impossible task trying to stop a new variant of the disease from crossing the English Channel. If the trucks and drivers don't operate between them, Britain quickly starts running out of food and other essentials.
We who have suffered nothing more than the inconvenience of no overseas travel and one (or two) lockdowns should give some thought this holiday season for New Zealanders who have borne a much bigger burden so we have the luxury of feeling safe.
The people whose livelihoods have been destroyed, and often their life savings too, when their industries were decimated by the border closures. Those who have lost their careers and are now in a much lower paid job or no job at all. Children who have had their education disrupted, and in some cases truncated, so they can support their families because traditional bread winners have lost their jobs.
Many have not been able to say goodbye to cherished family members, hello to new ones, or celebrate myriad other life events. Many life partners are separated either side of our national moat. To all those people we owe our thanks, support and understanding.
The year ahead should be approached with some trepidation. There is plenty of Covid still to play out, and of course there will be surprises.
The vaccine news is brilliant. The drug companies have done a magnificent job in a timeframe many of us didn't dare believe possible. These vaccines offer hope for the world, and particularly the virus-ravaged Northern Hemisphere.
Here in New Zealand there remains the challenge of rolling them out effectively, and associated decisions around lifting border controls, which will likely take much of 2021.
There are real unresolved concerns around the capability and culture of our Ministry of Health, which give cause for nervousness about the vaccine programme and the broader health response. The Simpson/Roche report into the Covid Surveillance Plan and Testing Strategy, released far too conveniently one week before Christmas, is damning about failures to date.
It shines a light on the damaging aloofness that the ministry has adopted for years in dealing with cross-government policy issues, from mental health to this pandemic. The new Health Minister might want to consider a root and branch reform of his ministry before he starts trying to merge DHBs.
The Government's approach to releasing the report was disgraceful. It was received on September 28 but kept hidden through the election and the rest of the parliamentary year. Ministers were clearly worried it might tarnish the public's view of their stewardship of the health system and the pandemic. Their actions likely put the final nail in the coffin containing the mantra of openness and transparency.
Another big unknown for the new year is what shape the hangover will take after the radical economic life support the world has been on.
We are all excited about the economic rebound, but the fiscal and monetary sugar hit that created it was off the charts. We are now in the middle of one of the greatest monetary experiments of all time. The worldwide money printing in response to Covid-19 dwarfs that of the Global Financial Crisis, which itself was unprecedented.
The international economic response is predicated on the notion that inflation is dead, and massive increases in money supply won't revive it. It's a big bet. If the mandarins are right we are likely headed into a period of slow growth and higher asset prices that will cause more political dislocation and risk social unrest. If they are wrong, things could get really ugly.
The bad news for our government is that some big policy tensions are about to appear here. The economic prescription it has adopted will worsen the issues it cares most about. The housing crisis will get worse, the poverty stats will get worse, unemployment amongst Maori, Pacific and young people will likely grow further.
Yet it has set its face against many of the growth enhancing policies that will help tackle these challenges. And aspiration and empathy without action will start to wear thin. Especially when there are no parliamentary impediments to government decision making.
Speaking of empathy, there's the small but significant matter of Parliament's Speaker proving to be the complete antithesis of kindness in his appalling treatment of a parliamentary staff member. The latest on that saga also dropped just before Christmas.
For my old political party there is a major rebuild to look forward to. As someone who had a part in the last such effort I can report it will involve a massive amount of hard work, and listening to the public. There are few short cuts. The principles of individual freedom, choice, free enterprise and personal responsibility will endure, as they do in democracies around the world. The challenge will be applying them successfully to the post-Covid world.
2021 is shaping up to be another big year. Thinking about it is enough to make us need a break. I recommend taking a good one. And then buckling in.