Today we welcome former Finance Minister Steven Joyce as a new fortnighly Business Herald columnist. In his first column Joyce argues Government mistakes are costing businesses dearly.
The biggest damage done by the border testing fiasco of the last two weeks is not to the reputations of the three people ultimately responsible, although that's been big enough.
The biggest damage by far has been to the businesses and jobs that depend on the movement of people in and out of the country.
Safely managing the border of a small isolated country during Covid-19 while at the same time minimising the impact on people's jobs and livelihoods was always going to be a balancing act. Success relies on a huge amount of public trust and confidence.
The public needs to be able to trust that what ministers and officials say is happening, is in fact happening. And when relatively routine questions are asked, for those same politicians and officials to not spend days and days fudging the answer. All that does is tell people you had no idea what was happening in the first place.
Why the Prime Minister has not been able to demand simple answers to simple questions be delivered within 24 hours is beyond me. I've lost count of how many times we've been told that information is delayed because it isn't properly computerised or whatever. The Ministry of Health has an army of civil servants. Just get a dozen of them to pick up the phone and ring people.
There isn't a single recent prime minister who would accept such a poor level of operational performance by a major government agency or its minister. Let alone the agency that has been given massive powers to run a pandemic response. Heads should have rolled long ago.
And how David Clark thought he had enough political capital to point the finger at his director general of health when he himself was phoning in from Dunedin through the lockdown is an unfathomable mystery.
We now know border testing regimes have not been followed and people haven't been tested while we were being told they were. Now they are being tested, we suddenly have a few more cases at the border – as you'd expect.
It's not the end of the world. The quest for total elimination was a quixotic one designed to boost national pride as much as anything else. With any luck we'll get by without another Covid cluster appearing. It's all down to the quality of contract tracing. Surely the ministry has a good handle on that by now.
The major damage is that which plays out far beyond the Beehive. The damage is to businesses and jobs that require at least some movement across our border in order to survive. The tourism businesses hanging on by their fingernails hoping against hope that we'd get a transtasman bubble soon. Or the retailers, cafe owners and tutors desperate for the day that international students start to come back. Or those brave New Zealand tech exporters who need their key personnel to travel to install the equipment they've sold in far-off countries so they can get paid.
Those people knew it would be hard enough to convince their fellow New Zealanders that risks could be adequately managed to allow some practical movement across the border, before the Government gave the impression the Keystone Cops were running the show.
Last week I travelled through Queenstown on the way to some business meetings in Southland. The town is sad and quiet. People told me they get some local tourists through on the weekend but not much during the week. There are dire predictions about the damage being done to businesses large and small.
And it's not just Queenstown. Every main street in New Zealand that relies on the buzz of international tourists and students to give it some retail life through the week is also feeling the cold. Thousands of people that used to work for airlines and airports are jobless.
Those people have a right to be pretty angry right now.
They don't ask for much. They have been remarkably stoic about the curtailment of their dreams, livelihoods, and bank balances for the greater good. They have said little while having to make some of their people redundant or become redundant themselves. They have even been too polite to note publicly that public servants in Wellington continue to receive 100 per cent of their salaries.
They also know they can't expect anyone to magic away Covid-19. They just expect the Government to do a competent job and not make anything worse than it needs to be. They expect the Government to maintain trust with the public on its management of the pandemic and work hard to developing reliable, safe border procedures so their lives can slowly restart again.
They'll be gutted about the last couple of weeks. They'll know their lives have been postponed again and they'll want some accountability.
We still need our borders progressively opened in the weeks and months ahead. To do that, the Government will have to dramatically lift its game.
Steven Joyce is a former National Party MP and former Minister of Finance