There is an emerging sense that New Zealand is drifting along post-Covid while much of the rest of the world cranks up. There is no momentum around vaccine rollouts, no obvious plan for economic recovery (in fact the reverse), nor any sign of a plan to open up to the world. Some days we seem stuck inside a never-ending loop of plugging holes in the border that we were previously led to believe were already plugged.
Much of the business community is keeping its head down and playing a wait and see game on new investments as they worry which sector is going to be the next to be negatively impacted by a government decision. Last week it was freedom campers and Air New Zealand. This week it's livestock exporters. Next week?
The long-awaited transtasman bubble finally starts on Monday, but that was offered up with so many caveats that many people are thinking twice about travelling to Australia lest they get stuck there.
A big part of this sense of drift is the growing realisation that the current Government, while good at stopping things, is having a real problem actually making anything happen.
Whether it is simple tasks like setting up a system to check Covid tests for border workers, or bigger ones like organising a timely vaccine rollout or making progress on child poverty, homelessness, or mental health, the gap between announcing something and actually doing it is becoming head-shakingly wide.
No government is perfect, including of course the one I was privileged to serve in. There are always things that you wish you could make faster progress on, but this degree of non-performance is next-level.
I can safely assert that John Key would have turned his Cabinet over at least a couple of times by now if he had been faced with the same amount of delivery failure.
As former Labour candidate Josie Pagani said this week, ministers are starting to look as though they think they are in office to defend the public service rather than the public.
Some of this will pass with time. The Government will either get its act together or be replaced. But one area of inaction we will be paying for long after they've gone is delays in public infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure.
Let's be blunt. In the last nearly four years since the change of government, almost nothing of substance has been built. There have been announcements up the wazoo, some funding has been allocated, but there's been precious little action.
There is not a single large central government transport project under construction in Auckland that wasn't already under construction in 2017. And most are no closer to starting. Some, like the fabled Mt Roskill light rail or the new harbour crossing are further away. And the East-West Connection between SH20 and SH1 is a mirage. What is going on?
The light rail project, if it can be called that given its tortuous path, is half the problem. When it was dreamed up by the then leadership of Auckland Transport, it came completely out of nowhere. It wasn't on Auckland's 20-year list of things to build. It was an orphan until Labour was casting around for something to announce before the 2017 election.
It is still largely an unloved orphan. If you asked Aucklanders what the city's number one transport priority is for the next decade, it is highly unlikely most would cite the tram to Mt Roskill. Yet the yet-to-be-announced multibillion-dollar price tag means it will shove down the list much more important and urgent projects like the third harbour crossing, a duplicate southern corridor out of Auckland, better roading and public transport options to the fast growing northwest, or the extension of the current commuter rail network to the airport.
It is ironic that light rail was originally investigated because extending heavy rail from Puhinui or Ōnehunga to the airport was seen as too expensive. Long-suffering Aucklanders could be excused for noting suspiciously that the light rail project that refuses to die is being championed now by a combination of the current MP for Mt Roskill (the Transport Minister) and a former MP for Mt Roskill (the mayor).
Another part of the problem is that the obsessive anti-car lobby always carries outsize influence in Labour governments relative to their constituency. These are the people who believe a lane on the Harbour Bridge should be given over to cycling, or that all road-building induces more traffic. Which it sort of does, along with economic growth and jobs and houses and useful stuff like that.
It is indeed true that if the Harbour Bridge had never been built, Auckland's North Shore would still be mostly a bunch of paddocks with sheep grazing on them.
It's not just Auckland that has the problem of no new transport projects. In growth areas like Waikato, Northland and Bay of Plenty, big transformative projects are finishing while new ones aren't starting.
Wellington is choking in part because nobody has yet been able to overcome the Aro Valley nimbys and complete one decent roading corridor between the city's airport and points north, which would greatly improve the liveability of Te Aro, Oriental Bay and the eastern suburbs.
After a decade of relatively high levels of activity, this infrastructure halt will be painful. New projects take a long time to build and we are wasting time that could be used to close the infrastructure deficit. It also contributes to the sense that we are no longer going anywhere.
An unheralded figure in the immigration stats released this week was that 120,000 more people left New Zealand than arrived in the last year.
That number will include departing tourists, students and people on working holidays as well as those leaving for jobs overseas. But as Australia and other places accelerate faster than us out of this pandemic we wouldn't want the view to take hold again that New Zealand is a place you leave in order to succeed.
Over the last decade or so our country has built a reputation as a more vibrant well-connected happening place. We don't want to lose that.
- Steven Joyce is a former National MP and Minister of Finance.