Scores of prominent New Zealanders, including Māori lawyer and veteran human rights activist Annette Sykes, Unite union national director Mike Treen and John Minto, Christchurch Progressive Network, have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, urging that the government's post-Covid spend be redirected, away from large infrastructure projects that match corporate priorities.
While there were large New Zealand-wide projects which should be funded, such as the revitalisation of rail, they said, it was essential that the lion's share of spending be invested in local public-good projects across the country.
"The corporate sector, representing big business, is desperately keen for New Zealand to return to 'business as usual,' to ensure a smaller group of wealthier people can continue to enjoy the benefits of economic development at the expense of the rest of us, especially our lowest-paid workers in essential industries," they wrote.
"However, it was clear well before Covid-19 that business as usual had failed most of us.
"Despite the existential threat of climate change, for example, New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise year by year as policy decisions have favoured economic growth over human welfare. Similar unacceptable failures are evident in biodiversity, fresh water, rivers and streams, poverty and inequality, health, education, housing, mental health, incarceration rates etc.
"If we go back to business as usual we will simply carry forward the myriad social and economic problems from the pre-pandemic era, in particular the shocking levels of poverty and inequality which have disproportionately damaged Māori and Pasifika whānau and entire low-income communities.
"We cannot move forward with people and families on low incomes struggling with high rents while paying a higher proportion of their incomes in tax (through income tax and GST) than those who will gain the most benefit from the proposed corporate-led government investment to 'get the economy moving' again.
"Meanwhile, local and regional councils across New Zealand are struggling with huge infrastructure deficits from over 30 years of user pays policies and privatisation of assets. In everything from sewerage to fresh water supply, council rental housing and public transport, to name a few, our local infrastructure is in poor condition.
"We have an opportunity with this unprecedented pandemic event to refocus government investment on local public-good projects that will lead to stronger local communities and sustainability rather than projects that benefit the big end of town and take us in the opposite direction.
"The benefits in doing this are many. We can fund projects that are of social benefit at socially appropriate wage rates. These can help future-proof local communities, reduce emissions and pollution levels, and take a big step towards sustainability. Local employment on local projects also brings new opportunities for partnerships with local iwi and urban Māori groups, for example, to dramatically reduce unemployment for those struggling already and who will be hardest hit by the post-pandemic recession."