While the Prime Minister is determined to convince voters that she is as invested in the economic response as the health response, there is one thing threatening that message on a near-daily basis: the border.
The stories of the double-standards and the frustrations at the border are now a constant reminder of the lack of bureaucratic and governmental speed and imagination. The Transmission Gully engineer denied entry while 10 family members of film crew are allowed in. The Nelson marine engineering company begging for permission to bring in a vessel to repair but told to send it to Hawaii. The countless cases of Kiwi employers holding jobs for workers who ducked overseas for a holiday before the lockdown and now can't get back three months on.
Late this week, it seemed to dawn on the Government just how much of a problem the border is to their economic recovery message. Hence, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway's Friday announcement of new border exemption categories. But that was largely window-dressing. It might change the order of priority for who gets in, but it hardly changes the numbers of who gets in. And that's the most important thing: getting more people in is crucial to our economic recovery.
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We have 13,700-odd applications for border exemptions and possibly 10,000 citizens and residents wanting to come home. We have 3200 rooms available for their quarantine and isolation. That means we can take 250 new arrivals a day. It'll take New Zealand nearly two years to clear that backlog.
It's the Health Ministry's job to get more rooms but no one in the Beehive appears to have ordered them to do it immediately. They're still planning that request, more than nine weeks after we made quarantining compulsory.
This shouldn't be difficult. The Health Ministry is already using a model which simply needs to be scaled up. Rooms and staff are available given the dearth of international tourists. If the Government can't manage border entry with speed, they should allow private providers to do it on their behalf.
It seems the Government might be trying to ensure that arrivals have four- and five-star hotels to quarantine in but I'd wager many would take a three-star if it just meant they could get across the border.
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It's disappointing that the tertiary students issue still hasn't been sorted. Semester two starts next month and it now seems unlikely the students will be here in time. Universities have sorted accommodation and presented a quarantine plan but the Government is apparently still working out how to punish universities if the rules are breached and an infected student causes a problem.
As long as this goes on, it makes a mockery of the message that the economic response is anywhere near equal to the health response. The health concern still seems to be a priority placed so much higher that it virtually eclipses the economic concern.
It'd be of far more economic value if - instead of sending the PM around the country handing out cash - the Government allowed the borders to start generating cash. We are accumulating debt at an eye-watering rate and we won't be paying that back without thinking smart about how to bring money and skills into the country.
The Pacific bubble is possibly the one issue reminding voters of this inconsistency most effectively right now. It makes little sense to keep the borders closed to the Pacific out of a condescending and paternalistic concern that we might export Covid to the Cook Islands. The Cooks are crying out for the borders to open and should be trusted to make that decision for themselves. As ACT's David Seymour pointed out, we either support them with travel or we support them with aid. Kiwis, he said, "would much rather take their money to Rarotonga and spend it on a piña colada than have the IRD take it in taxes and the IRD give it in charity".
The same is true in New Zealand. Many Kiwis would surely prefer our businesses to bring the skills in from offshore and pay their own way than keep looking to the PM - courtesy of the taxpayer - to bail them out.