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The Government taking over parts of the 5G mobile network rollout, letting overseas billionaires buy land and innovation in electric aviation are just some of the ideas being put forward to help NZ's economy recover from Covid-19.

Business leaders and researchers are discussing how to stimulate the economy after the coronavirus crisis at today's Epidemic Response Committee.

The committee is hearing from:

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• founder of Xero, Rod Drury
• KPMG global head of agribusiness Ian Proudfoot
• Māori business leader Traci Houpapa
• inequality researcher and author Max Rashbrooke
• The New Zealand Initiative's Oliver Hartwich

The author of the report into New Zealand's coronavirus contact tracing, Dr Ayesha Verrall, will also discuss her findings.


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Rod Drury

The Xero founder has laid out a "three-wave" plan to help stimulate the economy.

Wave one was about immediate projects, mostly health-related, which can get off the ground quickly.

Contact tracing digital solutions were an "interesting opportunity" and said New Zealand could be one of the first countries to show a good approach as there were a lot of flaws with overseas systems.

Drury suggested setting up an email address that people could send their ideas too along with a short video. Health authorities could then hold a Zoom meeting for a few hours where people pitch their ideas so they could get a broad understanding of the opportunities.

"I think it's a no brainer to have a bit of a show and tell."

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That could be organised as early as next week, Drury said.

He said Paymark, the major electronic payment system, would be an interesting data source for passive contact tracing.

Wave two would be about mid-term projects which didn't need Government spending.

Drury said the most obvious would be extending the fibre network across all areas which still hadn't been reached.

The Government could then look to take over rolling out the 5G network then charge people $5 per connection for their phones and other devices.

As that then made a profit, the network could be extended further, Drury said.

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"We could have one of the best mobile infrastructures in the world, which is pretty exciting."

One of his "more controversial" ideas was allowing rich foreigners to buy sections in areas like Hawke's Bay and Queenstown which were suffering without tourism.

He suggested an initial 1000 sections could be offered up on the proviso they spend $5 to $10 million on construction which would have to start quickly.

Drury said New Zealand wouldn't need to give those people passports as in his experience people interested in those opportunities would only spend a few months a year here.

Richlisters also don't use much of New Zealand's infrastructure like roads and schools but offer a lot by opening up their networks to Kiwi businesses.

Drury said he hadn't seen any examples of where that hadn't worked.

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Wave three were long term projects, like extending Paywave for contactless payments and asking banks to invest in the domestic debit network.

The price of Paywave needed to be reduced, Drury said.

Renewable energy was also a good opportunity, including water storage behind dams and solar.

"Should we be trying to drive electricity down to half price? Or even a third of the price?"

This could flow into more electric cars and help the country lead innovations in electric aviation.

New Zealand could have a carbon-free airline fleet in 10 years, he said.

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Traci Houpapa

The challenges of Covid-19 for Aotearoa and Maori were "real", said Maori and primary business leader Traci Houpapa.

Food, fibre and trade were going to be critical for our recovery and people needed to be at the centre of our economic discussions, Houpapa said.

But New Zealand shouldn't get back to normal because normal wasn't good enough for a large number of our society, she said.

"And that means we've got to switch things up."

She said wealth and wellbeing needed to be considered when the economy was being rebuilt.

"We need to consider how government, industry and Māori are going to work together."

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Committee chair, Opposition leader Simon Bridges, said Maori would be "hit first and hardest" by Covid-19 and tourism was one of the areas Maori had been very strong in.

He asked what Houpapa was advising Maori business leaders.

"I think Maori economic response is New Zealand's economic response," Houpapa said.

New Zealand needed to recognise Maori played a huge role in the tourism industry and careful consideration was needed on how that sector was rebuilt.

"We need to re-engineer and re-imagine what the New Zealand food and fibre industries - including wool and forestry - would look like. Climate change would have to be a big part of that.

"We're going to have to find out what's going on in the kitchen."

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New Zealand also needs to beef up connectivity as there was still a lot of the country where that was lacking. This was vital if we wanted to seriously be involved in the global economy, Houpapa said.

"God help us, I hope we don't get another opportunity like this to reset our economy of New Zealand and the world."

Being in lockdown had a significant and immediate impact on Maori business, she said.

Women have also been "hit hard" by Covid-19.

Houpapa feared about the impact of lockdown on whanau and women due to domestic violence and mental health issues.

She said the situation gave us an opportunity to think about gender parity and gender equity and how we can ensure employers and employees are treated fairly.

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Ian Proudfoot

New Zealand's response to Covid-19 further cemented it on the global stage as being a safe place and safe producer of food, said Ian Proudfoot, global head of agri-business at KPMG.

"We need to tell our food story globally."

We need to think about how we feed our 5 million first every single day, said Proudfoot.

Covid-19 had presented an opportunity to re-think everything we do and New Zealand had to move to factor climate change into all industries.

"Food and fibre will lead our economic recovery.

"I think overall we'll do slightly less dairy and more plant-based products as that was where the market was moving."

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New Zealand was in one of the best positions to raise animals in a sustainable way, said Proudfoot.

"In a way we're moving back to the future."

Covid-19 would accelerate a move towards lab-based meats and plant-based proteins and they would likely get cheaper while premium meat would get more expensive.

"A great steak will be worth a lot more money than it is today."

There would also be a demand for "zero carbon" food as people would pay for it.

Bridges said previously promised premiums "weren't as juicy" as had been expected and asked how agribusinesses would take on this extra cost.

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Proudfoot said we needed to "become the world's greatest storyteller" about how we talk about our produce and we could show the world how clean and green New Zealand was.

This could be done through virtual and immersive experiences in the wake of tourism drying up, Proudfoot submitted.

"People want safe food, people want healthy food - we can do that."

The global demand for healthy food would be massive because of Covid-19 as people look to take better care of themselves, he said.

New Zealand needed to ensure we feed ourselves first "every single day" and then provide the world with premium products, he said.

Our response to Covid-19 further cemented New Zealand on the global stage as a safe place and safe producer of food, he said.

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But we needed to ensure we didn't increase volume of production, like we'd done with dairy about six years ago, at the expense of our natural resources and environment as those were New Zealand's assets.

"That won't create more value for us, that will destroy value."

He said the agriculture industry had the ambition to invest in growth but we needed to think about what capacity there was to grow.

Overseas investment wasn't the solution and that needed to be reviewed.

There was a "broad church" of genetic technology to look at and gene-editing should be considered as it was an effective way to feed a lot of people.

It was different to genetically modified, he said.

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The droughts New Zealand had experienced recently showed how we needed to rethink our water storage, Proudfoot said.

He said there should be a public-private partnership for those solutions.

We have to track towards our climate change commitments but do it in a way that was affordable, Proudfoot said.

Accelerating the climate change goals would need to be worked through and more funding would be needed if that were to happen, he said.

And every new house built should have grey-water recycling.

Max Rashbrooke

Inequality researcher Max Rashbrooke said only the rich would survive the "crevasse" of the economic crisis and we needed to "build a bridge across the ravine" for everyone.

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The incomes of the richest barely fell during the GFC but those for the lowest earners didn't recover until 2015, Rashbrooke said.

And that temporary poverty had an impact on people's health.

Figures show median households only have $8000 cash in the bank so there were a lot of families not prepared for this crisis.

He wanted to see a bigger push on affordable housing in a way that was climate friendly and suggested a universal guaranteed income, which was different to a universal basic income (UBI) which was unaffordable.

A guaranteed minimum income would remove the means testing of the current benefit which people found demeaning and would strengthen the welfare system.

Even the middle-class needed help to smooth out "the ups and downs" as it would top them up to incomes "you've previously enjoyed", he said.

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Rashbrooke supported the idea of a children's Kiwisaver scheme to make sure every child had assets which they might not have had "through no fault of their own".

Capital gains tax should be put back on the table, among other measures, to ensure wealth was better spread across the economy.

Nikki Kaye asked about how to address digital and intergenerational equalities and about people who might be the casualties of Covid-19, like tertiary students.

Rashbrooke said New Zealand needed to take a "really hard look" at making internet access a fundamental human right and extend free connections to communities which couldn't afford it.

That would help those children from being left behind, he said.

There also needed to be more stability for workers, especially for young people in industries like hospitality.

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Oliver Hartwich

The Covid-19 crisis was like a war in which we mourn our debt and care for the sick, said Oliver Hartwich, executive director of economic think tank The NZ Initiative.

"How do you get an economy going again, when entire industries are destroyed?"

Hartwich said New Zealand should look to former German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard who rebuilt Germany's economy quickly after World War II.

It was important to draw lessons from previous war recoveries, he said.

He wanted New Zealand to reopen its borders to international students quickly as long as they self-isolated so we could capitalise on the global perception of New Zealand being Covid-free.

International students brought money both to universities and accommodation providers.

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Universities could handle the mandatory quarantines for students as they had accommodation and should work with the Ministry of Health on that.

And it would be a mistake to back projects just because they were shovel-ready, Hartwich said.

Instead projects which provided benefits beyond their costs should be funded.

The recovery should be based on sound economic principles which would deliver prosperity for all, he said.

Property rights and freedom of contracts needed to be strengthened as we couldn't afford bureaucratic delays in our rebuild.

Ayesha Verrall

Author of the rapid report on New Zealand's contact tracing abilities, epidemiologist Dr Ayesha Verrall, said contact tracing was the cornerstone of the fight against Covid-19.

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Verrall presented her report to the Government and the Ministry of Health on April 11 and it was released publicly more than a week later.

On the Government's statement 5000 close contacts could be traced, Verrall said there were now 200 staff who could call 25 people a day - that calculates to 5000.

National's health spokesman Michael Woodhouse said that would equate to each call being 15 minutes with staff taking breaks which "seemed like a lot".

Verrall said in response to her recommendations, the country's contact tracing had been strengthened and work was under way to improve it further.

Expanding public health units could be done by the time the lockdown lifts with rapid training of contact tracers, she said.

New Zealand now perhaps had the best chance in the world to eliminate the virus thanks to our border controls, improving contact tracing abilities and good hygiene adopted by Kiwis.

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But we should be prepared for further outbreaks with up to 1000 cases a day, Verrall said.

"We can't plan only for success."

She said 80 per cent of close contacts should be traced within three days and some contacts should be prioritised.