Voyager 2021 media awards
New Zealand|Politics

The Road Ahead: What matters to you?

David Fisher

Senior writer, NZ Herald

Journalists David Fisher and Mike Scott set out from Bluff today on a nationwide road trip to ask New Zealanders: What matters to you? We want your answer to this toughest of questions as a pandemic presses at our borders and politicians seek to convince us they know best how to navigate the road ahead.

It feels like a Fool's Paradise, at times. Aotearoa is still under the long, dark cloud of Covid-19 but it seems we're walking in sunshine.

We're largely afloat on Government wage subsidies and the virus has not yet penetrated our bubble of five million.

Will Covid-19 find its way inside? When will we hit the skids and a terrible economic chill work its way into all of our lives, all of our homes.

Today I set out with videographer Mike Scott from Bluff on a road trip across the country. We want to know what you expect from the road ahead, particularly with an election just around the corner.

We want to know what it is you really, truly, care about and how that will survive the new world in which we now live.

Snow-covered mountains near Ranfurly, Otago. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Snow-covered mountains near Ranfurly, Otago. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Right now, our nation is a bubble of safety in a virus-riddled world. How different we felt just a few months ago, sent into lockdown as numbers of those with the virus increased every day.

By Anzac Day, we knew we would probably be okay. Once May arrived, we had certainty.

Here we are in July, attending rugby matches, queuing for the cinema, eating at restaurants. Here we are, not using the Covid-19 app, not getting tested for a virus that has killed 640,000 people. Here we are, dithering over privacy when the ability to track the virus will be critical to preserving the society we have. Here we are, no masks.

Here we are, acting like life is normal. Look across our borders and see what happened in Australia. They were like us, and now they are not.


Life is not normal and will not be whether the virus is here or it is not. It will have tendrils that are economic. Businesses will fail and jobs disappear. It will have social impacts, as the connective tissue binding some communities disintegrates as new links struggle to grow and find the strength needed to hold us together.

If the virus finds its way into the country, it will affect our health. Covid-19 is the eater of low-hanging fruit. It steals life from those who owe their existence to medicine and science. It steals life from those who live at the margins.

There doesn't seem to be a plan. It seems we are content to walk in the sunshine, without considering what lies ahead. There should be a plan, or planning to have a plan. That's what this election should be about.

Covid-19 could be gone by vaccine this time next year. It could still be with us in a decade, or two decades. Nobody knows. It seems stupid to sit about waiting for a vaccine. Hope is not a plan.

Moon rising over hills near Gisborne. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Moon rising over hills near Gisborne. Photo / Mark Mitchell

I've yet to hear anything from the politicians that sounds like a plan. Talk of shovel-ready projects fails to grasp the point. These are intermediate steps and we can't live in that space forever.

We need a plan that reaches beyond now and the next few months and into the future, based on evidence and across electoral cycles.

With or without Covid-19 in New Zealand, we are going to have to change the way we live. With or without the virus, we are going to have to deal with a future different to that we might have expected a year ago.

Tourists share an umbrella at Tolaga Bay, East Cape. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Tourists share an umbrella at Tolaga Bay, East Cape. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Will it require a structural shift in our society to better carry the load? Is the way we are currently ordered the best way for New Zealand to flourish in the years to come?

It seems to me that "survival of the fittest" no longer applies. We need the weakest links in our human chain to be stronger so as to reduce the risk we all face.

A market-driven society anticipating "trickle down" benefits endorses exceptionalism in society for its own benefit and sake without accepting it also allows exceptionally bad. In a virus world, those bad exceptions endanger us all.

We have talked of the "team" of five million but, really, isn't this what we need to be? If survival is down to the least fit, surely it is in the interest of the strongest to improve the lot of the weakest.

That means those lifting up all who lag in cultural wealth, in educational opportunities, in health, in housing access, in social riches and all those other measurements.

In this case, self-interest aligns with society's interests. It's about surviving the virus with our quality of life emerging intact.

Politicians will ask us for their votes in the coming months. We should be clear on what we expect in return.

A mural at Taneatua, Bay of Plenty. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A mural at Taneatua, Bay of Plenty. Photo / Mark Mitchell

For me, I want a plan. I want a map for the road ahead. What will motivate your vote?

Is it family? Is it work so as to provide for family? Is it sport, or community, or the right to own a rifle, or to not be troubled by gun-toting criminals? Is it justice and what does that look like? Is it schools that teach all children, and not just those who fit in?

We want to know what really matters to you.