Level 3 down is good, but not good enough Māori businesses say

By James Perry

Māori business experts are cautiously welcoming the news the country will move to Alert Level 3 next week so that some businesses can reopen.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement today as the country neared the end of the 4th week of the Alert Level 4 lockdown.

However, there is still concern that the flow-on effects of lockdown will continue to hamper the Māori economy. 

Glenn Hawkins, Partner of Rotorua based GHA says while it will be good news for many, for others, there not be much difference between Levels 4 and 3.

"There will be some change, but probably not what we're wanting. We wanting - we're really wanting to get to level 2 as quickly as possible,"

Richard Jones of Poutama Trust agrees, saying that, "The pain will continue for those sorts of businesses."

However, both are welcoming the news that industries such as forestry and construction will be allowed to reopen next Tuesday, however, safety and physical distancing protocols will be required.

"That's going to help our Māori organisations that are invested in particular into forestry. But you know a lot of organisations can't open, they still going to be the ongoing challenges that we have. It's really only those sectors where there's going to be change," Hawkins says.

The forestry sector was one of the first industries to be affected by COVID-19, when China stopped importing logs in Feburary. Jones said they in particular will be happy the prospect of returning to work is now in sight. 

"There's a lot of Māori involved, Māori businesses, Māori contractors and they were the first to be hurt by this if you recall what happened on the East Coast. So that's good news.

"Construction means a lot of Māori involved in the trade sector - electricians, carpenters, plumbers etc, they can get back to work. And some of those trade businesses are significant employers. So that's good for them," Jones says.

Hawkins also says the reopening of the opening, even a partial one, could also provide a boost sharemarkets portfolios, where a boost in confidence in the market could see share prices improve.

New Zealand was expected to move out of Level 4 on Thursday this week, but Jacinda Ardern pushed that back by another 7 days. The two extra working days will be vital for those businesses set to reopen to prepare themselves, Jones says.

"If it had have gone to this Wednesday, or Thursday it would've put quite a bit of pressure on them and would they have been prepared."

That includes ensuring the workforce is ready and sufficient, and acquiring the right safety gear and setting physical distancing protocols are in place.

Under Level 3 however, the tourism and hospitality industries remain affected, as travel restrictions, domestic and international are kept in place. 

When the international borders reopen is very much uncertain, and both Hawkins and Jones believe domestic tourism will be "critical' to restarting the economy in places such as Rotorua, should the government decide the country can return to Level 2 when the next review is done in two weeks.  

"[Tourism] has flow-on effects to so many other businesses [in Rotorua]. Not just the attractions which are obviously feeling the pinch significantly."

Jones also points that New Zealand is entering the winter season, a time when tourism is at an ebb, and there maybe a silver lining to the pain tourism operators are going through currently. 

"Perhaps it gives them a bit of time to rethink and reorganise the businesses and have a consideration as what's the next normal going to look like for them."

How has lockdown affected they way we spend?

  • Lockdown meant higher tobacco taxes and rising household costs, including rents.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables were more expensive but fuel costs went down.
  • Power bills may have increased due to the cold, but the government doubled the winter power payment for kaumātua.
  • Spending on eating out and accommodation plunged by $338 million at the beginning of lockdown.
  • But that was offset by a $341 million increase on supermarket and grocery sales.
  • While the country waits for news for some Māori businesses, the future is still uncertain.