This time round, Lockdown for Auckland has seemed more serious -not just an aberration. Even though Level Three ended last night, the collective response seems to have a different permanence, as behaviours and systems of protection become more entrenched. Though for some, maybe not so much – as with those 500 protesting against Lockdown at Aotea Square on Saturday, or people enjoying Takapuna beach without masks or social distance. But community transmission really does mean it’s in our community. It’s pretty close to my community. -Someone later diagnosed with Covid went into one of my ‘local’ supermarkets, Lincoln Rd Pak and Save. It’s also one of the country’s busiest supermarkets and where the mythical two degrees of Auckland’s separation might really exist. It was confusingly suggested that everyone from South and West Auckland get tested. But I’m too scared to leave the house.
Eight months into Covid, we can see the impacts of the world’s government’s responses, and their failures to respond, in death tolls and infection statistics; in global systems already undergoing change; in regional affairs as leaders scurry to find ‘bubbles’ they can align to; in new national debt; in our stalled community activities; in our shops, with their ‘spit guards’, and their queues in the rain; in our homes with our home cooking and our food delivery services. In the way we work, we’re adapting, more or less – this week I joined Zoom meetings with seventy year olds, a friend’s naked child, and a cat. The rules of engagement have changed, blurring personal and professional boundaries when working from home. And there are changes in ourselves. We’re checking for resilience, worrying about the future, wondering if we’ll ever travel again. Eighteen months ago, people walking around in masks were outcasts – now, those who don’t are unusual. Everything feels precarious – not just our jobs. The potential closure of the NZ oil refinery at Marsden Point, the NZ Steel mill at Glenbrook and Tiwai Point smelter in Invercargill show that we are also at the end of an industrial era.
If politics is a contest of ideas, policies as few they are, seem unimaginative, uninspiring, unfit for the task. National’s promise to strip back freshwater reforms, to bring back the ninety day ‘fire at will’ period and to remove rest and lunch breaks are regressive and rhetorical. There are unprincipled concessions via the Provincial Growth Fund and ‘shovel ready projects’ at every turn – not just from the Greens. These funds have created a goldrush, leading to perverse and perhaps ill-considered largesse that should be subject to better rigour – and not just from the Greens! It’s election time, there’s money to be had, like most Coalition Cabinet Ministers, no wonder James Shaw wanted to be part of the rush. This week there have also been concessions to farmers, and to the economy itself. Lockdown V2 is costing $500million a week – so the economy is taking precedence over (measured) public health risks, though L2 seems more permissive than the risk of the disease would require. Even if the rules from next week allow us to mingle – at a distance, and with masks- I’m happy to work from home. It’s not so much that the disease might kill me, or my elderly parents, but that I should be a carrier, or sicken with the disease but not die. Being agoraphobic and living in the country suddenly has potentially life-saving benefits.
This week though, we Aucklanders will be officially let out of our Covid cages, allowed again to commute and to drink takeaway coffee. Auckland’s ongoing drought, the stock market hacks and California wildfires this week remind us that for all its destruction, Covid isn’t the only show in town.
Today’s polling suggesting that those voters previously uncertain about the cannabis referendum are now trending towards a ‘no’ vote is a disappointing reflection on the conservativism and caution of New Zealand. Maybe we are just not as progressive as we think we are. The scale of the issues in question in this year’s election referenda seem disproportionate, but each significant and important. On the one hand we have euthanasia, and on the other, legal access to a plant. It will be ironic if we vote for the right to die but not to consume marijuana in the privacy of our own homes. I’ll be voting yes for both referenda, and know that regardless of the outcome, certainly the consumption of cannabis will continue to prevail in our society. What’s at stake is the opportunity to destigmatise its use, leading to public health improvements, potentially reduced consumption, fewer burdens on the criminal justice system, -less use of pot-charges as ‘gateway criminalisation’ for young Maori and Pasifika men, and less power in the hands of gangs. The bonus is that poor rural communities who are usually the disproportionate victims of punitive drug laws (and alcohol’s permissiveness), will have the opportunity to develop a new economy from the legal and properly managed sale of cannabis if it’s legalised here for the first time. There is prospect of harm reduction all round.
So while political parties are conservative, cautious, and economically neo-liberal more than they are socially liberal, New Zealanders have a chance to drive policy directly. In cannabis law reform we can continue to put public health first, as we have done with Covid-19, but also support economic recovery for impoverished communities and for the country at large. Reducing social harm, prison costs, health impacts, and supporting economic, social – and environmental resilience and self-sufficiency, are all positive outcomes from a ‘yes’ vote in the cannabis referendum and subsequent legislation. That would be a policy development fit for our times.