Dr Liz Gordon: Passion, caution and the Covid


My sister, as both my avid readers will know, was forced to return to the UK in June to reinhabit her flat and her life. With Covid numbers low at the time, and summer upon the UK, it seemed like a reasonable move, even though we did not know when she, not a NZ citizen, would be able to return to this country that she so loves. Now, with winter looming and Covid surging, she is forced to yearn, from a depressing distance, to be here.

It was she who pointed out what some of the international media is saying about Jacinda’s leadership.  Prospect magazine, for example, has called Jacinda “the God of small steps”, noting that an innate caution and economic conservatism has limited, and will continue to limit, a reform agenda.  A refusal to significantly raise income tax rates, ruling out wealth taxes and significant self-imposed controls on further borrowing all limit the economic possibilities of reform. The Prospect article notes that some of these are self-inflicted limits:

Meanwhile, the public discussion about New Zealand’s modest levels of Covid-induced public debt, forecast to peak at around at 50 per cent of GDP, which—for comparison—is around half of the ratio the US and the UK are now looking at, is nonetheless dominated by the supposed need to slash borrowing.

This is a reasonable summary of Labour’s economic policy, and it would certainly be imprudent to think there will be huge new spending unless there is a significant boost in tax take from higher wages or more people in the workforce.

So that’s the caution side, and you can see what it looks like.  Self-limiting. An economic prison of our own making.  And yet, and yet…  There is passion in this government.  That’s why I changed my vote this time.  It is true I would have liked to have seen a policy blueprint for change. A “manifesto” that would act as the bible and map for the new government. But I voted Labour without that (I did like some of the policy they managed to announce, such as the justice work, which, if implemented properly, should save money, not be a drain on the public purse).

In Sunday’s SST, it was suggested that it is not so much policy, but having good people in charge, that is important.  There is a bit of ‘trust us, we know what we’re doing and you like us, don’t you’ about the new Labour Government.  

In the Steve Kilgallon article in the SST, Jacinda scoffs at the view that she has to appease her right wing voters by changing Labour policy, claiming that people voted for Labour’s policy so that is what they wanted:

They voted for the plan, they know exactly who you are, and I think there is a difference when you vote in your second term … they know who you are, they expect you to keep being who you are and keep rolling on.”

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She distinguished between the overall policy programme, which might be extremely moderate, against the “courage to follow an unpopular policy knowing it’s right”. 

So while we have a historic 1935 style outcome to the election, a big need for change, and passionate people in charge and so very much to do to roll back the damage caused by the neo-liberal tsunami, it is already clear there will be significant limits to reform in this term.

Ever hopeful, I do like to think that maybe some of these self-imposed barriers will melt away in the forthcoming months and years. Perhaps successes in some fields will lead to innovations in others. Perhaps the government’s confidence as an agent for good social change will grow.

More likely, it will be a frustrating couple of years. Yesterday, the one-day total of new Covid cases worldwide exceeded half a million, a new record. There is no sign of abatement (only 4 days ago I wrote about the ‘new’ record of 444,000, immediately superceded). This is the current battle raging now that will take much of the energies of the government for the next year or two.

However cautious the government economically, and however passionate in terms of social goals, keeping the NZ community Covid free is the government’s first focus, and one I strongly agree with. Some of these other questions will have to wait for another day.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. Let’s call for higher taxes, so aged non NZ relatives who never lived or worked here, are not deprived of their woke entitlement of a free NZ retirement. Clearly a travesty they are “forced to yearn, from a depressing distance, to be here”.

    The next generation can pay for it, step aside for the health care waiting list and housing needed. Sarc.

    • Oh come on saveNZ… don’t be so grumpy. Surely humanitarian. A bit like former refugees applying for family unification for whanau. And re the pension, it’s not an automatic entitlement … even for returning Kiwis. According to Immigration NZ, to qualify, you must have:
      – lived in New Zealand for at least 10 years after you turned 20
      – spent five of those 10 years living here after you turned 50.

      There may be more to it than this, but until the contrary I’ll stand my ground. And NZ has arrangements with some countries and claw back any entitlements from those jurisdictions. Evidently UK residents can capitalize on UK National Insurance payments to qualify for New Zealand Superannuation.

      • Pretty sure that Liz’s sister would qualify for NZ Super under the reciprocal agreement which New Zealand has with some other countries. It way be the same countries with which we have portability of NZ pensions – off the top of my head, Uk, Aus, Netherlands, Samoa, maybe Cook Islands and other Pacific countries.

        But some of us with close family in COVID heavy countries do not know if or when we may see them again, and that is no light thing to be borne.

        • It is not just super to look at, (which is considerable at around 1 million per pensioner from the NZ taxpayer so you would expect the foreign pensioners to be required to pay the equivalent in tax in NZ, to qualify), but foreign workers and pensioners who get residency here also get free hospital care which bumps off other people for the hospital waiting lists who have paid taxes. Aged care is free in NZ if you are poor or have bequeathed your assets before you go into aged care. Availability of care places for dementia etc is limited. The quality of aged care seems to be getting worse and worse as the demand grows.

          In addition, aged care workers are constantly on the ‘essential workers’ list – (possibly because they are paid less than other health workers for the same job). It becomes a Ponzi, as we import in more low paid workers to keep up the the demand of more and more non income foreign pensioners retiring here while private practise returning huge profits demand more lower paid workers for their expanding aged industry .

          Like housing, NZ has a major ‘demand’ problem for pensioners unique needs, that is effecting supply, including housing. You can’t catch supply up when you keep artificially increasing demand which is unlimited.

          Our hospital beds per population in NZ…. number 33 in the world, below Turkey, China, and Latvia… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_hospital_beds

          Cut backs to the most vulnerable with less of a voice, while government allows foreign pensioner demand led by the well heeled vocal ‘relatives’, the woke and profitable aged care industries to be a priority instead.

          Best of 2019: Limited showers, no meal prep: ‘Ruthless’ plans to cut disabled care revealed

          We now have 80 yo’s coming into NZ from overseas with Covid needing taxpayer quarantine and care. Or people who retire in NZ and at 79 then start sponsoring in boomers to marry after an 11 day online romance. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/376220/10k-11-days-and-one-failed-deportation

          As Covid shows, you never know what is around the corner.

          • A lot of what you say is true – but not nice using Liz as a trigger.

            The Aged Care Industry is a big lucrative business, ok ? And it’s being bought up by immigrants, as is day care – people coming here and making money out of our failure to care as we used to, and as they largely do back in their own countries of origin. We’re a bit sick.

            There are things happening which should not be, and sometimes atrocious, but the available avenues to address some of them are starting to look like govt sponsored obstacle courses – or terrifying stupidity.

  2. As I have opined before on TDB the world is in a very uncertain state. Covid is one massive destabilising factor, but the underlying financial turmoil is more so. Making dramatic undertakings to restructure in significant ways when it is not clear whether such change will be helpful or compounding to the trials ahead would be foolish.
    If Grant and Jacinda carry on communicating what they are doing and why as time and events roll by they will keep the country with them.
    D J S

  3. Silly me. It is slap Liz around the ears day for talking about her feelings about a loved family member. Way to go there! Mental Health for all!

  4. I can assure you that last time I checked the real level of UK debt was >900% (more than the Wiemar republic before the 2nd Word War). Like all ‘good’ governments the truth, while grudgingly published for the rich, is obfuscated from populace.

    I would guess it is >1,000% now. There are all kinds of debts, like pensions (where’s a right to die act when you need one?) and no doubt PPP that are not included in the debt measurement. Just like our government, that doesn’t include the >15% pa rent and house price increase in the inflation measure, government are full of it.

    Lies, damn lies, and official statistics.

    We don’t need to borrow to fix this country (and become slaves to our creditors). We need to leave the world, capitalist, neo liberal, economic system – something that is very very hard to do.

  5. We survive only because we are small in population and are surrounded by a natural moat. And because we had a govt who generally, had the right priority’s and did the right thing. But never let us forget our favorable position,… and the sea…

    Here’s some awesome hippies singing about the sea,…and might I add, – if in doubt, – follow the hippies! I have a sneaking suspicion we lost our way in 1984 and followed the suits. NEVER follow the suits! EVER !

    Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) by Looking Glass

  6. No Liz, Do not berate yourself please. There is a human aspect to what is happening, and because we are – more or less- still human, it is the most natural thing in the world to speak of it.

    Taxes is a different story altogether. I am most certainly not an economist, but even still I know that clobbering middle New Zealand, per usual, doesn’t win votes, hence they won’t do it. But it is the uber rich tax evaders with trusts and off -shore payments and bank accounts who are the scurrilous ratbags nonchalant about societal services being paid for by you, and by me, and the bloke next door. Whether they conceal their wealth or flaunt it, they need to be forensically examined, and required to contribute in a more equitable way than they do, but they still sit safe in the too-hard basket. Why, I cannot say.

    Kia kaha – and lovely that you have a sister who is dear to your heart.

  7. “Do not berate yourself please”.. Do you not recognise passive aggressive behavior when you see it? The point She is quite obviously making is that the comments section is full of nothing but people either pushing barrows that are utterly irrelevant to the article, or exposing their intellectual/emotional immaturity with what amounts to innacurate/outdated, and self important assertions, which, again, have no relevance to anything but the white noise in their heads… It’s been quite disappointing, coming home from the other side of the world to discover that my own people have descended into self absorbed, juvenile whiners… You make Australians look good with this rubbish..

  8. When Obama won, the left and middle fence said, look at the change coming, and the change for any fool was business as usual, protect our borders, and that is the change here now, maybe more official legal control preventing our parental Social harm. Taxation is a societies deposit on its humanity.

  9. Meanwhile back to the greedy rich exploiting poor New Zealanders………..

    Food costs in this country are getting out of hand. Even buying locally and in season, it seems the price of tomatoes and bread is forever ridiculous. After living in New Zealand 23 years, I still can’t answer the question: if we produce so much milk, why does it cost so much?

    A $9.5 million house is being built in Christchurch. Shaped like the letter Z, swimming pool and tennis court. When completed, it’s going to be one of the biggest and priciest properties€ in town. The owner? A director at Foodstuffs South Island and owner of Pak ‘n Save Wainoni, one of Christchurch’s poorest areas.

    My blood boils when I think of the families who anxiously push half-empty trolleys through that store, selecting items that are a few cents cheaper and a little less nutritious, so they can squeeze more out of their wages to feed their families for another week, while helping to fund that Fendalton swimming pool and import its Italian tiles.

    The duopoly in New Zealand supermarkets must end and the Ardern government can instruct the Commerce Commission to investigate. There should be more competition in this lucrative market, better regulation of prices, and more options for small suppliers to access mainstream markets.


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