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Covid-19 recovery will fail if not ‘ecologically smart’


Call for social justice and the environment to be prioritised in New Zealand’s post-pandemic response

New Zealand’s government must develop a post-pandemic economic investment strategy that is “astute and ecologically smart” or risk failure and financial loss, one of the country’s most influential academics has said.

Anne Salmond, a historian and distinguished professor of the arts at the University of Auckland, has called for social justice and cohesion to be a priority in driving NZ’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

“In lockdown, the cynicism of ‘trickle down’ economics became obvious,” she writes in an editorial for Newsroom, an independent media forum.

“Many ‘essential workers’ who are poorly paid but perform vital services put their lives at risk for little reward; while many affluent individuals and businesses took government subsidies to protect their balance sheets.”

Salmond said the Covid-19 lockdown had been “a shocking and bizarre time” that had isolated people from family and community support.

“During lockdown, while many of us found consolation in the kindness of neighbours, time to reflect and enjoy the beauty of our country, some of us died, others got sick and many others are frightened and have lost or are losing their jobs,” she writes.

“There’s a sense that the ground beneath us is lurching. The global economy is fragile, with the climate crisis, mass extinctions and collapsing ecosystems looming like black clouds on the horizon. Around the world, leaders are being tested, perhaps as never before, and some are failing in spectacular style.”

Salmond was named New Zealander of the Year in 2013 for her cultural studies and award-winning books on the cultural aspects of conflicts between Māori and European settlers. She was pro vice-chancellor for equal opportunity at the University of Auckland from 1997 to 2006.

In the Newsroom editorial, she warns that economic recovery strategies and regional infrastructure investments must include those who have been worst affected by the pandemic.

“It’s vital that those who will be hardest hit by the aftermath of the pandemic—Māori, Pasifika, women, those in particular regions and industries, are supported by these investments, and that those who are already wealthy and secure don’t capture most of the benefits,” she says.

“It is vital, too, that these investments effectively address environmental destruction—rivers choked with sediment and polluted with nitrates; native forests being chewed to death; rising seas and drowning islands. Regenerative approaches to agriculture, forestry, tourism and urban planning are imperative.”