“Former chief executive of BusinessNZ Phil O’Reilly and industry leaders have endorsed ACT’s view that the Government should be taking a ‘safety’ rather than an ‘essential’ approach to businesses opening”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“ACT has said for two weeks that, rather than politicians and bureaucrats infantilising New Zealanders by deciding for us what is essential, businesses that can prove they can operate without undue health risks should be able to do so.

“The Government has taken the view that in order to function under the lockdown, something must be deemed essential. We view this as a mistake. If the objective is to stop the spread of COVID-19, the test should be whether something can be done safely, not whether it is essential. Moving to a test of safety rather than necessity would be a much better way of fighting the virus while salvaging businesses.

“Butchers, bakers and greengrocers are a good example. Making people travel further to visit a smaller number of bigger and busier stores undermines our goal of reducing the spread of the virus. Under a safety approach, only food stores with safe processes would be allowed to open, but all stores with such processes would equally be able to open.

“Instead, of the objective test, ‘Can this be done in a way that is safe?’, we are facing a subjective test, ‘Does the Government think you need this? This subjectivity has led to arbitrary decisions where, for example, only some media are allowed to operate. Industry leaders told the Committee today that businesses view this arbitrariness as unfair and that it is undermining confidence in the Government’s overall approach.

“A safety approach would involve a basic set of rules that people must follow. A two metre rule. Can you do this whilst remaining two metres from others? Yes or no? A ‘touched object’ rule. Can you do this without touching objects others outside your household have touched? Yes or no? A regular testing approach. Can we guarantee regular testing and contact tracing is possible? Yes or no? Obviously there is more to do, but we need to start developing a safety approach rather than an essential approach, pronto.

“Being able to operate under a safety approach is, to borrow a term, essential. Essential to people protecting their livelihoods in the coming months. Essential to preserving the rule of law. Essential to upholding the dignity of New Zealand citizens. Essential to ending the paternalistic politics to which we’re daily subjected.”