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Mayor Boult On Council’s COVID-19 Response And Recovery

At yesterday’s Full Council meeting, Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult addressed fellow elected members and the community on the QLDC response to COVID-19 and the emerging recovery programme. The following is the address which he delivered:

I’d like to address this to all our residents across our entire district.

Yesterday, a noted economist sent me a prediction that our district-wide economy will shrink by 40% as a result of the downstream effects of the COVID-19 lockdown. By a massive margin, we will be the most detrimentally affected district in Aotearoa New Zealand. Coupled to that, our unemployment rate is likely to reach somewhere between 25-30%.

These are the sobering, chilling facts of the reality before us.

Literally in little over a month, we have gone from New Zealand’s most successful district, with a growing population and a growing GDP, to potentially one of the poorest districts in New Zealand. I’ll come back to the effect on our people later, but the sad and harsh reality is that the cold breath of what has struck us now will be felt for years to come.

Many in our community understandably worry about their future in our district. Regrettably, we are likely to see a migration of some of our younger people away from the district simply through lack of job opportunities.

We have a massive task before us. It is a task that we must undertake together. The time for squabbles over matters that are no longer relevant is gone. For a very long period of time, growth will cease to be a subject for discussion and instead our mantra will be survival.

So, where to from here?

Next week, we will move from complete lockdown to level three. I doubt that this will make a lot of difference to most of us. That will more likely come when level two is declared in (hopefully) a couple of weeks’ time. Our concentration at this time must go into how we recover, how we ensure that there is a meal on the table for those who can no longer provide for their families and how an adequate level of support is provided for those in real trouble within our communities.

We are a mix of resilient communities though. I remind you all, that most of us moved here because we understandably fell in love with the district. That will not cease simply because of the wall of problems we now face.

Our community is very much based on the tourism economy. Many in our community, and I count myself as one of those, look to a future where we are no longer so dependent on tourism. We must diversify our economy. We must also consider the negative side of global tourism and the concern for the effects of mass tourism on our communities and our environment. In the future, we must do things differently.

Our immediate concern right now however, must focus on getting our economy moving to ensure those in our community have an income.

I have asked Councillors for their support for Council to be the catalyst to form two taskforces. One concentrating on community recovery and ensuring we look after the vulnerable. The other will focus on economic recovery. In forming these taskforces, I intend to enlist the help of one of our district’s greatest resources – that is the marvellously big brains we are fortunate to have in our midst. This work will be rolling out over the next couple of weeks.

As I have said, our current economy is based on tourism. In the immediate future we need to do all we can to encourage visitors back here. The international markets will be some time in returning, but given that last year 36% of our visitor mix was domestic, we need to do all we can to welcome Kiwis here. Likewise, we are interested in the work to create a trans-Tasman “bubble”, provided we can be sure our Aussie are as clear of COVID-19 as we are, which may re-introduce our second largest market. Other offshore markets will not recover for some time, and even when they do, may not be anything like the volumes of the past.

So, while we desire to see change in the future, the partial recovery of our tourism industry must be our main short-term goal.

In addition, Council has, along with many others in the district, asked government for assistance to undertake and support some of its “shovel ready” projects in the Queenstown Lakes area. This work has the triple intentions of getting some of the major infrastructure projects we have sought for years underway, providing an economic boost to our economy and creating jobs for our struggling community. I have a high level of expectation that government is listening to us and that we are likely to have their support in these projects.

These are difficult times for all of us, some more so than others. I say again that recovery from the ground zero position in which we currently find ourselves, requires the combined and concentrated effort of us all. I look forward to working with you to see our district return to prosperity.

I now wish to address some comment to those involved in dealing with the current crisis.

Nearly five weeks ago, this Council activated the emergency operations centre and the Wānaka incident control centre, with a large team drawn from across QLDC’s many functions, and increasingly with support from other individuals, volunteers and organisations in the district.

Since then they have been working seven days a week to provide community messaging and advice, to maintain a consistent stream of intelligence and data, to plan for best and worst case scenarios, and to source essential services and supplies. Looking further out the, the QLDC Recovery Team has been meeting with MSD, Immigration NZ, and MBIE weekly to brief them on the situation, and seek additional support. I personally have engaged with central government at every possible opportunity and at all levels to make our unique case.

But without doubt the welfare team response has been unprecedented. As of 9.00am this morning, we have received 8,422 requests for welfare support via an online registration portal on the QLDC website. Approximately three-quarters of this number are in New Zealand on employment visas, and one-quarter have dependents or other family members requiring support.

The most common requests are for food and grocery essentials (80%) and housing or rental support (20%). There are also smaller numbers seeking bedding, clothing, and help with utility and medical costs. The most common reason for food requests is to enable people to use what little money they have to pay other bills. Many people are accruing rental debt or depleting savings (if they have any) to sustain their current living situation.

Queenstown Lakes has a significant population of migrant workers, many of whom are newly unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown and not eligible for government financial support due to their visa status. The migrant workers are a key part of the economy and community in the district and the continued stress under which they are currently living is having a wide-reaching effect. When restrictions on movement are loosened, some of those able to leave the Queenstown Lakes district will do so. However, we believe that their significant need for support will remain as options to find work in tourism and hospitality are limited globally.

All of these underline how important the work of the emergency response team, and in particular the welfare team, has been and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. This is our community in need, and I am proud to see how this district is pulling together to support each other. This is a tremendous community spirit and kindness that I hope we will see maintained long into our future.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who has been a part of the response and recovery teams. There are too many of you to name individually but you know who you are and the genuine difference you have made in this country’s fight against COVID-19 and to the lives of those individuals and families in need. You have worked so hard over the last month and given so much of yourselves. There is a long road ahead to get through, but I know you’re up for the task, and together as a community we will get through this.

Kia kaha katoa.

© Scoop Media

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