The 1-in-100 year event: Political party leaders reveal how COVID-19 has shaped their view of governance

From stressing the need to work together to emphasising a "proportional" response, our political party leaders have opened up about how COVID-19 has shaped their view of governance. 

Jacinda Ardern

Looking back on a tumultuous year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the success in fighting off COVID-19 came down to New Zealanders working together and the Government collaborating with community groups and agencies to keep things ticking over. 

"When I think about the extraordinary ask that we had of New Zealand at the beginning of COVID-19, the idea that you - in a space of a very short period of time - could shut down an entire economy, would have almost been unfathomable," she told Newshub. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub

"The idea that you could make that so in such a short turnaround; that actually came down to leadership from local government, leadership by our community groups and agencies [and] leadership from neighbourhood networks.

"New Zealanders made the lockdown work and so sometimes we need to have faith that if you have a plan that actually involves being operationalised by those within and outside of Government, have faith that you can make it work."

The Government's response to COVID-19 has been celebrated worldwide. A CNN broadcast in April praised Ardern for making the "hard decision" to impose a "short, sharp and brutal" lockdown that saw more than 100 days free of community transmission.  

Judith Collins 

But the response hasn't been perfect, as National leader Judith Collins points out. 

Auckland was forced into a second lockdown in August, the source of which is still unknown. There were border testing failures, and then-Health Minister David Clark was absent during lockdown and broke his own rules.   

"You can't have a Minister of Health who's not there when there's a pandemic - that's never going to work," she told Newshub. "You've just got to be there and the best governance is actually supporting your management."

Collins says COVID-19 has shown us that "no matter how clever we think we are as people who have all the benefits of modern day living, a virus can come along and cause absolute health and economic mayhem". 

With New Zealand in line for the Pfizer vaccine, and hundreds of millions of dollars set aside by the Government to purchase others, Collins hopes the worst of COVID-19 is behind us.   

"I hope that the vaccines will be available and that they'll be effective and that people will use them. I will personally be one of the first people wherever I'm able to, to sign up for a vaccine if I'm part of the demographic that needs to have this," she says. 

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub

"I believe what we're going to see, is people taking their health a lot more seriously. The one thing out of COVID-19, we do tend to - I think - now value our lives and our health all a lot more."

The COVID-19 pandemic combined with a bruising election result for National has Collins looking forward to moving on from 2020. 

"It's been a really interesting year... There've been some really big lows but also personally some quite big highs. I think 2020 will have to go down as one of our more challenging years on all sorts of fronts."

James Shaw 

The Government's response to COVID-19 has topped Bloomberg's resilience ranking. It highlights how New Zealanders are "basically living in a world without" the coronavirus thanks to an elimination strategy.  

Green Party co-leader James Shaw told Newshub he's really proud of the Government and the country as a whole. 

"It's been phenomenally successful and you can see the kind of immediate benefits in terms of public health and the economy," he said. 

Green Party co-leader James Shaw.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw. Photo credit: Newshub

"I think we're a lot better prepared for this in the future having lived through this experience. You did see other countries that have been through the Asian bird flu virus in the 1990s acting a lot more coherently than countries that haven't had a recent pandemic event. 

"So I guess for me, really importantly, is to remember what it is that we've been through and take those lessons and say actually, we've learnt a lot over the course of the last 12 months - let's make sure we apply those lessons in the future."

David Seymour 

ACT leader David Seymour is sceptical about the high ranking. 

"There is no country on Earth that can match the variety of advantages that New Zealand had going into a pandemic," he told Newshub. 

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub

"Once you allow for the advantages we had, the debt we've taken on and the damage to our economy, then I think we've been a pretty average performer. We basically got what anyone could've got in our circumstances."

Seymour criticised the Government during lockdown over "insane" rules such as not allowing butchers and greengrocers to operate while dairies could, and he thinks the private sector should be able to help out more by running managed isolation facilities.  

"The role of Government in a crisis like this is to set clear rules of the game and bring together business and the public sector rather than try and do everything itself because then you don't have the resources because you're not working together."

Rawiri Waititi

For Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi, COVID-19 has shown him how his people were able to mobilise. 

"It showed Māori we don't need interventions. All we needed was to be able to have the resources to be able to look after ourselves," he told Newshub. 

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi.
Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi. Photo credit: Getty

Waititi's iwi Te Whānau-ā-Apanui shut off State Highway 35 in March to all non-residents in an attempt to prevent COVID-19 from infecting their people. 

"We had huge resources amongst ourselves so we didn't really need Government assistance. That's what it showed Māori - that we're qualified and we're intelligent enough to look after ourselves."