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Its not enough to sit and wait; its time to plan a new

I have been unusually quiet on social and professional media the last week as I try and come to grips with what opening up as a country will look like. As an Auckland I and my whanau have been, like more than a million other people, locked down as a result of COVID19 and even though I have had the ability to travel as essential worker outside of the Auckland border I have not done so; instead choosing to work from home like everyone else. There were times in the last few months where I could have boarded a plane or headed off for work – but I was adamant that it would have taken a lot for me to do so. Running through my mind was the thought “I didn’t want to be that guy” of leaving everyone else behind.

But something changed this week; something motivated me to, for the first time, travel. Of course it was work related – appearing before a Select Committee of the New Zealand Parliament as Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Board for the Ministry of Children alongside my fellow Board members, Sir Mark Solomon, Dame Naida Glavish and Shannon Pakura as well as meeting with the Minister, Kelvin Davis, officials and the new Children’s Commissioner. My teams have also been disconnected and while ZOOM and Teams are part of our new normal there is nothing like being able to physically sit and talk (korero) with each other. But it was also weird to have done this – even though the engagements were pressing and the work important.

It all started on the way out of Auckland by way of the airport. I have travelled for decades to more than 110 countries around the world and I have never seen a nations airport so quiet, so empty and so un-inviting. It was literally empty and the security gates, normally opened at a certain time in the early morning, was closed. There was a single Air New Zealand staff member. Off into the distance, and sitting alone at what otherwise would have been bustling food court area was a lone figure, Dame Naida Glavish. As we sat waiting for the security doors to open the only three other people present were airport staff members sitting having a self made cup of tea.

There are no cafes, no food court, no open airport lounge. As it came time to Board it dawned on me, I realised that this flight was by no way full. I counted seven people, outnumbers by the flight crew and the attendants. Even to get us to that point we had ensure we had our COVID19 tests, were vaccinated and carried the correct exemption documentation. I know it seems silly to say this but it seemed that plan was flying faster because it was so empty and before too long we were on the ground in Wellington.

And you could not get a starker difference in the same country. The first noticeable difference was the airport. It was bustling with people going here and there, boarding planes, sitting down having coffee and food – shops were open, you could buy your lotto ticket or pickup a present. Just about everyone was wearing a mask but I felt dirty as if I didn’t belong here. I was from Auckland and I wondered if people knew I was if I was going to be treated any differently. As we waiting for our bags it was like I had arrived on another planet.

I was extremely anxious because of that fact – how should I act around other people? Would they treat me differently? Had we become a nation of two halves in the time that more than a million of us hadn’t enjoyed those same freedoms? During the week it became obvious that COVID19 had started to spread through New Zealand – a case here, another case there – and then came the test in Wellington from an essential worker in Auckland; but the numbers remained pretty static. The announcement came for Auckland about opening up and I became less anxious at being out of my City, the City I have come to call home.

But it was the hospitality and generosity of other New Zealanders during my short time in Wellington this week that gave me hope. I was worried we might be more divided than we have been together; that i would be treated with suspicion even though I was double vaccinated and returned a negative test in the last week. But; I should have know to have had more faith in the people of Aotearoa, that when the chips are down we are still a whanau. Over the week and months ahead we will face some immense challenges; the economy needs to recover, we must ensure our health system is not overwhelmed and we must do everything we can to ensure that the gaps in the learning of our children as a result of closed schools and rectified. We have to ensure that, as much as possible we return to sense of normality but in doing so evolve no revert back to business as usual.

2022 will be the year of hope; lets began the journey now, lay plans, make plans, reach out, connect and work together to find new ways and means to solve some of the many issues (Kaupapa) that confront us.

It is time for the nation, for out little piece of paradise, that land of the long white cloud to begin a new chapter.

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