► Executive Summary
► Introducing Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures
► Where will the virus take us?
► Planning the reset: The Future is Now
▼ The challenge of sustaining trust
► Being prepared
► Moving ahead

In all these considerations, the issues of trust and confidence in decision making become paramount. This is true for all groups in society, including and especially those who feel marginalised or disadvantaged. Transparency around the evidence base for decisions is particularly key for the private sector if we are to move from lockdown and into a future that will be transformed in multiple and indelible ways by this pandemic. The crisis is going to persist in one way or another impacting directly on New Zealanders for at least 2 years – some suggest the airline industry will take much longer to recover. It will have a long tail affecting many sectors (tourism, education, trade, domestic economy, and so on).

Over the coming months, even if New Zealand maintains a path towards elimination, many choices will have to be made, none of which are easy. Decisions are needed around when and how to move to level 2+, when to reopen schools, what to do when flare-ups occur, how to support businesses, when to relax border controls, and so on. Trust in the proportionality of the measures taken will be critical to their success. At the same time, both progress in the science of understanding and battling the virus, and decisions made in other jurisdictions in their own battles, will impact on and inform some of the choices we can make.

The decisions made in answer to many questions posed in this discussion will involve hard economic and personal issues, including those affecting personal freedoms and personal or economic loss. The legal foundations for such decisions should be clear, and as far as possible be based on normal legal processes. Parliament should be enabled to function as soon as it is feasible to do so safely. Decisions by Parliament and the Executive should be as open and consultative as possible. Rules, and the legal sources for them, should be clear. Emergency powers should be subject to time limitations and review, and proportional to the problem. Clear distinctions should be made between rules, and suggestions or statements of the desirable. To maintain trust, the rules should be clear.

The need for transparency

The New Zealand response has been characterised by a relatively high level of central control over information and decisions. This can make sense for the acute phase of the crisis. Over time, however, centralised decision making can create frustrations that could spill over, not only for the public and business sector, but also for the academic community, which should be engaged to provide insights into the next stages of the battle and beyond. The ground-breaking Epidemic Response Committee of Parliament (ERC) is assisting in ensuring confidence is sustained at all levels of the response, beyond the highly competent messaging from Wellington, and shows the value of putting partisanship aside in crises. This is a model that may have long-term and global significance. But trust could erode very quickly especially if post-lockdown recurrences and winter weather threaten the level of disease control we currently have. Previously contested issues (border controls, testing, supply lines of PPE, tracking capacity and approach) could return.

Communication needs to be seen as objective – and to this end, transparency is key. The ERC is intended to enhance accountability. But its constitutional role will become more complex with an impending election. The government will need to sustain its current very high level of trust, not just by communication management but by greater transparency in what it is doing, making the system more accessible and accountabilities clearer. Some big decisions, whatever they are – over the pandemic’s levels of management, management of recurrences, health system crises, border control, sector support and so on – will be contentious. In other situations, adopting a ‘red team approach’ has helped to clarify issues and increase transparency and trust.

Inclusive decision making

Adding to the transparency issue is concern about the meaningful involvement of Māori, experts and leaders in decision making addressing the pandemic. Māori remember the devastating impact of past pandemics and infections such as tuberculosis and smallpox introduced by Pākehā. And the 1918 influenza pandemic had a massively disproportionate impact on Māori, with their mortality estimated at nearly eight times the rate of the Pākehā population. Pacific communities similarly remember the impact of both the 1918 flu pandemic, brought to their shores by New Zealanders, and more recently measles in Samoa. As yet, the impact on different sectors of New Zealand of the current pandemic is not fully understood, but we can assume greater impact on disadvantaged components of society.

The need to respect the obligation encapsulated in the Treaty of Waitangi to consult with Māori on issues that affect them has been voiced by a number of Māori leaders and scholars. In fact, there is a need and an obligation to allow a co-determination process to evolve, so that Māori have a strong say in determining their futures. The same inclusivity should apply to other vulnerable communities including Pasifika.

Impacts on social cohesion[31]

In general, societal cohesion is greater when there is a commonly held perspective of ‘the enemy’ or ‘the challenge’ (e.g. in early stages of war), as in the acute phase of an emergency, but once this shifts towards a chronic phase, it is often replaced by grievances, anger, PTSD, anxiety, and a sense of winners and losers.

If social cohesion is lost it is difficult to restore. In this environment where trust is critical – yet inevitably fragile – there is an immediate imperative to address both the economic and social impacts of ongoing restrictions, which are anticipated even if elimination seems realistic at the end of the lockdown period. In the face of ongoing or recurrent constraints to movement, social interactions and business operations, there is a potential over time (especially as winter approaches and election season appears) for social cohesion to be tested. The cohesion we see now in the immediate response may be replaced by anger, frustration, depression, anxiety and sad human stories. Depending on the road ahead, it may be difficult to sustain social harmony between the employed and the unemployed and across generations.

In emergencies, it is necessary for governments to make a number of decisions that can be seen as limiting freedoms and rights of individuals. But the success of the lockdown depends on a high level of compliance with these transient restrictions, which has generally been observed in New Zealand. On the other hand, it is likely that monitoring technologies will have to be used to assist tracing of contacts into the foreseeable future. It will be critical to sustain trust by appropriate oversight on such technologies and to ensure that traditional rights and freedoms are not unnecessarily restricted beyond the immediate needs of eliminating the virus.

The response after the Christchurch earthquake sequence showed that social cohesion is strong in the acute phase but then becomes more fractured and anger emerges as the crisis drifts on through a prolonged recovery phase. After the Christchurch terror attack, a very different type of event which directly affected a small group of New Zealanders, there was a very different response – one that brought very diverse New Zealanders together in a cohesive and globally impressive manner. Similarly, the lockdown has been widely accepted, exposing a collective determination to beat the virus in a way that may be globally unique. But it has come at enormous emotional and financial cost to many. The challenge and the opportunity lies in whether we can maintain that cohesiveness through massive changes ahead and the difficulties of the recovery. This will require more than partisan political leadership: it will require a collective effort which is broadly based, transparent and credible, and forward looking. The question is what kind of process could be developed to look at such a challenge; what does leadership mean in such an environment?

Societal wellbeing and mental health

Even when we ultimately have suppression or elimination of the virus, the social and health issues will last a long time. And the social impacts will not be equal across New Zealand society. How will sociological and demographic factors affect recovery and resilience? This is an area Koi Tū is directly examining, and will be the subject of a separate report.

At least two demographic dimensions need consideration. The age cohort effect has been said to be associated with a different values spectra.[32] This may be exacerbated if the young see themselves as having made further sacrifices for the old. Blue- and white-collar workers have had different experiences during the lockdown, and the social and economic impacts will be differentiated as well, extending significantly beyond the health impacts.

Disadvantaged and socioeconomically deprived communities are particularly at risk: unemployment, housing issues, dealing with the winter ills all disproportionately affect Māori and other marginalised communities. Can we take this opportunity to truly explore the issues that confront these communities? Māori experts and leaders feels that they have not been sufficiently employed or drawn upon. While there has also been inadequate consultation in many cases, we should be moving beyond consultation and looking to ways that we co-determine our futures. While Māori and other sectors are more at risk if the virus takes hold, Māori communities have already demonstrated their capacity for adaptation and innovation in the face of lockdown.

At a more immediate level, as the lockdown proceeds, the high rates of family violence will rise further. The deeper issues around this continue to be avoided and need to be addressed. Lockdown decreases the number of ‘societal eyes’ in play. A decrease in reports of concern to Oranga Tamariki is much more likely to be due to the fact that school closures, limited general practice, restricted neighbourhood oversight, absence of sports activities and so on, means that many children at risk are socially invisible under the conditions of lockdown.

A lockdown creates new social configurations that are usually found only in institutions where sleep, leisure, work, education, and meals all occur in the same place. Normal conflict resolution mechanisms are put to real test under these new social configurations, where income and food security and generalised anxiety are also in play.

Of those directly affected by income loss, unemployment, or ill health, about 5–10% are likely to have prolonged PTSD. As the recession deepens, this number may grow. Already we have very high rates of mental health morbidity in young people and issues of acting out, depression, anxiety, and suicidality will grow.

We must, however, also be mindful that the virus may have more tricks to play. This could lead to a prolonging or reestablishment of restrictions. In such situations trust in institutions of governance could be undermined, especially if transparency in the rationale for decision-making is inadequate. If demographic tensions rise as the recession deepens, and there is a growing sense of unfairness and inequity, and if the viral challenge persists and leads to greater fearfulness, then social cohesion could be undermined. At the moment New Zealand is privileged in this regard, which will be to our long-term advantage. This must be closely monitored and preemptive actions taken to promote it.


[31] Koi Tū, in partnership with INGSA, is leading a global project exploring the factors that strengthen or undermine social cohesion and societal resilience
[32] P Norris, R Ingelhart; Cultural Backlash; CUP 2019

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