New Labour MP Deborah Russell copped a social media backlash, typical of the mob mentality when in full flight.
Deborah is a former philosophy academic. She suggested to a Parliamentary select committee that if only a few weeks out of action caused the demise of small and medium sized businesses, that suggested an absence of foresight in being insufficiently capitalised in the first place.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson, seemingly the only government Minister with an awareness of small business realities, promptly stepped in saying he disagreed with those comments. But the damage was done. ACT’s David Seymour, playing to the crowd, released a video of Russell’s observations, unleashing an avalanche of abuse and claims the MP lacked empathy.
That’s rubbish. What Deborah lacked was awareness of the facts underlying small businesses.
Whether a farmer, café owner or self-employed plumber, the driving force behind most small businesses is the dignity of self-employment. For some people (me for starters) that’s a huge factor overwhelming any other consideration.
Common-sense says that the average small and medium sized business, the nation’s biggest employee sector, are not vehicles for wealth.
Deborah’s comments about under-capitalisation also illustrated her unawareness of the realities.
The issue is not a capital one, instead it’s the loss of income for a few weeks for which they can’t cope.
In 1978 I wrote a book on New Zealand current affairs. The chapter on farming was headed “Farming – A Career For Masochists”. In the four decades since nothing has changed but still the buggers queue to get in. Obviously they’re not motivated by money.
Take the ubiquitous Indian corner dairy, usually a family affair living in a few small rooms at the back, open 15 hours a day, seven days a week. Common-sense when one looks at their meagre stock, says they can’t make much, but again, it’s the dignity of self-employment.
New Zealand has the most intensive restaurant scene in the world. Armenia always claimed to have but it’s nothing like here.
A month back an Auckland restaurant owner told the Herald she wanted the Council to stop issuing new restaurant licences as there were already far too many and they were all barely eking out a living. So why do they do it? The answer again, is the dignity of self-employment.
As my company owns the most prime CBD Wellington office-buildings (18), we also inadvertently own the most shops. Add David Jones which we bought because we wanted the two office towers on the site and we also own the most CBD retail space.
Any vacancy that arises sees a queue of aspiring lessees, mostly restaurant and coffee-shop aspirants. It’s madness which is what Deborah who’s eminently sane doesn’t understand. Who can blame her?
But the same could be said about a Labour Parliamentary career. Initially exciting and an escape from the tedium of school-teaching, the public service or union work, the fact is it’s a seven days a week, long hours, marriage-destroying activity which always ends in obscurity and disappointment.
That’s why the Nats (and NZ First) have a better understanding of small business as their ranks are made up of many former farmers, retailers, small practise lawyers and such-like. But equally their Parliamentary careers end in abrupt obscurity.
I suspect, given their lives over again, few would opt for such careers.
The week out of action has enabled many small businesses a rethink. The Dominion-Post claim at least 400 Wellington so-called hospitality activities have had enough and will not re-open.
But it won’t just be vacant shops which will provide tangible evidence of the government’s blunder in tackling the virus so single-mindedly. Small builders, and numerous other activities will opt for welfare rather than try again.
It’s a sorry scene ahead of us and I say again, by election-time the Jacinda lustre will be replaced by despair and anger with the obvious electoral outcome.