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COVID-19 has undoubtedly affected our lives in so many ways. Our current situation is surreal and for some it’s even novel, but with so much uncertainty, there is a palpable sense of anxiety. What will happen to our country, our economy and our jobs, and more importantly, to us and those we love? These big unanswered questions circulate around us every-day.

On a personal level, being confined to home with my two daughters has been a special and unique experience. While I have treasured the quality and consistent time, my workload has increased substantially as hundreds of constituents engage with their concerns and queries. In the first week of lock-down, my office hit the same number of constituent queries for this year than we did in all of last. My colleagues and I are working around the clock with five times the normal workload to help find clarification and understanding as we transition from alert levels.

We have also had to celebrate Easter and commemorate ANZAC in ways that haven’t been done before. 2020 saw for the first time the cancellation of all ANZAC services since they were started in 1915. But, it was our individual acts of commemoration that formed our collective tribute. Across the country, musicians stepped up to play The Last Post for their neighbours and many of us woke early to Stand at Dawn.

We can be proud of our continued efforts in fighting this significant challenge.


ART OF APPRECIATION

Throughout this crisis, our frontliners have been working tirelessly to keep us safe, from doctors, nurses and scientists, to supermarket staff, delivery drivers, food producers, and other essential workers. Their dedication and professionalism has truly been amazing and I believe we owe our utmost thanks to them for helping to carry us through.

To show our appreciation, I launched a Maungakiekie art competition called Art of Appreciation that asked local children to create a piece of art thanking frontliners on the ground. Not only did we receive a great number of entries, but we also saw some great local talent.

At the end of every week, I forwarded these pieces of art to our frontliners, so they could go about their work with a smile. 


COVID CONNECT

I'm immensely proud at the way our 120 volunteers have rallied behind our seniors in the electorate to provide the necessary and much needed support. Our Covid Connect initiative is running smoothly and the comments we are hearing over the phones by our elderly are heartening. Many have thanked us for thinking of them, some have asked for a follow-up phone-call to continue the conversation, and others have reached out for extra assistance.

We are really making an impact during this extraordinary time and I want to acknowledge the time and effort our volunteers have invested, despite their own workload and personal commitments.

In the one month Covid Connect has been running, we have phoned over 2400 elderly. One particular situation has really kept with me and I wanted to share the below excerpt with you to highlight the difference that is being made (names have been changed for privacy):

“I got a call from Linda last week, she asked that I collect some cornflakes for her husband, so this was arranged and dropped to them on the same day. Linda had finally got their groceries delivered after waiting 8 days for a high priority delivery, however there were no cornflakes. Since her husband had a stroke 9 years ago, he has been in the same routine and cannot understand when something in his routine, such as his breakfast cereal, is not the same. He then refused to eat anything else for breakfast, so Linda phoned me for support. She was so grateful and wished that I send through my thanks to you for what you are doing with this initiative.”


ELECTORATE BOUNDARY CHANGES

The Representation Commission recently announced that at the next General Election, the boundary between the Maungakiekie and Mt Roskill electorates will be changing, alongside the boundary between Maungakiekie and Manukau-East. This will mean that some of you will be moving from one electorate to another and voting for a different MP, due to population sizes.

In very general terms, returning to Maungakiekie is all of One Tree Hill, Onehunga, Royal Oak, and a small section of Epsom South. Similarly, Maungakiekie loses Point England, Panmure, the area around the foot of Mt Wellington, and the section in north Otahuhu.

While I’m saddened to be losing these latter parts, which I’ve represented both as Councillor and MP, I want to reassure our current residents that my office remains here for you. I have a good number of live cases where I’m actively helping families in the Panmure, Point England and Otahuhu suburbs and will continue to do so until the new MP for the new electorate steps in.

For more information and maps on final electorate boundaries, click here


EPIDEMIC RESPONSE COMMITTEE

On a more national level, The Epidemic Response Committee, chaired by Simon Bridges, has proven a real success. Each week, it continues to ask the questions that we as New Zealanders want answered to ensure the highest standards of health care and a fast-economic recovery.

Through expert interviews and questions, the Committee has highlighted the inadequacies of government Covid policies, particularly the testing regime, border controls, lack of PPE gear, and a need for faster, more comprehensive contact tracing.

I would encourage you to tune in to the livestream (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am) either by visiting the National Party Facebook page, on Parliament TV (Freeview Channel 31 or Sky 86), or on the Parliament website.


KEEPING LOCAL


SMALL BUSINESS

As we transition from alert levels, we need to start looking at ways we can get some life back into our economy. Unemployment has already risen by 30,000 in the space of a month and Treasury estimates economic activity will be 25 per cent below normal under level 3.

A sobering article about the long-term economic impacts of COVID-19 predicted three-waves of unemployment:

  1. The first was hitting now, as people were being laid off by businesses that did not expect to survive in the short term.
  2. The second would be when the wage subsidy expired and businesses that had hoped to make it through realised they had to cut costs.
  3. The third would be when the effect of a global recession hits our economy.

Our businesses need clarity on what the path to recovery looks like and this is something I’m constantly reminded about when I hear from small businesses concerned about their future. For example, I've heard from a number of companies in the landscaping and plant sector who were devastated by the Government’s rejection of them being classified as essential. They were getting the wage subsidy, but weren’t allowed to maintain their stock that would cost huge amounts to replace.

I’ve also talked to a family business that sells mattresses. They have 7 staff who are currently paid by the wage subsidy, but won’t be able to open even during Level 3. They will, unfortunately, have to go through a minimum of 7 weeks with no revenue, and are being strangled by commercial rent and payments to suppliers for the stock they’ve currently got, but cannot sell.

While we all stand to benefit from our public health effort, we cannot ignore the disproportionate share of the economic pain that is being felt by small and medium sized businesses and their employees. So, how do we get New Zealand working again?

Hon Paul Goldsmith, our Finance Spokesperson, recently wrote an insightful piece that seeks to answer this very question. Have a read here.


While my staff (Danni, Alex and Jono) and I are still working from home and keeping our bubbles small, we remain available by phone or email. Please do not hesitate to reach out if we can assist you or your family in any way. Phone 0800 DENISEMP or email deniseleemp@parliament.govt.nz. We are here to help.

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