Everyday events are highlighting my post lockdown levels of reactivity. Perhaps an earthquake doesn’t quite count as an every day event (though in Canterbury it certainly was an every day event for some number of years), but a slight shuddering type earthquake is hardly cataclysmic. My nervous system did not agree with the former statement, however, when a 5.9 Richter scale quake hit off the coast of Milford Sound a couple of days ago. The quake started, kept going, my phone rang and I answered it and sounded sufficiently discombobulated that the caller asked if I would like to ring back. I said I would hang on and see if the earthquake stopped and, after about 30 seconds, thankfully it did. By the 20 second mark I had been wondering if I should move to under my desk, though the vibrations never got strong enough to even register with Chris who was walking across the driveway outside my office window. Finally the earthquake subsided, but it took my jangled nerves a whole lot longer to calm down.
I also found myself reacting disproportionately when at a recent social gathering someone was sniffing and blowing their nose constantly into a tissue they were clutching in their hand. Unfortunately for me, I was sitting next to the person. I pondered what I should do, while shrinking sideways along the sofa away from the sniffing. Raising the issue would be somewhat crass as there was no opportunity to tackle the person on their own. And even if there was, a personal confrontation was not really something I was wanting to undertake in the setting. I kept my hands firmly away from my face and stayed away from the food on offer. When the event finished I shot out to the car and doused my hands and face with sanitiser and repeated the exercise again when I got home.
I realise that it is highly unlikely that person sitting next to me had COVID-19. However, they may well have had another illness that I definitely don’t want to catch. It is also possible they had hay fever, though it isn’t hay fever season. The whole scenario raised in my mind that we need a new norm, where it is socially unacceptable to join social gatherings when ill or, if you are wanting to participate, you need to warn the other participants that you are ill and give them the chance to stay away from you. What I am not sure about is, does one have to trust that someone sniffling just has hay fever? Can you ask them without it being seen as a personal affront? People probably are not going to like announcing that they have hay fever when they enter a room! Notwithstanding, I really wish that people could learn to dispose of tissues immediately after use and not clutch them to the sofa that I am sitting on!
At another scale, the general level of reactivity out there was highlighted by the significant local (and national) reaction to the government’s $5.1 million handout to AJ Hackett Bungy. I loved the picture of Jim Boult doing the first bungy jump when New Zealand went to Level 2. However, I do not love that this very successful company has been given $5.1 million to prop it up, with the same amount to be provided as a loan if tourism doesn’t restart next year. The government’s justification of this handout is that the business is an iconic one. ‘Oh to be an iconic business’ say many of the region’s companies who, less excitingly, just supply things locals need. AJ Hackett Bungy is owned (via various company routes – anyone else get sick of the complexity of company ownerships which tends to look like obfuscation?) by:
- Henry van Asch (newly AKA ‘Handout Henry’), one of the two original partners in the AJ Hackett venture. Van Asch got off a drink driving charge in 2016, on the basis a conviction would significantly affect the business and NZ tourism workers. There’s another reason to be a icon. He claims it takes 2-4 years to train ‘jump masters’, so they need to retain these people in their many national and international locations. Really, it takes the same time as for a tertiary degree to learn how to weigh someone, set a bungy to the appropriate length as a result, and attach the person to the bungy. van Asch owns a number of properties including one in Dalefield (near Queenstown) valued at $7m.
- John Ward – a Southland stalwart who, amongst other roles, was Chancellor at Otago University, has been chair of SBS and of AJ Hackett Bungy.
- Trojan Holdings – the Davies family (Trojan shareholders) own a multiplicity of businesses, including Coronet Peak, the Remarkables and Mt Hutt ski fields, the Hermitage, Ultimate Hikes and trucking companies. They have a private jet so they can pop over to Australia. NBR cited John Davies as being an NZ rich lister worth $140m. Poor this family are not.
- Andrew & Claire Brinsley – this couple sold out of a high end Queenstown Hotel in 2011 (but remain on the Board and as shareholders) and Andrew has been director of NZ Ski, owned by Trojan Holdings.
As said by economist Cameron Bagrie (who also owns a substantial Dalefield property) “I’m not convinced that jumping off a bridge is a strategic asset. I would have thought that’s an asset you can hibernate and wait for the demand to come back. You have to look at this through a common sense lens and think, really? While the operation might have a couple of lean years without tourists, it has a long and successful history that it could draw from to finance its shortfall.” There is little evidence that the deep-pocketed investors were likely to give up entirely on a very successful income earner.
It’s not just the thought that the government is throwing $5.1 million at people with the existing cash and connections to weather their way through the COVID-19 storm that rankles. It is the thought that the bungy business, and many of Trojan Holding’s companies, are examples of enterprises that bring in large numbers of offshore workers and pay most workers minimum wage; they aren’t a strategic asset in terms of real jobs for real people in the region. It’s also the thought that Queenstown social agencies are collapsing under the pressure of local need. 7000 people have received help since lockdown, 200 new people are registering for help each day, and demand continues unabated. I wonder what $5.1 million could do if provided to local social support networks? And it is the thought that St Johns Ambulance, on whom 90% of New Zealand relies to rescue them when injured or suddenly struck ill, are cutting up to 100 jobs as a result of a $30 million income hole caused by COVID-19. Do you think it is quicker to train a paramedic than a jump master?