Todd Muller took aim at the reopening of New Zealand's borders during his first Facebook Live as National Party leader, saying it's now time to think beyond Australia and consider more countries to open our doors to.
The new leader says the trans-Tasman bubble is an "absolute priority" since Australia and New Zealand have had similar success with their COVID-19 responses, and the closed borders are impacting the economy in a "very severe" way.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reiterated on Tuesday her commitment to opening up a trans-Tasman bubble, saying it's a way of reentering international travel. But Muller believes there should be a more ambitious plan for the post-pandemic travel response.
"I think we need to push on beyond the New Zealand-Australia bubble. We need to start thinking now about what would be the next sensible country to open. How can we move into other countries, like China, in due course in a way that keep our people safe but allow us to capture the opportunity of getting up there first," he says.
But while he wants a plan to open New Zealand's borders to more countries in the future, Australia should be first.
"The trans-Tasman bubble needs to be an absolute priority, because, at the moment, we've pushed this COVID threat down to basically zero… Our next-door neighbour Australia has had similar success in terms of their COVID response.
"Now we're getting very close to the point where those two countries need to look at opening their borders in a way that keeps us safe, but enables commerce and, in particular, people-to-people connections to occur, because that's how we'll be successful in terms of our trading relation in this country."
Opening up the economy to international visitors will help with tourism and education, he says, but it will also benefit two-way commerce.
"Which will mean those small businesses - those half-a-million small businesses with a million people employed in them - will start to feel and see a way of recovery and success."
Muller added he wants an "innovative" idea that's "outside the normal bureaucratic model" when plans are considered in reopening the borders.
Ardern said on Tuesday the trans-Tasman bubble can occur while New Zealand is in alert level 2, and believes potentially opening up to another country will help measure whether the COVID-19 border controls are adequate.
"We've made a balanced decision, one that weighs up our desire to open up the economy but also not to risk going backwards.
"[But] it's not just about opening up travel, it's about testing our settings at the border, making sure we get it right."