Pacific Island business leaders accuse Government of restricting New Zealanders' holiday travel rights

There are claims the Government is unreasonably restricting New Zealanders' rights to choose where they go on holiday.

Borders remain closed to completely COVID-19-free countries - like the Cook Islands - and businesses there say opting for travel to Australia, ahead of the islands, defies logic.

Cook Islands private sector taskforce chairperson Fletcher Melvin says business leaders are at breaking point, and they have a message for the New Zealand Government.

"You're restricting your own citizens and you're also restricting your friends. You're restricting citizens of the New Zealand realm," he says.

The realm countries are the Cook Islands, Nuie and Tokelau. Put simply, they're Kiwi citizens and our Governor-General is their head of state.

The Cook Islands haven't had any COVID-19 cases, yet on Wednesday Australia posted two new cases and it has 432 current active cases.

"That's the part that I find unreasonable. I would understand if we had COVID cases but there's none. So what is the reason?" Melvin says.

ACT Party leader David Seymour is also questioning the restrictions.

"New Zealanders have the right to freedom of movement. There's no risk in going to the Cooks where there's no COVID, so what is the Government's justification for stopping us?"

The Prime Minister says it's about exercising caution.

"All of the preliminary work that we are doing at the moment has been focused on the trans-Tasman," Jacinda Ardern says.

The idea is that the Pacific Islands would come after a plan is sorted with Australia.  

But on Wednesday the Prime Minister left the door open, saying it's not a categorical 'no' to the Pacific coming first. 

"No, not necessarily but at the moment our focus has been on that trans-Tasman bubble."

The Prime Minister's office later told Newshub: "A global pandemic is volatile by nature so the bubble plan remains a work in progress. Given that volatility, it would be unwise to rule anything in or out."   

So far taxpayers have forked out tens of millions of dollars in aid to the Pacific to help with the impacts of COVID-19. But business operators say aid payouts are not the answer. 

"We want tourism dollars. Much better than aid money. We want our economy back," Melvin says.

Seymour believes Kiwis don't want their taxes spent on the Pacific for them.

"Most New Zealanders would much rather take their money to Rarotonga and spend it on a piña colada than have the IRD take it in taxes and the IRD give [the Pacific] it in charity."

So the call is clear - give us a hand, not a handout.