Charging returning Kiwis for isolation 'doesn't seem right' - human rights lawyer

A payment scheme for returning New Zealanders may have to operate on a case-by-case basis to fit within the law, a human rights lawyer says.

A cost to cover managed isolation stays is on the cards, with Border Minister Megan Woods saying a plan will be revealed soon, and the National Party also proposing to charge new arrivals if it forms the next Government. 

Woods and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have previously said it's "not a simple thing to work through", as Kiwis have the right to return home under international law, and charging them could impinge on that right. 

Human Rights lawyer Michael Bott says people in isolation are doing the country a favour, and it "doesn't seem right" they should have to pay.

"The two-week quarantine operates to keep them safe, but also to keep us all safe. It doesn't seem right that people should basically have to pay for their detention to keep us all safe."

At the very least, he says it wouldn't be fair to charge those who weren't in New Zealand when the pandemic hit in March.

"It's not their fault they're over there now, and they want to come home. It's their right to come home, and it's our duty as New Zealanders to look after our own and bring them back... One argument could be that if people choose to leave New Zealand now, they have got advance notice of the fact we've got closed borders and a quarantine period - it's only fair they should bear the cost." 

The Rydges Hotel in Auckland,
The Rydges Hotel in Auckland, which is being used as an isolation/quarantine facility. Photo credit: Getty

Woods on Sunday said any fee would have to be "fair and equitable" as well as "balanced with the legal rights of New Zealand citizens and permanent residents to come back home".

National would charge single adults $3000 each. Each additional adult in a room will be charged $1000 and children $500. Under-threes won't have to pay.

"National's policy is about fairness," said the party's COVID-19 border spokesperson Gerry Brownlee. "Many Kiwis have only one or two overseas holidays in their lives. National won't expect taxpayers to pay for other Kiwis returning from high-paying careers or expensive holidays in Europe."

He said Kiwis who have been overseas since the borders were closed have had plenty of time to get home, and will have two more weeks after the election - with National planning to start charging on October 3.

Brownlee said there will be "certain exemptions to ensure compassionate consideration.. and in cases where they are facing financial hardship".

ACT doesn't oppose charging returning Kiwis for the costs of their Government-imposed isolation, but says it shouldn't be run by a "poor quality Government monopoly", calling for private isolation and quarantine providers to take over. 

The Government is expected to reveal its plan soon. Woods says it is important they have a watertight plan before making an announcement.

"One of the things that we are very conscious of is that it's very important - in a system as complex as managed isolation and quarantine - that we are getting all the component parts moving."