New coronavirus wage subsidy: National's Paul Goldsmith feels for Kiwis paying 'heavy price' of 'border failure'

National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith is feeling for Kiwis paying a "heavy price" for the Government's "border failure", after the announcement of a new $510 million wage subsidy scheme. 

Goldsmith said the National Party supports the new wage subsidy following Auckland going into level 3 lockdown until August 26, but he suggested it wouldn't have been necessary if the Government had protected the border better. 

"The Prime Minister was correct when she said in April that 'the worst thing we can do for our country is to yo-yo between levels, with all of the uncertainty that this would bring'," Goldsmith said on Monday. 

"Yet her Government inexplicably failed to ensure everyone working on the border or in quarantine facilities was regularly tested. You can't have an elimination strategy and take such big risks on the border."

Newshub's investigations reporter Michael Morrah revealed last week that just one week before the current community outbreak in Auckland, 63.5 percent of all border and hotel isolation workers in the city had never been tested for COVID-19.   

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said on Saturday he was frustrated and disappointed the Government was misled about the level of COVID-19 testing of frontline border staff - sentiment Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shared.  

"The Minister of Health thought it was too much to insist that all border workers were tested; but it is not too much to ask 1.5 million to go into lockdown again," Goldsmith said. 

"Not only is the second lockdown costing kids educationally, costing parents their jobs and the wider economy perhaps $400 million a week, the uncertainty it brings will further crush business confidence and delay our recovery. 

"Borrowing $1.6 billion more to pay wage subsidies is necessary now, to help businesses that can't trade for public health reasons, but we have to give ourselves the best shot to rebuild by competently managing the border."

National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith.
National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith. Photo credit: Newshub

The Ministry of Health said on Monday that of the more than 2500 staff working in managed isolation and quarantine facilities in Auckland, 2100 staff have been swabbed on site, with further staff tested at community testing centres and GPs.

ACT leader David Seymour said investing in better public health would have been ten times cheaper than the new subsidy, but he acknowledged it is necessary to keep businesses afloat. 

"The latest lockdown is the result of the Government's failure around public health. It had a duty to keep New Zealanders safe from the virus and prevent it from creeping back into our community," he said on Monday. 

"Businesses in my electorate have told me stories about losing millions of dollars. Profits are down for some by around 80 percent and many have had to freeze or destroy their stock," he added. 

"The Auckland market was vital for our domestic tourism industry and now that's been decimated. For businesses on the edge, a subsidy is necessary to keep them going."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has unveiled a new wage subsidy scheme now that Auckland is under alert level 3 lockdown.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson has unveiled a new wage subsidy scheme now that Auckland is under alert level 3 lockdown. Photo credit: Newshub

The wage subsidy extension will be available for New Zealand businesses that can show a revenue drop due to COVID-19 of at least 40 percent for any consecutive period of at least 14 days within 12 August and 10 September compared to 2019. 

Marisa Bidois, CEO of the Restaurant Association, said she would have preferred the subsidy threshold to be dropped to 30 percent, and that it should have been provided for longer than two weeks. 

"We appreciate and support the extension to the wage subsidy. However, we would have liked to see the subsidy threshold dropped to 30 percent rather than the confirmed 40 percent.  We also believe the scheme should have been extended beyond two weeks," she said. 

"Hospitality businesses are still paying fixed costs even when closed or partially open and some decisions on commercial lease payments which we have now been waiting on since April, is critical. Without this, we will face closure rates of at least 20 percent if not more."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Government had acted quickly to cushion the blow for businesses and workers. 

"The new wage subsidy will help support cashflow and confidence. Along with the existing wage subsidy extension - which is open until 1 September for eligible businesses - the Treasury estimates that about 930,000 jobs will be covered by the two schemes."

You can read more about it here.