Judith Collins thinks Labour was 'cynical and political' to say National wanted borders opened

Judith Collins thinks Labour was "cynical and political" to say National wanted to open the borders up during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Government relaxes some restrictions on entry to New Zealand. 

Labour announced on Friday that if re-elected in October, it would enable a 10 percent quota for critical workers and would review criteria to enable a broader range of workers to enter the country.  

It came after the Government earlier this week made changes to current border exception rules to allow some partners of Kiwi citizens and residents to be able to reunite in New Zealand. 

The Government is also creating a new border exception category to enable the return of some temporary work visa holders and their families to resume their jobs or businesses. 

The border is currently closed to almost all travellers to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Only a small number of people have been allowed to travel to New Zealand, such as Kiwi citizens and people with a critical purpose to travel.

Every returnee must spend two weeks in a state-run managed isolation facility and receive a mandatory test on day 12. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is sent to a quarantine facility in Auckland. 

The National Party has often called on the Government to explore ways to open the border to more people, with former leader Todd Muller in May calling for an "innovative" plan to reopen them post-COVID-19. 

Last month, Collins said Kiwis would ultimately have to get over their fears of loosening border restrictions, as the country had been "missing out on high-end tourism, highly skilled migrants, and international students worth billions of dollars a year". 

But calls to loosen border restrictions has led to backlash from Labour, including leader Jacinda Ardern, who in June described them as "frankly dangerous" and that New Zealand was in a privileged position due to its "hard-won gains".

Collins was asked on Friday what she thought about Labour's plan to loosen border restrictions after previously shutting down the prospect. 

"I just think when this issue was being raised by National a little while back and we were asking for a conversation about this, we were accused by Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party of wanting to open the borders and let COVID-19 in," Collins said. 

"Well actually, I thought that was a really cynical and political thing for them to say. Quite clearly there is an issue, they need to address that, and it's always about safety isn't it as well as the economy."

ACT leader David Seymour said if it is safe to bring skilled workers into the country, it should happen now, not after the election.

"Jacinda Ardern is playing politics with people's lives and livelihoods," he said. 

Collins said there needs to be confidence in how the Government runs its managed isolation and quarantine facilities. It comes as a new survey of business leaders found 71 percent think the Government has done a good job of handling the COVID-19 outbreak.  

"I think it's really important we understand we cannot have fortress New Zealand forever," Collins said. "We do need to be able to bring people in when they're needed for the economy and also for compassionate reasons. We need to be able to do that."

Ardern told business leaders on Friday the capacity for about 14,000 people a month to enter New Zealand could be expanded in the future as the number of Kiwis coming home will drop off. 

"Yes, I do think we do need to keep - and will keep - looking at our ability to grow capacity, but what we are seeing at the moment as you would expect over time, the number of New Zealanders is falling back," she said. 

"That is giving us the room to establish a bit more certainty with the quota regime to make sure that we can plan with business and our industry leaders around the critical skills that we need to be bringing in, alongside serving the needs of New Zealanders who have that right of entry.

"But yes, with new technology, with capacity, I do believe there's a chance that we can grow that and it's one of the topics Rob Fyfe [who is advising Ardern on business] has been working on quite a bit with the business community."