National promises freer travel in new border security plan

National is releasing the second part of its border security plan, which it says will allow us to "safely reconnect to the world and grow our economy".

Announcing the policy in Auckland at 11am, deputy leader Gerry Brownlee says the policy establishes safe conditions for skilled and essential workers to re-enter the country. This will help the industries that depend on them for survival.

"COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time. The latest dire projections from Treasury show decades of deficits and sky-rocketing debt," Brownlee says.

"National has a plan to defeat the deficit, restore the economy and keep Kiwis safe from COVID-19."

National will:

  • Implement a booking system for managed isolation facilities to manage more arrivals into New Zealand safely
  • Scale-up managed isolation capacity by allowing private accommodation providers to become approved service providers
  • Investigate streamlined travel arrangements for low-risk countries and territories
  • Invest in new technologies around Bluetooth tracing and rapid testing

National will prioritise returning Kiwis while enabling essential and skilled workers, students and, eventually, long-stay tourists to book a place in managed isolation facilities.

"New Zealand needs to grow its way out of this economic crisis, which means we need a plan to get essential workers back into the country," Brownlee says.

"Our horticultural industry, for example, is desperate to fill the worker shortage created by border restrictions that is putting $9.5 billion of the country's economy at risk."

National will also look at flexible travel arrangements for people entering New Zealand from countries and territories that are COVID-free, such as the Pacific Islands.

"Flexible arrangements were offered in the Government's negotiations for rugby tests between the All Blacks and Australia," Brownlee says.

"These options should also be considered, alongside public health advice, for Pacific countries that have no COVID-19."

National will also develop a long-term solution for safe re-entry by bringing private accommodation providers into the Government-controlled managed isolation network.

All private facilities will have to meet or exceed required levels of safety, security, reporting, transporting, training and testing, as well as meet the associated costs.

"National's plan will see these costs more evenly shared between those wishing to enter the country and industries who need overseas workers," Brownlee says.

"This, alongside National's co-payment policy, will help relieve the burden on taxpayers who have had to fork out more than $500 million to date on managed isolation and quarantine."

'Familiar ideas'

ACT leader David Seymour says National's border policy contains some "familiar ideas".

"It's tough coming up with policies for two political parties, but we're up to the challenge," he says a statement following National's announcement.

"A multi-disciplinary COVID-19 agency, allowing non-government organisations to operate MIQ under a new regulatory framework, using better technology like Bluetooth for contact tracing, and treating countries and travellers according to risk are all ideas ACT has been promoting for some time.

"Last week, National announced new charter schools and tax cuts, both core ACT policies.

"This shows that a centre-right government powered by ACT's ideas can promote freer, more prosperous New Zealand."

Scepticism of plan

Appearing on The AM Show on Tuesday before the announcement, both former Labour Party president Mike Williams and former ACT Party staffer Trish Sherson were sceptical of the plan.

"That's exactly what caused the disaster in Victoria - bringing private enterprise to look after people coming into the country," Williams said.

Victoria saw an explosion in COVID numbers after contracting private security guards to enforce isolation, with Australian media reporting contractors barely enforced rules, allowed guests to visit each other and in some cases even had sex with them. 

Sherson said there just aren't enough nurses and soldiers in New Zealand to oversee the scheme.

"Frontline resources are so stretched. Even if you have luxury quarantine, you've still got to have the military there and nurses and doctors, and that's where the real pinch-point is. We just haven't got enough of them."