ACT leader David Seymour has slammed the Prime Minister's "can't do" attitude over a trans-Tasman travel bubble, but Jacinda Ardern says she's not prepared to risk the freedoms New Zealanders enjoy.
Ardern could not confirm on Friday if a quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel bubble will be in place by Christmas because Australia has opted to open up to New Zealand state-by-state rather than at a federal level, which comes with implications.
"One of the issues has been that rather than an all-of-Australia-New Zealand approach, Australia did choose to move state-by-state. That created some complications for us. But I am optimistic that we will certainly have that opening sometime in the future," she told reporters.
"I've never put timelines on it because of course timelines... people book their lives around it - they make plans around it. So I want to make sure that whenever we do give that indication, it will have the certainty of firm dates attached."
Ardern said the difficulty with a state-by-state approach is that each Australian state has different response policies to an outbreak and New Zealand wants confirmation that inter-state travel would be shut-off in that scenario.
"With a state-by-state approach, you've seen that there hasn't been one approach if there's an outbreak in an Australian state. That means that New Zealand would have to navigate whether or not we would close our border in an outbreak depending on how other states react, so that brings a little more uncertainty for us," Ardern said.
"We want to make sure that all of those protocols - what we do in the case of an outbreak - are predetermined before we start travel so we're well-prepared.
"Some states shut down to others if there's an outbreak while others do not. So, really making sure we've got all those protocols in place for those scenarios because that's happened on more than one occasion."
Seymour said Ardern not being able to confirm a travel bubble by Christmas is a "sad but not surprising indictment" on the approach she has taken to travel bubbles.
"Jacinda Ardern is a 'can't do' Prime Minister when it comes to developing and trusting systems designed to identify, track and trace an outbreak of COVID-19," he said on Friday.
"That's why she's clinging to whatever flimsy excuse she can find to avoid opening up travel bubbles with nations that have gotten on top of the virus as well if not better than we have.
"We shouldn't be isolating people from places that haven't had COVID-19 for months with the same requirements for people coming from places where the virus is raging."
It comes as the Australian state of Queensland announced it would open its border to New Zealand so that Kiwis could be reunited in time for Christmas.
But Ardern confirmed that Kiwis returning will still have to undergo two weeks of managed isolation when they return. It costs $3100 per person in a room, $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child sharing the room.
"The opening of Queensland is no different to what we've seen with the other openings we've had with other states. It doesn't change our approach," Ardern said.
"When we reopen, we'll be looking to do that with Australia as a whole and we'll need to have protocols in place for how that will work... Individual states opening don't change our approach for now."
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins also confirmed earlier this month that a quarantine-free travel bubble with the Cook Islands will not be in place before Christmas.
Officials travelled to the Cook Islands last month to investigate a travel bubble, and Hipkins said preliminary advice suggested they were confident with the border restrictions in place. But he said work still needed to be done on testing and contact tracing.
"I think most New Zealanders want us to ensure that whatever we do and whenever we do it, it's safe. I don't think anyone wants to jeopardise or take a risk that means the freedom we have now is lost because we've had a misstep, so we take that very seriously," Ardern said.
"With the Cook Islands, we feel we also have a responsibility to make sure that given we are a higher risk than they are that we have all the protocols in place if there's an eventuality where we do have a case arrive in the Cook Islands."
Seymour says businesses are going broke and the Prime Minister should be managing and balancing risks instead of "putting it all in the too hard basket".
Ardern acknowledged that travel bubbles will help the economy but she doesn't want to risk having to take away Kiwis' freedoms in case of another outbreak.
"It will make a big difference for New Zealand, not just economically but there are such close social connections. I know people want to restart that travel but we want to do it safely," she said.
"I don't want to take any risks that jeopardise the freedoms we have but I am hopeful that sometime in the near future we will be able to give a bit more certainty around when the opening will happen."