Lion King or Kiwis desperate to get home? Judith Collins on the 'situation we end up in' without COVID-19 travel bubbles

Without a trans-Tasman travel bubble, the Government ends up having to choose between The Lion King cast and Kiwis desperate to get home, says National leader Judith Collins. 

Immigration NZ has approved border exemptions for 126 workers for the stage production of Disney's The Lion King, under the 'other critical worker' category for managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) spots. 

This category was how The Wiggles could do their upcoming tour and RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under was approved to film. The Wiggles' approval was controversial because it was given at the same time a woman was told there wasn't space in MIQ so she could see her dying brother. 

Collins says the Government will keep facing these dilemmas if the border settings don't start changing soon, to allow people from low-risk countries like Australia access to New Zealand without needing to undergo quarantine. 

"This is the situation we end up in, isn't it? You end up trying to make decisions over The Lion King versus people needed in agriculture and other industries," she told reporters on Tuesday. 

The Opposition leader has launched a petition calling on the Government to get a move on with the trans-Tasman travel bubble. 

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"In some cases we've had people contact us about family members in New Zealand who are dying and they can't get back - people on the phone crying that they can't get to see their mother who's in hospice because they can't get an MIQ spot, and the fact is of course they shouldn't have to if they're coming out of Australia," she said. 

"What's really clear is if Australia with its population… if they can run a system that allows New Zealanders to go to Australia and close the border whenever they need to whenever there's an outbreak of COVID-19 here, then why can't we?

"We are one nation - we don't even have the states system to deal with. We should be able to do it."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has come under increasing pressure to make a move on the trans-Tasman bubble, after her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison suggested she didn't want Aussie tourists spending their money in Queenstown

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking at her post-Cabinet press conference.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking at her post-Cabinet press conference. Photo credit: Newshub

But Ardern said on Monday there are a "number of complicating factors". 

"Who's eligible to travel? Because New Zealand and Australia have different rules around who can come into their country, so are they still able to participate in the trans-Tasman quarantine-free arrangement? What would you do if another country wants to open up and you want to set up a third bubble or a fourth bubble?"

She said those were all things being worked through with the Australian Federal Government, until Australian states started opening up on their own. 

"Since then we've had states open up so look, we're starting again with those plans, and that's fine. But it does mean we need to set up different protocols to work around that and make that work," Ardern said. 

Her concern is New Zealanders being stranded in Australia, and vice versa, if there is an outbreak in either country, and the bubble is shut down. 

"I can guarantee if we had a two-way quarantine-free arrangement, you would certainly hear if we had issues in Australia that caused us to take a pause and shut down flights. You would certainly hear concerns around people being stranded." 

Collins says Kiwis should be trusted to make their own decisions. 

"It's not as though people are going to be stranded in a third-world country. This is Australia, we're New Zealand, we have enormous links and those familial links are so important."

Collins is worried Singapore will beat New Zealand to a travel bubble with Australia. The two countries are in talks about a travel bubble which could be in effect by July, if they can develop a proof-of-vaccine certificate. 

"Singapore is going to steal the march on New Zealand. We're going to have Singapore and Australia in a safe travel zone and New Zealand will be an outlier sitting by ourselves with possibly the [Cook Islands] and that's about it," Collins said. 

"We need to rebuild our tourist industry before it dies and we also need to reunite family members who can't get together - 12 months without being able to see each other."

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Getty

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said on Tuesday the Government wants to make sure "consistent arrangements" are in place for a trans-Tasman bubble. 

"Certainly things have evolved and changed over time and quite clearly now we're moving to a position where New Zealand will be making its own decisions about this - talking to different states as well as the Federal Government."

Next week Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown will visit New Zealand as the first international leader to do so since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and Robertson said a travel bubble with the Cook Islands will "undoubtedly" be a topic of discussion. 

"As ever with these situations, it's not just the willingness we have to do it, it's making sure, for example, that the Cook Islands health system is in a position to be able to manage a situation where for some reason or rather, a case might emerge," he said.

"We've been working really well with them and you'll certainly hear more about that."

On MIQ, Robertson said the Government has tried to strike a balance between allowing New Zealanders to come home, getting critical workers into the country, and also providing opportunities for concerts and sporting events.

"We have been able to allocate spaces to allow things like concerts and sports events to go on, and I think that's good - New Zealanders have appreciated that. It's very small numbers relative to the more than 120,000 people who've been through managed isolation."