Special treatment for The Lion King musical a slap in the face for local productions

In New York, Broadway is still mothballed - but it's about to hit Auckland with news The Lion King musical is en route.

However with 126 special critical worker visas granted, and those valuable spots taken up in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, the Government is under pressure to explain why it's giving yet more special treatment to celebrities.

It's good news for audiences but a slap in the face for local productions crushed by COVID-19, like Jersey Boys, with its almost entirely Kiwi cast and crew. 

"To be honest, I'm pretty gobsmacked," said producer Terry O'Connor. "126 people into New Zealand - cast and technical crew - to take away jobs from New Zealand... we honestly didn't think it could happen."

The Lion King joins a cast of other entertainers and sports events given priority visas, from The Wiggles, to the Avatar crew, and more than 700 for the America's Cup.

"People will buy tickets, they'll probably go out for dinner," said Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi, when asked what economic benefit The Lion King production brings to New Zealand. 

ACT leader David Seymour said: "The Lion King's wiggled in while a whole lot of other honest, hardworking people are missing out."

Those missing out are people like critical migrant healthcare workers separated from their families and children

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to look into the border botch-up which split those families, so we don't lose those workers during a pandemic and nursing shortage. 

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said on Tuesday the Government is not being classist when it comes to granting visas. He insists The Lion King production is not more important than healthcare workers. 

"It's not," he said. "That's not how we're viewing it."

The 126 visas also mean 126 coveted spots taken in MIQ. 

"Open up the trans-Tasman bubble," said National leader Judith Collins. "That will free up 40 percent of your managed isolation and quarantine facilities... that can actually bring more people in who are the families of critical care workers." 

National is dedicating all its efforts, all its parliamentary questions, to getting that bubble blown.

"If the Prime Minister doesn't essentially pull-finger and get on with this, we're going to end up with the death of Queenstown on her," Collins said. 

The Government's border exemption strategy is looking shambolic and National's bubble argument will strike a chord.

No more Australian arrivals in MIQ means more space for Kiwis stranded overseas, critical healthcare workers and the opportunity for dinner and a show.