No sign of strategic thinking

Roger Partridge
Insights Newsletter
5 June, 2020

With Alert Level 1 approaching, there are few signs the Government has shifted its thinking towards capitalising on New Zealand’s coronavirus-free status.

On Wednesday, Minister for Economic Development Phil Twyford fielded yet more criticism, this time for refusing to let an overseas fishing vessel undergo repairs at a Nelson shipyard.

Like the well-publicised obstructions facing Americas Cup syndicates trying to enter the country, the Nelson shipyard blockade is symptomatic of the Government’s ongoing “Fortress New Zealand” mentality.

Yet opportunity beckons.

The country’s Covid-free status is a drawcard for multinationals, international students, researchers, film studios and sports teams. Subject to a protocol of user-pays, “gold standard” quarantining, all could be safely allowed entry to New Zealand. And what a boon they would be to a Kiwi economy ravaged by the war on Covid-19!

The New Zealand Initiative has previously highlighted overseas ski teams clamouring for permits to train on the South Island’s ski fields ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics. Yet following an enquiry from New Zealand ski team head coach Nils Coberger the Initiative’s supportive overtures to Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson were swiftly rebuffed. The response from Sport New Zealand claimed “Opening our borders too early would present an unacceptable level of risk to our country and may lead to more infections and deaths.”

This pessimism is revealing. A strategic, well-managed­ reopening of New Zealand’s borders should not present an unacceptable level of risk. With strict quarantining, Kiwis can be confident of containing any imported infections. And provided visitors are required to pay an appropriate bond against both quarantining and health costs, New Zealand taxpayers would be immune from economic risks too.

The Government’s reticence suggests a lack of confidence in its ability to implement “gold standard” quarantining. The low-tech contact tracing app the Government released last month suggests its doubts might be justified. So too do shocking reports over the weekend of Avatar film crew mingling with other hotel quests in Wellington when they were supposed to be in quarantine.

Yesterday, Phil Twyford explained that New Zealand had limited quarantine capacity and that “the bar is set very high” for essential workers entering on economic grounds” but his “hope” was that “over time we're going to be able to build our quarantine capacity.”

New Zealanders deserve better. Fighting off Covid-19 came at a great cost to all Kiwis. It is now time for the country to benefit from everyone’s efforts. The Government must step up.

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