New Zealand should be capitalising on our covid-free status and the global reputation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern but the government still has a counterproductive "fortress New Zealand" mentality, according to New Zealand Initiative chair Roger Partridge.
"Let's capitalise on brand Jacinda and our covid-free status," Partridge told BusinessDesk.
The opportunities are extensive from education to sports and technological and scientific research, and could boost the economy, particularly the hard-hit hotels and tourism sectors, and preserve and create new jobs, he said.
The NZ Initiative has been lobbying the government for weeks, beginning with a plea to allow international ski teams to train for next year's Winter Olympics at the South Island ski fields, but to no avail.
"Following an enquiry from NZ ski team head coach Nils Coberger, the initiative's supportive overtures to Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson were swiftly rebuffed," he said.
It also received a response from Sport NZ which claimed that opening our borders too early would represent an unacceptable level of risk to our country that may lead to more infections and deaths.
"The pessimism is revealing. A strategic, well-managed reopening of NZ's borders should not present an unacceptable level of risk," Partridge said.
"With strict quarantining, Kiwis can be confident of containing any imported infections."
Provided visitors were required to pay an appropriate bond against both quarantining and health costs, NZ taxpayers would be immune from the economic risks too.
"With alert level 1 approaching, there are few signs the government has shifted its thinking towards capitalising on New Zealand's coronavirus-free status," Partridge said.
"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 NZ. And what a boon they would be to a Kiwi economy ravaged by the war on covid-19."
The government should be targeting multinationals such as Apple, Google and Microsoft as well as universities in US, where research has stalled because of the pandemic, and offering NZ as a safe haven for their teams.
"The government's reticence suggests a lack of confidence in its ability to implement 'gold standard' quarantining."
There is some evidence of that – Partridge said reports that people on the Avatar film crew - 55 of whom, and director James Cameron were allowed to enter NZ last week - mingling with other guests at their Wellington hotel when they were supposed to be in quarantine were "shocking."
And the limitations of the government's contact tracing app have been well publicised.
No capacity issue
But he dismissed Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford's comments that NZ has limited quarantine capacity.
Many hotels have been mothballed because of the crisis and the government should have logistic and managerial skills required in the public service and, if it doesn't, it should outsource the job to the private sector.
Or the government could simply hire people, a benefit to the economy at a time when unemployment is rising, to manage quarantine rules.
"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."