Peters: NZ, Aus 'beating the crap' out of Covid-19; wants trans-Tasman bubble

Publish Date
Thu, 30 Apr 2020, 5:35PM
Winston Peters is backing calls for a trans-Tasman bubble. (Photo / 123RF)
Winston Peters is backing calls for a trans-Tasman bubble. (Photo / 123RF)

Peters: NZ, Aus 'beating the crap' out of Covid-19; wants trans-Tasman bubble

Publish Date
Thu, 30 Apr 2020, 5:35PM

Foreign Minister Winston Peters says he wants to see a trans-Tasman border bubble formed as soon as possible now this country and Australia ''were beating the crap'' out of Covid-19.

He said an arrangement for free movement between the two countries could potentially happen under level 2 conditions here, however, it would be dependent on having health guarantees.

''It could happen at level 2 as long as you had a guarantee as to who was coming and their safety and security,'' he said.

Both countries had got on top of community transmission of the coronavirus but the trans-Tasman bubble wouldn't be viable if there was still a

quarantine for two weeks.

''The moment you put in a 14-day quarantine forget it - it's not going to work.''

He said while the country could not be certain of eradicating it ''but we're beating the crap out of it, the same as Australia''.

Australia is New Zealand's biggest source of visitors and, asked whether it was possible some could come here for the ski season, he said there was a chance.

Peters said he was more confident about reopening the country to Australians now, than had been speculated not so long ago.

He said a transtasman arrangement could be a model for the rest of the world. There would need to be as much activity as possible within a bubble and that was being worked on now.

The border would have to be without loopholes.

Asked what the prospects of Pacific nations joining a transtasman bubble, he said he was in frequent contact with island leaders who were concerned about the level of border security in their countries.

Peters, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, wants the country to move to alert level 2 as soon as possible to support business and jobs. An announcement on any change to status is due on Monday, May 11.

Global conditions would impact the speed of a recovery but he was now more confident given this country's preparedness for Covid-19.

Domestic air travel would be limited under level 2 with some preliminary modelling by Air NZ showing little route growth - including leaving off Queenstown - but Peters said he expects the airline to start flying to the regions as soon as possible.

The Government already owns 52 per cent of the airline and is likely to end up with a much bigger stake with its $900 million loan looking increasingly likely to be converted to equity.

He said any decision on ownership was up to the Finance Minister Grant Robertson who is the shareholding minister in the airline, which the Government had a ''huge'' underwriting in.

''We've got a repeat of history going on here. It was privatised in the past - every time it went belly up it came back to the taxpayer and this time it's staying with the taxpayer,'' he said.

Like other airlines around the world, Air NZ has grounded most of its fleet and it has slashed its operations by 95 per cent.

Peters' New Zealand First touts itself as the party of the regions and he said the airline in increased Government ownership would need to show its value to national and regional interests.

''Obviously we'd like to see the regions come alive again - it may cost money to do that for a while,'' he said.

''Flying to bring business to the provinces and regions needs to be factored in to their profit margin. It won't have a bottom-line profit margin, it will have contingencies which show its value to the national economy and regional economy in particular in relation to a place like Queenstown.''

He took issue with air traffic control operator Airways' view that domestic air recovery could be two years away.

The state owned enterprise is moving to shut down operations in some regional centres where it is facing pushback from mayors and from the union covering staff.

Peters said nobody knew how soon a Covid-19 vaccine could be developed, which could completely change that timeframe.