Deputy PM Winston Peters wants a transtasman bubble now

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 28 May 2020, 7:51PM
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. Photo / Mark Tantrum

Deputy PM Winston Peters wants a transtasman bubble now

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 28 May 2020, 7:51PM

Transtasman flights to Tasmania can be safely done now, and international students could safely fly in to New Zealand and be put into quarantine, Winston Peters says.

The Deputy Prime Minister told reporters on his way to Question Time today that both measures would boost the economy, which has been devastated by Covid-19.

He has been pushing for a transtasman bubble as well as a move to alert level 1 immediately.

Officials have been working on the logistics to keep transtasman travel safe. A draft blueprint is expected to go to New Zealand and Australian governments at the start of June, and a timetable for flights to be ready in July is being worked on.

Peters said it was safe to have transtasman flights with some Australian states now, adding that was the view of Premier of Tasmania Peter Gutwein, who wanted to revive the 1990s flights between the countries.

"Look at the Queensland results. Look at the Northern Territory results. They exceed ours. We've got to take all the expert advice into consideration. But be sure of this - all that medical advice is only so sound while we can pay for the outcome of this. And that's what I'm concerned about."

He said a travel bubble with New Zealand and the Pacific was also being looked at, especially in light of the fact that many Pacific economies rely on tourism.

But he said he was cautious about opening flights between the countries.

"The last thing we want to do is imperil the populations of those countries, like Niue, like the Cook Islands, like Samoa."

Moving to level 1

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has set out a timetable for Cabinet to consider on June 22 at the latest whether the country is ready for alert level 1.

Peters acknowledged the public health advice about the long tail of Covid-19 - which director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said was why alert level 2 needed to be maintained for now.

Peters said that Bloomfield was an expert, but health advice was only one part of the equation.

"Advice is one thing, but we have to make decisions about something else - the absolute crisis we've got with our economy. The faster we turn that around, the better."

International students

On international students, he said he thought that New Zealand was ready to receive them now, and it should be given the greenlight "as fast as possible".

"They can be quarantined. We can restore with far greater integrity our export education."

International education adds about $5 billion a year to GDP.

There were no new cases of Covid-19 today and there are only eight active cases.

The death toll is at 22, after the death of Eileen Hunter has been added to the tally. She had been recorded as recovered from Covid-19 but died four days ago.

'We can go inter-country'

Yesterday Peters said the bubble could start with Tasmania and New South Wales, and "pretty soon" Queensland as well.

"I'm saying to Australians - don't let the federal system be an obstacle. Let's start with the states that are ready, and the rest will chime in pretty soon.

"We do not want to be looking at criteria when the balloon goes up, so to speak. We've got to be ready, and now.

"We still think we still gotta see our populations as one country. And rather than going inter-state, we can go inter-country."

Whether flights could open between New Zealand and some Australian states but not with others still needed to be worked out, but Australian PM Scott Morrison has said that flights from Sydney to Auckland could happen before Sydney to Perth.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Tourism has an aspirational timeframe to have transtasman flights by July 1.

The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group - co-ordinated by the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum - has been working on a draft blueprint to be presented to both governments in early June.

Aspects being worked through include pre-flight health requirements and eligibility, protections on board an aircraft, movement through airports, and contact-tracing requirements once people have landed.

Capacity, any necessary physical distancing, cleaning protocols and education campaigns were also issues being considered.

Peters also said he wanted New Zealand to move to alert level 1 yesterday, but Cabinet had decided by consensus to go with public health advice to stay at level 2 for at least two two-week incubation periods.

"We think it's urgent, and we're just reflecting what a significant number of New Zealand business people think, and workers think," Peters said.

Ardern said yesterday there had been disagreement within Cabinet about when to move to level 1, including from NZ First Cabinet members, and today she said that was not unusual in a coalition government.

Water reforms
Peters today said NZ First supported today's long-awaited reforms aimed at cleaning up New Zealand's rivers, saying that water pollution was more of an urban issue than a rural one.

He took a dig at the Greens, which has been pushing for an end to Government-subsidised water storage for irrigation.

"At this point in time, with drought all over the country ... I would not have thought that was a smart idea. We believe water storage is of critical component that this country needs. We've got the water. We just need the smart policies to conserve it."

Today's announcement was not about water storage. The new reforms set higher health standards at swimming spots, require urban waterways to be cleaned up and enforceable farm environment plans, and set stricter controls on nitrogen pollution.