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Even though New Zealand’s MIQ and virtual lottery system has now come to an end, there is something comforting in the Grounded Kiwis win in the High Court this week. Finally, common sense comes to the fore, it’s like a full stop has been placed under this contentious issue as the High Court acknowledges we needed to protect our border, but it could have been done better.
Grounded Kiwis is an organisation made up of Kiwis here in New Zealand and overseas who speak for all New Zealanders affected by MIQ, of which there were no small number. They asked the High Court to review the system that was in place between September 1 and December 17, 2021.
Their claim was based on a breach of the Bill of Rights which allows New Zealand citizens the right to re-enter the country, a right that Justice Mallon found had been infringed by the combination of the virtual lobby and narrow emergency criteria.
The emergency criteria was one aspect of the system I couldn’t get my head around. I understand it was complicated to compare the many different situations people were in, but the system appeared to be set up to let as few people in as possible.
Justice Mallon got it right in saying grounds for emergency allocations were too strictly set, in some cases also narrowly interpreted, and too few places were set aside in MIQ for people who met the criteria. All issues I would have thought were relatively easy to address.
By September last year, many Kiwis who wanted to return home to New Zealand for good had done so. We had seen entertainers and sports teams allocated MIQ slots, and an increase in allocations for some essential workers. So why was it so hard to also cater to Kiwis in need? Pregnant women, sick Kiwis, Kiwis wanting to farewell a loved one?
Of course, the system could have worked better, but for whatever reason, it was deemed too hard to improve. Whether it was a lack of resources, concerns people wouldn’t be honest in explaining their situations, or avoiding political fallout – there never really seemed to be a desire to make the system work better, especially for those who needed it most.
We’ve all heard far too many stories of suffering, and yet the government was immobile on this issue. The exact orders the judge will make have yet to be decided. The parties, which includes the ministers of Health and Covid-19 Response, and the chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, as well as Grounded Kiwis, have 14 days to agree on the words of a declaration, or the judge will decide it at a later date.
The government’s response will be interesting. Chris Hipkins has said they are carefully considering the Court’s decision. One would hope they would take the ruling on the chin, reflect and address it.
While it’s bittersweet comfort to those who suffered; acknowledgement that not all decisions were good ones is a sign the government understands that it could have pursued its elimination plan, kept people safe and found a way to protect the rights of vulnerable Kiwis, wherever they were in the world.