Wellington, NEW ZEALAND – July 1, 2020: 12:26pm (STUFF NZ): Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says New Zealand should not give up on a trans-Tasman bubble and the country’s recovery largely depends on it.
But there could not be a country-to-country travel bubble when Australia was not even opening state-by- state internally, he said.
Further doubt was cast on the much-talked about prospect after the Australian state of Victoria experienced a spike in coronavirus infections, with a pick-up in community transmission, leading to a state of emergency being extended.
Earlier this month Peters revealed the plan for Kiwis and Australians to travel freely between each country had been delayed because the Australian Federal Government had been grappling with inter-state travel issues.
At the time he mooted a state-by-state trans-Tasman bubble instead – starting with Tasmania after he held talks with its state leader.
He stood by this idea on Tuesday, telling media: “Take Tasmania, they have a record as good as ours.
It could happen tomorrow if the Federal Government agreed.”
“The fact is we are ready,” Peters said. “The ball is not in our court, that is the difficulty.”
There was a chance if it could be done safely, the border could open but “extremist” ideas such as opening with China or bringing in international students was “irresponsible”, he said.
Meanwhile, a debate on the Government’s border strategy ensued during Question Time between National Party leader Todd Muller and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
If Australia decides to open up at Federal level and not state-by state, a travel bubble could take longer, Ardern said.
She was asked if she was comfortable opening the border to individual Australian states if her prerequisites of no community transmission, rigorous contact tracing and testing capacity were met.
She replied that it was a matter for Australia, and the New Zealand Government had done the work to make sure that when those thresholds could be met by Australia, it was ready, she said.
“If the member is suggesting that when Victoria is declaring 75 cases in one day and community transmission, that we should be opening up to that state, the member is out of step with the New Zealand public," she said.
Ardern repeatedly stated that it was up to Australia to make a decision.
“The suggestion that somehow New Zealand is standing in the way of opening up a trans-Tasman bubble, is simply incorrect. There are two issues at play. One, community transmission in Australia …. secondly, the possibility for state- by-state opening is not matter for New Zealand.”
If Muller had an issue with that he should contact his counterparts in Australia, she said.
“I would say there are a number of countries that actually have experienced prolonged periods without Covid and where that has then changed. South Korea has been one where we've looked to; Singapore; obviously, Australia. This is a highly uncertain time when this Government has been focused on giving domestic certainty to those who are trying to reopen their businesses, get the economy going, in a globe where there is such uncertainty. That has to be our focus, and that is our priority,” she said.
Muller asked if she was confident the border could open to international travellers without a vaccine – she said it was not the only thing that would make a difference in the global fight.
She also pointed out that relying on contact tracing to open the borders was also “dangerous”.
Earlier, Ardern said New Zealand's borders would stay shut during the pandemic.
It was “dangerous” and out of step with the public sentiment to suggest they should be open, she said.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ardern was emphatic that calls for the border to be opened to places where the virus was escalating would fall on deaf ears.
The Government had no intention of “squandering” the position New Zealand was in and the “hard won gains” after lockdown, she said.
“The idea that we should open our border in this environment has a price,” she said. That price could be a second wave of Covid-19 and more restrictions.
New Zealand had been in the enviable position of investigating and undertaking work with Australia and the Pacific on creating travel bubbles .
“Where there are safe opportunities, we will pursue them. But first and foremost, we are trying to preserve a Covid- free position.”
There was a time in the future to open borders, but to suggest that was now, when the virus was getting worse, was “frankly dangerous”, she said. (PACNEWS)