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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 7—Agriculture

7. Hon DAVID BENNETT (National) to the Minister of Agriculture: Does he stand by his comment in regards to horticulture worker shortages, “The Minister of Immigration has indicated … that at this stage there is no capacity to bring in any more RSE workers”; if so, has he asked Cabinet colleagues what progress has been made on the Pacific COVID-safe travel zone?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Minister of Agriculture): In answer to the first part of the question: yes. In answer to the second part of the question: as agriculture Minister, I’ve taken part in discussions about that in Cabinet. But, ultimately, the responsibility for the establishment of any Pacific bubble lies with the Minister for COVID-19 Response, the Honourable “Chippie”.

SPEAKER: I think if I allow that, I’m going to have to allow everyone to do it. So the Minister will correct himself.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Sorry—the Hon Chris Hipkins.

Hon David Bennett: If the Minister has had discussions in Cabinet, has he supported any Cabinet papers this year about a Pacific Island bubble?

SPEAKER: Sorry, has he …?

Hon David Bennett: Supported any Cabinet papers this year about a Pacific Island bubble.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: I think everyone in Cabinet would like to see a bubble open as quickly as possible. But, as the Minister said in his previous question, our priority is to keep New Zealanders safe from COVID, which is arriving at our border every day, and we have a responsibility for that first and foremost.

Hon David Bennett: Point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very simple question: has he supported any Cabinet papers this year?

SPEAKER: Yes, and the question was certainly addressed.

Hon David Bennett: Why hasn’t he prepared a Cabinet paper this year for a Pacific bubble, when the horticulture sector has been seeking such?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Because the horticulture sector doesn’t have a responsibility to look after all New Zealanders.

Hon David Bennett: Really? OK. What is the latest date that the Government will announce a Pacific bubble to give the necessary Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (RSE) workers, so that the horticulture sector can have confidence in planting crops and the process they will go through in the next year?

Hon Grant Robertson: Point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister being asked the question is not the main member responsible for matters of travel bubbles.

SPEAKER: Yes, I can understand the point that the Deputy Prime Minister is making. I will, however, take some responsibility for shortening this question from one which was much longer, and, in doing that, I did give an undertaking that I would be liberal in my interpretation. Therefore, I’ll ask the Minister to answer the question. Maybe ask it again.

Hon David Bennett: What is the latest date the Government will announce a travel bubble with the Pacific Islands, so that horticulturists can have security to know that they will have the staff for next season?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: That is for Cabinet to decide.

Hon David Bennett: How will Cabinet decide, if the Minister won’t advocate to his colleagues that there should be a Pacific bubble?

SPEAKER: Right. Well, that question is out of order.

Hon David Bennett: When the Minister said, on 17 March, that “We’re going to run a robust quarantine system in this country, regardless of where people are coming from, because the risks out there are [so] significant. The fact that we haven’t been able to open … a bubble across the Tasman is because there’s still uncertainty around the management of COVID in both our countries,”, then, with recent announcements of an imminent trans-Tasman bubble, how has he advocated for consistency for RSE workers in a Pacific bubble to meet the shortage of workers in the horticulture sector?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: I think Cabinet has been aware of the pressure in the horticulture sector. That is why they approved 2,000 workers into this country at a time when there was huge pressure on managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ). Cabinet will make decisions around the trans-Tasman bubble. If there is any capacity at MIQ at that point, then I’ll be advocating for some of those spaces to be available.