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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 6—Prime Minister

6. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement on 13 April 2020, “That doesn’t mean that we aren’t looking into how we can create the smartest borders in the world”; if so, does she believe that in April 2021 we now have the smartest borders in the world?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, I stand by my full statement that was made a year ago in relation to mandatory managed isolation and quarantine for those coming through our border, and it read: “That doesn’t mean we aren’t looking into how we can create the smartest borders in the world. If we want to be in a position where we can allow others to come into New Zealand, we need to be reassured that that can happen safely. At the moment, we can’t, which is why we’re using those facilities for everyone.” New Zealand has internationally been acknowledged for our elimination strategy in response to COVID-19, and our work at the border has been crucial to our response. It is important to note that we continue to learn and improve as we move through our response, but our announcement later today around the start date for quarantine-free travel with Australia will represent a new chapter in our response and recovery to COVID-19.

David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister think it smart that people from countries that have never had a case of COVID are quarantined for 14 days next door to people from COVID hotspots around the world?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There are a range of circumstances for each of those countries where that may be the case. So, for instance, if we take until recently the Cook Islands, there is an example of where we had a reasonable level of confidence, of course, that there weren’t incursions of COVID, but they, at the same time, did not have PCR testing in place, and that will be a similar case in other parts of the Pacific. Of course, we’ve had health officials in, we’ve been working alongside the Cooks, and we’ve now removed that quarantine requirement. So, in each case, there will be different circumstances that may lead to the requirements that we have in place.

David Seymour: How is it possible that Australian states managed six months ago to open up to each other without quarantine, closing down their borders when hotspots appear, and yet we remain inert?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. They opened up to each other as a country, in the same way that we have always had movement between, for instance, Auckland and Christchurch. We have always operated like that. They, of course, have a state system that has led to different complications for them around movement. They have not all simultaneously opened up to New Zealand. They’ve had different dates. Not all states have opened to New Zealand. So I don’t think that is a fair comparison between what they have done as a country and what we have done as a country. We’ve always had free movement, except when we’ve had outbreaks.

David Seymour: How is it that Australian states are able to intelligently open and close their borders to each other based on risk, but New Zealand’s policy is completely unchanged regardless of changing circumstances for the last six months?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would refute the premise of that question. In October, we saw some states open up to New Zealand. The opening between states has actually been at times quite independent of one another. So not all states opened to each other at the same time. Not all states have singly, at the same time, treated one another as hotspots. That’s been one of the reasons it has been more complicated for New Zealand to establish its arrangements. I would also point out to the member that no countries in the world have simultaneously had an elimination strategy whilst opening up to another country, and yet New Zealand and Australia are about to embark upon that. We also have quarantine-free travel with Niue and with the Cook Islands. So we’ve demonstrated we can, and that we will, when we consider it safe to do so.

David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister realise that what she’s about to announce is no different from having New Zealand behave as a seventh state of Australia, joining the way the other six have behaved, opening and closing to each other based on risk for the last six months?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I think if you would follow any of the commentary in Australia, you’d see that there hasn’t always been consistent openings between those states. For instance, Western Australia still requires 14 days of self-isolation. We are talking about not just an opening to Australia but making sure that you have green zones for transit, that you have no crossover between passengers travelling from red zones into green zones, that you have complete separation at airports. It is not nearly as straightforward as the member is implying, but I think he’s also losing sight of the fact that today we announce a start date and that, equally, we will be amongst the first in the world to pursue both elimination and an opening, a matter that I think we should hold with some pride.

David Seymour: Which of the feats that the Prime Minister just listed were not achieved by New South Wales last October?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, New South Wales has at times operated a different strategy than we have, and they are dealing with one country who has a very firm elimination policy in New Zealand. We, of course, are dealing with multiple states, who at times do not use the hotspot criteria in the same way. So the member, I know, will be very pleased to see the progress we are making, but we just happen to take the view that when we do this, we need to do it safely; we need to do it well.

David Seymour: Is the Prime Minister trying to tell the House that New South Wales has not been dealing with multiple other Australian states?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. I’m telling the member that they themselves have not claimed to adopt an elimination strategy.

David Seymour: Is the Prime Minister saying that New Zealand has achieved a better level of COVID restriction and containment than New South Wales?