Pressure increasing on lowering to Level 1 and trans-Tasman travel

Opening up travel between New Zealand and Australia has been proposed as both countries appear to have Covid-19 well under control. It looks unlikely to happen before New Zealand drops to Level 1 restrictions (whatever they may end up being), and Cabinet are not due to consider lowering to level 1 for a week and a half and it has been indicated (on Monday) it may be up to 4 weeks away.

Winton Peters has been talking about a Trans-Tasman bubble for over a month, and is now breaking ranks with Cabinet and says he wants one “yesterday”, but Jacinda Ardern has indicated that September is more likely

24 April: Trans-Tasman bubble could start ‘more quickly than we think’ – Peters

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says some businesses could be saved if the country creates a trans-Tasman bubble – and he’s open to starting on a state-by-state basis.

Fifty-five per cent of tourists who visit New Zealand come from Australia and the foreign affairs minister said it therefore made sense to start planning how a trans-Tasman travel bubble might work.

“So, it requires us to put our best minds together here and in Australia. I’ve spoken to the Foreign Minister in Australia about the need for us to start thinking about that now,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on board and said it made sense to work with New Zealand on any relaxing of the border restrictions.

“I would have thought New Zealand would be the obvious candidate [for border openings] and that’s the nature of discussions we’ve had,” Morrison said.

Wednesday: Hopes to get trans-Tasman bubble flying by July

A high-powered group investigating opening up trans-Tasman travel amid the coronavirus pandemic hopes to put its proposal to politicians by early June, and get people travelling by the July school holidays.

The ‘Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group’ is made up of 11 government agencies, six airports, two airlines, and includes health experts and airline, airport and border agency representatives from both Australia and New Zealand.

Started by Auckland Airport, and co-ordinated by the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF), the team of 40 experts have been working for the past two weeks on recommendations for the re-opening of borders between Australia and New Zealand.

ANZLF co-chair Ann Sherry said the group wanted to focus on getting it right first on the Tasman before opening up to the Pacific and other destinations.

“We’ve got an early June objective to get recommendations back to government, but we’re testing it with government as we go along to make sure our thinking isn’t divergent at this stage of the process.”

Once the systems were considered by decision-makers, she was optimistic the trial might be completed in time for the July school holidays, she said.

Prime Minister Ardern was non-committal:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not set a date for how soon the bubble could be set up, saying both countries would need to be comfortable.

Ardern spoke with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday about the proposal, and said on Wednesday that there was enthusiasm on both sides of the Tasman.

The two countries were at different stages of easing restrictions, and New Zealand had had a bit more time to see how progress was going in stamping out Covid-19, she said.

“I’d say good work is taking place and it won’t be too long before we will be ready.”

Deputy Prime Minister Peters is pushing different aspirations:

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has broken rank with Labour, saying that quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel should already be allowed out of one side of his mouth, but has a different story out of the other.

However, Peters told a Trans-Tasman Business Circle briefing on Wednesday that opening the trans-Tasman border was urgent for both economies, but the two countries were not yet ready.

“If the decision was made today could we start tomorrow, I’m going to be honest and say no – but we’re working on it with the greatest of urgency now so that if the decision was made sooner rather than later, we’d be off and hopefully got every contingency foreseeable and imaginable covered,” Peters said.

Travel isn’t even allowed between states in Australia so opening up to New Zealand looks unlikely right now.

Yesterday in Parliament Winston Peters says he’d like to see trans-Tasman bubble implemented ‘yesterday’

National’s deputy leader Nikki Kaye questioned Mr Peters, who was answering on behalf of the Prime Minister in question time today, over recent disagreements within the Government on Covid-19 restriction timelines.

“Has the Foreign Minister (Winston Peters) advocated to her (Jacinda Ardern) or to the Cabinet to proceed faster around the trans-Tasman bubble,” Ms Kaye asked.

Mr Peters gave a direct response to the question.

“Take a wild guess,” he said with a wry smile.

Ms Kaye then pressed him whether he had pushed for a date that the travel bubble should come into force.

“Yesterday,” he replied before once again taking his seat.

But that may just be typical Peters posturing to an audience.

Margy Osmond, co-chair of the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group, told the Sydney Morning Herald they expected it to commence “as early as September”.

When asked about this, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said “that could be realistic”.

“I have been careful about putting down specific dates, but have been very focused on making sure we are ready, then we can move and we won’t be constrained by needing to do any administrative or logistical work at our borders,” she told media today.

Opening borders is dependent on moving to level 1.

ACT MP David Seymour has accused Peters of breaching Cabinet rules – Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters accused of breaching Cabinet rules in revealing Jacinda Ardern’s views on level 1 move

Speaking to Newstalk ZB this morning, Peters – NZ First leader as well as Deputy Prime Minister – openly talked about conversations had in Cabinet.

Asked if New Zealand had been in level 2 for too long, he said: “My party made it very clear we thought that. And the Prime Minister has actually admitted that at the Cabinet meeting – she said it.”

According to the Cabinet Manual – the set of rules for ministers, enforced by the Prime Minister – ministers are not allowed to talk about what happens within Cabinet meetings.

“Discussion at Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings is informal and confidential,” it says.

“Ministers and officials should not … disclose or record the nature or content of the discussions or the views of individual ministers or officials expressed at the meeting itself.”

Seymour said that by saying what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Cabinet on live radio this morning, Peters was in breach of this rule.

It is up to the Prime Minister as to whether or not a minister is disciplined for breaking the Cabinet Manual rules.

Ardern has a record of turning a blind eye to what Peters and Shane Jones do.

Regardless of this political posturing, the public may be adding to the pressure to ease restrictions and get back closer to normal. There have been no new Covid cases in New Zealand for a week, and there are now only 8 active cases, all in the  Auckland region. The case for continuing restrictions will get increasingly hard for the Government to maintain.

The country has virtually eliminated Covid – but the big risk now is if it comes back into the country when border restrictions are eased.

And while Australian Covid numbers look proportionally similar to here The virus figure Australian officials are most worried about

…despite the country’s achievements in overcoming the worst of the virus, there is still one concerning figure looming over its recovery.

Figures released by the Department of Health show that 732, or about 10.3 per cent, of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country have been locally acquired with no contact identified.

This means hundreds of people have caught the virus in Australia but the source of the infection could not be found.

That will be a concern to health officials here, and the Government says they rely on the officials for advice on easing restrictions.

But when should we at least lower to level 1 restrictions here? There has been no community transmission since early April, and business concerns are growing.

NZ Herald: Jacinda Ardern’s wriggle room on moving to alert level 1 early

Cabinet is set to look at whether New Zealand should move to level 1 on June 22, but pressure is mounting to move earlier, with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters saying it should have already happened.

Yesterday a top business restructuring expert, Grant Graham, whose firm KordaMentha partner makes money from insolvency work, pleaded for a move to level 1 to save “unjustifiable” job losses.

Yesterday was the sixth straight day of no new Covid-19 cases, and there have been no community transmission cases – whose branches are harder to trace and isolate – since the beginning of April.

It is possible that there will be no active cases in New Zealand by Cabinet’s D-day on June 22.

Meanwhile Stats NZ revealed that the number of filled jobs plummeted by a record 37,500 in April.

The decimated industries of tourism, hospitality, and events are hoping for an earlier move to level 1, where there will be no physical distancing requirements and no restrictions on numbers at social gatherings.

Ardern said on Monday that Cabinet would consider the settings of level 2 in 10 days, on June 8, and it will meet no later than on June 22 to look at whether the country could move to level 1.

She reiterated that timetable yesterday, saying it was based on Bloomfield’s advice.

But Cabinet could decide, based on his advice, to open up level 2 even more after June 8, or consider moving to level 1 before June 22.

“We have given us some space, just in case,” Ardern said yesterday.

Ardern seems to have one eye on health advice, hopefully she has one eye on deteriorating business news, and both eyes on the election.

June 22 looks a long way away as we move close to no active cases in the country.