18 Mar 2021

Trans-Tasman travel bubble dominates question time

From The House , 6:55 pm on 18 March 2021

The trans-Tasman travel bubble dominated question time this week with the Opposition pressing the Government for details on a date.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with NZ PM Jacinda Ardern at Government House in Auckland

The Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison and Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern have been in talks over a trans-Tasman travel bubble since May 2020 Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Numerous topics are debated in the hour long session of up to 12 oral questions to Ministers. This week they  included ACC support for victims of the March 15 terror attack, the Ihumātao land dispute, house prices, and support for Pacific families impacted by Covid-19. 

But popping up repeatedly were questions on an open border with Australia, referred to as the trans-Tasman bubble.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she hopes to be able to confirm a time-frame for a trans-Tasman bubble "very soon" but she cannot put a date on quarantine-free travel.

It is understood Government plans for a trans-Tasman travel bubble are now in full swing, with expectations to have it in place by the end of April.

That would be on the condition there are no community outbreaks of Covid-19, or lockdowns, in the meantime.

At Parliament on Tuesday trans-Tasman bubble questions included getting health care workers into New Zealand.

"What does the Prime Minister say to the people of South Auckland, who last week heard that Counties Manukau District Health Board (DHB) is 150 nurses short, and when can they expect a trans-Tasman bubble to be opened up to free up 40 percent of MIQ spaces that could be available for more nurses?" asked National MP Shane Reti.

National Party MP Shane Reti speaking in the General Debate

National MP Shane Reti is the Party's Deputy Leader Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

In one of the odd quirks of question time, the question was answered on behalf of the Prime Minister by the Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson.

"What I say to the people of South Auckland, is it is a pity that there wasn't a Labour-led Government for the nine years when National consistently underfunded the Counties Manukau DHB."

Question time exists as a tool for MPs who are not Government (meaning they are not Ministers) to be quizzed on how well they're doing in a public space. Most opposition MPs will ask a question related to their portfolio like the National party's economic development spokesperson Todd McClay. 

"What advice, if any, has he received on the forecast benefit of a trans-Tasman travel bubble on tourism businesses in New Zealand, and by what date does he expect a trans-Tasman bubble to be in place?" he asked the Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash. 

"For the first part of the question, I have received advice on trans-Tasman travel. For example, the Treasury has provided advice that Australians contributed about $2.6 billion to the New Zealand economy, but New Zealanders also spent $2.3 billion in Australia," answered Nash. 

The issue of an trans-Tasman bubble also reaches to questions on visa requirements overseas.

"Why does the Government say that Australians being required to have an exit visa to leave Australia is an impediment to the trans-Tasman safe travel zone, when the Prime Minister of Australia has made it very clear he's happy for Australians to holiday in New Zealand?," asked the National Party's spokesperson for Covid-19 response Chris Bishop.

National Party MP Chris Bishop in the House

National MP Chris Bishop Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

"If so, I look forward to his removal of the requirement of Australians traveling to New Zealand to have an exit visa in order to do so." replied the Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins.

Spaces in quarantine facilities have also been questioned following the news that cast members of the Lion King stage production have been granted access to New Zealand.

"Why, then, have 126 members of the Lion King production been allowed into New Zealand, while nurses who arrived to meet our critical healthcare needs have been separated from their partners and children for a year?," asked National's immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford.

Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi said there are various exceptions in an "other" category for entrance to New Zealand which was introduced in June last year.

"Since that time, 6,500 exceptions in the "other" category have been approved; 1,800 for research and development; 1,300 for primary industries; and 335 for manufacturing," said Faafoi.

"While the member might want to focus on a small number of entertainers, I'd also note that the hotels, the bars, and the restaurants that will benefit from that particular production happening are desperately calling out for this kind of business."

The need for these questions was explained by National MP Michael Woodhouse in another feature of Parliament, the General Debate.

This hour long debate takes place every Wednesday and allows MPs to speak on any topic they wish.

National MP Michael Woodhouse

National MP Michael Woodhouse Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

"We have had natural advantages, we've had luck, and, actually, we've had a Government that, by and large, has done a very good job," Woodhouse said.

"But so too must the Opposition, in keeping the Government's feet to the flames on a number of issues."

There's no requirement beyond Question Time or the General Debate to compel the Government or a Minister to do anything (except for sometimes search for more information to answer a question) but the hours set aside for these general discussions allow the House of Representatives to fulfill their duty of holding the Government to account.

Watch Question Time and other debates on demand here.