24 Apr 2020

Trans-Tasman bubble could start 'more quickly than we think' - Peters

5:56 pm on 24 April 2020

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.

Planet Earth with detailed exaggerated relief at night lit by the lights of cities. New Zealand. 3D rendering. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Photo: 123rf.com

Australia has had success similar to New Zealand in keeping the number of Covid-19 cases relatively low, although hospitalisation rates are much higher across the ditch.

The restrictions on Australians have varied, with some states operating a stricter regime than others.

As the government looks to recover from the economic blow that lockdown has caused, Peters said New Zealand had to think outside the square.

Winston Peters post Cabinet media conference 13 May 2019

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

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.

"Areas that are being written off now may not be written off if we are thinking outside of the square so to speak, thinking laterally and how we can organise - admittedly at a limited level - the same activity.

"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.

"That is an area we can look potentially favourably on provided all the other arrangements are in place regarding public safety."

Morrison said he spoke weekly with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the idea was something that was being worked through patiently.

NZ Prime Minister meets with Australian PM Scott Morrison.

Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison in February. Photo: Penny Bradfield/Auspic

Peters said a strict regime at the border would be needed to ensure public safety - and he would not expect the border to open until both countries were at the point that a 14-day quarantine on arrival was no longer needed.

While the focus is getting tourists flowing between New Zealand and all of Australia - Peters said he was not opposed to initially opening up to the Australian eastern border.

"We're open to both options in my thinking but the more limited option will lead to the wider option in time - and more quickly than we think.''

Peters said a state-by-state basis was also a possibility and when the whole country was ready, New Zealand needed to be too.

"But it's more than likely they will come together, and sooner rather than later. And when they do we should be prepared for them.''

He said he was working hard on a plan after both he and Morrison raised the issue separately.

"My officials are talking to the Australian officials about it. How much wider it is outside that portfolio I can't describe.

"But at least we've taken the concept from last week and put some work into it,'' he said.

Earlier this week when asked about the potential for a trans-Tasman bubble, Ardern said the conversation with Morrison was "a way off" and that opening the borders could potentially set off a "chain of devastating events''.

In a statement from her office today, she said while nothing is going to happen immediately, the idea had merit but it would be further down the track.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson stood in for Ardern at today's daily press conference and reiterated that it was a talking point for later on.

"The good news is that both New Zealand and Australia are doing well in terms of fighting the virus, and so some time in the future it may be possible.

"But I don't think people should get ahead of themselves, those discussions are at an early level,'' he said.

Asked about the idea of a state-by-state relaxing of the borders, he did not rule it out.

"Look, I think we'd have to work that through. Clearly in Australia there are different responses in different states but it is very important for us we continue to maintain the integrity of our border," he said.

While Australia was the only country New Zealand is directly talking to about border controls, Peters said depending on how elimination went, there may be an opportunity to create other international bubbles.

He said the government was already talking with Singapore about increased trade and medical supply access - and if health results met the right standard, then China could also be an option.

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