27 Apr 2022

MIQ judgment: 'We need to be prepared for the next pandemic'

8:17 pm on 27 April 2022

Today's High Court decision on the MIQ lottery system shows the government could have taken very simple steps to understand some real needs, says the group which brought the challenge.

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Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The High Court ruled today that it was inevitable the MIQ lottery process would "operate unjustly in individual cases".

Grounded Kiwis spokesperson Martin Newell told Checkpoint the group was "thrilled with the decision".

"We recognise it's an emotional day for many of our members. But we knew that morally there was a wrong and this has now been legally recognised by the court - that the government did not act consistently with their legal obligation."

One of the major findings related to the virtual lobby for obtaining a space in MIQ, and Newell said the issue was it did not recognise how long someone had been waiting to come home.

"What the government failed to do through operating the MIQ system, and particularly that the lobby system was to prioritise that need (to come home)."

The group was seeking "declaratory relief".

"Both parties need to make submissions and what we would hope is that the government will make a statement that it could have done better to give effect to the rights of New Zealand citizens to return.

"If the government chooses proactively, it's up to them to decide whether it takes compensation for people for their suffering or whether individuals want to take a case up against the government, for suffering and trauma that they may have experienced as a result of these impingements on their right to return."

Newell said the case was "never about challenging the legality of MIQ itself. We've recognised that MIQ was a tool that supported New Zealand elimination strategy, which we also never challenged".

"It was about creating a system that was fair and enabled people to come home if they needed to, and that's what the judge has recognised in her decision today - and the government could have taken very simple steps to be able to understand that need.

"What I would say is that … at some point we need to sit down and look at what (has) gone well … and what could we have also done better … Whether it's a Royal Commission of Inquiry or some sort of independent inquiry, we need to sit down and look at the entire response and how we can do it better, because this will not be the last pandemic and we need to be prepared for when the next one comes."

Businessman and entrepreneur Sir Ian Taylor was a vocal advocate for an alternative to the MIQ lottery system.

"The judgment is what everybody has been saying. It was inhumane. It was wrong, and there was a way we could have handled it without throwing the borders open.

"That lottery system actually meant that if somebody wanted to go for a holiday ... they had the same chance of getting a return flight home as the mother whose son was dying of cancer. It was just unacceptable.

"[The government] said they were taking advice from experts. In November experts were saying we can wind down MIQ. They ignored that.

"Who is going to be held accountable for this? Because someone must be. And I'll bet you my bottom dollar that no one is."

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