19 Jun 2020

Winston Peters pushes for trans-Tasman travel as military 'run' operations

9:13 am on 19 June 2020

The future of a trans-Tasman bubble is under threat because Australia and New Zealand have different views on border restrictions.

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Winston Peters. Photo: Pool / NZME

Australian Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said his country's border would most likely be locked down until 2021.

The decision to shut the border was one of the main reasons for Australia's success in suppressing Covid-19 and it would not be lifted for general travel any time soon, ABC reports.

But yesterday Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the trans-Tasman bubble had not been jeopardised after a border botch-up resulted in New Zealand having two active cases of Covid-19.

Today Peters told Morning Report he had heard from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that borders for trans-Tasman travel would open by July or August. "You've got a bit of a mixed message there."

While Australia was addressing border restrictions as a country, some states had low case numbers and Peters suggested travel between them and New Zealand should be allowed.

"Let's travel safe, let's not hold everything up until the slower state gets itself ready."

There was a desire for travel between the two countries, he said.

People should be wearing a mask when travelling "internally" or internationally, he said, referring to the two cases that flew in from Australia on a full flight.

"We can do it, but you got to stick to the protocols. You cannot have any slackers."

He wanted to know who was responsible for the bungle at the border. There have been promises to do better, but no apology from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for it.

"You'll never get improvement, you'll never get accountability in this or any other organisation until we find out who decided that they would take the law into their own hands," Peters said.

'The military now run this' - defence minister

The man now in charge of the isolation and quarantine system, Air Commodore Darryn 'Digby' Webb, declined to be interviewed.

He is expected to hold a news conference later today.

Defence Minister Ron Mark

Ron Mark. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Defence Minister Ron Mark said Webb was working on repatriation of foreigners here and New Zealanders abroad. He was never involved in testing or decisions around compassionate exemptions.

"He's been given total charge and responsibility now."

Mark told Morning Report that Defence Force personnel were already working on the Covid recovery across the board from logistics to support.

Bringing in the military "is not the prime minister declaring martial law and putting troops on the streets with machine guns and tanks".

It was about using the logistical expertise of the military, he said.

"The military now run this. This will bring some rigour, discipline, logistics skill and talent."

He said the military was good at auditing itself and ensuring people complied.

"One thing the military is good at is breaking those standard operating procedures, tutoring people on how they'll be done, monitoring to see that they are complying and enforcing compliance by those who are meant to the administering the system and getting rid of people who do not perform to standard."

The military did not tolerate tardiness, he said.

Risk of new cases 'never' going away

University of Canterbury professor Michael Plank who is an expert in modelling complex systems, such as the way Covid-19 spreads, told Morning Report borders were "our first line of defence".

He said the risk from cabin crew, people mingling and working at quarantine facilities still remained.

Contact tracing and getting the testing right would be the two ways to go about curbing the spread, he said.

"It is incredibly complex managing thousands of people at any one time in a quarantine facility. The tests aren't perfect - they do return false negatives. There is a risk people could get infected while in quarantine.

"The risk is never going to be completely removed from cases coming in from overseas."

He hoped restrictions were followed and no one would be allowed out of quarantine without returning a negative test.

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