20 Jul 2020

Cabinet working through legal issues of charging returning Kiwis for managed isolation

8:55 am on 20 July 2020

New Zealanders living overseas are unhappy with plans to charge returnees up to $3000 for two weeks in managed isolation.

Housing Minister Megan Woods speaking at a media conference after an announcement that she would take charge of managed isolation and quarantine of returning New Zealanders, after a series of failures.

The minister responsible for managed isolation and quarantine, Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Some agree that a fee should be charged, but say politicians need to consider each person's circumstances, rather than demanding a blanket fee.

Mitch Nganeko is teaching in London, and said he simply would not have the money to pay for quarantine when he returned.

He hoped to use his KiwiSaver fund to pay the bill if it was in place when he was due to return in November.

Cabinet will today discuss whether or not to charge returning New Zealanders for quarantine, but a final decision on any payment is unlikely.

The minister responsible for managed isolation and quarantine, Megan Woods told Morning Report: "There won't be a final decision today but we've been signalling for many, many weeks now that charging for managed isolation and quarantine is something that we need to consider.

"It's very complex. There's a range of legal equity implementation issues that we've had to work our way through."

Asked if charging was legal, Woods said: "We've been working closely with the Crown's lawyer on this because ... that's one of the critical issues that we need to look at. Of course, all Kiwis have the right to come home and we all want to know that if we're overseas we can get home.

"We need to make sure that any charging regimes wouldn't be an impediment. We are working through the Crown law."

Part of the work involved looking at options for people who could not pay the cost.

"Any regime that is put in place that would have to have ways in which people that didn't have the money to enter could. There could be some deferred payment schemes, or some ability to write off the particular circumstances."

Issues like the speed with which exemptions could be issued, how to assess hardship and thresholds for allowing exemptions were all complex and being worked through, Woods said.

Asked if she was comfortable with the fact that Māori - tangata whenua - would have to pay to come home, Woods said: "I think it's for all New Zealand citizens and residents... as I said we are picking our way through this very carefully, we are working very closely with Crown law to make sure what we are putting in place is legal."

The National Party says if it wins election in September, it will charge returning adults $3000 to help cover the costs of managed isolation.