28 Jul 2020

Covid-19: Time running out for law change on charging returnees

7:51 am on 28 July 2020

Labour may be forced to accept National's help if it wants to start charging returning New Zealanders to stay in managed isolation hotels.

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Photo: RNZ

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a decision and a law change could happen before the election.

Despite weeks of mulling over whether or not to start charging New Zealanders up to $3000 for using isolation hotels, Ardern says a decision is still yet to be made.

"We've always indicated it is something that would require legislative footing, so it is not something that's just simply going to happen at a quick pace, it needs to be done right.

"Secondly there's a number of factors we need to weigh up," she said.

But once Cabinet makes a call, Ardern said, "you'd want to move fairly quickly on it once a decision is made."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters already said weeks ago he wanted returnees to stump up.

"The country is in dire economic straights, you've got tens of thousands of people out of work and businesses in trouble and it is all down to the taxpayer and if they can pay, they should pay," he said.

The Green Party was not convinced.

Immigration spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said in a statement the party will not support plans to impose unexpected costs on stranded overseas New Zealanders, because now is not the time to make things harder for them.

"As a country, we should be supporting them to come home if that is what is needed for their well-being, New Zealand is their home and they have a right to return.

"There may be grounds for fees in some situations, for example, those wanting to come back after a short-term business or holiday trip where they left New Zealand after the Covid-19 outbreak had begun," she said.

But Ardern wasn't keen to work with the opposition to get legislation over the line.

"That hasn't been the case or necessary on the vast majority of the things that we've done," she said.

National Party deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said it was hard to decide a stance on legislation the party hasn't yet seen but he was not ruling out backing a government bill.

"There's been all sorts of talk from the government for quite a long time, but no delivery of any bill to the house for consideration. When they've got one then obviously we want to have a look at it," he said.

Brownlee was sceptical of seeing anything concrete from Labour soon.

"It's just part of the problem the current government seems to have, they're good at spending money without much thought about how long it can go on for.

"By Christmas this year there will be about $370 million spent paying for hotels for quarantine and I think that is something the country cannot continue to afford."

There are only six sitting days left before Parliament rises and goes into full election mode, meaning time is running out for Labour to give New Zealanders certainty on this divisive issue.

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