29 Jul 2020

Parties divided over managed isolation fee legislation

5:44 pm on 29 July 2020

National says anyone coming into New Zealand will be charged if it is elected and New Zealand First says the government's plan is "dreadful", but the Green party says it is "fair".

Police at the Grand Mecure Hotel in Wellington, which is being used as a managed isolation facility.

Police at the Grand Mecure Hotel in Wellington, which is being used as a managed isolation facility. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Minister in charge of managed isolation facilities Megan Woods and Air Commodore Darryn Webb this afternoon announced new legislation would allow the government to charge some people arriving in New Zealand.

However, the fees - $3100 per person in a room, $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child - would be limited to those entering the country temporarily, or who had left the country after the new regulation came into force.

Woods said the legislation would be introduced to Parliament today and was expected to be passed by next week before Parliament goes into recess for the election campaign.

Prime Minister and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern is rejecting accusations her party is electioneering by implementing the co-payment.

"The entire focus of this policy is making sure that we get a balance, that we recognise New Zealanders do have a right to return home but that some travel might be considered discretionary - when that's the case, people should pay."

Woods told Checkpoint the charging scheme would be administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and its chief executive would rule on any exemptions.

Travellers would not pay before boarding flights, she said, and would not have to sign any declaration saying they would pay because they would be expected to obey the law.

She expected the charges would recoup between $2.2 million to $9m with administration costs estimated at $600,000.

The scheme was fair and balanced, she said.

"If someone is choosing to go away on holiday, if someone's choosing to go away on a business trip, they're making that choice knowing the regime is in place. They're not people who have been caught in other parts of the world and are desperate to get home; they should pick up the tab for their own managed isolation.

"People making choices about travel are being asked to pick up the tab for it. It gets the balance about right."

It was fair that New Zealanders who intended to settle back here, get jobs and pay taxes did not have to pay, she said.

'We need to have a more reasonable contribution' - National Party

The National Party said it would replace the border charging scheme with its own plan if elected at September's election.

National leader Judith Collins maintained the party's position it would charge anyone returning to New Zealand for the costs of quarantine.

The government's co-payment plan is "complete nonsense" and a "failure", she said.

"I just think it's the sort of policy you have when you don't actually want a policy," Collins said.

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National leader Judith Collins Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The government's scheme would not generate enough revenue, she said.

"We've got 200,000 thousand people unemployed, we've got 360,000 other people on wage subsidies, it's really important that we don't waste the money and the government is saying now out of almost half a billion dollars they think they might get back $9m to $10m, I mean basically the admin costs of that will be eaten up just by that amount," Collins said.

Collins agreed with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, which she said was "worrying."

"It's very clear from what he said today that what we announced the other day, which was quite some time before the government's scheme...clearly we need to have a more reasonable contribution," Collins said.

'A dreadful public policy response' - New Zealand First

Labour's coalition partner New Zealand First has invoked the agree to disagree provision, over the government's plan to charge some people who enter the country for managed isolation.

Party leader Winston Peters said NZ First would support the bill through Parliament, but disagreed with the "minuscule amount" of people who would be charged.

"Severely limiting the number of New Zealanders who will contribute to their MIQ [managed isolation or quarantine] to the extent announced today is a dreadful public policy response given the problem it seeks to address - the rising costs of the MIQ system on taxpayers - won't be solved because of the self-limiting, tiny population it will affect," he said.

Ratana Fri 24th January 2020.  Political parties are welcomed on to the marae.  Winston Peters outside the Temple at Ratana, waiting to be welcomed on to the marae.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

The scheme is unfair on the taxpayer, who will be burdened with the cost of managed isolation, Peters added.

"In New Zealand First's view, it would have been preferable for all returnees to be charged partial MIQ costs via IRD, in a similar arrangement to the Student Loan Scheme. This would not discriminate between different types of returning New Zealanders. All returnees could be issued with an IRD number on arrival if they don't already have one.

"At implementation stage, IRD would be provided with the discretion to write-off any debt due to hardship at a future date. IRD would also be given the ability to seek payment of the debt once the returnee either proved their ability to pay or gained employment and began to pay tax.

"While acknowledging Bill of Rights concerns about partial charges for returning New Zealanders, New Zealand First believes that legislation can nevertheless overcome these because the government is not refusing to allow the return of any New Zealander. It is merely asking that person to share with all current New Zealand taxpayers an impost that contributes to a society-wide sharing of MIQ system costs," Peters said.

'Not the time to be making things harder' - Green Party

Green Party co-leader James Shaw, however, said the party had ensured not everyone who entered managed isolation was charged a fee and that the scheme was fair.

"Kiwis who are returning to New Zealand temporarily can have a fee waived on compassionate grounds or if they're experiencing financial hardship.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw at the University of Canterbury announcing six projects tol be supported by the government’s clean-powered public service fund.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

"As a country, we should be supporting people to come home if that is what is needed for their wellbeing. New Zealand is their home and they have a right to come back.

"Kiwis overseas are facing job losses, financial insecurity, and not knowing when they'll see their families again. Now is not the time to be making things harder for our people overseas," Shaw said.

It is only fair for people who choose to leave New Zealand to holiday overseas to contribute to the cost of isolation when they return, Shaw said.

'Underwhelming and unimaginative' - ACT

ACT leader David Seymour said the fee for a "tiny group" of travellers was an "underwhelming and unimaginative response".

He said private providers would instead be able to offer safer, cheaper managed isolation.

"Many of our hotels are going broke and Air New Zealand is being paid not to fly. Instead, Air New Zealand and hotels could offer a private managed isolation package to essential workers and others prepared to pay and wait for time in New Zealand.

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Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

"Universities with hostels, and RSE employers required to provide accommodation at a certain standard, should be trusted to bring students and workers in under strict rules administered by WorkSafe with appropriate penalties. Those penalties should include managed isolation rule-breakers finishing their fortnight in jail."

Seymour said people should contribute to the cost of managed isolation, but "why should they be forced to pay an incompetent government monopoly providing a limited number of spaces?"

"ACT knows the recovery won't come from state control or political bickering but from free enterprise."

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