25 Aug 2020

Judith Collins: Covid-19 wage subsidy should have been extended

12:32 pm on 25 August 2020

National Party leader Judith Collins says the government should have extended the wage subsidy for the four extra days that the restrictions will be ongoing.

Watch Judith Collins and Dr Shane Reti addressing media here:

The current restrictions - Auckland at alert level 3, and the rest of the country at level 2 - had been due to lift at midnight Wednesday, but will now carry through to Sunday midnight.

The level 2 restrictions for the rest of the country will also remain until settings are reviewed again.

From Monday 31 August, masks will also be made mandatory on public transport for alert level 2 and above.

Addressing media this morning, Collins said National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti has written - for the second time - to the health committee chair asking for it to be reconvened.

She said he had requested for the committee to call in front of it Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, senior officials at the Ministry of Health, and the minister of health, to get clarity on the Covid-19 response, and "particularly what has been characterised by the government ministers as being some sort of disconnection between bot the ministry of health and minister of health."

She said Dr Reti had not received a reply to that request, and his initial request was turned down because Labour MPs would not agree to it.

Earlier today, Dr Reti said the party believed parts of the Auckland boundary should have been adjusted to allow places like New Zealand Steel in Waiuku to go back to work.

He told First Up that Aucklanders deserve more explanation about the ongoing disruption.

Discussing the wage subsidy, Collins said the party would support an extension of the scheme for the four extra days that the restrictions will be ongoing.

"Given that the wage subsidy is only being paid because in this time around Covid-19 has been allowed to come back into New Zealand, it is certainly at no fault of the hospitality sector or businesses in general, and it is particularly difficult time."

The government has ruled out pushing out the two-week Resurgence Wage Subsidy, to match the extension of level 3 conditions in Auckland until 11.59pm on Sunday.

She said that would have been the "kindest and most pragmatic" thing to do.

She said the wage subsidy was not sustainable in its current form, which was why the border was key to the country economically and for the public to have confidence.

"The main thing businesses are wanting from us is to be able to have the borders safe so they can actually have some confidence in their own businesses."

On possible cash grants for businesses, National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said they were not at the stage where they would support something like that, but the best way to support businesses now was to extend the wage subsidy.

"We are very much in the camp that you do need to support business and the wage subsidy seems to be the best way to do that in the first instance and if we continue to have lockdowns then that continues to be a major issue," he said.

"If you are telling businesses you cannot trade then you need some sort of support going on."

On masks, Collins said the party fully supported the move to make it mandatory on public transport.

"We thought that should've been done ages ago, it's a no-brainer in our opinion."

Dr Shane Reti said they would be taking the advice on health official on masks and closely following any changes or recommendations.

He said the use of masks in school settings was a complex situation and an equity issue too. It was another matter they would be taking advice on from public health officials and the education sector, he said.

He said there was a global trend towards more people wearing masks in more situations.

He said transport operators between isolation facilities and the border should be wearing PPE.

Discussing border security, Collins said the public was paying the price because the government had not been able to secure the border and undertake the testing they called for.

"It's very important to understand if we have the border secure and we have it very safe and we have in place the tracking mechanisms around the Covid app and we also have something like a CovidCard or some sort of Bluetooth technology as well and we have the testing, that any incursion through there will be much more quickly found.

"We've heard all sorts of theories about how this Covid-19 came into the country, including cool stories, frozen peas and all sorts of ideas, so far the only indication we have is it came through the border through humans."

Collins said if they were in power, the virus would not be in the community and would be contained quicker.

"The government has not undertaken what anybody would expect would be undertaken, in other words what they promised, we would not do that.

"Any mistakes [would be] fronted up, and we're not going to sit there pointing fingers at each other and say 'it's your fault, my fault' ... that is part of ministerial responsibility."

Collins said Health Minister Chris Hipkins was essentially a part timer in that role because he had so many other portfolios on hand.

She claimed that he had not given Dr Reti a briefing in over a week.

"Clearly, they have dropped the ball," Collins said on the Heather Simpson review that was being done.

"I've made it very plain that without better advice - the advice that the prime minister has - we have to actually accept that decision she's made because we do not have the advice that she's made that on."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs