26 Oct 2021

Collins denounces 'two-class system', but won't rule out vaccine certificates

5:27 pm on 26 October 2021

National Party leader Judith Collins has come out firmly against creating a "two-class system" by bringing in vaccine certificates, but she also wants to bring in vaccine certificates.

Judith Collins

Judith Collins Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

She says the government is blaming specific groups for not getting vaccinated, and New Zealanders need to be reassured of an eventual end to restrictions.

Speaking at Parliament this morning, Collins said she had digested the detail of the government's traffic light plan over the weekend, but still felt it was unclear.

The traffic light plan, announced by the government on Friday, would rely on vaccination certificates to offer more freedom to the vaccinated even under the highest levels of restriction.

Collins spoke about the impacts of continued restrictions on businesses, families and whānau.

"I spoke on Friday about the many people who've been in touch with me and that has now increased exponentially. It is frankly harrowing to hear so much suffering and heartache happening here in New Zealand.

"Most Kiwis don't want to see a two-class system and social disharmony, and this week I'll be demanding answers for those Kiwis ... urging the prime minister not to cause division and urgently ensure that any rights her government continues to breach are done so out of the utmost urgency and that there is in fact an end in sight for this."

Collins was repeatedly asked who those two classes were, but she would only refer to reports quoting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as saying the traffic light plan would create a two-tier system.

"The government is sitting back and saying that they didn't do anything wrong but 'those people down there who didn't get vaccinated, they're the bad people', that's what they're saying.

"We can see it already with moves that seem to be afoot to blame Māori for instance, we can see that from certainly at least one of the ministers. That is not the sort of country that we want."

However, she did not oppose vaccine certificates and indeed seemed to call for the vaccination certificates to be brought in as soon as possible.

"I've said all the way through that they need to have a system in place whereby if being double vaccinated brings you some of the normal rights and privileges that we experience, that we need to have that system in place properly. And we are still - since I asked the prime minister in February this year - we're still waiting for this vaccine certificate and apparently it might be here in December."

She also said the government should fully adopt National's Back in Business plan - released last week ahead of the government's traffic light announcement - which would similarly allow more freedoms to vaccinated people.

It would ensure businesses could legally require staff to be vaccinated, and legally require people to show a vaccination certificate, with those businesses using the system allowed to operate under level 2 conditions without capacity constraints. The plan would also see people with proof of vaccination able to cross regional boundaries.

A major difference however, National proposed to reopen the economy and borders and end lockdowns by 1 December regardless of vaccination rates, a move that was criticised as putting vulnerable populations at risk and - because it would not link an end to restrictions to vaccination rates - would likely allow the virus to spread faster than what the government has proposed.

Collins criticised the government's plan for not setting a specific date for the traffic light system to kick in.

"There is no particular date, it's basically the country gets held to ransom because one area of the population, one area of the country, doesn't get double vaccinated and so everyone else gets to wait around ... 90 percent double vaccination rate's great, 90 percent double vaccination rate all throughout the community and everyone else gets to pay for it? No."

She has repeatedly called for the government to bring in vaccination targets, and said it was important to double vaccinate as many people as possible, but the government should not pit people against one another, and should be reassuring those who were not yet vaccinated.

"What we do not need to have is people feeling that they are going to stand on their rights and not do that when they feel that they are being pushed without anybody going through the information with them."

However, she did not appear to have a consistent position on how the government should do this - calling for the government to step in and provide more information, while also suggesting that people did not trust the government and should back off.

"What we do want to do is to make sure that people get the right information from people they trust - and that person they trust is currently not so much people in Wellington bossing them around.

"What I'm saying is, let the government actually get down with people on the ground who are not getting vaccinated and address their concerns - there are people with very genuinely held concerns. I do not share those concerns because I am double vaccinated but our best way forward is not to vilify those people but to get them the right education."

Hours later, Collins released a statement clarifying the party's position on proof of vaccination - saying the certificates would be useful as vaccination rates increased, but not in the long term.

"The National Party doesn't agree with the government in their plan to impose restrictions with the mandatory use of vaccine certificates after we have hit their vaccine target of 90 percent across all DHBs," the statement said.

"The most important time for proof of vaccination is now as we are striving to hit the target ... once the target is achieved, National supports the existing rights of all private businesses to choose who they do business with. Some businesses will choose to require proof of vaccination. Others will not."

This distinction about the 90 percent target in relation to the certificates had not previously been made public.