Travel bubble with Australia could be early next year – PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Government ministers have agreed in principle for a travel bubble with Australia early next year, depending on decisions by Australian ministers.

In her final post-Cabinet press conference of the year, Ardern said Cabinet had agreed the bubble will open in the first quarter of 2021 which would mean travellers do not have to quarantine at either end.

The date would be announced next year after more arrangements had been made.

Australia’s Cabinet needed to sign off the bubble and it depended on the Covid-19 situation in both countries not changing.

Segregation of staff, making sure there were contingency plans for an outbreak in Australia were still part of the logistical issues to be worked through, said Ardern.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins will be visiting Auckland Airport tomorrow to see how they plan to organise segregating travellers.

One of the options on the table for bringing back New Zealanders from Australia if there was an outbreak there is for those returning travellers to self-isolate when they return home depending on this.

The airlines which have grounded fleet and furloughed staff had indicated they’d need a notice period before the trans-Tasman bubble was operational, said Hipkins.

Meanwhile, the Government’s Covid-19 resurgence plan will be released tomorrow.

'The year of the team'

Ardern reflected on the first post-Cabinet media conference of this year when they first discussed Covid-19 and soon organised a repatriation flight from Wuhan.

New Zealand had the lowest mortality rate and the lowest number of active cases in the OECD, and New Zealanders should be proud, Ardern said.

“None of that is to say our response has been perfect – it hasn’t.”

Ardern said she wanted to thank New Zealanders again for their efforts this year.

“I’m incredibly proud of what our team of five million have achieved.

“This is the year of the team.”

She also thanked the essential workers and frontline border workers for their work.

Hipkins reminded New Zealanders to maintain good hygiene and to keep scanning QR codes as they travel around the country this summer.

“I think New Zealanders desperately want a break,” Ardern said.

When asked to describe 2020 in two words, she gave one: “Horrendous.”

This morning Ardern said there were still a “number of issues” to work through with the transtasman bubble and she would give more details at the conference at 2pm.

She told TVNZ’s Breakfast one of the considerations to be resolved was the possibility that if there was a Covid-19 outbreak in Australia and New Zealand closed its borders, there would still be the ability to bring Kiwis back.

“We have to make decisions on how we potentially quarantine thousands of returning individuals who would then need to come back,” Ardern said.

“We would need to know how we’re dealing with the internal borders with Australia and also we would have to have the airlines ready. We are quite keen to see segregated airline staff for quarantine-free travel.”

Ardern said the issues were “not insurmountable”.

Queensland is the latest Australian state to allow New Zealanders to travel there quarantine-free, alongside Victoria.

Ardern announced last week she and her Cook Islands counterpart Mark Brown had instructed officials to continue working together to put in place all measures required to safely recommence two-way quarantine-free travel in the first quarter of next year.

Ihumātao

It has also been reported an initial deal on the standoff over Ihumātao will go to Cabinet today but Ardern has said there would not be an announcement today.

RNZ reported that it understood the deal was for Fletcher Building to sell the land to the Government, the first step in reaching a resolution; with agreement from Fletchers and Kīngitanga, on behalf of mana whenua.

But Ardern said this afternoon there would be an announcement at the “appropriate time” and she refused to put a timeline on that.

Ardern also declined to say whether a deal was even taken to Cabinet today.

Ardern said she’d been seeking advice from Kīngitanga on when potentially to visit Ihumatao.

Trevor Mallard

Speaker Trevor Mallard will appear before a select committee this week.

He last week publicly apologised for comments he made in which he wrongly claimed an accused rapist was working on Parliament’s premises.

A staffer was stood down and then launched defamation proceedings, which were later revealed to have cost the taxpayer more than $330,000.

Ardern said Speaker Trevor Mallard should stay in the role was because while he made a mistake, he was still the best person for the job.

“He has made a mistake, no question here,” Ardern said this afternoon.

She said it wasn’t for Mallard to apologise to her because he serves on behalf of all Parliament.

It was for him to make himself answerable to Parliament which he was doing by appearing before the select committee.

Ardern said the decision to expand MPs’ legal costs was decided by the Business Select Committee in August and was separate from the Speaker’s provisions.

Greta Thunberg's comments

When asked about Greta Thunberg’s tweet, Ardern said she hadn’t seen it.

In early December, Parliament officially declared a climate emergency in New Zealand – a move Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called an “acknowledgment of the next generation”.

It was a “declaration based on science”, Ardern told MPs on December 2.

But the response irked environmental activist Thunberg, with the 17-year-old commenting in an opinion piece that described the declaration as virtue signalling with little substance.

She tweeted a line from Newsroom’s comment piece, which said: “In other words, the Government has just committed to reducing less than 1 per cent of the country’s emissions by 2025.”

She then added her own response, saying New Zealand’s lack of response is “nothing unique to any nation”.

“Text explaining New Zealand’s so-called climate emergency declaration. This is of course nothing unique to any nation. #FightFor1Point5.”

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