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New Zealand First Response To COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill Announcement

“While New Zealand First will support the passage of the enabling COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill, New Zealand First has invoked the ‘Agree to Disagree’ provisions of the Coalition Agreement because, on behalf of the ‘team of five million,’ it cannot support the unfair eligibility criteria for those New Zealanders being asked to contribute to their managed isolation or quarantine (MIQ) costs,” said New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters.

“We cannot support the miniscule population of qualifying people to be charged partial MIQ costs, as outlined in today’s government announcement:

· People who leave New Zealand after the legislation comes into effect; or

· People who are visiting New Zealand temporarily.

“Severely limiting the number of New Zealanders who will contribute to their MIQ 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,” stated Mr Peters.

“Furthermore, we believe that the Green Party opposition to the originally proposed policy (that all returning New Zealanders be charged), alongside the incredibly inequitable regime proposed by our coalition partner, is putting naked political self-interest ahead of a prudent public policy response to the burdens being faced by domestic taxpayers who are, after all, underwriting the full costs of the MIQ regime.

“It is quite clear to New Zealand First that Labour/Green opposition to a more equitable and consistent MIQ charging regime opens them to the allegation that they are being overtly political. Why? Again, the Greens and Labour leave themselves open to the perception that they see New Zealanders overseas as a source of votes for the looming General Election, so public policy integrity has given way to electoral strategy.

“This is grossly unfair on the New Zealand taxpayer, burdened with the burgeoning cost of maintaining the MIQ system – already estimated to be half a billion dollars for the remainder of the year.

“It is absurd that the policy directly targets only those New Zealand residents already living here, who leave the country after the legislation receives Royal Assent, but who will then be asked to pay partial costs for their MIQ upon return, when no New Zealander currently abroad, will face any cost whatsoever.

Mr Peters continued, “In New Zealand First’s view that creates a fresh injustice for existing members of the ‘team of five million’ (the team whose actions kept us safe) while our diaspora, a team of ‘one million’ (not one of whom contributed to our public health success and who represent heightened health risk to the country) will have their MIQ fully subsidized by the New Zealand taxpayer. That is flatly wrong.

“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.

“We know many returning New Zealanders who are happy to contribute to their MIQ costs, further underscoring the inadequacy of today’s announcement as a prudent policy response on behalf of New Zealand taxpayers,” ended Mr Peters.

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