“The buck stops at the top, and the Prime Minister must explain why her Ministers didn’t fess up about the Government stuff up that put Northland into an eleven-day, $30 million lockdown,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The Prime Minister must explain whether she knew what Grant Robertson was told in an October 13 report; that the problem wasn’t dishonesty by the travellers, but the Government’s own error.

“Each Minister, Hipkins, Nash, and Sepuloni should state what they knew and when. In particular, Carmel Sepuloni should explain her answer to Written Parliamentary Question 46902, where she said ‘False information supplied included the applicant’s role, and what services the organisation provides. The Ministry revoked the application on 5 October.’

“What false information was the Minister referring to, and how does she reconcile it with the October 13 report which says ‘it was our understanding the intention was to decline the application but it was approved in error,’ by Sepuloni’s own Ministry, MSD. Will Minister Sepuloni correct the Parliamentary record, or offer some other explanation for this apparent contradiction?

“It was a disgraceful period where the Government was light on information and rumour and innuendo filled the void. Two travelling women were accused of being prostitutes. ACT called for the Government to front up and give the facts, but it took an OIA request a year later to uncover the truth.

“Our Prime Minister allowed allegations to swirl that the women were gang-linked prostitutes. Did she not know that there was an error on October 13 when Grant Robertson was advised the application should have been declined but was approved in error?

“The Prime Minister was happy to vilify a KFC worker from her ‘podium of truth’ back in March 2021. In a similar pattern, the Prime Minister was happy for members of the public to take the rap when it transpired the worker was not actually required to isolate under her Government’s own rules.

“What they should have done is killed the rumours. They should have confirmed what they knew, when they knew it. As I said at the time: ‘If the rumours are untrue, the Government needs to go further than saying ‘there is no evidence,’ like a 1960s tobacco lobbyist. They need to actually show the claims are not true.’

“The lockdown had serious financial costs. Northland’s GDP is estimated by Statistics New Zealand at $8,222 million, or $22.5 million per day. Treasury estimates that being at Alert Level 3 instead of Alert Level 2 reduced GDP by 12.5 per cent. By these figures, locking down Northland for an additional eleven days cost Northland $30 million. The costs of disruption will be larger, and that is before considering non-financial costs."

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David Seymour