“There’s nothing sadder than someone who tries being knocked back by others’ needless restrictions, as is the case with Brett Heap,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.
“Brett Heap is a pioneer of the horticulture industry. His courgettes are rotting on the ground because he can’t get workers to harvest them under the Government’s restrictions.
“The Government’s excuses are facile. There are some RSE workers available. There are some backpackers still around. The Government is helping people ‘transition’. None of it helps. All of it shows how disconnected this Government is from practical reality.
“In reality, someone unemployed with a family in Auckland is not going to move to Kerikeri to pick courgettes for six weeks. In reality, the chronic unemployed already in Northland are not going to suddenly develop a work ethic. The dwindling number of foreign visa holders aren’t going to cover the peak harvest labour demand.
“Brett Heap is finding what so many farmers, small business owners, landlords, employers, and anyone who tries to make a difference knows. This Government markets a kind and inclusive society but shows little practical empathy when the rubber hits the road.
“The Government could have taken a practical approach as advocated by ACT for years in the case of RSE scheme reform and all year in the case of Covid-19.
“ACT has been saying for years that the RSE scheme must be uncapped. Having a capped number of RSE workers allowed into the country each year is an invitation to corruption as officials allocate ‘quota’ for employing RSE workers that can make or break a business.
“The Government should follow Australia and have an uncapped RSE scheme instead of trying to guess how many RSE workers are required to make the industry function each year.
“In the case of the Covid-19 response, ACT has been saying since July that the Government must make two changes relevant to Brett Heap’s situation.
“The Government should take a risk-proportionate approach to people entering the country and allow private operators to operate MIQ while itself focusing on safety standards.
“The Government’s own MIQ facilities have already allowed one outbreak, although its origin was never traced. We find ourselves perilously close to another with weekly incidents. Meanwhile, the possibility of bringing people from low-risk countries is overlooked because the Government insists on running MIQ itself.
“The horticultural seasons are predictable. They happen every year. Produce rotting on the ground was foreseeable. But instead of working with the sector to find a solution, as ACT has argued, the Government of inclusion and kindness left the sector out in the cold.”