Saturday, 13 June 2020

What would a proactive, certain approach to the border look like?

“The Government needs to be proactive about its border policy to give New Zealanders certainty,” according to ACT Leader David Seymour.

“In late April, ACT called for the Government to take a ‘safe not essential’ approach to restrictions on activity under lockdown. The Government accepted this approach, in principle at least, but it is now reverting to the same dictatorial approach with border exemptions focused on government activity and at the whim of MBIE.

“Businesses are crying out for one thing more than anything else, and that is certainty. ACT acknowledges that foreign events and foreign governments add complexity to the border issues, but we want to know what the New Zealand Government’s position is.

“The Government should first and foremost give certainty about its overall strategy. Is it to jealously guard the goal of total eradication, or be prepared to live resiliently in a Covid-19 world that may be with us for years? The Prime Minister has said there will be more cases, indicating she may want the latter.

“If we are preparing to live resiliently in a Covid-19 world, the question is what sort of activity will be accepted given this level of tolerance? How confident is the Government that it has the public health measures, including contact tracing, in place to manage any outbreaks? Is it seeking to use the most sophisticated technology to manage the border?

“Unfortunately, we are getting mixed messages. The Government says it is interested in opening, but restricts New Zealanders from traveling to the Cook Islands, which for many purposes is a part of New Zealand anyway. Au pairs are not allowed in, but the crew of an America’s Cup yacht can bring a nanny. Foreign students cannot come to support the education sector in time for Semester Two, but scientists can come if they’re working on ’government approved’ science.

“If the Government is confident in its public health capability at the border and internally, why will it not take a position that it is open to people coming so long as it is able to be done safely? Having been proactive, it should then be open to innovation. The awkward departure of Rob Fyfe shows the Government needs to be more open to working with the private sector in order to find win-win solutions that increase the throughput of managed isolation, either by increasing the number of places or shortening the time required.

“An innovative approach might include:

• Increasing the border security budget so that intelligent technologies can be used to test and trace, reducing isolation times;
• Centralising the 12 public health units to have one high-tech public health nerve centre;
• Working with the private sector to integrate technologies such as Datamine’s ëlarm app into policy;
• A transparent framework for licensing non-government-managed isolation.

“Unfortunately, the Government has fallen back on an approach that is dictatorial and government-centric. The private sector can get exemptions entirely at the whim of MBIE, and there is no scope for expanding isolation capacity or doing border security smarter.

“The Government should be giving business certainty by setting clear rules of the game for the border, and inviting private sector innovation to make it even better. What we have now is death by a thousand cuts of uncertainty.”