This story is part of an ongoing series in which Sir Ian Taylor provides the Herald with updates on his travel trial.
As I prepare to fly back to New Zealand from Los Angeles to commence my 10 days of self-isolation, I have had time to reflect on how 151 Off the Bench began and what I have learned so far.
Eight weeks ago, when I first asked the Prime Minister if we could have a chat about our Team of Five Million, my focus was on the need to start bringing people off the bench to help with the bottleneck that MIQ had become.
My initial reason for making the request was that it was becoming increasingly clear that the rest of the world had started to move on, and that was beginning to pose significant problems for the economic engine that played a major role in funding our Team of Five million.
Business, both local and international, is where the jobs are created that pay the tax, that pays the nurses, the doctors, the police, our teachers and, of course, the politicians and their advisers. It’s where our ever-increasing debt will need to be repaid from as well.
To keep the economic engine running, businesspeople were increasingly heading overseas with no idea when they would be coming home. These were people who had taken the concept of Zoom conferencing to its limits. Now they were expected to be in front of their clients, or those clients would move on.
This was now the time to start including people from the business sector to work alongside the medical experts to bring a focus to saving livelihoods, as well as lives.
A week after that first request to the Prime Minister, the Virtual Lobby for MIQ was launched and the true scale of the problem that MIQ had become was revealed. Almost 30,000 people turned up in the virtual lobby. MIQ had been turned into a lottery.
In the latest PR release by one of the joint heads of MIQ, the focus was not on the mental trauma that this lottery system has created for applicants who log on to find thousands of people in front of them, it was on the fact there were “only” (my emphasis) 17,665 people in the queue, “the lowest we have seen in our room releases”. The entire document was a PR piece that seemed intent on conveying the story that the system was working. “Trust us – we know what we’re doing.”
That is an incredible approach that just adds insult to injury to people who have had their hopes dashed every time they have seen the odds they face when they log on.This message I received yesterday from Katy Armstrong, who represents ReunitefamiliesNZ, is typical of the countless messages I have received: “I understand the pressures on government… but the trail of human misery sits there like some toxic tailings.”
If the joint heads of MIQ have not noticed – the MIQ system has created a mental health issue that simply can no longer be ignored.
The statement from the joint head of MIQ concluded with this: “We understand people want to enter on a date of their choosing, but we have to ensure arrivals in New Zealand occur in a safe, managed way. We have already brought over 186,000 people back to New Zealand safely and will continue to focus on the safe return of more kiwis.”
This is not a question of “a date of their choosing”. The failure to build even the simplest of priority systems into the MIQ platform means there are people overseas that have not seen family members for more than a year. I understand there is one dad who is yet to see his one-year-old child.
That failure to prioritise has also meant that businessman Murray Bolton had to go to the High Court to win the right to self-isolate after travelling overseas for meetings that are critical to his business. He had to take a case under the Bill of Rights. The fact that this would happen in New Zealand is simply staggering.
The government response that Murray’s Bill of Rights case was just about someone owning a jet, rather than the Human Rights that covered every citizen trying to get home, saddened me because it seemed to confirm what so many people have been telling me since I began 151 Off the bench.
“Good luck with what you are doing – but you know they won’t listen to business.”
Well, Prime Minister, I am ever the optimist.
There are options “to ensure arrivals in New Zealand occur in a safe, managed way” and over the next 10 days, while I am in self-isolation, ironically along with almost 1800 others, almost half of whom actually have Covid, I hope you or your officials will take up the offer that has always been here off the bench.
We are here to help.
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