Politics

Government reveals border charge plans

The Government has finally revealed its plans for charging Kiwis to help cover the costs of their managed isolation or quarantine in New Zealand

Expat New Zealanders who return home temporarily will have to contribute up to $3100 towards the costs of their managed isolation, under proposed legislation developed by the Government.

The details of the co-payment scheme has sparked disagreement between coalition partners but still has the numbers to pass through Parliament, after New Zealand First indicated it would support the bill’s passage despite objecting to aspects of it.

Announcing the legislation on Wednesday afternoon, Housing Minister Megan Woods said the Government had carefully considered how to design a system that was fair on arrivals and was not a barrier for those returning to New Zealand.

“We want to share the costs in a way that fairly reflects the benefits to both the New Zealand public of having such a robust system, and those who leave and enter the country,” Woods said.

New Zealanders offshore who returned home for less than 90 days would face a charge, along with those within the country who headed overseas after the law and regulations came into force.

Temporary visa holders would also have to pay, unless they were ordinarily resident in New Zealand before the border was closed and left before that point.

Cabinet would be asked to support a charge of $3100 per person in a room, with $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child sharing the room.

Those who would not have to pay the fees included New Zealand citizens deported here, diplomats and official government representatives, anyone travelling to New Zealand to attend the sentencing of the Christchurch mosque attacker, and refugees and protected persons making their first entry into New Zealand.

There would also be a mechanism allowing the charge to be waived in part or full.

Woods estimated less than $10 million would be collected under the proposed regime, but said the law would create a framework for charging which did not currently exist.

The legislation would be passed next week, before the House adjourned ahead of the September 19 election, and would allow regulations to be developed.

Charges would not apply to anyone who entered managed isolation in New Zealand before the regulations came into force, she said.

The Green Party, which had opposed a universal charge, said the legislation would ensure Kiwis returning home to live were not charged, while also providing wider compassionate grounds to waive the fee in other cases.

“As a country, we should be supporting people to come home if that is what is needed for their wellbeing. New Zealand is their home and they have a right to come back,” Green Party co-leader James Shaw said.

“Kiwis overseas are facing job losses, financial insecurity, and not knowing when they’ll see their families again. Now is not the time to be making things harder for our people overseas.”

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said his party would support the passage of the legislation, but did not support the “unfair eligibility criteria” for those Kiwis who would be asked to contribute to their isolation costs.

“Severely limiting the number of New Zealanders who will contribute to their MIQ [managed isolation and quarantine] 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,” Peters said.

He accused the Greens and Labour of “putting naked political self-interest ahead of a prudent public policy” by opposing a fee for all returning New Zealanders, claiming their stance was a bid to win the backing of overseas voters.

“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,” Peters said.

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