Several concerns need to be resolved before a trans-Tasman bubble can go ahead, but the government hopes on 6 April to announce a start date, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
"Our view is rather than trying to work through a solution that sees all of Australia with New Zealand, that we can work through an arrangement that sees us operating with some states but not others," she says.
She says there are a series of concerns that must be resolved before a tran-Tasman bubble can be put in place.
Cabinet needs to be satisfied that:
- Our response framework when there are cases in Australia is ready
- We have measures in place to contact trace travellers from Australia
- All technical issues are resolved, including transiting passengers and MIQ fees
- That we have the appropriate regulatory mechanisms in place
- That agencies are ready
- That the Director-General of Health has provided an up-to-date health assessment
The government will also work on contact tracing requirements, QR codes, arrangements of testing that might or not be required, between now and 6 April, Ardern said.
"When we have met these criteria we anticipate we will be in a position to open the bubble," Ardern says.
The travel bubble is not without risk for travellers, who might find themselves stranded across the tasman for "a short period of time", Ardern says.
"There are no other countries in the world who have been working to an elimination strategy who are now trying to maintain that whilst opening up travel between the two. So we are having to create a brand new rule book - now we've done that before and we're doing that again here, but it does come with complexity, particularly for New Zealand."
"It's much more complex for New Zealand than it is for Australia."
The National Party has been calling for a travel bubble with Australia and launched a petition to immediately start travel last week.
The government has been planning to have a safe travel zone between New Zealand and Australia in place by the end of April.
Ardern says the issue for those who believe the travel bubble is a simple thing to deliver is that decisions will not always be made in parallel between the two countries, and there is complexity for singular decisions made on either side that could lead to people being stranded.
For example, if there was an outbreak in Australia and the source was unknown it would be "very likely" that New Zealand would close down travel "until we can be confident of what is occuring".
"I think on both sides of the ditch we will be saying to make this work there will be an element of 'flyer beware'. We want to keep this open, we want to keep it moving, but we also want to keep both sides safe, so there may be occasions when we take a precautionary approach and for a short period of time travel ceases."
New Zealand and Australian teams have met at least 12 times over the last year to discuss a travel bubble, she says.
She says New Zealand has always made decisions "on our own terms".
In May last year, Ardern said that September 2020 could be a "realistic" time frame for New Zealand's borders to open up to Australia.
However in October 2020, when the Australian government said it had finalised a deal for a limited travel bubble across the Tasman, Ardern said the country was still not ready for quarantine-free travel.
The government also confirmed its officials were prepared for a bubble in February, but Australia backed out and changed its position.
Ardern refused after last week's Cabinet meeting to give a firm date, but said the next step would be for a proposal to go to the full Cabinet, potentially this week.
However, she this morning again played down the significance of today's Cabinet meeting, saying a firm date was not likely to be announced.
Ardern says talks with airlines and airports have been ongoing.
She says 2020 was one of the most challenging years New Zealand has faced as a country. It will have been one year since we went into level 4 lockdown on Wednesday.
She says it is the government's intention that everyone in the country who can be vaccinated will be by the end of the year.
The vaccine will be "individual armour" and allows us to move our Covid-19 defences away from a "collective barricade", she says.
Terrorist entity designations
Asked why there is only one individual listed as a terrorist entity in New Zealand, Ardern says it is due to the criteria, which states: "the entity has knowingly carried out or has knowingly participated in an attempt to conduct one or more terrorist acts".
That does not mean the designation is only way to become "an entity or individual of concern to authorities," she says.
"No one should for a moment think if you are not on our designation list that you are not an entity or individual of concern, that is not true. It is just one of our mechanisms for where we identify people of concern."
Delays to Skypath
On the Skypath being delayed, Ardern said no one wanted to see it delayed, but the recent engineering fallout on the Harbour Bridge had "posed some challenges".
The government was asking Waka Kotahi what was needed to make it feasible and viable, do the original plans suffice or is an alternative approach needed.
"Ultimately though, that goal that we have to build that connection by walking and cycling so you're not confined by car across the Harbour Bridge, we all still share that, we're all still working towards that."
Ardern says an announcement will be made tomorrow to "tilt the balance towards first home buyers and increase housing supply".
Property investors now make up the biggest share of buyers in the market while house prices continue to climb. New Zealand is now the least affordable place to live in the OECD.
"It will take time to turn this all around and unfortunately there is no silver bullet. But there are things we can do," Ardern says.
She says the government has already made changes to help, including reforming the RMA.
The steps announced tomorrow morning will help first home buyers and increase the supply of houses, tipping the balance away from property investors.
"It is I believe a plan that will start making a real difference to this complex problem."