Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives Aussie travel bubble update at post-Cabinet media conference

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government will announce the commencement date of the transtasman travel bubble on April 6.

At a post-Cabinet press briefing this afternoon, she acknowledged New Zealanders want certainty about the bubble, but it is “highly complex”.

It needs all technical issues resolved and appropriate regulatory mechanisms in place, Ardern said. Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield will also provide an assessment.

She said there have been 12 meetings between Australian and New Zealand officials about the travel bubble. The Government was looking at a state-by-state bubble.

“We are having to create a brand new rulebook.”

Ardern said “part of the talks” with the Australian Government have related to visa issues – such as people getting a visa to come to New Zealand.

At present, all Aussies travelling overseas need a special visa.

She said Cabinet is working through “with a lot of detail” some of the major issues, such as New Zealanders potentially being stranded overseas.

She said it is “very likely” the Government would shut down travel if there was a community outbreak where the source was not known.

“On both sides of the ditch, there will be an element of buyer beware.”

Ardern said pressure from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morison to open the travel bubble did “not at all” play into today’s decision.

She said this work had been under way for “some time”.

From here, Ardern said the Government is looking into an alert level system that takes Australia into account.

Ardern kicked off the press conference by noting that this week marks a year since New Zealand went into level 4 lockdown.

She said New Zealand succeeded in what it set out to do – eliminate the virus.

A year later, she said that is still the aim, but the strategy has changed – now, the Government is looking at vaccines.

She said work is still under way on the Cook Islands and the Niue bubble. But she will be talking more about the Cook Islands bubble when she discusses the issue with its prime minister later this week.

Ardern also said Fiji has been interested in a travel bubble for “some time”.

Ardern and her Cabinet ministers have been locked in discussions for much of the afternoon deciding the next steps for the bubble with Australia.

Last week, the Herald reported Cabinet would discuss the issue today, with a view to mid to late April as a potential start date.

That came after Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins indicated a bubble would be at least three weeks away because airports and airlines would need time to set up the necessary systems.

Ardern and her Government have been under pressure from National and other industry players to open the bubble.

A petition, launched by National, asking the Government to commit to opening the transtasman bubble has received more than 42,000 signatures.

“The Government can’t delay this any longer,” National’s Covid-19 Response spokesman Chris Bishop said.

“Anything less than an announcement today on a hard-and-fast April start date for the transtasman bubble will be a let-down.”

He said the Government has had months to figure out the issues stopping progress and the time for excuses is over.

“Hard-working Kiwis have sacrificed so much throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government owes it to them to finally deliver on this.”

The travel bubble wasn’t the only issue Ardern was pressed on this afternoon.

Tomorrow morning, the Government will outline the first of a number of housing-related announcements it will make, in a bid to help cool the overheated housing market.

Tomorrow’s announcement was meant to be in mid-February – but the Covid-19 community cases, and subsequent lockdowns, pushed the timing back.

Today, Ardern acknowledged homes continue to climb out of reach for first home buyers.

“There is no silver bullet,” she said.

But she said the Government has been making some moves. Its new package would include more on supply issues, as well as demand.

The plan is to tilt the balance back to first home buyers, away from speculators, Ardern said.

Asked about problems with the planned SkyPath cycling and walking path over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, Ardern said: “We all want to see Auckland connected.”

She has asked the Ministry of Transport what it would take to “make sure it happens”.

“We’re all still working through that … We know there are capacity constrains.”

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