Heather du Plessis-Allan: Covid wiggle room – Government’s jaw-dropping inconsistency

OPINION:

Government MPs may come to rue the decision to give The Wiggles an exemption to come into the country.This is now the benchmark by which all future declined requests will be measured.

If The Wiggles were given emergency MIQ spaces on first request, why wasn’t ex-pat Kiwi Trevor Ponting who is dying of brain cancer?

If The Wiggles got fast-tracked, why not the same treatment for five crane operators needed by the Ports of Aucklandworkers to clear the ship backlog holding up national supply lines?

If The Wiggles can have the rules bent for them, why can’t a cruise ship?

The contrast between Labour’s treatment of The Wiggles and the Le Laperouse cruise ship is jaw dropping.

In both cases, the parties hoping to get into the country put the cart before the horse: the promoters sold The Wiggles concert tickets, the travel agents sold cruise packages.The Wiggles had visas but no MIQ spaces.The cruise ship had permission from Ashley Bloomfield for 90 staff but no visas.

So why did Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern step in to smooth the path for four Wiggles and their groupies – but not for the 90 staff on board that ship?

The excuses run out by Tourism Minister Stuart Nash and Immigration Minister Kris Fa’afoi are multiple and misleading.

Nash’s go-to is that the ship was a Covid danger to New Zealand.That’s obviously nonsense given the crew and ship had been at sea since mid-December, which meant that by the time they were due to arrive last weekend they would’ve been in effective isolation for six weeks – much longer than the required two-week isolation at the border.

Fa’afoi’s go-to is that the ship had broken the rules.It’s not clear what rules it had broken.After getting Bloomfield’s sign off, it set sail for New Zealand, applying for visas along the way.That’s not a breach of any rules.At worst it’s a naivety in believing that two separate departments in one government might actually be working in tandem with each other.

The truth appears to be that the ship was turned around because of Labour’s ideological objection to the foreign staff onboard.The ship was told to dump 61 of its staff in New Caledonia and instead hire 61 Kiwi staff in order to be allowed in.

This is apparently not as easy as it sounds.It would have given the ship roughly 10 days to recruit and hire the replacement staff before the first cruise, if they could even find staff with the necessary qualifications to work at sea.

Fa’afoi’s decision to turn this ship around is brutal and unfair on Kiwi tourism operators.

Kiwi businesses stood to earn $6 million from the tickets they’d sold to other Kiwis who would be taken on these cruises around New Zealand.This is an industry on its knees, trying desperately to find creative ways to make a buck in the absence of international tourists.The $6 million they would’ve made is small change compared to the $6 billion the industry has lost through closed borders.

The Government’s ideological opposition to bringing in foreign workers – from cruise staff to fruit pickers to port workers to sheep shearers – is baffling.Sure, it’s more challenging than normal with closed borders, but it’s not impossible.Saying no as a default robs local business owners of the ability turn their rotting crops or wool into income.

It’s an unhappy reminder of Labour’s 2017 promise to cut immigration back by 30,000 people annually.It raises suspicions that perhaps the anti-immigration position is closer to Labour’s values than they would like to admit.

In any case, we’ve learned where the priorities lie.Glamour workers like children’s entertainers, Netflix actors, America’s Cup rich-listers, Cup sailors, cricket teams and rugby teams rate far higher than any normal punters who graft for a living.

What’s the value of four Wiggles to this Government?Clearly more than five port workers, a dying Kiwi and $6 million lifeline for the tourism industry.

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