MBIE officials were at first confused about a MIQ gate-crashing family - then were later worried they would share the way they had "managed to skirt the system", according to MBIE internal emails released under the Official Information Act.
Tech entrepreneur Davey Goode says MBIE put his family under immense stress with comments that implied a complaint would be made to the police - but the correspondence released under the OIO implies MBIE officials believed the family had found what they called a "loophole" and says Customs could not deny them entry as NZ passport holders.
Goode says while MBIE was talking tough the emails, in his view, reveal that officials "were s***ing themselves".
The document release comes on the heels of a landmark High Court ruling that found the "virtual lobby" lottery system adopted to allocate scarce MIQ slots infringed on New Zealanders' right to enter their country.
Goode's saga began on December 12 last year, when Goode, his wife and two children under 10 arrived at Auckland International Airport.
Unable to secure an MIQ slot, the family had booked an Air New Zealand flight from the expensive Sydney to the more affordable Fiji, where they had intended to stay in an Airbnb.
Goode told the Herald there was never any intention to stay in Auckland. "We had return flights to Sydney booked. We were going to Fiji because it was cheaper.
But as the flight started its descent into Auckland, the family's mood changed.
"The plane few in from the west, then turned around and you could see the whole city. It felt like, 'This is our home'," Goode says.
So after landing, instead of going to the transit lounge, the family just followed other passengers towards Customs. There, by Goode's account, a standoff ensued between an MIQ official, who wanted the family to go to the transit lounge then fly on to Nadi, and Customs officials who said any New Zealand passport holder had a right to enter the country. Goode says police offers were nearby during the exchange between Customs and the MIQ official, which became heated at times, but did not interfere.
Customs prevailed, and the voucher-less Goode family was escorted on a bus to the Auckland Airport Novotel, where they served a standard 10-day quarantine period before returning to their Auckland home.
The incident broke into the public domain, to a fashion, on January 17, when Kiwiblog's David Farrar said he had been told a story about an un-named family who had found "a cunning way to get home" via stopover.
Later that week, Goode contacted the Herald to give a full account of events.
Customs declined comment, bar confirming that four New Zealanders had refused to board a connecting flight to Nadi.
The agency referred the Herald to the Ministry of Health (which declined comment, saying it was an MBIE issue) and MBIE - where Joint head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Chris Bunny would not comment on the case specifically, but told the Herald, "It is a legal requirement to have a valid MIQ voucher to enter New Zealand. If someone arrives in the country without a valid MIQ voucher, then their case may be referred to NZ Police for enforcement action."
In the days and weeks that followed Bunny's comments, Goode says his wife and children were "freaking out" about a knock on the door. "They were really wound up".
In the event, the family never heard from the police. (A police spokesman told the Herald in January that possible action would be "MBIE's call").
Today, Goode says it seems the stress was for nothing.
One of the emails released - which is between two MBIE managers whose names are redacted begins, "Just an FYI on a loophole."
The December 13, 2021 email says, in part. "The family were travelling on NZ passports and decided they no longer wished to continue with their flight to Fiji. As New Zealanders, IBO [International Border Operations or Customers] could not deny them entry or force them to leave on their Fiji flight."
It concludes, "I hope they do not post anything on social media explaining how they managed to skirt the system."
Another email, on the same day, sent to MBIE general manager of operations Russell Burnard by an MBIE official whose name is redacted, reads "This is indeed a problem. Let's keep track of this one and forward this on to [name redacted]. Any further instances of this one and we will need to amend things. I have a feeling they may [be] in trouble for that]."
But in another email dated January 17, 2022, institutional knowledge of the event appears to have regressed.
The correspondence is between a person at Auckland Airport and MBIE, with all names redacted, and was sent shortly after the Kiwiblog item was published on the (then) un-named family.
It reads, in part, "I have not heard anything about it, this was flagged by Customs who are also trying to find out more so would be good to understand what actually happened."
Bell Gully partner and immigration specialist Willy Sussman was in no doubt about the legality of the situation.
"in terms of the core provisions of the Immigration Act, citizens have the right to enter and be in New Zealand at any time,' he told the Herald on January 21.
He qualified: "If the person did not have a genuine intention to transit and arrived here without an MIQ slot then they would be in breach of the MIQ rules. There would be consequences - but those consequences might be something that desperate Kiwis are prepared to live with."
Approached for comment about Goode and his family on January 21, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told the Herald, "It''s not for me to make a call on what may have happened in this situation – officials would carefully consider all the facts before deciding if any actions were needed around it."
Hipkins also said, "It's never a fair go for other travellers if people are trying to get a jump on MIQ spots."
Goode says that criticism was unfair, because the airport Novotel where the family served its voucher-less isolation period was half-empty.