Winston Peters should call the Prime Minister's bluff and put recommendations to open the transtasman airbridge on Cabinet's agenda next Tuesday.
Peters came out firing yesterday revealing that New Zealand First Cabinet ministers — particularly him — have been advocating for New Zealand to move to alert level 1.
He also said the proposed "transtasman bubble", where quarantine-free travel would resume between New Zealand and Australian states, should have resumed by now.
This all flies in the face of the usual Cabinet convention of collective responsibility where — even when ministers disagree vehemently with the ultimate decision — they agree to sing in unison in public and from the same song sheet. In truth this convention paves the way for dominant Cabinet ministers, particularly those that form part of a prime minister's kitchen Cabinet, to steamroller their less able colleagues.
But with an election pending, it is proving somewhat redundant in an MMP environment where it suits both Peters and Jacinda Ardern for the former to break ranks and present NZ First as a beacon of common sense railing against prime ministerial dominance.
It is a difficult situation which could well backfire on Ardern who may have decided she can share some of her political capital for now, but will rue the day if the perception of her intransigence in the face of commonsense grows.
Peters will want to gain some airtime and boost his party's quite lamentable poll ratings and help assure its survival post the September 19 election.
His party has been the proverbial tail that wags the dog in several key areas: notably stopping Labour from introducing a capital gains tax regime and imposing a too rigorous freshwater regime. This assists NZ First in driving up the party vote in regional areas. Most of that kudos has already been banked.
Ardern is sticking fast to her claims that Covid-19 policy must be evidence-based with a health imperative foremost. But Peters is on the side which says "not so", if that results in crashing the economy in the process.
On the Mike Hosking show yesterday morning, Peters revealed "the Prime Minister has actually admitted that ... there was serious concerns from New Zealand First that this was taking too long and we should have got out of this into a better space as fast as possible.
"Every day, every hour, every week we delay — we put back our recovery."
There have been no new cases of coronavirus in New Zealand for five days in a row. So what is the problem?
Alert level 1 does not envisage a world where New Zealanders are suddenly free from taking precautions against Covid-19.
As the Government's website says, moving to alert level 1 recognises that Covid-19 is uncontrolled overseas and that isolated household transmission could be occurring in New Zealand.
That is the fundamental point.
While there may well be isolated transmission, moving to alert level 1 envisages that the Ministry of Health will have competent testing, tracking and tracing procedures in place. And that if isolated household transmission of the virus is identified it is corralled rather than slap the whole country back into alert levels 3 or 4 with ruinous economic results.
Yesterday, leaders from the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum indicated they wanted the transtasman air bridge in place by the school holidays which kick off in NZ on July 20.
They were on a webinar hosted by the Trans-Tasman Business Circle.
Auckland Airport CEO Adrian Littlewood, who was previously forum co-chair, disclosed he started texting Ann Sherry, the Australian co-chair, the day after the NZ border was closed on March 19 to start thinking about how it may be reopened once it was safe to do so.
The forum sponsored the establishment of the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group which is comprised of about 40 experts from government agencies, airports and airlines, and includes health experts and border agency representatives from Australia and New Zealand.
Sherry and Littlewood said yesterday both Australia and NZ had managed the Covid-19 outbreak well and the border would be tested first before opening up more broadly.
The work the transtasman group has done has attracted attention from Canadian broadcasters and the New York Times which saw it as a "beacon of hope" for the resumption of international travel.
But Sherry and Littlewood side-stepped a question on whether China should be added next as proposed by incoming National leader Todd Muller. They were conscious that the Pacific is on Australasia's doorstep. But if the transtasman air bridge works "somewhere in Asia or the Pacific" could follow.