Act leader David Seymour has long claimed the Government has no understanding of the plight facing New Zealand's fruit and vegetable growers, and his meeting with Kerikeri market gardener Brett Heap earlier this week did nothing to change his mind.
"There's nothing sadder than someone who tries being knocked back by others' needless restrictions, as is the case with Brett Heap, a pioneer of the horticulture industry," Seymour said.
"His courgettes are rotting on the ground because he can't get workers to harvest them under the Government's restrictions."
The Government's excuses were facile, he said. Some RSE (recognised seasonal employer) workers were available, some backpackers were "still around", and the Government was helping people 'transition'. Far from helping, however, all that showed was how disconnected the Government was from practical reality, he said.
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"In reality, someone unemployed with a family in Auckland is not going to move to Kerikeri to pick courgettes for six weeks. In reality, the chronic unemployed already in Northland are not going to suddenly develop a work ethic. The dwindling number of foreign visa holders aren't going to cover the peak harvest labour demand," he said.
"Brett Heap is finding what so many farmers, small business owners, landlords, employers, and anyone who tries to make a difference knows. This Government markets a kind and inclusive society, but shows little practical empathy when the rubber hits the road.
"Act has been saying for years that the RSE scheme must be uncapped ... instead of trying to guess how many are required to make the industry function each year.
"In the case of the Covid-19 response, Act has been saying since July that the Government must make two changes relevant to Brett Heap's situation. It should take a risk-proportionate approach to people entering the country, and allow private operators to operate MIQ while itself focusing on safety standards.
"The Government's own MIQ facilities have already allowed one outbreak, although its origin was never traced. We find ourselves perilously close to another, with weekly incidents. Meanwhile, the possibility of bringing people from low-risk countries is overlooked because the government insists on running MIQ itself.
"The horticultural seasons are predictable. They happen every year. Produce rotting on the ground was foreseeable. But instead of working with the sector to find a solution, as Act has argued, the Government of inclusion and kindness left the sector out in the cold."