Richlister Murray Bolton has funded a successful MIQ exemption bid for an award-winning Kiwi stunt co-ordinator who needs to travel to Australia to work on a $168 million Mad Max film production.
It cleared the way for Hamilton-based Tim Wong - who has worked alongside Hollywood A-listers Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence - to fly to Sydney for two weeks' rehearsals then self-isolate at his Papamoa beach house - sidestepping the mandatory seven-day stint in managed isolation.
Bolton says the country's MIQ system is treating the rights of New Zealand citizens "as a privilege only available to the few".
His legal team believes Wong's case could set a precedent, potentially opening the door for thousands of other stranded Kiwis desperate to return home for Christmas.
The decision to grant Wong's application follows Bolton's own landmark legal challenge earlier this year in which he won the right to fly by private jet to a business meeting in the United States then self-isolate at his Herne Bay home on his return.
Following Bolton's successful judicial review against MBIE in November, the wealthy entrepreneur - who has an estimated fortune of more than $500m - vowed to help other Kiwis who did not have the same financial resources.
He offered to release his team's legal research to assist New Zealanders trapped overseas or needing to travel urgently abroad for business, and said he would consider funding legal advice in cases with a reasonable chance of success.
Wong's is the first successful test case funded by Bolton.
After learning of Bolton's legal victory last month, Wong, 47, immediately contacted his solicitors at Martelli McKegg.
"I remember reading the article about them being successful and how Murray wanted to help people like me."
The professional stunt expert - who has worked on big-budget films The Suicide Squad, Triple Frontier, X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Ghost in the Shell - had secured work on Warner Bros' Furiosa production and needed to travel to Sydney for rehearsals.
As lead stunt co-ordinator, Wong could hand pick his team and hoped to take up to 20 Kiwi stunt people across the ditch to work on the film in the coming year.
He tried unsuccessfully to secure a November MIQ spot through the lottery seven times, and said without an exemption his position on the film and employment of other Kiwi staff was at risk.
Bolton agreed to take on Wong's case, paying for his legal team to prepare Wong's exemption bid.
Wong had to set out the social and economic benefits of the trip, and satisfy officials he could safely find his way from the airport to Papamoa and self-isolate without putting anyone at risk.
He said he was relieved when Bolton agreed to take on his case as he did not have the money to lawyer up against the Government.
"I'm not Murray Bolton. I don't have $500m and I don't have the resources to fight MBIE.
"I'm just like any other ordinary Kiwi who needs to work and unfortunately [due to Covid] there's not much for me in New Zealand and a lot of my work is international.
"If coming back in [to New Zealand] is not an option, that makes it really tough."
The application was approved last month and Wong was booked to fly on November 28 when the emergence of Omicron saw new MIQ requirements introduced in Australia.
That, combined with concerns that New Zealand could introduce similar restrictions, saw the production agree to Wong continuing to work remotely. He is now set to travel to Sydney for filming next year.
Wong said it was ridiculous the lengths people had to go to try to secure exemptions. While relieved that his application was ultimately approved, "I'm just disappointed that so many others have been turned down".
Bolton told the Herald his travel to the US then self-isolation at home was a seamless experience, safely freeing up MIQ spots.
But he was critical of MBIE for "stalling and obstructing" Kiwis trying to return home, accusing officials of "behaving like flat-track bullies".
Bolton said wealthy applicants who knew case law could have their cases upheld in court. But for people without the means to commence legal proceedings, "the bureaucrats treat the law as optional".
"I took my judicial review case to confirm the law, that all Kiwis seeking to return home safely, double vaccinated, Covid-negative and able to safely isolate at home, could do so without waiting for months to win an MIQ lottery.
"MBIE's actions fly in the face of the High Court's decision. These bureaucrats are acting as if the Bill of Rights Act is a privilege only available to the few, not desperate Kiwis trying to reunite with their families or travel safely."
Bolton said his and Wong's case should pave the way for MBIE to open up the exemption system and allow thousands of New Zealanders to return home before Christmas, safely self-isolating at home.
Joint head of MIQ Chris Bunny said exemption applications were considered on a case-by-case basis and only approved where there was confidence that the health and transmission risks were low.
In Wong's case, a medical officer of health determined that the public health risk was low and could be mitigated.
As he was no longer travelling, the exemption was not needed and any further application would be assessed "in light of the prevailing circumstances at the time".
While economic benefit was a factor in exemption decisions, public health risks were the key consideration.
Fully vaccinated travellers could begin entering New Zealand without undergoing MIQ from next month.