Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford was challenged today on difficulties America's Cup challenger teams are said to be having getting into New Zealand with closed borders.
Judith Collins, National's spokeswoman for economic development, took on Twyford after he addressed the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee in Wellington.
Collins said it was vital the cup challenger staff be allowed in, given the forecast 8000 jobs and $1 billion economic boost next year's series could provide.
She questioned him about how 56 'Avatar 2' film crew were let in yet that would not have the same direct benefit to New Zealand as the sailing event.
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She asked Twyford for an update on special border exemptions for foreigners but was dissatisfied with his assurances that a regime existed to allow workers in.
"I'm very concerned that the America's Cup competition needs us, as a country, to facilitate the event and leaving challengers' crews outside New Zealand is not going to encourage that," she told the Herald this afternoon.
"The Minister said that we have no issue with sufficient quarantine facilities so let's get on with the job - $1b and 8000 jobs from one event must be respected," Collins said.
Twyford told Collins New Zealand had limited quarantine capacity and although he wants everyone who needs to be here to arrive, he said: "The bar is set very high for these essential workers coming in on economic grounds. My hope is over time we're going to be able to build our quarantine capacity."
The Government was motivated to see the America's Cup go ahead next year as planned and every reason to believe it would, he said.
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Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment staff were working directly with cup organisers, Emirates Team NZ and challenger teams "and I'm aware that the challenger teams are keen to get into the country and get their bases set up".
"At the moment, the border is closed but there are some exemptions and that regime put in place as an interim measure while the Government works on a re-set of border policies. The policy criteria for exemptions include people who need to come into the country for humanitarian reasons but also a category narrowly defined as 'other essential workers'. They must be considered on the basis of individual workers, has to be on the strength of a skill or expertise or talent that can't be met within New Zealand and work that is time-critical and economic value," Twyford said.
"Of all the exemptions and there are more than 2000 granted, 90 per cent are for essential health workers and families and humanitarian reasons, so the economic window is relatively narrow," he said.
Less than 10 per cent of approaches MBIE received had ended up on Twyford's desk.
He had seen no applications for America's Cup people but he knew from media reports that workers wanted to come in and that MBIE was working on that, he told Collins.
Collins asked if there had been delays due to MBIE staff working from home but Twyford said he didn't believe there had been any reduction in MBIE productivity. Instead staff had taken on a huge share of the load to assist the Government, he said.
Collins asked when cup organisers might have an answer "because are you not worried the longer this delays, the less likely it is the America's Cup will even be held?"
Twyford said the Government wanted to see the cup held "and I would expect to see the applications quite soon. But those will have to go through the same as every other business or firm"
Asked by Collins if 'Avatar 2' crew had been treated differently, Twyford said that had been handled the same as every other situation and was no different.
Yesterday, the Herald reported Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern putting the brakes on claims America's Cup challengers' foreign personnel could be allowed into New Zealand within days - casting renewed doubt on the future of the event, set for March next year.
American Magic chief executive Terry Hutchinson confirmed to the Herald yesterday that they held direct talks with MBIE over the weekend and were optimistic team members will soon be able to depart for Auckland - despite the country's Covid-19 travel ban.
The American syndicate and Ineos Team UK had previously revealed their frustrations over a lack of communication and information from the Government on timeframes for getting their people on the ground in Auckland to prepare for the regatta.
Twyford opened today's address in Wellington by talking broadly about the pandemic's effect on the economy.
"We clearly have a huge challenge ahead of us. We talk about the team of 5 million and there's no doubt New Zealanders came together to keep each other safe and protect our businesses. It's the businesses that struggle to keep open and keep their staff working and on the payroll and put together survival plans. It was immensely challenging and there's a lot to be proud of.
"New Zealand is facing a global contraction substantially greater than the global financial crisis" and would go from one of the most severe lockdowns to one of the world's freest countries in the world at level 1 shortly, Twyford said.
On the rebuild, the economy could become stronger and new ways to reduce inequality, cut carbon emissions could emerge, he said.
The recovery phase would be led by exporters who faced a prolonged period of uncertainty and disrupted supply chains, Twyford said.
Support for exporters to get their goods to market was crucial. Government agencies had worked with Air New Zealand and exporters to ensure perishable high-value freight could go to market, he said.
More than 200 flights had been arranged to key export markets including in the United States. NZ Trade & Enterprise and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade had worked together to ensure global supply links were working, Twyford said.