'Far too long': NZ should be at level 1, says Winston

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. Photo: Getty
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand has been in lockdown for "far too long" and needs to be at level 1 now with a transtasman bubble already operating, says Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

In a revealing interview on Newstalk ZB today, he appeared to take aim at some of the Labour-led Government's decision-making around the lockdown, saying the enemy was no longer Covid-19 but the health and economic impacts caused by continuing restrictions under level 2.

He also rubbished the idea of a new public holiday - raised by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last week - saying it was not the right thing to be promoting "when we have had weeks off".

He also appeared to once again reveal discussions that had been happening at Cabinet.

"We have been in compulsory lockdown for far too long," Peters told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking. "People know they want to be out there working. Everybody who has put their heart into the future, the country's future, and their family's future realise there is only one way out of this - to think smart and work harder.

"A day off when we have had weeks off is not the right thing to be promoting as we speak."

He said it had been made clear at Cabinet that his party, New Zealand First, believed that the process of moving down to level 1 was taking too long.

"The Prime Minister has actually admitted that - at the Cabinet meeting she said it, 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."

Police Minister Stuart Nash has also admitted there has been disagreement in cabinet.

"We have agreed to disagree respectfully, because the one thing we don't want to do is move backwards," he told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking.

"We are leading the world in opening up our country and our economy. We're leading the world."

Nash says while America's death toll will reach 100,000 later today, New Zealand's economy will soon be one of the most open in the world.

"We'd rather take a conservative approach and get this right, because the last thing we want to do move back into Level 3, or -- heaven forbid -- Level 4.

"We're taking a prudent approach."

Peters acknowledged that the health experts and their evidence were important.

But he felt the country had been "too cautious for too long now, you have to look at the percentages and say are we 98, 99 per cent safe? If we are we've got to risk it and get going."

Otherwise far more people would die from depression and concerns about their finances than from the pandemic, he said.

"The enemy we've got now is not Covid-19, it's actually the inability to turn this economy around... as fast as possible."

He said New Zealand should be at level 1 now and the transtasman bubble - allowing New Zealanders and Australians to travel between each country without quarantining - should be operating now.

Asked why he wasn't doing more as Deputy Prime Minister, he indicated NZ First's voice at the Cabinet table could be more influential with a better percentage of the party vote at the next election and Kiwis "wised up".

Peters also clarified his position on Labour's flagship light rail project for Auckland after raising doubts about the project's future yesterday.

He told Hosking it was not on NZ First's radar right now during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The announcement of it being put on hold has already been made," he said.

Labour campaigned in 2017 on building light rail from the city's CBD to the airport, and from the CBD to West Auckland, within 10 years.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to build light rail to Mt Roskill within four years.

The massive project is now worth $6 billion but has so far made slow progress, with rumoured cost blowouts and no decision made yet on who will build the scheme.

Peters yesterday said planning for the project had been suspended - just hours after his fellow Cabinet minister Phil Twyford said the Government was "highly motivated" to progress the project.

Pressed on what was going on, Twyford sounded upbeat and said the decision on a delivery partner was moving through the Cabinet process.

"With Cabinet processes, it's never a good idea to put an exact timeframe on [the decision] in terms of days or weeks – but soon."

But on his way into the House on Tuesday afternoon, Peters undermined that position.

"It's not going to happen in the immediate term," he said, adding that costs had blown out massively.

"We've always been for heavy rail around this country. Our programme is on target, as you know, and light rail has been suspended in terms of planning for the immediate future."

The $6 billion light rail project is currently on hold as the Government focuses towards on Covid-19.

This month, Twyford's office confirmed that a funding decision for modern-day trams was "on pause at the moment" because a decision on which delivery partner the Government worked with was on hold.

The task has proven more difficult than Labour politicians envisaged, with a business case for the CBD to airport line still being worked on months after it was due in December 2018.

Since then there has been ongoing back-and-forth about who will build the scheme, with NZTA and NZ Infra the two bidders.

An analysis of both bids has been completed, but the winner is yet to be decided.

Comments

Winston needs to see what is happening here in Aus. Australia is rushing to reopen and it is looking dodgy. Two schools had to close yesterday in NSW. Someone given an exemption to enter SA from overseas tested positive and Victoria still doesn't seem to know what it's doing. And a new case in Queensland. And a ship with 19 infected crew allowed into WA.
Sadly Morrison wants it to look like Australia is doing as well as NZ, but it isn't.
While I can understand tourism wanting a trans tasman bubble, I would be waiting a couple of weeks to see where Australia is going before considering anything. You can't take Scott Morrison's word for anything, you need facts.

Winston shows his hand! What would he have us do, open the borers and let tourists in from countries with high rates? Economic recovery isn't best served by returning to behaviour which will undo all our internationally renowned success in dealing with Covid. It hasn't gone away and complacency could still literally kill.

Nash is comparing apples with oranges as he is not taking into account the US death toll per capita and the high population density whilst ignoring the successful strategies implemented by Latvia, Japan, Taiwan and Australia, countries which never carried out a lock down. This Government hamstrung our economy and is still holding our livelihoods to ransom. Time for NZ First to walk away.

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