Jacinda Ardern has given her strongest indication yet of when regular trans-Tasman travel may resume, listing September as a realistic time frame.
Her comments echo those of an expert working group set up to lay the groundwork for the resumption of business-as-usual flights.
However, the prime minister’s deputy Winston Peters believes flights should be taking off from New Zealand to lesser-impacted regions of Australia – such as Tasmania and the Northern Territory – immediately.
Ms Ardern has pushed back against growing expectations of a ‘trans-Tasman bubble’, arguing the country’s border controls have been a key plank in the government’s goal of eliminating the virus.
On Thursday, health officials announced a sixth consecutive day without a new case of COVID-19, but a 22nd death from the virus.
New Zealand has just eight active cases of the virus, and none requiring hospital level care.
Asked about the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group’s plan, to be presented to both governments in early June, Ms Ardern agreed with its quoted goal of September.
“September is realistic, but I haven’t given specifics around what date precisely,” Ms Ardern said at the reopening of the country’s national museum and art gallery, Te Papa, on Thursday.
“Needless to say, Prime Minister Morrison and I have been very, very keen to see us moving towards an opening up about borders as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“We are just giving ourselves the space to make sure that we are ready to go, that we are safe, and that we’re not going to export risk to one another.”
Across town at parliament, Mr Peters took a different view.
As leader of coalition partner New Zealand First, Mr Peters has agitated to move faster than Ms Ardern’s Labour party in re-opening the economy after tough lockdown conditions.
Mr Peters suggested moving faster than the advice received by the recommendations compiled by health and government officials, airports, airlines in the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group’s plan.
“You can have experts and you can have advisory groups and then you have people who take the responsibility. And that’s where government comes in,” he said.
“Advice is one thing. But we have to make decisions about something else, the absolute crisis we’ve got now in our economy and the faster we turn that around the better.”
Asked whether flights could be taking place to Australia today, Mr Peters said “yes”.
“The premier of Tasmania said so,” he said.
“He said he wanted to revive the 1990 flights … (and) look at Queensland’s results. Look at the Northern Territory results. They also exceed ours.
“We’ve got to take all the expert advice into consideration, but be sure of this, all that medical advice is only so sound whilst we can pay for the outcome of this.”
The Tourism Restart Taskforce – a lobby group aligned with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – has also called for the resumption of trans-Tasman tourism in July.