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Peter Williams: New Zealanders must always have a right to return to their homeland

Opinion 30/04/2020

By Peter Williams, host of Magic Mornings

OPINION: Will nobody take responsibility for the most outrageous suggestion in the history of the New Zealand public service?

Does the Director-General of Health, or the Prime Minister, not feel in the slightest bit embarrassed that a proposition where New Zealand citizens and residents not be allowed back in the country because of Covid-19 should see the light of a Cabinet meeting, let alone make the public arena?

It was of course the wily old Winston Peters creating utter mischief with his revelation that someone, or some group at the Ministry of Health, came up with the utterly unconscionable idea?

He was scoring political points to ensure that the much lauded Ashley Bloomfield was brought down to earth with a thud. No matter who wrote the Cabinet paper, it was Bloomfield who had to approve it before it was presented to the nation’s Executive. If he didn’t, he was being remiss. If he did, he needs a seriously good talking to about this minor concept called human rights and another not insignificant matter, namely international law. 

The point is that if a person is a citizen or resident of New Zealand they must always - and that means always - have a right to return to their homeland. They must not, indeed probably, cannot be prevented from thus.

So how in the name of St Jacinda could any sane, educated person even consider that it was worth recommending that New Zealand stop all people, no matter their nationality or homeland, from returning here? 

Had they never heard of a thing called quarantine for New Zealand nationals?

Yet somebody inside the Ministry of Health allowed this preposterous suggestion to go forward to Cabinet, where we were told it was “respected” before being dismissed.

Respected? Dear God. Who are these people? 

It should have been dismissed immediately and scoffed at. It should never have been entertained in any way.

A kind government never turns its back on its own. Never. 

In the end it didn’t. 

Good. It should never have even been asked to.

But, in my mind, it is unacceptable behaviour from a public servant. For the Director-General of Health to weakly offer “we were only considering public health perspective” is just not acceptable. Does a public health perspective not include human rights?

Every sane person should know that it is just not right for a country to remotely consider blocking citizens and residents from returning home, especially in a time of a public health crisis.

The country should be outraged that such a suggestion was ever made public. The Prime Minister should be admonishing her Ministry of Health for ever even thinking this was a possibility.

In times of illness or crisis, we all like to return home for the comfort that brings. That some anonymous public servant could even consider anything else is beyond comprehension.

Peter Williams hosts Magic Mornings on Magic Talk.