Willie Jackson defends 'upset' Jacinda Ardern as Judith Collins claims 'we're being lied to'

The AM Show 19/06/2020

Labour MP Willie Jackson has defended Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's leadership in the wake of a series of quarantine blunders while National's Judith Collins claims New Zealanders are being lied to.

Circumstances of two women's release from managed isolation this week have been universally slammed. After the sudden death of a parent last week, the pair were allowed to leave the Novotel Auckland Ellerslie on Saturday on compassionate grounds and drive to Wellington. That's despite neither being tested.

Kiwis were initially told the women met no one along the way, but the Ministry of Health later learnt they got lost on the Auckland motorway and friends came to their assistance. They had "limited physical contact" with them for about five minutes, which included a side hug. 

On Monday, in Wellington, both tested positive for COVID-19. One of their friends has since tested negative, while another result is pending. 

Ardern, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, and Health Minister David Clark have expressed disappointment in testing not happening and compassionate leave exemptions have been put on hold while the system is assessed. Dr Bloomfield also stressed that no should leave a facility without a negative test first.

Appearing on The AM Show on Friday, Jackson, a minister in Ardern's Government, said the gaps in the system would be sorted out. 

"It has been a terrible last 24 hours for the country really. We have been very clear. The boss, the Prime Minister, has been upfront about this. I don't think it's a time for excuses. We don't think it's a time for excuses. It is about getting the processes right, getting things right at the border, getting the right people in," he said. 

"You think you have got everything in place. We went hard, we went early. There was huge support for what we did. We all know that. You tick all the boxes. But sometimes these things happen."

He expressed "faith" in Ardern's leadership, but Collins, a senior National MP, claimed New Zealanders are being lied to. 

"We have been lied to actually. We have been lied to about the quarantine, about the standard of care. It's not only putting the health of New Zealanders at risk, it has put our economy even further at risk because we will not be able to have our economy back anywhere near what it was while we have this quarantine issue," she said.

"The inability to open our borders to people who are bringing in jobs and enterprise into the country, that is actually a direct result of the lack of confidence that we can all have in the quarantine regime."

There have been allegations of other blunders in quarantine facilities, including a birthday party happening with guests from different planes, claims a homeless man stayed at a hotel, and that two people allowed out for a funeral ran away.

Dr Bloomfield told The AM Show on Thursday that he is always upfront and transparent with Kiwis. In regard to the two women's trip to Wellington, he said he presented the public with all the information he had at the time and has taken responsibility. He's promising to sort it out.

Asked who she was accusing of lying, Collins said: "I think the Prime Minister and Ministry of Health have made it very clear that they have suddenly said they have brought in the military. They had them in months ago."

She's referencing an announcement by Ardern on Wednesday where the Prime Minister said she was appointing Assistant Chief of Defence Air Commodore Digby Webb to "oversee all quarantine and managed isolation facilities, including the processes around the exit of those who have been in these facilities". On Thursday, Newshub revealed that Webb has been involved for weeks. 

Jackson said he "hasn't been in charge of the operation," however. 

"Now he is in charge of the operation and he will keep things ticking over. We can't have mistakes. If we have mistakes, the country suffers."

He said Collins was going too far in her accusations of lies. 

"I think we are going a bit over the line if you are going to start accusing the Prime Minister of lying. From a senior and respected member of the Opposition. Seriously, I don't see there's any lies that are coming from our Prime Minister," Jackson said.

"She is a person of huge integrity and very honest, and she is upset. I haven't seen her like this."

Host Duncan Garner said that after being assured the border was watertight, Kiwis feel misled or lied to. But Jackson disagreed. 

"I don't think that is how New Zealanders feel. I would hope they would cut us a bit of slack given the integrity of this Prime Minister, the leadership she has shown, she has said mistakes have been made, she has made it very clear that they are going to fix things, we are going to fix things," he said.

"Sometimes, for whatever reasons, people get out of control and we have seen what has happened at the hotel. It has been shambolic, okay? There are no excuses from me or from the Government. But there is a commitment to get this right... we will get it right."

Jackson said the Health Minister would have also expected better from the system, but now is "not about chopping heads off". 

"It is about getting this right for the 5 million people who have supported us."

He understood that people felt let down.

Collins said arranging a functional quarantine system was not that difficult and the latest incidents were the sort that shatter confidence and can be "really damaging" to the health and economy of New Zealand. 

"It is not that hard to say this is a quarantine hotel. The people from this flight are going into that hotel. Those are the only people going into that hotel, the people coming in that day," she said.

"Once their quarantine has finished and they have had their two negative tests for COVID-19, then that hotel is emptied. Then you clean it. Then you sterilise everything. That's what you do. Then you have the next plane load. It's not that hard."

Garner wrapped up the interview by saying everyone would have a good weekend, "be positive" and "do this together". 

Jackson said: "Come on, get positive Judith. What's wrong with you this morning? Too negative."

That didn't go down well.

"I am just feeling really let down by you guys. You are putting everyone at risk. Just stop it. We should be in charge," Collins said.