Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford was under fire last night for preferring “glamour industries” like film making when granting Covid-19 entry exemptions for workers.
Twyford has refused an exemption for a Tuna boat to undergo repairs at a Nelson shipyard. (Update: A spokesperson for the Minister says he has not declined any applicaitons that have reached his desk)
Meanwhile, film workers from Los Angeles are now in isolation in a Wellington hotel with allegations they were freely mingling over the long weekend with guests from the hotel.
A Nelson marine engineering company, Aimex, has been refused permission for an American-Samoa tuna boat, Captain Vincent Gann to enter the port for urgent repairs.
“The large tuna boat which previously had $6.5 million of work done on it in Nelson is in the Eastern Pacific, will have been weeks at sea and poses no Covid- 19 risk to New Zealand,” said Aimex Managing Director, Steve Sullivan.
“Its last port of call was American Samoa which has no cases of Covid-19 and closed its borders in March.
“The crew can easily be quarantined and Covid-19 tested if deemed necessary.”
The vessel carries a crew of 25.
Nelson MP Nick Smith said yesterday that the vessel required an exemption as an essential industry to be allowed into Nelson port.
Exemptions are considered by the Ministries of Business Innovatio nand Economic Development Minister and Immigration and in the case of fishing boats, Fisheries, but POLITIK has been told that “they go all the way up to the top to the Prime Minister.”
Smith may have misfired in Parliament by questioning Customs Minister Jenny Salesa about why the exemption had not been granted. (It does require a customs clearance to come in).
Although Salesa did refer Smith to Economic Development Minister Twyford, she also said she stood by the Government’s record.(This has been updated to reflect informaiton provided by Twyford’s office)
“Cabinet makes these decisions based on the Director-General of Health and the Ministry of Health. I stand by our Government’s record on Covid 19,” she said.
In a subsequent statement, Smith said marine engineering was a major industry in Nelson employing hundreds of skilled staff in the construction, maintenance and repairs of vessels.
“The closure of the borders is having a major impact, losing millions in contracts resulting in ongoing job losses,” he said.
Immigration Minister, Iain Lees-Galloway said the ship had applied for a humanitarian exemption to enter New Zealand, but that was declined.
“I have asked for advice on the situation, but in the meantime, I am advised the boat is not in distress, it is not New Zealand flagged and has no New Zealand crew on board.”
Sullivan was particularly galled by the admission into Wellington over the weekend of 56 film workers.
“The Government has given exceptions for glamour industries like the film makers of Avatar but refuses to budge on ours,” he said.
“I am particularly angry that Government officials in MBIE advised that this boat should be sent to Hawaii for the repairs with no regard for the jobs in Nelson.”
The Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that 150 exemptions had been granted for essential workers since the country went into lockdown.
There are other critical applications including a team of Israeli engineers who were needed at Ngawha near Kaikohe in Northland to complete the installation of the turbines for an expansion of Top Energy’s Ngawha Geothermal Power Station.
The expansion was projected to be completed by October and would more than double Top Energy’s geothermal power output.
(This article has been changed in the light of a response from Top Energy who say they have applied for exemption but are not expecting any delays)
The failure to allow the ship and other workers in will have an obvious economic impact but comes at a time when, otherwise, the Government has reasons to be optimistic about the recovery from the lockdown.
The Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, told Parliament yesterday that Friday’s weekly economic update from Treasury also showed improvements in economic activity.
“Heavy traffic movement is now only 5 per cent below its normal levels, while electricity demand is now above pre-COVID levels, and electronic card spending during level 2 has been nearly equal to pre-COVID levels,” he said.
Treasury’s report is backed up by trading bank economists.
Westpac’s economics team said yesterday that retail spending rebounded surprisingly vigorously after the lockdown was lifted.
“Now that we’re back to Alert Level 2, spending levels are down only 2% on the same time last year,” they said.
“Some of that will be catch-up spending after the lockdown, and sectors like tourism and hospitality are still struggling with sluggish demand.
‘Even so, that is a faster recovery than we were expecting and points to an encouraging degree of resilience in households’ spending appetites.”
Kiwibank published a similar report.
The higher-than-expected spending tends to contradict claims from National that businesses are “haemorrhaging cash” at present.
“Some key high-level indicators of activity are also pointing to a faster recovery than we had expected,” said Westpac.
“For instance, during the lockdown electricity demand fell 15% but is now back around the levels we saw this time last year.
Similarly, both heavy and light traffic movements have recovered most of their lockdown related declines, signalling that both people and goods are moving around the country again.
“The pace of job losses has slowed in recent weeks, suggesting that the labour market has been more resilient than we expected.
“During the Alert Level 4 lockdown, we saw the number of New Zealanders on the Jobseeker benefit rising by more than 6,000 each week. In the week ending 22 May, that pace had slowed to 384.
“We’ve also seen some recovery in businesses’ demand for workers, with a pickup in the number of job advertisements.”
This is good news for the Government — but the failure to grant entry exemptions for ships to be repaired and engineers to work on power projects may not be.