Extension of emergency powers impacts people and businesses

In June 2021, Road Transport Forum6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJuly 7, 2021

The world has been living with the Covid-19 pandemic for more than a year now. It’s the new normal, yet the government is extending for another two years its emergency immigration law – the Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill – put in place at the height of the pandemic.

Our industry is not a significant employer of casual migrant workers; we do everything to employ New Zealanders, including developing our own industry driver traineeship.

But we do hire people from other countries who are settled in the community, are valued by their employers (who want to keep them here) and who, before Covid-19 struck, were on their path to New Zealand residency.

Since this bill was put in place, their immigration status has been uncertain. Immigration New Zealand has told them that they will have to give up jobs in our industry and get different ones if they want to progress with their residency applications.

It is concerning because these people have been here several years and the stress and uncertainty are taking a toll.

Emergency powers are only ever intended to be temporary – for the eye of the crisis, as it were. They extend broad sweeping powers designed by just a few politicians, and they are largely beyond scrutiny.

There is no regulatory impact statement, no consultation with external stakeholders, no consideration of unintended consequences, and no economic assessment.

The Road Transport Forum contends that three years – the original amount of time for which this bill was put in place, plus the two-year extension – cannot be considered ‘temporary’. It’s the length of a full parliamentary term.

Extending emergency powers for two years – in effect, being in place for three years – signals to the rest of the world that the New Zealand border is closed for a long time yet.

Not allowing workers into New Zealand, or to stay in New Zealand and/or be joined by their families – other than those who can get special dispensation – for a further two years will be an ongoing restriction for employers who cannot find appropriately skilled workers in the labour market.

We believe the landscape is very different from 12 months ago, and the time for emergency powers has passed. New Zealand needs to be very clear about its Covid-19 recovery strategy, and resuming normal immigration processes must be part of that.

We aren’t the only ones saying a two-year extension to this bill is too long. We believe six months should be enough to knock into shape the policy development we presume has been underway since May 2020 and inform permanent changes that will fix existing immigration laws.

We also want to know what guarantees there will be to ensure this bill is not extended again.

The ‘state of emergency’ that filled the early months of the pandemic response should be well over now – more than one year on – as New Zealand adjusts and plans for recovery and the vaccine rollout provides herd immunity, allegedly by the end of 2021.

As such, reliance on emergency powers should no longer be necessary other than in exceptional circumstances. As the pandemic will be with us for years, there has to be a move back to normality, rather than fostering fear and exclusion for years to come.

We are uncomfortable with a government that wants to pull up the drawbridge, fill the moat, and shut out the world while governing under emergency powers.

Registrations open for RTF Conference

After a tumultuous 2020 that once again illustrated the strength and adaptability of New Zealand’s road transport sector, the Road Transport Forum looks forward to gathering the industry together to reflect on recent challenges and discuss the opportunities we have to shape New Zealand’s transport future.

Registrations are now open for The Road Ahead 2021 – Transporting New Zealand conference on 25 and 26 September at Invercargill’s Ascot Park Hotel, following the NZ Road Transport Hall of Fame event on the evening of the 24th.

Newly appointed Transport Minister Michael Wood and Opposition Leader Judith Collins headline an exciting line-up of speakers. V8 Supercar driver Greg Murphy will talk about the importance of driving skills training, Cameron Bagrie will provide his usual insightful commentary on the state of the economy, and Road to success project coordinator Fiona McDonagh will lead a session discussing that programme.

There will also be dinners and events to mix and mingle and an interesting partners’ programme that will show off the best Invercargill and Southland have to offer.

Make your conference booking by 31 July to take advantage of the early-bird registration discount. You can register and get more information about the conference programme and accommodation options at rtfconference.co.nz.