Matthew Hooton: Shameful MIQ lottery must end today


New Zealand citizens have learned a valuable lesson that the Wellington bureaucracy will lock us up not just because we have been sentenced by a court or on public health grounds, but just because they can.

We should not be too harsh on our local bureaucrats. Every first-year psychology student knows from the Stanford prison experiment what happens if you give anyone unchecked power.

But unlike soldiers and police officers who usually work in the open, those making policy and operational decisions about Jacinda Ardern’s managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system are faceless bureaucrats, hidden from view in the bowels of MBIE and the Ministry of Health.

The latest case to reach the media is Shelley Grierson, a 30-something New Zealander currently living in the UK, who tried to get home to be with her dying sister, Rebecca, who has days or weeks to live.

As Shelley says, this isn’t an 80-year-old grandparent, or even her parents, whose passing is part of life. It is her older sister, to whom she is close. Like my friend and her husband of 56 years that I wrote about in August, who were prevented last year from being with one another as he died, neither Shelley nor Rebecca has Covid.

But unlike my friend and her husband, this latest monstrosity is playing out despite vaccines now being available. Shelley is not just double-vaccinated but consistently tests negative for Covid. Yet Wellington bureaucrats have so far turned down four applications to leave MIQ early, so that she can be sure of being with her sister as she dies. This is despite work by no less than professors Michael Baker and Nick Wilson and their epidemiology colleagues from the University of Otago’s medical school advising that New Zealand now represents greater Covid risk to people like Shelley than they do to New Zealand. That is, there is no public health justification for Shelley continuing to be detained by the state against her will.

The way the Ardern Government is treating Shelley is the polar opposite of kindness. It is maximally cruel and it is impossible to imagine a court thinking it is consistent with her citizenship rights under the Bill of Rights Act. After all, under our legal system inherited from England, it has been unlawful since the 12th century for the state to detain someone without good reason.

Shelley would almost certainly be set free if she had the resources to judicially review MBIE’s decisions, or even if she threatened it. Our lawmakers have provided for an exemption system. If the bureaucrats won’t apply it in Shelley’s case, what possible case would they ever apply it to?

Yet Shelly is just one of the few whose stories have reached the public. And Shelley, after representations from her sisters’ doctors and the Waikato District Health Board, was at least allowed to get as far as an MIQ facility in New Zealand.

That is a luxury denied tens of thousands of New Zealanders facing similar life crises or who just want to come home and see their family and friends. Even those who built up immunity from Covid after having it last year, who have had both Pfizer shots not more than six months nor less than two weeks ago, and who test negative every day are not allowed to avoid Ardern’s disgusting MIQ lottery to return home.

Some are stuck abroad with no remaining money, are living illegally in countries after their visas have expired, or both. They have been abandoned by Ardern, New Zealand and the so-called Team of Five Million.

As of Wednesday, Wellington bureaucrats were allowing 2119 people in Auckland who are positive with Covid to self-isolate instead of being confined to MIQ, plus another 2616 who may have Covid. There are another 91 people with Covid self-isolating in the Waikato, plus a further 153 possible cases.

Yet Shelley and tens of thousands of double-vaccinated, Covid-free New Zealand citizens like her are either being confined to MIQ or are being prevented from exercising their citizenship rights to even get that far. It is a disgrace not just to Ardern’s regime but to all of us. Businessman Murray Bolton, with John Billington QC, was the first to kick a big legal hole in the MIQ monstrosity, becoming New Zealand’s Harald Jäger.

Since then, it is believed the Ardern Government has been desperate to keep similar cases out of the law courts and the court of public opinion, knowing it will be smashed in both, leading to a collapse of the whole cruel, medically unjustified and probably illegal system.

It is understandable if people in Shelley’s position prefer to do private, low-profile deals with MBIE to escape confinement. But hopefully more people take the legal road to set the precedent that the Ardern regime can’t lock up citizens without good reason – and thereby finally bring to an end this national disgrace.

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