“Something like a scene from Love Actually,” was New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s impression of how families reuniting at the border must have felt as the trans-Tasman bubble opened today.
Speaking to reporters at a post-cabinet press conference, Ardern said she was disappointed cabinet’s meeting had coincided with the first flight from Australia landing in Wellington, as she would have liked to have been a bystander watching the reunions:
It is truly exciting to be able to welcome our Tasman cousins quarantine-free to Aotearoa. Today marks an important milestone in NZ’s Covid-19 recovery.
Ardern said she was personally experiencing some of the excitement that had greeted the travel bubble. “I, like many New Zealanders, have friends and family in Australia,” she said, including some who were “desperate to return to New Zealand”.
“I know how enthusiastically this has been greeted and I’m really pleased about that.”
She said she would be stopping by the airport to celebrate later today. Ardern said the quarantine-free bubble between two countries, both committed to eliminating coronavirus in the community, was a world first. She said the government was now exploring options for travel bubbles with other Covid-free nations in the Pacific, but not looking further afield than that.
Scott Morrison has announced a royal commission into veterans’ suicide after months of increasing political pressure over the issue.
The government had previously resisted calls for such an inquiry by saying its plans for a national commissioner for defence and veteran suicide prevention would be able to examine the problem on a rolling basis and would have similar powers to a royal commission. But the bills to set up such a commissioner as an independent statutory office holder have languished in the Senate.
Last month a non-binding motion calling for a royal commission passed both houses of parliament with cross-party support. The government did not oppose the motion after the lower house crossbencher Craig Kelly – formerly a Liberal MP – indicated he intended to support it. Labor has also been pushing for a royal commission, arguing last week that it was “a national disgrace that more veterans have died by suicide than in war in the past 20 years, and veterans are dying at twice the rate of suicide of the general population.”
After the government announced last week that the final 80 Australian defence personnel still in Afghanistan would be home by September, advocates for veterans’ support renewed their calls for greater government action to address their welfare.
Heston Russell, a retired Australian special forces major who was deployed to Afghanistan four times, told Guardian Australia last week he was pleased the motion had passed the parliament but “it’s been pretty disheartening” that Morrison hadn’t announced one yet.
Russell at the time said he hoped the prime minister reflected democratic processes and acted on the call. “Do the right thing,” he said.