Covid-19 Delta variant: Judge orders MBIE to reconsider richlister’s bid to bypass MIQ

A High Court judge has ordered the government to take a second look at an Auckland richlister’s bid to bypass the MIQ system by self-isolating at his gated home following a high-stakes business meeting in the pandemic-ravaged United States.

Justice Geoffrey Venning issued the brief ruling from the bench on Thursday. He is expected to issue a full written ruling on Friday.

Lawyers for Murray Bolton said his company Xplor Technologies – based in the US but with 180 employees in New Zealand – generates $30-$50 million for New Zealand’s economy and is in the process of being publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

But first, they argued, Bolton needs to attend a pre-listing board meeting in Boston. Attending remotely via Zoom would put New Zealand’s economic interests at a disadvantage, they told Justice Venning during a hearing on Wednesday.

Bolton, who is 73 and has received both Covid-19 jabs, sought a judicial review after the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) rejected his MIQ exemption application. The landmark case argues that the system unreasonably limits citizens’ freedom of movement and breaches the Bill of Rights Act.

Part of his proposal was to take a private jet to and from the United States so as to reduce his risk of being exposed to Covid-19. Upon return, he and his partner would stay at their gated home in the swank Auckland suburb Herne Bay for two weeks – the same amount of time people are required to stay at MIQ facilities, if they’re lucky enough to get a spot – and submit to all testing requirements.

High-profile lawyer John Billington QC argued that his client would be more likely to catch Covid-19 if in an MIQ facility rather than following his own proposed plan. The Crown, however, argued that the biggest risk would be attending the board meeting in Boston.

But Bolton, whose wealth is estimated to be worth more than $500 million, has suggested the trip is worth the risk.

“Unless you’re living down a rabbit hole in Wellington, which we certainly are not, you know that Auckland’s economy is under significant stress,” Billington said. “There are businesses closing, there are employees losing their employment.

“Mr Bolton’s business contributes to the economy significantly both by employment and funding into the economy by tens of millions of dollars.”

Billington downplayed the suggestion that a ruling in his client’s favour would set much of a precedent, seeing as there is unlikely to be “a floodgate of people with private jets rushing off to get a listing on the New York Stock Exchange”.

In his Thursday ruling, Justice Venning ordered MBIE to reconsider, among other things, Bolton’s need to attend the board meeting, as well as his age and risk of contracting Covid-19 at an MIQ facility.

The government agency should also consider “the need of the applicants to enjoy rights conferred by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, including the right to freedom of movement and as citizens to enter New Zealand without unreasonable limitation”, the judge said.

Those considerations should be balanced against “the degree of risk to the community of further spread of Covid-19 involved in the applicants’ isolating or quarantining at a place
other than an MIQ facility”, Justice Venning said. Bolton’s proposed precautions, his vaccination status and “the prevailing circumstances within the community at the present time” should also be taken into account, he said.

Bolton declined through his legal team to comment on the case after the ruling was issued.

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