Editorial: Is this really a good deal?
The timing of a media release from Immigration Minister Nathan Guy to announce a deal struck with China Southern Airlines to make it easier for "high-value Chinese tourists" to visit New Zealand tells us a great deal.
It was sent via Newsroom, an agency that disseminates media releases for politicians, businesses, lobby groups and others, at 4.41pm on Wednesday.
By that time, NZ First leader Winston Peters had well and truly stolen the minister's thunder. First, his questions in Parliament earlier in the afternoon (referring to "secret deals") flushed the agreement into the open. Second, he had issued a highly critical statement almost two hours earlier.
Mr Guy described it as a new scheme to encourage Chinese tourism, to start from November 22. Frequent flyer card-holders with China Southern Airlines need not produce evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves, as long as they can show their flight records over the previous two years. This will streamline the visitor visa process.
But only some Chinese visitors will benefit, and a clear commercial advantage has been given to just one airline. Applicants nevertheless will require visas and must meet health and good-character requirements along with evidence of onward travel.
Mr Peters brayed he had caught the Government "red-handed" with "a dodgy new system" of fast-tracking visas for members of the airline's frequent flier's club despite being warned that international criminals belong to these clubs.
Mr Peters' trump card was an internal memo from the department's Intelligence, Risk and Integrity Division. It warned that China represented a "huge set of risks" and suggested officials had learnt nothing from a recent scandal over student visas. It also raised questions about the airline's track record with compliance over flight passenger lists for checking.
Labour MP Shane Jones, still suspended from Labour's shadow lineup while the auditor-general investigates his role in a Chinese immigration controversy, could attest to the problems that can stem from ignoring official advice. More critically, if it is such a great deal, Mr Guy was curiously remiss in not trumpeting the news much sooner - before Mr Peters could put a more sinister spin on it.