Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Auckland richlister Murray Bolton takes MIQ legal challenge to High Court

A richlister who wants an exemption to travel by private jet to the US for a business meeting then self-isolate at this gated home on his return has been told he’s more likely to catch Covid-19 on the trip than during a mandatory 14-day stint in MIQ.

But lawyers representing Auckland entrepreneur Murray Bolton, 73, say he is prepared to take a myriad of precautions to ensure he does not become infected or transmit the virus.

They also claim the Government is ignoring the lucrative economic benefits his whirlwind sojourn will deliver to the country and say requests to the Covid Response Minister to intervene have been met with “deafening silence”.

Bolton’s legal team, headed by high profile barrister John Billington QC, presented their case for a judicial review of the decision to reject his application this morning in the High Court at Auckland before Justice Geoffrey Venning.

“He needs to go the US to participate in a pre-listing board meeting,” Billington told the court.

“He needs to go to help generate significant income- $30m to $50m – for the New Zealand economy.

“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.

“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.”

Bolton is the director of US-based company Xplor Technologies and his wealth is estimated to be more than $500 million.

The company is preparing to publicly list on the New York Stock Exchange. Bolton says he needs to attend a crucial two-day board meeting in November to discuss the listing and promote the firm’s New Zealand operations, which employ 180 staff.

Bolton claims New Zealand’s economic interests would be disadvantaged if he was forced to participate remotely by Zoom.

However he does not have an MIQ space under the Government’s lottery system, so wishes to travel by private jet to reduce his exposure to the virus then self-isolate with his partner at his Herne Bay home upon their return.

The Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) rejected the exemption application so Bolton filed a landmark legal challenge against the country’s MIQ system, arguing it unreasonably limits citizens’ freedom of movement and breaches the Bill of Rights Act.

Billington told the court MBIE had applied too narrow a focus on health reasons when rejecting Bolton’s application, rather than considering broader social and economic factors required under the relevant legislation.

Any decision limiting a citizen’s freedoms should be “proportionate” and impose the least possible restrictions, Billington argued.

In terms of whether the exemption would set a precedent for other applications, Billington said: “There’s not going to be a floodgate of people with private jets rushing off to get a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.”

Billington also argued that Bolton was more likely to catch Covid in an MIQ facility than he was self-isolating at home, which had to be considered given his age.

He was prepared to undergo the same monitoring, testing and safety protocols as those taking part in the Government’s self-isolation pilot for 150 New Zealand businesspeople, which Bolton had applied for but missed out on.

Crown lawyer Ella Watt argued Bolton did not need to travel to the pandemic-ravaged US and he was more likely to catch the virus at the Boston board meeting or in transit than in a dedicated MIQ facility.

If the trip was really that urgent, Bolton could simply go then stay at his other home in Mexico, Watt said.

“He’s not willing it seems to engage in the application process for MIQ and has not applied for an MIQ spot.”

Watt also argued that Bolton’s application was legitimately rejected under the relevant health grounds officials needed to access under the law.

There was not scope for MBIE officials to consider “broader” factors outside of those associated with a person’s physical and mental health, she said.

“The desire to isolate at home cannot be considered a need of the applicant.”

In closing, Billington told the court Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins had discretion to grant an exemption.

Two such applications had been made to the minister but both had been met with “deafening silence”, Billington said.

“The minister has not responded to either approach. Nothing has happened. The minister is obviously very busy.”

Crown lawyer Sean Kinsler then offered a ray of hope.

The situation was “evolving” and due to withdrawals, a space may become available to Bolton under the Government’s pilot scheme, “which may defuse the need for these proceedings”.

Justice Venning reserved his decision but will deliver his result tomorrow.

In a statement, a spokesman for Hipkins told the Herald Bolton’s request would have gone primarily to the director general of health­.

“The minister doesn’t make the calls on applications.”

Source: Read Full Article