We wonder if Stuart Nash is too busy trying to catch up with his small business duties to find time to reply to Point of Order’s questions about highly contentious goings-on in his police portfolio.
Nash was criticised earlier this week for providing the Epidemic Response Committee with scant information about the effect on businesses of an additional week of lockdown and another two weeks at alert level 3.
In his Police patch, meanwhile, the legality of checkpoints set up by Maori communities has become a matter of confusion.
Point of Order has tried to establish if there is any statutory authority to legitimise these checkpoints.
Our questions to the PM and to the Police were not directly answered while our questions to Nash received only an automated response.
There have been calls from the National Party for clarity of the legality of checkpoints – which are being run in Te Tai Tokerau, Te Tairāwhiti and some other rural areas.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she believes they are acting within the law and is comfortable with them.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says although the police do not encourage community checkpoints they will continue to work in partnership with local authorities, iwi and community groups to assess whether they are needed.
He said he didn’t expect any being run when the country moved to alert level 2.
Police Minister Stuart Nash told Midday Report that he believed they were illegal unless run by police.
In a press statement on the issue, National’s Police spokesperson, Brett Hudson, asked the Government and Police to confirm if community checkpoints, set up by locals and not the Police, are lawful or not. He said:
“Community checkpoints that are, at best, legally questionable have appeared in some parts of the country. If the Government and Police are going to endorse these they need to set out what the legal authority is for these checkpoints to operate, and publish clear guidelines as to the conditions under which they can be set up and operated.
“Right now there is no evidence that people operating community roadblocks have lawful authority to stop or impede vehicle movements to conduct the checks they are making.
“We are all expected to obey the law, along with the specific rules of the lockdown. It is the responsibility of the Police to enforce the law and those rules. It is up to the Police to determine whether or not a journey is within the rules, not the general public.”
If the Government and Police were going to condone this behaviour they needed to set out the rules so people stopped by checkpoints could be confident they were lawful, Hudson said.
“The Police must enforce the law fairly and consistently across the country, if community checkpoints are deemed illegal, then they must be closed.”
Point of Order similarly asked Nash in an email:
- What statutory powers have been invoked to enable local communities to set up checkpoints with police support to close public roads and establish medical checkpoints?
- What would happen to a citizen who ignored the checkpoints?
We said in our email these seem to be questions of government policy rather than mere operational matters.
We received two responses.
The first said if our email was regarding a Napier issue or invitation, we should resend it to email@example.com
Otherwise, invitations will be processed as soon as possible. Correspondence may take longer to respond to due to the large amount received by this office.
Stuart considers all correspondence to be important. If your email falls outside of his portfolio responsibilities, expresses a personal view, or is copied to multiple Members of Parliament, then your opinion will be noted and your correspondence may be transferred to another office, or there may be no further response to you.
The second reply gave much the same advice but this time Nash noted the challenges posed by the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and said:
We consider your correspondence important and are currently experiencing unprecedented numbers of emails.
We are attending to each piece of correspondence received. Please be assured your correspondence will be noted and, where appropriate, your correspondence may be transferred to another office, or the appropriate Government Agency for response.
Please look after yourself, look after your family, and look out for those around you. These are tough days but we can get through this together.
We asked Hudson’s press secretary if the MP had received the response he asked for on the matter of community checkpoints.
We await a reply.
But we can record another press statement Hudson issued during the week in which he said
“ … the Police need to stop all community checkpoints and make it clear that enforcing the law and lockdown rules is their job, not vigilante members of the public…”
Despite saying they didn’t encourage community checkpoints, the Police would not only tolerate them but also participate if notified, the MP said.
Hudson went on:
“While there are restrictions in place under Covid-19 which place bounds on peoples’ movements, there remains a fundamental right of movement within those bounds. It’s not for members of the public to play a role in determining or enforcing compliance.
“If any of these community checkpoints are to remain they should be staffed by Police, not the public.”
RNZ reports that Maori tribes in Taranaki are worried that going into alert level 3 could be devastating for local Māori and say they are going to set up checkpoints around the region.
Ngāti Ruanui leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said when the alert drops to level 3, local iwi will run checkpoints near Mōkau and at Pātea – the northern and southern gateways to the region.
“We want to be able to keep our region Covid-free and we will do whatever we need to ensure that happens,” she said.
“Because we are so vulnerable if even one got into us, it would have catastrophic consequences.”
Which region was being protected is unclear because at that time Taranaki had 14 confirmed cases of Covid-19 – 12 people had recovered and two were still sick.
Whether the cops are soft on Covid-19 rule-breaking is a good question. According to the New Zealand Herald, more than 40 people were facing prosecution for flouting lockdown rules at the time police were gearing up for checkpoints over Easter.
New Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said New Zealand was now at a stage where people knew the rules – but some were flouting them anyway, including surfers.
There have been 45 prosecutions of people breaching lockdown rules – up from 16 just days ago.
Another 367 people had been issued warnings, up 76 from yesterday.
What about communities setting up their own checkpoints?
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told Morning Report these checkpoints in response to Covid-19 had been understandable when the risk was unknown (which implies he turned a blind eye). But now the situation was different.
Anyone wanting to do so now must work with police, Coster said.
“From the start of this, we have worked with communities but communities are not specifically authorised to undertake checkpoint-type of activity.
“For that reason, where these things have been occurring we’re now working to ensure that there’s police presence or indeed preferably that the checkpoints cease, because the risk to our communities is lower.”
“We cannot have communities running checkpoints that are preventing movement that is permitted under whatever level we are in. So that will be our concern, to make sure that people who are entitled to use the road are free to do that.”
Let’s see how that turns out over the next few days.
RNZ has reported that Te Whānau a Apanui have no Covid-19 cases within their tribal area and their tribal checkpoints are being credited for the result.
No Covid-19 cases have been reported in the community where the author of this post resides, either. But no community checkpoints have been mounted in this area.
We suspect there are many communities with neither checkpoints nor the virus.
The need for checkpoints (legal or otherwise) is open to challenge.