Opposition leaders press the PM to spare Parliament (and democracy) from the lockdown – oh, and keep an eye on the debt

The Covid lockdown has been the subject of most press releases posted on The Beehive website – and those distributed by other political parties  – in recent days.

The flow of statements includes the thoroughly reasonable demand from Opposition leaders that democracy not be put into lockdown, too.

ACT leader David Seymour called on the PM “to ensure democracy continues and that the Government is held to account”.

Sure, the Government was elected by a majority of voters, Seymour acknowledged, but the people who voted for other parties still deserve to be represented.

His reasoning:

“If the AM Show and Seven Sharp can go ahead while socially distancing, there’s no reason our democratically elected Parliament can’t.

“If Jacinda Ardern decides against that, the question will be whether this is about safety, or avoiding scrutiny.”

And if the PM decides against Parliament sitting as scheduled this week, Seymour says the Epidemic Response Committee should be reconvened.

National leader Judith Collins is on the record as saying she was fine with the House being suspended for a week but she didn’t see why it should stay out of action throughout level 4.

“It’s quite alright for Parliament not to sit next week, but Parliament should sit the week after. We are a democracy,” Collins said.

But the Nats have been highlighting the matter of money, too – and more particularly, borrowed money.

Shadow Treasurer Andrew Bayly reminded us that for several weeks National has been highlighting the fact that, according to Budget documents,

“… Finance Minister Grant Robertson has already blown $57 billion of a total $62 billion of funds set aside to deal with the Covid pandemic.”

The purpose of the Covid Recovery Fund is to manage the economic response prudently, Bayly noted.

“But the fund set aside for vital spending required to support New Zealand in unprecedented times has rapidly become a slush fund for a hodge-podge of Government projects with little or no link to the Covid response.”

If the $57 billion additional spend over the past 18 months had gone toward high-quality infrastructure projects, Bayly said,

“…  imagine what we might have achieved. Instead, a significant portion has gone into a range of low-value vanity projects.

“The refurbishment of the Christchurch YMCA, at a cost of $$43 million, cannot seriously be justified as Covid recovery expenditure. Nor is the annual $10 million Robertson has allocated from the fund to remove pests and weeds from iconic landscapes.

“Perhaps most egregious of all is the $11 million given – later ‘loaned’ – to James Shaw’s ‘green school’ from this borrowed Covid fund.”

Only $5.1 billion was left in the account, according to Bayly’s accounting.  This was  equivalent to only three-and-a-half weeks’ worth of national lockdown, which means

“…there’s precious little left in the kitty”.

But when the $5.1 billion is spent, Robertson can always go out and borrow more – can’t he?

Well, yes.  But Bayly raised “two worrying issues”.

First, over the past 18 months our debt has already doubled from $60 million to just under $120 billion.

“In essence, we have already significantly mortgaged the country.”

More troubling is that the country’s debt is forecast (as per the Budget) to increase by another $60 billion over the next three years to $185 billion.

The Minister’s response (we anticipate) will be that New Zealand would still be modestly indebted.

But at close to 50% of debt to GDP, Bayly counters, this fails to take into account that New Zealand is a small trading nation highly susceptible to international headwinds.

We are also very vulnerable to seismic and other climatic risks.

The news from the Beehive shows the spending continues regardless:

Latest from the Beehive

Number of New Zealanders fully vaccinated passes 1 million

The COVID-19 vaccination programme has reached its most significant milestone to date, with more than 1 million people now fully vaccinated, says Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins

Record keeping to become mandatory for most events and businesses

Mandatory record keeping is being introduced for busy places and large gatherings to ensure the Government can contact trace quickly, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced today.

More information can be found here: https://covid19.govt.nz/health-and-wellbeing/protect-yourself-and-others-from-covid-19/keep-track-of-where-youve-been/

Childcare available again for workers in Alert Level 4 businesses and services

The Government is restarting childcare for workers in Alert Level 4 businesses and services, which was available during last year’s national lockdown, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.

Workers who have children aged up to 13-years-old can access free care, so they are able to continue to provide the essential services we need during the current lockdown.

Support available for whānau and communities affected by COVID-19

Whānau and communities affected by current COVID-19 alert levels are being encouraged to access support available through the Ministry of Social Development and Whānau Ora.

While people can get financial assistance for food through Work and Income, they can also make online orders and arrangements through local supermarkets and their Priority Assistance Service.

If your situation is urgent and you need food within the next 24-48 hours, you can contact a local food bank. Find food banks and other food assistance services across New Zealand

Assistance for employers and businesses

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