Nats and ACT are riled by the suspension of Parliament – but has democracy been put on hold if select committees are sitting?

Our report on governance today is much the same as yesterday’s, reflecting a preoccupation with the Covid-19 lockdown.

But there’s a  big difference.

National and ACT leaders yesterday were urging the PM not to suspend Parliament – at least, not for more than one week, in National’s case.

Today they are expressing their dismay that their urging has gone unheeded.

National leader Judith Collins said:

“At a time when New Zealanders have the harshest lockdown in the world and have lost our freedoms because of the Government’s failure to vaccinate and secure the border, this move by Jacinda Ardern is unfathomable.” 

In the previous Level 4 lockdown, all parties agreed to closing Parliament in return for an Opposition-led Epidemic Response Committee to provide some accountability of the Government.

Won’t Ardern re-introduce this for involving  other parties in what transpires and to serve as some sort of check on executive power?

Apparently not.

RNZ reported: 

Asked if she would consider reinstating the Epidemic Response Committee rather than government-run select committees, Ardern said having a range of select committees meant a greater range of MPs and more ministers appearing.

“In my mind, question time is one hour a day, this is therefore multiple select committees that are able to meet, with different ministers, with different MPs asking questions, some would argue that that would provide even more scrutiny.

She noted the select committees would also be broadcast.

Parliament can be postponed up to a month during an epidemic under section 55 of the standing orders, but the leaders of all parties must be consulted first and it must be on the written recommendation of the Director-General of Health.

Were the National and ACT leaders consulted? Or simply told?

ACT’s David Seymour said Ardern called him yesterday afternoon to say she has decided  Parliament should not sit this week.

Collins likewise said Ardern advised her yesterday she is unilaterally suspending parliament.

Ardern probably told lots of people, because it has been widely reported by news media.

An account of what she said can be found in the RNZ report referenced earlier.  

But – should we be astonished? – the decision has not been posted among the government’s announcements at Beehive.govt.nz, which claims to be

  • “the official website of the New Zealand Government”; and
  • “the best place to  find Government initiatives, policies and Ministerial information”.

Let’s go there to learn what the government has been doing.

Latest from the Beehive 

Government agrees to boost support for Buller flood recovery

The Government has agreed an $8 million financial assistance package to help the Buller district to recover from last month’s severe flooding

Applications open for Resurgence Support Payment

Businesses, organisations and self-employed people affected by the recent increase to Alert Level 4 can now apply online for the COVID-19 Resurgence Support Payment (RSP).

 For more information on COVID-19 business support measures, including full eligibility criteria:

https://www.ird.govt.nz/covid-19/business-and-organisations/employing-staff/financial-support/resurgence-support-payment

 https://www.ird.govt.nz/covid-19/business-and-organisations/sbcs

 https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/covid-19/wage-subsidy/index.html

Level 4 to remain in place to keep NZers safe

Covid Alert Level 4 will remain in place across the whole of New Zealand until 11.59pm on Friday, and until 11.59pm.

Cabinet met yesterday to consider the settings and will meet again on Friday.

Hmm.  Nothing about Parliament’s suspension.

If a decision is NOT posted on the Beehive site, does that mean it is not official?

As you can see, the PM did post her announcement that Covid Alert Level 4 will remain in place across the whole of New Zealand until 11.59pm on Friday, and until 11.59pm on Tuesday August 31 for Auckland.

In her press statement, she gives the reasoning for not lifting the nation-wide lockdown.

“Further time, testing and data is required before we can make alert level changes.

“In his recent report to the Government, Sir David Skegg said the Delta variant will be more difficult to control by testing and contact tracing alone, and we are already seeing that.

“That means the safest option for us all right now, is to hold the course for longer in Level 4. A strong health approach has also proven to be the best economic approach as well.”

The setting for the rest of New Zealand outside of Auckland will be reviewed on Friday.

Cabinet will be looking for new cases emerging beyond Auckland, wastewater results remaining negative, and contacts being identified, isolated and tested.

Auckland’s settings will be reviewed by Cabinet next Monday.

Ardern sounded hopeful rather than certain about the outcome of the lockdown:

“It is possible to get on top of this. We just need to keep our efforts up, and keep following the rules, so that we aren’t in restrictions a moment longer than we need to be.

“Our plan has worked before and together we can make it work again.

And then came her customary pitch for patience, helpfulness and compliance.

“So please, stay strong, stay home, be kind. And let’s finish what we started,” Jacinda Ardern said.

But there was no mention of Parliament being suspended.

Collins pointed to overseas experience in keeping Parliaments in running order.

“Look around the world and you will see parliaments managing to continue to function despite challenging circumstances. In the UK they operated virtually for almost a year.

“There are important questions that need to be asked as to how Delta got into New Zealand. Suspending Parliament means the Government avoids this scrutiny.”

In his statement, ACT leader David Seymour tartly observed that Ardern is happy to have a socially distanced 1pm stand up with a dozen journalists in a room –  but not a democratic parliament with elected representatives asking her questions.

“At the very least the Epidemic Response Committee should have been brought back.

“The suggestion that Select Committees with a Labour majority, which have been notorious for obstructing questioning are a substitute for Parliament would not be taken seriously at any other time.”

Seymour seized on Ardern’s reasoning that inter-regional travel is not justifiable:

“The planes are still flying to Wellington with people on them, Ardern just doesn’t think those people should include Opposition politicians.”

But the select committees will continue to meet, albeit virtually.  Ministers haven’t been immunised against all Opposition questioning.

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