Govt rushes freedom-crimping measures past close scrutiny – ministers then go spending big bucks to tackle Covid-19

Latest from the Beehive

Fresh from the legislative outrage of rushing the “traffic lights” bill through Parliament, the government poured $504.1 million earlier today into initiatives to help Kiwis deal with Covid-19 in its latest responses to the reality that Covid-19 is something we must learn to live with.

That was the sum when Point of Order first checked the Beehive website this morning.

By the time we were wrapping up this post an announcement from Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall had increased this by almost $1 billion on measures for testing, contact tracing and case investigation

Quicker testing will be among the consequences.

“Delta is here, so we are ensuring we have the tools in place to support the transition to the new framework, and to help minimise the spread of COVID-19,” Ayesha Verrall said.

Yep.  The government has waved the flag of surrender in its efforts to beat the virus and has changed the rules for trying to constrain its spread.

Most controversially,  this is being done by constraining Kiwis freedoms – if they have not been vaccinated – under legislation which has been passed in indecent haste. 

As Stuff reports today, Speaker Trevor Mallard was among the critics of the short-circuiting of normal Parliamentary processes for considering this legislation.

Opposition MPs, legal experts and the Human Rights Commission have all condemned the move as poor lawmaking, and law professors have questioned the Government’s broad drafting of the law.

“There has not been a more important piece of legislation passed by Parliament this year, yet we’ve done it in 24 hours without consultation,” Victoria University law professor Dr Dean Knight said.

Kiwiblog’s David Farrar described the hasty legislating and scant scrutinsing of the bill as the second or third worst use of urgency in the last 25 years.

Moreover, he noted its is very rare for a Speaker to condemn the Government like this.

Curiously, no ministerial statement has been made to express delight that the bill has been enacted (or perhaps no minister wanted to attach their name to such a statement).

Ministers did enthuse about other legislation:

  • The Taxation (COVID-19 Support Payments and Working for Families Tax Credits) Act aims to boost Working for Families tax credits.  Revenue Minister David Parker said the measures would lift the incomes of those receiving the Family Tax Credit, the Best Start Tax Credit and the Minimum Family Tax credit.
  • The Government’s Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Bill (No 2), which passed its third reading, ensures drug-checking services continue to operate legally at festivals, pop-up clinics, university orientation weeks and other places this summer and beyond. Those services have been legal since last summer under temporary legislation that expires next month.   “This legislation is about keeping people safe,” Andrew Little said.
  • The Moriori Claims Settlement Bill, which has passed its third reading at Parliament, marks the completion of the historical Treaty of Waitangi settlement process for Moriori.  As Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Andrew Little said: “This is the final milestone for Moriori and the Crown and is a new beginning in our relationship.”

Having steered two bills into law, Andrew Little announced a $300 million boost to Pharmac to buy new medicines to treat COVID-19.

Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni announced $204.1m will be made available to support individuals and families who contract COVID-19 and need to isolate at home.

Sepuloni also announced a new text service to support disabled peoples’ vaccinations.  The service, run by Whakarongorau Aotearoa on behalf of the Ministry of Health, is in response to feedback from the disability community and is an addition to the COVID Vaccination Healthline, which already offers dedicated phone and email support for disabled people and people living with impairments to get their COVID-19 vaccination.

We don’t imagine this service is being provided without cost, but there was no mention of the price tag in the press statement.

But the biggie in terms of cost was the announced by Ayesha Verrall.

The government is making an investment of almost $1 billion in testing, contact tracing and case investigation to provide better protection for high-risk groups as New Zealand transitions to the COVID-19 Protection Framework.

Nasopharyngeal PCR tests will continue to be used as the primary diagnostic test, but this will be supplemented by saliva-based PCR testing, rapid antigen testing and rapid PCR tests.

From 1 December, businesses will be able to directly source from authorised suppliers approved rapid antigen tests for use within their workforce. These tests will be more widely used across our health system, including aged residential care.

Rapid antigen tests will also be available to the general public at pharmacies from 15 December, with tests to be administered under the supervision of pharmacy staff. A PCR test will be required to confirm any positive results, Ayesha Verrall said.

Under the new framework, in regions at Red and Orange there will be a focus on symptomatic testing and surveillance testing in high-risk settings.

Regions at Green will see a greater focus on surveillance testing, to quickly find any new clusters of cases.

Marama Davidson, as Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and Sexual Violence, has been dishing out money too. She has approved five funding grants to support national-level family violence and sexual violence prevention initiatives for LGBTQIA+ people, disabled people, older people and new migrant communities.

“Community-based initiatives are proven to help prevent family violence and sexual violence. A total of $1.578 million will go towards developing resources, raising awareness, and expanding local programmes for people with different needs and experiences of violence in their communities,” said Marama Davidson.

This work is part of a $2 million commitment from Budget 2019 to understand violence prevention needs and develop violence prevention initiatives in rainbow, new migrant, disabled, at risk and older people over two years, Davidson said.

Conservation Minister Kiri Allan announced a government investment in six community and iwi-led projects across the Hawke’s Bay district will provide nature-based jobs for more than 60 locals.

The projects all have a strong focus on landscape-scale rehabilitation of valuable ecosystems including predator control, fencing and ongoing restoration at some well-loved and nationally significant sites.

The total funding is $10,542,000 through the Jobs for Nature programme.

Regional Economic Development and Tourism Minister Stuart Nash didn’t get to spend money. Rather, he officially opened the Ōpuke Pools at Methven which received government backing from the Provincial Growth Fund.

He described the new thermal pool, spa and “wellbeing complex” as a vote of confidence in the future of tourism and the regional economy around Methven and Mount Hutt.

“It will allow Methven to become a year-round tourist destination, building on its existing reputation as a winter skiing and adventure resort. It will help the economy transition from a focus on short-term jobs, to an ‘all year’ town with more visitors and permanent jobs.”

The government provided a $7.5 million loan.

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