Tuesday, 24 March 2020

COVID-19: Suspending Parliament misguided

“The Government’s move to adjourn Parliament while assuming extraordinary new powers is misguided”, according to ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Although the Business Committee today came to a compromise that will allow the Opposition to continue to hold the Government to account, it’s worrying that the Government wishes to shut down Parliament.

“While generally supportive of the Government’s measures, ACT has promised to offer constructive criticism where necessary. The Government’s exclusion of democracy – specifically Parliament and electorate offices – from its classification of essential services is a misstep.

“We accept that the Government has a difficult task ahead. All New Zealanders stand ready to support it. But this is no reason to partially suspend democracy.

“The Prime Minister will soon issue an epidemic notice and invoke the Epidemic Preparedness Act. This legislation gives the Government the ability to change almost any law at the stroke of a pen. The Health Act will allow medical officers to enter any premises, detain people, prescribe treatment, and take possession of land and buildings.

“It may be necessary for the Government to have these extraordinary powers. If so, it is critical that Parliament is able to continue to hold the Government to account.

Indeed, the Epidemic Preparedness Act explicitly says that Parliament should scrutinise any law changes made under that Act.

“New Zealanders have just faced the greatest peacetime loss of civil liberties in our history, and it is possible we may not have an election this year. ACT believes there should be a Question Time and local electorate offices should remain open. Half of New Zealanders did not vote for this Government. It is wrong to suppress their representation.

“The Government should deem democracy an essential service. If we need couriers, banks, and breakfast radio shows, then we also need democracy. We will have a situation where The Warehouse and the Waitakere Licensing Trust are able to remain open, but democratic accountability has been partially suppressed.

“Local electorate offices are being bombarded with phone calls and emails from people looking to them for support. Unfortunately, they have not been well-equipped to work from home in many cases. It is wrong to close them at this time.”