Monday, 15 February 2021

Epidemic Response Committee needed now more than ever


“The Government has shown it is not open to being thoroughly scrutinised on how it is handling the response to COVID-19, despite regular claims to the contrary,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Yesterday I wrote to the Speaker as chair of the Business Committee asking that the committee agree to re-convene the Epidemic Response Committee.

“This morning that request was turned down.

“I made the point that while the original rationale for establishing the committee last April was as a substitute for the House, which was not sitting during the national lockdown, the House is not a substitute for Parliamentary committees.

“The role of select committees is complimentary to the House, and most major areas Government activity have a committee, the Environment, Justice, Education and Workforce being examples.

“I argued that COVID-19 has been the biggest thing facing New Zealanders for a year now, changing everyone’s lives, and the response to it is now a major portfolio in its own right, being led by a senior Minister.

“Therefore, how the Government handles the response deserves the highest level of scrutiny.

“The Epidemic Response Committee proved to be of huge value to New Zealanders as MPs and notable New Zealand experts in fields such as epidemiology probed the basis for Government decision making.

“It resulted in improvements to Government policy as decisions were drilled into and experiences from numerous individuals and sectors of the economy were shared and canvased.

“For example, the committee exposed the shakiness of the legal basis for the first lockdown and led to urgent legislation patching it up.

“A big reason the committee worked was it didn’t have a Government majority and was chaired by a member of the opposition. That same format and the scrutiny it delivers is needed now more than ever.

“Parliamentary questions in the tightly controlled environment of Standing Orders only go so far, and the daily media stand-up with Dr Bloomfield is also no substitute for the sort of long-form dialogue on decisions affecting all New Zealanders that the committee delivered.

“The Government must re-think its opposition to this important means of delivering a better response to COVID-19.”

ENDS