“ACT will take the politics out of the Royal Commission into the Government’s Covid-19 response by allowing all New Zealanders to have their say on what should be investigated through a new crowdsourced terms of reference”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.
“There is always a tension when the Government calls an inquiry into its own actions. A Royal Commission is independent, but the Government sets the terms of reference. In this case, the Government has excluded key questions about the impact of its response on the wider society.
“Labour’s limits on the terms of reference mirror the central failing of the Covid-19 response itself. Labour said it was the one source of truth, and Covid-19 mattered more than any other kind of wellbeing.
“New Zealand’s Covid-19 response placed unprecedented restrictions on people’s lives with little scrutiny. It significantly impacted on education, mental health, crime, businesses, and benefit dependency.
“It also had a massive impact on social cohesion. The Government’s response – extended lockdowns and vaccine mandates, in particular – caused huge division and left people feeling like they weren’t being listened to.
“New Zealanders could have had their voices heard as part of the Royal Commission process, but they have been shut out of decision-making again. The current terms of reference were decided by the same Government responsible for the Covid-19 response and they place significant limits on what the inquiry can consider.
“ACT says that’s wrong. We would reopen the terms of reference, give all New Zealanders a say on them, and change them based on the feedback, so all concerns are heard.
“Section 7(5) of the Inquiries Act 2013 says: ‘The appointing Minister or appropriate Minister, as the case may be, may amend the terms of reference by notice in the Gazette.’ ACT would:
- Call for public submissions on the terms of reference for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into New Zealand’s response to COVID-19;
- Allow New Zealanders six weeks to make submissions on what they believe should be in the terms of reference;
- Based on those submissions, change the terms of reference, as allowed for by the section 7(5) of the Inquiries Act 2013.
“One of the key problems of our Covid-19 response was a failure to take an overall wellbeing response – weighing up all the costs and benefits of major decisions. But investigating how the Government’s response affected education, business, and mental health has been ruled out. The terms of reference say the inquiry can consider whether the elimination strategy was effective in limiting the spread of infection but not its impact on wider aspects of human wellbeing. That is completely wrong.
“The Royal Commission won’t consider:
- Whether the rules set by the Government aimed at overall wellbeing, or if it was primarily focused on eliminating Covid-19;
- How cost-effective the Government’s policies to protect health were, using measures like quality-adjusted life years, and whether other policies would have been more cost-effective in improving the lives of New Zealanders;
- Whether the Government should have partnered more with business and professional groups like the country’s network of GPs, or if it was overly captured by the Ministry of Health;
- If it was sensible to restructure the health system in the middle of a pandemic;
- The extent of disruption to New Zealanders’ health, education and business as a result of the Government’s policies;
- If the Government’s response was consistent with the rule of law.
“ACT says all of these matters should be investigated.
“We literally can’t afford to repeat what we went through, so we all need a frank assessment of how to do it better. New Zealanders deserve better than another experimental response the next time a pandemic arises.
“The Royal Commission should not be politicised or restricted in what it can investigate.
“ACT would crowdsource the terms of reference, so all New Zealanders’ concerns are heard. That is a more constructive and less political process.”