Greens slam Labour for ‘breaking core promise’ about welfare reform

The Greens have accused Labour of breaking a core promise to overhaul the welfare system, made in the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the New Zealand Labour Party and the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Yesterday Green Party unveils its candidate list for the 2020 election

The Green Party is pleased to reveal its candidate list for the upcoming election. With a mix of familiar faces and fresh new talent, this exceptional group of candidates are ready to lead the Greens back into Government.

“We are a force to be reckoned with and are entering this critically important race more united and determined than ever.”

So that has launched the greens into campaign mode, four months out from the election.

Also yesterday two Labour ministers announced New payment to support Kiwis through COVID

This was criticised as benefiting a few people while ignoring all those who were already unemployed before Covid struck, and also criticised for being more tweaking without fundamental change to how the social welfare system works.

From the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the New Zealand Labour Party and the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand (2017):

Fair Society

10. Overhaul the welfare system, ensure access to entitlements, remove excessive sanctions and review Working For Families so that everyone has a standard of living and income that enables them to live in dignity and participate in their communities, and lifts children and their families out of poverty.

Today the Greens seem to have jumped into campaign mode over this – Green Party ‘won’t give up’ pushing for benefits increase (RNZ):

The Greens have accused Labour of breaking a core promise to overhaul the welfare system, a commitment made in 2017 during negotiations to form a government.

The gripe comes after a chorus of frustration from those on the left who say the government has entrenched a cruel and dehumanising two-tier welfare system in its latest response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson yesterday unveiled a special 12-week relief payment for people who have lost their jobs due to the economic impact of Covid-19. Full-time workers can apply for $490 a week – roughly double the regular Jobseeker Support.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson told RNZ the new offering was a “very clear” admission that base benefit rates were not enough to live on.

“Everybody should be able to access the support, regardless of whether they are recently unemployed or longer-term unemployed.”

Davidson said she had heard the frustration of beneficiaries who felt they had been deemed the “undeserving poor” by the latest move.

The Greens had pushed for all benefits to be increased to the new Covid-19 level, she said, but had so far been unsuccessful in getting that over the line.

“We’ve been consistently clear that this needs to happen urgently and desperately. It hasn’t happened yet, but we won’t give up,” Davidson said.

“Both New Zealand First and Labour need to come to the table on this.”

NZ First have been a problem for the Greens trying to promote their policies, but Labour has also seemed reluctant to make major structural changes, even after Covid allowed them to commit to tens of billions of extra spending.

Asked whether Labour had adequately delivered on its commitment, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government had made “significant changes”.

She cited the $5.5 billion Families Package in 2018 which established the Winter Energy and Best Start payments, as well as boosting Working for Families tax credits.

The government also began indexing main benefits to wage growth from April 2020, meaning benefit payments rise in line with wages – rather than inflation.

In its initial Covid-19 economic rescue package, Finance Minister Grant Robertson increased most benefits by $25 a week and doubled this year’s Winter Energy Payment.

However, the vast majority of the 120 recommendations by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group have not been acted on.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni yesterday told media the government could not implement all the recommendations immediately.

Immediately was in 2017, or at least in 2018. The Welfare Expert Advisory Group reported in 2019 and disappointed many. See Government response to welfare expert advisory group ‘more rhetoric than action’ – Poverty group

The government’s initial response to the welfare expert advisory group’s 200-page report is “pathetic”, National says, with interest groups and the Green Party also saying more needs to be done.

The government has said it would start by implementing two of the group’s 42 recommendations, with Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni saying major change would take years.

National’s social development spokesperson Louise Upston said Labour voters should be underwhelmed.

She said the government’s response was another example of it not delivering in its ‘year of delivery’.

Greens are now also effectively saying that the Government has not delivered, and specifically that Labour has not delivered on their agreement with the Greens.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out through the campaign.

Now at the top of the Green Party list it would seem expected that Davidson would become a minister if Labour and Greens get to form the next Government. She could lead the fight from there perhaps.

More exemptions from consents for DIY home building projects

The Government has announced a reduction in costs and bureaucratic red tape for DIY and home builders doing small safe projects, leaving councils to concentrate on bigger jobs.

Single-storey detached buildings up to 30 square metres – such as sleep-outs, sheds and greenhouses; carports; awnings; water storage bladders and others will now not require a Council-approved building consent.

This seems like a very sensible change as long as it exempts enough small home jobs..


Government exempts some home improvements from costly consents

Homeowners, builders and DIYers will soon have an easier time making basic home improvements as the Government scraps the need for consents for low-risk building work such as sleep-outs, sheds and carports – allowing the construction sector to fire back up quicker on larger projects to provide jobs and assist the country’s recovery from Covid-19.

The Government is introducing new exemptions to the Building Act in a move save homeowners $18 million in consenting costs each year, though building work must still meet the Building Code, Minister for Building and Construction Jenny Salesa announced today.

“These changes will save New Zealanders time and money and mean councils can focus on higher-risk building work, boosting the building and construction sector in the COVID-19 recovery,” Jenny Salesa said.

“Single-storey detached buildings up to 30 square metres – such as sleep-outs, sheds and greenhouses; carports; awnings; water storage bladders and others will now not require a Council-approved building consent, which will result in 9000 fewer consents to process a year.

“Some of the new exemptions will utilise the Licensed Builder Practitioners scheme, which recognises the competence of these building practitioners and allows them to join chartered professional engineers and certifying plumbers in having their own suite of exemptions.

“Every New Zealander deserves a warm, dry, safe home, and this Government is finding ways to help build more houses by unclogging the building consent process, making it quicker and more affordable.

“These exemptions are just one part of my broader building system reform programme, which includes Construction Sector Accord Transformation Plan, the Construction Skills Action Plan, and Building Law reforms,” Jenny Salesa said.

Most of the new exemptions are expected to commence at the end of August, after the necessary changes to the Building Act have been made.

The rebuilding and jobs and other stuff 50 billion budget

Budget 2020, describe by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a jobs budget and officially called ‘Rebuilding Together’ will be covered all over the media but I’ll post things I think are of interest or will promote some discussion here through the afternoon.

A $50 billion rescue fund is at the centre of 2020’s “once in a generation Budget” as the country braces for the economic carnage promised by Covid-19.

Net debt to increase by $140 billion (around $70,000 per household) from 19% of GDP to 54%

RNZ: 

$15.9 billion is to be spend on the immediate response to kickstart the economy and $20.2 billion put aside for future investment. Here’s where the money is going.

  • $4bn business support package: includes a wage subsidy extension for eight weeks after the initial 12 week scheme.
  • 8000 new public and transitional homes
  • An extra $3bn set aside to fund infrastructure projects on top of the $12bn already announced
  • $1.77bn boost for Defence
  • $1.6bn trades and apprenticeship training package
  • $1.1bn environmental jobs package – it is predicted to create 11,000 new jobs
  • $1bn to improve transport, including $667m on rail infrastructure
  • $900m support package for Māori, including $200m employment package and $400m increase to education
  • $833m to go towards disability support services
  • $400m to replace Interislander ferries
  • $400m tourism relief package
  • $195m Pacific communities support package
  • $130 to maintain New Zealand Post service levels
  • $56m boost to Warmer Kiwi Homes programme – will help an additional 9000 houses
  • $55.6m of aid spending for Pacific Island nations

Read the full wrap on where the money is going here.

Committed to 8,000 houses over the next 4-5 years (6000 public houses and 2000 transitional homes), that’s nothing like Kiwibuild but a bit of a boost.

An addition $3bn to fund “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, on top of the $12bn spend-up announced earlier this year.

No ‘helicopter’ cash handout.

More than $200 million to provide free lunches for one in four school children expanding the current lunch scheme from 8000 children to about 200,000 by the middle of next year. This is not really Covid related boost. Ok, it sort of is, it will help families who have been hard hit by the pandemic and create 2000 jobs.

Treasury is forecasting growth will shrink by a quarter in the three months ended June, dragging the annual growth rate to minus 4.6 percent.

For the following year growth is expected to shrink by 1 percent, after which it surges to more than 8 percent in 2022, halving over the next two years.

Unemployment is expected to come close to 10 percent in the middle of this year, before gradually reducing to just under 5 percent in three years.

Treasury says trade, business investment, and household consumption will all slide over the next year but will improve from 2021 onwards.

Except that it’s impossible to know what will happen with the world economy, with trade, and how that will affect New Zealand. So this is more guessing than usual from Treasury.

State Owned Enterprises Minister Winston Peters says Budget 2020 is another milestone in securing the future of our rail system, and another step towards economic recovery.

Budget 2020 provides over $1.2 billion for rail, including:

  • $246 million to support investment in the track and supporting infrastructure.
  • $400 million to help replace the Interislander ferries and associated portside infrastructure.
  • $421 million for new wagons and locomotives.

Changes proposed through the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill will also provide long-term certainty for rail by allowing network investment to be channelled through the National Land Transport Fund. Budget 2020 provides $148 million to support the fund to make these investments once the Bill has been passed.

Postal services maintained for Kiwis

Funding of $130 million from Budget 2020 will allow New Zealand Post to maintain service levels as it positions itself for the future of mail, while an equity injection of $150 million will also be provided from the Government’s COVID Response and Recovery Fund.

Aid spending boost in Budget 2020

Budget 2020 will deliver $55.6 million in additional funding for Vote Official Development Assistance, bolstering the New Zealand Aid Programme’s ability to help those most in need and bringing New Zealand’s overall ODA spend to almost .33 percent of forecasted Gross National Income in 2021.

The Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio says the Government is backing Pacific Peoples with a $195 million Pacific package to support the recovery and rebuild of Pacific communities from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Major investment in infrastructure projects

The COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund has set aside $3 billion to fund infrastructure projects across the country. This is in addition to the Government’s $12b New Zealand Upgrade Programme and Provincial Growth Fund infrastructure investments.

Budget 2020 and the COVID Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF) will inject fresh capital, confidence and jobs into our economic recovery as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Ministers will soon decide which projects to progress and consider advice from the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group (IRG) which has received a total of 1924 submissions across approximately 40 sectors with a combined value of $136b.

Rebuilding tourism together

A $400 million targeted Tourism Recovery Fund, alongside the extension of the Wage Subsidy Scheme and a domestic tourism campaign, assist the industry to recover and restart, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis announced today.

More Warmer Kiwi Homes

The COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund ensures an estimated 9,000 additional New Zealand houses will be Warmer Kiwi Homes with a $56 million boost to the Government’s insulation and heating programme.

8000 more public houses to be delivered

The Government will deliver an extra 8,000 new public and transitional homes through Budget 2020, in a move that will stimulate the residential construction sector, create jobs and reduce the housing shortage.

The additional housing places will be delivered by Kāinga Ora, Community Housing Providers and transitional housing providers. Kāinga Ora will finance its proportion of the additional 8000 places by increasing its borrowing over the next 4-5 years, anticipated to be approximately $5 billion. Budget 2020 delivers $570m of Income Related Rent Subsidy funding to support this build programme.

This investment is in addition to the 6,400 public housing homes currently being built, in the pipeline or otherwise delivered, and the 1,000 transitional homes announced in February as part of the Homelessness Action Plan. We are also providing $100m of income related rent subsidy funding to deliver 1,650 extra places ahead of schedule over the last two and a half years.

The extra 8,000 homes announced today will be split between approximately 6,000 public housing homes and 2,000 transitional homes.

Free trades training to support New Zealanders into work

Budget 2020 makes major investments jobs and training as we get New Zealand working again after the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • $1.6 billion Trades and Apprenticeships Training Package
  • $400 million in MSD Employment Support
  • $121 million for He Poutama Rangatahi
  • $19.3 million to place 10,000 people into primary sector jobs

Trades and Apprenticeships Training Package

  • $334m funding for additional tertiary education enrolments
  • $320m targeted investment support for free trades training in critical industries
  • $412m support for employers to retain and keep training their apprentices
  • $276m funding for Workforce Development Councils and Regional Skills Leadership groups, to be established to give industry and regions a greater voice and help them respond to COVID-19
  • $141m to support high quality tertiary and trades education
  • $32m increased funding to meet demand in Trades Academies
  • $50m for a Māori Apprenticeships Fund
  • $19m for group training schemes to retain apprentices
  • $26m operating and capital for a new online careers advice system.

Today’s budget to deal with Covid inflicted economic challenges

The 2020 budget will be announced by Minister of Finance Grant Robertson at 2 pm today. It is one of the most unpredictable budgets in a long time, having to be re-written to address the unprecedented challenges in dealing with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some signals have already been made, with jobs and welfare priorities. Some budget decisions have already been announced, such as a big boost to hospital spending and a long overdue boost to spending on dealing with family violence, as wel as a rescue package for the racing industry. See:

  • Record investment in hospitals and health services
    Budget 2020 delivers the biggest ever increase in funding for District Health Boards, as well as additional funding to deliver approximately 153,000 more surgeries and procedures, radiology scans and specialist appointments to help clear the COVID-19 backlog.
  • Next steps to end family and sexual violence: Budget 2020
    The 2020 Budget includes significant support to stabilise New Zealand’s family violence services, whose work has been shown to be so essential throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.
    $183.0 million over the next four years for the Ministry of Social Development to ensure continued access to specialist family violence services
  • Emergency support for Racing’s recovery
    Minister for Racing Winston Peters has announced a $72.5 million dollar COVID-19 emergency support package for the racing industry.

RNZ: What to expect from the 2020 Budget

It’s the “jobs” Budget and one that will come with a hefty price tag.

The driving priority of the 2020 Budget will be to make direct cash injections into industries such as tourism, to staunch the flow of job losses, reinvent the way the sector operates with the prospect of few customers from offshore, and to ensure viable businesses make it through the medium term.

The Budget will also give a much clearer picture of the impact on economic growth, unemployment and government debt.

Last week, Treasury figures for the nine months ended March showed the initial hit to the government’s finances from the pandemic.

The forecast surplus of $1.3 bn had turned into a deficit of $2.7 bn, as government expenses blew out by more than $4 bn as the first few weeks of the wage subsidy took effect.

Expectations are that government borrowing will mushroom by another $100 – $120 bn over the next four years, which would take the net debt ratio to something approaching 60 percent of GDP.

With such big numbers being thrown around and restrictive spending targets and prudence flying out the window opened by Covid around it is possible a number of ‘nice to have’ progressive type policies will be funded.

We will find out more this afternoon.

Public Health Response Bill passes 3rd reading

The Public Health Response Bill passed it’s third and final reading in Parliament yesterday by 63 votes to 57. Labour, NZ First and Greens voted in favour, National, Act and Jami-Lee Ross voted against.

David Parker summarised the bill:

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill will create a bespoke and fit for purpose legal framework to support the Government’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 for a maximum of two years, less if COVID-19 is bought under control sooner.

This bill includes the necessary powers to enforce the alert 2 measures, and I thank the House for working together to pass this bill under urgency. We have adopted further protections suggested by the Opposition.

Passing this bill now is prudent as we move to level 2 on Thursday and into the next phase of our response to COVID-19. The Government’s strategy for COVID-19 and the efforts of all New Zealanders have so far curbed the spread of the virus and the potential devastation it causes.

The bill is necessary to continue our response to the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. It will allow the Minister of Health to issue orders to give effect to public health measures, for example, to require the maintenance of social distancing, prohibiting gatherings of a specified kind, and requiring people to be isolated or quarantined in specified ways. The bill creates a framework for COVID-19 orders, not the orders themselves.

The Minister of Health must have regard to the advice of the Director-General of Health. The Minister of Health may have regard to decisions by Government on the level of public health measures appropriate, which may have taken into account social, economic, and other factors. The Minister of Health is required to consult with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice, who will both be concerned with the correct balance of any order, including civil liberties.

In opposition:

SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki): I’d like to torpedo that boat. I want to bookend this speech with words from someone else who’s far more eloquent than myself.

He says, “… when human societies lose their freedom, it’s not necessarily because tyrants have taken it away. It’s usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection against some external threat. And … That’s what I fear we are seeing now.”

That’s been said by Lord Sumption, the English supreme court justice and judge, discussing COVID-19 only a few days ago. I agree with Lord Sumption that this is the most anti-democratic piece of legislation being put before this Parliament.

I repeat it again: it is anti-democratic. It is against the values of this democracy, this Parliament, our constitutional sovereignty. It is against the principles of law, and ethics.

Parker on one of the most contentious parts of the bill:

In terms of warrantless powers of entry under the bill…I observe that broader warrantless powers already exist under section 71 of the Health Act. I don’t have time to read the full suite of those powers, but they are listed at section 71A(1) and are broad. Section 71A(2) of the Health Act makes it clear a constable can enter a building—any building, which includes a private dwellinghouse—for any of those full suite of powers.

Clause 20 of this bill is narrower. A warrantless power of entry into a private dwellinghouse under COVID-19 is now limited to situations where the constable has reasonable grounds to believe the limits to gatherings have been breached. This power is, in effect, limited to breaking up parties flouting the rules on gathering size. The enforcement power is intended to limit contagion risks and to enable effective track and tracing if there’s an outbreak we need to get under control.

So don’t have rowdy attention seeking parties that appear to be crowded.

The bill was also criticised for being rushed under urgency through Parliament in two days when a primary aim was to curb individual freedoms. Greens were criticised for rubber stamping the Bill, with suggestions that if National was putting a similar bill through Parliament Greens would have protested loudly.

Marama Davidson:

 I will start by acknowledging where my colleague the Hon Peeni Henare just left off, which is that we have an understanding that the broad powers that have got us through alert levels 4 and 3, and now as we move into level 2, have been there because of the public health and wellbeing approach that we have put first in our Government response to COVID-19. Yes, this has absolutely restricted our movements and our freedoms, and that is because of the collective decision we have made to ensure that all people’s lives are cared for as much as we possibly could. We wanted to make sure that we had clear restrictions and guidelines on those broad powers as we move into level 2 so that we could understand how those powers are going to be applied, when and where, and how long they will last for.

What I want to acknowledge in my closing time is that—and my colleague Mr Henare also raised it—we understand that Te Tiriti is also at the forefront of the debates that are being had in our communities at the moment regarding this COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill.

A specific reference to marae was removed from the bill after protests on singling out Maori.

I want, as I did before the break, to assure people that, yes, we in this House do need to be accountable to monitor and review whose homes and communities and dwellings are entered into with warrantless entry; that we are keeping the data and record and reporting on those entries; that we review that reporting and that data at the newly agreed shorter review times, which I absolutely think are fantastic; and that we make it clear to the public that if the public health agenda of these broad powers are not being adhered to that there is power in this House to renege on those high orders that are being sought in this House; and that we absolutely must keep a check that the powers are being used for what they are set up to be used for, otherwise we will execute and exploit that power in this House to renege on that order that can be made.

It’s hard to work out what she is trying to get across there.

That is an extra step of accountability that was put into this bill as an example of trying to give better clarity and framework around applying these bills.

So I’m very pleased that we have been able to tighten up some of that stuff. It does not address all the valid fears and concerns. Yes, we are listening and we do need to take those on board and consider that in our ongoing monitoring and review and application of this legislation.

The full closing speech:


Hon DAVID PARKER (Attorney-General): I do want to put some important points down in my speech in a formal way, which is important at a stage 3 reading in respect of the future interpretation of this legislation. But before that, I do want to respond to Erica Stanford’s suggestion that we could have closed the border earlier. As the Minister of Justice interjected at the time, until less than a week before we closed the border there were about 5,000 New Zealanders—citizens, and permanent residents—returning every day, and it was not possible to put them in quarantine because you quickly run out of hotel beds.

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill will create a bespoke and fit for purpose legal framework to support the Government’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 for a maximum of two years, less if COVID-19 is bought under control sooner. This bill includes the necessary powers to enforce the alert 2 measures, and I thank the House for working together to pass this bill under urgency. We have adopted further protections suggested by the Opposition. Passing this bill now is prudent as we move to level 2 on Thursday and into the next phase of our response to COVID-19. The Government’s strategy for COVID-19 and the efforts of all New Zealanders have so far curbed the spread of the virus and the potential devastation it causes.

It remains a precarious journey, but we have broken the chain of community transmission and reduced daily cases dramatically. There is as yet no vaccine and no cure for the virus, and our country must continue to act cautiously so that we maximise our prospect of avoiding or controlling its re-emergence to avoid the loss of life seen overseas, minimise economic damage, and prevent our health system being overwhelmed.

Unlike many other countries around the world, New Zealand is now in a position where it can restore many civil and economic freedoms—and we are. However, the current legal framework is not best suited for enforcing the necessary medium-term public health measures at level 2, where there is increased freedom of movement and more nuanced restrictions: for example, many more businesses can open, provided they take certain safety measures; and gatherings of people can be held, also providing certain precautions—limits on numbers and social distancing rules—are followed.

On this side of the House, we also believe more parliamentary oversight of level 2 and future COVID-19 measures is appropriate, which this bill introduces. We consider it necessary to pass this bill under urgency to help New Zealand to alert level 2 on Thursday, as every additional day is costing New Zealanders greatly, with economic costs and current limits to liberties prolonged. Delay, in our view, also puts at risk the social consensus which underpins the voluntary compliance which epidemic prevention measures rely upon. Enforceable rules to require the minority who flout rules are still needed.

The bill is necessary to continue our response to the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. It will allow the Minister of Health to issue orders to give effect to public health measures, for example, to require the maintenance of social distancing, prohibiting gatherings of a specified kind, and requiring people to be isolated or quarantined in specified ways. The bill creates a framework for COVID-19 orders, not the orders themselves.

The Minister of Health must have regard to the advice of the Director-General of Health. The Minister of Health may have regard to decisions by Government on the level of public health measures appropriate, which may have taken into account social, economic, and other factors. The Minister of Health is required to consult with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice, who will both be concerned with the correct balance of any order, including civil liberties.

Clause 9(2) of the bill makes it clear that the Minister must be satisfied that a proposed section 11 order is appropriate to achieve the purposes of the Act. That links back to the purpose clause 4, which provides the purposes of the Act: “The purpose of [the] Act is to support a public health response to COVID-19”. Subclause (c) says, amongst other things, that the response is to be proportionate. As David Seymour said in earlier stages of the debate, the structure of the decision-making is better and creates more accountability, not less. He is correct, as were the legal experts who also called for ministerial responsibility for these important decisions.

The bill will give police and other authorised enforcement officials powers to enforce the orders and create a new enforcement regime for breaches of the orders. Those infringement notices don’t warrant—sorry—those breaches don’t always warrant criminal prosecution. The police will still exercise their discretion. They will rely mainly on education. But we will have a remedy short of prosecution, which has more serious consequences.

We’ve received feedback from other political parties and legal academics who had the admittedly time-limited opportunity to review an exposure draft of the bill overnight. At the committee stage important changes were made to the bill, some of which were in response to that feedback, so I thank them. The most significant change during committee stage was for the automatic repeal of the bill every 90 days or another period agreed by the House. Essentially, it needs to be refreshed every 90 days with the ability for that period to be longer—for instance, if it was just prior to the election. This is in addition to requiring every section 11 order, the equivalent of the former orders under section 70 of the Health Act, to be approved by parliamentary motion normally within 10 sitting days. The existing Health Act, which currently applies, has neither of these two protections.

Other important changes include clarifying that orders made allowing for premises to open only if specified measures are complied with, or orders prohibiting gatherings of a certain kind—that those don’t apply to Parliament or the courts. We’re clarifying that orders made under the Health Act will continue in force as if made under the bill and can be enforced as if an order was made under this bill. We’re clarifying, in terms of the matters the Minister may have regard to, any decision of the Government on the level of public health measures appropriate to—those are new words—respond to those risks of COVID-19. We’re clarifying that for the purposes of the bill, the range of people who can be enforcement officers will only include those employed or engaged by the Crown.

We’re removing any different treatment for marae in relation to powers of entry under the bill, noting, however, that we’ve added a requirement for the enforcement officer to report to the relevant marae committee if a power of entry was used. I note that marae were originally included to add greater protections, not take them away. However, we’ve listened to concerns from the Māori Council and others following our consultation with them and, accordingly, remove that reference to marae.

In terms of warrantless powers of entry under the bill, the last speaker was again wrong. I observe that broader warrantless powers already exist under section 71 of the Health Act. I don’t have time to read the full suite of those powers, but they are listed at section 71A(1) and are broad. Section 71A(2) of the Health Act makes it clear a constable can enter a building—any building, which includes a private dwellinghouse—for any of those full suite of powers. Clause 20 of this bill is narrower. A warrantless power of entry into a private dwellinghouse under COVID-19 is now limited to situations where the constable has reasonable grounds to believe the limits to gatherings have been breached. This power is, in effect, limited to breaking up parties flouting the rules on gathering size. The enforcement power is intended to limit contagion risks and to enable effective track and tracing if there’s an outbreak we need to get under control.

I note that the Human Rights Commissioner was mistaken in asserting there was no New Zealand Bill of Rights Act vet. There was and it was published. It concluded the power is proportionate. I normally have conducted New Zealand Bill of Rights Act vets, but because I thought myself conflicted by my role here in having can conduct of this bill, we requested the Governor-General to make the Minister of Justice the acting Attorney-General for this limited purpose of that New Zealand Bill of Rights Act vet.

I also repeat the powers in this bill a narrower than under the existing Health Act, and that the orders which trigger those powers will now be subject to more oversight mechanisms by this House, as I have already covered. I commend this bill to the House.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill be now read a third time.

Ayes 63

New Zealand Labour 46; New Zealand First 9; Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand 8.

Noes 57

New Zealand National 55; ACT New Zealand 1; Ross.

Bill read a third time.

Handard of closing speechs 

Claytons denial from Ministers about the PM gag memo

A curious Claytons denial from two Ministers about the memo sent out by the Prime Minister’s office s that directed them not to have interviews or answer questions about the Friday dump of documents.

Both James Shaw and David Clark said they didn’t personally receive the email, but the news reports clearly stated that the memo was sent to Ministerial offices.  Ministers don’t personally deal with a lot of email. Ministerial staff also manage what interviews Ministers do, and deal with Ministerial statements.

James Shaw was asked on The Nation on Saturday:

“It seems that the Government wants to be transparent by dumping all these documents on Friday afternoon, yet there’s been a directive from the Prime Minister not to talk to the media about it. Did you get that memo, is that the kind of politics you want to play?”

Shaw began his response somewhat awkwardly:

A Ah um I I personally didn’t.  Um my understanding is that that went out to agencies…

Ministers don’t personally deal with a lot of correspondence including emails. They have staff for that. And the news of the memo didn’t say the memo was sent to Ministers: Ministers told to ‘dismiss’ interviews on Covid-19 documents – leaked memo

The prime minister’s office has directed all ministers not to give interviews on a Covid-19 document dump, saying there is “no real need to defend” themselves.

A leaked email, sent to Beehive staff today, directed them to issue only “brief written statements” in response to media queries about the documents.

Clearly this states “sent to Beehive staff “.

“Do not put Minister up for any interviews on this.”

“There’s no real need to defend. Because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt is doing. Instead we can dismiss.”

The memo also included “key messages” for Ministers and staff to stick to in their written statements

It looks a bit like another memo may have been sent out with another ‘key message’ directive. On Sunday Minister of Health David Clark had a similar response: David Clark rejects idea Government ministers were gagged following COVID-19 document dump

Dr Clark said he didn’t receive the leaked email and only heard about it once the media reported it.

As with Shaw that doesn’t rule out his office receiving the email. Clark also made the point that he was ‘fronting up’:

At a press conference on Sunday morning where he announced increases to Pharmac’s funding, Dr David Clark said he was fronting media and answering questions on the documents “right now” and he’d also answered additional questions in interviews on Saturday.

“I’m comfortable and confident talking about the release of materials [about] the advice that the Government had received. As a Government, we’ve been transparent about the decisions we’ve made,”

Clark hardly ever sounds confident talking to media, including at this time. And his announcement of the Pharmac funding could have been timed and staged to try to contradict the directives from the memo.  It was a pre-budget announcement, they are typically done as part of the Government budget PR strategy.

One of the memo talking points was “”Evidence shows our decisions were the right ones”.  Clark had a similar response but worded differently.

“I think overaching all of this is the results, and um and you know they speak for themselves…that suggests that going hard and going early was the right strategy”.

Back to Shaw at Newshub: James Shaw defends gag on ministers talking about COVID-19 documents

A Ah um I I personally didn’t.  Um my understanding is that that went out to agencies ah and that is because it is really important in a time of crisis that the Government speaks with one voice, and the prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been that voice, and I think it’s appropriate she continues to be that voice..

So Shaw defended the intent of the memo – that Ardern is ‘the voice’.

Asked: “So ok, so Ministers can’t talk about their respective areas and it all has to come from the Prime Minister, are you happy with that?”

A very hesitant response from Shaw – a common sign of thinking through what one should say in advance:

“Um, well I am talking about climate change Simon, I’ve been talking about climate change the entire time…

A similar response to Clark, saying he is talking about his portfolio.

Asked “Ok, but in terms of the way of operating are you happy with that, for other ministers as well, you’re buying into that?”

“Well like I said, ah I think it is entirely appropriate at a time of national crisis, the scale of which we haven’t seen since the  great depression and World War 2, that the Government speaks with one voice, I don’t think that there’s anything strange about that at all.”

Again he defends the aim of the memo, for Ministers to avoid talking about the Covid response and contents of document dump apart from with suggested phrases.

It could be a tough campaign for the Greens if they can’t claim any credit for the handling of Covid. Wil they really be happy for Ardern to attract all the votes for that?

Clark and Shaw may be technically correct that they didn’t personally receive the gag email, but they both made similar denials that aren’t really denials.


From NZ Herald:

Former MP Peter Dunne said today that email was a sign this Government was no different from any others in practising 9th floor “grubby” tactics.

While the PM’s office has called the email “clumsy”, Dunne told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking “that doesn’t hide the fact they see themselves as bullet-proof, ‘we don’t need to explain, everyone loves us’.”

“People have not seen [Jacinda Ardern] a control freak before… this reveals the reality. It also acknowledges the fact this is a Cabinet with some mighty weak links, probably more than average.”


More from Stuff:  Beehive scrambled to contain email telling ministers to ‘dismiss’ questions about Covid-19 response

The prime minister’s office now says the email — which was provided to press gallery journalists hours after the Government publicly released hundreds of Cabinet papers — was a “clumsy instruction”.

Stuff can reveal the Beehive asked public servants to delete the email, after it was wrongly sent beyond parliament’s walls.

The email from Rob Carr, a senior ministerial adviser to the prime minister, was sent to the staff of Government ministers and to staff at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) who had worked on making public the documents.

A spokesman for the prime minister on Sunday said it was an error to send the email to public servants, due to the political messaging it contained, however it was “simply intended to be a heads-up” that the documents were being made public.

Again clearly sent to the staff of Ministers, so the Ministers denying receiving it personally are correct but misleading by major omission.

“[The email] was more about not re-litigating the past, and it shouldn’t have been framed as dismissing … It was more a clumsy instruction.”

Sounds to me more like an embarrassing reveal of PM PR procedures.


Tim Watkins: Gagging Order Is Double Dumb: Disrespecting Public Sacrifice & Damaging Brand Ardern

With much power comes much responsibility. And the government has a phenomenal amount of power right now, in the midst of a pandemic that has seen public money propping up the national economy, parliament on furlough and public officials granted special powers. Which is why any talk of gagging leaves such a bad taste.

…All of which is why the gagging order delivered by the 9th floor to ministers on Friday stands out like a sore, distasteful thumb.

It’s dumb on a range of levels.

Morally – or perhaps constitutionally – the New Zealand public has allowed this government at this time extraordinary powers and deserves at the very least in return full and frank information from cabinet. They deserve respect for the sacrifices made, not dismissal. To tell political staff to “dismiss” the questions of journalists working to keep that public informed is deeply cynical and defensive. It’s bad enough in the normal sweep of events; in these troubled times it’s shameful.

New Zealanders haven’t stayed home and saved lives, loss their livelihoods, skipped funerals and put their lives on hold to have questions about how and why decisions are being made dismissed by those paid to serve them.

Second, it undermines the brand.

For Jacinda Ardern, its about being kind and open and different from all those other politicians who, well, aren’t. Through several crises now she has dissolved Labour’s reputation in Opposition for a lack of competence. But key to her political success is this sense that she is not just a power-monger, but a caring and sensible person who gets voters and can be trusted to act in our best interest, even with extraordinary powers.

So for emails to be coming out from her closest advisors implying her office doesn’t trust voters with full and frank disclosure and that those voters’ confidence in her is being taken for granted – banked and exploited – is damaging. Any way you slice it.

Watkins obviously not impressed.

 

The Government pissed off journalists at a bad time

Journalists and media have largely been supportive of Government efforts to deal with Covid-19, but as the general population gets restless under Level 3 restrictions and want to get back closer to normal living, journalists seem to have also changed their approach to coverage.

This shift was given a big boost with the Friday dump of Covid information, along with a leaked email telling Ministers to not give interviews or answer questions apart from using dished out patsy phrases.

The Government has two big challenges this coming week, trying to keep the population on-side with lockdown restrictions, and delivering a budget in extraordinary times. And they head into this period  with a suddenly more sceptical media openly questioning Government arrogance.

Derek Cheng (NZH): The gagging order from Jacinda Ardern’s office – cynical, arrogant and unnecessary

Controlling the message is critical, especially at a time of crisis, and the PM’s office has clearly tried to continue its tight control over the Government messaging.

It is a common communications strategy to release bad news late on a Friday, when newsrooms are emptier and people are more focused on weekend plans rather than the news.

With the gagging order, there is virtually no chance to ask a minister about anything in the documents for three days, and by the time Jacinda Ardern fronts on Monday afternoon, the nation will be firmly focused on whether we are moving to alert level 2.

And it’s not just the cynical timing. The “no real need to defend … we can dismiss” reeks of arrogance – the subtext is “we are above scrutiny” – and blatantly flouts Ardern’s cultivated reputation for openness and transparency.

It also undermines the access provided in the almost-daily press conferences that have taken place during alert levels 3 and 4.

Even if the information drop could not have happened before yesterday afternoon, ministers should be able to front.

The shackles should be discarded and ministers should be open to scrutiny. If they can’t be trusted to answer questions about their portfolios, they shouldn’t be ministers.

Tracy Watkins (Stuff):  Are these the first signs of third term arrogance from a first term government?

Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s budget this week will loom over generations to come; it’s no exaggeration to say its the most important budget in decades.

There will be intense debate about whether he has got it right; so it’s unfortunate that as we head into budget week the government is exhibiting premature signs of the affliction known as third-termitis.

That was most evident in the emergence of a leaked memo this week in which ministers’ offices were advised not to waste any time defending themselves to the media – not because they had anything much to hide but because (to paraphrase) people love us anyway, so why bother?

It’s the assumption behind that advice that is so alarming; it speaks of supreme confidence at the moment that this government can do no wrong in the eyes of the public.

So will this confidence and arrogance come out in the budget with opportunistic major changes in direction? There has been a lot of lobbying from idealists wanting to change the economic and political systems, and there has even been suggestions that Jacinda Ardern can change the world.

And Friday’s dump and email were not isolated reasons for media discord.

Given the scale of this crisis, and the extent to which it has touched every life, that is more important now than ever. The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, for instance, says 20,000 operations were cancelled and 60,000 specialist appointments parked. It will take more than a year to catch up, they say. Yet questions about how the Government will deal with this have largely been fobbed off.

There was another disturbing sight this week when Attorney General David Parker refused media interviews on the legality of the Covid lockdown, preferring instead to interview himself in a 42 minute long livestream on Facebook.

Did Parker take a leaf out of Trump’s playbook?

Facebook has become this government’s best friend; its shoulder shrug in response to questions about transparency and accessibility. But of course it’s also about controlling not just the message, but image, and the news agenda.

But as we come out of lock-down, and face up to the huge recovery mission ahead, fronting up to hard questions should not be optional.

If the Government tries to use the huge current economic and social disruption plus their current popularity after initially being widely seen to handle Covid-19 well here to lurch towards some sort of revolution they could find themselves quickly off-side with a public seemingly intent on getting back to normal ahead of the lowering of lockdown restrictions.

An obvious risk of a sudden rise to popularity on the back of unprecedented social and economic disruption is that that can become a fall just as quickly if the Government gets out of step with public sentiment.

One might think that Winston Peters would act as a check on starting a revolution via the budget (unless superannuants benefit). But it may be too late. He seems to have been sidelined by the big decision making clique now calling the shots in Government, and may have been already pressured into supporting changes due to popular support for the Government.

The confidence and arrogance of the Prime Minister and Ministers seems to be actively shutting themselves off from public contact via the media, and they already look to be rapidly getting out of touch.

The public supported them because the wanted the disruptions due to Covid to stop, and saw drastic action as necessary.

But now the public wants disruptions and changes to their normal ways of life to dissipate.

If the Government have decided to take some revolutionary steps in the budget next week they may find that the media are not so supportive as they have been over the past couple of months, and the public could easily rebel (there’s a mini-rebellion already happening against the restrictive level 3 lockdown).

Emergency measures in a crisis are generally supported. But using an emergency to undemocratically impose major changes may turn the tide against support for the current Government, and even Ardern.

Government release of documents relating to Covid-19 decisions

The Government have done a Friday data dump of documents they call Proactive Release, despite having being asked for information that informed their Covid-19 decision making for weeks.

At least it’s out there now – or at least everything they haven’t withheld.


Details of this release

This release includes the papers, minutes, and key advice for the decisions the Government has made relating to COVID-19 up to 17 April. Where a final decision has been made after 17 April this will be released in a further update.

A small number of documents and some parts of the released documents would not be appropriate to release and, if requested, would be withheld under the Official Information Act 1982 (the Act). Where this is the case, the relevant sections of the Act that would apply have been identified. Where information has been withheld, no public interest has been identified that would outweigh the reasons for withholding it.

Some information has been withheld in full, from this release in relation to the relevant section(s) of the Act:

  • Section 9(2)(f)(iv) — confidential advice
  • Section 9(2)(ba)(ii) — information provided to the Government under an obligation of confidence
  • Section 6(a) — international relations
  • Section 9(2)(j) — commercial negotiations.

Leaked documents “not considered advice of Crown Law” but new law proposed anyway

Claims continue that leaked Crown Law documents suggested that level 4 lockdown restrictions were not legally enforceable (at least before a new health notice was issued in early April) but in response Attorney-General David Parker has said the document was a draft – and “not the considered advice of Crown Law” and “there was no gap in enforcement powers.”

However Parker is going to introduce new law next week to “ensure that controls on gatherings of people and physical distancing are still enforceable”. That may be an aimed at preempting a judicial review that is pending in the High Court that seeks to challenge the legality of the lockdown restrictions – see A better looking challenge of Covid lockdown legality.

NZ Herald:  Leaked Crown Law documents question legal force of alert level 4 rules

The Crown Law documents seen by Newstalk ZB say the police powers were severely limited under the first directive of director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

That was amended anyway in early May.

However Parker insisted in a statement that the documents were not the “considered advice” of Crown Law:

“Recent speculation that the Government’s legal advice had thrown doubt on the police enforcement powers under Level 4 is wrong,” he said.

“That speculation is based on draft views provided to agencies for feedback. That was not the considered advice of Crown Law, which was that there was no gap in enforcement powers.”

Shown the Crown Law documents, University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said the restrictions wouldn’t allow the police to stop people from moving about and doing virtually anything, like surfing, if they weren’t congregating.

But Andrew Geddis:

Shown the Crown Law documents, University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said the restrictions wouldn’t allow the police to stop people from moving about and doing virtually anything, like surfing, if they weren’t congregating.

So this meant the full range of level 4 announced restrictions actually couldn’t be enforced by the police.

“The police powers under other legislation (especially the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act) is really limited – basically, they can only be used against people who have/are suspected of having COVID-19,” Professor Geddis said.

But the Police:

In a statement released tonight a police spokesman said officers did act lawfully.

“We sought legal advice, which also took into account advice from Crown Law, in relation to the initial Health Notice (25 March). On the basis of this advice, we were able to issue appropriate operational guidance to enable our people to act lawfully in circumstances.”

Ten days after the level 4 lockdown started Bloomfield issued a second directive, again under the Health Act. It effectively told everyone to stay in their houses, unless they were on essential business.

The police then issued their own guidelines on how they could enforce it.

“The key point being, between March 24 and April 3 much of the “Lockdown rules” actually had no enforceability in law – which is what Crown Law is saying, and which is why the new notice had to be issued,” Professor Geddis said.

So the problem was then rectified, maybe, (subject to the judicial review).

Graeme Edgler also seems to have had doubts about legality but thought the actions sensible.

Despite Police and Attorney-General claims that restrictions were legal the law is going to be changed anyway. From the Beehive:


Covid-19 response: New legal framework as move to Alert Level 2 considered

A new law providing a legal framework for Covid-19 Alert Level 2 will be introduced and debated next week.

“The changes will ensure that controls on gatherings of people and physical distancing are still enforceable,” Attorney-General David Parker said.

Enforceability to date has relied on the Epidemic Notice, the Health Act and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act.

There will be fewer restrictions under Alert Level 2 but those remaining still need to be enforceable. We don’t want these narrower controls to rely on a National State of Emergency.

“I would reiterate what the Prime Minister has said: There has been no gap in the legal underpinning or in the enforcement powers under the notices that have been issued under Level 3 and Level 4. This change is not retrospective and does not need to be.

“All notices that have been issued are in the public domain, as is the legislation upon which they are based.”

Recent speculation that the Government’s legal advice had thrown doubt on the police enforcement powers under Level 4 is wrong. That speculation is based on draft views provided to agencies for feedback. That was not the considered advice of Crown Law, which was that there was no gap in enforcement powers.

The new law will also:

  • Recognise the centrality of health factors in the measures we need to take;
  • Provide that the Minister of Health become the decision maker on the advice of the Director-General of Health;
  • Provide a transparent basis for how the rules will work and how they can be enforced;
  • Also provide for economic and social factors to be taken into account in determining appropriate measures.

“The country has achieved considerable success in addressing the Covid-19 threat. We have all given up some our liberties as we have worked together to save thousands of lives. As we reduce strictures and restore freedoms, we expect the vast majority of New Zealanders will continue to comply voluntarily with the necessary measures at all Alert Levels, but as we have consistently said, we will enforce the rules where there is serious non-compliance.”

A plan for trans-Tasman COVID-safe Travel Zone

Free travel around New Zealand looks some time off. The freedom to travel to and from Australia sounds good, but it must be some time away at best.

I’d love to got to Queensland some time to visit family, and also to NT, but both states have different border restrictions. I had resigned myself to not going this year at least (I had to cancel a planned trip at the end of this month).

And with Virgin shutting down their New Zealand operations the flight options and costs will be more difficult.

The trans-Tasman bubble sounds ok in theory, but it could be tricky for some time.

From the Beehive:


Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison announce plans for trans-Tasman COVID-safe Travel Zone

Australia and New Zealand are committed to introducing a trans-Tasman COVID-safe travel zone as soon as it is safe to do so, Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern and Prime Minister the Hon Scott Morrison MP have announced.

The Prime Ministers agreed to commence work on a trans-Tasman COVID-safe travel zone – easing travel restrictions between Australia and New Zealand. Such an arrangement would be put in place once it is safe to do so and necessary health, transport and other protocols had been developed and met, to ensure the protection of public health.

This arrangement recognises that Australia and New Zealand are both successfully addressing the spread of COVID-19.

Any arrangement would need to take into account state and territory movement restrictions.

“Building on our success so far in responding to COVID-19, continuing to protect Australians and New Zealanders remains an absolute priority,” the Prime Ministers said. “We will remain responsive to the health situation as it develops.”

The Prime Ministers welcomed the early interest of business leaders and other stakeholders in a trans-Tasman COVID-safe travel zone. Officials would work closely with these groups, including the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, as planning developed further.

“A trans-Tasman COVID-safe travel zone would be mutually beneficial, assisting our trade and economic recovery, helping kick-start the tourism and transport sectors, enhancing sporting contacts, and reuniting families and friends.

“We need to be cautious as we progress this initiative. Neither country wants to see the virus rebound so it’s essential any such travel zone is safe. Relaxing travel restrictions at an appropriate time will clearly benefit both countries and demonstrates why getting on top of the virus early is the best strategy for economic recovery,” the Prime Ministers said.

The Prime Ministers noted they had worked closely together on Australia’s and New Zealand’s respective border settings since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Each country had allowed the other’s citizens to transit on their way home, and to enter the other country if they ordinarily lived there.

These measures reflected Australia and New Zealand’s special relationship, our Single Economic Market agenda, and the long history of freedom of movement between the two countries.

“Our relationship is one of family – and our unique travel arrangement means we have a head-start for when it is time to get trans-Tasman travel flowing again,” the Prime Ministers said.

“Once we have established effective travel arrangements across the Tasman, we will also explore opportunities to expand the concept to members of our broader Pacific family, enabling travel between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island countries. We will work with interested Pacific countries on parameters and arrangements to manage the risks.”


Ardern just said (on 1 News) “New Zealand won’t have open borders to the world for a long time to come”.