Is people leaving isolation a big deal?

Obviously if someone in isolation breaks the rules and gets out, and if they have the Covid-19 virus, it’s a fairly big deal. One person who got out this week and visited a supermarket put potentially many people at risk, they caused a supermarket to shut down and do extensive cleaning, and that resulted in many employees going into precautionary self isolation.

But is it too much to expect that with thousands of people in isolation in hotels (not prisons) that a few won’t choose to break the rules?

Perhaps we have to accept that a few escapes are inevitable, and as long as there are comprehensive systems in place to deal with it when it happens we should be reasonably comfortable with what is being done.

But this is an ongoing awkwardness for the Government.

When two women were let out of isolation without being tested – and tested positive after travelling from Auckland to Wellington – the army involvement in managing isolsation and quarantine facilities.  Megan Woods (name corrected) was also installed to cover for the poorly performing Minister of Health David Clark.

Things kept going wrong, people kept getting out.

Clark resigned and Chris Hipkins took over. He handles media interviews much better, and seems to bo on top of the details of the job much better, but people still got out.

The police were called in facilities 24/7, but people kept getting out.

Four people this week left isolation, despite a lot of publicity and public angst and anger.

Is this just something we can expect may keep happening?

The last person who got out, by cutting fence ties and going to buy some booze ended up in prison. Was this a fair warning to all others in isolation, or was it draconian, especially compared to previous consequences for absconders?

 

Ministers versus Bishop

Two Ministers outed the constituent work of Chris Biship, National MP for Hut South, in Parliament today.

From 5. Question No. 5—Health:

Hon Chris Hipkins: Were the two women who tested positive for COVID-19 this week released from quarantine following personal representations advocating their early release from quarantine by National MP Chris Bishop?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I am aware of that. Obviously, there have been representations made for compassionate leave from members of Parliament. I think people need to be very careful because these are sensitive matters, necessarily—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Sorry, I’m going to hear the rest of this answer in silence. It’s a very serious allegation that’s been made here, and I want to hear the answer.

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Yes, I am aware of that, and I just would ask members to be careful around these situations. On the one hand, people have been requiring or requesting that people be let go early out of these situations. On the other hand, we’ve seen the risks that that presents to New Zealanders and the team of 5 million and their efforts so far.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’d like you to reflect on your commentary about the question from the Hon Chris Hipkins as being a “serious allegation”. It kind of injects the Speaker into the question time in a way that a value judgment of that question might not stand scrutiny. Mr Bishop’s advocacy for those people did not infer that an unsafe process should be followed, and the fact that you have, effectively, commented on the fact that it’s a “serious allegation” is probably unhelpful—it’s certainly unhelpful.

SPEAKER: Well, if—sorry, I should have said it’s a serious matter and not a serious allegation, and I’m not absolutely certain that the member’s point of order has diminished it. But I will reflect on that.

Stuff:  Claims in Parliament National MP lobbied for leave for sisters who have Covid-19

NZ Herald: Two women let out after National MP lobbied for release

Both headlines look misleading, it doesn’t appear to have been lobbying.

And the Herald headline may be even more misleading. There is no indication that the women were “let out” as a result of what Bishop did.

Bishop has responded:

Some responses (from neutral and left leaners):

I wonder what the Prime Minister thinks of this happening while she wasn’t in Parliament.

Daily Covid update plus Minister of Education

Chris Hipkins today with Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

5 new cases (2 confirmed and 3 probable), total now 1,445.
All new cases are linked to known cases.

One more death, a woman who was from St Martins Rest Home in Auckland. Deaths now total 13.

12 in hospital, 3 in ICU, none critical.

32 more recovered cases, total now 1,006

Chris Hipkins – first in Parliament which partialy restarts on 28 April, details will be decided and announced tomorrow but it is expected there will be reduced numbers in the House with proper social distancing. Cafes will not be open in Parliament.

It will deal with Question Time, Ministerial statements and urgent legislation.

On education – next week  most schools will be open for people who need that but children who can stay home should stay home, and it is expected that’s most children under level 3,

Quite a bit of detail – this will likely be posted online so I will repost that.

As at 9.00 am, 21 April 2020
Total Change in last 24 hours
Number of confirmed cases in New Zealand 1,107 2
Number of probable cases 338 3
Number of confirmed and probable cases 1,445 5
Number of cases currently in hospital 12 -2
Number of recovered cases 1,006 32
Number of deaths 13 1

 

Total cases of COVID-19 in NZ by age


The State of National Emergency to support the COVID-19 response will be extended a fourth time, for a further seven days.

More interim support for tertiary students announced

The Minister of Education Chris Hipkins has announced more support for tertiary students.

“This package provides relief to students straight away while we adapt to the immediate challenges posed by our response to COVID-19.

“We are also working on a second package of changes to prepare the system for significant growth in participation in key strategic areas as greater numbers of New Zealanders are expected to look to retrain and some industries need bigger workforces.

But Green spokesperson on education Chlöe Swarbrick questioned increasing student loan amounts.

Students, desperate, are dropping out of courses to access jobseeker support. This is not how you build a future.

I’ve been clear with Min @chrishipkins that students need a whole lot more than promise of greater debt. He has told me this is a first, immediate step to address urgent need.


COVID-19: Tertiary student support package

An immediate student support package announced today in response to Covid-19 will assist students financially to continue their studies, Education Minister Chris Hipkins says.

“Covid-19 is impacting students’ ability to financially contribute to and continue their studies. They are facing additional personal costs associated with study in a different way while having fewer opportunities to work to support their study,” Chris Hipkins said.

“The Government wants to give certainty to students as soon as possible that they can continue to be engaged in their education and will be supported adequately until such time that tertiary education providers can put in place alternative ways of delivering teaching and learning.

“Today, we are announcing a domestic tertiary student package to:

  • help cover extra costs, by increasing the student loan amount available for course-related costs for full-time students from $1,000 to $2,000, on a temporary basis;
  • continue support payments for students unable to study on-line for up to 8 weeks
  • make technical changes to ensure that:
    • where students receive partial tuition fee refunds in 2020 because their course has been discontinued due to Covid-19, this will not affect their future entitlement to student loans
    • where students are unable to complete a course of study in 2020 due to Covid-19, this will not affect their entitlement to Fees Free tertiary study. 

“Today’s package means students who cannot access their courses on-line will continue to receive their student loan payments as normal throughout the four-week lockdown period, and for up to four weeks afterwards. This flexibility is already available for student living allowances.

“Domestic students who are enrolled in full-time tertiary study can access these supports from tomorrow, Wednesday 15 April.

“These pragmatic measures, coupled with the support MSD can already give, will provide an immediate response to the financial impact Covid-19 is having on tertiary students. It will support students to stay engaged in their education.

“This package provides relief to students straight away while we adapt to the immediate challenges posed by our response to COVID-19.

“We are also working on a second package of changes to prepare the system for significant growth in participation in key strategic areas as greater numbers of New Zealanders are expected to look to retrain and some industries need bigger workforces.

“The three student loan changes will come from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund and the impact on Fees Free payments can be met within existing baselines within Vote Tertiary Education,” Chris Hipkins said.

The cost of the package is $35 million in operating funding and $98 million in capital expenditure.

Who does this package apply to?

It applies to all fulltime domestic students studying at university, polytechs, or private training establishments this year whether they are enrolled already or planning to enrol.

What do students have to do to apply for support?

Information will be available from StudyLink (MSD), the Ministry of Education and their provider.

Do students have to extend their allowance or loan?

No, students will be able to opt-out if they do not want to increase their loan.

What additional support is available for students’ mental health needs?

Students can access mental health support services through their providers. The way these services are delivered may have changed, for example interviews may now be online or by phone. Students should talk to their providers regarding how to access these services.

There is a range of other support available to New Zealander’s. This includes online resources like the: Low Down, Mental Health Foundation and Ministry of Health’s website.


Minister of Education on schools reopening after lockdown

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins talking on Q+A this morning. He said some schools may be able to re-open for some students on 29 April (the Wednesday after Anzac Day), depending on whether the Level 4 lockdown is relaxed or not, but some student working from home is likely for some time.

While Level 3 rules are to be clarified next week Hipkins hinted “When the country moved to alert Level 3, only children of essential workers were able to attend school.”

“Don’t assume when we move from 4 to 3, whenever that may be, that everything will go back at once.”

Alert Level 4 is clear: “educational facilities closed”

Alert Level 3 is vague: “affected educational facilities closed”

The Prime Minister last Thursday (9 April): “We need to give similar more detailed guidance on what life at Level 3 looks like, and we will do that next week.”

School reopening decisions will be made based on public health advice. Children of essential workers may be allowed back to school before others, and some schools are likely to open before others.

Some teachers are older or have health conditions so not all staff may be available as soon as schools get the go-ahead to re-open.

What will schools be like when they restart? The are likely to be quite different. No assemblies and contact limited as much as possible. Social distancing is a particular challenge with young children.

Some children may go back to school part time and do some work from home.

1 News:  Schools given potential return date for students, should Level 4 lockdown be lifted after 28 days

Some students could start returning to school for face-to-face lessons on Wednesday April 29, should the Level 4 lockdown be lifted after four weeks.

However, Education Minister Chris Hipkins told TVNZ1’s Q+A with Jack Tame that parents should be prepared for a “significant amount of young people” to be kept at home for longer, even after the lockdown ends.

If New Zealand comes out of lockdown on the scheduled date of April 22, some schools have been told they could open for learning a week later – the Wednesday after Anzac weekend.

“I do want to keep expectations quite reasonable here. When we move from Level 4 to Level 3 it doesn’t mean everything goes back to normal, even if we have schools and early learning centres open they won’t necessarily be fully open or open for everybody.”

“There’s still a lot of work going on to make sure we’ve got the public health risk of schools and early childhood services fully understood.”

“We do need a bit of time for teachers to come back into their classrooms. It may be in the first instances they may be able to go back into their classrooms and deliver remote learning from that school environment where the broadband connection is better and they have more access to resources.”

Mr Hipkins said there may be changes at schools such as some would not be able to have assemblies “for a while”, students would be asked to limit contact as much as possible and some students may continue learning from home.

He said the workforces that created “the most anxiety when we think about reopening” were those with a high percentage in the ‘at risk’ Covid-19 demographic, including bus drivers, and relief teachers.

Last week, Mr Hipkins presented to the Covid-19 select committee, warning parents to prepare for a variety of different scenarios and for potentially keeping children at home for longer than the end of the lockdown.

“It would be wrong to assume all schools and early learning services would simply reopen as we move out of Level 4 lockdown. That’s not going to happen frankly.

“I’m not saying they won’t reopen at all, but simply saying they’ll all be open from day one isn’t a realistic option.”

When the country moved to alert Level 3, only children of essential workers were able to attend school.

So it looks like it will take a while for most kids to get back to school, even if reduction of Covid restrictions go well,

Note that last line: “When the country moved to alert Level 3, only children of essential workers were able to attend school”.

So we still have to wait and see what the Level 3 rules will be on schools (business and everything else) but Hipkins has given us a big hint.

And then “on the 20th of April, two days before the lockdown is due to finish, Cabinet will make a decision on our next steps” – that is, whether we will drop to level 3 or not. It seems very unlikely we will drop straight to level 2.

 

Will schools open for Term 2 to next week? For Term 2 at all?

Yesterday the Government sent mixed signals with the release of an education package that is clearly aimed at enabling education from home. It looks a lot like they are setting up for a lengthy period of students learning from home – my guess is probably for the duration of Term 2.

Term 2 is officially due to start next week after Easter, on Wednesday 15 April with a duration of 12 weeks (nearly three months).

Minister of Education  Chris Hipkins stated:

The Ministry of Education is working with partners to develop a package of options so that students can learn at home when Term 2 begins on 15 April, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said today.

Supports are also being prepared for households with children under five, to help parents and whānau keep their children engaged in learning through play, Chris Hipkins said.

“It’s important to reinforce up front that the Government is still working to a timeframe of a four-week Level 4 lockdown but we’re planning for every scenario.

“That means, in education, developing robust distance learning infrastructure and a more resilient system so that learners can receive education in any scenario.

“We’re moving so that all families will have at least one education delivery option available to them when Term 2 starts,” Chris Hipkins said.

The official start date for term 2 is next Wednesday, but the four week lockdown extends past that another week and a day, so schools can’t open for the start of term 2 in any case (unless there’s a sudden change of Level 4 rules).

The Government would be unlikely to put together such an extensive ‘learn from home’ package for one week of education.

How many hard copy packs are being printed and for which years?

Depending on demand, and subject to printing and delivery logistics, we are prepared to ship tens of thousands of packs if required over the coming weeks.

A variety of packs are being prepared for all age groups – early learners and from year 1 through NCEA, including for learners in Māori medium. We will start by prioritising delivery these to younger students and those who are disadvantaged.  NCEA students will be able to request packs across up to six subject areas each.

Shipping “over the coming weeks” isn’t education cover for a week or two.

What is the estimated flow of internet-ready devices for students to work on?

About 17,000 devices have been ordered and are confirmed to be shipped to students and ākonga in April. Not all will arrive before 15 April, and it may take up to a month for all of them to be sent to households. Many schools already have their own stocks.

We are working to secure thousands more devices from offshore.

That doesn’t sound like a short term plan.

TV channels

“We’re also preparing education broadcasts on two channels, one for English medium schooling and one for Māori medium, starting on 15 April,” Chris Hipkins said.

“The broadcasts will run over six and a half hours during the day.”

They are not setting that up for a week or two of broadcasts.

Level 4 specifies “educational facilities closed” so that specifically rules out schools opening next week.

Level 3 specifies “affected educational facilities closed”. It will depend on what ‘affected’ means.

They could be allowing for the possibility of a drop to Level 3 in the near future (after 4 weeks or soon after) but the likelihood that some regions may stay at Level 4, or some regions or the country may have to go back up to level 4 at some stage in the future.

I think that parents and caregivers of school students should be informed as soon as possible what the likely arrangements will be for schools after the 4 weeks and for the duration of Term 2.


UPDATE:  ‘Unlikely’ students back at school as soon as lockdown ends – Education Minister

Once the lockdown is over, Education Minister Chris Hipkins told The AM Show that parents shouldn’t expect their children to be heading back to school straight away.

“Don’t assume that as soon as we are come out of level four that schools and early childhood services will all automatically reopen. That is actually unlikely. It is likely to be more of a staged re-entry for schools and early childhood centres and that is going to be done based on health advice” he said.

“It is quite difficult to manage social distancing and, particularly for young kids and early childhood and in primary schooling, so we are working through all of the different scenarios for when it will be safe for kids to go back to school.

“We want them back at school as quickly as we can get them back to school. But we are not going to do that until we know they will be safe and we are not going to be spreading the virus.”

 

Details for ‘learning from home’ rollout

From the Beehive:

Government moving quickly to roll out learning from home

The Ministry of Education is working with partners to develop a package of options so that students can learn at home when Term 2 begins on 15 April, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said today.

Supports are also being prepared for households with children under five, to help parents and whānau keep their children engaged in learning through play, Chris Hipkins said.

“It’s important to reinforce up front that the Government is still working to a timeframe of a four-week Level 4 lockdown but we’re planning for every scenario.

“That means, in education, developing robust distance learning infrastructure and a more resilient system so that learners can receive education in any scenario.

“We’re moving so that all families will have at least one education delivery option available to them when Term 2 starts,” Chris Hipkins said.

“The Ministry has surveyed schools and about half say they are well set up currently for distance learning using the internet. But we are taking action to support new connections and resources for students at all schools.

“Starting this week, the Ministry will be rolling out, in waves, an extensive, four-channel package.

“We’re anticipating a number of logistical challenges in the short term, so our plan is broad enough to ensure every learner has at least one option either through this package or through their school or kura, and we expect many will be able to access more than one. These channels, include:

  • Increasing the number of students who have internet access and devices.
  • Delivering hard copy packs of materials for different year levels.
  • Funding two television channels to broadcast education-related content – one for English medium and one for Māori medium, including content that is targeted to Pacific and other communities.
  • More online resources for parents, available through the Learning from Home and Ki te Ao Mārama websites, and fast-tracking ways to connect Learning Support Coordinators with families remotely.

In addition, more support is being provided to assist schools to set up and make the best use of distance learning, and teachers and leaders will get access to more professional learning and development (PLD) to support them to work remotely with their students.

“We’ve fast-tracked immediate emergency funding of $87.7 million to fund these measures and to provide ongoing nationwide access to online teaching and learning for all scenarios. Further additional funding might be required.

“We know that tens of thousands of households either lack an internet connection or an education device at home. We’re working with telecommunications companies and internet service providers to connect as many of these households as we can as quickly as possible.

“We are also working with schools to identify the students who lack a suitable device for online learning, and we plan to deliver as many devices as possible to the students who will benefit the most. We will be following public health advice as we do this.”

Devices and materials rolled out in waves

“This is a big and complex job being delivered at speed, and there are constraints around the stock of equipment in the country. Not everyone who needs them will get internet access, digital devices and hard packs at the same time,” Chris Hipkins said.

“Where we are unable to immediately connect a household with the Internet or get a device to a student, we will be working with schools and kura to provide hard-copy learning materials direct to homes.

“We will need to prioritise, and reach students and households, with an initial focus on connecting students in senior secondary school working towards NCEA – to minimise disruption for those working towards a qualification – and on those with greatest need due to disadvantage. We will then move down the year levels from years 10 to 1.”

Chris Hipkins said parents should not worry if their child doesn’t receive a device or hard copy materials in the first wave.

“We know there are schools and kura that have plans in place to support students and whānau from 15 April, and will be working with the resources available to them as we can get devices and hard copy materials out to as many learners as we can.

“Principals and teachers are working hard to get ready for the start of the term and to make sure their students remain connected with learning.”

TV channels

“We’re also preparing education broadcasts on two channels, one for English medium schooling and one for Māori medium, starting on 15 April,” Chris Hipkins said.

“The broadcasts will run over six and a half hours during the day, and include specialised content for:

  • Early learners,
  • Parents, to help them support their children’s education,
  • A broad curriculum that includes movement, music, physical education, wellbeing, numeracy, literacy and science through an integrated approach to curriculum,
  • An hour of Te Reo Māori, and
  • Pacific and other communities.

“There’s already a lot of good education video content available, and the Ministry is working with experts and educators to refine and further develop it.”

Web-based resources

The Ministry of Education is also building up the resources it provides on the Learning from Home and Ki te Ao Mārama websites.

Chris Hipkins said public health remains the Government’s number one focus, but families, learners and schools are increasingly focused on preparations for Term 2.

“The Government wants to reassure people that we are mobilising our resources at great speed during this extraordinary time so that we can provide the best possible level of education in all potential scenarios.

“I am proud of and grateful for the efforts of the Ministry and the entire education sector and our other partners in the public and private sectors to enable distance learning during the Covid-19 emergency.

“The Ministry has received more than 100 offers of extra resources and assistance from businesses wanting to do their bit to help, and is working on the best way to mobilise them as quickly as possible.

“I would also like to thank parents and learners for their understanding.

It’s important to remember that despite these resources becoming available in homes, parents aren’t expected to become teachers. Teachers will continue to have the primary role in students’ learning.

“Together we will support New Zealand’s efforts to save lives through physical distancing, while minimising the impact on children’s learning and wellbeing.”

Here are the links to the hard-packs being assembled –

https://vimeo.com/404830943

https://vimeo.com/404831237

https://vimeo.com/404831208

https://vimeo.com/404831180

https://vimeo.com/404831157

https://vimeo.com/404831121

https://vimeo.com/404831065

https://vimeo.com/404831006

Q and A

What is the estimated flow of modem deliveries?

We are working on the commercial arrangements with Internet Service Providers (ISPs).  As supplies become available, we expect to ramp up to sending out thousands of modems each week.  Around 2000 this week.

We believe there are about 350 students where there is currently no internet potential of any kind. We are exploring the possibility of satellite coverage for these households.

What is the estimated flow of internet-ready devices for students to work on?

About 17,000 devices have been ordered and are confirmed to be shipped to students and ākonga in April. Not all will arrive before 15 April, and it may take up to a month for all of them to be sent to households. Many schools already have their own stocks.

We are working to secure thousands more devices from offshore.

What materials will be available in hard copy?

Information about the content of the packs can be viewed on line at https://learningfromhome.govt.nz/supporting-learning.

What kind of devices are being supplied?

Typically schools and kura will have the option of selecting from laptops or Chromebooks, depending on what they are already using.

What about insurance cover – who pays for replacement/repair if something goes wrong?

The Ministry is providing insurance cover for devices sent to student homes where they are not already covered by the school’s insurance.

Will accessories like a mouse and keyboard be provided?

The device comes with a power supply cable but not additional accessories.

Do families get to keep the devices after children go back to school?

The devices are registered to schools and kura and that decision will rest with them.

Will my child’s time online be monitored?

The devices we supply are pre-loaded with a content filter to block inappropriate content.

As always with the internet, parents and whānau are encouraged to supervise their children’s online activities. Schools and kura may have suggest software or apps for this purpose, and there is helpful information for parents and children about staying safe online on the Netsafe website.

There will be no central monitoring.

How many hard copy packs are being printed and for which years?

Depending on demand, and subject to printing and delivery logistics, we are prepared to ship tens of thousands of packs if required over the coming weeks.

A variety of packs are being prepared for all age groups – early learners and from year 1 through NCEA, including for learners in Māori medium. We will start by prioritising delivery these to younger students and those who are disadvantaged.  NCEA students will be able to request packs across up to six subject areas each.

A variety of educational resources will be available, including books, literacy, maths and science resources and some stationery.  The packs will include a parent and whānau guidance sheet on supporting their child’s learning, and with suggestions for activities.

Schools will be advised when students receive a pack so teachers can connect with learners as they work on the packs where they can.

Information about the content of the packs can be viewed on line at https://learningfromhome.govt.nz/supporting-learning.

We will be able to provide updates over the coming days as demand becomes clearer and distribution begins.

Around 20,000 packs will be delivered this week, and 40,000 will be available for delivery next week.

Ministry of Education announces plans for distance learning

The second school term officially restarts on 15 April while the 4 week lockdown is still going. The Ministry of Education is gearing up for providing working from home resources including mailed out paper packs targeting different age groups plus two TV broadcast channels.

RNZ: Ministry of Education reveals support plans for distance learning

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said while the plan was still for a four-week lockdown, schools must be prepared for any scenario.

That requires the means and resources to study properly home, Hipkins said.

“We’re moving so that all families will have at least one education delivery option available to them when term two starts,” he said.

It sounds like the are preparing for weeks if not months of school pupils working from home.

“The ministry has surveyed schools and about half say they are well set up currently for distance learning using the internet. But we are taking action to support new connections and resources for students at all schools.”

From this week a package targeting four areas will be rolled out:

  • Increasing the number of students who have internet access and devices.
  • Delivering hard copy packs of materials for different year levels.
  • Funding two television channels to broadcast education-related content – one for English medium and one for Māori medium, including content that is targeted to Pacific and other communities.
  • More online resources for parents, available through the Learning from Home and Ki te Ao Mārama websites, and fast-tracking ways to connect Learning Support Coordinators with families remotely.

Schools will also get more support to to assist schools to set up and make the best use of distance learning, and teachers and leaders will get access to more professional learning and development (PLD) to support them to work remotely with their students.

This will complement the efforts schools are making to provide work at home for pupils (that is already being done by some schools at least).

From Stuff Live:

He (Hipkins) said as schools are preparing for term two, he wanted to assure people that they’re preparing for all possible scenarios.

Hipkins said the goal is that all families have at least one channel of learning support by April 15.

When asked if this style of learning will continue after we leave alert level four, he said the Ministry of Education is actively engaged in the planning beyond level four lockdown and they’re working through all different scenarios.

He said people shouldn’t assume that all schools and ECE will open on day one post-lockdown.

He said there’ll be further announcements about what happens at the end of level four lockdown in due course.

The NCEA review package is helping contribute to the work that’s being done at the moment, particularly around the online delivery of it. Hipkins said they’re progressing this.
Other parts around long term work of the review are on the backburner.
On the topic of the educational channels. Hipkins said some content will be drawn from existing catalogues, some will be bridging, and some will be new. He said there’ll be some familiar faces returning to TV.

 

Cross-party committee to scrutinise Government as Parliament adjourns

Parliament was in recess this week but has been recalled today to deal with urgent business related to Covid-19 and the country lockdown, but will then be suspended for 5 weeks. This means the usual scrutiny of Government through Question Time won’t be possible, so  special committee is being set up.

RNZ: Special committee set-up as Parliament is adjourned

The opposition leader Simon Bridges will chair a cross-party committee, that will scrutinise the Government’s response to Covid-19.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins said all of the Government’s regular legislative programme was now on hold.

Hipkins said tomorrow the house will be focusing on receiving the epidemic notice from the Prime Minister and pass an Imprest Supply Bill, which will allow Government funding to continue to flow as normal.

The epidemic notice would enact the Epidemic Preparedness Act, allowing for actions to be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, without having to comply with the usual statuary requirements.

Like last week, Parliamentary business tomorrow will begin with a debate, this time focusing on the epidemic notice and other documents tabled by the Government.

The adjournment will last until April 28, meaning two sitting weeks will be missed.

To enable the politicians to still hold the Government to account, speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard said the cross-party Business Select Committee has put forward a motion to set-up a special Select Committee, which will run for at least the next four-to-five weeks.

He said the committee will meet remotely, be chaired by Opposition leader Simon Bridges with the majority of the sitting MPs being from opposition parties.

The committee will have powers that usually reside with privileges committee, such as the ability to send for people and papers.

“What we think we have got here is a balance of accountability because of a very powerful committee, chaired by the Leader of the Opposition, who can make arrangements to effectively interrogate ministers or public servants on their actions around the pandemic,” he said.

Bridges said it would be a valuable chance for constructive scrutiny of the government, that will make the nation’s response to Covid-19 better and stronger.

Bridges said the committee would be sitting two or three times a week, from next week, to ask the questions New Zealanders want answered.

He said overall, he supported the direction the government has taken, but there are things that can be improved.

However, ACT leader David Seymour called the decision to adjourn Parliament as ‘misguided’.

“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,” he said.

“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,” he said.

From RNZ Live covering an interview of Bridges this morning:

Bridges on the special cross-party committee of scrutiny during the lockdown – says he will have a lot of his front benchers on the committee, National will have a majority in the committee.

He says ultimately he thinks rents need to be paid during this time, says landlords should definitely not be putting up rent at the moment.

He says he’s spoken to some big businesses and what he’s hearing is that the government hasn’t quite hit the mark with the business schemes they’ve introduced.

That’s not surprising. Businesses are facing unprecedented challenges and many will be fighting for survival. The Government is doing what it thinks will help but it must be a work in progress. And they will never be able to ‘hit the mark’ for all businesses.

He doesn’t think benefits should be doubled, like in Australia. Asked whether it would be a good way to pump more money into the economy, Mr Bridges said he didn’t believe NZ’s issue at the moment is an issue of stimulus.

Over the last couple of days Bridges has changed his approach noticeably towards being mostly supportive of Government actions dealing with Covid-19 but with generally sensible sounding questions of some of what is being done. I think this is a good change from him.

Interview with bridges on RNZ: Coronavirus: Simon Bridges to chair scrutiny committee

 

Hipkins trying to resolve teacher pay dispute

Teachers had their biggest strike ever this week, protesting over what they claim are insufficient wage increases. Minister of education Chris Hipkins spoke to the crowd of teachers who gathered at Parliament, saying there was no more money available. Teachers responded by threatening more strikes.

Hipkins is now trying to resolve the deadlock.

RNZ: Minister intervenes in teachers’ pay dispute, calls forum

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has called for a forum with the teacher unions, the NZEI and PPTA, to resolve what he calls an impasse over pay and conditions.

Secondary school teachers will start five weeks of industrial action on Tuesday when they refuse to teach students in year nine. The action comes hard on the heels of this week’s joint strike with primary teachers.

In a release tonight, Mr Hipkins said the government was committed to progressively taking action to address the concerns of teachers and principals.

The talks were set down for 6 June.

“The issues being raised by teachers are many, varied and complex,” he said in tonight’s statement.

“We will make no further comment until after the parties have met.”

The primary teachers’ union has yet to announce its next move, but it has already held three strikes and further action is considered likely.

One problem that is probably unresolvable is pay scales that don’t reflect effort and effectiveness. Teachers claim they work long hours, and I’m sure some do, but they get paid the same as teachers with similar a length of service who do the bare minimum.

Teacher unions have always been strongly against performance linked pay rates.

This can mean that better teachers can leave to find better paid work elsewhere, while more mediocre teachers stay with fairly good pay for their efforts (but there are still good teachers who are underpaid).

When he was opposition spokesperson on education Hipkins had an easy ride on the side of teachers complaining about the National government. It is a lot more challenging for Hipkins now that he is up against teacher demands.