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

 

National target Government over committee can kicking

The National opposition has increased criticism on the Government over the many working groups, reviews, inquiries and committees they have set up. Labour has tried to play down the assistance they have sought.

The big news from Jacinda Ardern’s business confidence speech yesterday was the announcement of the setting up of a ‘business advisory council’. A chairman only has been announced so far.

This was a day after National launched this Twitter campaign:

Simon Bridges reacted to the Business Advisory Council announcement:

This means a third of the economic announcements so far from this Govt are working groups.

That brings the total number of working groups set up by this Govt on business issues to 10 & counting. This gives businesses no certainty.

I think the PM needs a new rubber stamp. The “set up a committee” one is wearing out.

The Government have a problem reacting to this, as the results of the many committees will not be known for months or years.

The Opposition campaign has been running for months.

The bill for the Government’s constant outsourcing of its job to 152 working groups and reviews has reached $170 million so far, with a third still to be costed, National Leader Simon Bridges says.

What’s worse is the Government doesn’t know the cost of over a third of the 152 working groups and reviews announced to date.

“This is a Government caught badly unprepared and New Zealanders are now paying an exorbitant price. And now we know Ministers are ordering reviews and setting up groups without even knowing what they will cost, while the reviews are coming back with recommendations for more reviews.

The Government has sometimes responded.

I saw Ardern disputing National’s numbers last week but can’t find coverage of that.

Every Government sets up external groups too help them research and set policies and to investigate issues of concern. When National took over Government in 2008 they used a lot of committees etc.

But it does seem that there have been a lot announced since the Labour led Government took over last year, and national will no doubt keep highlighting any new ones.

The Government will have to get some tangible outcomes, but that may be some time off yet.

One of their major reviews is on the tax system, but whatever that recommends Labour has committed to make no tax changes this term.

The Government is at risk of being seen as synonymous with committee can kicking down the road. Until they start getting tangible outcomes from all these advisory groups and reviews the Opposition are likely to keep hammering away.

Resistance to inquiry into forced adoptions

The pressure on young women and girls to give up their babies for adoption, effectively forcing them, was awful, albeit in a different social age (our society has changed hugely since the 1960s).

The petitioner Maggie Wilkinson, and Green and Labour MPs are complaining after National voted against an inquiry at a parliamentary committee.

Newstalk ZB: Government accused of shutting down calls for formal inquiry into forced adoption

Waihi woman Maggie Wilkinson, whose just-born child was taken away from her at age 20 fifty years ago, started a petition urging an inquiry into institutional abuses.

Wilkinson says unmarried women at the time weren’t even allowed access to contraception. They were naive, and taken advantage of by the state.

“It was a great opportunity to take our children and give them to married people who had either missed the boat in having a family, because of war, etcetera,” she said. “It was a supply.”

Although Wilkinson’s petition was rejected by the parliamentary committee, she’s refusing to listen to those who say she should just “get over it.”

“I can’t [get over it] because there are women like me who are still alive and there are some women who died without holding their child, without seeing their child,” she said.

It was a horrible thing inflicted on mothers, and on the babies regardless of what there adopted life was like.

Green MP Jan Logie…

…isn’t happy the government MPs who have dismissed the matter out of hand, and is critical of their view that times and practices have changed.

“That is an argument in terms of dismissing it, [and] robs all of us in this country of an opportunity of understanding and giving those women some closure,” Logie said.

Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni…

…believes holding an inquiry is important, and she believes the same mistakes could happen again if citizens don’t reflect on and learn from the past.

“So many women, and broader families as well, were impacted by this, and so they deserve to have their experience recognised.”

In Australia…

…a Senate inquiry was held and then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard made a historic national apology in 2013 to women similarly affected.

The Senate committee report found unwed mothers were pressured, deceived and threatened to give up their babies, so they could be adopted by married couples.

Much like in New Zealand. It was perpetuated by the State but family of the mothers were also complicit, trying to avoid social embarrassment.

Newshub: Tearful calls for forced adoption inquiry rejected

Women who sat in tears sharing their stories of being made to give up their babies through forced adoption have been refused an inquiry into the practice.

Parliament’s social services committee has rejected a petition by Maggie Wilkinson who called for a full investigation into the practice, which saw hundreds of children put up for adoption between the 1950s and 1990s against their mothers’ wishes.

In a report from the committee, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the committee acknowledged the “pain and suffering” women like Mrs Wilkinson and their children went through, but a majority found an inquiry wasn’t the best way to deal with the issue.

“Although we do not agree with many adoption practices from the 1950s to the 1980s, we note that these practices reflected the social values and attitudes of the time,” the majority found.

“We cannot undo what has been done before but we can stop the denial and silence and support people to move forward,” Ms Logie’s Green Party minority view says.

In their statement the party hit out at evidence presented to the committee by the Ministry of Vulnerable Children, which did not address the specific questions presented by Mrs Wilkinson and her backers, who also disputed parts of the official evidence.

They’re backing a broad and full inquiry and an apology.

The Labour Party also backs ongoing calls for an investigation.

“We moved a motion at select committee for an inquiry to be carried out; however, unfortunately this was costed down by the Government members of the committee,” the Labour minority view in the report says.

The first calls for an inquiry were to former National MP Trevor Rogers in 1992.

That’s a bit ironic.

The current National Government seems to be averse to inquiries into past injustices. They have also avoided an investigation into mental health abuses.

MPs on the Social Services Committee:

SocialServicesCommittee

 

Sabin chaired Law & Order committee after Key knew

Andrew Little was interviewed by Duncan Garner on Radio Live about John Key’s handling of the Mike Sabin police inquiry.

Garner: What are you alleging, why is this important?

Little: This is important because the Parliamentary committee that Mike Sabin chaired provides the oversight for the police.

A very important role, and the idea that the person chairing that committee would be under a police investigation and at the same time to continue to chair potentially calling the police officials to account on it is just a level of conflict of interest that we should just never tolerate.

Now the idea is waht is pretty clear is the Government knew this and allowed him to carry on chairing that committee even though they knew he was under a police investigation.

Garner: No but do we have any proof though that the Prime Minister had been told?

Little: Well even if you take the Prime Minister at his word when he said the earliest that he knew was the first of December, we know that Mike Sabin chaired the law and Order select committee on the third of December.

So when the Government knew, when the Prime Minister knew, he allowed the guy to carry on chairing the select committee that provides oversight for the police, and this was a major conflict of interest. It would be never be tolerated in any other organisation.

That is obviously of concern. Key was questioned about this in his regular post Cabinet press conference this afternoon.

Garner: John Key has said that yes he found out that his Northland MP was being investigated on December the first and he allowed, he allowed Sabinto carry on chairing the Law and Order select committee two days later.

Key at his press conference:

Him remaining as the chair of the select committee was appropriate course of action.

I accept it’s a judgement call. Some people might criticise me for that but people make a judgement call on the information they have at the time.

Much may hinge on “the information they have at the time”, but it should also be remembered that Key was still defending Sabin in late January/early February.

It’s eyebrow raising that Key knew of the inquiry and still judged it appropriate to allow Sabin to continue chairing the committee.

That Key was still defending Sabin up until what appears to be a related court appearance that is suppressed raises much bigger questions considering what has been widely talked about as the possible nature of charges.

Note: As usual on this issue comments must comply with any laws that could potentially apply to this.

Intelligence and Security Committee Report

The Intelligence and Security Committee has reported back on the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill.

The committee (by majority) recommends that the Bill be passed, outlining proposed amendments.

The amendments include the request by Act’s John Banks but the seven amendments agreed to with United Future’s Peter Dunne will be dealt with by separate Supplementary Order Papers.

A quick look reveals a number of clarifications and closing up of gaps in the bill.

It will take time to have a good look at the combined Committee and Dunne changes and whether they address the widely discussed shortcomings of the original version of the bill.

It includes minority reports from Labour and the Greens.