Public Health Response Act belatedly referred to select committee for review

The Government has belatedly decided to allow a select committee in Parliament to scrutinise the controversial Public Health Response Act

One of the controversial things about the Bill/Actt  that was rushed through Parliament under urgency this week was that it affected civil liberties, giving police greater powers to enter homes, and that it hadn’t been subject to the full scrutiny of Parliament.

NZ Herald: Human Rights Commission ‘deeply concerned’ about Public Health Response Bill

The Human Rights Commission says it’s “deeply concerned” about the lack of scrutiny and rushed process for the Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill.

The bill, which set up the legal framework for future alert levels, was rushed through most of its legislative stages under urgency, with the support of Labour, NZ First, the Greens and Act.

But the Human Rights Commission says that despite the Government knowing for weeks that New Zealand will be moving to alert level 2, it has not allowed enough time for careful public democratic consideration of the alert level 2 legislation.

“There has been no input from ordinary New Zealanders, which is deeply regrettable,” said chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt.

“This is a great failure of our democratic process. The new legislation, if passed in its current state, will result in sweeping police powers unseen in this country for many years.”

The Human Rights Commission is “strongly of the view” that the legislation must include a provision to ensure those making decisions, and exercising powers, under the new law, will do so in accordance with national and international human rights commitments and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“Given our concerns expressed to the Attorney General yesterday about the two-year sunset clause in the bill, we are pleased to see that Parliament will be changing this to 90 days,” Hunt said.

“However, given that the legislation encroaches on the civil liberties of New Zealanders we have serious concerns about whether the powers are proportionate.”

The Government has reacted to criticism and pressure and decided to allow a select committee to review the Act (albeit after it has been in force).

Legal framework for COVID-19 Alert Level referred to select committee

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, which set a sound legal framework ahead of the move to Alert level 2, has been referred to a parliamentary select committee for review.

Attorney-General David Parker said the review of the operation of the COVID-19 specific law would be reported back to the House by July 27, in time for the House to consider whether to renew the Act in line with the 90-day review specified in the law.

“That will allow the House to take into account the advice of the committee before it makes the decision whether to continue with the law for another 90 days – or longer if the House decides,” David Parker said.

The Police can only use their enforcement powers under the Act if the Government has authorised a COVID-19 Alert Level notice.

The post-enactment review, which has been recommended by legal experts and academics, will be conducted by the Finance and Expenditure Committee, which will have MPs from all parties in Parliament on it.

David Parker reiterated that the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act ensures controls on gatherings of people and physical distancing are still enforceable. The new Act narrows the Police powers compared with those which applied under Level 3 and Level 4.

This is better than no review, but the Government should have made time for proper process before dumping the bill on Parliament under urgency last week.