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

 

A recess challenge for Labour

MPs of all parties have given themselves a longer than usual mid-winter recess of four weeks. Lucky them (but MPs make their own luck when they can).

Tracey Watkins makes a challenge to Labour for the recess period – get tough, or it will look like they have given up on next year’s election already.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Here’s a challenge to Labour. If it wants to show it’s serious about winning the next election, its MPs should use the upcoming four week recess to catch their opponents napping.

If Labour MPs disappear over that period instead we’ll know they’ve already given up on a win in 2017.

There’s already signs that Labour MPs are going through the motions most of the time, with Phil Twyford a rare exception. Even Andrew Little’s barking at passing cars seems to be losing it’s bite.

Next month’s lengthy recess is the talk of Parliament. No one can remember a mid-year break quite this long before. It starts July 8 and carries right through to August 9, when MPs return to Parliament.

The word is that members of Parliament’s business committee – which comprises every party – all agreed on the lengthy break because it would help MPs recharge their batteries.

Some of them would need a wind farm much larger than Parliament to recharge their batteries.

But did the Opposition get the wool pulled over its eyes?

Because Oppositions tend to lose momentum when Parliament goes into recess. And mid-year through a Government’s third term is often when that momentum starts to build.

In fact Ministers and especially the Prime Minister will have to keep working to an extent at least. I month is too long to be opff the job mid-year. The recess will be more for back benchers and Opposition MPs, which will allow Ministers to chug away without being hassled.

As the normally affable minister looks increasingly strained and tight-lipped you can already see the drawbridge going up.

That’s a classic sign of third term-itis but National has dug itself out of these holes before by methods which are now well practiced. It burns the midnight oil, it wheels out policies and speeches, it reheats old news, anything to seize back the initiative. It’s the rugby team that runs on to the field determined to dominate on offence.

But there is a four week recess coming up. Beehive staff will have planned a break. Some of the key ministers will likely be overseas.

Potentially, it’s a political vacuum. A hungry Opposition would try to fill it.

So will it?

Twyford may keep banging away on phantom house doors and Little may do a little barking, and the Greens may take turns at churning out their PR, but will any MPs do some hard yards to put pressure on the Government?

Or better, show some leadership potential and come up with some positive actions or policies. Drive and initiative may get some media attention in a vacuum.

It’s about time that James Shaw stepped up and started living up to the hype that preceded him becoming Greens new co-leader last year.

It will be particularly interesting to see how Winston Peters treats the recess. It’s been a big term for him so far and he has looked jaded in Parliament.

Will he disappear for some rest, or will he do a tour of the country’s rest homes charming some ‘mature’ votes.

Most voters will probably be happy to see and hear less of politics and politicians anyway.

An MP that works out how to use the recess to interest the masses could do well for themselves and their party. But banging on the bashwagon turns voters off big time.

Will anyone step up and look like a positive prospective leader? That’s something that is sadly lacking across our modern politics.

UPDATE: I’ve just realised I drifted off the topic – a recess challenge for Labour. Perhaps I’ve given up on them as well as them having given up unless a resurrection lands in their laps.