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

 

Some tough love for the Green party

Ex political journalist John Armstrong has some views on Metiria Turei and her political crash and burn,  which is unlikely to go down well in the Green camp. Tough truths.

Metiria Turei could have said a lot during the seven or so months which have passed since her hugely dramatic and equally traumatic exit from politics.

Her ghost stalks the Greens, however. In particular, it is stalking the upcoming election of a new female co-leader to fill the vacancy created by her spectacular demise.

In some quarters of the party, Turei the Welfare Fraudster is both martyr and saint; a veritable Joan of Arc and Mother Theresa all rolled into one.

It was much easier to blame the media for her fate, however, than admit to the real reason why she had to quit.

Her consistent refusal to divulge any detail about the circumstances surrounding her fraud was tarnishing the party’s image.

The party’s stance was untenable. It was blaming the media for doing their job. It was saying it was okay for James Shaw to join the Opposition hunt for the scalps of Bill English and Todd Barclay, National’s errant former Clutha-Southland MP.

The application of similar scrutiny to Turei’s behaviour was somehow deemed out of bounds.

That’s fairly typical of Green supporters, in my experience. They are very critical of people and ideas they disagree with, but get almost apoplectic when their party or MPs are put under scrutiny.

Turei’s downfall was the first time in a very long time that the Greens had felt the heat of the media blowtorch on its highest setting.

Now that they are party to government, such bouts of relentless questioning and grilling by the media will be the norm. The Greens can expect it to occur on anything and everything no matter how big or small or how important or trivial.

They really wanted to finally be a part of a Government. Now they are in power they have to expect they will be put under more scrutiny – they were generally given a very easy time when in opposition, so the scrutiny of power is coming as a bit of a shock to some.

The question is whether the Greens have the necessary political management mechanisms in place to ensure the party is not an accident constantly waiting to happen.

The omens are not good. The party’s handling of the New Zealand First-instigated legislation which will block MPs from party-hopping has been as shambolic as it has been shabby.

Perhaps they (the Green Party and their MPs) will learn how to deal with being in awkward political situations that inevitably occur when in Government, and the scrutiny that goes with the territory, but those learnings are likely to be lagging or lacking in the rank and file.

One senior party figure should be exempted from such accusations of complacency, however.

He suggests that Julie Anne Genter is unusually realistic for a Green and would make a good replacement for Turei as co-leader. More on that in Green leadership – sickly sweet political correctness versus political realism.