Public Health Response Bill passes 3rd reading

The Public Health Response Bill passed it’s third and final reading in Parliament yesterday by 63 votes to 57. Labour, NZ First and Greens voted in favour, National, Act and Jami-Lee Ross voted against.

David Parker summarised the bill:

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill will create a bespoke and fit for purpose legal framework to support the Government’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 for a maximum of two years, less if COVID-19 is bought under control sooner.

This bill includes the necessary powers to enforce the alert 2 measures, and I thank the House for working together to pass this bill under urgency. We have adopted further protections suggested by the Opposition.

Passing this bill now is prudent as we move to level 2 on Thursday and into the next phase of our response to COVID-19. The Government’s strategy for COVID-19 and the efforts of all New Zealanders have so far curbed the spread of the virus and the potential devastation it causes.

The bill is necessary to continue our response to the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. It will allow the Minister of Health to issue orders to give effect to public health measures, for example, to require the maintenance of social distancing, prohibiting gatherings of a specified kind, and requiring people to be isolated or quarantined in specified ways. The bill creates a framework for COVID-19 orders, not the orders themselves.

The Minister of Health must have regard to the advice of the Director-General of Health. The Minister of Health may have regard to decisions by Government on the level of public health measures appropriate, which may have taken into account social, economic, and other factors. The Minister of Health is required to consult with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice, who will both be concerned with the correct balance of any order, including civil liberties.

In opposition:

SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki): I’d like to torpedo that boat. I want to bookend this speech with words from someone else who’s far more eloquent than myself.

He says, “… when human societies lose their freedom, it’s not necessarily because tyrants have taken it away. It’s usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection against some external threat. And … That’s what I fear we are seeing now.”

That’s been said by Lord Sumption, the English supreme court justice and judge, discussing COVID-19 only a few days ago. I agree with Lord Sumption that this is the most anti-democratic piece of legislation being put before this Parliament.

I repeat it again: it is anti-democratic. It is against the values of this democracy, this Parliament, our constitutional sovereignty. It is against the principles of law, and ethics.

Parker on one of the most contentious parts of the bill:

In terms of warrantless powers of entry under the bill…I observe that broader warrantless powers already exist under section 71 of the Health Act. I don’t have time to read the full suite of those powers, but they are listed at section 71A(1) and are broad. Section 71A(2) of the Health Act makes it clear a constable can enter a building—any building, which includes a private dwellinghouse—for any of those full suite of powers.

Clause 20 of this bill is narrower. A warrantless power of entry into a private dwellinghouse under COVID-19 is now limited to situations where the constable has reasonable grounds to believe the limits to gatherings have been breached. This power is, in effect, limited to breaking up parties flouting the rules on gathering size. The enforcement power is intended to limit contagion risks and to enable effective track and tracing if there’s an outbreak we need to get under control.

So don’t have rowdy attention seeking parties that appear to be crowded.

The bill was also criticised for being rushed under urgency through Parliament in two days when a primary aim was to curb individual freedoms. Greens were criticised for rubber stamping the Bill, with suggestions that if National was putting a similar bill through Parliament Greens would have protested loudly.

Marama Davidson:

 I will start by acknowledging where my colleague the Hon Peeni Henare just left off, which is that we have an understanding that the broad powers that have got us through alert levels 4 and 3, and now as we move into level 2, have been there because of the public health and wellbeing approach that we have put first in our Government response to COVID-19. Yes, this has absolutely restricted our movements and our freedoms, and that is because of the collective decision we have made to ensure that all people’s lives are cared for as much as we possibly could. We wanted to make sure that we had clear restrictions and guidelines on those broad powers as we move into level 2 so that we could understand how those powers are going to be applied, when and where, and how long they will last for.

What I want to acknowledge in my closing time is that—and my colleague Mr Henare also raised it—we understand that Te Tiriti is also at the forefront of the debates that are being had in our communities at the moment regarding this COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill.

A specific reference to marae was removed from the bill after protests on singling out Maori.

I want, as I did before the break, to assure people that, yes, we in this House do need to be accountable to monitor and review whose homes and communities and dwellings are entered into with warrantless entry; that we are keeping the data and record and reporting on those entries; that we review that reporting and that data at the newly agreed shorter review times, which I absolutely think are fantastic; and that we make it clear to the public that if the public health agenda of these broad powers are not being adhered to that there is power in this House to renege on those high orders that are being sought in this House; and that we absolutely must keep a check that the powers are being used for what they are set up to be used for, otherwise we will execute and exploit that power in this House to renege on that order that can be made.

It’s hard to work out what she is trying to get across there.

That is an extra step of accountability that was put into this bill as an example of trying to give better clarity and framework around applying these bills.

So I’m very pleased that we have been able to tighten up some of that stuff. It does not address all the valid fears and concerns. Yes, we are listening and we do need to take those on board and consider that in our ongoing monitoring and review and application of this legislation.

The full closing speech:


Hon DAVID PARKER (Attorney-General): I do want to put some important points down in my speech in a formal way, which is important at a stage 3 reading in respect of the future interpretation of this legislation. But before that, I do want to respond to Erica Stanford’s suggestion that we could have closed the border earlier. As the Minister of Justice interjected at the time, until less than a week before we closed the border there were about 5,000 New Zealanders—citizens, and permanent residents—returning every day, and it was not possible to put them in quarantine because you quickly run out of hotel beds.

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill will create a bespoke and fit for purpose legal framework to support the Government’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 for a maximum of two years, less if COVID-19 is bought under control sooner. This bill includes the necessary powers to enforce the alert 2 measures, and I thank the House for working together to pass this bill under urgency. We have adopted further protections suggested by the Opposition. Passing this bill now is prudent as we move to level 2 on Thursday and into the next phase of our response to COVID-19. The Government’s strategy for COVID-19 and the efforts of all New Zealanders have so far curbed the spread of the virus and the potential devastation it causes.

It remains a precarious journey, but we have broken the chain of community transmission and reduced daily cases dramatically. There is as yet no vaccine and no cure for the virus, and our country must continue to act cautiously so that we maximise our prospect of avoiding or controlling its re-emergence to avoid the loss of life seen overseas, minimise economic damage, and prevent our health system being overwhelmed.

Unlike many other countries around the world, New Zealand is now in a position where it can restore many civil and economic freedoms—and we are. However, the current legal framework is not best suited for enforcing the necessary medium-term public health measures at level 2, where there is increased freedom of movement and more nuanced restrictions: for example, many more businesses can open, provided they take certain safety measures; and gatherings of people can be held, also providing certain precautions—limits on numbers and social distancing rules—are followed.

On this side of the House, we also believe more parliamentary oversight of level 2 and future COVID-19 measures is appropriate, which this bill introduces. We consider it necessary to pass this bill under urgency to help New Zealand to alert level 2 on Thursday, as every additional day is costing New Zealanders greatly, with economic costs and current limits to liberties prolonged. Delay, in our view, also puts at risk the social consensus which underpins the voluntary compliance which epidemic prevention measures rely upon. Enforceable rules to require the minority who flout rules are still needed.

The bill is necessary to continue our response to the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. It will allow the Minister of Health to issue orders to give effect to public health measures, for example, to require the maintenance of social distancing, prohibiting gatherings of a specified kind, and requiring people to be isolated or quarantined in specified ways. The bill creates a framework for COVID-19 orders, not the orders themselves.

The Minister of Health must have regard to the advice of the Director-General of Health. The Minister of Health may have regard to decisions by Government on the level of public health measures appropriate, which may have taken into account social, economic, and other factors. The Minister of Health is required to consult with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice, who will both be concerned with the correct balance of any order, including civil liberties.

Clause 9(2) of the bill makes it clear that the Minister must be satisfied that a proposed section 11 order is appropriate to achieve the purposes of the Act. That links back to the purpose clause 4, which provides the purposes of the Act: “The purpose of [the] Act is to support a public health response to COVID-19”. Subclause (c) says, amongst other things, that the response is to be proportionate. As David Seymour said in earlier stages of the debate, the structure of the decision-making is better and creates more accountability, not less. He is correct, as were the legal experts who also called for ministerial responsibility for these important decisions.

The bill will give police and other authorised enforcement officials powers to enforce the orders and create a new enforcement regime for breaches of the orders. Those infringement notices don’t warrant—sorry—those breaches don’t always warrant criminal prosecution. The police will still exercise their discretion. They will rely mainly on education. But we will have a remedy short of prosecution, which has more serious consequences.

We’ve received feedback from other political parties and legal academics who had the admittedly time-limited opportunity to review an exposure draft of the bill overnight. At the committee stage important changes were made to the bill, some of which were in response to that feedback, so I thank them. The most significant change during committee stage was for the automatic repeal of the bill every 90 days or another period agreed by the House. Essentially, it needs to be refreshed every 90 days with the ability for that period to be longer—for instance, if it was just prior to the election. This is in addition to requiring every section 11 order, the equivalent of the former orders under section 70 of the Health Act, to be approved by parliamentary motion normally within 10 sitting days. The existing Health Act, which currently applies, has neither of these two protections.

Other important changes include clarifying that orders made allowing for premises to open only if specified measures are complied with, or orders prohibiting gatherings of a certain kind—that those don’t apply to Parliament or the courts. We’re clarifying that orders made under the Health Act will continue in force as if made under the bill and can be enforced as if an order was made under this bill. We’re clarifying, in terms of the matters the Minister may have regard to, any decision of the Government on the level of public health measures appropriate to—those are new words—respond to those risks of COVID-19. We’re clarifying that for the purposes of the bill, the range of people who can be enforcement officers will only include those employed or engaged by the Crown.

We’re removing any different treatment for marae in relation to powers of entry under the bill, noting, however, that we’ve added a requirement for the enforcement officer to report to the relevant marae committee if a power of entry was used. I note that marae were originally included to add greater protections, not take them away. However, we’ve listened to concerns from the Māori Council and others following our consultation with them and, accordingly, remove that reference to marae.

In terms of warrantless powers of entry under the bill, the last speaker was again wrong. I observe that broader warrantless powers already exist under section 71 of the Health Act. I don’t have time to read the full suite of those powers, but they are listed at section 71A(1) and are broad. Section 71A(2) of the Health Act makes it clear a constable can enter a building—any building, which includes a private dwellinghouse—for any of those full suite of powers. Clause 20 of this bill is narrower. A warrantless power of entry into a private dwellinghouse under COVID-19 is now limited to situations where the constable has reasonable grounds to believe the limits to gatherings have been breached. This power is, in effect, limited to breaking up parties flouting the rules on gathering size. The enforcement power is intended to limit contagion risks and to enable effective track and tracing if there’s an outbreak we need to get under control.

I note that the Human Rights Commissioner was mistaken in asserting there was no New Zealand Bill of Rights Act vet. There was and it was published. It concluded the power is proportionate. I normally have conducted New Zealand Bill of Rights Act vets, but because I thought myself conflicted by my role here in having can conduct of this bill, we requested the Governor-General to make the Minister of Justice the acting Attorney-General for this limited purpose of that New Zealand Bill of Rights Act vet.

I also repeat the powers in this bill a narrower than under the existing Health Act, and that the orders which trigger those powers will now be subject to more oversight mechanisms by this House, as I have already covered. I commend this bill to the House.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill be now read a third time.

Ayes 63

New Zealand Labour 46; New Zealand First 9; Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand 8.

Noes 57

New Zealand National 55; ACT New Zealand 1; Ross.

Bill read a third time.

Handard of closing speechs 

Claim of creationism taught in school linked to National

It is claimed that a school linked to National’s conference in the weekend, and with links to National MPs, has been teaching creationism in preference to evolution.

Newsroom: Creationism taught in science class

A former student of a Villa Education Trust private school claims creationism was taught as a preferred theory of how the world began in science classes he attended.

The student from Mt Hobson Middle School said Darwinism was taught as an unproven theory and students were shown a video purporting to show science had found proof of God’s existence.

His impression was the school backed the concept of creationism “100 percent”.

It’s a concern if any New Zealand school is promoting creationism – a belief system – over the science of evolution, especially in a science class.

The science teacher was Rachel O’Connor, sister of National Party leader Simon Bridges and wife of National MP Simon O’Connor.

That must be an embarassingly close connection for National.

The trust runs two private schools and two charter schools. Currently its charter schools, including one visited by National Party members yesterday, are in limbo waiting to hear if their application to transition to designated character schools will be approved.

It isn’t a great advertisement for charter/partnership schools either.

“They [O’Connor] said, we’re going to watch a video. They didn’t tell us anything about it, they just started showing it. What followed was a documentary of twisted quotes trying to prove how scientists had discovered God.

“I’m watching, thinking, hang on this is really weird. I respect anyone’s religious beliefs, I have no problem with that, but this is a science class.

“This felt really wrong to me. I do respect the process of science, for them to twist – really twist – these quotes, especially from Albert Einstein, someone loads of people, including myself really respect, it made me quite angry.”

Religious studies are expected and fine in a religious school, as long as parents know thaat’s what they are putting there children into.

But science classes should stick to science.

‘Govt cowardly on euthanasia’

Not just the Government – some opposition MPs and parties could be seen as unwilling to address an important issue for many people too.

A lead item on Stuff:

‘Govt cowardly on euthanasia’

John Key supports euthanasia but he won’t make it a Government bill – is it time for a rethink?

The actual article headline is less provocative:

Lecretia Seales lives on in a health inquiry into euthanasia that kicks off this week

A petition was handed to MPs at Parliament, which sparked an inquiry into voluntary euthanasia.

Wellington was home for Matt Vickers for a long time – it’s also where his love and memories of his late wife Lecretia Seales live on.

Seales died from in June last year after a long battle with cancer that ran hand-in-hand with a courageous fight to win the right to choose to end her own life. Hours before she took her last breath she learned her legal battle had failed.

On Wednesday Vickers will be the first of 1800 people to speak to a parliamentary inquiry into euthanasia, instigated by a petition in the name of former Labour MP Maryan Street and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

The petition, which garnered 8795 signatures and cross-party support, came in the wake of Seales death.

It demanded the committee examine public opinion on the introduction of legislation “which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable”.

More than 21,000 submissions later – the most ever received by any select committee – Vickers will pull up a seat at 8am in front of a panel of MPs to explain Lecretia’s story.

“Lecretia was very strong in wanting a choice, that wasn’t a weakness of character. She wanted to be able to exercise her strength by having a choice,” he said.

The submission process is an opportunity for the country to “honestly and unashamedly talk about the end of our lives without fear”.

The problem is that generally MPs and parties don’t want to be associated with discussing euthanasia despite strong public support for change.

And the chair of the Parliamentary committee has caused some concern.

While in Wellington Vickers will also launch his book, Lecretia’s Choice, and already one member of the select committee intends to read it – chair and National MP Simon O’Connor.

The Tamaki MP is Catholic and spent almost a decade studying for the priesthood with the Society of Mary before deciding he couldn’t be a politico and a cleric.

Vickers, much like Street and Seymour, is concerned about O’Connor chairing the committee – all three question how someone publicly opposed to euthanasia can chair an inquiry into it.

But some MPs from different parties are promoting the discussion.

National MP Chris Bishop stood alongside Seymour, Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway and Green MP Kevin Hague when Parliament received Street’s petition in June.

Bishop supports the inquiry and Seymour’s bill and says while O’Connor chairs the committee, “he’s not doing the whole inquiry – he’s only one person”.

Seymour says O’Connor should apologise before oral submissions kick off on Wednesday for “soliciting submissions from a certain point of view which happens to coincide with his own beliefs”.

“If you look at the way Simon’s behaved you’ve got to be pretty concerned … it’s really quite shameful given you get paid an extra $20,000 to be a chair.”

“He’s got every incentive, he’s an ambitious guy like most people in Parliament, and if he wants to be a minister one day then he has to actually play a straight bat and be seen to play a straight bat.”

Seymour versus National:

Even Prime Minister John Key supports euthanasia and Seymour’s bill and said the select committee inquiry is proof “it’s quite possible without a bill being in Parliament to have a good and open discussion about the issue”.

The Government has no intention of picking up Seymour’s bill but Key says “at some point it’s bound to be drawn”.

According to Seymour, every Government is reluctant to pick up controversial issues and this National government isn’t alone – homosexual law reform, abortion law and marriage equality also came out of members’ bills.

“All governments have been cowardly on controversial issues, not just this one.”

And some opposition parties. ‘Not a priority’ is a cop out.

He also blames several senior Ministers in Cabinet being strongly opposed to euthanasia for blocking it.

He wants a public conversation that does some myth-busting.

I hope the committee listens well and does this inquiry justice.

I strongly believe that with adequate legal protections freedom of choice for individuals who are dying should be paramount – and certainly choices about our own lives should not be illegal.

 

Select committee to consider euthanasia

It was announced yesterday that the Health Select Committee will carry out an inquiry into voluntary euthanasia. Stuff reports:

Voluntary euthanasia to be examined by Parliamentary inquiry

Announcing an inquiry on Wednesday, chairman of the health select committee, Simon O’Connor, said members were “ready to engage” on what was an “important conversation that needs to be had”.

This follows a petition on euthanasia being presented to Parliament on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, former Labour MP Maryan Street and Matt Vickers, the husband of Lecretia Seales, who died of a brain tumour on the same day she lost a High Court bid, presented the End-of-Life Choice petition to MPs.

The petition was delivered to the health select committee on Wednesday and will now be part of a wider inquiry into voluntary euthanasia.

This is a partial posthumous victory for Seales.

It would take a couple of weeks to come up with a plan for the inquiry, O’Connor said.

The inquiry would consider how best to involve the public and what questions and terms of reference need to be included, he said.

The petition, which has 8975 signatures, garnered cross-party support with Seymour, Green MP Kevin Hague, National MP Chris Bishop and Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway all turning up on Tuesday to receive it.

This is a difficult topic to deal with but it’s something that our Parliament should seriously look at so this is a promising announcement.