9 Mar 2021

Tuesday at Parliament: debating Covid alert level changes

From The House , 6:55 pm on 9 March 2021

MPs will be able to question the Minister for Covid-19 Response on recent alert level changes and vote on Covid related rules like testing at the border. 

Chris Hipkins answering questions in the House

The Minister for Covid-19 Response and Leader of the House Chris Hipkins Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

A mini question time on alert level changes

MPs will have the opportunity to question the Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins on the alert level changes that took place last week. 

Hipkins will make a ministerial statement at the start of the sitting day on Tuesday about the changes in alert levels on February 27 and March 7.

Auckland moved to alert level 3 and the rest of the country to level 2 on February 27 following the announcement of two new Covid-19 community cases that could not be directly linked to earlier cases. These alert levels were lowered by one a week later on Sunday 7 March. 

Ministerial statements are a way for Ministers to inform the House about something that’s important to the public. Past statements have been made on culling cattle to stop the spread of mycoplasma bovis, the 2019 Whakaari/White Island eruption, and congratulating the New Zealand Winter Olympics team.

It begins with the Minister giving a short speech and then leaders of parties with six or members (or any MP authorised by the leader) can either comment on the statement or ask questions. The Minister can then respond. 

Question time

Labour MP Anna Lorck speaks in the debating chamber at Parliament

Labour MP Anna Lorck is asking the first question this week to the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Question time is an hour set aside near the start of each sitting day at 2pm. It allows MPs to ask Ministers about how well they’re doing their job. 

MPs from opposition parties use their questions to try and show the Government’s failings while MPs from parties in Government usually ask nicer questions which allow a Minister to talk positively about their work. 

Up to 12 questions can be asked with follow up questions (supplementaries) common but only allowed at the discretion of the Speaker of the House. 

Confirming Covid orders

National Party MP Chris Bishop in the House

National MP Chris Bishop is the party's Covid-19 response spokesperson Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

During a public health crisis the Government can make rules to reduce the risk or outbreak of a virus. 

These rules are called Orders and New Zealanders have experienced many of them already including restrictions on movement at higher alert levels, changes to service at bars and restaurants, and the wearing of masks on public transport. 

The impact of these Orders can be significant so it’s written into legislation that these rules must be reviewed by a parliamentary select committee (a small group of cross party MPs). That committee reports back to the rest of the MPs who vote to confirm the rules. There’s a time limit on when this vote must take place.

“Four Covid-19 orders have to be confirmed or they’ll expire,” said the Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins. 

“These are regulations that have been made under delegated authority from the House and they need to be confirmed or they no longer apply.” 

“The Covid-19 Public Health Legislation allows the Minister in charge to put in place new measures like testing requirements, border restrictions without having to go back to Parliament but those rules get sent to the Regulations Review Committee who then scrutinise those on behalf of parliament.”

The four that need to be confirmed are to do with border restrictions like isolation, testing, and quarantine requirements for people arriving by air or sea.

  • COVID-19 Public Health Response (Air Border and Isolation and Quarantine) Amendment Order (No 2) 2020; 

  • COVID-19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Order (No 2) Amendment Order 2020; 

  • COVID-19 Public Health Response (Air Border and Isolation and Quarantine) Amendment Order (No 2) 2020 Amendment Order 2020;

  • COVID-19 Public Health Response (Air Border) Order (No 2) Amendment Order 2021.

The rules and restrictions that have been put in place in response to Covid-19 are considered extraordinary powers and it’s written into law that these powers must expire after a time unless Parliament renews it. 

The Act which this requirement is written into will also expire after a time so Hipkins will ask the House to vote on continuing the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 until 31 December 2021 to allow these kinds of orders to be made. 

Bills bills bills

The full list of bills before the House can be found here but the plan from the Leader of the House* is to get through 13 if they can.

On Tuesday the plan is to get through the following bills: 

*The leader of the House is in charge of ordering what the MPs will work through on scheduled sitting days at Parliament. The current leader of the House is Chris Hipkins.