6 Jul 2021

Covid-19, suicide, and late audits before Parliament this week

From The House , 6:55 pm on 6 July 2021

This week at Parliament MPs will work on Covid-19 orders, extending time for audits, and a debate on the Zero Suicide Aotearoa report. 

Chris Hipkins in the House

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

Three sitting days remain before MPs embark on a three week recess where they’ll return to their electorates for constituency work. 

Here’s what they’re likely to work on.

Tuesday - Ngāti Maru settlement and Covid-19 orders

Ngāti Maru initialling its of Deed of Settlement.

Ngāti Maru initialling its of Deed of Settlement. Photo: Supplied

The first reading of the Ngāti Maru (Taranaki) Settlement Claims Bill which records the acknowledgements and apology made to Ngāti Maru by the Crown when the deed was signed in February this year and gives effect to the elements in the deed that require legislation.

The iwi rohe (tribal area) of Ngāti Maru stretches from the eastern side of Mt Taranaki to the source of the Waitara River, across to the Heao Stream and down to the Whanganui River and back across the Matemateāonga Ranges to Stratford.

In 1865, the iwi had 220,000 hectares of land, the vast majority of which was illegally confiscated by the Crown or sold through dubious deals done without the permission of iwi members.

Negotiations over the settlement started in the late 1980s with an in-principle agreement reached two years ago. 

The Leader of the House Chris Hipkins is in charge of deciding the order in which bills are worked on in the debating chamber and said Treaty settlement bills often draw a crowd in the gallery. 

“There’s often a lot of support and interest in treaty settlement bills they;re generally treated by Parliament on a fairly bi-partisan basis so they’re normally quite nice debates,” he said. 

“Sometimes the content of them can be quite challenging and confronting when we talk about what the historical injustice that’s being remedied actually is.”

A first reading outlines the purpose of the bill and gives other MPs and parties and chance to indicate whether they’ll support the bill through to the next stage. 

No caption

Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Following the bill MPs will speak to a motion confirming Covid-19 orders. 

These are rules which require people to do or not do things as part of the Government’s response to Covid-19 and must be confirmed by Parliament or they expire. 

“Typically it’s alert level changes, restrictions, the required testing at the border, some of the rules around vaccination for those frontline roles where we require people to be vaccinated to do them, those are all covered by orders under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act and those orders all need to be confirmed by the Parliament,” said Hipkins.

This week’s orders to be confirmed include expanding the definition of the health workers who need to be tested. 

“These are the people who are doing Covid-19 swabbing and Covid-19 vaccinations at the border, it extends the required testing order to them so they need to be regularly tested so that we can be sure they’re not picking it up and bringing Covid-19 back into the community.”

Wednesday - auditor shortage 

An international shortage of auditors has resulted in the Auditor-General informing Parliament that audits of crown entities won’t be completed on time.

“In this Covid-19 world the international mobility of auditors is quite restricted and as a result there is an international shortage of auditors.”

The shortage has created the need for a bill to be passed through all its stages (a process which normally takes months or years) so MPs will work through the Annual Reporting and Audit Time Frames Extensions Legislation Bill.

Hipkins said consequences will be minimal. 

“It just means that we won’t get the audit results in for a bit longer.”

Thursday - Zero Suicide Aotearoa

MPs back in the debating chamber for the first sitting day of 2021

  MPs from different parties have worked together on a committee to commission the Zero Suicide Aotearoa report. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

In September last year the Zero Suicide Aotearoa report was published outlining how New Zealand could reduce its suicide rate to zero. 

The report was commissioned by the cross-party Mental Health and Addiction Wellbeing Group. 

The report says an estimated 150,000 Kiwis think about taking their own life; approximately 50,000 make a suicide plan; 20,000 attempt to die by suicide; and more than 500 will do so.

Hipkins said it’s an important issue that MPs will debate for about an hour and a half on Thursday following question time and some work on Government legislation. 

“The public look to parliament to see that we are debating and discussing the issues that are really important and not all of those issues that are really important are going to result in a law change or need a law change in order to address them,” said Hipkins. 

Several debates have been held so far that are dedicated to topics without necessarily being attached to a bill. 

“The agreement that we made in the last parliament was that we should have more dedicated or themed debates that don’t necessarily relate to legislation or the budget process and so this is the latest of those,” he said.

Parliament can be watched live from 2pm-10pm on Tuesday and Wednesday and from 2pm-5pm on Thursday live and on demand here.

The full list of business before the House can be found here.