23 Aug 2021

Five TV-sized parliaments set to grill ministers

From The House , 5:55 pm on 23 August 2021

With Parliament not meeting en-masse under alert level 4, the backbench MPs require other methods to carry out their role of keeping a gimlet eye on the Government. Yes, it's back to televised hearings.

Parliament has a variety of functions including both providing a government, and then watching it like a hawk.

This week they'll be do the second part via five of the specialist select committees the public doesn't often notice.

The Epidemic Response Committee considers the future of the media

The Epidemic Response Committee during the first 2020 lockdown Photo: Supplied

The mini-Parliament's

We think of MPs crying havoc in the debating chamber as Parliament, but that’s only half the story. The House of Representatives also includes a bunch of mini-parliaments. 

The best known and most powerful ‘sub-set of Parliament’ is the Cabinet. But there are seventeen other committees given powers to scrutinise that one. 

The Select Committees include a dozen that specialise in topics like health, justice and education; four that deal with Parliament’s internal rules and business, and one that deals with the secret squirrel stuff.

The rise and fall of the eighteenth committee 

Occasionally Parliament creates an extra committee for a special job. The abortion law reform got a committee to itself. So did Covid-19.

Last year, when Parliament couldn’t meet, it saw it coming and voted to create a special Epidemic Response Committee that would review the Government’s Covid-19 response while the House was out of commission. 

Uncommonly, that committee was given an opposition MP (Simon Bridges) as chair.

That committee might possibly have been useful again now but Parliament ended it when MPs were able to meet again. That demise may have been speeded by its chair’s desire to keep holding meetings despite parliament being able to meet again.  

New Zealand's Epidemic Response Committee on a Zoom call

Get your reviews ready - we’re about to see into MPs’ lounges again Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Scheduling the inquisition 

Once again, Parliament isn’t sitting but this time it can’t meet to vote to create a special committee. Instead the government is encouraging the various specialist committees to lift the same load.

The select committees can meet online virtually and regularly do. Some were meeting anyway, lockdown or not.

Chris Hipkins says the government has indicated to the Finance and Expenditure, Justice, Social Services, Health, and Transport & Infrastructure committees that it will make various ministers (and officials) available for them to grill this week.

The sessions are planned for: 

  • Chris Hipkins (twice) as Covid-19 Response minister (health and MIQ/border operations)
  • Grant Robertson - Finance (finance, oddly enough)
  • Carmel Sepuloni - Social Development and Employment, (financial assistance)
  • Poto Williams - Police (enforcement),
  • Michael Wood - Transport (logistics & supply lines)

The draft schedule for five TV sized parliaments

The plan is that the meetings would all be available to view on Parliament TV (on Freeview, Sky, at ondemand.parliament.nz/ or on the Virtual House app). 


10 30am – Finance and Expenditure (Grant Robertson & officials)

2.30pm – Health (Chris Hipkins & Health officials)


10am – Transport & Infrastructure (Michael Wood & Officials)

11am – Social Services (Carmel Sepuloni & Officials)

2.30pm – Health (Chris Hipkins and MIQ/Border officials)


10am – Justice (Poto Williams & Police)

11am – TBC

2.30pm – Health (Prof Skegg, other external experts)