18 Mar 2020

Simon Bridges, Jacinda Ardern clash 'between responsible and political'

7:29 pm on 18 March 2020

Parliament is becoming increasingly fractious as the government prepares the country for a major economic shock.

Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern

Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ

A $12 billion support package was its first, urgent response to the Covid-19 crisis unfolding around the world.

No one is willing to say exactly how many jobs will be lost in the coming months, with ministers saying there's no way to know - except that it will be "significant".

The opposition is highly critical of the support package saying the government is spending money on beneficiaries, when businesses could be shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs, or going under altogether.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put out the rallying call for New Zealanders to come together to fight a common enemy, accompanied by the sizeable support package.

The Opposition continues to apply pressure over the government's response, with testing a major focus at present.

National leader Simon Bridges argues the low level of testing is hiding the true rate of community infection, prompting Ardern to offer him a briefing.

"But the member is becoming borderline irresponsible," Ardern chided.

"What does she say to the half a dozen doctors who've contacted me in the last 24 hours to express their frustration," Bridges shot back.

As the questions went on, their exchanges became increasingly personal.

Ardern made a "final plea" to Bridges: to "think about the audience he is speaking to right now, this doesn't have to be political", she said.

Bridges defended his right to carry out his "constitutional duty" to get answers from the government about the "most significant issue the country has faced in many, many years".

She had "been in that seat", Ardern told Parliament, "and I know the difference between responsible and political".

A major criticism from National is that with a $150,000 cap, the support package leaves many larger companies high and dry.

Ardern told Parliament very large and complex companies would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Air New Zealand is an obvious one and urgent talks with the government are already underway.

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