21 Apr 2020

Parliament to resume: 'Zoom ain't gonna cut it'

6:12 pm on 21 April 2020

Parliament will meet again next Tuesday but in a very limited way, and with only key MPs and ministers present.

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Parliament's debating chamber. Photo: Supplied / NZ Parliament, Office of the Clerk

It will resume for question time, ministerial statements and to pass urgent business related to the government's Covid-19 coronavirus response once New Zealand moves to level 3.

National's leader Simon Bridges supported the partial resumption but said "Zoom ain't gonna cut it - we need a proper Parliament", suggesting more than half of the party's 55 MPs could return next week.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins said Parliament would operate with fewer MPs to enable physical distancing and to reduce MPs' travel.

There was an expectation only ministers directly involved in the response would be back to answer questions in the House, but on the government side there would be a "very minimal backbench presence", said Hipkins.

He encouraged other parties to only have the MPs they absolutely needed at Parliament.

Bridges said he would await the decision about exactly how it would work, and would stick to social distancing rules, but he would be keen to have enough MPs at Parliament that they could sub in and out of the House depending on their expertise.

"If, for example, it's a Parliament where the debating chamber can safely take 20 National MPs with appropriate social distancing, it may be that there's 30 National MPs to be able to make sure we're effectively doing what those small businesses ... want us to do."

Key ministers would be at Parliament, said Hipkins, even if they had to catch a flight to get to the Capital.

That would include the recently demoted Health Minister David Clark.

"There is an appetite to see him back at Parliament so that he can be questioned by the opposition", Hipkins said, "but ministers and MPs should not be flying if they don't have to".

Even under level 3, those over 70 are still asked to stay at home and self isolate, as they remain one of the most vulnerable groups.

Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, 75, would be considered an "essential worker", said Hipkins and if Peters chose to come back to Parliament next week he would support decision.

The exact details of how Parliament will operate will be decided by the Business Committee tomorrow; including the ongoing role of the Epidemic Response Committee chaired by Bridges.

The government had committed to not progressing any non-Covid related legislation, the most controversial being a bill on prisoner voting, but Hipkins said he saw he no problem with select committees continuing to their work on scrutinising legislation before Parliament.

The parliamentary cafe and public tours will not reopen under level 3 and the number of staffers on the precinct will be kept to a minimum.

Hipkins said he was not aware of anyone working at Parliament testing positive for Covid-19.

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