12 May 2020

National threatens to fight enforcement law if rule of 10 remains

10:14 pm on 12 May 2020

Legislation enforcing restrictions under alert level 1 and 2 has passed its first two readings tonight, without support from the National Party.

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National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill, which grants extraordinary powers to both the government and police to combat Covid-19, has been debated under urgency this evening.

The National Party opposed the Bill, raising concern about the speed at which it was being pushed through, and the lack of trust being afforded to New Zealanders.

However, the government said the Bill was necessary to ensure the rules could be enforced without relying on a National State of Emergency.

One point of contention had been the rules under level 2 that allowed a maximum of only 10 people at a tangi or church service at any given time.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she, like other world leaders, struggled with the decision, but had to play it safe.

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''I have always said through all this that the thing I've found, as a human, the hardest in all this is funerals and tangihanga," Ardern said.

"I've known people who have lost very close family members and I can't imagine trying to grieve through a global pandemic for a loved one without being able to be together with others."

She said funerals and tangi were places where you wanted to comfort people - it was natural instinct, that was why people come together.

"The idea that we force people to not be able to comfort one another, to support one another, is equally a very hard thing to comprehend.''

Ardern gave clarification that people could pay their respects in groups, as long as there were no more than 10 people present at the same time.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said the public had been writing to him raising the point that people could still go to a restaurant or movies with 100 people at the venue.

"Yet at one of the most tragic defining points of life, at a funeral, direct family members cannot attend them under those rules. That's not just unkind, it's inhumane, and I think we can do better than that," he said.

Bridges said the restrictions on places of worship was also a concern for the party.

"You just look at it and say it's not right, that for what is - in a sense - much less important and even trivial; the movies, a bar, a restaurant, sport is of course important to so many New Zealanders, but for a portion for New Zealanders for whom worship is the most important thing, they are unable to do that," he said.

Bridges said in those instances there should instead be a 100 person limit, and his party was speaking to the government on the matter.

He said if there was some movement from the government, National would settle for less than 100, but 10 people would simply not be enough.

Prior to the legislation passing its first two readings, Bridges said would not rule out voting against it if their concerns were not addressed.

"We want to see New Zealand opened up, we want to trust New Zealanders but whether it's funerals and tangi, whether it's church services or whether it's just a series of civil liberties issues in this bill, they are very significant concerns," he said.

The Bill will continue through its final stages tomorrow morning.

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