25 Aug 2021

Judith Collins wants explanation over lack of government scrutiny

11:08 am on 25 August 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern needs to explain why, in the absence of Parliament, the Epidemic Response Committee is not taking place, National's leader Judith Collins says.

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National Party leader Judith Collins. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Collins says while Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has recommended Parliament be suspended, he has not recommended the same for the committee.

With no sign Parliament will be able to sit again any time soon, she says, having government-run select committees is not enough.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday defended the select committees.

"What we've done is only for a week ... we haven't suspended all the operations of democracy, select committees are still meeting and we have said our ministers are making themselves available to be questioned by those select committees, they will be broadcast," she said.

"In Parliament we have 12 questions a day, it last for about an hour, I make up maybe 15 minutes of that. The only thing that is being suspended is that operation, for which I'm usually available for two days."

However, she would not commit to appearing herself, instead saying she would spend time looking at enhancements to how things might operate if Parliament was suspended beyond 30 August.

"Select Committees will have ministers for up to an hour each across ... social development, transport, Covid Response and Finance. That is vastly more than we would have even if we had Parliament sitting right now."

This morning, Collins said it was not enough however.

"All the parties except for Labour have said it, set up the Epidemic Response Committee again, run by me as leader of the opposition and have some real scrutiny going on," she said.

"The select committees that have been running this week, generally they've been working reasonably well but the problem of course is that they're all controlled by the government ... no scrutiny, no question time, nothing there."

She said it looked as though the government did not want the level of scrutiny most people would expect.

"I don't see the Director-General saying we shouldn't have an epidemic response committee, that's just ridiculous because we do all that by Zoom.

"Last time, they accepted it. Last time, it worked very well. And this time, 18 months later, they're running from it. So... I think that question should be put to the prime minister."

Collins criticises vaccine, testing delays

Collins also suggested the government could have done much more, sooner, regarding vaccine rollout.

"We would have ordered the vaccine earlier, the government has now admitted they didn't actually raise their very first order for the vaccine until the 29th of January. That is absolutely unacceptable, we were late ordering it, we were late getting it approved, we were late all the way through and there has not been that sense of urgency about getting people vaccinated," she said.

"We could have looked at the cost of asking for it earlier because ultimately that would have been about $40m to $50m, we're told. That's nothing compared to the $1.5bn that the government's own estimates are this level 4 lockdown is costing the country.

"We were promised in September by this government, one year ago, that we would be front of the queue. Actually we're 120th in the world ... no amount of flim flam or spin will get past the fact that we are appallingly low in our vaccination rates and that slackness has led to a complacency."

She said National would also have set vaccination targets to encourage uptake.

"Set some targets and give New Zealanders a real wish to go 'let's meet that target then go get the next target', just because we like that, we're very competitive by nature and it's great ... to have the whole country working in the same direction."

She said the party would also have a vaccine passport, and have ordered booster shots.

"The government must order the booster, because that booster's going to be needed ... the prime minister talked about this in January this year, she said look, she wants to get everyone ... double vaccinated and it will probably end up being like a booster like we do with the winter flu every year and it will get down to those sorts of levels of fatality."

She was impressed by the efforts that had gone into testing, but the Simpson-Roche report had recommended saliva testing a year ago and had not been introduced widely, she said.