29 Sep 2023

Election 2023: ACT Party would call for public submissions on Covid-19 inquiry terms of reference

10:59 am on 29 September 2023
ACT leader David Seymour

ACT Party leader David Seymour. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

It is "wrong" that the government gets to set the term of reference of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into its Covid-19 response, the ACT Party says.

It would ask for public submissions and then use Section 7(5) of the the Inquiries Act 2013, which allows the minister to amend terms of reference.

"ACT will take the politics out of the Royal Commission into the government's Covid-19 response by allowing all New Zealanders to have their say on what should be investigated through a new crowd-sourced terms of reference," ACT leader David Seymour said.

"There is always a tension when the government calls an inquiry into its own actions. A Royal Commission is independent, but the government sets the terms of reference. In this case, the government has excluded key questions about the impact of its response on the wider society."

The Inquiries Act 2013, Section 7(5) says: "The appointing minister or appropriate minister, as the case may be, may amend the terms of reference by notice in the Gazette."

ACT said it would make amendments:

  • to call for public submissions on the terms of reference for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into New Zealand's response to Covid-19
  • to allow New Zealanders six weeks to make submissions on what they believe should be in the terms of reference
  • to base on those submissions, change the terms of reference, as allowed for by the section 7(5) of the Inquiries Act 2013

Seymour said Covid-19 restrictions significantly impacted on education, mental health, crime, businesses, and benefit dependency.

"It also had a massive impact on social cohesion. The government's response - extended lockdowns and vaccine mandates, in particular - caused huge division and left people feeling like they weren't being listened to.

"The terms of reference say the inquiry can consider whether the elimination strategy was effective in limiting the spread of infection but not its impact on wider aspects of human wellbeing. That is completely wrong."

ACT says the Royal Commission should also consider if the government's Covid-19 response was aimed at overall wellbeing, or was primarily focused on elimination; the cost-effectiveness of policies to protect health; the restructuring of the health system in the middle of a pandemic; and if it was consistent with the law.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Covid-19 Lessons Learned in June said it would wait until after the election to seek the public's views.

It was about to enter its next phase, hitting the road to meet face-to-face with frontline health workers, teachers and others involved in the response. The rest of the public would get the chance to contribute in November.

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