Covid 19: Why was Jacinda Ardern able to suspend Parliament and what happens next? –

Posted: August 26, 2021 at 3:24 am

ANALYSIS: The prime ministers announcement that Parliament would be suspending the House of Representatives sitting for a week has caused consternation within the opposition parties which are determined rightly that the Government be held to account during lockdown.

Initially the Government wanted there to be bipartisan agreement in Parliaments business committee. National and ACT declined, so the prime minister was compelled to use powers under Parliaments standing orders.

In order to get the suspension over the line, Jacinda Ardern had to have official advice from Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, had to consult with the other parties and then effectively recommend the course of action to Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard. Mallard, satisfied with suggested arrangements in place allowing ministers to be subjected to due scrutiny, accepted the recommendation.

What the opposition parties National and ACT in particular wanted was a return of the epidemic response committee, used during last years lockdown, with an opposition chair and majority to ask questions.

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On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the suspension of Parliament for a week.

All parties in Parliament, bar Labour, have signed a letter asking for a standing Covid committee as part of the select committee system. At the very least one that may not sit all the time but kicks into force if there is a level 3 or 4 lockdown.

The Government has so far refused, arguing that Parliaments select committee system is now well set up to meet remotely and will be broadcast. The Government also committed to making ministers and senior officials available to parliamentarians for questioning. It has given opposition MPs two-thirds of the time for questions.

On its first day of operation, both Grant Robertson, as well as Chris Hipkins, Ashley Bloomfield and other health officials appeared to answer questions. They were not in front of the committees for long but it seemed to work well enough.

As a result of the epidemic response committee not being reintroduced, the prime minister had to use standing order 55 to determine that the House would not sit.

Under this order, House sittings can be suspended for up to a month after the date of a scheduled sitting. Parliament was scheduled to sit on Tuesday August 24, so could technically stay out until September 24. Any extension beyond that would require agreement of all parties of Government. At this stage the suspension will last a week. Delta was considered reason enough not to have MPs jetting about the country.

Suspending House sittings is not unusual. The House is often suspended for short periods in time of national emergency or other events. It was suspended during the Pike River disaster and the Christchurch earthquakes. Often it is suspended for a day when a former MP or prime minister dies former prime minister Mike Moore being one of the most recent. It did not sit for two scheduled weeks during the last level 4 lockdown.

At the moment this is a Wellington issue but if the lockdown drags on and there is no parliamentary scrutiny of Labour and the prime minister, it could become a festering sore and give the appearance of Labour not fronting.

But for the meantime, while the rest of us are in lockdown, the idea of politicians jetting around the country, potentially spreading Covid to go to what would have to be a skeleton and socially distanced Parliament anyway, would probably stick in the craw of most people. Everyone else is either having to take leave or work from home with children crawling over them why not the pollies?

But more scrutiny is better than less, and Labour both must be, and be seen to be, constructive on this issue. When you are asking the whole country to forgo basic civil liberties, playing politics with being held to account is not the right thing to do. It will also be grist to the mill of all the Covid conspiracy theorists.

Whether Parliament returns next week will likely be decided after the alert levels announcement expected from the prime minister on Friday.

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Covid 19: Why was Jacinda Ardern able to suspend Parliament and what happens next? -

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