ACT leader David Seymour says Speaker Trevor Mallard today informed him Parliament's Business Committee rejected his request that Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee be re-convened to scrutinise the Government’s latest response to Covid-19.
The special committee, which first gathered last year when the House couldn’t sit under Alert Level 4 restrictions, was designed to allow the Opposition to probe into the Government’s pandemic response. It was chaired by then-Opposition leader Simon Bridges, was largely made up of opposition MPs, and could question ministers and officials.
Seymour said he wrote to Mallard about the request, but was turned down this morning.
“The Government has shown it is not open to being thoroughly scrutinised on how it is handling the response to Covid-19, despite regular claims to the contrary,” Seymour said.
“I argued that Covid-19 has been the biggest thing facing New Zealanders for a year now, changing everyone’s lives, and the response to it is now a major portfolio in its own right, being led by a senior minister.
“Therefore, how the Government handles the response deserves the highest level of scrutiny.”
Seymour said the committee was of “huge value” to Kiwis because it resulted in improvements.
“For example, the committee exposed the shakiness of the legal basis for the first lockdown and led to urgent legislation patching it up,” he said.
“A big reason the committee worked was it didn’t have a Government majority and was chaired by a member of the Opposition.
“That same format and the scrutiny it delivers is needed now more than ever.”
Mallard said today that under Alert Level 2, physical distancing in the debating chamber will be required.
"Numbers for each party will be allocated in proportion to their caucus size. An unlimited number of proxies will be available so members will not be required to travel to Wellington.”
So far, question time is scheduled for tomorrow and Wednesday.
Select committees may meet in person, with physical distancing. MPs can attend these via video call.
These decisions were made at the Business Committee this morning, which is made up of MPs from all parties.
Usually, the Opposition can question the Government when the House is sitting during question time, or through written questions to ministers, which are then made public.
Cabinet ministers aren't usually members of Parliament's select committees, which are made up of MPs from multiple parties that analyse the details of bills. Membership of these committees are proportional to the make-up of Parliament.
Ministers only usually appear before committees for questioning when the Government's budget is being formed, or occasionally when a bill they are in charge of is being considered.