Thursday, March 11, 2021

A clear violation of Parliamentary intent

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 includes significant powers required for the government to manage the pandemic, including powers to make orders imposing significant restrictions on individual liberty, to enter homes, and close public places. These powers are necessary and justifiable, but also deeply uncomfortable in a democratic society. Parliament expressed our discomfort and a desire that the powers be retained for no longer than was absolutely necessary by requiring that the law be frequently debated and renewed. They required this to happen every 90 days, with the wiggle room of allowing Parliament to set a different period if required. In the debate on this clause (which was suggested by National), Attorney-General David Parker made it clear that it was solely to accommodate the Parliamentary calendar: "Parliament can choose a longer period if it wants, and it might want to do that around the time of the election if there was risk that Parliament wouldn't be resitting within that 90-day period". So I'm a little shocked to see that in Government Notice of Motion #1 on today's Order Paper the government is planning to extend it by nine months, until 31 December.

This makes an absolutely mockery of the law. Nine months is not 90 days, and there's no conceivable interruption of the Parliamentary calendar which would justify such a long extension. Instead, it seems to be being done solely because the government simply cannot be bothered to renew it regularly - a clear violation of Parliament's intent (not to mention a clear sign of Labour's arrogance now that it has an absolute majority, and a clear sign that their "promises" are meaningless and not to be relied on).

I have no problem with the law being renewed at present. It may well need to be kept in force until the end of the year. But that renewal should happen as intended, with frequent and regular Parliamentary oversight. Parliament explicitly rejected the idea of the government having a blank cheque on this, and Labour should abide by that decision, rather than trying to sneakily and dishonestly undermine it.