- Date published:
7:30 pm, March 15th, 2020 - 20 comments
Categories: community democracy, democracy under attack, democratic participation, health, Parliament, Politics, uncategorized - Tags:
Government has for the last decade been pushing for as many government services as possible to be primarily accessed digitally rather than face-to face. Funnily enough, the one public service they forgot to push to digital is themselves.
Now’s the time Trevor.
Since Parliament is one of the most intensive, sustained and necessary mass people-gatherings in the country, when is it time to tell Parliament to take a break and for M.P.s other than Cabinet Ministers to self-isolate?
C’mon Mr Speaker, I’m sure you’ve rehearsed an earthquake to Wellington that requires a temporary shift of premises. Isn’t it time to shift MP debate online? After all, that’s where 99% of public political debate is already.
There’s no need to be physically near all that hot air, all that flying phlegm, is there team? It’s not as if you like each other anyway.
They’ve stopped all kinds of other massed gatherings – so it’s time for Parliament to consider doing the same.
And there’s really good historical reasons to do so.
In the 1918 Influenza epidemic, the House kept sitting, but Prime Minister Massey was forced to adjourn twice and close the public galleries. Two Members of Parliament died of it: Alfred Hindmarsh the leader of the Labour Party, and the Reform Party’s David Buick. That’s how Harry Holland got to lead the Labour Party.
At least 18 MP’s got sick from it.
Dr Maui Pomare was the MP for Western Maori and Minister for Native Affairs. He got really sick, and also had a relapse after trying to go back to work too soon. He was also a powerhouse of medical help to Maori from the Manuwatu and up through to Thames. I’d love to see more M.P’s from across the House show courage like he did.
The Health Act that emerged at the end of that national crisis was a really strong reflection of the work that the whole House put in, and its structure and powers permanently shaped public health policy. Historian Geoffrey Rice has described the Health Act 1920 as “the most useful legacy of the 1918 influenza pandemic”.
It was with these powers that the Government of 1948 was able to deal with the polio outbreak of 1948.
Polio was a disease that really got to children, so it didn’t carry the risk of hitting parliament directly. The Government shut all schools down from January through to Easter. My father-in-law recalled to me that Dunedin was stopped to all traffic with armed guards at the entrance to all entry points.
You get a good sense of its social history here.
Now sure, once the virus goes through Wellington it will of course hit Parliamentarians and staff. Thankfully their average age is not as old as that of the U.S. Congress, which makes the functioning of the United States Congress particularly vulnerable to this virus.
But what all Departments are doing is dusting off their Business Continuity scenarios, which have assigned names and positions of those who really need to keep going, and those who aren’t (all major businesses are doing the same). Plans for continuity of the Courts, the Police, Customs, the Armed Forces, the health services, all come through the New Zealand Influenza Pandemic Plan. It’s worth a good read here.
With all those B.C. plans rolling out, it’s time for Parliament itself to do the same and lead by example.
There is no reason the need for necessary parliamentary scrutiny of Cabinet decisions can’t be achieved without a massed gathering of our Members of Parliament. Minister Robertson could certainly try something more creative than last time when presenting his 2020-2021 Budget.
Hey Parliament, never waste a crisis: go digital!