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No Right Turn: Parliament and the pandemic

Written By: - Date published: 9:54 am, March 9th, 2020 - 23 comments
Categories: election 2020, Parliament - Tags: , ,

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn writes:


Stuff reports that Parliament is prepared for the pandemic, with face-masks, hand-sanitiser, and plans for fewer sittings and/or fewer MPs physically present in the chamber to reduce contagion risk. All of which is sensible, but then there’s this bit:

Mallard believed the House should sit because if serious issues arose, Parliament would need the ability to legislate.

“I think there’s an accountability thing. Even if it’s only five ministers or five opposition, you have the questions asked and answered. I think this is something which is quite important … the public would expect an accountability mechanism still to be in place.”

He’s right, but there’s an implication here that parliament might not sit. Which would be illegal. If a pandemic is declared, Parliament must sit as soon as possible. This is both for the accountability reasons the Speaker mentions, and because in such circumstances the government gets to temporarily change (non-constitutional) laws by fiat, subject to disallowance by the House (this is basicly what they did for Christchurch following the earthquake, only with better oversight). Which makes that scrutiny even more important – and it is reassuring to see that Parliament is planning to provide it if the worst happens.

For obvious reasons, they can’t change the Electoral Act in this way. We have an election currently scheduled for September, so what happens if the pandemic threatens to stretch out that long? Parliament will have to legislate, assuming there are changes that can be made to make voting during plague easier and safer. Alternatively, the Prime Minister can delay the election until 21 November if required, just by changing her mind about the date – the announced date is just a promise, an intention, with no more force than that; 21 November is the last possible date we can legally have an election. But hopefully it won’t come to that.

23 comments on “No Right Turn: Parliament and the pandemic ”

  1. Sacha 1

    Depending how long the pandemic takes to resolve, face-to-face campaigning and public meetings will be affected as well.

    • weka 1.1

      if covid-19 establishes here (likely) I can't see this being resolved by September given we are going into winter now.

      • Sacha 1.1.1

        Even if the election is put off until November, I agree. Online campaigning joy.

        • Poission

          millions of hackers globally grounded at home,what could go wrong?

          • Sacha

            Nats with a hefty warchest and online manipulation team already set up, what could go wrong. 🙂

  2. Paaparakauta 2

    Advertisements for electoral staff have been posted.

    Political perceptions will be shaped by management of covid-19. Chinese cases are apparently falling, but there is a lot of uncertainty.

    The question is – would you prefer Jacinda or Simon in this role ?

    It will be an interesting contest.

  3. Bill 3

    When Chinese cities were placed in lock-down, that was the time when NZ and elsewhere should have placed themselves in lock-down. That's how you avoid shit – isolate before it hits.

    But hey. Cruise ships are coming and leaving Dunedin on a daily basis and flooding the city with thousands of fat wallet tourists. Meanwhile, whole cruise ships have been quarantined elsewhere in the world, and Italy is shutting down entire regions of the country as though they're dealing with the source of coronavirus.

    Parliament can sit or not sit. If this is not another case of "much ado about nothing" like previous bird flu and swine flu scares, then be prepared for the same old litany of bureaucratic incompetence that always rides in behind emergency situations. (Christchurch, Chernobyl, New Orleans, Haiti etc….etc….etc).

    Mind you. At least the buggers have global warming covered. So that's something.

    • Rosemary McDonald 3.1

      "Cruise ships….flooding the city with fat wallets…"

      SNAFU then?

      (I do hope someone is measuring the effect of reduction in air travel. )

    • Paaparakauta 3.2

      It's tough dealing with the unknown and wise to have accurate risk assessment – but we are dealing with a moving target as this novel situation unfolds. We need cool heads, not alarmists.

    • swordfish 3.3


      When Chinese cities were placed in lock-down, that was the time when NZ and elsewhere should have placed themselves in lock-down. That's how you avoid shit – isolate before it hits.

      Yep … and absolutely exhaustive (as opposed to purely symbolic) contact-tracing right at the very start.

      Eg … on the first official case of Covid-19 in NZ (from Iran via Bali) we;re told that:

      “The people who the public health service will be contacting are the people who were in the same row as this individual or the two rows ahead or behind.”

      What about the far larger number of passengers who used the same cabin toilet as her ??? What about airborne transmission ???

      • weka 3.3.1

        Do we think NZ health authorities are a. numpties who haven't thought about such things or b. people experienced and knowledgeable in contagious disease transmission who know what the likelihood of infection is given a range of factors (eg whether the infected person was sneezing/coughing on the flight, how far airborne virus will travel), and make risk assessments based on multiple factors including ones we don't know about?

        Not saying that mistakes can't be made, but I see the issue here as more one of not sharing information with the public adequately. We're also like to see issues in NZ because of successive governments having run down the health system, including the MoH.

  4. bwaghorn 4

    Would it be better to bring the election date forward so we have 3 years of solid government if this virus gets out of hand

    • Paaparakauta 4.1

      Too late. The electoral process is in motion. Have a look at


      Covid-19 is already out of hand, "in the wild" as they say.

      In extremis, a cross-party delegation could petition the Governor General to postpone the election.

      The Chinese have apparently managed to get on top of it, but there could be many more twists and turns to this story.

  5. Ad 5

    All the MPs could be replaced by screens facing each other – welcome to democracy by Skype!

    • Sacha 5.1

      With reliable high-resolution video streaming, why not. And secure, in their case.

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