Submission on COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2)
I have four major concerns with this bill. The first has to do with the expiry date in 2023. Given this bill would give extraordinarily broad police powers based on the decisions of a few individuals, the bill’s expiry date should be shortened to six months from passage, or at most one year. If the powers need to be extended, Parliament can do that at a later time. To hand over these broad powers for this length of time is unwarranted under the circumstances. 2023 is not the right end date. The powers should be renewed at six month intervals.
My second concern has to do with a lack of checks and balances in the bill. Under the bill, ministers would be able unilaterally to make huge decisions that will significantly impact the lives and welfare of millions of New Zealanders in the name of public health. Such sweeping powers in the hands of a few is unprecedented in New Zealand’s history and unwarranted under the circumstances. It is Parliament’s responsibility to pass legislation in full public view after an appropriate public consultation period. This bill would circumvent this long-standing legislative tradition in New Zealand, giving the public almost no voice in the setting up of new regulations and rules that will severely impact the lives of New Zealanders. Parliament should not be abdicating its responsibility by “passing the buck” to a few ministers who can make what amount to be laws without any public consultation or feedback.
My third concern is this bill is far too broad and ambiguous. It lacks specifics, making it difficult for common people like myself to comprehend what rules might be imposed under the bill. The powers of the ministers need to be explicit. As written, this bill seems to be a blank check. How is the public supposed to know or understand how this legislation will actually play out in the real world? It is so difficult to comment on legislation like this because we don’t really know how it will be applied practically in months to come.
My fourth concern is the short time the public has had to read and comment on this bill. Given its far-reaching implications, the time to comment should be extended by at least two weeks.
First, please shorten the bill’s expiry date to six months or at most one year from the date of passage.
Second, add checks and balances to constrain the powers of the ministers concerned, so that the rights and liberties appropriate to our British constitutional heritage are maintained, even in the midst of the health challenge we currently face as a nation.
Third, clearly spell out the powers of the ministers concerned, rather than giving them a blank check. At the very least add more criteria or boundaries the ministers must adhere to in carrying out their powers. For example, specify explicitly that the ministers may not infringe upon rights guaranteed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights without Parliamentary approval.
Fourth, extend the public comment period for this bill by at least two weeks, so that more New Zealanders have the opportunity to provide submissions.
History demonstrate that crises, whether big or small, can quickly lead to a loss of liberty, which once lost is hard to regain. We all need to be vigilant regarding our rights, freedoms, and constitutional norms. I hope you will carefully consider these comments and recommendations.
- Jeff Coleman