National and Act block digital Parliament plans

Author
Thomas Coughlan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 27 Aug 2021, 7:51PM
The Speaker Trevor Mallard could chair digital Parliament next week. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)
The Speaker Trevor Mallard could chair digital Parliament next week. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)

National and Act block digital Parliament plans

Author
Thomas Coughlan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 27 Aug 2021, 7:51PM

National and Act have blocked plans for a digital version of Parliament's question time, which would have returned from next Tuesday.

It is repeat of the impasse that forced the Speaker Trevor Mallard and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to delay the return of Parliamentary sitting altogether last week.

Sittings of the House were meant to resume on Tuesday but were delayed by Mallard. Ardern requested it on the advice of director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Parliament's business committee met on Friday evening to decide whether the House should return and in what form.

It comes after the decision today to move all of New Zealand south of Auckland down to level 3 from next Tuesday night.

Last Friday, a similar meeting was held but parties walked away without agreeing on what to do. Labour wanted to delay the House's return, while Act and National wanted MPs to come back in some form.

The proposal up for discussion is a sort of digital Question Time that would make it easier for MPs from the opposition to question ministers.

National leader Judith Collins was not happy with the idea, and wants MPs to meet in person.

"Let's see what happens out of the business committee but our view is that needs to happen, we need to have a physical sitting of Parliament," Collins said.

Collins wanted to have Parliament return as well as the Epidemic Response Committee, which she would chair.

"It is very important that we accept that Parliament is an essential service," Collins said.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday that other "Parliaments around the world have used remote meeting technology to allow them to continue to undertake all of their functions while restrictions are in place, and that is something that we'll be actively exploring here in New Zealand".

"We'll do that through the Speaker and through the Business Committee. Of course we will aim to reach a consensus on that, if we can do, and I ask simply that all other parties participate in that process constructively," he said.

Instead of Question Time returning this week, ministers have been quizzed in Zoom select committees.

These have been unpopular with National and Act who are unhappy that Labour MPs chair the committees and have a large degree of control over them.

However, those chairs have given the majority of questions and speaking time to the opposition.

The meeting begins at 5.30pm. The meeting could clash with a National Party caucus meeting, currently scheduled for 6pm.