Collins accuses PM of 'verbal gymnastics' after Question Time face-off

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Aug 2020, 1:58PM

Collins accuses PM of 'verbal gymnastics' after Question Time face-off

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Aug 2020, 1:58PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has clashed with National leader Judith Collins as Parliament resumed this afternoon, with the pair going toe-to-toe over frontline Covid-19 staff testing.

After an ever-so brief period of campaigning, Question Time was back and there was just one topic on MPs' minds today: Covid-19.

Much of the sparring was over the lack of testing at managed isolation and quarantine facilities (MIQ) and at the border, which Ardern again today admitted was not good enough.

In fact, in a ministerial statement before Question Rime, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said: "Testing at the border has been too slow."

This was "disappointing and frustrating," he told the House.

He had made these comments before, after he admitted that weekly testing at the Jet Park hotel – the country's main quarantine facility – had only been done on 60 per cent of staff.

But, in the House this afternoon Ardern attempted to explain why the numbers were so low.

She said there was an issue with the coding of the Covid-19 tests.

This meant that if a frontline Covid-19 staff went to a GPs or a Community based assessment centre (CBAC), the Government was not getting that data back to measure the overall level of frontline staff testing.

The Government tried to remedy that problem by bringing onsite testing to frontline staff.
Collins, however, did not appear satisfied with this answer.

While still in the House, she tweeted her criticism of Ardern's response.

"Really interesting verbal gymnastics from the PM today in [Question Time] trying to justify her statement of 15 July that all frontline border staff were being regularly tested."

Collins said that eight weeks after that, some 63 per cent of Auckland staff had not been tested.

Covid-19 was the only topic of today's question time.

Before the sparring got underway, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Hipkins delivered Ministerial statements to the House.

Both praised those dealing with the new outbreak; especially those who have carried out the Covid-19 testing in the last few days.

Hipkins said there had been 100,000 tests in the space of five days – "this is a remarkable effort."

In reply to the statements, National's finance spokesman criticised what he called the Government's lack of preparedness for the second wave.

He said what has been seen over the last few days was a "complete shambles".
"There has been an enormous amount of complacency."

He said there was an element of self-congratulation within the Government – this meant they were not prepared for the new lockdown.

"What we hope from this Government is that they will learn a lesson from what has happened."

But, facing questions from Collins, Ardern was critical of National's claims.

She said that the party had accused the Government of "scaremongering" when it was preparing for the second outbreak, which she had always maintained was a near inevitability.

The House was not meant to be in session today; it adjourned for the election campaign a few weeks ago.

But the re-emergence of Covid-19 in the community forced Auckland into level 3 lockdown, the election to be postponed and Parliament to be recalled.

Collins v Ardern

National leader Judith Collins asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about advice she had received on how Covid-19 got back into New Zealand.

She also asked about any weaknesses.

Ardern said nothing should be "ruled in or our without evidence".

That's why the Government has gone on a testing blitz.

But the Government has still not identified the source.

On testing at the border, she said there was an issue of "coding" when staff members went to their GPs.

But there has been a lot of testing since then.

The Government set an expectation that testing was being ramped up at the border and in isolation facilities.

But she said PPE and daily health checks are the first line of defence for workers.

Collins then pressed if she stood by her statements about safety of frontline staff.

Ardern said Cabinet agreed to fund a testing strategy – that was what she was referring to when she made the statements.

She said testing in managed isolation facilities was "not as comprehensibly as we expected" or what Cabinet had asked for.

Ardern said there has been no clear link to the border and the new cluster.
But she said people at the highest risks are being tested first.

So far, 90 per cent of all MIQ personnel have been tested.

Asked about Winston Peters suggesting there was a link, Ardern said that was a question for Peters.

She said on July 22nd, the Government mandated all MIQ staff need to be tested.

House Speaker Trevor Mallard, who revealed he had taken a Covid test and returned a negative result, warned National MPs not to interject.

Ardern said the initial system of testing at the frontline was flawed – that's why the system had to be changed.

But she said border staff testing numbers did begin to rise.

She said it was "significant enough" that ministers stepped in to try and address the issue.

Ardern said recently, there was an increasing number of people being tested at the border – but the Government wanted to mandate it.

She said everyone who needs to, needed to get a test.

She said getting a Covid-19 test would not impact anyone's job.

She said New Zealand's Covid-19 response is still very good.

"This is a tricky virus."

She said when the Government prepared for a re-emergence, it was accused of "scaremongering" by the Opposition.

Ardern said in July that every managed isolation worker needed to be regularly tested.

She said it was not sufficient to claim that regular testing was the only means of protecting against Covid-19.

She said the Government has mandated a strong system of PPE and daily health checks.

Ardern said "this is a virus, not simply a human we are dealing with."

She said New Zealand was still in a better position than most, when it comes around.

Ardern said she "absolutely expected" to be held to account by the Opposition, praising Shane Reti's contribution .

Collins accused Ardern on Twitter of "verbal gymnastics" in her answers.

Speaking to media this morning, the National leader said she was going to provide evidence that would prove Ardern is "entirely wrong" about her managed isolation staff testing claims.

Both Ardern, and Health Minister Chris Hipkins, have said that the reason testing was lower than they had expected was because some staff were refusing tests.

Collins, however, said that she had spoken to staff working at the Jet Park quarantine facility who said that, in fact, they had not been offered tests.

'Blind to risk ' - Seymour to Govt

Speaking to the House, Act leader David Seymour said it was the role of the Opposition to offer constructive criticism when needed.

He said that was easy, because there have been "so many basic failings".

He said there were "102 days of Covid freedom" that the Government should have been using to make sure the system was safer.

But said the Government spent time instead "doing a little dance" and doing a "victory lap".

"We chose to use the time for self-congratulations and encouragement, rather than improvement.

"That is why we are here today," he said.

He called on the Government to use a "wellbeing" approach to the new lockdown.

He said he had heard about increased numbers of suicides in Queenstown.

"Lockdowns are incalculably bad for wellbeing."

He said New Zealand needed to learn to live with Covid-19.

That means learning to live with Covid being endemic in the world.

New Zealand needed to be "smarter" rather than again using lockdowns.

New Zealand needed to look to Taiwan, he said.

"We should have taken a leaf out of their book," Seymour said.

He said it was "unforgivable" that the Government has failed to prepare, while Covid-19 was not in the community.

He said there needed to be more use of the private sector when it comes to helping fight the virus.

He was critical of the Ministry of Health.

He said the Government is meant to set enforcement, not "trying to run everything".

Seymour said there was a "blindness to risk" which, he said, was "madness".

And he called on the Government to do better when it comes to using technology when it comes to contact tracing.

"The opportunity is to do so much better."

He said New Zealand needed to move away for "blunt and costly lockdowns".

Shaw hits back over Nats' border calls

Greens co-leader James Shaw said a new outbreak was "always on the cards".

He said no system was perfect.

"It was actually the very same people who suggested that we opened the border to Australia … who are now saying the precise opposite."

That was an apparent dig at National.

He said the week, the Government has shown that it would do "whatever it takes" to protect the community.

He said the Government has acted rapidly to contain the outbreak.

Shaw commended the Prime Minister for her leadership.

He said delaying the election was an "extraordinary step".

He said everyone in the House was hoping to be campaigning at the moment.

But that did not eventuate.

He challenged National and Act's points that New Zealand was not prepared for the outbreak.

"We did prepare for it, and we are ready to work through it."
He said because of the actions of the Government, New Zealand is safer.
"The truth is, we cannot do it alone."

He called on every New Zealander to work together to stamp the virus out.

He praised Reti's speech in the House, which he said was "reasonable" and to the point.
Shaw praised all the workers on the frontline of the Covid-19 response.

"Every action that these people are taking is what will make the difference."

He said thanked the people of Auckland for their sacrifices during lockdown.

Shaw said he was confident that New Zealand can beat the pandemic for the second time.

'A complete shambles' - Goldsmith

National's finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the re-emergence of the virus was putting "intense pressure" on New Zealand; both communities and the economy.

"There are huge consequences for that."

But he said it has been puzzling to and "annoying" to New Zealanders that testing at the border has been so lax.

He said it wasn't good enough for Ardern to say she thought that more tests were being done at the border.

He said there was "dysfunction and confusion" within the Government over this point.

"If you're planning elimination, you have to be vigilant," he said.

Goldsmith was not confident that the Government was, in fact, being vigilant.

He said what has been seen over the last few days was a "complete shambles".

He said the suggestion that the Government has planned for this regional lockdown has left many New Zealanders confused, given some of the issues which have been detailed over the last few days.

He said the Government should have done more preparation.

"There has been an enormous amount of complacency."

He said there was an element of self-congratulation within the Government – this meant they were not prepared for the new lockdown, he said.

"What we hope from this Government is that they will learn a lesson from what has happened."

Goldsmith did, however, said National did support the extension of the wage subsidy.
But he said the impact on the economy over the last few months has been "colossal".

He pointed the finger at high levels of debt.

"It shows we're under enormous pressure as a country."

National has "every confidence" that New Zealand can get itself back on track, but that requires no "job friendly policies".

This is our second wave - Reti

National's health spokesman Shane Reti said the new outbreak was "the cards we have".

He said all frontline health workers deserve respect and praise from New Zealanders.

"This is our second wave, such was learned in our first brush with coronavirus."

He said the opposition would help the Government when the "ball is dropped".

He said routine mask-wearing is effective and called on people to wear one when they can.

"We ask that there is PPE available to everyone know needs it."

"This is a good discipline."

He asked all New Zealanders to use the Covid-19 tracing app.

On testing, he urged people with symptoms to "please get tested".

'Testing at the border has been too slow' - Hipkins

Finance Minister Grant Robertson provided details of the extended wage subsidy scheme.

He talked of how important it was to go "hard and early" when it comes to New Zealand's economic response.

His speech was brief and mainly summed up what he had announced over the past seven days.

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins said although the Government worked "incredibly hard to prevent" Covid-19 re-emerging in the community, it was inevitable that the virus would come back.

But he said stamping out the virus was still the goal.

"We have done this before, and we can do it again."

So far, more than 100,000 tests have been processed over the last five days.

"That is a remarkable effort."

He said the number of tests means New Zealanders can have confidence there is no widespread community transmission in New Zealand, aside from the one Auckland cluster.

But he said: "Testing at the border has been too slow."

He said that was "disappointing and frustrating".

He continued that the amount of testing so far was "not good enough".

But he said the new testing regime aimed to fix this issue.

Hipkins called on people to download the Covid-19 app – the number of downloads has more than doubled in the past week.

The app now has more than 1.5 million downloads.

"We have a plan, and we're doing everything right to stamp this out."