National and NZ First get health committee reconvened

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 25 Aug 2020, 5:43PM
NZ First leader Winston Peters on his way into the House for Question Time at Parliament in Wellington today. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)
NZ First leader Winston Peters on his way into the House for Question Time at Parliament in Wellington today. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)

National and NZ First get health committee reconvened

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 25 Aug 2020, 5:43PM

Parliament's Health Select Committee will reconvene next week after lobbying from National and New Zealand First, who wanted a chance to question health officials.

The committee's chairwoman, Labour's Louisa Wall, told the Herald she would reconvene the committee on Wednesday next week – the last sitting day of Parliament this term.

Wall said she would invite director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to appear before the committee when it sits.

"I have always considered this was a matter for the committee to decide," she said.

"However, there wasn't previously a majority who wanted the select committee to resume."

That changed today when New Zealand First threw its weight behind National's calls to reconvene the committee.

"It's logical for the Health Select Committee to meet to canvass the advice of the director general of health and other senior officials pertaining to the alert level decisions taken by Cabinet on 24 August," leader Winston Peters said in a statement this afternoon.

Wall said she had consulted with all the political parties on the committee before making the decision.

Select committees give MPs the chance to ask questions of top officials and private-sector bosses.

They are a mainstay of normal parliamentary business but were not brought back after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recalled Parliament.

Speaking to media today, Ardern said bringing the committee back was a decision for Wall.

But she noted that National leader Judith Collins had said she had no desire to reconvene the Epidemic Select Committee – the bipartisan group of MPs who questioned officials during the first lockdown.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins this afternoon said he would not be leaning on Wall to bring back the committee as "I don't think Ministers should tell select committees what to do".

He did, however, point out that Bloomfield is widely available to media – he fronts a press conference every day.

But National has argued that it wants a chance for its MPs to question Bloomfield directly.
The issue was first raised by National's health spokesman Dr Shane Reti last week.

"Kiwis, who have already sacrificed so much, deserve answers as to why they were forced into lockdown again. The Health Select Committee is the best way to find those answers," he said.

Despite this, Greens co-leader James Shaw was critical of NZ First and National in regards to this issue.

"Given that National can't ask all of its allocation of questions during Question Time, suggesting that we reconvene the Health Select Committee for four days is probably just grandstanding."

- text by Jason Walls, NZ Herald