Controversial bill passed to enforce alert level 2 powers

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 13 May 2020, 5:56PM
David Parker. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Controversial bill passed to enforce alert level 2 powers

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 13 May 2020, 5:56PM

A bill giving police sweeping powers to potentially enter homes without warrants while enforcing Covid-19 alert level rules has passed.

The Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill was rushed through Parliament in time for alert level 2 but came under intense scrutiny from the Opposition.

It passed 63 votes in favour with 57 against.

The National Party and Act didn't support the bill, saying it was an overreach of powers, distrusted New Zealanders and didn't allow for orders to have proper scrutiny.

But the Government said it was necessary to ensure the continued fight against Covid-19 and created more accountability, not less.

The Human Rights Commission said it was "deeply concerned" about the lack of scrutiny of the bill and its rushed process "is a great failure of our democratic process".

The law sets up the legal framework for future alert levels as there is no longer a State of Emergency. It effectively allows the Health Minister to issue an order that would make alert level rules legally enforceable.

That might include, for example, the ability for police or "enforcement officers" to close certain premises or roads, ban certain types of travel or congregations, or require people to be physically distant or to stay at home in their bubbles if necessary.

It also would allow warrantless searches of private property if there was a reasonable belief that the alert level rules were being broken.

It is the first Covid-related legislation that hasn't had the support of all the political parties.

The bill was tweaked at the committee stage this morning.

At the request of the Māori Council, the specific reference to marae was removed and the Government added the requirement a warrantless search be reported to the relevant marae committee.

Attorney-General David Parker said it was written into the bill with the intention of providing more protection.

"It's actually something that doesn't take away protections; it actually adds them. But nonetheless, Māoridom don't want that. They want to be the same as non-Māoridom in respect of those premises," Parker said.

He told Heather du Plessis-Allan the law is important.

"These enforcement powers are necessary but they are no substitute for voluntary compliance.

"However, you do need it on the margins, because people are voluntarily complying want to know that people who are flouting the rules can be made to follow the rules."

He says the powers in the Bill are justified - such as allowing police to enter a property without a warrant. 

"Now we've narrowed it so that under level two, the only time police can go in with a warrantless for entry is to potentially break up a party."

The original two-year sunset clause has been mitigated by an amendment to see the legislation refreshed every 90 days, or longer if required.

But the National Party still opposed the bill.

National MP Gerry Brownlee said it "puts far too much power in the hands of one person: the Prime Minister" because there was also no mention of what advice she needed to make a decision.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said when Brownlee brought in legislation that curtailed civil liberties after the Canterbury Earthquakes, he felt uncomfortable voting for it but "it was the right thing to do".