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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to begin by joining the Minister of Health in thanking our health professionals, public health staff, primary care officials, and health officials for the work that they are doing. I think what was said by the Minister is well enough known. The issues he raised have been well canvassed in the media.

What’s not been well canvassed is what the Government is doing in another area, and that is on the economic management front. The Minister is also the Associate Minister of Finance, and I would have expected some kind of update on the Government’s response to the economic impact, which is both immediate and severe. There is no plan to respond with support for those families who have been affected by this downturn. We are getting reports of upwards of 25 percent reductions in turnover in tourism and hospitality. Whole industries are having their trade goods suspended into affected countries, and this is no doubt having an immediate impact. How long that economic impact lasts—

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have a question for you regarding the use of ministerial statements, or the responses to ministerial statements, where those responses veer into the territory that is the responsibility of other Ministers. A ministerial statement is designed to be, in this case, a statement by the Minister of Health. A response to that can question the Minister of Health, because the Minister of Health has the opportunity to respond to that, but where a member of the Opposition uses a ministerial statement to raise a whole host of issues that don’t relate to the portfolio of the Minister that made the ministerial statement, it does seem to fall very wide of the very notion of a ministerial statement.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order—

SPEAKER: This is an interesting one. Members will have seen that I was reaching for my Standing Orders.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, it’s an unusual occasion. I think—

SPEAKER: I’ve got most of them in my head, Mr Brownlee.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: That is absolutely my point—my point entirely.

SPEAKER: Thank you for your support.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: And if it’s not in your head, it’s arguable. If I can also say, that if you were to listen to the ministerial statement made by the Hon David Clark, he did, at least by inference, on a number of occasions, stray into areas that would be the responsibility for other Ministers—border control, for example; transport regulations. You could list quite a number, let alone issues that would relate to the relations between the New Zealand Government and other Governments. I think for Mr Hipkins to be alarmed by the traversing of those, sort of, other portfolios by Michael Woods is somewhat—Michael Woodhouse, my apologies. I caught him out of the side of my eye—would be a little churlish.

This is a very, very important issue, and I think New Zealanders should hear views from all parts of the Parliament on all matters that relate to attempts to contain and ultimately, if it’s necessary, treat this particular disease.

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Obviously, when the Minister of Health was speaking around the border restrictions, that is, of course, all part of the wider public health response that has been deemed necessary as part of the “keep it out” phase one of the pandemic plan that New Zealand is operating under. I want to reiterate: on this side of the House, we have absolutely no qualms and agree with Mr Brownlee around the importance of this issue. We have no qualms with answering questions around the economic response. Simply, the procedural issue that’s being raised at this was a direct statement from the Minister of Health. Question time is a very good place for us to debate other elements of the response; we just ask that Standing Orders be upheld in the ministerial statement.

SPEAKER: I have had time to review Standing Order 357, which relates to comments on ministerial statements. It is very clear that the leader of a party with six members or a member authorised by the leader may comment on a ministerial statement. My view is that a very limited comment on what’s not in the statement would be OK, but I think we’ve got to the point now where the substance of the comment has been in that direction. I would also say that if members had regarded this as an important issue, given the changes that have occurred since the House last sat—I was expecting an urgent debate on it, and I can now say that I have not received one.

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. The duration of that impact will be very strongly correlated with the Government’s response on the health issues, and it is on that that I perhaps want to note that the Minister referred to the family taking all the appropriate measures, but I do question whether or not appropriate measures were taken at the border when a clearly unwell passenger from an affected country that had to be escorted through the border control in a wheelchair was not approached at all by officials. If that is the extent of the health checks that are taking place at our airports, I think it’s appropriate to be concerned. I agree with the Minister: we need to be alert but not alarmed. But we have to be alert.

Now, on that flight, which was half empty, I have had reports from passengers on that flight describing what actually went on, and it clearly wasn’t a case that in a nearly eight-hour time in that plane, people were sitting at their seats and not moving around. The Minister and the Director-General of Health talk about close contact being face to face for 15 minutes. Other jurisdictions also extend that definition to include being in a closed space for at least two hours, and I would suggest that the definition that they’re using should also be appropriate for New Zealand because there are passengers who have been unwell, having come off that flight, who did move around—who moved to spare seats close to where the affected passenger was—who have presented at health authorities and been told, because of the strict criteria for testing, that they themselves would not be tested. Now, if it’s true that this isn’t an issue of cost and that the goal of the Government is to provide reassurance, then I would have thought that a speedy and timely testing of those passengers—if only to ease their anxiety—would be appropriate. That was certainly the issue that was being raised by senior doctors from Wellington Hospital this morning.

The reality is the conditions that are being described to us in this House are not the reality in these situations. That, I think, leads to what I believe was a panicked response by some parts of the country in terms of the supermarket shopping that took place over the weekend—not appropriate, but probably understandable in the way that New Zealanders are feeling, and they’re not feeling as well-informed and as reassured as the Minister would have us portray.

Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report on Friday, following the joint mission into China, which highlighted some very interesting aspects of the way the outbreak is being managed over there. There were two very important points. One is that one in every eight of the confirmed cases from China had no fever whatsoever, and yet we are saying that a fever needs to be present before a test takes place. That is not the lived experience of the people being affected by this in China.

The second thing is the WHO, in its major recommendations—and I commend this report to the Minister—says that for countries with imported cases, they should “Immediately activate the highest level of national Response Management [to] Prioritize active, exhaustive case finding [to] Fully educate the general public [and to test] all patients with atypical pneumonias,”. That is the advice that the Minister says he is relying on from the World Health Organization, and I encourage him and his Government to be more energetic and more active in reassuring the public that they’re on top of this.

MIL OSI