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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Housing

1. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Housing: Is she satisfied with all aspects of quarantine and managed isolation management, and what, if anything, has she learnt from the Australian experience of a second wave of COVID-19 infections?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): In answer to the first part of the question, yes, but as I outlined on Tuesday, this is a process of continuous improvement. While the systems are robust, we cannot always prevent human error. In answer to the second part of the question, what I’ve learnt is the importance of good Government oversight and robust procedures to ensure we keep COVID out of our communities. In New Zealand, the Defence Force have the responsibility for operating our facilities with the assistance of police, aviation, and security staff. What we have seen in Victoria in the wake of a community outbreak is a transition to a publicly managed system similar to ours, because poor management of private managed isolation facilities through private providers resulted in a second wave of COVID-19 and an extended lockdown. But the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that under the brilliant leadership of our Prime Minister, we prioritised a public health response. Because we went hard and went early, we are now in a strong position to bounce back from the effects of COVID-19.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: With such glowing testament to the Government’s brilliance, can she guarantee—

SPEAKER: Order! The member will ask a question that is in order.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is her glowing testament to the Government’s competence a guarantee—

SPEAKER: Order! The next time, the member will lose his supplementary.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, you better instruct me. Point of order—point of order.

SPEAKER: If the member can’t recognise his ironic tone himself, everyone else can. Ask the question.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister guarantee that the Government’s management of quarantine and managed isolation will not result in a second wave of COVID-19 infections in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: This is a question that I’ve spoken about on numerous occasions, as the member will be aware. What we will guarantee as a Government is that we will prioritise setting up robust managed isolation and quarantine facilities that protect New Zealanders and the gains that we have made. What I have also talked about is that there will be human error, but we are putting in place a significant risk mitigation strategy to ensure that we are protecting all of us.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: What risks are posed by security guards at quarantine facilities in New Zealand falling asleep on the job?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Private security guards who are subcontracted through the Aviation Security Service (Avsec) are one part of the layer of security that exists in our managed isolation and quarantine facilities. Of course, the operational lead of our facilities lies with the New Zealand Defence Force. We also have Avsec, we also have police, and then we do have subcontracted security guards. Obviously, it is not acceptable to have security guards falling asleep on the job, and this is the subject of an investigation that we are carrying out with site security assessments of all of the 31 managed isolation facilities. But the guarantee I can give New Zealanders is that we aren’t putting all of our faith on one simple layer of security, that we have multiple layers of security within our facilities, and that is why they are doing the job they were set up to do, and that is to keep COVID inside of our facilities and not in our communities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is she aware of reports that similar incidents of security guards falling asleep in the state of Victoria could have led to the increased community transmission of COVID-19 in that state?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I am aware of some nocturnal activities alleged around security guards in the state of Victoria, but what I can tell that member is that, actually, what has been publicly identified as the biggest risk that was posed in the state of Victoria with the facility was the outsourcing of the management of the managed isolation and quarantine facilities, and the lack of robustness that came through that. That is why our Government has made a commitment to ensure that we brought in early the New Zealand Defence Force to be the agency that was operating our facilities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister checked to find out if security guards who are working in a private capacity or through private contractors at the 31 managed facilities are working shifts of less than 12 hours and do not have second jobs?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As I talked about, we are currently carrying out site security assessments of all of the 31 managed isolation facilities, and this is the subject—as well as the number of hours, the pay rates that people are being paid is also something that we are interested in. We are also interested in whether or not they are licensed security companies that are being employed in these facilities. So not only have I asked the questions; we have also met with unions who represent these security workers.

Hon Stuart Nash: Did the Minister ever uncover any evidence of Casper the homeless ghost—I mean guest—as reported by the Opposition—

SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Order! The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Stuart Nash: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Louise Upston: No, mean it—stand and look like you mean it.

SPEAKER: Order! No, the member will sit down, and the Hon Louise Upston will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Louise Upston: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister just told the House that there may well be unlicensed security guards acting as one of the lines of security at some of the 31 quarantine centres?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As that member is well aware through the engagement of security firms through a number of his portfolios, there are a variety of types of security companies that operate in New Zealand. Some of them are licensed; some of them have employees who are not. Part of the individual site security assessments that we are carrying out is an audit of the types of security subcontracts that are present at every site. But before that member would like to fearmonger more for New Zealanders, I would like to give the reassurance that this is a layered approach to security, and people can have faith that our managed isolation and quarantine facilities are offering a strong line of defence to keep COVID out of our communities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Has she had any discussions with Dr Ashley Bloomfield to ascertain why he might have put a lot of fear into the New Zealand community yesterday by suggesting a second wave could be imminent?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think the only person putting fear is the person wearing the tin foil hat. But what I would like to say is that it’s the responsibility of the Director-General of Health to prepare New Zealanders in the wake of a global pandemic about what could happen. In fact, our Prime Minister three weeks earlier had outlined what the scenarios would be if there is a resurgence of the virus. This is what a Government with a plan looks like. This is what a Government who is prepared looks like and why there is a public that has faith in our Government in leading them through this pandemic.

MIL OSI