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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

WEDNESDAY, 19 AUGUST 2020

The Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.

Prayers.

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Was her statement yesterday that “I have had reported reluctance amongst staff around asymptomatic testing” based on a weekly report to Cabinet from the Minister of Health; if not, what did she base that statement on?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): This was raised with me directly by health officials on 5 August. It had also been the subject of some discussion amongst Cabinet Ministers as we reviewed details around testing numbers. It is important to note though that the Government is not interested in trying to apportion blame here. As I said at the time when I raised the issue, our focus is on finding solutions to the problems as they emerge and making sure that we are constantly addressing those issues.

David Seymour: Will she continue to trust those officials, given that Unite Union national secretary Gerard Hehir has said “The issue has not been from our members, or our workers getting in the way of testing at all,”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I am not at all getting to a place here where we apportion blame; I’m simply reflecting that when asked around our testing numbers, when we’ve had, for instance, sites set up at Auckland International Airport, what were the reasons why we weren’t seeing the flow of staff through—and it will be more than one reason, I am sure—we did have conversations around whether or not this was a factor and it had been raised with me by health officials. Again, I’m not saying necessarily that will be all at staff at all—that would simply be an incorrect assertion.

David Seymour: What actions did she take to overcome the lack of testing due to the reluctance to be tested that was reported to her on 5 August?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: First of all, it would be wrong to assume that that would reflect the totality of the issue. If we thought that was the only issue at play, I don’t think we would have overcome some of the testing numbers. I’ve already said, when we started getting weekly testing, we could see those numbers were low, but, by 31 July, they did come up to over 211 of border staff—keeping in mind our front-line agencies who are interacting with those higher risk numbers are around 280. So we were starting to see those numbers pick up.

To answer your question: when it was raised with me, I did speak directly with at least one union but did not have the opportunity to speak to all. They had not heard of that as an issue, but we were starting to work to get to the bottom of how we could give assurances to staff around testing.

David Seymour: If it’s not about attributing blame, what role does accountability play in her management style of this Government when things go fundamentally wrong?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve said in this House and as I said just moments ago, all the way through our COVID response, where we have seen issues, we have acted immediately to address them. We put in a plan around testing at the end of June. We worked to get weekly reporting through to us so we could see whether or not the testing plan was being rolled out adequately. We raised, when there were issues that perhaps suggested it wasn’t as systematic as we wanted, how we could overcome those. Now we have also mandated that testing in those high-risk areas. And you’ll see today, to support the Ministry of Health in rolling out that surveillance plan, we’ve also put in additional support, because we are working across multiple agencies: ports, airports, and a range of sites across the country. It is a massive logistical exercise we’re supporting Health with.

MIL OSI