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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

CHRIS BISHOP (National): Oh, well, OK. That’s a bit mean, but OK. I’m wasn’t going to—

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Jacqui Dean): Which bit?

CHRIS BISHOP: Well, I wasn’t going to go along with that, but OK. Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I want to echo and agree with the remarks of my colleague David Seymour. This is a very troubling provision, the provision that he refers to, in relation to the requisition of the property of testing consumables and testing companies. When I explain it to people, they actually find it quite hard to believe, and when you explain the background to the provision, they’re actually horrified by it. I think we do need some answers from the Government during this committee stage, as to exactly what reason the Government is relying on as to why this provision is needed.

Because we tried to get into it at the select committee, via the officials, a little bit, and we heard the submissions from Rako Science and other submitters, who are largely, for the most part, troubled and horrified—insert various synonyms here—and we didn’t really get an adequate explanation. So I want the Minister to explain exactly why the Government is seeking this power.

The reason people are worried about it, and horrified by it at the extreme end of it, is the background to saliva testing in New Zealand. The allegation was made in the select committee by Rako Science, who came before the committee, that at the start of this most recent outbreak—the August community cluster outbreak, which has now turned into the September and November and, frankly, December outbreak. The allegation was made by them that they, Rako Science, approached the ministry and said, “We can do 10,000 tests a day. Do you want to use some of our testing capacity?”

Now, they’re a saliva-testing partner. There’s a long backstory to that, which I may well canvass during this morning session as well. Rako said to the ministry, “Well, you know, we’ve got to test very quickly. We’ve got to test as many people as possible. Bear in mind, at the start of the August outbreak, it came out of the Crown Plaza—we know it came out of the Crown Plaza; we don’t quite know how, but it came out of the Crown Plaza—it was actually in the community for a number of days before it was discovered. We’ve got to test very quickly.” And the take-home point from all the international experience is, you’ve got to test, test, test as many people as quickly as possible to find the source and to contact-trace and to get on top of an outbreak. So, I mean, that’s a pretty reasonable offer, I would have thought—very sensible. Stand up as much testing capacity as you possibly can, test as many people as you can in Auckland, and go for gold.

And the ministry said no. Get this: the ministry said, “No, we do not want you.” In fact, the allegation from Rako in the select committee submission to the House—it’s been placed on the record of the House. The allegation, or the contention, was that they were specifically told by the Ministry of Health, “Do not reserve your testing capacity to do tests.” So, get this: Aucklanders are lining up for 10 to 12 hours to do tests, and we all remember the stories on the news of people lining up in the stadiums and round the neighbourhood testing stations. And the ministry went and did the pop-up nasal polymerase chain reaction stations, and Dr Bloomfield appeared on the news and appeared at the 1 p.m. press conference, and the Prime Minister exhorted people: “Please go and get tested.” And like very diligent, conscientious people—Aucklanders are well used to this by now, and we pay tribute to them—Aucklanders, who had a little sniffle or were a bit worried went and got tested, and they lined up for hour upon hour upon hour.

Members will recall the people lining up and the stories of people texting into Newstalk and saying “I’ve been here for nine hours and I haven’t been able to go out to go to the bathroom because there aren’t any Portaloos, and it’s really stressful, but I’m doing the right thing.” There are stories of people literally in the queues all day long who get to the front of the queue and then the testing station is closed. So they waited all day, took the day off work, probably reorganised their childcare arrangements—all sorts of chaos, because, you know, any disruption to family life is tricky sometimes. There will be all sorts of appalling circumstances. People did the right thing. They lined up, they got to the front of the queue, then the testing station closed at 7 p.m. or 6 o’clock or whatever, and they went home. Well, that was a waste of a day. People will remember those stories.

So get this: while all that’s going on, Rako Science, which can do 10,000 tests a day—it actually has surge capacity to do more than that, and I’ll come to that in a minute, Madam Chair. [Bell rung] Rako Science says to the ministry—

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Jacqui Dean): Order! Order!

Chris Bishop: Madam Chair.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Jacqui Dean): The member is now seeking a call?

CHRIS BISHOP (National): Thank you, Madam Chair. Rako Science says to the ministry, “We can do thousands of tests for you. We can stand them up.” And here’s the other thing: this is in addition to the capacity the ministry has. This is not taking the resource of the ministry, it’s not taking up lab testing resource, it’s not taking one for one; this is additional. This is extra testing. Who would be opposed to extra testing at the start of a Delta outbreak in New Zealand? This is it. Who would be opposed to extra testing at the start of Delta in August in Auckland in New Zealand? The Ministry of Health. The ministry said, “No, no. Do not reserve that capacity. We don’t need it.”

And now we find—this is where it relates to the bill, Madam Chair—the Government is putting through a little provision through the COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2). So rather than just contract with Rako Science, rather than just sit down, like in any other formal negotiation, and say “You have a product that we would like. We have money to spend. Let’s meet in the middle and come to an agreement.”—rather than do that, which is what ordinary Governments do—

David Seymour: It’s called “commerce”.

CHRIS BISHOP: Well, that’s right. My colleague David Seymour says it’s commerce. Rather than do what sensible people do—meet in the middle, negotiate in good faith, and come to an agreement, which Rako Science wants to do and the Government should want to do—rather than do that, the Government’s decided to pass a nasty little provision through this bill to just say, “Bugger the negotiation. Bugger commercial agreements. We’ll just take your property.” That’s what they’re trying to do.

So I go back to what I said at the start of my contribution, which is, when you explain the background of this to people, they go from being kind of perplexed than bemused by it, to outraged by it, and rightly so. There are far worse provisions in here as well. My colleague David Seymour has covered a couple of them in passing. The market rate provision—well, OK, as he notes, how is that going to be determined? Because the market for this is an extremely narrow one.

Then we get to the issue of the rights of appeal. So, for whatever reason, the Government is seeking the power to take this property with compensation, but if you want to appeal that, you can go to the District Court but no higher.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Jacqui Dean): Order! I don’t want to appeal.

CHRIS BISHOP: Sorry, no. You would never seek to steal property like this, Madam Chair, I know. But the Government is seeking this power.

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Jacqui Dean): Order! The member will not bring the Speaker into the debate.

CHRIS BISHOP: Sorry, Madam Chair. The Government is seeking this power, and there is no appeal beyond the District Court. So in our legal system, members will know, who’ve done Laws 101: District Court, High Court, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court. But the Government, for whatever reason—and we want to hear an explanation as to why the rights of appeal have been limited beyond the District Court. The Government, in their infinite wisdom, has decided District Court only. Why not allow further appeals beyond that? And we’re yet to get an explanation from the Government as to why that is the case.

So the provision in relation to the requisition of private property is extremely concerning. I want to know what the Government’s rationale for it is. I suspect that they will say, “Well, it can only be used in emergency.” But, of course, it’s in the times of an emergency that we need to be the most careful about trampling on long-standing rights, because it’s always in emergencies that Governments use powers, and it’s always in emergencies that Governments extend their powers. If you go back through our long history of common law, back centuries, it’s always at times of emergency that Governments overreach and overextend. It’s in emergencies—and COVID-19 is an emergency—that the legislature, which should be the guardian of private property and the people’s rights and the people’s freedoms—it’s at times of emergency that Parliament must do its job to invigilate and interrogate the powers that the Government is seeking for itself at that time of emergency. So that’s Parliament doing its job, and we need an explanation from the Government as to this big legislative overreach and whether or not it is in fact warranted. Thank you, Madam Chair.