WEDNESDAY, 18 MARCH 2020
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): Following discussions at the Business Committee and across the House, I seek leave to table a Government notice of motion setting out a sessional order with special procedures for the House during an epidemic and for it to be set down as Government notice of motion No. 1 on tomorrow's Order Paper, notwithstanding Standing Orders 97 through to 99. By way of explanation, this will allow members to scrutinise the notice of motion before it is put as Government order of the day No. 1 tomorrow.
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, especially the package that was announced yesterday by this Government in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19, including the $12.1 billion package that is split between business certainty and continuity—making sure that consumers have enough money in their back pocket to keep the economy going but also that we look after older citizens—and, obviously, the half-billion - dollar investment directly into health to support the response to COVID-19.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she still stand by her statement in the House yesterday that nobody displaying symptoms has been denied a COVID-19 test when Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, stated in the media yesterday that "There needs to be a reason why people are tested for COVID-19. This means along with symptoms of COVID-19 they should have either a history of travel or close contact with a possible case."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Both the Director-General of Health and myself stand by the case definition for testing of COVID-19, which is exactly both as the director-general described and also as I described yesterday, which adds the ability for a clinician to make that decision. I want to say this again very seriously to the member on the other side of the House: this is a time where New Zealanders need to know that this House—
Hon Simon Bridges: Don't give me a lecture. I'm doing my job in the interests of New Zealand.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —is united. We are politicians, and it is not for us to determine—
Hon Grant Robertson: They don't think you're doing your job.
SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —when people are tested. It is for doctors to.
SPEAKER: Order! I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister, but the Minister of Finance should not engage, and I understand that the Leader of the Opposition and a couple of the members were also interjecting. But in his engagement, his volume was coming through the Prime Minister's mike, and, frankly, it is a matter better not discussed in this House during this serious time.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that GPs have received the clear message from Ashley Bloomfield to stick to the case definition for testing symptoms with a history of travel or close contact with a case, given the letter he sent to all GPs on Sunday, which stated, "I ask you to continue to apply the case definition when considering who you should test, and to use testing supplies and personal protective equipment with prudence."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I don't think anyone would disagree with giving advice that applies some criteria to who is tested, because at a time like this, there will be people who have, for instance, cold symptoms that are unrelated to COVID-19 who simply won't need a test. It is of course prudent that we allow clinicians—not politicians, not members of the public—to make that decision. My final point is that the best thing we can do is not create an environment where everyone who has a symptom that may be a cold or may be a flu believes they need to be tested for COVID-19. That is not responsible either. Yesterday, 620 tests were undertaken—620 tests. We are testing and, as you'll see from those tests, those cases continue to be linked to overseas travel.
Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that answer, will she simply accept, then, that if it is simply symptoms and no other criteria as set out in the definition for testing, there will not be, automatically, testing in this country today?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There has never been a situation where every single people who asks for a test would receive one, and nor would that be a responsible response. That is not what countries anywhere in the world are doing. That is not the way the World Health Organization is asking countries to respond, and nor should it be the way we are. I am listening to experts, clinicians, and doctors. I ask the member to do the same.
Hon Simon Bridges: Isn't it quite clear from both her answers and Ashley Bloomfield's that we have a rationing of testing in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister: has there been universal support from the professional medical fraternity with respect to Ashley Bloomfield and the Prime Minister's criterion on this matter?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I've read some of the writing on this by experts in the field, and there is absolute agreement with the approach that is being taken. I again want—
Hon Member: It's the Prime Minister's criteria.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is an outrageous suggestion. I again want to make clear to the other side of the House: this is a national issue. There is no politics in testing; there should only be expert clinician advice. I ask the member again: if you would like to receive a briefing on this, I am happy to provide it, but the member is becoming borderline irresponsible.
Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that last answer, what does she say to the half a dozen doctors who have contacted me by email and other means in the last 24 hours to express their frustration, given the difference between what she's saying in this House and what Ashley Bloomfield and the Ministry of Health are quite clearly directing?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I ask the member to read for himself the case definition I advised in this House yesterday. Whilst, yes, it does set out specific circumstances, it then makes a note: given the changing global environment, if the clinician believes that they should be testing, then they are able to. But what we do not want to do for doctors is create a pressure environment where every person demands a test, regardless of whether or not there's any likelihood of their symptoms even being COVID-19, when there isn't a need for one.
Hon Simon Bridges: Are media reports correct that until Monday, there had been an average of just 11 COVID-19 tests conducted a day?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'll do the same that I did with the journalist who asked that question: that was, I believe, an inaccurate way to display what's happening with our testing. As you would expect, when New Zealand had no cases, there weren't many tests. Over time, they have increased. We had 620 tests processed in one day yesterday.
Hon Simon Bridges: Isn't the reality that it's not that there weren't any cases; it's simply that there wasn't much, if any, testing?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think the member will find that when there are no cases, it's hard to spread, and therefore there is no rational reason to be testing everybody. Again, I ask the member not to listen to me if he does not choose to, but listen to the experts.
Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the 76-year-old Wellingtonian woman who got off a cruise ship and had symptoms but wasn't tested this week because the GP said, "We've been told not to test unless we absolutely have to."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: She would've fallen within the criteria. Obviously, the doctor believed that there weren't symptoms there that meant that they should. I am not going to second-guess a doctor, because that person would have fit within the case profile. Again, my final plea is to the member: think about the audience he is speaking to right now. This doesn't have to be political.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that it is my constitutional duty to ask her questions and try and get answers on the most significant issue this country has faced in many, many years?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have been in that seat and I know the difference between responsible and political. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! It ill behoves the Leader of the Opposition to react. As I've warned the Minister of Finance earlier, sometimes people have to take a deep breath when people are winding them up.
Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements and actions?
Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the Hospitality New Zealand Central Otago president, who was "gutted" by the package announced yesterday and said it would not provide immediate relief to the industry?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'd actually refer to some of the responses I saw, even just for those in hospitality here in Wellington. One operator, in quite an emotional response, said what a difference it would make for keeping on the staff that they had. We wanted to provide immediate relief—we've done that. We wanted to provide certainty—we've done that. I believe it's getting a response that's being broadly welcomed.
Hon Simon Bridges: Speaking of Wellington, what does she say to the manager of a thousand staff in hospitality based in Wellington who told me just half an hour ago that if the Government doesn't come to the party by the end of next week, he will have to shut down, with potentially all of his staff losing their jobs?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We worked quickly, and the Ministry of Social Development—I want to acknowledge the incredible work they've done. They had the application available online yesterday, in line with the timing that we made the announcement. At that time, we were advised it would take between five and six days to turn around the applications, and that is still the time line that we are working to.
Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the large Auckland retailer who employs a hundred staff who will have to lay off a third of them this week and reduce hours across all staff, noting that the $150,000 cap on job support from yesterday's package doesn't remotely cover all of their staff?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As we said yesterday, the vast majority of businesses in New Zealand are small to medium sized enterprises, so this will cover 97 percent of businesses in New Zealand for the entirety of their staff. But for large organisations, they are eligible, too—up to, of course, $150,000 if they have more than 20 staff. For more larger and much more complex companies, we are taking a case by case approach, and we've got some active examples under way. But we have already said that this is going to be a very difficult time for New Zealand and businesses. Not absolutely every single business will be covered for the full quantum, particularly if they are large, but we are doing our best to support as many as possible.
Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the boss of 1,200 people in a tourism-related business all over New Zealand who contacted me last night because if there isn't "a relief package indexed to an organisation's number of employees", he expects to see widespread job loss across his business and the sector?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'd say the same thing I said in my last answer. But I would also reflect on the comments that have come out of the Tourism Industry Association that has said it's an immediate relief to tourism operators facing a devastating downturn and that it will certainly be welcome, they have acknowledged, for smaller operators. We have moved quickly, we have moved decisively, and we've moved with a much larger package than, for instance, what Australia has in order to keep as many people as possible in work.
Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the employer of 600 people who contacted Paul Goldsmith this morning and who said it is difficult to see how the Government's package "provides any support" to his "simple cash-in, cash-out" predicament requiring short-term funding, otherwise workers will lose their jobs?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'd say three things. The first thing is, of course, we've always said the first port of call should be banks. One of the things we're hearing from banks is that they are not hearing from businesses as often as they should be. IRD is also a very important port of call for businesses. We also, of course, have the subsidy we've put in place. The fourth mechanism, of course, that we've been focused on is regional specific redeployment plans. We're talking about a plan today for Tai Rāwhiti to try and use workforce, where they've ever had their hours reduced or the long-term prospect for work is not good, to redeploy into other areas. For tourism, we are going to move into a phase where we have to plan for an uncertain future. We've given 12 weeks of certainty, but we need to plan beyond that.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that in the space of 24 hours, my colleagues and I have been contacted by businesses who will see a good 3,000 or more jobs go in the next week or so, and, in fact, the number will be much closer to tens and tens of thousands of workers, because her package doesn't sufficiently cover them?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It is, of course, with great sadness that this whole House needs to acknowledge the cause of this is COVID-19, and we are responding as swiftly as any nation and with more generosity than any nation to that response. But what we're dealing with is a devastating impact to our economy, and that is of course something that the entire globe is facing, but New Zealand is facing with more confidence than most.
Question No. 3—Finance
3. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he seen on the Government's economic response package to the global COVID-19 pandemic?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I've seen a range of reports that acknowledge the significant scale and the necessity of the package of measures I announced yesterday. This has come from banks, from employer organisations, and from union organisations, as well as economists. Economist Shamubeel Eaqub said the package "increases the capacity in the health sector to deal with the pandemic, a huge effort to avert job losses and business failure, [and] provides more money for those who need it most and will spend it". I have also seen reports from individual business owners welcoming the package, including Nickii Cui, the owner of the Shanghai Restaurant in Auckland, who said, "It's good that the Government has this policy. I feel confident … I'm hopeful because this Government is concerned about small businesses", and, indeed, from Michael Hollings, the Wellington employer of 70 people, who said, "The Government's relief package means we will be able to keep most of our workers in place."
Tamati Coffey: What reports has he seen on the Government's wage subsidy scheme announced yesterday?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen a number of reports emphasising the support that the Government's wage subsidy scheme will provide businesses through this uncertain period from as diverse organisations as Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. Many thousands of businesses have already contacted the Ministry of Social Development about the scheme. The ministry is processing applications as fast as possible and is deploying additional resources to support this work. Businesses should ensure that they take the time to fill out the form accurately to ensure that their application can be processed as quickly as possible. I'll repeat my request from yesterday that we understand the pressure that public servants are working under in these trying times. Mistakes will be made, but they will be corrected as soon as possible.
Tamati Coffey: What reports has he seen on the need for continued fiscal support from the Government throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I acknowledge the commentators who've identified that the package I announced yesterday will need to be built upon as we move forward. This is exactly what we said yesterday. I absolutely acknowledge that this is a rapidly evolving situation which will need to go beyond these measures, and I intend to reorientate this year's Budget to be the second phase of the broader recovery package. But we also have to acknowledge the scale of the package announced yesterday: 4 percent of GDP—bigger than the three new operating allowances for this term of Government, and larger, per capita, than almost any other country in the world.
Question No. 4—Finance
4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all of his policies and actions?
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Allowing for the fact that around 600,000 people work for businesses with fewer than 20 staff and there are 15,000 businesses employing more than 20 staff, does he agree that there's, roughly speaking, a maximum of around 900,000 workers that could be covered by the wage subsidy announced yesterday?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member is welcome to do his own calculations on this. What we're seeing in real time is the number of businesses who want to apply for this scheme and who are being processed to do so. This is a wage subsidy scheme. It is about giving employers certainty for the next 12 weeks. Alongside the wage subsidy scheme, I implore businesses—and, indeed, I implore the Opposition to support businesses—to go and see their banks. That is the normal situation. We are here in abnormal circumstances supporting people through the wage subsidy scheme.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What is his figure, if he doesn't agree with mine—or if he does—for the number of workers that will be covered by the wage subsidy scheme?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We have been focused on developing this scheme and getting it up and running within a week. We are having thousands of businesses—and, therefore, thousands of employees—who will be eligible for it. I'm sure I can take some time to give the member an estimate of the number he wants.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, does he agree that to spend $5.1 billion on subsidies for 12 weeks would require at least 730,000 workers to be subsidised?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The estimate of $5.1 billion, as we covered yesterday, was based on 50 percent of businesses taking this up. The member is slightly confusing and muddling the issue here, because what is happening is that some businesses who have significantly more than 21 employees will take the scheme up in order to support themselves through the 12 weeks.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What I'm trying to work out is does he think that roughly 700,000 jobs out of roughly 900,000 eligible jobs will need to be subsidised?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I say, I'm not spending my time doing the kinds of calculations the member wants; I'm spending my time making sure—making sure—that businesses can access the scheme in real time, and they are.
SPEAKER: Order! I'm just going to ask people to settle down a little bit more from both sides.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Will he commit today to releasing the Cabinet paper that explains all this?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Cabinet paper will be subject to the normal rules for release.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What is the Government doing, if anything, to make it easier for public companies to raise extra capital on markets so they have more money to save jobs?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I said yesterday, and indeed in days before that, the Reserve Bank and the Government are coordinating our actions. There are ongoing discussions about matters to do with liquidity and capital-raising as we speak.
Question No. 5—Education
5. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What action has the Government taken to support schools in responding to COVID-19?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yesterday, we had a confirmed case of COVID-19 who is a school student in Dunedin. The protocol between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education that was communicated to all principals and school leaders earlier this week was implemented. A letter was sent out to parents yesterday evening, and Logan Park High School was closed this morning. The protocol is for the school to close while close contacts are traced and put into self-isolation for 14 days. Parents will be kept regularly updated. The school undertakes a careful clean in accordance with guidance from the Ministry of Health so that all surfaces in classrooms, door handles, bathroom surfaces, and so on will have been cleaned. This is a careful, targeted approach that's being taken by authorities. I want to repeat that there is currently no community transmission, and therefore no reason not to send young people to school across New Zealand.
Jan Tinetti: What other guidance has the Ministry of Education provided to schools and early childhood education (ECE) centres across New Zealand to support them to make safe decisions for their communities?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The guidance being provided to schools is extensive and it is regular. I want to stress that personal hygiene and reducing unnecessary physical contact—for example, hugs, handshakes, and hongi—are still amongst the most important things to do to stop the spread of the virus. Guidance has been provided to schools so that they know the risks for key activities like assemblies, school camps, and travel for sporting and cultural reasons, and they can make changes as necessary. The Ministry of Education has been providing daily updates to schools and early learning centres so that they've got the latest information and guidance. This is, of course, an evolving situation. The latest information and guidance is provided to schools as soon as it is available.
Jan Tinetti: Why is the Government not doing mass closures of schools as a preventative action?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: While we're seeing widespread school shutdowns elsewhere in the world, in New Zealand we do not yet have community transmission. Pre-emptive school closures can have unintended consequences—for example, children may need to be cared for by vulnerable grandparents or they may be put into social settings that could make things worse. At this stage, there is no public health reason for mass school closures. We are planning for temporary and targeted closures like what is happening at Logan Park High School where they are required. But, as the World Health Organization has confirmed, the risks to children remain low, and parents should continue to send their kids to schools and early learning centres unless they are unwell. However, as part of our wider planning for every scenario, it is still important that schools and early learning services are ready to provide distance education, not necessarily because of closure, but, in some cases, for periods of self-isolation.
Jan Tinetti: What planning is the Government doing to support schools and ECE centres if more targeted closures are required based on health authorities' advice?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: As I've indicated before, we're not currently expecting widespread school closures, but we are planning a variety of responses for different situations. The health, safety, and wellbeing of New Zealanders is of utmost importance, and we're taking actions as required to keep people safe. The Ministry of Education is talking with all of the major telecommunications companies on a cross-industry response so that we can support those students with limited or no connectivity at home if they are required to stay home. Again, we have planned for this and we are ready to respond. Education are working closely with their health counterparts and other Government agencies to make sure that schools, kura, and early learning services have the most up-to-date information as soon as it comes to hand, and we encourage parents and caregivers to listen to their school leaders and their early learning providers and follow their advice.
Question No. 6—Regional Economic Development
6. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: How can the Provincial Growth Fund assist the economic response to COVID-19?
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): I shall read a prepared answer. The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), the largest of its type in the OECD, is already on track to see some of its major project milestones delivered. I've asked officials to report back on projects that are not yet contracted—about 140—and provide advice to Ministers as to how they can be better prioritised and, indeed, funding rebadged as a part of the broader package to deal with the consequences of coronavirus.
Mark Patterson: How will the PGF interact with the $100 million redeployment fund announced yesterday?
Hon SHANE JONES: All going well, this Friday, a number of Ministers will be accompanying the Minister for Economic Development, Mr Twyford, to the Tai Rāwhiti. The $100 million, obviously, can be conceived as an extension of the Provincial Growth Fund and the officials over the last 2½ years have been working with regions, and, indeed, I have instructed them to use some shoe leather and visit every single local government body to ensure that where there may be projects that did not meet the immediate criteria of the fund, they are brought to our attention so that they can be conceived as part of a local response, given the expectation there will be great dislocation and volatility in firms and in workforces. The situation is something that we have to face together as a nation, and it will not be subject to politicking or divisiveness by my good self.
Mark Patterson: How much funding will the PGF disburse in coming months?
Hon SHANE JONES: From now until June, $300 million will be paid out into regional economies and, based on agreed contract milestones, by the end of the year, an additional $700 million on top of the nigh on $500 million that is already out there. This is a significant injection of cash into provincial economies at a time where it is sorely needed.
Mark Patterson: What existing PGF initiatives could help cushion the blow in our regions?
Hon SHANE JONES: As I've said, there are 480 projects under way; nigh on $500 million has already been injected. A large percentage of that putea is in forestry—that will create employment opportunities. Further details as to what assistance we can offer the forestry sector will be elaborated in Tai Rāwhiti on Friday. To the tourism sector, we've already committed $360 million, and I have been encouraging every Kiwi that I see to get out in their own backyard and support their fellow Kiwis that run tourism businesses. As well as the 10,000 people who are receiving training through Te Ara Mahi and He Poutama Rangatahi schemes, that represents nigh on $200 million. These amounts of money are not an exclusive answer, but they show a sense of urgency so that firms and communities have access to this funding to tide themselves over as we deal with the transitional challenges of coping with the virus.
Question No. 7—Health
7. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: How many of the 500 tests that were being processed yesterday were conducted on people who did not meet the case definition of having symptoms and either case contact or recent travel?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Firstly, can I advise the House that the final number of COVID-19 tests that were processed yesterday was 620. I would caution the member that at this time in matters medical we must rely on the advice of clinicians and the scientific experts that guide them, not on the judgment of politicians. To answer the member's question: we would have to contact hundreds of clinicians to ask why they had their patients tested. It is not in the public interest to interrupt our medical staff to gather that information at this time. We need to unite against COVID-19 and support the important work of our doctors, nurses, and allied health staff.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Do all of the 150 students and staff at Logan Park High School being tested meet the case definition as set out in the Ministry of Health information sheet dated 14 March 2020?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: As the member knows, the case definition was recently widened and specifically states that "due to the ongoing changing global and domestic situation, clinical judgement should apply as to whether someone who doesn't [quite] meet the current case definition should be tested or not." That means it's up to clinicians and the experts that guide them to decide who needs to be tested. They should exercise their judgment, and, of course, politicians should not second-guess that.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Will all of the students and staff tested go into 14 days of self-isolation even if their test is negative?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: My understanding is that those who are considered close contacts are being tested and are expected to go into self-isolation.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he agree that asymptomatic carriers could eventually become symptomatic spreaders, and doesn't that support a broader, earlier testing regime?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I'd like to remind the member that decisions on who is tested should be made by clinicians and the experts that guide them.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he believe there is a link between the expanded testing regime yesterday and the record number of announced cases today, and that if more tests were performed earlier, more cases would have been confirmed earlier?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Given the outbreaks we are seeing overseas, it is not at all surprising that we are seeing more cases arrive from overseas. I'd remind the member that the eight cases confirmed today by the Director-General of Health were all related to international travel. It is important that we continue to test the right people, and we will continue to identify more sporadic cases. This is evidence of our public health response working as it should. We are identifying cases and doing the contact tracing to contain COVID-19.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister also confirm that routine testing of patients who are in ICU or high-dependency units with respiratory issues are part of the testing regime, which is another way of catching if there are wider issues of community transmission, for instance?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I can confirm that we have been testing for some time patients in ICUs with pneumonia. Given the high number of patients internationally that require intensive care for COVID-19, it is likely that we would have had cases reported here if there was a similar community transmission as is happening overseas.
Question No. 8—Economic Development
8. Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he stand by all the Government's policies in relation to economic development?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, especially the $12.1 billion package announced yesterday to cushion the blow from the global COVID-19 pandemic and speed up the economic recovery. The announcements made yesterday show that we're focused on helping people stay in work and supporting our businesses and the people most vulnerable to COVID, like the elderly. This, of course, is all in addition to the extra $12 billion the Government has already committed for infrastructure through the New Zealand Upgrade Programme.
Hon Todd McClay: What advice has he sought or received on the number of job losses that will be caused by COVID-19?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The Government has shared with the Opposition and the public the advice that we've had that this is almost certainly going to result in a recession. It's going to have a profound impact on our economy. I don't believe that precise modelling is available yet on the exact numbers of likely job losses, but, as the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister have said, I think, repeatedly publicly, this is going to hurt, and there will be a very significant number of jobs lost.
Hon Todd McClay: How many job losses are estimated from medium-sized businesses who are not covered by the Government's support package announced yesterday?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I will repeat the answer that I gave to the earlier question: precise modelling is not available. The situation is moving too quickly and there are too many unknowns, but I think everybody understands this is a serious economic shock, perhaps more concerning and having more of an impact than the global financial crisis did.
Hon Todd McClay: Why is the Government's wage subsidy announced yesterday limited to 20 employees rather than also supporting people who work in medium-sized businesses, who are facing job losses of between 50 and up to 100 workers?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I think as the member knows, small and medium sized businesses will find the wage subsidy programme a very significant help. It is worth more than $5 billion, it's going to cause a massive injection of cash into the economy over the next two to three months, and it's designed to cushion the shock and help businesses transition.
Hon Todd McClay: What additional policies or actions will he consider and take to save jobs, given the tourism sector has said that up to 100,000 jobs will be lost in tourism and accommodation following the Government's support package announcement yesterday?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As well as the wage subsidy scheme, the Government had already announced $11 million to support the tourism sector. We've done work on redeployment. Minister Jones, just a little while ago, explained to the House what we're doing in Tai Rāwhiti, and efforts to find redeployment opportunities for particular industries and particular regions will be ongoing. We're talking with businesses directly, we are visiting the regions, we're talking to the key economic stakeholders, and, on top of the substantial announcements that were made yesterday, we'll continue to work with industry to see how, together, we can work through this for the good of New Zealand.
Hon Todd McClay: Is he aware that of the $11 million announced by the Government to support tourism, $10 million was to promote New Zealand overseas so foreigners could visit us, and, if that's the case, will that money be reprioritised and made available to medium-sized tourism businesses that are facing considerable job losses and their businesses may not survive?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The money has been redirected; of course it won't be spent on destination marketing now, but there is a commitment there to work with the industry. As the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have said, we're not going to be able to save every job or every firm, and the tourism industry is up against it right now. But we are committed to working with them to get through this so that their position when the market changes, when conditions change, is that they'll be there and able to take advantage of opportunities when we get through this.
Hon Todd McClay: Can the Minister tell the House what that $10 million has been redirected to and when that announcement was made?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: It's been redirected to the development of a recovery plan for the industry.
SPEAKER: I didn't want to interrupt the Minister at the time, but there appears to be a growing habit in the House of referring to Minsters in inappropriate ways. We have, on my right, the Hon Shane Jones, or the Minister for Regional Economic Development. "Minister" is not an honorific and should not be used as such.
Question No. 9—Social Development
9. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What initiatives is the Ministry of Social Development undertaking as part of the economic package announced yesterday responding to COVID-19?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): As announced yesterday, the Government is implementing an employer wage subsidy as well as a COVID-19 leave payment scheme. Both of these initiatives have been administered and implemented by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), with support from the Inland Revenue Department. We also announced the lift of main benefits by $25 per week and the doubling of the winter energy payment for 2020. These initiatives are on top of what we have already put in place, like the stand-up of the Government Helpline, deployment of rapid response teams, and the removal of stand-down periods for main benefit. As I said in the House last week, our focus has to be on ensuring MSD remains poised and ready to respond to COVID-19, and we are.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What response has the Minister received about these initiatives?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The response to date has been positive from across the sectors. Kirk Hope, chief executive of Business New Zealand, said, "This is a really strong and balanced response from the Government to help support New Zealand businesses—and the economy." Dennis Maga from FIRST Union praised the Government's response because it looks after people, not just businesses. He said, "So far this [has been] the best response that I have seen from a Government regarding this coronavirus outbreak", and Darryl Evans from Māngere Budgeting Services agreed: "I'm actually really impressed, to be honest … Benefits will go up $25 a week, that's been needed for a very very long time. I'm absolutely a supporter of that." He went on to say he believes it will help people buy another three or four meals a week. The broad spectrum of support we are receiving demonstrates that we are delivering on our commitment to act decisively and with compassion.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Why are these initiatives integral to the Government's economic response?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Our immediate goal is to support people and businesses as we weather the impact of COVID-19. The package includes $5.1 billion in wage subsidies for COVID-19 - affected businesses—that will cushion the blow and position businesses for recovery—and $2.8 billion in business tax changes to free up cash flow. We also know that initiatives like benefit increases are a tried and true mechanism for economic stimulus, because we know this money goes straight into the purchase of goods and services. Ensuring that workers and those on low incomes are supported during a time like this is incredibly important to a well-rounded economic response. The Government is pulling out all stops to protect the health of our economy, and at the centre is the wellbeing of New Zealanders. As was said by our Minister of Finance, now is the time for us to look out for each other, our communities, and our businesses.
Question No. 10—Tourism
10. Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Tourism: Does he stand by all the Government's policies in relation to the tourism industry?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Tourism): Yes, in the context they were made, but the member is aware that times have changed. COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the tourism industry, and we need to adapt and change our approach to tourism in response.
Hon Todd McClay: Does he agree with the statement of the CEO of Tourism Industry Aotearoa that up to 100,000 jobs will be lost in the tourism and accommodation sector and, in respect of the wage subsidy, "That cap of $150,000 per employer means you can subsidise no more than 20 jobs. We've got businesses who are looking to lay off 50, 100, 300 workers at the moment."?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Yes, we've said that there will be job losses. What we're doing is making sure we're cushioning the blow for the economy as we respond to the economic impacts of this global pandemic. Yesterday's package and, in particular, the wage subsidies announcement will go some way to support tourism businesses. We're making sure we're protecting those at risk of losing their jobs by supporting businesses. For those who do lose their jobs, we're making sure there is more support available for them and their families.
Hon Todd McClay: What specific support is he considering, given that thousands of tourism and accommodation businesses are facing many months, if not years, of little, if any, income, and how will he help these businesses and their workers, specifically, to survive?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: That question has been answered many times in the House in the last two days—I mean, as we've said, there are the wage subsidies. Treasury has been directed to work on support for large and complex businesses that need support above the $150,000 cap. This would likely be on a case by case basis, and we'll have more to announce shortly. We've got to remember that yesterday was the first tranche, and there's another tranche coming up—the Minister on my right has announced that—that will be happening around Budget time.
Question No. 11—Employment
11. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister of Employment: How many people are forecast to become unemployed as a result of COVID-19, and how many of those will be under the age of 25, if any?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): The latest household labour force survey had the unemployment rate at 4 percent and, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, this was one of the lowest rates in nearly a decade. This puts our country, New Zealand, in a strong position, leading into what we now face as a rapidly evolving situation due to COVID-19. As the Minister of Finance said yesterday, advice that we have had is that the effect of COVID-19 in terms of job losses will be greater than the global financial crisis, when unemployment reached 6.7 percent. What we know is that this will have a significant impact on unemployment, which is why yesterday the Minister of Finance announced the significant economic stimulus package to help cushion the blow.
Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I'd like an answer to the question that I asked.
SPEAKER: Well, I—the member is aware that she has no right to a specific yes/no or a particular number. The member is aware of the long series of Speakers' rulings in that area.
Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It's a primary question on notice, and the tradition, usually, in this House has been accepted that a full and accurate answer, and an answer that answers the question when it is a primary on notice, is to be expected.
SPEAKER: Yeah, and what I'm telling the member is that it is also a long tradition in this House that answers aren't always as specific or as definite as members asking the question want them to be. I will, however, say that on occasion, Ministers have pre-prepared answers which sound a bit like scripts to questions other than the ones that were asked. This one I'm not putting into that category or I would have ruled it out, and I'm going to ask that the member, if he's not in a position to give a specific answer to supplementary questions, makes that clear early and not use it as an opportunity for point-scoring.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The problem with this question is that there's nobody who's able to answer it because it's asking for the specific number of people. If it had asked for a percentage or a proximity to a percentage, maybe the Minister could answer, but there's nobody in this country with any intellectual integrity who would even try to answer a question like that.
SPEAKER: Well, I want to thank the member for his contribution. There's no point of order on the floor at the moment, and I think the matter had been dealt with, possibly slightly more gently, by myself.
Hon Louise Upston: Has the Minister asked for forecasts?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I think the key point to make here is that there is significant uncertainty about how this will play out, and any forecasts are likely to be inaccurate. So we are, obviously, talking about this, but this is an evolving situation, and what's important right now is that we provide certainty and support to employers and to workers and to communities.
Hon Louise Upston: What is the Minister's plan to reduce the number of those who become unemployed as a result of COVID-19?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Sorry, I missed that. Can you repeat the question?
Hon Louise Upston: What is the Minister's plan to reduce the number of those who will become unemployed through COVID-19?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Well, as has been said over the last few days, we are working closely with communities right now—right now. On Friday, myself, Minister Jones, and Minister Twyford will be going to the Tai Rāwhiti, where we will be talking to the community and talking about deployment and talking about the problems that are happening at the moment. Also, we have a significant programme in terms of schools and a skills-based programme that we're working on right now.
Kieran McAnulty: How does yesterday's economic stimulus announcement support those under the age of 25?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: The announcement is the first stage of our response. We're focused on helping people—young people, particularly—stay in work and in training. That's why the wage subsidy scheme was such a key feature yesterday. We're putting $5.1 billion in wage subsidies for affected businesses in all sectors and regions, and 97 percent of New Zealand businesses have fewer than 20 employees—we must make that point again and again. This means the scheme will cover the workforces of over half a million businesses, and we are continuing to look at what support we can provide for larger employers. It's important to remember that these businesses can access up to $150,000 under the scheme. We've acted swiftly to give employers and workers some certainty, and we're very pleased and proud of the response we've had so far.
Hon Louise Upston: What is the redeployment plan?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: It's a plan that we're working on right now. As I said, it's an evolving situation, and it will all be revealed this Friday in the Tai Rāwhiti. The member is welcome to attend.
Hon Louise Upston: Does the Minister still expect to achieve the 4,000 Mana in Mahi places promised by the Prime Minister?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: We're obviously focused in on the crisis right now. Mana in Mahi is part of the kōrero, part of the discussion. We remain focused on trying to achieve those numbers, but we realise we're not going to kid anyone in the House today. We're in a crisis situation, so everything—everything—is going to be tough over the next couple of years, but we're focused in on that kaupapa still.
Question No. 12—Health
12. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What changes have been made to this year's influenza vaccination campaign in response to COVID-19?
SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. Maybe I didn't make myself clear enough earlier on. "Minister" is not an honorific. You can refer to the Hon Julie Anne Genter or the Associate Minister of Health. Start again.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: This morning, the Hon Julie Anne Genter and I announced that we have brought forward the start date of the influenza vaccination campaign to get ahead of COVID-19. The flu vaccine will not protect people against COVID-19, but more flu vaccine is expected to reduce demand on our hospitals over the critical winter period. This is New Zealand's largest flu vaccination campaign, with 30 percent more vaccines available than last year. The campaign begins today for our most vulnerable New Zealanders. This is two weeks earlier than previous campaigns, which normally begin in April.
Angie Warren-Clark: How is more flu vaccine expected to help the health system?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We are busy preparing for a busy winter as the global COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe. Vaccinations reduce incidents of the flu and they protect our most vulnerable, who are the people most likely to get sick and consequently be hospitalised with the flu. Flu vaccinations will improve our health system's ability to cope with the expected higher demands at hospitals from COVID-19. It's critical that we do all we can to prevent a bad flu season this year so that we can focus on responding to COVID-19.
Angie Warren-Clark: Which groups will be able to get free flu vaccines?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: People who are 65 and over, pregnant, or living with a chronic health condition, and children with respiratory conditions will be able to get a free vaccine from their GP or pharmacist. Healthcare workers will be able to get it free from their employer. Our top priority is to vaccinate people who are most vulnerable to getting sick this winter. Most Kiwis will agree that this is the right thing to do. Other New Zealanders will be able to get the flu vaccine from Monday, 13 April.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I first of all stand on behalf of not just National MPs but, actually, on behalf of the National Party, its many volunteers, and its many supporters and at this time shout out to, mostly, those health professionals that are at the front line and that are doing jobs and putting themselves at personal risk, to those cleaners and workers that are out there and doing that job, to the teachers that are dealing with parents that are full of angst and uncertainty, and, of course, to New Zealanders and probably to people around the world, actually, that are in times of such major uncertainty in not knowing what's coming along next. Can I just please put us on record in acknowledging all of them in these absolutely unprecedented times.
To start with the good, can I just commend the flu vaccinations and there being more of them being made available sooner for those whom they have prioritised. That certainly, from our perspective, makes sense.
Can I acknowledge the job support package. Thank goodness something is finally here, even though a week before, in this very House, we had been hearing "It's business as usual. There's nothing to see." Certainly, the answers to questions from our side to Grant Robertson on Wednesday last week were just, "It's business as usual. Carry on.", and in just a few short days, we—thank goodness—saw that change and we've seen some of that support come on board.
There's no two ways about it. We do question things like $600 million for aviation but only $500 million for health, and $2.8 billion for increasing benefits, which was most likely going to be done, quite frankly, in the Budget. But one has to question it, when we get accused of politics on a daily basis on this, that actually to try and make the package look a bit bigger than what it was going to be—that that was brought forward so that it could be a bigger announcement yesterday than what we would have seen if it had been in the Budget.
We would have liked to have seen more for health, as they are in the times that they are right now. We do worry, as everybody does in this House, about those that are going to lose their jobs, who are in medium-sized or bigger businesses and who haven't got weeks to wait for the next iteration of what might be coming their way, and these are literally thousands of jobs.
Like, I'm sure, every member of this House—and, actually, probably most of us in society—I mostly, at this point, worry about those who are in overcrowded situations, and what does it mean for them if someone is suspected of having coronavirus or has coronavirus. I worry about those that are in motels at the moment and those that are homeless, and our most vulnerable.
I worry about older people who already feel isolated, who wonder what it means for them if they're actually now feeling even more isolated because they can't get the visits and they can't get the level of contact that is actually part of who we are and that keeps us ticking along and keeps the soul feeling good. For many of them, this will be a truly fearful time.
So I like that Parliament's talking about what a plan might be and what we may need to do, but I do shout out right now to politicians: we are representatives of the people. We are public servants. This is the time where we don't stand up and say, "Us first." It actually, for me, is the time when we say, "Us last." This is the time when we should be calling out and making sure that we're doing our bit for the people that we represent in our communities. [Interruption] No, I'm saying it for all members of Parliament, and certainly not just for us.
This is the time when I think that we can be doing what needs to be done, so we will continue to ask the questions. At times they'll be uncomfortable, and at times people will criticise them and they won't like them. It is the job of Opposition, I think, more now than ever to actually be asking the questions that need to be asked of the Government as they make huge decisions that affect people's lives.
We would like to see more transparency. We would like to see the basis of the decisions that were made on Saturday. We asked today and were told "Go through the normal process. You're not getting that level of paperwork." We're constantly told that we should work together, and yet any hand that we reach out is simply not taken up. It's yet again the words but not the actual practice. I shout out to the people—
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): This is a Government with a plan that is well prepared and has been operating off that plan since 6 January, in the face of the global outbreak of COVID-19. We have outstanding health professionals in this country. We have invested, in the last two Budgets, record amounts in health, such that we now have an $18 billion health budget, but, of course, more resources will be needed specifically for this fight.
I do want to acknowledge the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance in making it clear, right from the very start, that financial resources would not be a constraint for health in this fight. Right from the start, we have reallocated resources, and now we have a dedicated $500 million package available to health immediately, with $235 million of that already allocated, to make sure that the public health of New Zealanders is put first, to make sure our people are kept safe, and to make sure that we can follow the World Health Organization advice that we focus on testing, tracing, and self-isolation. That approach thus far has served us well. We have kept COVID-19 at bay as well as any country we might like to compare ourselves to around the world.
There is no room for complacency. We need to continue to take decisive action. It has served us well so far. We moved before other countries on putting restrictions in place for people coming from Iran. We moved before Australia on putting restrictions in place around South Korea and North Italy, and we moved before most of the world to put in place restrictions around all international travel, except for the obvious case of our neighbours in the Pacific that we have a particular duty of care for. New Zealand has moved swiftly, and I want to thank our health professionals, who are using this time, as we speak, to make sure that our health system is as well prepared as it possibly can be for this global epidemic.
Today, I am calling on all New Zealanders to unite in the fight against COVID-19. Together, we can get through this. This will involve all of us taking the steps that we can take to make sure that we're keeping our loved ones safe, to make sure that we're looking out for the most vulnerable in our communities. It means simple things like making sure we do not go out when we're not well. It means observing social distancing where otherwise we might want to give the hongi or the handshake. It means washing our hands frequently to ensure that we're observing the best hygiene practices, and coughing and sneezing into our elbows. These are simple things, but they will make a huge difference for New Zealanders as we unite to fight COVID-19.
Our strong response in health is a part of our strong economic response. We know that keeping our people safe will help to protect our economy, and that is why, at the very start, we have gone hard and gone early to keep New Zealanders safe. We know that we will see more cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, so we are continuing to plan for that reality.
I want to speak briefly to a couple of the items in the package that was announced yesterday, the $500 million set aside as a dedicated initial health package: $40 million immediately into public health, with a strong emphasis on contact tracing. That nearly doubles the current annual spend on public health and is so important for those vital services to contain COVID-19. Also, $50 million more will go into primary care, including funding for community-based assessment centres, equipment, and logistics.
Of course, also today, the Hon Julie Anne Genter and I announced an early start to the flu vaccination campaign, bringing it forward from its usual April start to ensure that our elderly and our most vulnerable and those who care at the front line, our healthcare workers, are protected from the start of this—to make sure that before the flu season, more people can be protected. We have 30 percent more flu vaccine than our record season last year. This is, again, because we have acted early. It will help to keep New Zealanders safe and reduce the demands on our hospitals in the peak flu season.
This is a Government that's prepared, that has a plan, but we are all going to need to unite as a country to together fight COVID-19.
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National): Thank you, Mr Speaker. We all stand here today during challenging times for many New Zealanders and many people all around the world. We all see the international stories. Day by day, the gravity of the situation is deepening, and the lengths that various Governments have gone to around the world to try and hold back the tide of this disease are quite astonishing and unparalleled in terms of closing down economies and keeping people at home. We all wonder about what the outcome of this will be, and we're naturally concerned—concerned about the health of ourselves and our families and our neighbourhoods, and also about our economy and our ability to have good jobs and to care for our families and to have some security in the future.
We note and acknowledge the Government's very substantial package yesterday. In broad terms, of course, of that package, about 2 percent of GDP has been focused to the short-term battle against this disease—about $6 billion. The other $6 billion, roughly, will be spent over the next four years and is not directly related to the coronavirus but for long-term things, such as increasing benefits. Now, that may well be appropriate, but we do need to recognise that the package, in terms of trying to deal with the short-term economic issue that we're facing around coronavirus, equates to about 2 percent of GDP. It's interesting; the United Kingdom, overnight, was talking about 15 percent of GDP. So notwithstanding the talk that we've heard about the size of this package, we do need to recognise that in international terms, it's relatively modest.
Our point that we would be making here in the National Party is that we agree with the focus on wage subsidies in terms of helping people stay in their jobs and helping businesses. It's not a business support package; it's a workers support package that we need and what we're getting. It's about keeping workers in their jobs and keeping those businesses ticking over. Our primary point yesterday was to make the point that if you're spending $12 billion, you're actually better to spend most of that money on saving jobs today, not on something in four years' time. That's what we wanted: more urgent action. When we called for the package a number of weeks ago—actually, two weeks ago; certainly a week ago—we were talking about swift and substantial action. We've got a reasonable amount of action, and some of it is swift but most of it is not. So we're making a very clear call to the Government to move faster and more urgently and more substantially in order to save jobs.
I was disappointed, frankly, today in the Minister's answers around the numbers of people. It's all a bit confusing: $5.1 billion has been allocated to these wage subsidies. Even in urgent and critical times, basic questions should be answered and we should have the basic detail and assumptions upon which it's made. So if you're spending $5.1 billion to give a subsidy of $580-odd a week, that's about 730,000 workers you're talking about subsidising in the next three months. It's very hard to understand, because only about 900,000 workers would be eligible for it. The implication seems to be that the Minister thinks that nearly 80 percent of eligible workers will be being subsidised in the next three months. That, I hope, is not the case. It's a very bleak outcome if that's what he is thinking, but I'm not sure the figures have been gone through in any detail.
It is not correct and not acceptable that this Government says that they refuse to release the Cabinet papers and the information upon which this decision was made. We need to see, right now, what the Cabinet paper said and the assumptions that underlined that decision of nearly $5 billion of expenditure. We need to see that now. We don't want to wait six months or two months or three months—however long the Government usually takes to answer these basic questions. Likewise, for the major decision on Saturday about closing our borders, we need to see the Cabinet paper and understand the arguments that were used.
Finally, I do think it's also critically important that the private sector is out there trying to raise extra money to keep jobs and save jobs, and that's capital raising. A lot of big companies are out there right now, wanting to raise more capital. The first thing that a Government should do should be to make it easier for them to do the task. They should be sending a clear message to the Financial Markets Authority and the stock exchange to be swift with their regulatory work—don't muck around for two weeks but turn things around in 24 hours—and lift the threshold so that companies can raise that money that they need critically and swiftly. It's all about saving jobs. That should be the primary focus from an economic point of view. Of course, one of the best things we can do is get on top of this disease quickly, and that's why all of us right here today are encouraging the Government and authorities to test, test, test—get those tests out quickly so that we can understand the size and gravity of this problem. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister of Forestry): Thank you, Madam Speaker. There's a line that I recall from when I was a lad at St Stephen's School out of the Bible: "But the hour cometh, and now is". Without a doubt, every single member of the House wants to align their interests, I am absolutely sure, with the inevitable challenges, hardship, uncertainty, and pain that lies ahead of us with the arrival of the viral black swan. An event no one contemplated, an event that has long and dangerous consequences, and will be rationalised post-event for many years to come.
Every single Kiwi is looking to their democratically elected representatives to show reassurance, not to delve into gratuitous displays of pettiness or divisiveness. Now, there's a balance to be struck between the democratic responsibility of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition to test the thinking, but not to feast on the inevitable sadness, uncertainty, and volatility in the community. This particular package, articulated yesterday, now over $12 billion, will inject confidence, will inject cash, will inject re-assurance into the many firms that are saddled with the burden of having to get rid of employees or, indeed, in some cases, even close their businesses. This truly is a set of circumstances that no one in this House has actually been through. Sure, the economic impact may be analogous to what some of us lived through in the late 1980s, or it may have resonances for that which befell us in 2007 and 2008. But, with the dangerous implications for human health, this moves it to an entirely different level.
When we go into the regions, and we will be making announcements for the Tai Rāwhiti—but that's not the only region. All of these programmes start somewhere. For several weeks we've been working on cobbling together, with coherence and with a level of cut through, a package for the forestry industry. But it's not only the forestry industry. The other side of the House have been quoting statistics—quite dangerous, in my view, the way in which they are throwing those statistics around about the huge layoff problems in the tourism sector. That is why the wage subsidy, the actual ability of people to put their hands up: "I may be affected. I need to socially isolate. I need some fiscal assistance so we can continue to live." That is a very compassionate; that is a very relevant set of ideas in our proposal. But there will be several eras, segments in this journey. This is just the beginning.
Slowly but surely, I've no doubt that businesses themselves are putting themselves on a war footing, because such is the systemic nature of the challenges, not of our own making. Markets overseas are clogging up, supply lines, logistics are clogging up. This is restricting our ability to conduct business as usual. But I've every confidence that the investors, the enterprises, the men and women of the land, will continue to generate food, generate produce and exports. And where we need to, as a Government, to ensure that supply lines and logistical problems can be solved, we will solve them.
We know we are a country that has a prodigious ability to turn our fortunes around. We have our legacy industries and we are about to learn how profoundly important those legacy industries are in terms of continuing to generate output. This is not a time for rural or urban, young or old, blue or red, black or white; this is a time for Kiwis to bind together. This is a time for this House to show we'll rise above pettiness and point scoring. I do say, however, we were let down by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday.
Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua): Madam Speaker, thank you very much. I want to start by recognising the hard work and commitment of our health workers, health professionals, and thousands of people up and down New Zealand who are in surgeries and doctors' studios, in our hospitals and indeed, in ambulances, who are doing more than we would normally ask of them.
Of course, there's great uncertainty for them. They need to know that this Parliament recognises just what they're going through and that we will continue to work hard to make sure they are as safe as they can be. I also want to recognise or think of parents in New Zealand, at the moment, of children, particularly smaller children, because they too will be facing great uncertainty. I know in my electorate, but also here in Wellington, from around the country, there will be parents who are not sure whether they should send their children to school or, in some cases, will be choosing not to. And that's understandable that as with everybody in this House, parents and others are concerned about the impact of this virus upon New Zealand and concerned for their loved ones.
That brings me to the need for there to be clear and precise and concise information made available from the Government, but also from members of Parliament in all aspects. The reason for that is as this virus has unfolded and will continue to change as quickly as it has, the more information that is available to the public, the better position they will be in to manage their own circumstances. We need to make sure that the clear advice the Government has been given from health professionals is made available to this Parliament, but to parents and to New Zealanders also so they know about how they can best decide how it is they go about arranging their everyday lives, because it is important that parents know that their children are safe at school, if they choose to send them there.
I hear what the Minister of Education has said earlier, but I think there is a lot of information—a wealth of information or advice—coming to the Government that I think they must release, and that they must put aside their normal political decision making when it comes to releasing information, because these are unprecedented times. It's important that this House is aware, but everybody is aware also of exactly what's happening.
I just want to, for a moment, just take up the Hon Shane Jones. Look, I know it's very, very difficult and it's very challenging, but we can't, on the one hand, say that everyone must come together and not be political, and then be political. That's all I'm going to say about that. And the reason for that is there are many New Zealanders—tune in to the radio station or listen to talkback radio. There are so many questions being raised, and they're concerned. And sometimes they will appear to be from a place of anger, but they're not, they're from uncertainty and they're from concern, and they're because people want to know that everything is going to be OK.
So when the Opposition raises issues with the Government, as I have in this House, as Simon Bridges has, and every other member has, it's to seek information, not to trip up or catch out, but to seek information to make sure that everything that has been done, that can be done, is being done. I think that if we can leave at the doorstep this notion that if you ask a question you must be being political, then, actually, the House will work much better, and New Zealanders will be happy with that, and we'll be taking our responsibility seriously. Again, I want to leave it there.
I would say to the Government that the package they've announced has been welcomed, and it's welcomed by the Opposition, but we need to make sure that everything that can be done is being done. I think another area they must revisit very, very quickly as those medium sized businesses and, particularly, the tourism businesses that this package won't deliver for. Indeed, if you are a medium or large sized business and you've lost 30 or 40 percent of your income, or you're going to, then, actually, you may well have 100 or 200 employees, and the decision of how you keep them on is exactly the same as for a business that only has 10 employees. The consequence for the economy, but actually for those workers, is much, much graver, because there will be cases in the coming days and the coming week where hundreds and hundreds of employees are let go in larger companies because this package doesn't deliver for them.
I think the Government needs to raise the cap and realise that it's not just about small businesses. Yes, we understand that they had to rush there so very, very quickly. Release the advice as to why it's only the small businesses, but actually what we need to do, particularly for tourism businesses, is lift that cap and realise that some of them are not going to survive based on the package that was announced yesterday.
In my electorate, and in Queensland, and in every part of New Zealand, there are tourism businesses that have no bookings—they have nobody coming through. They have no money arriving this week. We need to keep those businesses there and people employed in them because, actually, otherwise the harm to our communities and to our economy is going to be so much greater than it is today. So good announcement as a start yesterday, but the Government needs to go much, much further, and they need to quickly.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): I want to start off by acknowledging the spirit of New Zealanders and the huge amount of compassion, kindness, understanding, and resilience that we're seeing out there in the face of COVID-19.
Yesterday I saw a person who runs their own business. They are a caterer. They have lost a lot of business already because they work on film and TV series sets, and they spoke to me about the fact that they are already looking for ways to diversify. They understand that this is happening internationally and so, of course, we are impacted as a country. But then they spoke to me about their concerns for other New Zealanders. I've spoken to many New Zealanders who had organised once in a lifetime trips overseas in the upcoming months and now know that that may not be a reality for them, but, despite being disappointed, they have said that they understand the measures that we as a Government have taken—they respect those measures, and all they want is for the best interests of New Zealanders to be served.
I have seen people go out of their way to look out for the best interests of their communities. In fact, I saw online someone put a letter in their neighbours' letterboxes, saying, "Dear neighbours, as we face uncertain times because of COVID-19, we think it's important that we all pull together and look to help one another if needed in the coming weeks and months. Although we don't know each other well, now is a great time to come together as a local community and offer support, should anyone need it. We are happy to run errands, help with washing, and to cook meals for anyone who is unwell or self-isolating. If you are willing to be part of a community support group with a focus on helping us get through this bloody virus as best we can, then please message us or drop a note in our letterbox." And that is the spirit of New Zealanders that we are seeing at this time, and I commend that.
I also commend the great amount of effort and work that has been put in by our public sector. I am the Minister for Social Development, but I see it across the board, whether it be the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, Inland Revenue, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Treasury—all ministries are working, they are agile, and they are doing us proud, I think, and we need to acknowledge their work.
Already we have made announcements that impact or are being undertaken across Government agencies, and I know that even with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), we have had many people working long hours, including 40 of my staff who were in the Wellington office on the weekend, to work out the detail and mechanics around some of the things we are doing, and there are many things. We've spoken about some of them today. There will be the wage subsidy that the Ministry of Social Development will administer, the self-isolation subsidy. There is already the rapid response teams in 16 regions—we're looking to roll them out; in nine, they are already standing up. There is the Government helpline that MSD is running, and actually just yesterday they received 4,500 phone calls. There is the stand-down period that will be dropped as of 23 March, and we are also seeing a fiscal stimulus package in the form of benefit increases and also a doubling of the winter energy payment.
That is just some of what this Government is doing. And yes, as Ministers, we needed to act quickly to agree on policies that we could move forward and that would have a positive impact in response to COVID-19. But we could not do that by ourselves; we needed the efforts of all of those people as well to support us.
At this time, I do recognise those that are experiencing uncertainty, whether it be those that are business owners or those that are employees and wondering what will come next. I also recognise our social services and the fact that many of them have already indicated to us that they are experiencing a level of demand due to the extenuating circumstances. There are lots of New Zealanders out there that are working to not only look after themselves but to look after others, and I want to acknowledge that today.
We heard at the beginning, from the first National Party speaker, that the Opposition has a role in holding us to account. Nobody in this House would disagree, but during trying times we all have the responsibility to work together in the best interest of our country.
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Revenue): Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I want to make one thing clear, and that is that with the decisive action we took yesterday, we can now potentially prevent the worst of this. This is why we went hard and we went early. As the Prime Minister said, and she reiterated yesterday, the health of New Zealanders is our number one priority. We also know that the best protection for our economy is getting this virus under control. That is the number one priority for the Minister of Health, and it's the number one priority for this Government. And we're taking decisive and necessary steps in the national interest. There will undoubtedly be disruption, and I think that's been highlighted by the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister, but the potential cost of not acting now is too high. Things are changing rapidly—they are changing rapidly. But the thing is that we have got a plan. As the Minister of Finance has said, the plan will change as it needs to. It is fluid.
One of my roles is as the Minister of Revenue, and I would like to highlight just four tax items that we announced yesterday that I think will help small to medium and large businesses. The thing I want to make clear, first and foremost though, is the wage subsidy package we are talking about is not just available to small to medium businesses, which has been suggested; it is available to all businesses. However, there is a cap of $150,000. The first thing I would say to any business that is in trouble is, first of all, contact your bank. The second thing I would say is contact your tax agent or go online and look at the resources from Inland Revenue.
Now, I just want to outline four tax items. The first one is depreciation for commercial and industrial buildings, and this includes hotels and motels; it does not include Airbnbs. The reason we are doing this is because we believe that we need to help the productive economy. If we allow companies that own these commercial industrial buildings to depreciate value—which, actually, used to be the case until 2010—this will help. And let me give you one example: a building worth $3 million at 2 percent depreciation—that's $60,000 in the first year—that's $16,800 less tax that the person will have to pay.
The second thing I'd like to talk about is the low-value asset write-off. What this is is from 1 April this year, a company can buy an item worth $5,000 or less and they do not have to depreciate that; they can write it off immediately. What the Tax Working Group told us is that this was a real bugbear—it increased compliance costs. So what we want to do is decrease compliance costs and really encourage small to medium enterprises, our businessmen and businesswomen around the country, to go out there and buy and buy local.
The third thing is provisional tax. What we've done is we've said that we're increasing the provisional tax threshold from $2,500 to $5,000. That means if you're earning around about $18,000, a businessperson does not have to pay in instalments; they can pay at the end of the year, which actually is February 2022.
This is about 95,000 companies—this will improve their cash flow. They can, if they want to, pay early. They can, if they want to, enter into tax pooling arrangements, but they don't have to. We think this will help 95,000 businesses. The fourth is use of money interest. Now, this applies from 14 February, and this is targeted. So what we're saying is businesses who find that their income has dropped by 30 percent compared to a year ago, and have talked to their bank, and who are impacted by COVID-19, they can have use of money interest wiped from any tax debt. But they will have to enter into an instalment with Inland Revenue to pay their tax back; they just won't pay any interest on that. And again, we think this will help. But my advice—I just want to reiterate this—is if a business is finding themselves in trouble, please do not bury your head in the sand. Talk to your bank, talk to your tax agent, and come up with an instalment. That is what we want businesses to do.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National): In the period ahead, we are going to ask a tremendous amount of our health professionals. They are going to have put themselves, literally, on the front line of an outbreak the scale and length of which we know not yet, but by the actions of the Government, and the scenes that we have seen around the world, they are going to be very, very difficult times. I want to pay tribute to them, because they are going to need to work incredibly long hours, put aside their own affairs, neglect their own families—some of whom will have their own needs—in order to care for those who will be unwell. And indeed, given the Minister for Social Development and Minister of Revenue have also spoken, those public sector staff are also going to be at the front line of the needs of New Zealanders as a consequence of this outbreak.
We have been hearing from the Government saying that they can't candy-coat this, this is serious, and yet we don't have an admission—yet—that a sustained community outbreak is coming. I think we need to be honest about that, because it changes the plan that the Minister of Health talks about. He says we've got a plan, we've had it since 6 January, and yet these are conversations we weren't having only five or six days ago.
Now, I have been in contact with health professionals in Italy and in the United Kingdom and I will not elaborate on the things they have been telling me, but in my long years in the health sector I have never heard the like. I ask this: are we really so naive as to think that those countries, those advanced nations like South Korea, Germany, Japan, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom were not hearing from the same public health experts that we are hearing from? And don't we have an opportunity to change our plan, to be more nimble, more proactive? The only difference I can see is that it started earlier and it started in the last month of winter.
OK—we're now into autumn, but I think we have a significant opportunity because the costs of not doing so could be as great as that which is being faced by those countries. And the Minister talks about the three things that we need to be doing: testing, tracing, and self-isolation. Well, I want to focus on the first of those: testing—test, test, test. I was really disappointed in what I believe were constructive and important questions in question time today not being answered by the Minister.
The simple question is this: at Logan Park High School in Dunedin are the 150 staff and students who are being tested there—all symptomatic or are some of them asymptomatic? If the answer to the question is the former, then we should shut down the city, and if the answer to the question is the latter—fantastic. What that means is we are going to get ahead of the curve, because what we know from overseas experience is that asymptomatic carriers of the virus become symptomatic spreaders of the virus and if we know who those people are, we can stop the spread. I was critical yesterday in congratulating the Government on the $500 million health package, but worried that we're still nickel and diming this, that there are mixed messages with our health professionals who are being told by the Prime Minister they have the discretion, but being told by the Director-General of Health that they've got to stick to the programme, which is the 14 March guidelines for testing.
I applaud the Government's investments in things like primary care resources, telehealth, community-based assessment centres. These are really good ideas. I worry that the influenza vaccine ordering is not going to be enough and I know there's some more money in the future for that. So that should be brought forward. I also worry about our ICU capacity. But my simple message is this: let's not stick to a rigid set of criteria. We need to broaden the testing regime because when we know where it is, we can know what to do about it. And actually, we may be able to free people up if they test negative. They can go back to their lives, back to their communities, back to their schools now. The message has to be this to our health professionals: leave it to them. I agree with them on that, but they must test, test, test.
Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister of Customs): Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity. These are exceptional times and it requires an exceptional response from all of us. On Saturday, our Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, announced some of the strictest border measures compared to other countries in the world, and this is basically because it is the health of New Zealanders that are at risk and it is actually on all of us to ensure that COVID-19, novel coronavirus is actually kept out.
Now, the New Zealand Customs Service is the oldest Government department in Aotearoa New Zealand. Customs' purpose is to stop potential dangers, hazards, and threats from entering New Zealand and, in the recent past, Madam Speaker, that focus has been on illegal drugs. You would know—I've spoken about it in this House previously—in 2019, Customs was able to stop three tonnes of illegal drugs from hitting our streets. Nowadays, the focus of the New Zealand Customs Service is on stopping COVID-19 at the border and Customs is working right alongside our healthcare workers. I also would like to add my words to both the Hon Michael Woodhouse as well as the Hon David Clark, our Minister of Health, in thanking our health workers for the work that they're doing right now, but also thanking them in advance for the work that we all would expect them to do in the very near future.
Customs' priority at the moment is to ensure that New Zealand Customs Service works right alongside our border force. And that includes public health, it also includes aviation security, it includes the Ministry for Primary Industries, and it also includes some of the police who are now at the border, mainly to ensure the new rules that our Prime Minister announced on Saturday—especially the fact that we expect every single person with the exclusion of those who are coming from the Pacific to self-isolate themselves for 14 days. We expect people to actually adhere to that.
I want to talk about what's happening at Auckland international airport, because that is the largest port. So since the announcement that our Prime Minister made, these are some of the things that are happening at Auckland international airport. On the plane, for all international planes, there is an announcement there that actually tells people about the strict regulations and rules that we have around COVID-19. Second, passengers are given a health card and in addition to that, of course, the Customs form that they have to fill out: the arrival card. Third, there are extensive signs right across the airports, right across all of our international airports that you cannot miss, about the fact that we are really strict at our border. Fourth, passengers are now spoken to by a health official and have explained to them the self-isolation that they must actually do. And passengers are also questioned by these health officials.
There are, in addition, announcements at the airport, via the public address system, emphasising just that New Zealand has a zero-tolerance approach at the moment. Every single passenger, as you know, because we've closed our e-gates, has to go through Customs and they're manually processed in that way and they are asked again about self-isolation, they're given a card to call the Healthline, and after that they then go to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), and MPI also asks our passengers that come through our international airports, and makes them know about self-isolation.
After all of this is done, what I do want to emphasise is that Customs, Immigration New Zealand, as well as the police, and as well as public health officials, they all have powers now so that—and we know from media reports that there are now people that are about to be deported—if people are coming to Aotearoa New Zealand and are not prepared to self-isolate for a period of 14 days, they will face the full force of New Zealand law. It includes fines, it includes imprisonment, and it includes being put on the plane and deported.
This is a virus that we all have to fight together. The Director-General of Health earlier on today appealed to everyone, "Please dob in someone who doesn't adhere to self-isolation rules."
Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō): New Zealand does face a challenge of a scale possibly unlike any one that we have in the past. We've seen global financial shocks—actually, I think, in the last decade or two, we've seen more natural disasters than we would have liked; and we've had more than our fair share. But what I do believe, in a country like New Zealand, is that, actually, we're up for it. New Zealand as a country has weathered many storms, and I actually think it brings out the best in people. That is the opportunity for us as a country and communities to come together to deal with some of the challenges that we are still quite uncertain on.
There are a couple of things that I think are important. One of those that comes to mind is that no matter what happens we need to remain calm. You know, there is official advice, whether it's through the Ministry of Health or whether it's the Ministry of Education. One thing that I would say is, particularly for older New Zealanders, the feedback I've had through my electorate offices is that we actually need to make more information available in many different ways and not rely on New Zealanders having access to the internet to get the most up-to-date information. New Zealanders up and down this country would agree—and definitely the National Party as our leader, Simon Bridges, and deputy leader, Paula Bennett, have both acknowledged that New Zealanders are pleased with the support package that the Government has put forward.
It's an absolute relief to see an increase in the testing that's available. It's fantastic to see that the flu vaccine time frames have been brought ahead. It's fantastic to see that there will be a public campaign, because I do think that's really critical in terms of good communication, clarity, and keeping people calm.
There were a few surprises, though, in the package for me. The first one—as our health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said—was the small amount that went to health, because our health professionals each and every day, before there is a virus outbreak like this, do do an extraordinary job for us and our families. So I was somewhat surprised that the level of funding into health was as small as it is, given the size of the challenge ahead of us.
In the weeks that have already gone past, the bit that surprised me was that the Government was very fast to act to get people on benefit faster, when, actually, I believe they should have focused on actually supporting people to stay in their jobs because, at the end of the day, that's the certainty that a lot of families have been looking for; some have been delivered to with this package.
One of the other questions that's come through to my office in a number of different directions is the difference between the increase in the benefit of $25 a week, which is permanent, and the winter energy payment, which is only for a year. The Prime Minister has said she's very happy to provide information to the Opposition so that that can assist us in doing our job—I'm really keen to see the Cabinet papers as to what the difference is between that. Why is the benefit increase permanent and the winter energy payment only a year? I suspect that's because the benefit increase was planned anyway and was going to be delivered in this year's Budget.
There are a couple of other questions I've had from constituents. What about new businesses—businesses that haven't been trading for 12 months that still might have 20 or 30 employees but haven't got 12 months trading records? So that's one. Another is a group of tertiary students that are also having work difficulties, who work part time to support themselves.
So my questions last week and this week have been about, you know, what are the forecast numbers of the people who will be unemployed or who will join the benefit numbers, because, actually, until you know what the numbers are, how do you make that plan? New Zealanders want certainty. They want to know that there is a plan going forward, and, although the situation is changing, that then the plan can be adjusted according to whatever those circumstances are—and that's what we will continue to be interested to see. Our job as the Opposition is to ask questions and is to challenge, and that's absolutely what we need to do.
My final message is—we're facing uncertain times—to stay calm and, more importantly, stay connected. Self-isolated doesn't mean cutting yourself off from your loved ones and community.
MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green): I'm proud of the budget package that was announced yesterday by this Government. I'm proud that we all work together—the Labour Party, New Zealand First, and the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. "He waka eke noa" was often said yesterday, and it is absolutely true that we are all in this together and must look out for each other. Working together as a Parliament is something that we should have always been doing, long before a global political crisis approached us. So I'm proud and relived that this Government very quickly stepped up to announce a budget package yesterday; it's the first great step in our response to the COVID-19 virus.
Again, looking after people with the least resources and the least support is part of the core responsibility of parliaments at all times, but especially right now. It's that collective care and responsibility that is going to get us through.
What I was disappointed to hear from the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, was when we pit each other against each other—when groups and communities were set against each other. That is the opposite of the approach and the attitude that we will need to get through this. So I wanted to be clear to this House and to the country that the Leader of the Opposition needs to read the room collectively: New Zealanders want us to work together. That was an uncalled for tone and attitude that was put on this House yesterday.
For far too long as a nation, Governments and politicians have left people out in the cold to fend for themselves. We now know that that is the opposite of what we need to be doing in our response to this COVID-19. The impact of leaving people out in the cold has long added to more anxiety and panic for people, and that is why it is in everyone's best interest to not pit groups of people against each other, to make sure that those at the hard edges of our communities, who will bear the brunt of whatever is about to come, are featured in our discussions and debates.
Also, I was pleased to see, of course, that Māori tribal authorities are swinging into action, wanting to coordinate and provide assistance and resources. I wanted to acknowledge that, at the community level and at our grassroots level, groups and New Zealanders are showing ourselves once again to be ready to provide and care for each other collectively. I want to acknowledge community organisations and not-for-profits who also will receive some help, from yesterday, but we need to also bear them in mind at the front of our responses.
The Greens know that support for people in abusive relationships is also going to be essential—as they find it hard already to leave those relationships without support, but especially with the added stress of COVID-19. That's why the Minister's package yesterday is supporting New Zealanders to get through, with the $500 million extra to help services at the front line; making sure that people can stay at work, with the wage subsidy; making sure people who have to self-isolate can continue to be paid; raising benefits by $25 a week. Something that I'm very proud of is that the Greens are a part of this Government to help push those sorts of changes through—changes that the Welfare Expert Advisory Group wanted us to urgently prioritise. So we're very pleased to see that alongside doubling the winter energy payment and waiving interest and making it easier for small and medium sized businesses to keep workers in work. We know that this extra strain when people are finding themselves out of work is something that this Government can help with, and we have shown that we are ready to step up and recognise that.
People are relieved and have been in contact with me personally—[Member sneezes]. Sorry; I didn't have a tissue, but I will—in tears of relief and happiness at the announcement of the package yesterday. So I am really proud that we can give people hope and that people know this is the first step. Again, leadership is required in these very times, and I am proud of the leadership that we are showing here—again, that people want to see us work together, that people want to see us loving people, caring for our land, looking after our elders, and understanding that all of the groups and communities who make up our beautiful country are all worthy of being valued, that there is no time or room in this political House to pit groups of people against each other. We also know that pulling everyone together will help slow the virus down. This is good for everyone. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
GREG O'CONNOR (Labour—Ōhāriu): I think there comes a time in every nation's history—probably in world history—when we just know we're on the verge of some big change, and I just think about what it must have probably been like in 1939, when war was declared, with the recent memory of World War One. The world would have understood the implications of it, and everyone would have sat, thinking, "Woah, something big is happening here." And I'm thinking now of the 80,000 New Zealanders who are overseas. Every one of them—and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, has today recommended that those people come home—will be sitting in Europe, they'll be sitting in Asia and Africa and different places now, thinking, "Woah, we didn't think this would happen a month ago or six months ago." But they're going to come home; they'll be seeking flights. And that's what it must have been like when war was declared.
We are at war. We are at war with the COVID-19 virus, and, like every war, there will be change. The world will never be the same. So, when that happens, it's the time to look at how well equipped we are. I look at my own career—the times when times have got very hard. I think of when, as a young police officer, we had the Mongrel Mob decide to take us on in Porirua, or the Nomads decide to take us on in Masterton. But we won because we were well led, because we knew what victory looked like. We knew we had to win. Failure wasn't an option. And that's where we find ourselves now as a nation. The world won't be the same again.
I don't blame the Opposition for doing what they're doing. They're doing what their job is. They're like the rest of us: we're all very much in trepidation, and when we're in trepidation, we're looking for ways; we're looking for what we're going to do next. Well, I feel very lucky to be on this side of the House, because I'm getting to sit and watch. Because the one thing we all should be looking for is leadership. I can tell you now, from where I am looking, we've got it on this side of the House. I'm not one given to superlatives, I'm not one given to going over the top, but I do have to say that I've watched the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern grow through these crises we've had. If she grew one leg after the first one, this time last year, she's grown more.
What I can assure those listening, those across the House, who don't get to see what's happening behind closed doors in particular, is that we're in good shape to face this. Really, on behalf of certainly my electorate, those in Ōhāriu, I can give them assurance that, while this isn't going to be a perfect outcome—there are going to be casualties; there will be business casualties; the world will not be the perfect place, probably not for anyone—what we are is in a great shape, as good a shape as we could be, to actually take this battle on.
The other thing that it's important to do at this stage is to have the right facts at hand—I suppose to know the enemy. There's an old saying—I grew up in the country—that said "It's not the pedigree of the bull; it's the pedigree of the man"—I should say "woman" in this day and age—"who's trying to sell you the bull which is more important." So what I would ask New Zealanders to do is, when they're looking at what's happening, actually have a look at who's telling you what. Go to the websites; do not listen to the radio jocks, do not look at what the latest thing that you've seen on the web—on the latest website—is. Go to the people who actually know what they're talking about.
We're very fortunate to have Dr Ashley Bloomfield every day giving us the numbers. If you listened to the rumours leading up to the facts every day, when that press conference takes place, you would think we had thousands. So what I would implore those listening at home, what I would implore those sitting opposite, to do is actually work with facts. Although, again, I can fully understand the positions you're taking—you're looking for that reassurance that everyone is—look no further for reassurance than the front row of this side of the House, because we have got the leadership to take us into this. If we have mixed leadership, if we are indecisive at any stage in this, if we double-guess ourselves, that will be the worst we can do. So all I can ask, New Zealand, is—yes, the war has started; yes, we're going into battle; we need good leadership; we need supported leadership; we have it—give faith and we will get through this.
The debate having concluded, the motion lapsed.
MOTION NOT PUT
Abortion Legislation Bill—Recommittal
SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. For goodness' sake, the member should at least wait until the Clerk has completed his call of the appropriate bill. I call on the Clerk to call the bill—which isn't even that one.
SPEAKER: Well, I'm willing to hear it—David Seymour.
DAVID SEYMOUR: It does relate very precisely to what we've just heard. Speaker's ruling 120/4 says that a bill cannot be recommitted to insert a new clause if a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) to the same effect has been ruled out by the Chair. Now, SOP 474 did have, largely, the same effect of what's being proposed right now, and it was ruled out of order by the Chair as a result of it being contradictory to another decision made by the committee—namely, the acceptance of SOP 464. So it would seem, in accordance with Speaker's ruling 120/4, that it is out of order for you, as Speaker, to accept the motion that's just been proposed.
SPEAKER: Is there any further comment on that? Can someone give me a copy of the SOP that was ruled out, please? Does the member have a copy of it? The member's asked me to rule it out on the basis of something that—
CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville): Even if it were not the case that, as Mr Seymour has correctly stated, a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) had already been ruled out in this space, the fact of the matter is that the content is substantially the same as that which has already been considered by an existing Supplementary Order Paper—that in the name of Mr Seymour himself—and it would be a contravention of Standing Order 140, in relation to the fact that a voice vote is carried to determine these matters. It would not be appropriate for this House to recommit a matter to the committee of the whole House, which it would then not be available for the committee to consider, in accordance with those Standing Orders.
JAN LOGIE (Green): My understanding, and not having it on hand with me right at the moment, is that 474 was the previous SOP in the name of Marama Davidson that was creating an alternative regime for safe areas. That is not what this SOP does. So while that may have been ruled out of order, this is substantively different.
SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki): If it's possible to make sure that we—well, on this point of order, is it only on Mr Seymour's effect, or are we able to bring the wider discussion before you put a motion forward?
SIMON O'CONNOR: I'm just wanting to make sure that once you've dealt with the very particular point of Mr Seymour's, other aspects which are relevant to the motion can also be discussed, or—
SPEAKER: No, they can't. There's no debate. It's not a debatable motion.
SIMON O'CONNOR: No, it's not to be debated. I just don't want it to be—well, then, two points: while it's not debatable, it then becomes incredibly relevant to the order of the House that we have an understanding of what the SOP is, otherwise we're running blind. Secondly—
DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): I speak to the point of order made most recently by Jan Logie. Jan Logie claims that there is, she said, a difference in substance between SOP 485 and 474. That may well be true. My reading of them—I can't see what difference she is referring to, and I reserve the right to contest that, however I refer you to the precise wording of Speaker's Ruling 120/4, which says "if the clause or one to the same effect has been ruled out of order by the chairperson."
So it would seem to me that whether it's the same substance, we can argue all day. The fact is that the initiative by Jan Logie, and Marama Davidson's point of order have the same effect, and that is to introduce a form of safe area into the bill, or re-introduce it, after the Chair of the committee has ruled out a very similar amendment to introduce a similar form of safe area. Indeed, the committee of the whole House has ruled out the safe area concept completely, which led to SOP 474 being ruled out of order.
CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville): It's not even necessary to rely on those points, accurate though they may be. Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand is clear that the recommittal mechanism is envisaged in a situation where a defect or oversight may be discovered in the bill. Objectively, that's not so, because the committee of the whole House not only voted upon that matter but also stood that part of the bill at that stage, sir. It's not for this House to seek a second crack at the sideline conversion after the final whistle has been blown.
JAN LOGIE (Green): Just speaking further to it, and clarifying in terms of the point of difference between SOP 474 and this SOP. SOP 474 was to set up the Director-General of Health as the person who made the decisions about granting safe areas, and also set up an infringement regime, as opposed to the original criminal regime. What this SOP does is restore the provisions that were recommended by the Abortion Legislation Committee that were certainly passed, but not reflecting the will of the numbers of this House, in the way that the voting happened in the committee stages.
We sought advice on how to rectify that and we were told that this was, indeed, the option available to us to rectify that, and that the House has control of its decisions, that we get to choose.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order—I've got a new point.
SPEAKER: Well, is it a—I'm about to rule on David Seymour's. Is it a new point of order, or if it's a point of order that goes to Mr Seymour's point of order I will hear it, otherwise we'll hear it after.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast): I just want to correct a statement that's been made to you, in that Jan Logie said that the vote by the committee didn't reflect the will of the committee. That's not correct. The records show that very clearly. The will of the House was passed.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, I've got something else.
SPEAKER: OK. Well, I'm in a position now to rule on Mr Seymour's point. I recognise the fact that while this shouldn't go on, we have a very senior member who wants to make a point of order when I have ruled. My ruling is a very similar one, that there is a difference between a House and the committee. The committee cannot make decisions which are inconsistent with each other, and that's the reason that Chairs of the committee rule out matters that have been dealt with. The House, however, has the ability, in the end, to make a decision to ask the committee of the whole House to override a previous decision. That is of longstanding and it is an important precedent. Therefore, the rule of consistency within a committee does not apply to the House when it comes to a recommittal motion. I'm now ruling out David Seymour's point of order, and I will refer to the Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I wonder if there is a little bit of a gap in our Standing Orders, when I read them. Because if you look at page 449 of Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, where it instructs on recommittal and multiple committal motions, it makes the point that if there is more than one member wanting to seek a motion to recommit, then it would be the most broad of the recommittal motions that would be put to the House.
Now, the difficulty here is that we have a provision under our Standing Orders that means that only one motion can be put at a time. That seems to me to be a problem in our Standing Orders that might well be fixed today by a ruling which would say that if there are other motions for recommittal on this bill, that they could be considered for decision by the Speaker as to which was the most broad of those motions, both of them being recommittals. I think it is a bit of a dilemma. It's a problem that while we refer to Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand most of the time—in fact, all the time, pretty much—for our guidance, and it is a rewritten document that has been written in the last couple of years, I think it would be something that you might well want to consider.
SPEAKER: I want to thank the member for his suggestion. I think it is something which would be appropriate for the Standing Orders Committee to consider at the appropriate time. At the moment, there's not only the reference in Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand that the member has rightly drawn my attention to. In preparation for this, of course, it was part of the research, but I remember the Rt Hon David Carter referring to the quality of the judgment of Speaker Wall, and there is, at Speaker's ruling 120-2 a very clear ruling from Speaker Wall on that matter.
A personal vote was called for on the question, That the motion be agreed to.
Adams Ghahraman (P) Mallard Tinetti (P) Andersen (P) Henare (P) Nash Wall Bennett P (P) Hipkins (P) Prime Warren-Clark Clark (P) Hughes (P) Radhakrishnan Webb (P) Coffey (P) Huo (P) Robertson (P) Williams Collins (P) Kaye (P) Ross (P) Yang (P) Craig (P) Kuriger Russell (P) Curran (P) Lees-Galloway (P) Sage (P) Doocey Little Shaw (P) Dyson Logie Sio (P) Eagle (P) Lubeck Stanford Teller: Genter (P) Luxton (P) Swarbrick (P) Davidson
Allan (P) Guy (P) Mitchell M (P) Smith S Ardern (P) Hayes (P) Muller (P) Strange Bakshi (P) Hipango (P) Ngaro Tabuteau (P) Ball (P) Hudson O'Connor D (P) Tirikatene (P) Barry (P) Jackson (P) O'Connor G Tolley Bayly Jones (P) O'Connor S Twyford (P) Bennett D (P) Kanongata'a-Suisuiki (P) Parker (P) van de Molen Bidois King Parmar (P) Wagner (P) Bishop (P) Lee D Patterson (P) Walker (P) Bridges (P) Lee M Penk Whaitiri (P) Brown Loheni Peters (P) Willis (P) Brownlee Macindoe Pugh (P) Wood Carter Mahuta (P) Reti (P) Woodhouse Davis (P) Marcroft (P) Rurawhe Young (P) Dean (P) Mark (P) Salesa (P) Yule (P) Dowie (P) Martin (P) Scott (P) Faafoi (P) McAnulty Sepuloni (P) Falloon McClay (P) Seymour Garcia McKelvie Simpson Teller: Goldsmith (P) Mitchell C Smith N Upston
Motion not agreed to.
The result corrected after originally being announced as Ayes 43, Noes 77.
SPEAKER: Members, before I call the Hon Andrew Little, I want to indicate that for the third reading of this bill, I will follow the normal practice on conscience votes and give some preference in the allocation of calls to members who indicate to me that they would prefer a five-minute call, and thereby provide the opportunity for more members to participate.
This bill will bring about the most significant changes to our abortion framework in 44 years. The main objective is to shift abortion out of the criminal legal framework that it sits in at the moment and make it a health issue for women who are now making this very difficult decision when they're confronting the decision about whether to continue with a pregnancy or not. The bill confirms the right of a woman to choose whether she proceeds with a pregnancy, and respects her ability to do so.
I want to acknowledge that this is an issue that is tempered with very deeply held views, with great passions, and we've heard that in all the debates in this House, most recently during the committee stage. Members on all sides of the House, members who I consider very good friends, have taken very trenchant views. Some have been driven by their faith, others driven by other motivating factors, and I respect all of those. What I am thankful for is that the debate was largely conducted in a very respectful and, I think, very thoughtful manner, and I know that the third reading debate will be conducted in that way as well.
I know that many members of the public also share great passions about this particular issue. There are many people in New Zealand, just as there are many members of this House, who are opposed to the idea of abortions at all—I understand that—and that is driven by people's various values and their faith and various other factors. But the reality is that we have had, since 1977, a legal framework by which the issue of abortions has been managed in a combination of our criminal law and our health system. But it is time to move that framework into the 21st century and to reflect modern values and the way most New Zealanders live their lives, which is that they do want, and women do want, to be able to make that decision, consult the health professional of their choice and not have to go through unnecessary barriers, and, most importantly, not have to, in a sense, lie about their mental health state in order to make this decision.
I know that there were many submissions to the Abortion Legislation Committee, and many members have commented on the number of submissions and the proportion that were opposed to the bill. But the reality is that most of those submissions—and there were form submissions amongst them as well—were opposed to the idea of abortion at all and did not deal with the idea about how we make sure we have a legal framework for abortions that reflects 21st century New Zealand values, reflects the status of women in our society today and the fact that they're quite capable of making health decisions for themselves, and that it is an issue that no longer belongs in our Crimes Act.
I think we have to bear in mind, too, that of the roughly 13,000 abortions that are carried out in New Zealand each year now, a very, very small number are carried out at that post - 20 week time during the pregnancy. Abortions considered at that point in a pregnancy relate to wanted pregnancies, but where the woman's health is severely compromised—and sometimes the fetus at the same time, or alternatively—that is the context in which those decisions are taken, and I think we have to respect the fact that when women are in a position to have to make that decision at that point in the pregnancy, it is a very distressing time indeed. What we need to make sure is that the support services are there for them, the treatment services, the best professional medical advice they can get, and that is an obligation I think we owe in this day and age.
So, as I said before, the current framework requires women seeking an abortion to maintain a fiction about their mental health. They have to consult multiple practitioners, multiple health professionals, and what that has done in New Zealand is caused women who get an abortion to get it much later in the pregnancy than would otherwise be desirable. That means it is less safe for women on average and it means that more women miss out on the opportunity to have an abortion by way of the safest means, which is the early medical abortion process done through oral medication. I think the more we have a framework that enables women making that decision to do so at a point in the pregnancy that is safer for them, then that is good for those women and it's good for the community and for New Zealand as well. The changes in this bill will enable earlier access to services and will support the best health and wellbeing outcomes for women. The bill reflects the fact that women can and should be trusted to make an important health decision in consultation with their doctor.
I will now just go briefly through the main features of the bill, and these have been well traversed. I was very pleased with the work of the special committee that was set up by the House to examine the bill and the changes they came back with. I'm very pleased that they are, by and large, intact and one or two matters have been added on, and I think that has improved the bill. And, of course, the issue of safe zones has been disposed of; it wouldn't have been my preference, but it is not there. That is a matter, if the need arises, that I'm sure this House can come back to at a later stage.
So the first thing the bill does is to shift the whole issue of abortions and the decision making around it, and really the status of the decision by a woman to have an abortion, from that criminal context now to a health context. Right now, a woman making that decision is, in the first instance, committing a criminal act about which she has a defence if she follows the requirements of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act. The bill repeals the grounds for lawfully aborting a pregnancy that are currently prescribed in the Crimes Act, and the offences relating to abortions provided by health practitioners. It does retain a provision in the Crimes Act for abortions, or the end of a pregnancy, caused as a result of a criminal act such as an assault or a violent act on a woman that results in the loss of the pregnancy. That remains a crime on our statute book. The bill also retains an important criminal offence that relates to an abortion being carried out or attempted by a person who is not a health professional. We do not want to go back to the days of backstreet abortions.
The bill also removes the role of the Abortion Supervisory Committee—and to the extent that committee had a supervisory role and a data collection role, that will transfer to the Ministry of Health, who will be charged with setting up an appropriate office and means to do that.
I know that, for example, the member Simeon Brown was very concerned about ongoing data collection. That is provided for. There is an interim measure in the bill, but it is certainty my expectation that the Ministry of Health will continue, and, in fact, it is required to consult over the future of data collection, so that we can be well-informed about abortions and the status of abortions in New Zealand.
The bill changes the grounds for abortion and improves access to abortion services, so there is no longer the requirement for two certifying consultants. For women who are considering an abortion post - 20 weeks, there is an added legal test: a requirement that their health practitioner consult another relevant health practitioner to assist in that decision. But, in the end, it is acknowledging that it is a decision in accordance with the appropriate conditions for a woman to make. To ensure that women can access services without unnecessary delay, the bill allows a woman to self-refer directly to an abortion service provider, removing the need for a referral from a GP.
The bill also provides for situations where a health practitioner has a conscientious objection to providing advice on or administering an abortion, and it seeks to ensure timely access for a person seeking these services. A conscientious objector must tell the person seeking the abortion, sterilisation, or contraceptive services how to access the contact details of the closest provider who can assist with that service. The objector must assess who the closest person would be in these conditions around that, as well.
Finally, the bill includes provisions based on the Human Rights Act to balance that right of conscientious objection with the role of employers in providing health services. There are employment protections for those employed by services providing abortion services but who, as an employee, might have an objection too, and there's a gradation of approaches for the employer in those sorts of circumstances.
Getting the bill to this stage has been a major undertaking, and I appreciate the input of all members of the House, the many members of the public who have submitted, and all of those who have expressed their view, both for and against, including out on the steps of Parliament in the last week. These are very difficult issues.
I'm thankful for the work of the Law Commission. I'm thankful for the work of the Abortion Supervisory Committee and, in particular, Dr Linda Holloway, who has led that group for some particular time. Their work will come to an end, but they've had a difficult job to do, and I'm very thankful for the work that they have done.
I'm very thankful for the chair and deputy chair of the special committee that considered the legislation, the Hon Ruth Dyson and the Hon Amy Adams. In the end, I'm thankful that this House has been able to get to this point in a respectful and thoughtful way. I commend this bill to the House.
The abortion debate has always boiled down to a fundamental difference as to whether the unborn child is human or something less. If it is human, it's entitled, by definition, to all the protections and rights any human being has in New Zealand. If it isn't human but merely not an unborn child—as the honourable Minister of Justice has stated in this House—then you are free to do with the "not a child" as you want.
This has enabled the Minister to clumsily sidestep the real and worrying legal issues raised around this proposed legislation and, in particular, clause 11, because the debate before us isn't on the legality of abortion and whether it should be allowed. Despite the clever albeit deceitful casting of debate as one of pro- or anti- abortion, the real debate is about a radical liberalisation to the existing abortion legislation. Clause 11 of this bill, by every reading of it, states that it will allow for abortions up to the moment of birth, and no amount of the Minister blocking his ears and saying "No, it doesn't." changes this. It is a broad, ill-defined, vague section with no regard to the unborn child. There is far more definition and substance in the provision on conscientious objection in this bill than there is around clause 11.
Clause 11 is the crux of this bill. It provides no medical boundaries as to when a post - 20 week child up to birth can or cannot be aborted. It merely allows for a clinically appropriate test to be applied, which itself is not defined.
Our first responsibility in this House as legislators is to pass good, robust laws and to recognise the humanity in our laws. Clause 11 is not good law. How can it be when it seeks to reject outright pre-born babies as developing human beings?
I and those who share my view have acknowledged the difficult position a mother must be in to have to consider aborting her child. It's a tragic decision, one that will leave lingering psychological effects. The answer is to not make it easier to eradicate one, but we should be looking to find ways to support them both.
To the progressive mind, abortion is the linchpin to female fulfilment, and kicking the door open and wide must, therefore, be presented as a victory for all women. But to rationalise this, they must never speak of the act of abortion or speak of the baby inside the mother. Instead, what we hear is "My right to choose. My body, my rights. My reproductive choice. My health. My bodily autonomy."—"My, my, my."
Who are we and where are we heading as a society if we allow our laws to attack the most sacred instinct a mother has for an unborn child: the maternal instinct to care, to protect, and to nurture our babies from the moment we know that we are pregnant. That is an attack on our own humanity. It is not progressive; it is regressive.
For those mothers having to make the painful decision to abort a child for severe abnormalities, my heart cries out for them. What an awful position to be in, but it is clear that the current law supports women in those very rare and awful situations.
But abnormalities are not the only reason women have abortions post - 20 weeks. Overseas research shows that women do have them for other reasons. These women are likely to be young, unemployed, and may be suffering from substance abuse, depression, or intimate partner violence. These are facts, and despite the Hon Ruth Dyson claiming that all babies are wanted post - 20 weeks, the facts don't support her claim. The Hon Ruth Dyson can be as offended as she likes, but, truth be told, they are not always wanted babies, and we need laws to protect them.
Perhaps the biggest deception touted by some proponents of this bill was that this would decriminalise women, knowing full well that no woman ever, in New Zealand, was criminalised. We hear that women will no longer face the stigma and will no longer have to lie about the reason for having an abortion, as if women will now proceed to have guilt-free abortions on demand as though they are merely having an appendectomy. No law can alleviate guilt. No law will stop women who have abortions from feeling the full weight of the decision they have made. This proposed law will not change that, and this is because we all have a moral conscience, regardless of what is written in the law.
For those who claim to be offended by harrowing images of what an abortion actually is: yes, you are right. The images are repulsive and sickening. I find it hard to look at those images, but I carry no ill feelings towards those who hold those images up to us. Those images show us the truth. They are real. If we harden our hearts to those images and deny the reality of what happens in an abortion, then we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to further atrocities against humanity.
I have found it disturbing that some members in this House have called for members like me to be open and honest about my lens view, and they want to know if I am religious or not. Why is that? Is it because underlying this call is the perverse idea that religious views can be automatically discounted, excluded—mocked, even—in relation to the debate on broadened abortion laws?
I hold strong to my Catholic values and my Samoan upbringing. Does this mean that a religious person who may be pro-life carries less weight than an atheist who may be pro-life? Does my being a Samoan New Zealander place my lens view higher than my being a Catholic New Zealander? You see the slippery slope that these calls for lens views to be declared can have. They are inconsistent with the liberal democracy values we have. They are bigoted and the cause for religious declarations must stop.
We have heard that we need to reform our abortion laws because the current law is archaic and out of date, or that it is onerous and bureaucratic. No, I say. Our current abortion laws seek to balance the rights of the mother and the unborn child. No. What is archaic is this abortion bill, which has been carefully shepherded in under the guise of health and decriminalisation. The reality is that we are voting on a bill that is about dehumanisation, where some humans are excluded from being considered part of us, part of the human family. They become excluded from our empathy, our compassion, and therefore easier to commit violence against them. This is what the bill is about. The unborn child is one of us. I urge my colleagues to vote No to this bill.
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills): Can I just begin by saying that this legislation is long overdue. I want to acknowledge the many campaigners who, for decades, have worked for law reform. I want to particularly acknowledge Dame Margaret Sparrow; Elspeth Preddy; Terry Bellamak and all at the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand; Helen Wilson; Steve Chadwick, former colleague in this House; and many, many others. The time has finally come. I want to thank the Hon Andrew Little for his leadership on this issue, for finally taking it out of the too-hard basket, and bringing it before Parliament.
I had the privilege of chairing the special select committee which was set up for the purpose of considering just this bill. All parties in Parliament were represented on that committee, and I think it was a very good model, not just in its structure but in the process that we followed. I want to thank all the members of the Abortion Legislation Committee for the work they did but also the way they did that work. I think we improved the bill and we also treated a sensitive and very contentious subject respectfully. That's a good model for Parliament to follow.
During our considerations, we had exceptionally high-quality advice from both Justice and Health and also from Parliamentary Counsel. We had some rigorous debates, because our committee decided to break some new ground—and I'll get back to that point later, but we were advised against it. We considered the advice and didn't agree with it.
The three main changes we made—and one of them is on the point which we got advice against—was to strengthen the process and legal requirements for abortions that are carried out after 20 weeks. We heard the concern that was raised. We listened to the experts in this area. We understand how few abortions are done after 20 weeks and the gravity of the reasons for them and the harrowing position that puts parents in, who have to make that decision and go through that process.
I refute the point that was made by the previous speaker, Agnes Loheni. It was a consistent message that we got: abortions post - 20 weeks are not a convenience. They're not something that anyone wants to go through, and we should respect that those terminations are done to a wanted baby. So we strengthened the process and the legal requirements for those, and I think it was a good move.
We expressed opposition to any abortion for the purpose of sex selection. That is not part of New Zealand culture, and we never want it to be. And we improved timely and equitable services to contraception, including emergency contraception, which avoids pregnancy—it stops a woman becoming pregnant when she clearly doesn't want to be—and also sterilisation, abortion, and counselling services. We were quite dismayed by the inequity of services throughout the country, and we hope that this bill strengthens access to services.
I regret that during the process of this bill, the ability to determine safe zones has been dropped. I strongly believe that staff at clinics and women accessing services there should not be subject to harassment, to abuse, to intimidation, to humiliation, and to feeling anything other than going through a procedure that is legal and which they're entitled to refer themselves to. I disagree with David Seymour, with respect. There are no provisions in our current law which will stop this behaviour happening, and that's why safe zones are needed and should be progressed in the future. I supported the attempt to do that today, and I regret that it failed.
As I said at the beginning, this bill is long overdue. I am confident that we have reached the understanding in Parliament now that it is time to progress our legislative regime out of the Crimes Act and into health services alongside others. The accountability is there. The quality of provision is there. All it takes now is the political will of this Parliament to make this long-overdue step. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
PAULO GARCIA (National): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I begin my contribution to this abortion decriminalisation bill by reminding myself that New Zealand is a democracy; a democracy with a Parliament of 120 elected members, elected on the basis of securing a majority vote from the constituents in their own electorates. Election means a majority of people from the electorate believe that their member of Parliament well and truly represents their values and are mindful of their concerns, of what is important to them.
Having said this, the fact is that over 25,000 submissions have been received in Parliament, from all over New Zealand, with a great majority of them against the law change that this proposed bill wishes to effect. This large number of submissions was not even considered by the Abortion Legislation Committee, and positions have been taken in support of a bill that places New Zealand on a path that I believe many New Zealanders do not agree with. It is a path with unfettered access to abortion to 20 weeks, a path of abortion that is open to the full term, abortion that may be used to discriminate against the disabled, abortion that is open to the selection of Down syndrome babies, abortion that is open to sex selection, abortion that allows for minors to consent to an abortion without requiring that their parents be made aware, abortion that does not recognise the need for culture and values and family background of women seeking abortion to be considered, and abortion that completely disregards the involvement of the father in the decision.
This debate has seen a deliberate, determined effort to change and alter reality; an effort through words and invoking that time—that much time—has passed between now and the previous law. Words have changed, from "the unborn child" to "a fetus", from "a baby" to "a fetus", from the existence of life to a denial of it. By so supporting such a law change, in the face of the unprecedented public outcry against the change, does not indicate a representation of the people of New Zealand; it does not illustrate the democracy that we all believe in.
I would like to spend a little time on the inaccuracies of some of the debates that you would've heard. Of particular interest—glaringly inaccurate—was mentioned by a member in saying that the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 was the result of a bias in a male-dominated Parliament, pointing out that there were only four women members at that time. It is important for the public to know that the Act of 1977 was largely and substantially the result of recommendations of the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion, which sat from June 1975 to March 1977. The royal commission was comprised of three men and three women. Time does not change their considerations then, and time does not make their considerations then any less than the considerations we have now in looking at this legislation.
SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I'm pleased to take a call in this—well, actually, I'm not pleased to be taking a call in this third reading. I'd prefer that we were not here.
When we're discussing topics like this, we move between the subjective and the personal and then into the objective and the ethical. Having had to counsel a number of women over years who have had abortions, I do want to put on record right from the start that the individual choices—and mentioned it to a journalist a few months back, too, who shared of her own abortion—that those women have made never leads to condemnation of them. A person like myself will still talk of the objective, of being wrong, but I think it's important to put on record that no matter what decisions women make, or any one of us here, in choices in life, it never takes away from the dignity, importance, and value of every person. But, objectively, though, my view on abortion remains steadfast—in many ways, for the reasons that were wonderfully and eloquently put by Agnes Loheni.
This is a Government bill. I think that needs to be very clearly understood by the public—so I say it again: this is a Government bill. This is a bill which the Prime Minister herself is behind. I say that once again for the public: this is a bill that the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is behind.
Someone said "They are us and we are them." It's interesting that it referred to the Muslim community. I can't speak for the Muslim community, but I bet if one of them was standing here today, they'd be very clear of what their Muslim values say—they are us and we are them. I've said many, many times before that human rights apply to all humans, and I find it sadly sad—I suppose things are sadly sad—for people to say "They are us and we are them.", but when it comes to the unborn child, according to those who will support this bill, and certainly the Prime Minister, unborn children are certainly not us and we are not with them. I condemn that position.
This bill should not be supported. It is extreme and it is too radical. Fundamentally—fundamentally—it provides absolutely no rights, no recognition, and no dignity whatsoever to the human child that's developing.
I noted in my first reading speech, which I was grateful to have, that the human child developing in the womb is us—it's every one of us—just that little bit younger. There is no miracle through the birth canal where all of a sudden nothing becomes something—that is just not feasible.
We have a bill where abortion right up to birth is OK, whether it could happen, it happens once, 100 times, 500, is irrelevant, it's what this bill enables. It's far too radical. Abortion because a baby is disabled is OK. An abortion because the baby's a girl is OK, which is really quite a challenge, I imagine, for modern feminists, including the fact that half the babies aborted are women. You know, "Go feminism! We're going to knock out half the babies that are girls!" Well done there, ladies!—or modern feminists. Down syndrome children can be aborted. Again, whether or not it happens or not is irrelevant, the bill allows it.
The bill no longer has any ability to take in cultural considerations. Again, that should be a challenge to members who wax lyrical in this House about cultural values and the Treaty of Waitangi, and yet here, in a life and death issue, they're choosing to ignore it. No notification for parents at all. I put forward a Supplementary Order Paper saying that I just want to make it absolutely, abundantly, black-and-white clear in this legislation that if and when—and it does happen—an abortion is botched, that the child will absolutely, definitively receive healthcare. It breaks my heart to think that this House voted it down. That's horrendous—it's absolutely horrendous.
And then the attack on conscience rights: awful, just awful. But believe it or not, on days like today, I'm actually not a pessimist. You know why? Because I can smell the fear in this House from the pro-abortion side—the absolute reeking, stinking fear. And you know why? It is because the pro-abortion side know their position is weak—fundamentally weak. I'm going to illustrate in the last few minutes why, because I want to bring a message of hope. They are weak and they are fearful because they're anti-science. They always move against the science of the human child of conception. What is developing? They fear the science. They won't talk about it at all—the baby that has a heartbeat at six weeks, its own DNA, that it can feel pain, the science has ignored. You can feel the fear.
Euphemisms—euphemisms abound in this debate. My God, we will never talk about a baby; we'll talk about cells, we'll talk about clumps, and we'll talk about fetuses. In fact, we'll try to use the English language to never, never use it. Euphemisms throughout history have been used in an Orwellian way—well, actually, that's probably a contradiction since he wrote 1984, but it's an Orwellian way to avoid reality. Euphemisms and those who use it show great weakness and fear, and I can smell it here today.
Safe spaces—great to see that defeated; a disgusting attempt of procedural override there. But why safe spaces? Lo and behold, or betide, that someone might stand outside of an abortion clinic! As I mentioned in my committee stage, "What's more scary than a nun with a set of rosary beads standing outside an abortion clinic?" Again, it points to the fear and the weakness. The banning of conscience rights: "We don't want people thinking. My God, we don't want our doctors, nurses, and others thinking. We're going to ban them from having an opinion." Yes, that is awful, but I tell you now: that is an expression of fear and of weakness.
The talk of stigma and shame becoming the latest progressive tools; it's a form of censorship. No one should ever feel a shame or stigma for anything, of course, unless it's the progressives who want you and people like me—my God, I'm a Roman Catholic. That is one of the worst and the most intolerable things possible. I'm to feel ashamed. But you listen from the progressive side, they move very hard now: stigma and shame. A censorship of thought, again, for the pro-lifers—have hope. This shows great fear and weakness on the pro-abortion side.
They call us extremists—sort of the opposite of euphemisms. Now, maybe I'm an extremist. Colleagues are probably thinking that at the moment. I don't really care. But they're very, very clear. It's ironic, of course, that those who yell at anyone who's an extremist because they hold, you know, a pro-life, scientific view, are just the very people who attack populism. They won't talk to the topic; they'll just use names and labels. Take hope people—take hope.
Rushing this through, of course. I mean, is there something else happening in society at the moment? Yes, COVID-19. "Hey, but we're going to spend hours more in this House debating abortion."—unbelievable. And more than happy, of course—more than happy—to rush this through with everyone distracted.
I want to mention here at this moment the complicity, once again, of the media, who have not fully embraced or reported this topic. They are scared, and that includes the New Zealand media. I implore New Zealanders to look far more widely for truth than what they'll find in mainstream media here in New Zealand. They are scared as well. They are scared of the truth, and they will do everything they can to shut people like me and you down.
Finally, you just wrap all that together. You wrap all of that together in this debate and, ultimately, it doesn't matter if you're for abortion or not, but that absolute fear, those dynamics: anti-science; euphemisms; "We must have safe spaces and exclude people; we're going to ban conscience rights; we'll make sure anyone who opposes us is seen as an extremist; we'll call them a bigot, intolerant; we'll stigmatise and shame anyone and remove it where we can.", all of this points to great fear and weakness—great fear and weakness.
So today this bill will pass, undoubtedly, but I've seen a great awakening in the country, on top of many, many things that are happening. So, as I say, I'm actually not pessimistic. I'm full of hope, and I'm full of hope because I stand beside some amazing, amazing people. I don't have enough time left to read through the whole thing or all the names—I'd be here for the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders—but a day is coming where that, if you will, concern and fear will be reversed, when the truth continues to come out, for those who speak for life will be heard once again, loud and clear. History is replete with that. But I finish with a little indulgence to myself, and it'll probably get me into trouble, but one thing I do want to say to the good people, and I won't translate for here, but it's "Mihi vindicta: ego retribuam, dicit Dominus".
Hon ALFRED NGARO (National): Thank you, Mr Speaker. It doesn't get any more serious than this. We've been in this House previously before. We've talked about euthanasia; now we're talking about abortion. This is probably one of the most liberal forms of Government that we've seen in many, many years, that has decided to change the fabric of the values of this country. I hold before you what was sent to me: a 20-week replica of a child and also, too, the korowai that was given by Louise Kapene Green. Why? Because she wanted me to bring this into the House to remind us what we are fighting for in this place and in this House.
I remind the House of Representatives—
SPEAKER: And the aid will now put below the desk.
Hon ALFRED NGARO: —that in McGee it's very clear what our purpose and our roles of responsibility are. Page 4 says this: " 'To represent government and the people' The final function of the House … [identified here] reverts partly to the idea embodied in the title of the original New Zealand Constitution Act—the idea of the representation of the views of the populace." The views of the people have been heard: 25,718 submissions, 91.6 percent oppose this bill. These are not just church people, these are medical practitioners, these are health professionals that are out there in the field, and these are everyday ordinary New Zealanders who've taken the time to write a submission. This is a democratic process. Can I remind the members of the House here that it's part of our role of responsibility to hear the views of the community and of this nation that have spoken really strongly.
Just recently—in fact, just yesterday—a letter was sent from 20 of the largest churches' congregations, representing almost 630,000 to 800,000 people, and here's what they declare: "The profound and pervasive flaw of this Bill is that it erases all consideration for the human worth of the unborn child, and … makes no attempt to balance the needs of the mother and the child and to give at least some protection to the unborn [child]." The people have been speaking. They have been very clear.
Can I also remind that there was also a petition—one of many—1,300 from Downright Discrimination opposed this bill. Why? Because they're clearly telling us the fact is that this bill is unsafe; this bill has discrimination to the people in which it matters most.
So here's the message I want to leave to the members on the other side. You see, the nation is looking down to us. We are 120 MPs that have to make a decision. We represent the views and the values of this nation. The nation has been speaking—speaking very clearly. But can I remind you, here's the point that we're fighting for: both lives matter. I go to the point of the Attorney-General and his advice, and here's what he says in paragraph 23 of his letter: "I conclude there are two equally important interests at play: personal bodily autonomy, on the one hand; and a broad societal interest in the preservation of human life, on the other." This bill is not safe. This bill does not represent the two perspectives.
Can I read also, too, from the High Court, and here's what they say: "Currently our abortion law seeks to balance these competing interests by requiring each prospective abortion to qualify under statutory criteria and by making unlawful abortions subject to criminal provisions." But here's the point which I think hits home from the High Court: "the legislature has recognised, through the abortion law, that the unborn child has a claim on the conscience of the community."—the conscience of the community. So I say to the 120 members that are in this House and that are out there listening: do not abdicate your responsibility. It's quite clear: judicially, our unborn child deserves the conscience of our community. So you've said in this House that we are to amend and make laws that would make things safe for our community. Is that the case, when clearly what we've seen is that is not the case?
Cultural considerations were in a Supplementary Order Paper that I put forward. I say to our Polynesian and other ethnic members in the House that there's clear evidence that over 170 deaths of our children: Māori, 76,000; Pasifika, 39,957—that is the conscience of our community.
Before I finish in this House, can I remind us that our role of responsibility is this: to ensure that we hear the words of our community and of the nation, they're speaking clearly. There will come a day when that voice will be heard on 19 September, where they will say, "Have you heard the conscience of the nation?" And if you haven't, then the nation will decide. The majority have been here. They've made their voices heard through submissions and also through emails that you've had. I ask you this, when you go out to make the vote at the end of this reading of the third reading: is your conscience clear? Have you ensured that both lives matter—both the life of the mother and the life of the unborn child? If the answer is no, then vote against this bill in the House.
MARJA LUBECK (Labour): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for an opportunity to have a call in this Abortion Legislation Bill. We received many, many pieces of feedback, information, and emails from members of the public, and I would like to thank the thousands of members that have written to us with very, very strong views, obviously, on abortion. Now, from what we're receiving, it is very clear that it will require a fundamental shift in thinking to see abortion as a healthcare rather than a criminal matter. It is perhaps in a twist of irony that due to the overwhelming amount of emails, emails with regards to abortion are going straight into my folder under "health".
In the previous debate, a member opposing this bill mentioned they were a bit passionate about the issue, and I think it's probably fair to say that we are all very passionate about this issue, but I guess what the member was asking us is that he was being forgiven—him and others—for the use of very patronising language when speaking about women and the choices about their bodies, describing abortion as "someone's inconvenience" or "whipping a person off to an abortion clinic"—these are degrading phrases—and talking about abortion as "lifestyle choices", and I even heard it compared to having merely an appendectomy; all those are very condescending and demeaning.
We heard those opposing this bill tell stories about the hurt of a woman who was taken to an abortion clinic, forced into it to have an abortion, and later on regretted it. What we didn't hear from that person was the hurt of thousands of women who have suffered in silence from years of stigma and shame. Yes, those words are important. I know they were being made fun of by one of the members before, because he obviously is not an expert when it comes to abortion. Those people have feared judgment from family, from friends, from colleagues, from their communities, and have kept quiet for that reason about having had an abortion—they kept it a secret. That is why the overwhelming amount of feedback you will see on conscience issues like this is about the people that don't feel they have to share something they feel is a shameful secret.
So the stats are skewed, but let me tell you about those women, because the amount of women that have contacted me after my first reading speech was overwhelming. When I spoke about the fact that I was given the dignity and freedom to choose for myself whether to continue my unplanned and unwanted pregnancy or get an abortion.
There have been many, many women who wrote to me or even came up to me at events and meetings and told me about their story, and they still do. Many speak of the years and sometimes even a lifetime of carrying a burden of secrecy and shame. Many have approached me expressing a sense of relief and feeling empowered to share their own experience for the very first time, and I've found it extremely humbling and sometimes quite overwhelming. It is not a good reason to stick with offensive, archaic, anti-choice legislation just because there are people out there with a loud voice saying, "Oh, well no women ever got convicted." Well, actually, they may not have been convicted of a crime, but they have carried their abortion as a crime—they felt it was a life sentence for them. So it makes it all the more clear that the choice should be for women.
I had the privilege to sit on some of the Abortion Legislation Committee hearings, and I would like to commend the Hon Ruth Dyson and the Hon Amy Adams for the amazing leadership they have shown in that particular piece of work. They carried on the work, as Ruth Dyson mentioned, of many of the advocates that have fought so hard for decades to get women choice. I would also like to commend Andrew Little for, as Ruth Dyson mentioned, taking it out of the "too-hard box" and getting women choices.
We need to get away from the terrible situations where women had to go through with pregnancies that they didn't want and those situations where unplanned pregnancies resulted in lost jobs, exclusion from work and from education, being trapped in abusive relationships, and judgment. Those sacrifices—to carry a pregnancy to term, to take on more duties as a parent—fall primarily on the women, and that's why it should be her choice. Now, you can't put broken hopes and dreams in a box with a korowai on it, but that is very much a reality for so many women out there. We need law reform that gives women a choice, because anything less is not freedom for a human being. So don't stand in the way of choice for women. The decision is never taken lightly, but sometimes it is not always a difficult decision to make.
ANDREW BAYLY (National—Hunua): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I believe that as MPs, we have a responsibility to assess the proposals in this bill, not just against our personal preferences and beliefs but whether, in fact, this is a good piece of legislation for all New Zealanders. Sometimes, in making that decision, that does not accord with our own personal views, and that can be a difficult decision. That requires a degree of tolerance in a debate and argument, and I think that tolerance is an issue that we should cherish and need to cherish in discussing this issue. My view is the debate on this bill has not always being conducted in a manner that reflects a tolerance of thought and a flexibility as to an approach of how to deal with this difficult issue. And possibly that reflects that this bill follows so closely the euthanasia bill, and I think that was a pity.
However, today I wish to clarify my own position, and I want to make it clear that my start point is that I agree that a woman should have the right to have an abortion, and I also believe that a woman has a right to choose. I do not accept, under any circumstances, that there should be criminalisation of a woman who chooses to have an abortion. There are times when it is appropriate. Earlier this week, I met with a small group who said to me that the issue of criminalisation is a theoretical issue—no one has ever been convicted. I do not think that's an acceptable argument. I think our statute should be clear: there should be no prospect of criminalisation for having an abortion. For that reason, I have, up to now, voted for the bill. I've been keen to see what happened with the process, and particularly to see what happened to the amendments or Supplementary Order Papers, as we call them, as they progress through the committee of the whole House.
I wanted to keep an open mind. Personally, I voted for a number of the amendments. Unfortunately, none of them succeeded. The only one of note to succeed is the one that we've just voted on, from a procedural issue, around the issue of safe zones. I have a strong view that we have an obligation to protect women when they're in this most traumatic process of having an abortion, and I do not support any form of close proximity for people who want to express an issue that is against what a woman has chosen.
However, I've got to say I will not be voting for this bill, and that is after careful consideration. I have three principal concerns. The first one: I'm concerned about young women, and I mean women who could possibly be minors, having an abortion that is, in this case, allowed without the knowledge of their parents or guardians. I don't think that's right. There are already measures in place in legislation to protect those young girls if there is an issue of security; we already have those protections. But this bill cuts across that.
The second issue I have concern with is around the permissive nature of post - 20 week abortions. I accept the argument, in most cases, that those types of abortions are very few and far between. But I think we have a duty to make sure that they are conducted in an adequate and proper manner.
And the third issue is around the issue of the monitoring of people who conduct these procedures, and the nature of abortions. Now, none of those issues were accepted, and on that basis, I cannot accept the bill.
MICHAEL WOOD (Labour—Mt Roskill): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I stand to speak in favour of honest law and honest debate. At the outset of this contribution, I wish to make clear that the debate on this piece of legislation is not a debate about whether we have abortion in New Zealand or not. And I make this point because much of the public debate around this piece of legislation has misconstructed that point, and this has been echoed by many of the contributions in this Chamber by those who are opposed to this legislation.
I believe that many of the contributions opposed to this bill come from people of good conscience who genuinely oppose, on philosophical or moral or religious grounds, the practice of abortion. I respect that belief and I respect the right of those members to express that view, but it is not correct. And I believe at times it is mischievous to pretend that the debate that is going on in this House about this legislation is about the fundamental question of whether abortion occurs in New Zealand or not. That issue can be answered very simply by answering this question: what happens if this legislation does not proceed in the House today? We will revert to the existing legislation, under which approximately 13,500 abortions occur each year.
This debate is about, in my view, whether we have an honest piece of law that governs abortion in New Zealand, or the existing 1970s compromised hotchpotch of a law, which puts abortion in the Crimes Act, but then, effectively, sets up a convoluted workaround for women to access that procedure and facilitates around about 13,000 people per year to do so.
In my view, our role as lawmakers in this House is to make good law and to make honest law, and I challenge any member who is voting against this piece of legislation to say that the existing piece of legislation that they defend is good law or is honest law. This point has been made on both sides of the debate for many years. The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child and the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand and Right to Life have all gone through the courts to say that the current legislation is not fit for purpose, and that is why we are addressing this issue in the House today.
My plea is for honest debate on this issue. If we have honest debate on this issue, then I would challenge those members who genuinely hold the view that abortion should not be occurring to deal with the really tough issues which come with that view. Should young women who have been raped by family members have access to abortion or not? Should women who have children in utero with serious congenital conditions, that will die awful deaths after short lives, have access to abortion or not? It is my view that they should, and this legislation honestly allows for that.
If we have an honest and constructive debate around this issue we might also search for some common ground. I have wrestled with this issue myself, on the basis of the principles and the faith that I hold to as well. I believe that probably most people in this House, and most people in this debate, would wish to see fewer unwanted pregnancies in New Zealand and would wish to see fewer abortions in New Zealand. I believe that if we had an honest debate, we could actually begin to seriously tackle that issue.
The international evidence is actually very clear—that the level of restriction in the law around access to abortion has little impact on the number of abortions that occur. The part of the world with the highest rate of abortions is Latin America, which, until recently, has had the most restrictive controls around abortion. Canada, which has no controls whatsoever, has a lower rate of abortion than New Zealand. The evidence is also very clear that the factors which lead to a lower rate of unwanted pregnancies and abortion are things like access to high-quality, comprehensive sex education, and high-quality, accessible, and affordable contraception—particularly long-term contraception. That is why our abortion rate in New Zealand has been declining for a number of years.
So that is my final plea in this debate, that the remainder of the debate in the House today, and that in the time we go forward, we don't turn this issue into a culture war for political advantage—I do not want to see us go down the track that other countries have in that regard—but that we have an honest debate, we try and find some common ground and we respect women and their capacity to make choices within an honest, legal framework. It is on those grounds that I have approached this debate. In the committee stage of this bill, I haven't just voted with the herd; I have voted against safe zones because I believe that while there is a real problem there, they were not the right solution. I have voted for stronger protections around conscientious objection, because I do believe that that is important in our system. But I have, and I will continue, to vote for honest law, and that is why I support this legislation and commend it to other members.
IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei): I think this will, no doubt, be the most difficult speech that I've made in my time in this House. In the first reading of this bill, I outlined why I supported this bill, and nothing has changed in that respect. I completely trust a woman's judgment in these matters. I believe they have the right—as I do, in fact—to make decisions about their body, their lives, and their family's lives. The issue I have is that I don't believe the State has ever provided enough support to women and young families, to women in violent relationships, to rape victims, and to unwanted children. Frankly, the State doesn't provide enough support there now, and hasn't been able to resolve any of those issues in my lifetime, and I think that's one of the tragedies of our society.
I want to congratulate the Hon Andrew Little on the manner in which he's brought this bill to the House. I think it's been outstanding. He's explained at every step his reasons—and the Government's reasons, in fact—for bringing this bill to the House. He's gone out of his way to answer questions and explain much of the bill. I most certainly support this matter being taken out of the Crimes Act and being treated as a health issue.
However, there were two issues I raised in my first reading speech, which I was not happy with and I hope would be shored up during the select committee process. They are, primarily, the support for women as they go through this process. I don't think there are adequate safeguards or support for women as they go through this process. And I don't think there is any long-term follow-up to ensure that woman who are forced—not "forced"; that's a bad word—who enter the abortion process to receive adequate support and counselling later in life. And I don't like the word "counselling" either, because really it's support they need.
I'm hugely concerned about those young people who are not able to talk with their parents before going into this process and, in fact, for whatever reason, they end up with a stranger supporting them. I look at my two oldest grandchildren who are in those young teenage years and I wonder what on earth would happen if they ended up in this process without strong support from either family members or other people they knew well. I'd think it would be the most terrifying thing that could ever happen to you, and I don't think this bill puts enough support around those young people. I think that anyone going into an abortion process no doubt gives huge consideration to it and is hugely concerned about it. So I think that the support mechanism around this bill for me is not strong enough.
The second issue I raised in my first reading speech was the fact that I don't believe there's adequate protection for those woman entering the abortion process post - 20 weeks. Also, I don't believe there's adequate protection—and I suppose I'm not so much talking about protection or safety mechanisms, advice, and support for those people who find themselves at 20 weeks carrying a child with serious disability. I can't imagine what I would do in those circumstances. The other thing I don't think there's enough protection around is when it comes to the sex of the fetus. I don't know whether that will make any difference at all, but I think it's a risk we're taking as a Parliament to go into this process without enough support and without enough knowledge, in fact, of what might happen as a result of that. At present I think there were some-56 abortions post - 20 weeks in 2018, so it's not a significant issue from that perspective. But I do think we're taking some risk with it and I feel uncomfortable about it.
So I find it really difficult to, I guess—having gone through this process, supported the process to this point, I'd have to say I haven't had a comfortable two or three days wondering where I was going to get to with this. But, actually, I find that my conscience won't let me support the bill as it goes through its third reading today, not because I don't think that the bill basically is a good bill; I just think there's some pieces in that bill that are far too risky for me to enable me to support it as it goes forward. So that's my contribution, and I won't be able to support the bill.
Hon AUPITO WILLIAM SIO (Associate Minister of Justice): I have been heavily lobbied by leaders of the faith community, including my friends, colleagues, and members of the Pacific community. They are people I respect and work with. I have heard their voices loud and clear. They are passionate in their opposition to abortion. They value the life of the unborn child. I share this belief. I, too, am opposed to abortion. I, too, value the life of the unborn child. My earliest memory of the value of motherhood and the unborn child was witnessing how in Samoa the mother had a special position in village family life. She was protected from doing hard work. She was protected from the hot sun. People would serve her all the time. Food was more generous to the mother. She was surrounded with love, care, and support by the extended family. She was the centre of everything. Why? Because mothers carry an unborn member of the family. Protect the mother, you protect the unborn child.
Fast forward to today, young Pacific people are seeing a different culture. They are seeing how some of our Samoan, Tongan, or Pacific men mistreat the women in their families, including pregnant mothers. We don't talk about it because it is a thing of shame, a stain on the family's mana. Women tell me keeping these issues in the shadows increases their effort for self-harm. Recently, I saw a report of a man beating a woman beside a road in Tonga and cars passed by. A young Tongan woman from New Zealand stopped and videoed the incident. By videoing the incident from a distance, the man stopped his violence. I suspect that that young woman, the good Samaritan, prevented further violence and harm.
The constant flow of emails I have received from people have expressed strongly a total and complete opposition to abortion. They feel so strongly about this persuasion that they want everyone in New Zealand to abide by this belief. They feel so strongly that they've even threatened me: if I support this legislation, they will not support me. This is not an easy decision for myself or any MP under that context, nor it is easy for our Pacific communities. Let me share with them my own thoughts as I attempt to grapple with the moral and legal issues on this matter.
The preamble of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child states: " … the child, by reason of his [or her] physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth". Yet the reality is that we have examples of Samoan or Pacific babies being left dead or abandoned.
Here are a few examples. In 2017, a dead newborn child was left under a tree in the park in Māngere. In 2007, a dead newborn baby was thrown outside a window into a Dunedin garden. In 2009, a Samoan mother gave birth, and left the dead baby in a toilet of the plane she was on; she was convicted under our laws and discharged—everyone was quick to condemn her. Why didn't any of these women seek support from their families or church leaders? Why didn't they seek counselling and health advice? I suspect some of our cultural practices are unloving and uncaring. These women will harm themselves and their unborn child out of fear and shame. Why did we not condemn the man that contributed to the pregnancy? Instead, we condemned the woman, we ostracised her, and called her all sorts of names. Where was love and compassion in all of this?—our values. Where was forgiveness in this?—our beliefs. All of us are imperfect humans; if you say to me that you're perfect, I'm going to call you a liar.
Abortions, infanticide, incest, sexual violence, and rape are issues happening right now in front of us in our homes and in our communities. It isn't just confined to Samoa, Tonga, or to the Pacific communities in Aotearoa. It isn't just confined to the nations of Pacific regions; it is an international issue.
In 2013, the committee on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recommended that all States ensure access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services. The convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, in 1999, clarified that access to healthcare, including reproductive health, is a basic right under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
So what's my message to my family? What's my message to the Samoan, Pacific, and faith communities on abortion? First, teach our people the value of life. Teach them early and teach them often. Teach them in the home to value the life of the unborn child. We cannot bend the tree when the trunk is thick and sturdy; it will resist. My legal message is that I support the moving of abortion away from the criminal legal framework and transferring it under the health legal framework—
DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I rise on behalf of the ACT Party, and speak for the electorate of Epsom, in favour of the Abortion Legislation Bill—a piece of legislation that is overdue. Why? Well, because it removes abortion from the Crimes Act and it ends the criminalisation of abortion. When we think about a policy, we should ask ourselves three questions: what's the point of the policy, is it effective at achieving its goals, and what are the side effects.
The criminalisation of abortion is supposed to reduce the rate of abortion. But we know, from the excellent speech given by Michael Wood earlier, that abortion rates and criminalisation are unconnected. Canada has no abortion law, and lower rates than New Zealand. Latin American countries have had some of the most stringent prohibitions on abortion, and much higher rates than New Zealand. So abortion criminalisation does not achieve even what its supporters think it should.
Then we ask the third question about a policy: what about the unintended consequences? The criminalisation of abortion in New Zealand for the last 43 years has had legion unintended consequences. One of them is subterfuge: the idea that women in New Zealand have to—as Amy Adams said, in an excellent second reading speech—invent a fiction that they are mentally unwell in order to access healthcare. That is a disgrace. We like to be able to tell the truth and be accepted for who we are, not engage in subterfuge to satisfy other people's impositions.
The second unintended consequence is inequity. As I said in my speech on the second reading of this bill, women in rural areas face much greater practical hurdles under the bureaucracy and rigmarole created by criminalisation than women in large metropolitan centres who still face considerable challenge.
The final unintended consequence is stigmatisation. It is a none-too-subtle, misogynistic message that women are kind of like community assets who must be used to carry children to term whether they like it or not. Again, a disgrace; not the kind of humanitarian message that I would hope New Zealand stands for in 2020.
For all of those reasons, I commend this bill and hope that it will pass tonight. Prohibition or criminalisation of abortion does not achieve its goal and does far more damage besides.
Some people who agree with everything that I've just said I know were surprised that I and other members of this House opposed the notion of safe areas. Now, let me be clear: I have very little time for the people who protest outside abortion clinics, and a great deal of sympathy for women who are intimidated, shouted at, or made to feel bad for being in a situation that they often didn't choose. I oppose that intimidation; I support a woman's right to choose. However, you cannot grow freedom by taking one step forward and one step backward. It would have been a mistake to decriminalise abortion while criminalising speech. It would have been a terrible constitutional precedent for this House to make a law where a Minister, a politician, can strike out, with a pen, freedom of expression—a right guaranteed to New Zealanders in the bill of rights.
What should we do instead? Well, the people who have got in contact with me about this issue over the past week have almost uniformly cited things that are illegal under section 4 and section 21 of the Summary Offences Act: intimidation, insulting, and obstruction. I implore the New Zealand Police to uphold those laws. I say to my parliamentary colleagues that if the police can't uphold the laws we have now, there would have been no point in making new ones. That is why—and I wanted to put on record—I have opposed safe areas.
I want to close by commending the Minister of Justice, the Hon Andrew Little, and all those in this House who have finally, long overdue, taken abortion out of the Crimes Act and affirmed a woman's right to choose and to control her own body. I commend this bill to the House. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
KIERAN McANULTY (Labour): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to speak on this bill—the first time I have been able to throughout its passage through the House. I'm a pretty private person. I don't really like to talk about things in my own personal circumstance. But throughout the process of considering this particular bill at the third reading, I've reflected on a couple of matters, which I wish to share with the House today.
One of which is my Catholic faith. I don't talk about my faith, because I was raised that your faith is your faith and no one else's—you can practise your faith and have your view, with the expectation that no one else would judge you for it as long as you never pushed your views on other people. I was raised to believe that abortion is wrong. I was raised to believe that there is a fundamental issue with abortion; that it was a sin. I was raised to believe that life begins at conception. I've found my faith to be a great guiding light throughout my life, particularly at hard times when I've needed to reflect and when I've needed to consider issues that confront me in my life. I'm certainly not suggesting that I am the best Catholic. I'm certainly not suggesting that I am even a devout Catholic; I have visited the confessional more than most. But it remains an important part of my life.
I'm also adopted, and that is not something that I have actually spoken about very often, for one reason: that I often have to be reminded of the fact. I am very lucky to have been raised in a loving family by parents who love me and I love them back very dearly. I am truly very grateful, and I also know that if I were conceived today, statistically, I would probably be aborted. That is a fact that has confronted me throughout my consideration of this particular bill.
I suppose it's fair to say that, due to my religious beliefs and due to my personal circumstances, I should oppose this bill. But who am I to push my views and my personal circumstances on the choice of a woman? Who am I, as a bloke, who will never have to make this decision for himself, to vote to prevent a woman making a choice for herself? I go back to the point I said earlier: I was raised that my religious views are mine only. So I will not use my vote today to impose any particular view that I may have to prevent the choice of a woman to make on her own body.
Of course, that is the position that one could take if this were indeed a debate on the morality of abortion. It is not. And it is a shame—and I echo the sentiments of my friend and colleague Michael Wood—that this is where this debate has gone at so many points. We as parliamentarians are tasked with making a decision, particularly in a conscience debate, on the bill that is in front of us. And the bill that is in front of us poses the question: should abortion be a crime? I say it should not. There is no reason why the 13,500 cases of abortion last year should be treated in the Crimes Act and not as a health issue. This is a very clear decision for me, for the reasons I have outlined but also for what this bill proposes.
I want to quickly acknowledge those that have confronted this debate respectfully and have met with me and have put forward their views and have asked me not to vote for this. I appreciate the time they have given me, because they themselves, whilst they do not agree, respect the decision that I have made. I think it is regrettable that some people have chosen to approach this almost with petulance and treat this as a trivial matter. This is a serious matter and a matter, I believe, about choice. I have faith in women to make a choice that is right for them, and if they are making that choice within a system that is a farce, where they have to pretend that there is a threat to their mental stability in order to get an abortion, I believe that is wrong. I have absolutely no hesitation in supporting this bill. The question was posed by an earlier speaker "Is your conscience clear?" My answer to that today is a resounding yes.
CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Much has been said in this House about the Abortion Legislation Bill purportedly being to prevent the criminalisation of women for seeking abortion under the current regime. That is wrong. It is neither a theoretical nor legal possibility under the current legal framework, and for colleagues who suggest that it is, I would respectfully urge them to read and become familiar with the current law in the next 15 minutes' worth of parliamentary debate. It is doctors and those performing abortion services currently who are subject to the Crimes Act.
It has been suggested that it is required currently for women to describe themselves as mentally unbalanced to seek abortion services currently. That too is wrong. The emotive language is intended to manipulate and does not reflect the actual legal test in the current legal framework, which is that, if the life or the physical or mental health of a woman would be placed in danger, essentially by her not having an abortion, then she is entitled to do so. Similarly, it has been said by those proposing this bill that the unborn child has no legal status because of the "born alive" rule. That is wrong. In various places in our law, including in a provision of the Crimes Act, which shall remain, it will be an offence to kill an unborn child.
It has been said by others who promote this bill that there is no need to protect the disabled unborn by way of specific legislative provisions. A Supplementary Order Paper in the name of my colleague and friend Melissa Lee made that clear: that we should have such a thing. Those who say that we do not need protection—to them I say: that is wrong.
To those who say that we need no legal protection in our law for those unborn children who are of the opposite sex than that desired by their parents—that is wrong. I refer to the Supplementary Order Paper—the proposed amendment in the name of Dr Parmjeet Parmar—that sought to provide such protection in our law that was sadly voted down by a majority of the members of the committee of this whole House.
Others promoting the bill have said that medical practitioners have a right to freedom of conscience that is reducible in certain ways as proposed by this bill. That is wrong. I believe that freedom of conscience is irreducible and should be regarded as such. I placed a Supplementary Order Paper before the committee accordingly. There are some who argue that the rights of an unborn child should depend on whether she is wanted That is wrong. There are some who say that it makes sense to differentiate between an unborn child whose life is ended in accordance with a provision of the Crimes Act that will remain with the passage of this law, on the one hand, and those who are subjected to abortion services under the new regime, on the other. That is wrong.
There are some who have cited the unbelievably difficult situations of incest or severe fetal abnormality and other genuinely incredibly tough situations as reasons for the need for the passage of this legislation, as though those things were not already provided for in our law. That is wrong. There are some who say that we did not need to clarify the fate of a child who had been subject to an abortion but despite that had been born—I refer to the Supplementary Order Paper in the name of Simon O'Connor—international experience shows that is wrong. There are some who say that ending a young life is no different from performing any other health procedure. That is wrong. There are some who have argued that safe areas are needed, despite existing provisions of our law that already protect against harassment, nuisance, offensive publication, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and so forth, duly balanced against the right to freedom of expression. That is wrong.
In summary, much of the debate from those who have put forward this legislation as supposedly needed by this nation at this time has been founded on the argument that the unborn child deserves no protection whatsoever in our law. That is wrong.
LOUISA WALL (Labour—Manurewa): Tēnā koe e Te Māngai o Te Whare, tēnā koutou katoa. In 1977, when the abortion law reform debate was happening in this House, MP number 11, Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan supported fewer restrictions for women seeking an abortion. And, in particular, on the two doctors who were required for a woman to access abortion, she said—and I quote—"were demanding, time-consuming obstacles for women." This bill tonight, in the name of the Hon Andrew Little, will rectify that situation.
If we look at the abortions that are happening in New Zealand, about 13,000 per year, of those it represents, actually, 40 percent of pregnancies in New Zealand being unplanned, 37 percent of those pregnancies are because contraception has failed, and it also represents 18 percent of the abortions that happen in New Zealand. So we are here today to rectify a situation that actually, on average, has stopped 200 women from accessing abortion. I have particularly looked at the Māori component to this debate, and I want to acknowledge Dr Alison Green, who works for Te Whāriki Takapou—it is a kaupapa Māori primary health organisation who specialise in sexual and reproductive health. They participated in this process by saying that, from a Māori perspective, abortion happens. Abortion, from a Māori perspective, is called "kuka", or "materoto", or "whakatahe". So through our language, we know that as Māori we did have, and practised, abortions.
I also want to highlight Te Atiawa kaumātua Sam Jackson, who named the regional abortion services based here at Wellington Hospital. That service is called Te Māhoe. The māhoe tree drops seeds that release a chemical inhibitor. The inhibitor has the effect of only allowing the strongest māhoe seed to flourish. So in Dr Green's submissions, she said this frames abortion from a Māori perspective, that removing a pregnancy that has begun under suboptimal conditions in order to make way for another pregnancy to flourish in the future is a kaupapa Māori process.
In contributing to this kōrero, I want to talk about why women actually choose to have an abortion. Women choose to have an abortion for many reasons, some of them being that they are in unstable relationships or they may not be in a relationship or they actually can't afford to have a child because of school, work, or other responsibilities, so they are not financially secure to be able to bring a child into the world.
Some of the conversation that we've had today has been about abortions post - 20 weeks. I just want to reiterate that we're talking about 56 abortions of the over 13,000 abortions, from 2018 data. Why were those fetuses aborted? Actually, for 47 of them, it was because they were lethal fetal abnormalities and because of women's health. So women would have died because of ruptured membranes; infections due to pre-eclampsia; placental abruptions, which is blood loss; stroke; or septic shock. For nine of them, actually, it was because the young woman—22 abortions for those under 15, 62 abortions for 15-year-olds, because for 25 percent of those young people in that situation, their father was the father of their baby. In 74 percent of those occasions, the parents were involved in whether or not that child should have the abortion. So that's what we're talking about in terms of the post - 20 weeks.
It's been incredibly sad to hear the scaremongering about people aborting children with Down's. We don't want to see children with Down syndrome aborted; nobody does. It's a parent's choice. So we have to get real about the testing regime and why parents choose it.
But what I want to spend my last few seconds on is actually a plea to our church leaders. We need you to help reduce the need for abortions. Men do not own women. Women do not exist for men, to satisfy their sexual needs. We need to stop rape. We need to stop sexual violation. We need education on sexual and reproductive health rights, and we need access to family planning and contraception. I commend this bill to the House.
JAN LOGIE (Green): Along with others, I'd like to dedicate my contribution tonight to all those fiercely determined women like Dame Margaret Sparrow, who have lobbied for these reforms for decades. I really hope that at the end of this debate, all of us will be a little freer tonight.
I want to acknowledge and congratulate the Minister for bringing this to the House—44 years before anybody has been able to summon up the political will to do this. That should be acknowledged, because this is so long overdue. I want to also acknowledge how ably it has been shepherded through.
Today is, I believe, an important day for women in this country. It's been a really long time coming. Today, I hope we will come out of the sexual and reproductive health time warp that we have been stuck in for over 40 years. It's our chance to decriminalise and ensure that our abortion care in this country catches up with Catholic Ireland and most other countries around the world. I'll just repeat that: this is our chance for Aotearoa—considered by many around the world as the feminist political Mecca of the world—to catch up with Ireland, a country who in the 1970s, when we passed the legislation we're updating, I hope, tonight, made married women get a letter from their priest before they could access the pill. That is how far we have fallen behind, that they have managed to get further ahead, in terms of recognising women's bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health rights, than us.
I really hope that at the end of this debate that the one in four or more women in this country who have already had an abortion, because it was the right thing for them and their family, will see this as a clear message from this Parliament that we recognise their right to make that decision, and that we are withdrawing our judgment, because our existing law imposes judgment and was founded on patriarchal judgment of women. Who are we to judge?
I really want to say that, well, I absolutely respect all of the different views in this House and in our society and those who oppose this legislation and abortion services for themselves. It really is appalling to me that we have accepted the enforcement of medical practise that is at odds with best care for so long, and that we have created inequality and increased harm through a lack of service provision; that we've accepted that women in low-income or rural communities have been required to see up to seven health professionals to be able to access abortion care services, while some women in other suburbs—wealthier suburbs, I might say—have been able to go to one place and have their care sorted in one place very quickly and easily.
We have had that inequality because this House has—up to now; I hope it will change tonight—failed to update our law. It's appalling to me, to be honest, that we've made women continue unwanted pregnancies for more than three weeks—on average, 25 days—because we've been unwilling to update our laws and remove those hoops that they have needlessly had to jump through.
It's appalling to me that women have ended up having medical miscarriages while travelling home from the distant cities they were sent to to access abortion care because we had failed to update our law. It's appalling to me that we've known for years that women have been forced to lie as they jump through the hoops of our 1970s legislation. I do just want to point out some of the misinformation that we've heard from the Opposition, and that was previously said, that, really, it was life, physical health, and mental health that were the grounds for abortion in our legislation.
Actually, pre - 20 weeks, the grounds for abortion are: serious danger to life; serious danger to physical health; serious danger to mental health; incest; mental subnormality—so everyone supporting this legislation supports the continuation of the use of that language—and fetal abnormality. So people who are raising concerns around the disablist potential consequences, of which there is no evidence of being realised internationally, are supporting the entrenchment of disablism within the existing legislation.
I really want people to understand and actually recognise that, and that 98 to 99 percent of pre - 20 week abortions in this country are on the grounds of serious danger to mental health, where women and other pregnant people have had to prove that there was serious danger to their mental health. That's just not real. The Abortion Supervisory Committee has been telling us that, doctors have been telling us that, and those few women that overcame the stigma and the shame associated with abortion have been telling us that. It is time for us to enable them to tell the truth.
I know a lot of this opposition to this legislation is focused on the change in the post - 20 week threshold and arguments that this will result in abortion on demand and terrible horrors that I will not repeat again—because I don't think it helps anyone. But I will state again that there is no verified evidence to support those concerns. As Michael Wood pointed out previously—
SPEAKER: Order! I apologise for interrupting the member. It is time for me to leave the Chair for the dinner break.
Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
JAN LOGIE: Thank you. As I was saying, many of the concerns we're hearing from those opposing the legislation, when we look to other countries, we find that there is no evidence to support those concerns.
In the changes relating to post - 20 weeks, the practitioners I've spoken to about what this will mean—the change in the legislation and what that will mean for their practice—what they've told me is that it will make no practical difference whatsoever, except that they will not be required to be certifying consultants. We will, as a country, not have to pay them $150 on top of their doctors' fees to do their role as a certifying consultant. It's not going to change practise at all. The evidence shows us from other countries that there will not be an increase in the number of terminations that happen after 20 weeks.
I really do want to caution people in this House and outside of the House who are characterising and making assumptions about the reasons that people have terminations after 20 weeks, and let them know that I've spoken to some families who have been listening to this debate, who have been through that situation in times where they were trying to save their own life or were in an unenviable situation around their pregnancy. The question they asked was: "Why do they hate us? Why do they hate us for doing what we needed to do?" I want people to know that those comments are experienced as shaming, whether that is what you intend or not, those members.
I really want people to know that the primary effect of this piece of legislation is that abortions that would happen anyway will happen earlier, and they will be able to match best medical care, that is what this piece of legislation does. It does nothing else. I really want to say that one of the demonstrations of it, it will finally allow women to access abortion care services closer to home. Organisations like Family Planning, with over 80 years' experience as women's health providers, will now be allowed to offer abortion care services through their network, closer to home so that woman who miscarried on the way from being sent to Invercargill from Queenstown to have an abortion will hopefully be able to access care within her own community. Women will not need to lie anymore. Women will not have to have miscarriages in their cars. They will not need to visit up to seven different health practitioners. They will not need to wait weeks to be able to get an abortion. They will not need to lie. They will hear that this House and that this country trusts them, believes them, and supports their right to sexual and reproductive health.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Before I call the next member, I'm aware that there are three members who during the afternoon session had been repeatedly seeking the call, who have all indicated to me that they would like five-minute slots. If I could extend the debate, if we could, by leave, extend the debate by five minutes all of those members, and one other member who's made a big contribution to the debate, would be able to speak. So I seek leave for the debate to be extended by five minutes, is there any objection to that? There appears to be none.
GREG O'CONNOR (Labour—Ōhāriu): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Democracy's hard, and this is the hard yards. So often we come to the House and we'll be speaking on bills but the result is pretty much known, the numbers have been done, but that's not the case. This is one that's a conscience bill. This is one where we're required to stand up here and take a position. Now, in doing so, I envy those that come to this House with strongly formed positions that they arrive at from whatever way they arrive at—I envy them. I'm not one of those people, and you've heard some of the speakers here today that aren't either. We stand and we start speaking and often as we go through our presentation, go through our speech, we bring up the points that have got us to the point where we are today. We will use life's experience. We'll use different things that'll get us to that position. But, often, you'll have heard in the speeches today, we didn't know where people were going to vote until the end.
I remember a judge, Judge Jeffries, who I often heard speak, he said "You never actually finish a piece of work, you abandon it." And it's a little bit like that with this. As we thought about things as 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds in life we were certain, as we got older, perhaps some of those certainties, some of those things, were challenged. I'm certainly in that position.
I come here today to speak on this bill from very personal experience I've had. My first real experience of abortion was as a police officer talking to police woman who used to work undercover finding abortionists. Their job was to go out there and set themselves up as a pregnant woman and, as they did so, find out who was actually the local abortionistand they were criminals. For those who are seeking to refight the abortion battle, I say to you, forget it. That's not what we're here to do. I would never be part of anything that sent women back into the backstreets of Masterton, of Whangarei, or of Invercargill, because that's what happens if you make this illegal. So it's not that.
I think those who have been organising opposition to this bill haven't done themselves a big favour, because we'd concentrated on where this bill should be and where I'd like to bring it to. Where I had a Supplementary Order Paper was around what happens post - 20 weeks. I would say, while we use the word "20 weeks", "post-viability" is what I like to think of. I'm talking about what happens to a fetus, a baby, again, the terminology depends—often, you will know someone's belief by the terminology they will use. I don't think there's anything we're very settled on, certainly post-viability.
As I said, I'm the father of a disabled son who's very much part of my life. So when I look at this bill, when I look at the safeguards that would be in place, because he would be one of those who would be eligible, because of his condition, because of the syndrome he had in the womb, he would have been eligible. So, you know, that does govern me, as a child who would've been post-viability, he does have some rights. I'll be voting tonight against this bill. I'm not against abortion; I'll be voting purely because I do not think that new section 11, inserted by clause 7, the post - 20 weeks, is strong enough. I don't think it's strong enough for the doctors who'll be making the decision. I don't think it's strong enough for those women who'll be seeking abortions. I don't think it's strong enough for the child, post - the viable child, who'll be in the womb. I just don't think it's strong enough. I think we, as legislators, owe it to have more and more stringent, or certainly if not—stringent is not a good word—more defined criteria around that, which is why I'll be voting against this legislation.
I go back to the Hon Ruth Dyson, her contribution, and she talked about how much time the Abortion Legislation Committee had spent on this. She assured the House that the committee had been reassured. Well, I'm sorry, I didn't hear anything that did reassure me. While they may have been reassured by some of those who visited the select committee it did not, in my view, reflect in the new section 11 amendment which came through.
So I will vote against this. It's probably a bit of a cop-out, because I know it will go through. I suppose those of us who do stand and speak, the challenge would be if we knew we were to be the number 60 vote, maybe. But what I will say is I'm going to vote against this purely on the new section 11, post - 20 week viability, argument. Thank you.
PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour): Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a privilege to rise this evening and take a call, because it's been an extremely long road getting to where we are this evening. I just want to begin by thanking all those who have fought for decades for abortion law reform, and I want to specifically name those who have engaged with me in the last few years on this issue. I want to name the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, New Zealand Family Planning, and Dame Margaret Sparrow for their work.
I also want to thank people from our diverse ethnic communities who have come to me and spoken in support of this bill, and I want to dispel the notion in this House that our diverse communities are a homogenous group that are conservative and would vote completely against this bill, because that's not true. There are people who have various different views from our different communities, and there are many who are in support of this bill as well, and I thank them for speaking up to me.
Can I also thank the Minister, the Hon Andrew Little, for his leadership on this issue, which is not an easy one to lead on and not an easy piece of legislation to shepherd through the House. Also, thanks to Ruth Dyson for her chairing of the Abortion Legislation Committee that I subbed on a few times, and to all officials who worked on this bill.
Now, I just want to underscore the point that we're not here to debate the morality of abortion per se. We're not here to debate whether abortions should be allowed or not. Even if we were to pass in this House a bill with the strictest regulations to criminalise or to further outlaw abortions, we wouldn't see a reduction in abortions. The evidence overwhelmingly tells us that if you want to see lower rates of abortion, and fewer unwanted pregnancies, you should actually look to countries that have worked to legalise abortions, and vote for this bill.
This bill, when it's passed, will decriminalise abortion. It will remove the need to lie to get an abortion that many women have felt over the years. It will also remove the delays that many women have faced in trying to access an abortion. Those who oppose this bill do so on grounds largely that are philosophical, that are religious views—and they're entitled to them. However, what we're trying to do here is make good legislation.
We've also heard members who oppose this bill, who have said that it will allow for abortion on demand, that it will allow for abortion up to birth, and this is actually untrue. Now, the select committee has made an amendment to this bill and has brought in a post - 20 week legal process.
I also just want to quickly touch on the issue of sex selection, because it's been brought up in the House tonight. There is in the bill a requirement for the Director-General of Health to monitor birth rates, to report on them, and, if there's any evidence of sex-selective abortions, to recommend action that will prevent them. I also want to point out that the select committee has found that there's actually no evidence that it's happening or that it's potentially an issue here in New Zealand. So those of us who support this bill, as well, let me just make it clear: we don't support sex-selective abortions, and that's very clear in this bill.
I just want to use the time remaining to speak about safe access zones, because I'm very disappointed that that's been taken out of this bill. It's a provision that I supported, and I disagree with the member David Seymour, who said it's about criminalising speech, because it's not. Safe access zones prevent anti-abortion activists from targeting patients, women, staff, and those who support people, for example, who might be within a specific radius of abortion clinics. What they do is they protect the privacy, safety, and dignity of women accessing abortion services.
There is a view that it doesn't happen here in New Zealand—that there isn't intimidation that happens outside of abortion clinics. That's untrue. Some years back, before the Invercargill clinic opened, women in Invercargill had to travel to Dunedin or Christchurch to access abortions. When the clinic opened, they were forced to do so in secrecy in order to protect the safety of their staff. That is unacceptable. The Auckland Medical Aid Centre—I've met with the general manager, Lesley Wood, who has been in this field for decades and who told me that she's been threatened, she's been followed, and she's been assaulted. That is not OK. Existing legislation doesn't cover the threat that people face from those who are standing outside the abortion clinic specifically to intimidate and stop a woman from choosing her own medical care. That's what safe zones stand against. Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. We already have the Harmful Digital Communications Act that outlaws causing serious emotional distress.
This is a good bill. If you want to see fewer abortions in New Zealand, one should vote for it. Thank you.
SIMEON BROWN (National—Pakuranga): I've sat in this House and listened to this debate as the bill has progressed to the third reading, and I must admit that I've been just disheartened by the lack of understanding, perhaps wilful, that some members have shown towards the perspectives of the other. I've been particularly disheartened, by the way in which some who are in favour of this bill have been dismissive of the perspective of those against by waving away their rational arguments as being motivated purely by a member's personal religion or faith. I'm opposed to this bill, not because of the tenets of any religion, but because of scientific, philosophical, and ethical premises which I hold to as clear and logical. I accept that those in favour of the bill do so because they approach the bill with very different premises, which I can understand, though I do not agree with them.
First, I hold to the scientific premise that the unborn child is a human being, a fact so incontrovertible that I simply assert it. The second premise follows on from that; that, as a living human being, the unborn child is indeed a human person. This is a philosophical premise which I believe is logical and indeed the only safe and humane ethical position. The child has its own DNA, a heartbeat, and can feel pain. My third premise is an ethical one; that as a human person the unborn baby is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect and as a player in the ethical question of abortion in the same way that the mother of the child is.
There is no doubt that the above beliefs have been influenced by my experiences in life from being raised in a large family of five children to seeing my own daughter kick and wriggle, through ultrasound imaging, in my wife's womb, to my fundamental belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, regardless of age, sex, ability, and, yes, even political belief. One year ago today, my daughter was not born; tomorrow she was. But she would have no rights for one year ago today.
The reality is that we're all, every last one of us, shaped by our culture, our experiences, and our own most fundamental beliefs. These form the core of our being. A wise person can understand and identify how these beliefs and experiences shape them, and perhaps there are none so blind as those who can see the biases and influences of others but are blind to the ideologies that shape their own.
I would plead with members of this House not to allow themselves to hide behind the excuse that those who disagree only do so because they are influenced by ideology or religion or something else. To do so only shows blindness and the fact that we are all influenced. No, we should be brave enough to pause, listen to the arguments, try for a moment to understand them from the perspective of the one delivering them, and then refute them reasonably, rather than simply label them or put a sticker on them, because that's what's happened in our past.
From this position I ask members to consider: is it ethical that New Zealand law should allow for the abortion of an unborn child at 24 weeks for any reason whatsoever, when the child would be viable outside the womb? Is it ethical that this bill makes it legal and allows for abortion purely on the basis that there's a possibility that the child may have a disability? Is it ethical that under this law an abortion would be permitted to be sought purely on the basis of a preference for a particular sex?
The bill before this House would allow abortion in each and every one of these circumstances, a fact which I and many other New Zealanders find shocking. It is shocking that our law denies the personhood of a baby that can survive outside the womb. Only wilful, moral, philosophical, and scientific blindness could fathom this. It is shocking that this law allows for discrimination against unborn baby girls purely on the basis of their sex under the guise of a woman's right to choose. Who will defend the rights of these unborn girls? It is shocking that persons with Down syndrome, dwarfism, and spina bifida can be legally targeted purely on the basis of their disability, as though their disability gave them less of a right to life. All lives matter: old or young, male or female, black or white, born or unborn. This bill is unethical, and I urge MPs to reject it.
Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn): I am very honoured to take the last call in the passage of this legislation through the House, and I feel extremely proud, actually, to have played some small part in its passage to its point.
Abortion legislation is, of course, deeply personal, and we've heard through the debate over the last few days and weeks very personal stories from all sides of the debate about how it affects not only members of this House but the people they know and love, and it's no different for me. I have sat with and held the hand, over my life, of women that I know and love who have had to make an incredibly difficult decision to have an abortion. I have seen them face the delays, the difficulties, the struggles, the judgment, and the abuse, frankly, and feel marginalised and criminalised because of our law, and that is not OK. I am very proud that in my last few months in this House, I get to be a part of—hopefully—putting that right for women today.
I've heard throughout this debate a number of people in the House—particularly of those who are supporting the bill—be at pains to say that they respect the rights and the views of everyone in this House and that their views in the debate are all valid. Interestingly enough, I haven't heard those views expressed much by the voice of those opposing this legislation in opposing the legislation, and I find it somewhat staggering that those who preach freedom of expression and religious tolerance the most are the least tolerant of those who are supporting this legislation.
If religious leaders in our community want to do something about unwanted pregnancies, then perhaps they could stop teaching that contraception is a sin. That would go a long way towards advancing the views and the rights of women.
I want to acknowledge and thank the Minister of Justice for bringing in this legislation. It is not an easy topic to tackle, but after 44 years, it is well past time for this bill to pass. It is time that our law was changed so that it isn't outdated and incredibly paternalistic.
We've heard in this debate before—and I'm borrowing comments that others have made—that when this law was passed, there were only four women members. In fact, there were more men called William in this House than there were women MPs. The fact that it has taken us until now to relook at this isn't acceptable, but at least we are here today.
The current law is incredibly flawed, and I have found it difficult to listen to those who have stood in this House and claimed that there's no problem with the framework as there is. I would respectfully suggest to those people that they should get out and talk to and hear from some of the women that we heard from in the Abortion Legislation Committee, and not just the women but their families, their doctors, and their counsellors, who told us time and time again about how difficult and traumatic and needlessly heartless this process was.
So to those who are voting against the bill, if you're true to your word and this isn't just an opposition to abortion, full stop, then recognise and hear from the women who are telling you that the current law is not serving New Zealand women well. We are now behind so many countries in the world. A country that prides itself on being a world leader in women's rights and equality and fairness and justice, and we have now let ourselves fall behind. So when speakers ask if my conscience will be clear tonight, my conscience will be absolutely clear, and, in fact, I will feel proud to have done my bit to stand up for the women in New Zealand.
I've said in this House before in my contributions that I have an absolutely innate view that Parliament needs to stay out of the medical and personal decisions of women's lives. Women have an absolute, inalienable right to control their bodies and their reproductive systems. It would be utterly unconscionable for any woman to be forced to have a child she doesn't want—it would be unconscionable, and it would not be the right thing for that child.
I'm very happy to brand myself a feminist. I'm very happy to stand up for the rights of women and to respect the autonomy of women, and I will continue to do that. I trust women—I trust women. I trust them not to make the sorts of irresponsible decisions we've heard thrown around this House as examples of what might happen. Women do not wake up late in their pregnancy and have just changed their minds for no reason. Women do not callously throw away a much-wanted pregnancy because of a difficult diagnosis.
Any number of women will come and tell you—and did come and tell the select committee—exactly that, and I also understand the role of doctors in this. Doctors are not mindless automatons who'd go along with anything. Doctors have to satisfy their own conscience, their ethics, their professional obligations, and their Hippocratic oath. They make these decisions very carefully, and only when they're appropriate clinically and ethically. This House doesn't belong in those decisions. We don't do it for any other medical decision. We shouldn't do it to express control over women's reproductive rights.
I want to touch for a minute on the issue of safe zones, because I am disappointed that this House, late one night last week, took them out of this bill. It's not the biggest part of this bill, but I do not accept that this is policing speech. What I've seen happen personally and have heard stories of actually amounts to psychological abuse and torture, and I don't think any woman seeking the help that she needs in making such a difficult decision needs to be abused, intimidated, and threatened. I've even heard stories of members of this House being threatened in a number of ways, which I won't detail because of their own privacy, because of their views in this House. If that is the mechanism by which the anti-abortion protesters operate, then they don't deserve the right that we would normally expect in terms of protest. I would support safe zones, and if I have the chance to support them in another forum, I will again.
Listening to the debate tonight, I feel saddened that a number of the people who have decided not to support the legislation didn't take the time to come and sit in on some of the select committee's work. For those listening at home, every member of Parliament can sit in on a select committee and be part of it. There are the members that are appointed, but every member is welcome in all select committee processes.
I've listened to the debate tonight, and I've heard members who I respect, and who I know have thought about this, express concerns about things like the support available to women, and express concerns about how, for example, younger women could reach out and get the support they need. I've heard concerns expressed around the way decisions would be made and the information that would be portrayed, and I'd just say to those members that if you had sat through the committee and seen the way we worked through that carefully—we agonised over it, and we heard a range of evidence on it—I don't know that you would have reached the views that you have reached.
I do think that we need to trust women, as I've said, and yet we've heard people in this House say "Yes, we need to trust women.", but then say they're going to be voting to take those decisions off women. It isn't right. It is time for this House to understand that women have the right to control their bodies, and this House and our lawmaking does not have the right to intervene in that.
I think those who are voting against this legislation—their views are their own, but I think they are out of step with New Zealand. I think this House is in grave danger of becoming far more socially conservative than New Zealand, and we do a disservice to New Zealand when we get out of step with the views of New Zealand. Like many of you—and I've heard others say it—on conscience issues, I take a lot of time talking to my community in my constituency. I represent a constituency that wouldn't be regarded as urban liberal by any stretch of the imagination, and I can tell you that the very strongly held majority view—not exclusively, absolutely. But the very strongly expressed and held majority view is why wouldn't we pass this legislation? It seems a no-brainer to so many, and yet we run the risk of allowing a very vocal minority, largely, in my view, directed by the religious leaders across New Zealand—although I accept that may not be true for all. We run the risk of allowing them to derail important legislative reform.
In my last few minutes, I want to—as others have done—pay tribute to Dame Margaret Sparrow and others who have advocated tirelessly for this reform. It is time, I hope, as a majority across this House, to get this work done, and I want to vote for this legislation in the belief that it will mean for women, finally, that they won't have to face the shame, the delays, and the lack of equity of access to receive a service that every woman in New Zealand is entitled to have, without this House making that decision for her.
A personal vote was called for on the question, That the Abortion Legislation Bill be now read a third time.
Adams Faafoi (P) Marcroft Swarbrick (P) Allan (P) Falloon Martin (P) Tinetti Andersen Genter (P) McAnulty Tolley Ardern Ghahraman (P) Mitchell M (P) Twyford (P) Bennett D Henare (P) Nash (P) Wagner (P) Bennett P (P) Hipkins Parker (P) Wall Bidois Hudson Prime (P) Warren-Clark Bishop (P) Hughes (P) Radhakrishnan Webb (P) Carter Huo (P) Robertson Williams Clark Jackson Ross (P) Willis Coffey (P) Kaye (P) Russell Wood Collins Kuriger Sage Woods (P) Craig (P) Lees-Galloway (P) Sepuloni (P) Yang Curran Little Seymour Davidson Logie Shaw (P) Davis (P) Lubeck Simpson Doocey (P) Luxton (P) Sio (P) Teller: Eagle (P) Mallard Stanford Dyson
Bakshi (P) Jones (P) O'Connor G Tirikatene (P) Ball (P) Kanongata'a-Suisuiki (P) O'Connor S Upston Barry (P) King Parmar (P) van de Molen Bayly Lee D Patterson Walker (P) Bridges (P) Lee M Penk Whaitiri Brown Macindoe Peters (P) Woodhouse Brownlee Mahuta (P) Pugh (P) Young (P) Dean (P) Mark (P) Reti (P) Yule Dowie (P) McClay (P) Rurawhe Garcia McKelvie Salesa (P) Goldsmith (P) Mitchell C (P) Scott Guy (P) Muller (P) Smith N Hayes (P) Ngaro Strange Teller: Hipango (P) O'Connor D Tabuteau (P) Loheni
Bill read a third time.
ELECTORAL (REGISTRATION OF SENTENCED PRISONERS) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 17 March.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): There's a huge irony that at the time the world is grappling with the crisis of the coronavirus, the Government is wanting to ram through Parliament, only six months out from an election, a bill to give prisoners the vote. Doesn't that speak volumes about the priorities of the Government? Their preservation, because they think there might be a few more thousand votes from prisoners voting for them, is a priority for them over either respect for conventions around electoral law or, for that matter, the other issues that should be a priority for our Parliament.
Members on this side of the House come from a simple perspective, and that is that when people commit crime serious enough for a judge to imprison them, they lose particular rights in society.
Hon Andrew Little: They're the same judges that said they should have the rights.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The very basis—well, the member Andrew Little, who is interjecting and wanting to advance this bill, completely loses the plot around the issues of law and order and crime, and that is why it will be a big issue at the upcoming election.
The Minister has attempted to justify this bill on the basis of New Zealand Bill of Rights Act concerns. But his problem is that this bill still does not address the issues that some courts have raised about consistency with that Act. If the Government really wanted to ensure that our electoral law was compliant with the Act, it would go the full hog, and it would be providing for all prisoners to be able to vote, and not just those sentenced less than three years. That's a logical inconsistency in this bill.
But I further want to highlight that this is now the fourth bill that this Minister of Justice has advanced to override the conventions of developing electoral law on a cross-party basis. There were nine bills amending our electoral law under the previous Sir John Key - Bill English - led Government. Every one of those Government bills were built with cross-party support and consultation. The dangerous Minister of Justice in our current Parliament believes that electoral law is at the whim of the Government of the day, and if they can screw the rules to make it easier for the current Government to get re-elected, they will do whatever it takes.
This bill has, appropriately, been described by some commentators as Putinesque in the way in which it rides roughshod over those electoral conventions that we have. We are not a country that has a second House of Parliament. We're not a country that has a constitution. The integrity of our electoral laws has depended on Governments, rightly, showing constraint about any changes in electoral law, and this Minister and members opposite are determined to do just whatever they wish in respect of electoral law. We changed the fundamental principle in this Parliament of only the voters being able to sack MPs, by giving that power to party leaders—something that Winston Peters desperately wanted to control his own caucus. We passed a bill that took away from this Parliament its prerogative to determine what referendum will be held at general elections, a power that's been taken away and only involves the executive or Cabinet. And earlier this year, we had the Government rushing through laws to enable people to be able to enrol and vote on the same day.
My next question for the Minister is this: why are you ramming this through in just three months? Why is it that the Government is so afraid of scrutiny? Nobody can reasonably argue that this issue of prisoner voting has suddenly come out of left field. The Minister of Justice made comments about it five years ago. Why is it that just six months before the election, when the polls show it will be a very tight election, Labour and other parties are wanting to screw the scrum and to gain every electoral advantage they can as a consequence of extending the right to vote to those people in prison, who are there because they have breached the laws, and breached the laws quite seriously?
The last part I want to really ask a member of the Government to justify is what is proposed in clause 8 of this bill, replacing section 115, in respect of the unpublished electoral roll. Is there anybody in this Parliament who believes that prisoners should have rights and protection above those of law-abiding citizens?
Hon Willie Jackson: Oh, don't be stupid.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Well, the member opposite, Mr Willie Jackson, interjects that it's stupid. Well, that's what this bill does. Mr Willie Jackson hasn't read the bill. Let me hear what it says. If you as a citizen of New Zealand want to be on the unpublished roll, you have to satisfy the Electoral Commission that you meet a legal test, where it would be prejudicial to your safety. But if you are a prisoner, under this bill, you do not need to satisfy that test to go on to the unpublished and secret roll.
What sort of madness is it that we put rights in the law that are greater for those people who have offended, committed crimes, and gone to prison than for those law-abiding citizens? Only the warped minds of the current Government would ever introduce a bill to this House that somehow affords legal rights greater for those that have committed crimes and gone to prison than what an average citizen is able to enjoy. If the Government wants to change the law and to say that any person is able to go on to the unpublished roll, that would be fair enough, but to say that that provision is only to apply to those that have previously been in prison makes not an ounce of common sense.
The underlying philosophical problem with this bill is that the current Government does not believe in punishment. It does not believe that when people offend against the laws of the land, offend seriously against the laws of the land, sufficiently for a judge to sentence them to prison, they shouldn't continue to enjoy all the rights that go with a free society.
My final point is I'd ask this Parliament to compare the British Parliament—
Hon Willie Jackson: Sit down.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: —the Australian Parliament. Isn't it interesting? Willie Jackson says "Sit down." Isn't that the intelligence of his contribution—it is simply to silence those that might seriously question the policies of his Government that are failing.
The last thing is—and I'd love Willie Jackson to explain—why is the Government rushing through, against all the conventions, electoral law changes in the middle of an international crisis? Why is it rushing the law through? The honest answer, Mr Jackson, is singly this: you and your colleagues want to do everything possible to screw the rules for the 2020 election so that you might be re-elected. That is a very poor reason for this Parliament to rush such a law change.
Hon Member: Tell us what you really think.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: What a ridiculous, pathetic speech. The underlying—
Alastair Scott: Answer the questions.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: No, no, here's the point, because the underlying philosophical message that we get there is the National Party don't give a damn about prisoners or Māori—that's undeniable, philosophical, don't give a damn.
Tim van de Molen: The member's an embarrassment.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: No, the embarrassment is the National Party and the people who want to lock up people forever and a day. It's always, "Lock 'em up. Throw the key away, don't give a damn about the Māoris." Well, you see, the tribunal that Nick Smith chooses to ignore—the Waitangi Tribunal—has come out very clearly. Nick Smith's not interested in that because he's not interested in Māori rights. It's come out very clearly that this is a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi, but no one cares in National when they're in Opposition. In fact, they didn't even care when they were in Government. But the reality is here is that some of us who've had a lot to do with prisoners through the years, who've had gang members work for us at different times, believe in one thing, and that's that they have to be given an opportunity—they have to be given an opportunity.
Now, I get it Nick Smith, I'm not into supporting murderers, rapists, paedophiles—not at all.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: This includes rapists.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Not at all—no, no. The reality is Minister Little has thought this out, we've thought this out, and we're going down the middle ground. Some of our Māori advocates out there are saying this should be open slather, but no, we're not doing that. A bit of common sense has come to the table from Minister Little.
Alastair Scott: It's not about race, Willie. It's not about race.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: It's all about race, and the National Party don't give a damn about what's happening in prisons. Fifty percent prisoners are Māori and we have a tribunal ruling that's very clear. We want some of these people to be given an opportunity to come back into society, to come back into New Zealand, to get access, to become normal New Zealand citizens, not just elite National Party members. We care about the people. We care about some of these prisoners who you don't give a damn about. We care about Māori. Well done, Andrew Little. I congratulate the Minister and absolutely support it.
You just throw away the key; that's why no one's going to vote for you come September. Kia ora, Madam Speaker.
DAN BIDOIS (National—Northcote): Well, all I can say to that statement is that at least on this side of the House we don't tell Māori MPs to go back to Italy. So let's come to the bill that we are here on today. Can I just say, at a time when businesses are going under, at a time when the anxiety is at its highest point in the last 10 to 15 years, at a time when our health workers are stretched, what are the priorities of this Government? To make it easier for people in prison to vote. I just think that is a shocking sense of priorities and reflects the incompetence of this Government that we have here today.
I've read the bill, unlike the member opposite, Willie Jackson, and I understand the purpose, of course. There is a sense that under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act there is a limiting of freedoms to those that are prisoners, there are apparently breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi that have been raised that have a disproportionate impact on our Māori prisoners, and that it disenfranchises prisoners further. But what is not in this bill that I think is a key purpose of this proposed law is what isn't in there in the first place, which is that this Government wants to make it easier for prisoners to vote at the next election. And it is for those political reasons and those alone that we are here today, shoving away more important priorities, whether it be COVID-19 or dealing with the effects of the economy.
Now, the purposes of prison are clear from where we sit. We suspend the rights of New Zealand citizens who commit a crime. They have broken the laws of our country and we suspend many rights, not just prisoners' voting rights, because we want to send a signal to them that it is not OK to break the law, and that you are going to have your rights taken away from you to reflect on that, to do the time, as we refer to it, because we believe that that is the way to redemption.
We talk about redemption and rehabilitation, and this side talks a lot about rehabilitation. Of course we want to see prisoners rehabilitate in prison. That is why our prison system offers things like release to work or education and training opportunities for prisoners to, in fact, build up their skills and rehabilitate their way towards a better life. And we would encourage that on the political system. Why not have classes for prisoners around the importance of voting and the political process that we operate in New Zealand? Therefore, when they are released into the public, they will be engaged citizens of this country.
Another aspect of the debate that's raised is around how we can help Māori. Well, how we can help Māori that are in our prison system is to teach them not to offend in the first place. We've got fantastic initiatives throughout the country. One of those is what my brother's involved with in South Auckland. It's called the Genesis Youth Trust, and it takes at-risk kids before they've offended and tries to provide wraparound services to keep them out of our criminal system. That is what we need to do to keep them out of the prison system to begin with.
We've got to keep these Māori in education, training, or employment to give them a sense of a better life, a life without crime, a life without breaking law, and that is the way we will keep these people out of our prison systems. But this Government has a different approach, an approach that says, "We're soft on crime.", where they want to let people out of our prison systems even if they've done a crime and broken the law, and where they have absolutely no other plan to reduce crime. So, Madam Speaker, we do not commend this bill to the House today.
Hon CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South): Thank you, Madam Speaker. I just want to remind the House that this is a bill that means that people who are sentenced to less than three years in prison will have their voting rights restored. Why is that? It's because the threshold of a three-year jail sentence means that those prisoners will be able to vote on the Government that will be in power when they are released. It undoes what was done by the then National Government in 2010.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It was a member's bill.
Hon CLARE CURRAN: And it was a member's bill—and this is an interesting window into the National Party, actually, because it came out of a member's bill by National MP Paul Quinn, which passed through the House. At the time, the former Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson, warned the House, warned the National Government, that it was likely against the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. It still went ahead.
It's really interesting listening to the predictable constitutional outrage of Nick Smith, who predictably gets up and gives the same speech he gives over and over again, while he conveniently forgets and ignores the history of this bill, which was followed by a report from the Waitangi Tribunal that said that the 2010 law disproportionately impacts Māori prisoners, is inconsistent with the Treaty of Waitangi, and also follows the High Court's declaration, upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, that the current law is inconsistent with the right to vote in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Nick Smith ignores all of that, ignores the advice that was given by his own former Attorney-General. I bet he's thankful that Chris Finlayson is no longer in this House, because he would be getting up and having a good say about this bill tonight.
Unfortunately, the National Party is now dominated by people that consider a punitive response, a punishing response, and what could even be considered a racist response to this sort of legislation is the right way to go. Thankfully, we don't. We've done what we promised we would do, we've turned it around, and we're going to get rid of it. I absolutely commend this bill to the House.
CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville): Thank you, Madam Speaker, for this opportunity to speak on the Electoral (Registration of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill. The legislation before us does involve a reduction of human rights, and as such, we must take that aspect seriously. The rights in question are, of course, those of prisoners, specifically those serving a sentence of less than three years, to be able to vote in New Zealand elections.
At the risk of stating the obvious, other rights are also curtailed in the fact of incarceration, most obviously, freedom of movement and to some extent those such as freedom of speech, and so on. So the question for the House, in considering the bill, is not whether or not it is appropriate to reduce the rights of those who have been incarcerated under the Crimes Act but whether or not such a reduction of rights is appropriate. I submit that to do that we need to consider both the type and nature of the reduction of the rights and of course, also the extent, to test the reasonableness of what is being proposed.
Turning to the first of those: the nature of the right's reduction. The right to vote, which sometimes we express as a responsibility to vote for those who are able to do so, is, of course, specifically geared to effecting the election of those who make laws for this country. And so it is that there is an argument around the disregarding of laws already duly made by those already duly elected at previous elections. The disregarding of those laws by those who are now incarcerated reduces the moral claim—if not necessarily the legal claim, which we'll get to in a moment—of those who are imprisoned, having already opted out, at least to some extent, of a system whereby they contribute as members of the democracy, voting to install into this place people who make laws and then follow those laws.
It would be possible to characterise that in relation to the social contract concept that's used in other contexts. I don't pretend that it's a perfect one, but it's at least possible to analyse along the lines of mutual obligations—that a citizen obeys the laws of the land and in return has the right to elect those who will continue to make such laws or amend, repeal, and replace them, and so forth.
It's worth noting in that context, that the laws that a person must have broken to have been imprisoned in the first place are those contained in the Crimes Act. I say that not just because of the seriousness of the nature of the offending but also because the Crimes Act is a codification of law. These are laws that everyone has the ability to know. They are not judge-made laws. They are written as opposed to being merely a matter of convention or being difficult to find by way of existing in different places, and so forth.
Crimes as well, almost by definition and certainly by a matter of good convention, are those which are non-retrospective, so there should be no one to whom this law would apply in relation to prisoner voting rights who is behind bars by reason of an accident such that they have been incarcerated for something that was not illegal at the time that they did it.
The final point about a person being behind bars for an offence that would potentially disqualify them from voting is that by reason of having offended against the Crimes Act they will have been judged along the way to have had the mens rea—that is, the mental intent to have committed that crime. So it's not a light matter to send someone to jail in the first place, and so it is that the reduction of rights includes not only the freedom of movement but the freedom of speech in the sense that correspondence is limited, and so on. This is the context of the reduction of rights that currently exists in relation to prisoners.
That's my reflections on the nature of the reduction of rights. As to the extent, well, the bill sets a bright line at the three-year mark. I suppose the justification would be, as Ms Curran has set out, that a person would be able to vote in the election that would install a set of lawmakers that would be in power—half of them, or slightly more than half—the Government of the day on their release. But it's also the case that we do have elections sometimes at intervals other than three years. We have by-elections. We have elections in a shorter period of three years. We also have the situation where it might be that a person who is serving a term of four years is only disqualified from voting in one general election. It might be that another prisoner incarcerated for four years misses out on just one. And so it is that the cleanliness of the rule, as is suggested by Government members so far, is at least a technical detail that the select committee should be examining very closely.
I am a member of the Justice Committee. There are a number in this Chamber who are as well. I acknowledge the chair, the Hon Meka Whaitiri. No doubt, these are issues that we will thrash out. But in the meantime, for the purpose of the current debate, setting out the principles involved in this law, I think it is important to note for the record that it is not necessarily the case that there will be one election and one election only for a person who is serving a term of less than three years.
Of course, we also have the other technical detail about the fact that a person who may be sentenced to more than three years may end up serving less than three years, in any case.
Looking at some of the other points that have been made across the House, I think they are serious points to be taken seriously and considered, and worthy of a response. For those of us interested in constitutional aspects, the first is the Supreme Court declaration that the disqualification—as it currently exists—places an unreasonable limit on the electoral rights guaranteed under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. The reasonableness, or otherwise, is a judgment call that the Supreme Court has made. Of course, reasonableness is famously subject to subjective evaluations, notwithstanding that it is intended to be viewed as an objective measure. So it is that I will make the general constitutional point that those who are sitting on the bench and not part of Parliament, not duly elected in the way that we 120 privileged members currently do, are making a judgment call in relation to the unreasonable limit that they see, and from a very different basis from this place. So while I would note the judgment of the court in that particular case, I would only place a certain amount of emphasis upon it, given that it is our right but also, again, our responsibility to make such judgment calls for ourselves.
It is also worth having a look at the Māori Prisoners' Voting Report of the Waitangi Tribunal, as raised by a couple of members previously. The key aspect of that report for me was not only engaging with the disproportionate effect, as the tribunal found, but actually the non-enrolment of such prisoners at the end of their time. But that is actually something that I think we could consider separately very meaningfully. I'm pleased to say that the Justice Committee, in a different item of business—namely the election inquiry that was eventually completed—considered the question of enrolment for those who are in prison and then finish their sentence, having done the crime and then done the time, as the saying goes. We talked about options such as suspended enrolment, or perhaps automatic re-enrolment. Those are a couple of different mechanisms that could usefully be employed, even separately from the current bill before us, which is to say that we could address those shortfalls identified by the Waitangi Tribunal without passing this legislation.
Finally, I would like to highlight one other aspect of the proposed law, which is just in relation to what I would describe as a possible doctrine of equivalence. I don't think that such a thing exists in the law necessarily at the moment, but the theory would be that—a person who is imprisoned for a breach of a law that impacts upon another person so seriously as to remove that other person's rights, the victim's rights. So it is, for example, if a person is murdered, then they don't have the ability to continue to vote, and, while I wouldn't advocate equivalence to be exactly any kind of reciprocity necessarily—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth etc., leaving everyone blind, as the famous cliché goes—I think it's a worthwhile consideration in terms of the overall context of those who have broken the law and those who are affected by it. So on this side of the House, we do not support the bill at this, the first reading.
I'm pleased to take a call in support of the first reading of the Electoral (Registration of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill. I want to acknowledge all members who have spoken to it in the House this evening. Clearly, the bill is around returning the voting rights of prisoners who are serving less than a three-year sentence. This is a bill that's returning us back to the state that the country was in between 1993 to 2010, and there's been a few contributions from members that I just want to briefly touch on in reference to supporting this bill.
There have been some discussions around the constitutional rights of prisoners—whether they're entitled to vote or not—and I just want to draw to the House's attention that when the former National Government changed voters' rights in 2013, the Attorney-General at that time, the Hon Chris Finlayson, did present to this Parliament, noting that disqualification was inconsistent with the electoral rights affirmed by section 12 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. It was further upheld by the High Court in the case Taylor v Attorney-General that disqualification was also inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and issued a declaration of it being inconsistent. This again was appealed and upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, and some members in this House have touched on the further report of the Waitangi Tribunal that found the disqualification is a serious breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. So this bill is an electoral bill aligning itself to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and that's why this side, and particularly myself, are standing in support of it.
In terms of the numbers, I just again touch briefly on the numbers of Māori in prison—over 50 percent of the male population and over 50 percent of the women population in this country are of Māori descent—given that we are only 15 percent of the population. So one area that I am particularly keen on, and this bill is addressing, is to increase Māori participation and to acknowledge that we have a justice system that has too many of our people locked up.
But this bill is in a range of reforms in which this Government particularly is trying to restore democracy in this country, particularly looking at prisoners serving, like I said earlier, the three years or less in their sentence. In the bill and in the address that the Minister of Justice gave, an area I'm particularly keen on as it comes to our select committee that I'm proudly the chair of is the one around the engagement of the Department of Corrections with prisoners about to be released. The Minister alluded to a more hands-on approach by officials in Corrections to ensure that as prisoners are transitioning from their under-three-year term they are fully informed around enrolling so that they can actually participate in the up and coming election, and I find it amazing that members of this House find that problematic.
All I want to say is that the whole purpose of the select committee is to properly scrutinise this bill, based on what the public will say in their submissions. And I do encourage people who may be listening to this debate that they do submit. It's not something new that the Justice Committee has been considering because we considered prisoners' voting rights when we did the local body elections and general election 2017 inquiry that we reported to the House. So there are some common themes that this bill has picked up from the earlier piece of work from the Justice Committee. But I'm, like many members, looking forward to this particular bill coming on our agenda and again opening up submissions to the general public so we can hear not only the concerns that some members of this House have raised, but just in general what the public think around retuning prisoner voting rights for those that are serving less than three years. On that note, I commend this bill to the House.
A party vote was called for on the question, That the Electoral (Registration of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill be now read a first time.
New Zealand Labour 46; New Zealand First 9; Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand 8.
New Zealand National 55; ACT New Zealand 1; Ross.
Bill read a first time.
Bill referred to the Justice Committee.
Instruction to Justice Committee
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): I move, That the Electoral (Registration of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill be reported to the House by 2 June 2020 and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House and outside the Wellington area, despite Standing Orders 191, 193 and 194(1)(b) and (c).
The reason for the shortened select committee time frame for this bill is that it's appropriate considering the need to ensure that the Electoral Commission and the Department of Corrections have sufficient time to operationalise changes in the bill—
Brett Hudson: You should have introduced it earlier. Do your job.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: —in time for the 2020 general election, so that eligible prisoners can enrol to vote. For the benefit of Mr Hudson, I can point out that the Justice Committee, when it heard submissions—
Brett Hudson: You've had two and a half years, Andrew.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: —on the most recent Electoral Amendment Bill, heard a lot of submissions—
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Full names.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: —on just this very point. So the Justice Committee will have heard submissions from the public on the very points that are in this bill, so the Justice Committee has already given consideration to many of the issues in this bill.
Submissions on the issue of prisoner voting were made to the committee in that bill, and, indeed, at the time of that committee's inquiry into the 2017 general election. So this is not a new issue to the House, not a new issue to the Justice Committee, and therefore the committee will be well placed and will have already given thought to the issues in this bill. I invite the House to support this motion.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): Isn't it an extraordinary day when the Chief Justice of New Zealand announces that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, all jury trials are to be suspended for the next two months, but there is such an urgency to give prisoners the vote that the Justice Committee is going to be instructed to go hell for leather and to meet as often as possible for the next eight weeks to ram this prisoner voting bill through Parliament? Doesn't that strike you as incredibly unusual and a distortion of the reasonable priorities for the Government?
The bill requires that it be reported back by 4 June; that's a bit more than two months. The Standing Orders require that bills go to select committee for six months. Why is it that the Government wants to reduce the time to a third of that normally required? There's only one simple reason: they want to screw the scrum to make it easier for them to win the 2020 election.
If there was a fraction of principle in this issue—this Minister of Justice has been in that portfolio for over two and a half years; he gave speeches in 2016 and 2017 about this issue. If it was such an important issue, why did the Government not introduce a bill sometime in the last two and a half years, and hardly in the middle of the biggest health crisis that this country has faced?
But it's not just that we're going to pull back the time of report, the speech that we heard from the Labour chair of the Justice Committee said, hand on heart, "This is all about giving the public a say." Well, let's be clear: how many New Zealanders over the next two months are going to be focusing their minds on whether prisoners should be allowed to vote?
Maureen Pugh: Not many.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: "Not many", says my very capable colleague from West Coast - Tasman, Maureen Pugh. Every New Zealander is rightly focused on keeping them and their family safe and keeping them and their family in business. The Government is cynically exploiting the coronavirus issue to sneak through the back door, in a mad rush, the laws that it thinks will suit its own narrow advantage.
I also have to challenge the House. How can we be saying to New Zealanders—how can the courts be saying that it's not safe enough to have jury trials, but it's safe enough for this motion to require that the Justice Committee can meet day in, day out to focus on getting this bill through that's all about just getting a narrow political advantage for the governing parties? Doesn't it smack of the sort of petty, small-minded lawmaking at a time when this country needs to be focused on the big issues?
The date that the Government is requiring this bill to be reported, effectively, will shut down any reasonable opportunity for New Zealanders to be able to submit on the bill. On normal bills that come before select committees, the House is required to be able to give good time for any amendments to be considered—that means it will only be a matter of a couple of, or maybe three, weeks that the public will get an opportunity to have a say. Do I think New Zealanders want to have a say on saying that we will be one of the few Western countries in the world that doesn't include the exclusion of the freedom to vote as part of those that are lost when people are sentenced to prison? Of course New Zealanders will want to have a say, and of course this Government is about limiting that opportunity to have any realistic say with this bill.
The final point I want to make is that in the very first submission that the Justice Committee heard from the Electoral Commission, they said this to us, "Any changes being made for the general election in 2020 need to be settled at least six months prior to the election." That is, in fact, how the very Minister of Justice justified rushing through the previous electoral bill, providing for same-day enrolment and voting. The Prime Minister has set the election day as 19 September; six months prior to that would mean that this bill needs to be on the law books by the month of April. So why is the Government ignoring the advice of the Electoral Commission around settled electoral law?
The last point I want to make is about precedent. We're a country without a constitution. We don't have a second House of Parliament. The long-established convention has been that Governments need to show extra restraint about changes in the electoral law. In fact, I've presented a view that says that the entire Electoral Act should be entrenched, requiring a super majority for change because we don't have those other constitutional checks. At least previous Governments have observed the process around such bills and ensuring cross-party consultation and ensuring a full select committee process. This Government with this motion is setting very poor precedent, and they're saying that it's now fair game to change electoral laws on a narrow majority, and in a mad hurry closing off public submissions, and on a fast track process.
There are members of this House that view, for instance, that the Māori seats should be abolished; would it be OK for a Government to just rush through a bill? What would Labour members, Green members, and New Zealand First members be saying were they on this side of the House and a different Government proposed rushed changes to the electoral law in an area where they did not agree?
Maureen Pugh: Apoplectic.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This is—my colleague says they'd go "apoplectic", I think was the word used by Maureen Pugh, and every member opposite knows, of course, that's what they would do.
The precedent that this Government is setting time and time again on electoral law is simply this: "We're the Government, we've got the numbers; if we can jig the rules, jig the law, and give ourselves an electoral advantage, we will grab that opportunity.", and that includes rushing through law only eight months away from a general election that they think will give them some slight electoral advantage. I say to members opposite, you're better than this. The Parliament deserves better than this. Our democracy deserves better than this. If there are any laws which should have a full select committee process, it is those that are changing fundamental rights, the likes of the exercise of franchise—those that should and those that should not be able to vote.
My last concern is that there is important detail in this bill that does need scrutinising. I pointed out, for instance, that it gives the right for ex-prisoners to go on the unpublished, or secret, roll more easily than the general public. Now, that's an issue that I'm sure people, from a point of view of principle, would want to have the opportunity to make submissions on and is absolutely an issue of which the select committee should have the opportunity for a full select committee process.
My challenge for Labour members is this: what is the justification for fast-tracking an electoral bill to give prisoners the vote. This is not an issue that arose yesterday; this is an issue that's been around for more than a decade. It was an issue that was mentioned in all of the parties opposite's policies at the last election. There is absolutely no justification for this bill being rushed through, for the select committee's time frames being constrained, for the Justice Committee over the next two months being required to sit all over the times at a time when we're dealing with the coronavirus issue. This is, once again, governing parties putting their narrow political interests ahead of the public interest, and that is one of the reasons why the voters, later this year, will reject them at the next general election.
Hon TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West): Thank you, Madam Speaker. The Hon Dr Nick Smith is absolutely right: our democracy does deserve much better than this. So I too, as a member of the Justice Committee, rise to oppose as strenuously as I can this outrageous motion that the Minister of Justice has put forward for a truncated select committee process. I hadn't been expecting him to be suggesting it would be quite as soon as 2 June, and I've just had a look at the sitting calendar—that is only six sitting weeks of Parliament. The Justice Committee is a very busy committee, and there have been occasions recently when we have had to meet on days other than the scheduled Thursday morning. Always we have long meetings, usually of at least four hours in duration, and that reflects the fact that it is a committee that already has a lot of business. There are some very challenging bills that are before the committee at the moment and that rightly should take precedence as we try to give them serious attention, and in particular give serious consideration to the views of the public of New Zealand, who want to be heard. I'm talking about matters as to the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill. That is a very important piece of legislation. We need to get it right.
Six sitting weeks is simply not enough for the committee to do justice to other business which is just being rammed through for the most spurious of reasons. I listened carefully to the very brief explanation that the Minister of Justice gave a short time ago in attempting to justify why he is wanting to force the House to approve this motion. But what it comes down to quite clearly is that this is a Government that is completely out of control. It has no control over its own legislative agenda. What's the evidence of that? Well, for more than two years, we have had a Government that consistently filibustered on a whole lot of bills, reflecting the fact that when they came to office they hadn't been expecting to be elected, they had not done the work in Opposition that they would need to do in order to be able to bring a coherent legislative programme into being from the outset. So they instead filibustered, often with senior Ministers, many of them in the House night after night dragging out things which had the complete support of all members of this House. And that is relevant because suddenly they realised that they are less than six months out from an election. They have lost control. They know that in six months' time they're going to be evicted from the Beehive—the New Zealand First Party is going to be evicted from Parliament all together, and maybe even the Greens—and so they've suddenly realised they'd better get on with it.
Well, the point that Dr Nick Smith made a moment ago is absolutely valid. This is—
Kieran McAnulty: Repetition!
Hon TIM MACINDOE: An interesting interjection from Mr McAnulty there. I do hope that he's going to stand up and take a call and explain why he would call out such a silly comment. This is an important motion because it gets to the heart of our democracy and, in particular, the way this Government is willing to ride roughshod over it so much. I had the privilege of being a member of this House for the entire nine years of the Key-English administration, and I listened to many pious speeches being delivered at that point by members of the Opposition—not just the Labour Party but also the Green Party—constantly bemoaning anything that they saw as perhaps a Government wanting to get on with things. Well, now here we have them forgetting everything that they used to say and riding roughshod over the rights of the people.
So let me remind Mr McAnulty and the others—most of whom now have their heads down—that a very important part of the legislative process is the right of the members of the New Zealand public to make a submission, and then, perhaps, to be heard by the select committee and to have those views considered. Now, in six sitting weeks, this Government is now telling them: "You must get your submission in, you must make sure that you turn up for an appointment"—that'll probably have to be rushed because, if a lot of people want to be heard, they'll suddenly be told they can have only five minutes, if that, and the whole thing will be an outrage when there's no good reason for it. There is no urgency for this particular legislation. The idea that the Minister of Justice gave, that the Electoral Commission needs it to happen so that they can do their work, is absolutely contradicted by the fact that it's not the Electoral Commission that is calling for this exercise and it isn't the Electoral Commission who should be—with all due respect to them—dictating the way that Parliament undertakes its very important work. That's for us as a Parliament to decide, and it should be a responsibility that all members of Parliament take very seriously.
Not just is it an affront to the democratic process, but even if these were ordinary times it would be unjustified—but we live in the most extraordinary of times. As we confront the daily reality of all of the changes to our lifestyle, to our processes, to our ability to hold public meetings, and so on as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, we must, surely, have at the back of our minds the possibility that this House may not be able to continue to meet for the next few months. We do not know, at this stage, just how many more—I won't call them Draconian, because I appreciate that they are significant measures to deal with a crisis—very stringent measures may be dictated, with the best of reasons, that could force the House not to meet. And so to suggest that a select committee should have such a ludicrously unreasonable short time to consider a bill when we don't even know what the state of the Parliament will be in two or three weeks from now is absolutely unjustified—in fact, it's an outrage. I do hope that whoever is going to respond next from the Government side will deal with that point. Will any member of the Government be able to assure us that Parliament is going to continue operating as we usually do in this extraordinary environment that we have at the moment?
Now, the next point I want to make is that rushed law is invariably bad law, and so often where laws are rushed as a select committee process does—
Hon Julie Anne Genter: This isn't a new law; it's just undoing something terrible that you guys did.
Hon TIM MACINDOE: I can hear chirping from the Hon Julie Anne Genter; I'm afraid I'm not actually aware of what she's trying to say.
Matt Doocey: No, no one ever is.
Hon TIM MACINDOE: Thank you, Mr Doocey. But, instead of just having a running commentary, perhaps she'd pay me the courtesy of allowing me to make my speech, and then I'd invite her to stand up and respond, as is her right, and I would be interested in hearing what she has to say when she takes her call, not constantly throughout mine.
I was trying to make the point that rushed law is invariably bad law, and frequently sees the Parliament—well, obviously not this Parliament, but the next Parliament—having to either repeal or amend the law because mistakes were made. And in this circumstance, where so little time is being allowed for the process that we're being asked to approve tonight, I would suggest to you that that would be an almost certain thing to happen. There will be a lot of public interest in this measure, and I know that because I'm reflecting on the fact that in my own electorate, in Hamilton West, those members of the public who have heard that this is being suggested have said to me, "Why on earth would the Government want to make that a priority when, in fact, there are such significant things happening?"—particularly, obviously, in these extraordinary times as we all deal with the alarming threat of the coronavirus outbreak internationally.
So I would imagine from those comments that there will be members of the public who will wish to make a submission, who will wish to front up to the committee. Some may well support the bill. We know that that's likely, and that's fair enough. Many others will wish to oppose it. The important thing is that we need to allow them the time to do the job properly. We need to allow the select committee members the time to consider those submissions, to hear them, to reflect on them, to discuss with the officials the implications of them, to prepare a report that would come back to the House in order to be further debated, if it was recommended that the bill should go through.
It's worth noting that the Justice Committee is a split committee and, therefore, it will not be easy for this particular committee to reach agreement on this bill, because the party's positions are already very clearly understood. So I would predict that this will take longer, not shorter, than usual. Six weeks is just an affront to democracy. It simply cannot and should not be done.
So to members of the Government who tonight are looking to subvert the democratic process, I say this: get a sense of decency and stand up and say, "No, we will not support this motion." Even if the members of the Government support the bill, they should stand up and say, "We will allow the full democratic process to be conducted. We won't support trampling on the rights of the citizens to submit, or on the democratic process. We won't support trying to put this bill through under urgency when there's no public clamour for it. We will not continue to ride roughshod over the rights of New Zealanders."
CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville): Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I, too, rise to speak about the proposal that's been made by the Government in relation to this report-back period for the select committee being considerably shorter than would ordinarily be the case. Like my colleagues, the Hon Dr Nick Smith and the Hon Tim Macindoe, I am fearful for the consequences of lawmaking in the context of a shorter report-back period, but I offer slightly different reasons for that.
The first is that there will be considerable interplay between the different branches of Government here. We've got legislative branches involved in relation to the New Zealand Supreme Court finding, essentially, in exactly this matter. We've got the Waitangi Tribunal, which made its own separate report—again, substantially in this place. So it will take time for the select committee to consider all these different factors interrelating and interconnecting as we consider the bill and its appropriateness in our broader constitutional framework. That's the first point.
The second one is around the fundamental rights involved. Now, that was a point that was well made by Dr Nick Smith, so I won't rehearse the arguments that he's made in that, of course, but I will point out that there's a technical reason that the select committee will need extra time to consider the implications of the serious rights at play. That's because the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act establishes a mechanism where there is to be balancing of fundamental rights to see whether there is a justified limitation in a free and democratic society. That's something that the select committee should turn its mind to. It should not do so in a rushed fashion. The advice that it seeks, and the consideration of Attorney-General's advice in that space should be done in the amount of time that it would reasonably be expected to take, and not in a truncated fashion for the mere politically convenient reason that others on this side of the House have already spelled out.
My next point is about certainty. This goes to electoral law in general, which is to say that when we have electoral law, not only should there be—as far as reasonably possible—bipartisan agreement; a point that has again been made very well indeed by the Hon Dr Nick Smith. But also from the point of view of insuring against a system whereby every three years, with the change of Government or, at least, a change of Parliament, that we're going to have different electoral law according to the numbers in the House at that given time.
That's an argument in favour of the select committee—which is a split committee, which does represent equally both sides of the House—taking its time to consider in a very careful way to ensure that we will be less likely to have the matter essentially relitigated quickly in the following Parliament and beyond.
I'd also like to talk about the fact that with such a complex issue, and one in which there are politically partisan interests, the select committee is going to need a decent period of time to consider external evidence. If the select committee has the shortened report-back period as suggested by the Minister, it will be inevitable that we fall upon our own existing views—prejudices, perhaps. I don't use that word in the ugly sense, but meaning merely the ideas that we already bring to the table.
We should not shorten a process whereby we will have more reason, more incentive to fall back on our pre-existing notions. Indeed, we should spend the time as a select committee to consider the full range of views out there in the general public and to allow them the opportunity to make those views known to us, first by way of written submission, second by way of oral submission, for those who wish to be heard—physically heard—in the matter.
Also for those of us who then want to obviously consider and debate—which I would hope would be all the members of the committee. Those particular views, again, as I say, go much further beyond our own views which, of course, if we were to rely upon our own views only, then we could do away with the select committee process entirely. So on a sliding scale from taking the full usual period of time, to taking no time at all, we are in danger of erring very much on the side of the latter, with the shortened report-back period that the Minister is suggesting and requesting today.
A related point is that in this matter we will be judges in our own cause. Famously, it was said that no man—to which, of course, we could update and say no person—should be the judge in their own cause. Well, as politicians, as those who are elected now and, in many cases, are seeking re-election at the next election, the question of prisoner voting is one that is dear to our hearts. It is a matter of vested interest. Now, that's not problematic as far as it goes, necessarily, except that the more time that we have to demonstrate, as a matter of perception, that we have understood the issues at play, we have taken the time to consider them and to work them through, the less it will look as though we are merely legislating in our own interests—whether that's the Government doing so, as we may say on this side of the House, but also equally, I suppose it could be said, any member of Parliament seeking re-election has an interest in the matter. So it is that a shortened report-back period would be inappropriate for that reason too.
Yet another reason that we shouldn't have the report-back period shortened in the way that's being suggested is the complexity of the legislation. There are details that are actually really seriously important. The Hon Dr Nick Smith has touched on some of those. I myself, in an earlier debate on the bill itself, as opposed to this procedural motion, talked about the subtleties around enrolment versus suspended enrolment versus automatic re-enrolment and so on. That's a key aspect of the bill that we will be considering: the complexity of the matter involved, from a technical perspective, upon which we will need serious official advice—advice which it takes time to seek, to be given, to consider, and so forth. All these factors indicate, again, that we shouldn't have a shortened report-back period in which to consider the bill.
Another point regards the current coronavirus crisis. I don't think it's too strong a word to use. I think that's generally acknowledged up and down the land, and indeed on all sides of the House, that the nation is in a period of crisis with regard to that. That was a point that was made very well by the Hon Tim Macindoe. But again, I would pick that up and perhaps make some slightly different points in relation to that.
One is the possibility that various key players in the select committee process could be subject to the need for self-isolation. Not only that, they might be stricken with this wretched condition, but also it might be that as a matter of precaution and public safety as well as their own, that they are actually not able to be physically present at select committee hearings. That could affect our excellent advisers who need to give us the technical knowledge on how to inform the way that we proceed. It could affect submitters.
Now, admittedly, submitters could continue to use the mechanisms available at the moment in relation to phoning in or being linked by video conference. But for members of Parliament, that situation is not at all clear. So it might be that we need to take extra time, if anything, and certainly not less time, to have the ability to programme, an ability for us to hear all the different people that need to be heard, not only the submitters, of course, but as I say, the advisers and the MPs themselves.
A more general point in relation to the coronavirus outbreak and crisis is that naturally the attention of many would-be submitters will be distracted in other directions. To give them less time to make a submission in that context seems totally illogical, and, I would say, wholly inappropriate.
My final point, as a subheading of the coronavirus response would be that actually what we don't know in the justice select committee is what other more urgent business we might have to contend with in the next two months. As I say, as others have said, six months should be the ordinarily mandated report-back time.
Mr Macindoe has pointed out quite rightly that we have a very full schedule of legislation which is pretty complex and involves some very fundamental rights. Of course, he's quite correct to note that and I thank him for that. But I'd also add, respectfully, that we don't know what other things might come up specifically in relation to the epidemic, or perhaps do I mean pandemic in any case, coronavirus. For example, we've heard today that jury trials are to be suspended at least for a period of time. It's entirely possible, indeed I'd say inevitable, that in some way, shape, or form, the Justice Committee will turn its collective mind to that. Again, that's an argument in favour of allowing a normal period of time, if not longer, certainly not a shorter period of time, for the Justice Committee to consider this bill.
So like others on this side of the House, I argue strongly against a shortened report-back period for this very important bill that has serious implications, serious factors at play, and deserves serious attention and serious time.
BRETT HUDSON (National): Thank you, Madam Speaker. I wasn't going to speak on this particular motion but in the complete absence of justification from the Government I feel it's important that I do. Now in current circumstances we're all going through quite an environment of change and adaptation. I do note, that Alanis Morissette was due to perform in Auckland but has had to postpone her concert, so it's over to me to say on her behalf, isn't it ironic. Isn't it ironic that in opposition that lot were lions defending the democratic principles of a six-month select committee process? Isn't it ironic that in opposition they were the defenders that New Zealanders should have every opportunity to have their say on any given piece of legislation, and they would roar in opposition should the Government have proposed any shortening of that process?
Well, there are three items I want to talk about as to why this House should oppose this motion for a shortened report back. The first is our constitutional conventions, the second is the absence of any justification from the Government as to why this should be shortened, and the third is a new factor which has emerged over the course of the debates this evening, principally from that side.
So we'll start with the constitutional conventions. It is true, of course, we don't have a fully written constitution, but that just makes the conventions of this House that much more important, because if we sacrifice those we have no written pillar to fall back upon. We are not necessarily unique but we do shine through in Westminster-based parliaments, particularly that which we are born from, that we place almost every bill that comes through this Parliament before a select committee to scrutinise that bill and to allow public input. For instance, in the UK, they don't. They form special committees when they want to scrutinise specific pieces of legislation. They, of course, have a second house—the House of Lords—whose job is to do a great deal of that, and to recommend back to the House of Commons ideas for change. We don't have that. Instead, it is a well-established convention that instead, in almost every single case, legislation that comes before this House will be sent to a select committee, where not only a subcommittee of Parliament will scrutinise it, but where they will hear from interested parties and individual members of the public to give their views. To change that should require very special reasons, because to change it is to undermine the democratic conventions that have been established over time in this Parliament.
That brings me to my second point, which is a complete absence of any serious-minded justification from the Government as to why that constitutional convention should be abridged in this case. The Minister's defence, when he introduced the bill, of a shortened process was that people have already discussed this. Well, here's an absolute indisputable piece of fact, the public have not discussed this bill. They may or may not have traversed in any given inquiry or other commentary over the two and a half years this Government has sat on its hands over this matter. They may or may not have discussed any idea about the franchise and prisoner voting. But it is only when the Government introduced this bill that they had the opportunity to consider and submit on the bill as it is. It is not the responsibility of the public to anticipate with some great precognitive powers what the Government is going to do and the exact shape of what they might do will take. Instead, the Government proposes the legislation and at that point the public can comment on it.
So for the Minister to stand in the House and give one reason—one reason—to shorten the process being that they've already talked about prisoner voting, completely misses the point that the public, until now, have not had the opportunity to have a say on the specific measures the Government is proposing. Instead of giving them the opportunity to have that say, they wish to take that away from them, by a process which is about three months, give or take a week here or there.
Look, under current circumstances, we cannot even guarantee the public how much time Parliament or a select committee may, in fact, be able to meet to hear what they have to say. It is foolhardy of us to be shrinking down a process when, in the midst of what is happening around the world and in our own country, we cannot give a certainty to the public that we will be able to meet often enough to give them an opportunity in such a shortened process. It is wrong. It is something this House should not accept. I do accept and acknowledge that in circumstances where the Government is able to prove a case, to show that it is worthwhile or evidence that sufficient debate on the specifics of their bill has already taken place, that a process could be truncated. They have not done so. It is inappropriate, I argue, for us to accept that as a justification, in this instance, to shorten from what is the constitutional convention in New Zealand of a six-month select committee process.
It will be over to the public to judge for themselves as to why they might think this is happening, because, of course, there's an election, we presume, still in about six months' time. So the public might think that the reason this is being rushed through is the Government is trying to scavenge up a few more votes to keep itself in power. Now, that is not something for us to judge. It is certainly something for the public to judge. The behaviour of the Government in truncating the process may have a very, very solid bearing on the decision the public reach on that particular matter.
The third point that I want to raise as to why I think we really need to ensure that we have a full six-month process on this is that parliamentarians in this House tonight have shown, some of them will be committee members for the Justice Committee—not on this side, I might add, it's the other side—that, actually, they require more time to come to terms with the broader New Zealand law and how it affects consideration on this bill in the context of the law as it currently stands, which is that prisoners do not have the right to vote.
I heard a lot of comment about the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and an adverse finding from the Attorney-General. What appears is that no member over that side of the House with the scant majority they've managed to cobble together with a three-headed hydra of a Government—no member, it appears, on that side of the House has actually read the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, or at least they skipped over section 4. If they were to read section 4, they would know that the bill, as it was, a member's bill that was passed and received that report—that Parliament is not bound by that report. In fact, section 4 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act is explicit that Parliament has the right to legislate law that contravenes the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. And yet member after member speaking tonight said that somehow the fact that there was an adverse finding meant that that bill was never valid, should never have happened, and should be repealed.
So that third reason of why we need more time is because those members need to be educated under the current law of New Zealand, which they're actually obliged—the rule of new law in this country is that the Government and all entities follow the law in New Zealand. Well, they don't seem to understand it. Now, if they don't understand it, then any rushed process is going to lead to a lack of proper consideration, both in the context of what they're wanting to do but, more importantly, in the context of what already exists and why, and the absolute sovereignty of Parliament to have made the decision that it did, which has stood now for a number of years.
I'm going to finish now, but I'll just say that if this was important enough to this Government, they would have taken action early, in coming into power. They didn't. We're six months out from an election. There's only one reason they're doing this and it is not good for democracy in New Zealand.
ERICA STANFORD (National—East Coast Bays): Thank you, Madam Speaker. Much like my colleague Brett Hudson, I wasn't coming down to the House tonight to take a call on this bill, but since listening to my colleagues Chris Penk, Nick Smith, and Brett Hudson make their calls tonight, I felt that it was important that I stand up and make a contribution. And the reason that I am so intent on doing that is because not a single member from the other side of the House tonight has stood up to take a call.
Now, we've heard from the other side of the House over the last few months how very important this bill is; how very, very important it is that we give prisoners the right to vote, and they've said it on many forums. They've said it many times. We've heard it from many members of Labour, of New Zealand First, and of the Greens. We've heard it from all of them. But tonight, Madam Speaker, utter silence. Not a single one of them is brave enough to get up and take a call.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!
ERICA STANFORD: We've heard from—
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Careful.
ERICA STANFORD: Sorry, Madam Speaker. I apologise. Not a single one of them has stood up to take a call. We heard from Minister Genter—Julie Anne Genter—across the floor, when she was interjecting, when the Hon Tim Macindoe was making his speech, over and over again, but she hasn't stood up to take a call. We heard from Kieran McAnulty many a time during the speeches tonight—
Matt King: Too often.
ERICA STANFORD: —too often, as Matt King says—but he hasn't stood up to take a call, and we have to wonder why that is when they have been so vocal prior to tonight, and yet tonight we hear nothing but silence.
This is extraordinary. The fact that we are here tonight to potentially have a piece of legislation go forward in a truncated process, which normally, as Nick Smith pointed out, would take six months—a good process would take six months—truncating that down to two months. Now, we understand—I mean, when we were in Government that was required on a number of occasions. And just for the record, as Maureen Pugh pointed out, on those occasions, the Labour Opposition at the time went apoplectic at those times. Have I said it right?
Maureen Pugh: That's the right word.
ERICA STANFORD: Excellent. And you can imagine that if the tables were turned tonight they would be the same. But the point is this is not just any bill. This is voting rights. This is our electoral system. This is voters' rights. And surely, of any legislation, of any bill, this bill should have the full scrutiny of select committee. We should allow the people of this country the full six months to have their say, because this is not an inconsequential bill. This is a bill of great importance. As I said, in opposition, Labour and the Greens were so very ferocious in their opposition to any bill that had a truncated process, and yet tonight they sit with their heads bowed, saying nothing and not taking a single call.
I would invite any of them sitting on that side of the House tonight to stand up and give us a good reason, and justify your reasoning as to why we can't have a six-month process, why we're truncating this to two months. And indeed, if you're so very angry about the fact that we understand that you want to do this to get it through well before the election so that you can make up those few extra votes—if you're so incensed about that, as you have been in your interjections, then stand up, take a call, and tell everybody why we're so wrong. Your silence indicates that, actually, we are very right, that we've hit the nail on the head and that, in fact, members on the other side want to get this through so that they can scrape through all of those votes from the prisoners, as we expected that they wanted to do.
Earlier this year we put through bills with truncated processes, and I remember that a few of them went through my Environment Committee. I remember getting up and taking calls and saying that, actually, these bills need a full process; it's really important that we hear from the public on these bills. But tonight, more so than any other speech that I've made in the 2½ years that I've been an MP, I would call this bill the most important of any of those bills to have a full process.
We cannot underestimate the importance when it comes to the rights of people to vote to have a full process. This is something that the public are extremely interested in, and, as members mentioned earlier, there is so much going on right now and people's minds are in other places, they are not going to have the time to submit on this or to think this through. I think that that is very important, and a six-month time frame would give us time to do that.
It was mentioned earlier by my colleague Nick Smith—and I'd like to elaborate on this—that jury trials have been put off for the next couple of months, and I expect that that may happen for even longer into the future. But what I can say is that it is quite extraordinary that the other side of the House expects the select committee to sit whenever, over two months and as often as is required, to get through this bill, when other such things have been put off. I'm just sitting here, absolutely astounded that the other side of the House would push this through in such a short time frame, and are expecting a select committee to sit whenever it is required for this bill to go through.
As I said earlier, I can't understand why the other side of the House aren't taking a call. I would suggest any one of them—Mr Clayton Mitchell, Deborah Russell, who's yawning; maybe a speech would wake her up—get up, stand up, and prove what we are saying. You've been calling across the House at us. Prove us wrong just by taking a single call. I would invite any one of them to get up and explain to us why we can't have a six-month process when it comes to such a very, very important bill.
I and everyone on this side of the House will not be supporting this bill. Thank you.
MAUREEN PUGH (National): Thanks very much, Madam Speaker. I too came down to the House to speak on a different bill, but this one here has really irked me because we are seeing, again, from the Government benches a pattern arising. I think it's very ironic that this is the second time today that I have been on my feet in this House debating the instruction to a select committee for a shortened report-back time. So twice today, we have been here having this same debate about a truncated select committee process. Now, that's a strong pattern that is emerging from this Government. Either they are in a blind panic to get stuff completed in time for a campaign, or they have just woken up after 2½ years of sitting on their hands and they have got pins and needles and they are just shaking themselves back into life.
Now, the instruction to the select committee for a shortened report back is actually—
Hon Iain Lees-Galloway: A narrow debate.
MAUREEN PUGH: They're so vocal. They're so vocal when they've got nothing to say, yet they won't stand up and actually defend their position.
The other ironic thing about today and the shortened report-back period for the select committee is that we are expecting the public, in a very concentrated time frame, to turn up to a select committee process and submit on these bills. At the very time this country is in complete lockdown and we've got people locked down in their homes, in their towns, and in their cities, here we are, saying "If you want to participate in this democracy in this country, I'm sorry but you're going to have to risk your health and come and talk to us in Wellington to participate in your democracy, New Zealand."
Now, we're talking about the democratic right that this Government believes that prisoners have to vote, on one hand, and on the other hand, we're talking about the democratic right of the public to participate in their own parliamentary process. So at a time when the country is in complete lockdown, the Minister instructs the select committee to have a shortened report-back time.
There has been no rational rationale for this instruction to the select committee. We are absolutely gobsmacked on this side of the House because there is no rationale for them wanting this process. It has been in their sights—
Kieran McAnulty: All we want is a rational rationale.
MAUREEN PUGH: —for 2½ years, and here we are now, at the end of their term, and they're rushing things through. Now, Mr McAnulty always, as usual, has plenty to say and says nothing at the right time. Thank you, Mr McAnulty, for your very unhelpful contribution.
This is a typical pattern that we've seen develop out of the Government's side of the House. They say all the right things. They talk about democracy and they talk about being kind, but, actually, when it comes to the action of democracy, we are bereft of action and participation for the people of this country to participate in the process.
The only way that citizens of New Zealand have to contribute to the development of legislation that goes through this House is through the very well-established select committee process—the process which would normally take six months if we were going to give it justice. But, of course, the Minister of Justice doesn't see it that way, and sees fit to say to New Zealanders, "Your democratic rights are being truncated, and if you want to participate on this particular bill, risk your life and come to Wellington, and submit in front of the select committee." It makes absolutely no sense to us on this side of the House and, as we have said, not one person from the Government's side has been able to defend the position and the instruction of the Minister to the select committee to truncate their submission process.
Brett Hudson: They don't like democracy.
MAUREEN PUGH: They do not like democracy, Brett Hudson. They do not like democracy—
Erica Stanford: They like it in Opposition.
MAUREEN PUGH: —yes—but when it is in terms of the democratic right of prisoners to vote, they make a unilateral decision, and here we are in the position that we are in here tonight.
We know that we have no ability to overrule and to vote down this motion, but it would be irresponsible of us not to at least put up a good, strong argument about why we should defend democracy in this country and why we should defend the public's right to participate in it. I think that if the Government had any sense of decency about democracy, it would actually reconsider what it's doing and allow the select committee the time that it takes every other piece of legislation to go through the correct process.
I think this is, again, a sad day when someone has to stand up and speak twice on an instruction to a select committee for a truncated process. The pattern that develops is not good for this country and for the legislation. We know—and we've seen it time and again, even in this one term of this Government—that rushed legislation is bad legislation, and we end up having to come back and amend that legislation because things have been overlooked, because they have not had the time to get the scrutiny of the select committee members and the officials and to dissect the terms and conditions and the clauses within a bill and give it the overall scrutiny that it absolutely deserves. I think it's a very sad day for democracy in this country, and I—
Kieran McAnulty: She's run out of puff.
MAUREEN PUGH: I have run out of puff. Thank you.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: It's very late.
MATT DOOCEY: Yes—yes. Thank you very much for taking my call there, and starting the clock as well.
I want to take, in fairness, a brief call. I don't think I will take the full 10 minutes, because I just want to raise a few succinct points that I don't think have been raised so far in this debate. I don't think I'll need to take the full 10 minutes.
What I do want to say is the first thing I want to point out, and it is typical of a Labour Government: in a criminal justice scenario, for them the focus is on the prisoner or on the offender. Where is the voice of the victim? And why I raise that in this context of submissions—how many private or secret submitters will we have to this bill? We are going to have a number of victims who do not believe that the offenders or the perpetrators of the crimes against them should have the right to vote. Some of those victims will not want to make their submission in public.
So there will be a number of submitters, and I believe this will happen: they will be contacting the clerk of the committee and asking for a private or a secret submission. A private submission is one where they can come along and talk to the committee in private; a secret submission is one where they speak but, obviously, the information they relay is not made public once the bill is passed back to the House. When you have a private or secret submission, that is going to take time. That is going to take more time than a normal submitter.
We need to factor that in, because here we are not talking about a five-month or a four-month. When you look at it in weeks, we are literally talking 10 or 11 weeks. Now, you might think "OK, 10 or 11 weeks—that's a reasonable amount of time.", but you've also got to factor in how long it is going to take the clerk and the committee to advertise for submissions. The normal good practice is six weeks. Now, I accept sometimes that six weeks is shortened, but because no member of the Government or the select committee or the sponsoring Minister is getting up to advise us, we do not know how long that period is going to be. So if it's the full six weeks, then, in fact, the time to hear submitters is greatly reduced even more. Now we're talking a window of opportunity of only a couple of weeks.
Here we have a very contentious issue that potentially will have a number of submitters who might be victims of prisoners, who do not believe they should be getting the right to vote, and they will want to make submissions in private or in secret, and I believe that will take extra time. Maybe the Government has factored that in, but until they take a call, it is our right to scrutinise whether that has been factored in and the pressure that puts on not only members of Parliament but also the clerk of the committee as well, because it does speak of a Government that is out of touch.
At the moment, we have a Government telling New Zealand business and organisations it's about business continuity planning with the COVID-19 threat. What's every business going out there doing now? It's continuity planning, working out if they've got plans in process to actually address some of the issues that will arise and the impacts on their business and organisations. So here we have a shortened report-back time where, potentially, it won't be a normal submissions process, we've got no idea how long the clerk's going to actually advertise for as well, and then throw in the mix whether there's problems with Parliament.
How do we know that MPs are going to be able to access travel to come to Wellington? Well, if the Government took a call and said "Actually, we're looking into Zoom or other things to address that.", then maybe the shortened report-back time is something that we could say "You've looked at things. You've done a risk assessment, and you've looked at a business continuity plan for this." But because we haven't heard from the Government in one call, we do not know what is going to be the continuity plan to ensure that members of this select committee are going to be able to attend with the challenges around their own health and safety but also just travel. I don't think we can just rely on local MPs who might happen to be in Wellington at that time.
Now, is the Government saying that, in fact, because of the shortened report-back time, they are only going to hear submissions in Wellington, or are they going to hear submissions? So if they get a critical mass of submissions in my area of Canterbury, are they going to be providing a select committee process down there? Or, because of the shortened report-back time, is it only going to be to Wellington? That is why the Opposition has a number of questions, not only raising points in this debate, but asking the serious questions. What is the business continuity planning to make sure this committee will be able to go ahead in the shortened report-back date? Where are the committees going to be held? How are we going to address a number of submitters who might want to take private or secret submissions? But it would be interesting—instead of chipping across the House, if maybe they take a call, because the clue's in the name: it's a shortened report-back debate. Normally the debate is between both sides of the House.
As I said, I wouldn't take up the full time of my 10 minutes, and I am going to sit back down now, but I would appreciate a Government member answering those questions. Thank you, Madam Speaker.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: You have a Supplementary Order Paper? You're moving a motion—an amendment to the motion.
Dr JIAN YANG: That's right.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: OK. You're moving an amendment to the motion?
Dr JIAN YANG: Yes, that's right.
Now, I believe that this particular motion—I mean the Government's motion—is not democratic. That's why we need to move the date to 6 July 2020. Now—[Interruption]
DEPUTY SPEAKER: They can move an amendment.
Dr JIAN YANG: Sorry?
Hon Iain Lees-Galloway: Sorry, we're just having a chat. You carry on.
Dr JIAN YANG: I have noticed a pattern, because yesterday I was here in the House speaking on the referral of another bill, and that was the Local Government (Rating of Whenua Māori) Amendment Bill. Again, the select committee process was shortened, and then, before that bill, there was another bill, and that was the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill. So we have now one after another bill for the select committee process to be shortened. So this has become a pattern of this Government, trying to cut short all the bills in the committee. I do not think this is really what a democracy should have. So we believe we should respect democratic rights of other voters. This bill is trying to give more rights to sentenced prisoners, but, at the same time, we need to respect the rights of other voters.
Now, actually, I published a recent article about this particular bill just last week. I introduced the content of this bill on WeChat, and then we had a lot of feedback. People in the Chinese community had strong feelings about this particular bill. They may well want to be heard in the committee process. Now, we often say that people like Chinese and Asian voters, they are not particularly interested in participating in voting, but this is a process. We need to give them the opportunity to be exposed to politics, to democracy, and that is why we should encourage them to come to the committee and talk with members about their feelings. We need to give them the opportunity. And to have a very short period, I cannot see how the committee could accommodate the strong feelings of the Chinese community. So for them, they do need more time, because, firstly, they need to understand, really, the process, and understand the bill, and understand the system, so we need to be able to provide more information for them and more time for them so they can consult with other parties or other, better educated people to understand the system, the bill, and the way to talk to the committee. So to have a shortened period, I do not see this as really a way to accommodate their interests or their interest in participating in democracy.
So for that reasoning I believe we do need to postpone this, but, more importantly, I believe it is important for us to respect our democratic way of dealing with different bills. And this bill itself is particularly important because this group's voting rights would have a strong impact on other people's voting rights. So I believe this is democracy; I believe we should treat everyone in a democratic way. We can't simply favour one particular group of people at the cost or expense of another group of people. So for that reason I think we should really try to stick to the full six-month select committee process.
This is core, not only for this category but also for other bills; however, today we are focused on this particular bill. So for that reason, I'd like to move that the date be changed to 6 July 2020.
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Deputy Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just want to check that an amendment was actually moved. I didn't hear a form of words that suggested an amendment was moved.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: He began with the moving of the amendment, and he will now be asked to table that so that you can check it.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Are speaking—is it a new point of order or—?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: A related point of order. Can I just confirm that the amendment that has been moved by my colleague, providing it is tabled with the Clerk of the House prior to the vote being put, is in order and that my colleague has in fact complied by the Standing Orders by moving it when he first started his contribution, and by the signed, written motion that he's provided to the Clerk of the House?
DEPUTY SPEAKER: I believe that the amendment is in order. We have a signed copy. It is an altered signed copy, but it has been signed by the member who moved it.
The House adjourned at 10 p.m.