Draft legislation that would allow the Government to commandeer private Covid testing facilities and equipment would be an egregious provision, says a New Zealand think tank.
The New Zealand Initiative is urging the Government to substantially reconsider a provision to the Covid-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2), which it labels a "blunt legislative instrument".
Auckland-based Rako Science, the country's largest Covid-19 PCR saliva testing service, yesterday also asked Parliament to amend the Bill.
"All we want is a chance to provide our services to our customers. We don't want to be subject to special powers and the whims of government officials," Rako science director Leon Grice said.
Dr Eric Crampton, the author of New Zealand Initiative's submission on the bill, today said requisitioning tests was the wrong approach and risks decreasing testing capacity at a time when it needs to increase.
"We understand that the Government wants to expand its testing capabilities but using a blunt legislative instrument to commandeer private goods and services will have the opposite effect," he said.
"Private labs will be less willing to hold equipment and tests, or to expand their testing capability, if there is a risk that it could be taken over at any time by the Government. Having this law on the books, even if its provisions are never invoked, puts testing capacity and contracts at risk."
The draft legislation would give the Government the ability to requisition Covid testing materials from private laboratories.
It would also allow the Government to order testing companies to abandon existing testing contracts and only supply testing for the public Covid response, regardless of whether the Crown has contracted for testing.
"Testing companies like Rako Science, and its clients, who have done the right thing in making critically important workplaces and medical facilities safer through testing, will be the ones punished if the Government decides to requisition tests," Crampton said.
"The Government has had every opportunity to deal fairly with Rako Science. It could have contracted with Rako to increase capacity to complement the public testing effort. It still can do so. That would be the appropriate way of boosting testing capacity for the country as a whole. Instead, Government is giving itself the ability simply to take testing away from Rako's private clients through compulsory requisitioning."
Crampton added: "If MPs vote for this, they vote to decrease testing capacity at a time when it needs to increase."
"Who would invest in improving testing capacity in New Zealand if the Government can simply decide to take it all away?"