It is at times of uncertainty and crisis we need Parliament to have a greater role not less.
After shutting Parliament with a telephone call to the Speaker, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been forced to accept National and Act's proposal for a socially distanced Parliament.
Recalling Parliament is a double-edged sword. It is not just the Government that will be exposed to scrutiny but also the Opposition. Act's David Seymour has set out practical positive solutions. National must do the same.
Boycotting Parliament is never the right strategy. It means the Greens and Maori Party have nothing to contribute.
The Speaker closing Parliament was outrageous. Having sat in Parliament and participated in Zoom meetings as a director, a virtual meeting is no substitute for an in-person Parliament.
Our Parliament has never before been unilaterally shut by the Speaker. Open Democracy reports that 31 authoritarian governments have used Covid to shut or limit parliaments. Now the list is 32 countries.
Approximately 9000 New Zealanders died in the Spanish flu pandemic, but Parliament never closed. Then ministers believed for democratic legitimacy the government must submit its response for parliamentary approval.
Spurious excuses were given for shutting Parliament during this current crisis.
Speaker Trevor Mallard claimed as the employer he must give priority to the safety of parliamentary staff. The Speaker does not employ anyone. Parliamentary Services is the employer. Parliamentary staff are essential workers. If the supermarkets claimed that their first priority was the safety of their workers no supermarket would be open.
Other parliaments around the world have safely operated socially distanced parliaments. Few staff are needed for the debating chamber.
How can the Prime Minister meet with a dozen journalists in her daily press conferences but then claim it is unsafe to answer questions from MPs?
The New Zealand Parliament website states: "The Speaker's first duty as Speaker is to lay claim to all the privileges of the House, especially to freedom of speech".
When Mallard shut parliament MPs lost their freedom of speech.
Parliament must now set up again a Covid response select committee chaired by the Opposition. Last year the committee's exposure of government mistakes, excesses, and illegal actions may have annoyed ministers but the hearings resulted in a better Covid response.
MPs need to ask serious questions about the Ministry of Health's calling and tracing ability.
The government was forced to put the South Island and much of the North Island into lockdown for the Covid incubation time because the ministry could not trace and isolate known contacts. Why is that?
It was known Delta contacts can become infectious in 24 hours. Speedy contact tracing is essential. Extra callers have only been hired after the outbreak.
MPs need to ask: "With existing technology can we ever trace Delta contacts in 24 hours?" Why can Taiwan and South Korea text Covid contacts in one hour of a positive test result? When will our government admit our Covid app has serious limitations? For rapid tracing do we need universal Covid Bluetooth cards as Sam Morgan proposed last year?
While testing may be at record levels it has been too slow to detect Delta's spread. Why the refusal to follow the advice of the government's Simpson/Roche report last year and the Skegg Report this year to make use of cheap but reliable rapid DIY Covid testing? Why is it illegal to import these Covid self-tests?
Most are still unvaccinated. Delta attacks young children. There is no plan on how our children will be vaccinated. Why not use schools?
The minister says the government is limited by the availability of the vaccine. The taxpayer last year paid millions of dollars for priority to order four vaccines. Medsafe has approved two more vaccines. Why the reluctance to order other vaccines?
What happens when we have all had a chance to be vaccinated?
Will vaccinated workers be willing to work alongside the unvaccinated? Will the vaccinated patronise pubs and restaurants that admit those who chose to be unvaccinated?
People are saying. "Delta has changed everything. We have unvaccinated children. After lockdown we will not admit the unvaccinated into our homes".
Will parents send their children back to school when the ministry will not even ask teachers if they are vaccinated?
Is the government prepared for the social and economic discord following lockdown that its insistence on a one vaccine slow rollout will cause?
Is the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison correct in his claims?
"Any state and territory that thinks that somehow they can protect themselves from Covid with the Delta strain forever, that's just absurd."
"New Zealand can't do that," he said.
What does Morrison and his health advisors know that we do not?
The implications of long-term isolation from our closest trading partner and the home of one million Kiwis fully justify the recall of parliament.
- Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.