National Party leader Chris Luxon has locked horns with the Prime Minister for the second time in Parliament, asking her about advice from director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield on opening the border around Auckland.
Jacinda Ardern replied saying the Government had taken advice from public health officials, but had also weighed up the need to ensure people were kept safe.
Luxon asked about families being kept apart because of the decision to keep the hard Auckland border in place, and Ardern said Bloomfield had praised the role of the border in holding back the spread around the country.
She then said Luxon was either misreading or had not read the advice at all.
She said steps had been taken to keep unvaccinated people safe: "unlike [National's] let it rip strategy".
Luxon asked the PM why she did not simply make the call "and open the borders tonight".
Ardern said Aucklanders and the border had helped protect the rest of the country from the Delta outbreak. "Aucklanders, again, we all thank you."
Luxon asked how people were meant to get ahead if lockdowns and borders were being kept in place longer than needed. Ardern retorted that the only one who said it had been too long had been "the leader of the Opposition".
National's Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop also asked about Bloomfield's initial advice to drop the Auckland boundary at the same time as the traffic light system started.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the final advice that was tendered to Cabinet was for Auckland and Northland to be at red, but "in line with our cautious response we decided some other regions should also enter at red".
Asked why there was still a hard boundary around Auckland, Hipkins said that advice was based on a recommendation that the traffic lights system did not start until two weeks after Auckland's DHBs hit the 90 per cent mark. Cabinet had decided to do that earlier, but keep the borders operating for a period.
He said if the advice had been followed, Auckland would have had to stay at level 3 until almost Christmas.
Bishop asked which regions Bloomfield had initially thought should be able to go straight to green. Hipkins said the advice that was finally presented to Cabinet had not included the green light recommendations - that was in preliminary advice that had gone to Bloomfield, but was later adjusted.
Hipkins said the advice the public health teams gave to Bloomfield was not for him to answer to - and he was not privy to all of it. Speaker Trevor Mallard forced Hipkins to answer Bishop's question more specifically, and Hipkins said he could not recall exactly what he was told.
'Ordinary Kiwis going backwards'
Luxon moved on from the Auckland boundary to quiz the PM about inflation pressures, and the role Government spending was having on it. Ardern said the rest of the world was also experiencing high inflation.
"We can point strongly to the impact of Covid," Ardern said. "We are not immune to that. But if the member would like to advocate for cuts in Government spending ... including that to the business community ... that is his prerogative."
Luxon said rent and food had gone up and "ordinary Kiwis are going backwards under your Government". Ardern bit back, saying until Covid wage growth had outstripped inflation - and questioned whether Luxon was advocating "price controls".
MPs made to apologise for heckling
Early into Luxon and Ardern's exchange, the Speaker demanded MPs Shane Reti, Louise Upston and Simon Bridges reveal themselves for heckling and made them apologise.
The Speaker then told the PM off for forgetting to put her mask back on - and in a panic, Ardern accidentally put Deputy PM Grant Robertson's mask on instead. She then swapped to her own.
Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi asked about Whanau Ora providers getting access to data for vaccinations. Ardern said the Government supported the Ministry of Health in resolving the issue after a further court ruling to the ministry to consider it.
"Everyone wants Māori vaccination rates to lift."
'Welcome back, Muldoon'
Simon Bridges asked about Government spending and its impact on inflation. He said inflation is at its highest level in 30 years, and Government spending "is now overcooking the economy".
Robertson rejected Bridges' claim, saying the Government had had to put money into support for businesses and households over Covid-19 - and he recalled the National Party at times calling for it to put even more money in.
"It is fiscally prudent to make sure we support people to stay in jobs, and that's what we have done," Robertson said.
"The member cannot wish away Covid-19."
Bridges said the Government was turning up the heat on the economy so much that the Reserve Bank was having to lean on interest rates more than was usually the case to try to cool it down.
"Overcooking the economy quite literally means less to cook literally for Kiwis this summer," Bridges said, because food prices had gone up.
Robertson retorted with "I presume that means the member is going to introduce a price freeze. Welcome back, Muldoon."
Act challenges PM's inflation, wage comments
Act leader David Seymour asked the PM why she said yesterday that inflation was at 2 per cent and wage growth was at 3.5 per cent – when Statistics NZ had reported that in the year to September, inflation was 4.9 per cent and wage growth was just 2.4 per cent.
Ardern said she stuck to her original comments, but also agreed that the Statistics NZ report was accurate.
Seymour went back to his original question, asking why the PM had said wage growth was outstripping inflation when it was the opposite. Ardern said her figures were in respect of a question Seymour had asked about May this year - not September.
Act's Chris Baillie asked if the labour shortage would be so tough if the Government had shown the same leniency in MIQ for workers "as it did the Wiggles".
Ardern said we were now in the phase of carefully reopening the borders.
Act's Karen Chhour asked about the Government's record tax take of the last year, while families faced increased grocery and living costs.
Greens attack progress on child poverty
Green MP Jan Logie grilled Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni about progress on child poverty, saying the recent Child Poverty Action Group report showed none of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group's recommendations had yet been fully implemented.
Sepuloni said many of the recommendations were ongoing actions, rather than simple changes. "This is not a simple tick box exercise," Sepuloni said, adding the Government had introduced benefit and Working for Families increases and was working to provide more housing.
Luxon v Ardern round one
It has now been eight days since Luxon was elected leader - he had his first Question Time against the PM on Tuesday and asked about ICU capacity.
He was outflanked by Act leader David Seymour, who had an earlier question than Luxon and had already covered off a lot of the Covid-19 related issues Luxon had been talking about. Seymour had also used a question that National's new finance spokesman Simon Bridges had put down to ask of Finance Minister Grant Robertson.