We were recently asked if we would provide feedback on the government's draft Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill. This law is to provide a legal basis for the government's ongoing measure to limit the spread of the Covid-19 disease.
Unfortunately we were only given 16 hours to review it, a time which is really not sufficient for an in-depth analysis of a Bill which will have such an impact on our lives for the next two years.
While there are elements to like in the Bill, including its expiry, the tight coupling of the powers to the purpose of stopping Covid-19, and the lack of retrospectivity, we also found overreach and a lack of accountability.
Our response is attached but our main recommendations are as follows:
- Set this Bill to expire in 6 months rather than 2 years, so that the new government must recommit to its exceptional powers and with proper Select Committee scrutiny.
- Strengthen the requirements for reporting by the Attorney General around Bill of Rights breaches in the section 11 orders.
- Remove "without limitation" from the description of the types of orders that can be made. The powers are already wide and the government has already shown willingness to pass new laws quickly if required.
- Provide recognition of the right to protest and organise, safely, in the section 11 orders around gatherings.
- Review the requirements for medical examination or testing in light of the rights in sections 10 and 11 of the NZ Bill of Rights Act.
- Expire section 11 orders made by the Minister after 3 months. They could still be extended but this would require Parliament to review them.
- Clarify and strengthen the requirements for orders to be "under review", with mandatory monthly reporting.
- Expressed our concern about the broad powers of entry to homes, businesses, and marae, and recommended collecting and publishing data about the use of this power in order to assist with accountability.
- Recommended aligning the ability to demand information from people with the protections around misuse in the Policing Act.