Yesterday was DAY 11 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.
Over the last several days I have seen people starting to comment on the need for a healthy functioning political opposition in times like these. The commenters are from both sides of the divide, which I found encouraging because it means that both the right and the left understand that healthy democracy cannot exist if there is no one asking the hard questions.
Right now are unprecedented times. Never before in my life time have so many civil liberties been suspended, and certainly not for the compelling reasons we find being used to justify the lock down. Before we progress further I want to briefly look at some of those freedoms that one could argue have been suspended.
- Although there is nothing to stop online assemblies, freedom of physical assembly is effectively suspended as it is too dangerous to have contact outside of your bubble.
- With the exception of going for walks or going to the super market or the doctor or pharmacy, freedom of movement is effectively suspended – you cannot go to your holiday house/bach/other secondary property
- Freedom of association outside of your bubble, on line communities you belong to, is also in respects suspended as one cannot meet for any length of time except from a distance – people sitting on either sides of the road in deck chairs having a beer/wine with 2 metre distancing; are okay, but one cannot go to a bar with a bunch of mates
Yet we can be thankful we live in New Zealand. In some other countries the measures that have been taken are even more draconian. In China people who had COVID19 had steel frames physically welded to their door frames so that their front doors could only open a certain distance.
New Zealand also has legal protections that Chinese do not. The most important is a functional democratically elected Parliament. It has a media that enjoys one of the highest freedom ratings in the world, and has (for the most part!) independent watch dogs. New Zealand also permits N.G.O.’s such as Amnesty International, Transparency International and Human Rights Watch to operate on New Zealand soil without fear of persecution.
A State of Emergency has been declared here, but there is a strong legal framework in which it operates. If after 1221 hours 08 April, reasonable grounds no longer exist for the activation of Civil Defence Emergency Management Act powers, the State of Emergency must expire. Any renewal must happen before that time, and shall be valid for no longer than one week before another review happens.
Does that mean New Zealand is perfect? Absolutely not.
For example, I believe there needs to be an amendment to how Parliament passes legislation that requires long term emergency legislation such as the Canterbury Earthquake Recover Authority Act 2011 to have a sunset clause or a review clause. This is a mechanism that is triggered by certain conditions being met or exceeded and must be acted on. No such requirement currently exists, and the 5 year sunset clause in the C.E.R.A. Act was inserted after resistance in Parliament.
Another issue is not being able to get up to normal autumn pursuits, such as the duck shooting season in May. As hunting, swimming and surfing are non essential activities, Police have the power to tell people partaking in those activities to go home and desist until restrictions are lifted. Both the Police and the Government could have been better at communicating this.
As mentioned on Sunday, I believe New Zealand has some challenging decisions to make in a few weeks time when the four week lock down period will end. The real test of our democracy will be in how we handle the end of this period, when public compliance will no longer be a certainty.
But for now, with 18 days still on the clock, New Zealand’s compliance is for the very most part guaranteed.