James Shaw thanks Simon Bridges for 'scrutinising' Government's COVID-19 response

Green Party co-leader James Shaw has thanked National Party leader Simon Bridges for agreeing to chair a committee set up to scrutinise the Government's COVID-19 response. 

Shaw delivered a ministerial statement in Parliament on Wednesday as swathes of law changes were passed to give the Government sweeping temporary powers as the country goes into lockdown. 

Because Parliament will not be in session during the lockdown, an Epidemic Response Committee will be set up to allow the Opposition to scrutinise the Government's actions - and it will be led by Bridges. 

Shaw said Bridges has an "extremely important job in the coming weeks", highlighting how the Opposition leader will be working to "keep an essential part of our democracy going". 

Shaw, a Cabinet minister, said Bridges will "make sure the voices of all New Zealanders are heard when they look at whether the Government is getting its response right or not". 

He said he hoped other lawmakers would join him in saying that "every time the new committee meets, the politics of its members must be left at the door". 

Bridges, in his statement to the House, said New Zealand is facing "tough times" during the coronavirus pandemic and that "we're all in this together". 

The Opposition leader said he agreed with the Government's response to put the country into lockdown to "defeat a common enemy" in COVID-19. 

"Today, on the big questions, in this House and in New Zealand, we agree - there's no National or Labour or Green or ACT or New Zealand First - just New Zealanders."

He noted that while some critics would labe lthe shutdown an overreaction, people would have died needlessly if extreme measures weren't taken.

Models have shown that the level 4 alert is the only way to protect the country from the crisis other countries are facing, such as Italy. 

"If the models and the charts and the workings that I have seen, and that Jacinda Ardern has seen, and that this House is seeing are right, or even half-right, and if we follow the international examples to date, broadly speaking, level 4 and shutting down is clearly right."

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins introduced legislation on Wednesday afternoon to establish an Epidemic Response Committee to Parliament, and it was welcomed by both National and ACT. 

"It is right and proper that we innovate in this way," ACT Party leader David Seymour said. 

The committee will have an Opposition majority - which Shaw said he agrees with. It will also be live-streamed, so the public can tune-in and understand more about the Government's response. 

The introduction of the legislation followed a string of other law changes introduced under urgency - such as freezing rent increases - to be passed before the country goes into lockdown. 

It followed the Minister of Civil Defence Peeni Henare taking the unprecedented move of declaring a state of national emergency for New Zealand in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An epidemic notice issued by the Prime Minister came into effect on Wednesday, just after midnight, and it will remain for three months with ongoing review, enabling the use of a number of 'special powers' in legislation.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced on Wednesday 50 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, bringing the total to 205 cases.