Coronavirus: Epidemic Response Committee grills Mike Bush over beach access guidelines in lockdown

It's Mike Bush's last day as Police Commissioner, but that didn't stop the Epidemic Response Committee putting his handling of the COVID-19 crisis under the microscope.

The committee grilled Bush on Thursday morning, questioning why there was still uncertainty around rules on staying local and travelling by car to beaches and parks during the alert level 4 lockdown.

Committee chair Simon Bridges and National MP Mark Mitchell did most of the pushing, asking question after question on the guidelines police have been given to enforce such rules, and why the public hadn't been told what these guidelines were.

Bush's defence early on was simple: police have discretion on how they interpret the rules and apply their powers of enforcement - and they're trying their best to clear up uncertainty.

"Because it's so technical and because it's of such high interest, we are constantly updating the COVID-19 website with these questions," he told the committee.

But Mitchell pointed out that while the Prime Minister and a member of her Cabinet said people can drive to beaches and parks in the right circumstances, Bush himself had said they can't because it's non-essential.

"Right now, there's four different pieces of information coming out from the Government, and they're all conflicting," he told Bush.

"This is creating a lot of uncertainty in people. They want to be compliant and you want them to be compliant, but they can't be unless they have very clear information and direction.

"Who should be giving that clear information and direction? And how are you going to fix this going forward? Because right now, this is a big problem."

Bridges also put Bush under scrutiny, comparing the vagueness of the 'stay local' rules to Trumpet's infamous 'Togs or Undies' TV advert, which provided similarly unclear guidance on how far away from the beach one could be before swimwear would be viewed as underwear.

"New Zealanders want to know [what staying local means]," Bridges said.

"There will inevitably be some who feel unfairly treated, because they will say 'I am in my neighbourhood' and your constable will say 'no you're not'. How do you guide your police in those grey circumstances?"

Bush responded by saying "no one will be prosecuted for being in doubt", but conceded changes would need to be made to crystallise the rules for police and the public.

"I totally agree; it's something that needs absolute clarity and absolute definition. We already have an action point on that. We continue to take Crown Law advice on that."

ACT Party leader David Seymour, who is also a member of the Epidemic Response Committee, is urging Bush to make the advice from Crown Law publicly available.

"The rule of law requires that rules are clear and publicly accessible. That is not the case at present," he wrote in a press release.

"Police can't demand respect from the public but must earn it. Police have an opportunity to encourage public respect for the law by being open and transparent and releasing Crown Law advice.

"New Zealanders need to know how Police's extraordinary new powers are being exercised."

On Thursday, Mike Bush will vacate the position of Police Commissioner. The role will be taken up from Friday by Andrew Coster, who has experience as a solicitor and as deputy chief executive of the Ministry of Justice in addition to his police work.