Coronavirus: Judith Collins slams use of urgency to pass 'traffic light' law, says it's not needed due to high vaccination coverage

Judith Collins has described the rushing through of the COVID-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill as "law by fiat", saying the Government has failed to let the public know "what it entails" or why it's needed. 

The legislation, which will allow the Government to formally create the 'traffic light' system, can be read in full online. It comes after months of the Opposition calling for the Government to set a date beyond which lockdowns won't be used. The new system, which goes live on December 3, does that - lifting most restrictions for the vaccinated and businesses which require vaccine passes.

It passed its first two readings on Tuesday under urgency - the first with support from Labour, the Greens and ACT, and the second without ACT. National and Te Pati Māori opposed it both times.  

"We're actually opposed to this. It's a ridiculous piece of lawmaking," National Party leader Collins told The AM Show on Wednesday.

"It's basically law by fiat, rather than by democratic responsibility and letting people know what it entails."

Collins said she quizzed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on how a region can move between levels - for example, from red to orange to green.

"She had no answers on it," Collins said. "If she doesn't understand it, why would this legislation be rushed through Parliament without any select committee process, without anybody getting to know the details of what it is that they are wanting to do?"

A transcript of the questioning in Parliament shows Ardern at first told Collins "the most important factor will be vaccination levels", but "also readiness and the ability of the health system to manage cases as they arise - so predominantly health measures, but that's not solely the factors we'll take into account".

After Collins asked Ardern if the South Island would start in 'green' because of its "limited community transmission" and "manageable" hospitalisation level, Ardern said this was proof Collins "actually has the criteria, which she just read out in the House". Ardern said the South Island would not start in green, since the lifting of the Auckland border - which National has called for - will likely seed cases nationwide. 

Urgency has become increasingly common over the last decade, but is still used less often than it used to be. 

Collins told The AM Show there wasn't even a need for the traffic light system, with "90 percent-plus people getting double-vaccinated", calling it "ridiculous".

But nationwide, Ministry of Health data shows just 70 percent of Kiwis are double-vaccinated, and 85 percent of those currently eligible for the vaccine (aged 12-plus). Both figures are well below the estimated herd immunity rate of 95 percent-plus, meaning outbreaks - if not controlled through other measures, such as those currently in place under alert levels 2 and 3 and proposed under the traffic light system - have the potential to spread exponentially. 

Collins said it didn't make sense that she can get a haircut in Wellington this week without having to prove she's vaccinated, but next week she will. 

National's own reopening plan had called for regions to open up at 70-75 percent vaccination coverage, and allow businesses to open at stricter alert levels if they required proof of vaccination on entry - similar to what will be in place next week. Lockdowns would be used as "an absolute last resort" - no criteria was given for when they would be considered, but "community health measures where outbreaks occur" might be used. 

The COVID-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill is expected to pass its third reading on Wednesday. 

Victoria University law professor Geoff McLay told RNZ it was a "bit of a mystery" why the Bill's exact wording had been kept secret until Tuesday, saying it wasn't "rocket science" and the public should have had more time to give feedback on it.