National leader Christopher Luxon's first interrogation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sparks brouhaha in Parliament

Christopher Luxon's first interrogation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sparked a brouhaha in Parliament as National and Labour MPs rallied behind their leaders. 

Luxon, who was elected National Party leader last week after the caucus ousted Judith Collins in a vote of no confidence, used his first opportunity to lock horns with Ardern to interrogate her COVID-19 response. 

"Why did her Government spend more than $50 billion from its COVID fund before announcing any funding for extra ICU beds?" Luxon asked Ardern in the House on Tuesday. 

Ardern's response was met with an explosion of laughter and jeering. 

"Well, I reject that question."

The Government's intensive care unit capacity in hospitals has often been criticised by the Opposition. It was only four days ago that Health Minister Andrew Little announced a boost of hundreds of millions of dollars for ICU capacity - almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But Ardern argued that additional ICU beds are only part of the solution. She pointed to the nearly 1400 extra nurses trained to be able to work in an ICU environment under supervision

"One of the most important things that needed to be provided are not just the beds but the staffing of the beds. Five nurses are required for every ICU..."

Ardern had to pause due to jeering from the Opposition benches. 

"Five ICU nurses are required per bed, so not only have we got 300 ICU or high dependency unit beds and the ability to surge to 500, we put aside funding in the Budget to ensure that we could train the staff required for the additional beds that we have." 

Luxon, after coming in strong, stumbled on his next question. 

"Does she agree... oh, sorry," he said, as he searched through his notes. 

"Why did her Government choose to prioritise things like eradicating wallabies during a pandemic over increasing the number of ICU beds?"

Ardern, again, rejected Luxon's question. 

"I reject the premise of the member's question. Not only did we increase the amount of money that went into training our ICU staff because that is the critical piece of the puzzle, we also have, of course, put in capital expenditure for ICU physical space as well. 

"$10 million into the expansion of Tauranga's ICU space, new ICU facility at Waitakere, 12 additional beds in Canterbury, and in addition to the training we've provided for ICU nurses, $544 million for the operational spending for the staffing of those beds. 

"Our focus has been on ensuring people don't end up in ICU in the first place. We want to save lives, not have a situation where people are critically unwell."

Ardern's response was met with cheers from the Government benches. 

ACT leader David Seymour jumped in before Luxon could ask a follow-up question. 

"If the problem with staffing more ICU beds was getting the nurses, why did it take until 20 October for the Government to set aside MIQ space for nurses coming to look after those Kiwis she cares so much about?"

Ardern said "that is not true" - but October 20 is the day the Government announced that health workers would be guaranteed 300 spots in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) a month.

Luxon resumed his ICU interrogation. He asked why it took 21 months to announce funding for ICU beds when during the same time Australian state New South Wales was able to double their ICU capacity. 

"If the member wishes to compare us to a state that had 75,000 cases and when the state of Victoria was setting up infrastructure in its carparks, then that is the members' prerogative," Ardern said.  

"I think what it demonstrates is no matter what your surge capacity is, or your ICU beds, if you are overwhelmed you are overwhelmed. No country in the world had capacity that allowed themselves to save people's lives if their ICU were overwhelmed. That has never been our goal. We had a different strategy."