NZ in 'good place' to fight COVID-19 but 'constructive scrutiny' of Government needed - Simon Bridges

The AM Show 25/03/2020

Simon Bridges says although the Government is on the right track with how it's dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, it is still important to ask the hard questions.

The opposition leader is chairing a special select committee examining the Government's response to COVID-19.

The committee comes into effect as Parliament is adjourned until the end of April, as the country goes into lockdown for a month from Wednesday evening.

Bridges says the job of the select committee is "about asking questions that New Zealanders want answered".

"Genuinely I'll be interested in what people think we should be focusing on and providing a constructive scrutiny of the Government and in doing that improving our response to COVID-19," he told The AM Show on Wednesday.

The committee, which acts in a way as a replacement for Parliament while it is out of action,  will meet a number of times a week remotely and every party in Parliament will have representation.

Last week, the Government announced a $12 billion economic package to help support companies and workers impacted by the fallout of COVID-19. Since then further stimulus packages have also been announced and experts are warning even more will be necessary if the country wants to weather the economic storm the virus is bringing.

As part of the initial package $5 billion was earmarked for wage subsidies to help those suffering from lack of income due to COVID-19. But with all non-essential businesses ordered to close as of Wednesday evening, many say much more will be needed stop businesses folding.

Bridges said the committee would put questions to institutions such as the Reserve Bank and Treasury as well as to figures like the Health Minister and the director-general of health, to make sure the country is getting the best possible response to the crisis, both economically and in terms of health. 

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country's alert level would be raised to 3 before going to level 4 - the highest level - at 1159pm on Wednesday.

The move came as community transmission of COVID-19 was confirmed in the country. 

Bridges admitted that so far the Government was on the right track with how it was dealing with the pandemic.

"I think we've got to a very good place in as much as, we're at level 4 to deal with the health and the lockdown and I'm all for that," Bridges said. 

"In terms of economics I think the Government now has a full preparedness to do what it takes and to effectively pump in the cash to keep businesses going."

However, he said, the job now was to ask: "have we got it quite right?"

"Economically I'm fully in support of the job support package, but are the settings quite right? I'm hearing from businesses that actually potentially they aren't."

He said for many workers the wage subsidy of $585 a week just wasn't enough.

"Maybe we want to do what some other countries have done, for example. As a business  says to their relatively well-paid employee 'you know what, we're going to reduce your hours' the Government picks up that slack - maybe to the tune of 80 percent," he said.

"I'm not suggesting I have all the answers, I just think we can constructively ask these questions so that we improve our response as a country with the sole aim of coming out of this sooner and stronger".

Although the economic effect of placing the country in lockdown is staggering, experts have warned that the cost - both in economic and human terms - of doing nothing will be far worse.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter James Fyfe