The COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill passed its third reading yesterday (Wednesday) after being introduced to Parliament on Tuesday.
The Act will be automatically repealed unless continued by motion of Parliament every 90 days, or another period agreed by the House. The law will not stay on the statute books beyond the period needed to respond to Covid-19.
The Act will allow Police to enter private homes to break up gatherings that violate the rules on the numbers of people assembling.
“The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act will ensure controls on gatherings of people and physical distancing are still enforceable while narrowing the Police powers from those that applied under Level 3 and Level 4,” Attorney-General David Parker says.
Enforceability to date has relied on the Epidemic Notice, the Health Act and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act.
“There will be fewer restrictions under Alert Level 2 and we are now in a position to restore many civil liberties and economic freedoms that have been curbed in recent months,” Mr Parker says.
“However, those remaining restrictions still need to be enforceable.”
It passed 63 votes in favour with 57 against.
The New Zealand Herald reports that neither the National Party nor ACT supported the bill, with National saying it was an overreach of powers, distrusted New Zealanders and didn't allow for orders to have proper scrutiny.
“Despite claims by some critics, the powers of the Police will be narrower from midnight tonight than they have been for the past seven weeks,” David Parker says.
“Police had greater powers under the Health Act and the State of National Emergency. Under this Act, Police will only be able to enter private homes to break up gatherings that violate the rules on the numbers of people assembling, whereas under the previous powers they could do so for a number of reasons.
“At Alert Level 2 we still need to be careful to limit infection to enable effective track and tracing if there is an outbreak we need to get under control.”
The New Zealand Law Society was given a consultation draft of the bill at short notice and provided initial comments. Parliament subsequently amended and enacted the bill, and legal experts on NZLS committees are now reviewing the Act.