Parliamentary Scrutiny During the COVID-19 Crisis in Tasmania
In the last week of March 2020, both the Tasmanian State Parliament and New Zealand’s Parliament voted to suspend sittings. New Zealand adjourned for about five weeks (till the 28th of April) and the Tasmanian parliament for about five months, until August.
Before the Tasmanian Parliament adjourned, it granted extraordinary powers to the government through the enactment of the Covid-19 Disease Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (the Covid-19 Bill).
Before the New Zealand Parliament adjourned, it – by consensus – established the Epidemic Response Committee, a special select committee to examine the Government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The committee will have the powers of a Privileges Committee to “send for persons, papers and records”.
The Australian Capital Territory has also established a parliamentary oversight committee for the territory government’s COVID-19 response, although the ACT Legislative Assembly is still meeting weekly.
The only mechanism for scrutiny on Tasmania’s government during this crisis is the Subordinate Legislation Committee that reviews all Notices issued under the Covid-19 Bill. However, this committee only has the power to issue disallowance motions and does not appear to cover directions issued by the Director of Public Health3. Directions from the Director of Public Health are the most interventionist and arguably more in need of review. The committee also does not hold publicly broadcast meetings or have powers similar to a privileges committee.