National Leader, Judith Collins, holds her press conference yesterday under Parliament's Alert Level Four rules

National Leader Judith Collins yesterday suggested that had the Government agreed to re-establish the Epidemic Response Committee, National might have agreed to proposals for a virtual Parliament.

But she lost out when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called her bluff.

The Prime Minister said she had no choice.

The Epidemic Response Committee was established last year when Parliament was shut down during the nationwide Alert Level Four lockdown.

It was chaired by then Opposition Leader Simon Bridges, who also got to set its agenda.

Instead, this time around Government offered a virtual Parliament with an extended Question Time. Still, though that was at first supported by National’s then Shadow Leader of the House, Chris Bishop, it was ultimately rejected by the party who changed their Shadow House Leader on Saturday morning.

ACT also supported an Epidemic response Committee.

“We believe it’s critical at times like this that Government scrutiny is enhanced, and we will be calling for Parliament to resume the Epidemic Response Committee when it sits on Tuesday,” ACT Leader, David Seymour said over the weekend.

“This will ensure that not only would Ministers be held to account, but members of the public who have been impacted by this lockdown could also be heard.”

Now a vastly shrunken real Parliament will resume tomorrow with four Labour and three National MPs and one ACT MP. The Greens will not take up their allocation of one MP until Wednesday when Wellington is back at Level Three, and the Maori Party is refusing to participate at all.

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Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said National and ACT’s response reeked of “white privilege”.

 “We will not allow National or ACT to dictate what oranga [welfare] looks like for us, and so we will not be travelling to Wellington in level 4 conditions this week,” Ngarewa-Packer said.

“We believe it is our role as leaders to lead by example, to continue practising alert levels 3 and 4 and proceed with caution in order to protect our whakapapa. National and ACT are putting us all at risk.

“There is no reason why we cannot conduct parliamentary business via zoom; it is the 21st century. We are no longer in the dinosaur age, and so they could very well do with some support in coming into the digital era.”

Ironically, when Collins last Monday for Parliament to resume, she claimed she had spoken to Maori party co-leader Rawiri Waititi, and he was on the “same page” as her.

Collins position seems to have changed over last week. She started wanting a full resumption of Parliament then changed to calling for the Epidemic response Committee.

But at a press conference yesterday, she suggested she might have been open to horse-trading over the proposal for a virtual Parliament.

We’re looking at it and saying, actually, we don’t think that’s going to bring the scrutiny,” she said.

“The Epidemic Response Committee and the virtual Parliament. Well, now we’re talking.

“But actually just shutting down scrutiny because the government doesn’t want to answer the questions; that’s not good enough for the people of New Zealand.”

Collins said the Epidemic response Committee could have met on Zoom.

“The government has rejected, flat out rejected any suggestion of that,” she said.

“So don’t ever think that they’ve offered a deal.”

Ardern told her post Cabinet press conference yesterday that Labour had worked hard with the National Party to allow a virtual Parliament, but when it was presented to Parliament’s Business Committee, it was not agreed to.

The Prime Minister said she thought the solution allowing for only limited numbers in the Chamber rather than a full virtual Parliament was inferior.

“I will absolutely be limiting the number of ministers that we have in this building so that we don’t put other staff at risk,” she said.

“No one will be travelling from Auckland to participate.

“There’ll be a small handful of ministers answering all of the questions, so in many ways, I think it’s an inferior option than what was on the table.”

Ardern said that what had been presented to National was an option that would have allowed the opposition to access any minister and allow them to make statements and to ask questions.

“But unfortunately, that was rejected by the opposition,” she said.

“So that’s where they felt like they were playing politics.

“My preference would be to opt for a virtual option because it does the same, if not more, than an in-person version of the debating Chamber.

“Select Committees can still meet, so that’s  still happening.

“All of the other business or Parliament can continue. The only thing we’re missing is question time.”

 Ardern said she was not prepared to have Parliament suspended for a second week.

“My view was I was willing to suspend for a week whilst we tried to find solutions,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the opposition and the ACT party were unwilling to agree, and I was unwilling to agree to suspend Parliament for a second week.

“My much bigger preference was that we get consensus, but it’s one of those situations where, unfortunately, there is no consensus.

“I feel I have no choice.”

The historic limited Chamber session today will kick off with a Ministerial statement on Covid and another on Afghanistan.

That will give the opportunity for one speaker from each party to respond to each statement.

Then there will be a limited Question Time which will see National ask four questions and ACT one.

National is flying four MPs in for the sitting and Leader, Judith Collins arrived in Wellington yesterday afternoon.

Because she has come from an Alert Level Four region, Auckland, when Wellington goes to Level Three on Wednesday, Collins will have to continue to stay at Alert Level Four in Parliament Buildings while everybody else is at Alert level Three.

The Ministry of Health’s Covid advice site says anyone travelling from Level Four to Level Three must take their Alert Level with them.

There are a host of other restrictions applying in Parliament Buildings today. For the first time since the secret sessions during the Second World War, the Press Gallery will not be permitted in the Chamber.

And there are still questions about the Select Committees.

Some like the Environment Committee, which is conducting its inquiry into the proposed Natural and Built Environments Bill, are conducting business as usual.

Others, like the Health Committee, have yet to confirm what they will be doing this week.