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Government’s COVID-19 emergency powers compared to 1951 ‘waterfront dispute’

The press was also censored and it was illegal to give money or food to strikers or their families, leading to the regulations being described as the “most illiberal legislation ever enacted in New Zealand”.

Holland even threatened to declare a state of emergency in New Zealand, but eventually, the turmoil concluded with the Waterfront Workers’ Union being dissolved and replaced with new unions in each port.

Holland called a snap election in September 1951 and his National Party won 54 percent of the vote, leading some analysts to conclude that the Prime Minister’s hard-line won over the country.

How do Holland’s powers compare to Ardern’s?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued an epidemic notice this week and it will remain for three months with ongoing review, enabling the use of a number of ‘special powers’ in legislation, to help tackle the coronavirus.

The powers under New Zealand’s emergency legislation did not require new Bills to be passed. The existence of several statutes that make up the country’s legislative framework were already in place, and were simply enacted.

The Health Act 1965, for example, allows the Government to require people to be isolated, quarantined or disinfected, force people to remain where they are, and requisition equipment, vehicles and buildings.

“What is new is that powers under this framework can now be used, following processes for invoking emergency law having been followed and conditions for emergency law met,” Otago University public health senior lecturer Louise Delany explained.

A number of other new laws were passed under urgency this week allowing the Government to soften the economic impact that COVID-19 will have on New Zealand. A freeze on rent increases for six months has been enacted, for example.

Holland never got as far as declaring a state of national emergency in New Zealand, but Ardern has – making her the second Prime Minister to do so.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Key was the first, declaring a state of national emergency on February 23, 2011 following the Christchurch earthquake.

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