Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Surprise vaccine proposal from Speaker Trevor Mallard catches MPs unawares

The parliamentary precinct was abuzz on Wednesday morning with word Speaker Trevor Mallard was looking to restrict some access to Parliament to people who had not had their Covid-19 vaccination.

Unlike most workplace communications, parliamentary staffers did not find out about this via a email. Instead, Mallard’s comments were made to the Newsroom website.

Mallard’s comments discussed establishing who was and was not vaccinated at Parliament, and potentially cutting off access to Parliament for those who might not be vaccinated.

“One of the things we’ve found out is there’s a significant proportion of jobs done in the buildings that can be done from home,” Mallard told Newsroom.

“It might be a requirement that if it’s a job that can be done from outside the building then an unvaccinated staffer do that,” he said.

The story even said Mallard had even sought legal advice on his options.

Just after 1pm, Mallard clarified his remarks to staff, sending a Parliament-wide email.
“You may have read my comments on Newsroom today regarding ongoing work around the safety of the parliamentary precinct during Covid-19 and vaccines at Parliament.

“I understand receiving information in this manner may have caused anxiety, which was not my intention.”

Mallard said there were “two different situations at play”.

“The first one is from an employment perspective which is the responsibility of your employer, the second is the rules of access to the parliamentary precinct which is my responsibility.

“The priority as always remains ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all those at Parliament, and I want to thank you all for everything you do every day to support the parliamentary workplace,” he said.

Mallard appeared to take the precinct by surprise. WithGreen Party leader James Shaw, Act leader David Seymour, and even the Deputy Prime Minister, Grant Robertson caught unawares.

Shaw said he understood the issue might have been discussed at Parliament’s business committee, “but we haven’t had a conversation on it more broadly. We don’t have a view yet because we haven’t yet discussed it at caucus”.

“I’m not quite sure how it ended up in the media and so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Shaw was glad Mallard had calmed anxieties by sending his precinct-wide email.

“I think that was a good thing to do, because obviously if something breaks in an unmanaged way like that, then it can cause anxiety,” Shaw said.

Seymour said his party had been caught by surprise.

“We were very surprised, as were a lot of people waking up at Parliament this morning, to read in the news what our policy was going to be.”

But he said that his party – which, he described as “enthusiastic jabbers” – supported a parliamentary vaccination requirement, so long as it allowed an exception for people with medical conditions.

One of the big questions is around protecting people’s right to access democracy and whether a vaccine mandate inhibits this in some way. Mallard said he was looking at what to do about select committee submissions.

“From a certain point, if they’re doing hearings then people should be vaccinated to actually do them physically, as opposed to virtually. There’s a call to be made there, and with government and ministry advisers as well,” Mallard said.

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