Last year, around the time the shameful Hobbit Bill was being rammed through Parliament in two days and without Select Committee scrutiny, Russel Norman posted here and here about his increasing concern over the National-led Government’s use of Parliamentary urgency to bypass normal Parliamentary process:
The problem with urgency is that it often means that laws don’t receive the kind of scrutiny they should. So it means you get laws with mistakes and laws that do bad things without ever giving the people a chance to influence them.
To be fair, sometimes urgency is just extending the sitting time of parliament just to get through a backlog but using normal processes. Nonetheless, the amount of time parliament spends in urgency can give some indication of how much the governing parties are trying to subvert the usual checks and balances of parliament.
It is great to see Russel’s concerns now being echoed by others in the political arena and the media. Here’s Labour MP Grant Robertson, last week:
1. By-passing the select committee process should be something that is done in only the most exceptional circumstances. It may be that a different kind of urgency motion should be required for that, with perhaps 75% of the House having to agree.
2. We should investigate whether there is a way of extending the sitting hours of the House in a way that does not compromise the integrity or quality of the legislative process. One suggestion that has been floating around is to allow for the Committee of the Whole House to sit on Wednesday and Thursday mornings when the relevant Select Committee is not sitting. I am sure there will be other suggestions.
And National aligned blogger David Farrar:
- That standing orders be changed so that a bill can bypass select committee stage only with approval of the Speaker (as is needed for extraordinary urgency).
- That standing orders be changed so that question time automatically carries on, even if the House is in urgency
- That the number of sitting weeks be increased, hence reducing the need for so much urgency, from 31 to 33 by reducing the number of two week recesses from five to three.
- That standing orders be amended to distinguish between “extended sitting hours” which would merely extend the sitting hours on Wednesday and/or Thursday and full urgency (where you specify particular bills, and the House keeps going until they are disposed of)
Today, the NZ Herald joins in:
The copyright law is an especially curious case. It was set aside after being reported back from a select committee last November, and did not seem a pressing matter. All the Government’s rush has done is spread apprehension. A more considered approach would have avoided this. Likewise, there seemed little reason for urgency for the latest Christchurch legislation, other than to establish the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. The Government had already granted itself wide-ranging emergency powers under law passed after the first earthquake.
Legislation rushed though in this manner has a much reduced chance of being good law. When the select committee stage is bypassed, a valuable chance to iron out problems is removed and opposing viewpoints are denied due consideration. A glaring example of this was the law change introducing national standards in schools.
Well done, Russel, for getting this discussion started. All we need now is for National to take notice of your concerns. Maybe that will happen now some of their supporters are beginning to share them.