David Clendon

Democracy, secrecy, and good process.

by David Clendon

On Thursday, Keith Locke and I spent a good part of the day in the House going to bat against the government’s ‘secret squirrel’ bill to amend the Police Act that Frog blogged on earlier .  Our objections to the bill were matters both of process and substance.  I want to comment here just on the process, which was appalling, and reflected the government’s very dated and unhelpful attitude towards our parliamentary practice.

As Frog indicated, we knew only that ‘a government bill’ would be introduced under urgency.  At about 10.30pm on Wednesday night, we were presented with one paper copy of the bill,  no electronic version to facilitate distribution to caucus members or our researchers; no supporting documentation, no regulatory impact statement, no evidence in support, and this was ‘graciously’ given only on the basis of keeping the strictest confidence.

We were obliged to speculate about the harm that the bill was intended to remedy and the need for the secrecy and urgency; we were required to second guess what the intent and real purpose of the bill might be, and it was not until about 8.15am on Thursday that we got access by phone to a ministerial adviser who confirmed that our speculation was more or less on track. 

We learned in the course of the debate that the Maori party, as a confidence and supply partner, had the bill  ten days earlier.  (I must say in passing that they made good use of the time – Rahui Katene delivered some very fiery and well crafted speeches opposing the bill , and good on her for doing so!).

I have it on good authority that the Act party, on the other hand, was as surprised as we were by the content of  the bill, and had as little prior warning of it. Indicative of the parlous state of the Nat – Act relationship perhaps?

Despite my direct questions, Labour was rather coy about confessing when they were given access to the bill, which leads me to assume they saw it well in advance of the tabling.

My point in all this is that the process demonstrates that the two old parties are locked into the game of making deals with each other, without making any  attempts to build consensus across the House, which they might otherwise have done had they approached us in a reasonable fashion about the ‘error’ they sought to correct. 

Had we been taken into their confidence about the problem (which they have been aware of  for ten months!) we could well have negotiated a process that would have allowed us to air our misgivings, to draw on appropriate legal advice, and even potentially to cooperate in drafting a piece of legislation that would then have gone through a proper process of public and parliamentary scrutiny and delivered an appropriate outcome. 

We have had an MMP parliament for nearly 15 years – how much more time do these guys need to get up to speed with the ‘new’ reality, and to respect and indeed to utilise the possibilites for the more consensual form of politics that it presents?  Maybe the next generation…?

One comment in terms of the substance of the bill – I repeatedly asked the government during the debate for evidence that since the police stopped retaining youth particulars ten months ago, their task of identifying and apprehending young offenders has been more difficult.  I’m still waiting for an answer, which leads me to suspect there is no such evidence, and so the law change was not only procedurally undemocratic but also unnecessary!

Published in Justice & Democracy | Parliament | THE GAME by David Clendon on Fri, August 19th, 2011   

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