Democracy, secrecy, and good process.

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!

5 Comments Posted

  1. Well the the parliamentary process really stinks, not a very level playing field and it undermines the democratic system.

    As I said in the other post, Key is trying to empower the police before the world cup.

    He doesn’t want any youth uprisings like in Britian so he’s walking a very thin line trying to circumvent as much opposition as he can.

  2. The “need” for legislation to be retrospective must always be challenged and well debated so that it can be seen to be thoroughly justified. It sounds as if this was not. It may be valid to use retrospective legislation to correct an injustice, but not if it creates any injustice. As well as making any previous retention of those records legal (I’m willing to accept that the police retaining those records if they did so in good faith and as the result of a legislative bungle should not be prosecuted) does the Act require the destruction of all (any) that may happen still to be held at the time of passing of the Act and what does it say about the convictions of anyone who was convicted as a consequence of the use of the then illegally held records (e.g. are they entitled to a fresh trial without any evidence which came from the retention of the records) ?

  3. I listened with interest to much of the debate.. I support the Greens & Maori parties for the following reasons :
    1) The Nats seem to be using ‘urgency’ far too often to ram through bills that don’t seem that urgent.
    2) As an opposition party, it is the Greens ‘duty’ to oppose.. unlike the Labour party, who seem to be cosying up to the Nats on this & many other bills ?
    3) Labour said this bill was just rectifying an error from their 2008 legislation, but it was obvious from Rahui Katene’s comments that this needs much wider debate, especially in regard to what she said Police appear to be using this stored data for : profiling (often Maori)
    4) It was stated that all previous records, held in error were now destroyed, as it was illegally retained. BUT the bill was stated several times to be retrospective. This sounded like maybe this isn’t QUITE TRUE.
    This whole matter led me to wonder where the real power in Aotearoa really lies ?

  4. I don’t see what the problem was that required secrecy.

    The police were obliged to destroy records on completion of proceedings up until the point the bill passed.
    If a young offender or their counsel were aware of this, they could I suppose have attempted to get their case resolved early, but given the clogged up nature of the justice process, I doubt this would have succeeded in most cases.

    I don’t believe that a significant number of young offenders would avidly follow legal news and decide to commit offences in the knowledge that their fingerprints weren’t on file, either.

    This could have been dealt with by presenting a bill earlier in the year and giving it legislative priority in the normal way.

Comments are closed.