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S.59 Bill urgency signals disturbing trend

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on March 23, 2007

Source: This is New Zealand

Thursday, 22 March 2007

S.59 Bill urgency signals disturbing trend

This evening it is reported that the Labour Government is approaching other political parties to get support to put Parliament into urgency to push through the Bill repealing Section 59 of the Crimes Act – the “anti smacking” amendment. Urgency is a measure of Parliament that enables the normal legislative process to be substantially abbreviated. It is often used at Budget time to pass enabling legislation for specific measures, also to finish off the passage of legislation prior to the House rising for a recess. Other examples that come to mind include the raising of the tobacco tax early in the first term of the present Government. However, urgency can also be used to shut down debate on a measure that the Administration finds embarrassing or unpopular, and this represents a blatantly anti-democratic trend.

Here are some specific examples where urgency has been used controversially:

  1. Mid 1980s, the Labour government notoriously amended the MPs’ superannuation scheme. The Bill was passed through Parliament in record time, being completed in one sitting.
  2. Late 1990s, Jenny Shipley’s government amended the State Sector Act to remove early childhood education teachers from its coverage. The public was not able to make submissions as the matter never went to a select committee.
  3. The Foreshore and Seabed Bill of 2004 went through its committee stage and third reading under urgency. This effectively shut down Parliamentary debate at the committee stage. (This stage, where MPs debate the Bill in the House, should not be confused with the select committee hearings, which are a separate process)
  4. In October 2006 urgency was used to rush through the controversial legislation validating Labour’s misuse of taxpayer funds during the previous year’s election campaign. Labour also chose to make the Bill a confidence-and-supply measure, meaning that it had assured support from those parliamentary parties which had C&S agreements with the government. The Bill therefore received limited public scrutiny and did not have select committee hearings. It completed all of its stages in Parliament in little more than 24 hours and received Royal Assent a week later.
  5. Now it is March 2007 and Labour for no good reason proposes to use urgency to finish up a Private Members’ Bill. The Green Party have hypocritically indicated they will support this move.

Yes, that is the Green Party whose co-leader, Rod Donald, indicated back in 1998 that he thought urgency was being used too often by the government, that it was an abuse. Many Greens members posting to their website, apparently, hold similar views. Yet here are the Greens indicating in the newspaper article that they would support urgency being used to bring this matter to a close. It is an extraordinary abuse of Parliamentary power to do this, that is breathtakingly anti-democratic. Unfortunately, such measures are all too common for this Labour government, which from Day 1 has shown a disdain for the views of the public – just after the 1999 election, Helen Clark declared that her party was not bound by the two Citizens’ Initiated Referenda held in conjunction with the national vote.

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