Red Alert

Archive for the ‘urgency’ Category

Sleepover bill nearly there

Posted by on September 27th, 2011

Labour supported the “Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill’  tonight to select committee, in a truncated process that will see the bill reported back to the House next week and hopefully finalised.

We’ve been pushing this issue all year and we’re pleased the government has finally reached a settlement with the unions and caregivers.

I want to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of the disability support workers and their unions. I’m delighted that years of a dragged out process, including three court cases and the threat of a Supreme Court case is coming to an end.

I’m particularly pleased that the government has seen sense and not tried to legislate the Court decisions away.

Backpay is coming. It’s well deserved. But having said that, I want to acknowledge the generosity of these workers, who through their unions, are accepting a 50% settlement of backpay and a drawn out process toward being paid minimum wage.

The settlement is great.  But the contribution of the workers is even greater.


Why we’re supporting this Bill

Posted by on August 18th, 2011

Today the Labour Party is taking the unusual step of supporting the National Government passing a Bill through all stages of Parliament’s process under Urgency. We’ve been pretty critical of National’s use of Urgency to avoid select committee scrutiny so I think it’s important we explain why we’re supporting its use in this instance.

In 2008 a major re-write of the Police Act was passed by the previous Labour government. It’s a big and complex piece of legislation and mistakes were made. Under the law, if someone is discharged or found not guilty of a crime, their photographs and fingerprints have to be destroyed by Police, but if they are found guilty, they’re kept on file.

Inadvertently, the law was changed to prevent the Police retaining the photos and fingerprints of young people where they were dealt with by the Youth Court rather than the District Court. In other words, even if the young person was found ‘guilty’ by the Youth Court the Police would have had to destroy their photographs and fingerprints.

This needed to be fixed under Urgency because once the mistake was publicly known young offenders who had been convicted using identifying information the Police had stored could have had grounds for appeal.

The Bill that Parliament is currently passing effectively restores the status quo. It reverses a law change that was made by accident, without debate, without select committee scrutiny, and without anyone even knowing it was happening.

The Green Party and the M?ori Party are voting against the Bill currently before Parliament. Some of their arguments are based on process; that Urgency creates bad law and the Bill deserves select committee scrutiny. As I’ve noted above, on balance I don’t accept that in this case and think there is a legitimate case for Urgency.

But some of the arguments being raised in opposition to the Bill raise wider policy issues. I agree that these are legitimate debates, but this is not the appropriate time to raise them (I would also note that when the substance of the law was being debated, neither the Greens nor the M?ori Party felt sufficiently strongly about the issues at the time to even speak about them and that part of the original Bill was passed unanimously).

As I’ve said, I don’t like the use of Urgency to pass laws in a hurry without proper debate and scrutiny. It should only be used in exceptional circumstances. In this instance I think Urgency is warranted.


Urgency – when is its use a constitutional outrage? Part 2

Posted by on April 17th, 2011

Now that I have the lack of constitutional outrage off my chest in Part 1, I want to turn to the real constitutional outrage that occurred with the passage of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Bill through all stages under urgency. The only unusual aspect was the deal brokered by Trevor Mallard in his capacity as the Shadow Leader of the House to allow a select committee to hear submissions in Christchurch (arranged with one day’s notice) from selected submitters – (still gobsmacked that the Mayor and Chief Executive of the Christchurch City Council didn’t adjust their busy schedules to come, but that’s another post). 

The constitutional outrage actually began some weeks before the introduction of the Bill when Gerry “I know best” Brownlee persuaded his cabinet colleagues that a government department was required and CERA was created by Order in Council under the State Services Act. The Bill we were debating did not create CERA; it gave it powers.

Some people have been expressing concern that we voted for the legislation even though we have major reservations about it. I have made my views very clear, but the fundamental flaw lies in the structure. Allowing a politician to lead the recovery is a huge mistake and politicises all critical analysis of what is decided. Please read my contribution to the first reading.

I have studied recovery since the beginning of the year as a result of the failure of the government and the Christchurch City Council to step up to the plate post the first earthquake. The legislation and the structure prove the government have read none of the local or international literature on recovery.  Even our own Civil Defence & Emergency Management website references international best practice.

But the fact that the structure is flawed does not absolve me of my responsibility to represent and work for my constituents living in their damaged homes, in damaged streets, with fragile infrastructure (water, electricity, sewerage) and facing uncertain futures. They don’t care about structures – they just want to know when things will happen. And that’s why I felt that placing our position on the record through the debate was more important than the vote, which would have been misrepresented by the government to the people who rely on me to be their voice. I’d rather spend my time advocating for them than explaining to them why I voted against something that sounds like it has the authority to lead the recovery effort - as Brendon Burns said que cera CERA.


Urgency – when is its use a constitutional outrage? Part 1

Posted by on April 17th, 2011

I have been observing commentary about the passage of legislation under urgency as if any use of urgency is a constitutional outrage.  Admittedly we politicians have only got ourselves to blame for this.  I mean how many times have we railed against the government for pushing legislation through in the dead of night? I am as guilty of that as the next MP.  However there is only one use of urgency that truly meets the constitutional outrage test and that was evidenced last week by the introduction and passage of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Bill through all its stages.  What it doesn’t include is the passage of the remaining stages of bills that have been introduced, referred to select committee, changed to meet some concerns of submitters and referred back to the House.

This was the case of the Copyright amendment.  A bill was introduced; it was referred to the Commerce Committee; we heard extensive submissions; we talked to the Minister; we compromised; we referred back a better bill than the one that was introduced.  Once it was back in the House it was required to sit on the table for three days, which was when it could have the Second Reading.  The Committee Stages take place on the next sitting day.  And the Third Reading takes place on the next sitting day after that.  Passing legislation through these stages under the terms of an urgency motion is no more a constitutional outrage than agreeing to lift the House early because we have completed the business of the day at 9.50pm.  I have argued that the Standing Orders committee should change the use of the word Urgency in these circumstances to an “Extended Sitting Hours” motion.  An Urgency motion would then remain for the disturbing example that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Bill represents.  I will address that Bill in my next post.

I want to comment on those who have attacked Labour for its position on the Copyright legislation.  I am mindful of the fact that Labour introduced the original s92A that required termination to be the end point of a negotiated protocol between the ISPs and the rights holders.  The agreement wasn’t reached and the incoming National government put the provision on hold while debate was had about how they would address it.  They came to the conclusion that termination would remain the end point.  Labour came to a different conclusion after listening to the submissions. 

I am floored by the attitude of those who have completely ignored the reality that we have listened and altered our position.  In opposition we are not the decision-makers, but we have influence, as is proved by the change to the legislation we achieved – and I take my hat off to Clare Curran, a first term MP, who stared down her own Party’s previous position and the government’s position to boot. 

There are those who don’t agree with the legislation that was passed.  Fine.  Use the time between now and the election to use your influence as Party members or as voters to persuade political parties to re-visit their position.  But don’t blame Labour for voting for an agreed compromise rather than letting the bill remain in the form it was in when introduced.  And don’t use the fact that the remaining stages were passed under an urgency motion when it meant nothing more than extended siting hours.


Urgency- Some real information

Posted by on April 12th, 2011

This seems timely as we head into urgency again. Late last year, after the filming of a Backbencher episode in which I had bemoaned what I considered to be the excessive use of urgency by the National led government I was approached by blogger and National Party doyen David Farrar. He, correctly, said it would be good to get some hard information about the use of urgency over recent years so we could make some informed judgements on the issue.

As everyone will know I don’t agree with David about much, but I do know that he has respect for the Parliamentary process. He indicated that overuse of urgency by any party was something that concerned him. Over the next while we discussed what questions we could ask, and the end result was a request from me to the Parliamentary Library. Their full answer can be found here.

David and I are both writing a post on this. It was to be a joint post, but we, of course have some different perspectives. We do have some similar conclusions, but more of that later.   David’s post can be found here.

So, the key points

• One statistic stands out for me. While urgency has been used to a greater or lesser degree by all governments, the by-passing of the Select Committee process has exploded under this government. In just over two years 17 bills have been passed without referral to a select committee, compared with five or fewer in the full three years of the three previous Parliaments. Now, there will be reasons to justify this from time to time. For example, in 2010 a bill to ensure Police who had made their oath to become officers under an incorrect procedure were still regarded as sworn officers did not go to a Select Committee. That was the right decision for the integrity of the Police. But where it is, say the bill to introduce National Standards for primary schools, that should go to a select committee. Select Committees are an essential part of ensuring democratic participation in our law-making, and to making sure the law works as well as it possibly can. They should not be by-passed at the rate they have been over the last couple of years.

• Overall for the three Parliaments under the last Labour government the total percentage of time used for urgency was 13% (99-02) 21% (02-05) 10% (05-08). National have not completed their three years but are sitting at 31% after just over two years. Although they have another year to go, I think we can say on balance that National has used urgency more overall particularly because the percentage of time in urgency has remained high (see below)

• Government’s use of urgency tends to peak in the first (or part thereof) and third years of a Parliament. For instance for Labour the percentage of time in urgency in the first year after the 2002 election was 35% and 23% after 2005 election. National had a massive go at that in 2008 with a whopping 83%.

• Under Labour the amount of urgency taken tended to tail off significantly in the middle years. Here National has taken a different tack with 2009 and 2010 having 26% and 22% of the House sitting hours under urgency.

So what conclusions do I draw from this data

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.


We believe in the right to unionise – some people don’t

Posted by on December 22nd, 2010

Trevor + Helen Kelly

This is the latest from Sir Peter on the Hobbit debacle. It makes the agenda very very clear. Sad really. Diminishes one of my heroes and undermines my faith in our processes of government at the same time.

Worse, it was clear to ourselves and to the studio that the MEAA, had an agenda to unionize the NZ film industry by exploiting a grey area that existed in employment law. The change in the law, which clarified the independent contractor status of film industry workers, gave the studio confidence that the film could made in New Zealand without the threat of unjustified ongoing industrial action and for that we remain very grateful.

The area of law wasn’t grey. It dates back a long way and was confirmed in 2005. It drew a line between contractors and employees and Sir Peter has made all of his films on that legal basis. it worked. To deny that is nonsense.


Another “Urgency” shambles

Posted by on December 9th, 2010

Parliament went into “Urgency” this afternoon. This is totally due to Gerry Brownlee’s incompetent management of parliamentary business. It also shows a total lack of good faith and a lack of respect for our most important democratic institution. There is nothing “urgent” about the legislation that we’re going to be debating for the next 48 hours, and if Gerry Brownlee had been a more competent manager it could have all been passed during normal sitting hours anyway.

So what’s Gerry’s rationale for this un-urgent Urgency? He claims that because Parliament is about to go into recess for the Christmas break we should sit almost around the clock for the next few days to ram through new laws without giving them the proper scrutiny and debate they would normally get. It just doesn’t add up. I love Parliament, and I love parliamentary debate, but sitting from 9am to midnight for days in a row doesn’t make for good, considered law-making.

We owe it to those who send us here to give all legislation before the House proper scrutiny. The government has been rightly critiscised already this year for passing new laws without allowing select committee scrutiny. They’ve also been critiscised for passing laws that give exceptionally broad powers to individual ministers. It all starts to paint a picture of a born-to-rule Tory government gorging itself on power after 9 years in the wilderness.


Wake up NZ

Posted by on November 17th, 2010

Tonight was another horror night in our parliament. And no-one was in the gallery to see.

The National Government, supported by ACT AND the Maori Party rushed through legislation under urgency (again) for no good reason to take away the 4th week of your holidays.

Under the guise of “negotiation” with employers, and other code words such as “flexibility”, “choice” and “trading up” the upshot is that you get to trade one week of your precious holidays, that’s time with your family, for an extra week’s pay. Do you get a pay rise? No. What do you get out of it? A bit more money but less time off.

Selling our annual leave. Is it a good idea? No. The National Government thinks you should be grateful.

Why did the Maori Party support it? Can they tell us? Who’s interests are being served here?

This Bill contained many other unpleasant consequences for wage and salary earners. Making it much harder for you to take sick leave. My colleagues will no doubt talk more about this and the other provisions.

Labour argued strenuously and eloquently against this Bill. In particular my colleagues Trevor Mallard, Carol Beaumont and Darien Fenton.

But we don’t have the numbers. These are your working conditions. They’re gone. Wake up NZ. You’re being screwed.


Does Parliament need to slow down?

Posted by on November 13th, 2010

In this morning’s Dominion Post there is an interview with Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former PM and undoubtedly our most distinguished (local) constitutional expert. He has expressed some concern about some of the laws Parliament has passed recently and the use of parliamentary ‘Urgency’ to do so, and I tend to agree.

New Zealand’s legislative system is very simple by international standards. We only have one chamber, so once a Bill is passed by Parliament, it’s usually law within a matter of days. In other countries, there are ‘second thought’ processes where the law is considered by an upper house, such as the House of Lords in the UK or the Senate in the US. There can also be a ‘veto’ power, for example in the US where the President, elected separately from the legislature, can reject a law. In New Zealand, while the Governor General technically has that power, it has never been used and in the event that it was, the mandate to do so would be dubious at best.

In our system, the government of the day commands a majority in the House (by definition) so it can do pretty much whatever it wants. In the past few months we’ve seen two examples of laws passed through all their stages in a single sitting, the Canterbury Earthquake legislation (supported by all parties) and changes to employment laws (only supported by the governing parties). I strongly believe both of those laws could have been improved had they been through a Select Committee process in which the public and subject matter experts were given the opportunity to have input.

I don’t think we need to go to the trouble and expense of establishing another level within the legislature, but I do think we could put a few more checks and balances on the system we currently have. For example, we could establish some clear criteria the government would need to meet before they could push a Bill through all its stages under Urgency. We could also have a mandatory review process for urgent laws, for example by adding a sunset clause that would come into effect unless a Select Committee reviewed the new law and recommended it be endorsed (or endorsed with amendment).

I’m also concerned that the significance of the parliamentary legislature is being undermined by a procession of laws that give much greater power to the Executive. The Canterbury Earthquake law and the Rugby World Cup Empowering Bill are just two examples. I wonder how our constitutional framework could be improved to avoid this leeching of power to the Executive?

Ultimately the greatest check on the government’s power comes every three years in the form of a General Election. I personally think three years isn’t a long enough term for effective governance (that’s a whole different issue) but before we could even think about a longer term, we’d need to make sure that safeguards against the abuse of power were significantly strengthened. Parliament has a vital role to play in keeping the government honest and ensuring that democracy is well served. I’m not convinced we’re doing that as best we could.


Urgency, local government and the democratic process

Posted by on November 13th, 2010

The Government is planning to push Rodney Hide’s water privatisation bill through its remaining stages under urgency next week. This is not surprising in itself, given how much of this Government’s business has been done under urgency.

But it is irksome that urgency is being used to pass yet another local government bill that takes away democratic rights.

Two out of Rodney Hide’s three Auckland bills were passed under urgency, one without even a select committee process. They corporatised Auckland local government, and radically centralised power, without giving Aucklanders a say.

Then Nick Smith’s sacking of the Canterbury Regional Council and suspension of elections for more than three years.

Now the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill opens the door to privatisation of water supply by allowing 35 year contracts that can include private ownership of water infrastructure. At the same time it repeals many current requirements for Councils to consult the community.

The Nats are sensitive about all this.  Right up until the committee finalised its report National members continued to argue these 35 year contracts that allow private ownership of water infrastructure do not amount to privatisation. They also criticised our use of the word corporatisation in relation to the Bill’s repeal of the requirement to consult the community before shifting services into a council-owned corporate entity.

You can download the committee report here, including the Labour-Green minority view. Make your own mind up.


Holidays (Football World Cup) Amendment Bill

Posted by on June 23rd, 2010

After a bit of discussion overnight here is the (3rd) draft of the Holidays (Football World Cup) Amendment Bill. I’ve circulated it a bit but won’t attempt to introduce for about 24 hours so happy to get feedback.


Gerry’s biofuels shambles

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

Continuing with the theme set this morning by Colin James (see Grant’s post) I’ve found another example of how governments get things wrong when they rush things through. Late last year the newly elected National government rushed through a repeal of Labour’s biofuels obligation under Urgency. The obligation would have meant that the fuel you purchased at the pump would have had to have a certain percentage of biofuels within it. It would have been a useful step in reducing our carbon emissions.

National decided to rush through a repeal, thus pulling the rug out from under the biofuel industry that had been scaling up to take advantage of the new obligation. Labour MPs presented examples during the debate of businesses that would suffer, we presented the cost to NZ in terms of higher carbon emissions, and we argued, as we have with the ETS, that ultimately it should be the polluter that pays.

Gerry Brownlee argued, as National have done with the ETS, that the taxpayer should pay. In this year’s Budget National introduced a Biodiesel Grants Scheme as a partial replacement for the sales obligation. It set aside $36 million in taxpayer subsidies to encourage the production of Biodiesel. So how has it panned out? Well so far they have spent less than $44,000 of that money. In other words, it’s been a total flop. Another example of a bad law rushed through. Another example of National not looking at the evidence of what actually works.


Rushed Law is Bad Law

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

Colin James has written  an interesting piece on two examples of the impact of a rushed law making process- the Emissions Trading Scheme and National Standards. The ETS has been discussed at length this week, but the concerns raised by our leading, and indeed world leading, educational assessment experts should be sounding the loudest of alarm bells. The fact that one of those experts was John Hattie, the person who John Key pointed to as his mentor on these issues makes it all the worse. To quote from Colin James

if teachers teach to rigid standards the risk is that standards and the testing that goes with them become counterproductive. Kids get trapped into failure. The focus is on what teachers teach instead of what kids learn. “The international record,” the four academics said, “is damning.” Other education experts say this is particularly so of the United States’ “no child left behind” project which actually condemned disadvantaged children to being left behind.

The thing here is there was nothing to justify rushing the national standards law through Parliament last year under urgency. If there had been a proper select committee consideration the views of Messers Hattie, Crooks, Flockton and Thrupp could have had the consideration they deserved. Instead we have another version of this government’s view as expressed by Bill English last week ”  bad advice is advice we disagree with, good advice is advice we agree with”. Parents and children deserve better than a rushed process and a government that only hears what it wants to hear.


Urgency – Act VI

Posted by on October 27th, 2009

I am sure you will all be shocked to learn  that  I understand we are about to go into urgency, again, for the sixth parliamentary week in a row. As I said in my post on this last week, urgency has been used by all governments, but it certainly feels like it has been far more often. David Farrar has given us his spin, but if we look at the actual percentage of hours spent in urgency, it is revealing as to just how much time has been spent in urgency this term.

Parliament

Years

Percentage

43rd

1990-1993

30.25

44th

1993-1996

9.21

45th

1996-1999

30.73

46th

1999-2002

13.12

47th

2002-2005

21.38

48th

2005-2008

9.9

49th (to end of 20 October 2009)

2008-

33.6

In addition what these figures do not show is the percentage of bills that have not been referred to a select committee under National.  There has been an excessive use of urgency this term, and a greater use under previous National led governments. Such excessive use is inevitably going to lead to bad law, and it is anti-democratic. The use needs to be reviewed.


Best comment in the House

Posted by on September 15th, 2009

I think we’ll start a best comment in the House series. Stand out tonight was Shane Jones (moments ago) who got up to respond to Auckland Central’s Nikki Kaye in the “urgent” debate on the Super City Bill .

He said:

That was National’s contribution to artificial intelligence….

I guess you had to be there


Cuts to the thin green line

Posted by on September 10th, 2009

Rotorua. Labour conference starts tomorrow – hurrah -and was in Taupo area today visiting Landcorp farms with Primary Production committee, so made sense to come on here. First person I bu mped into was Ag Minister David Carter. Reminded me that I took the last call in the House last night on his Biosecurity Amendment Bill. It doubles the fines for those caught smuggling prohibited items like food into NZ. A welcome move. But doing so under urgency the day after 54 Biosecurity staff lost their jobs was highly cynical. And yes, there may be a current downturn in trade, notably Jap car imports, but trade is always cyclical. The bill also provides for the easier trans-Tasman travel promised by John Key on his recent visit to Oz.  Making life easier for travellers is a good thing – but not it exposes the lifeblood of our economy to more risk.  Christchurch biosecurity staff have told me that the ‘thin green line’ is already very stretched – and that was before the announced cuts.  Savings of $2m are estimated. The varroa mite incursion alone cost 100 times that amount. Little wonder Fed Farmers president Don Nicholson has been moved to say this is one area of government cuts he won’t support. Labour will be scrutinising the bill very closely in the Primary Production select committee.


Credit to John Carter and Darren Hughes

Posted by on May 16th, 2009

Coming to the end of the Wednesday sitting. Government has made enormous progress since John Carter took over house leadership from Gerry Brownlee. Carters experience has been invaluable and if Key works on the basis of talent he will be in Cabinet for Wayne Mapp or Kate Wilkinson when Key reshuffles later in the year.

I was pretty worried when Michael Cullen left. I’m now confident that with the young ginga we have someone who can run the house in government. He has done a great job over the whole sitting day.


Urgency Bad

Posted by on May 16th, 2009
  1. John Banks and his council can handpick Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga’s successor when he resigns from the Auckland City Council over the next couple of months rather than have a by-election.
  2. Paid parental leave entitlements are lost for thousands of current council employees because there will be a new employer and no carry forward provision as was provided for Kiwisaver.

The offer for a three or four week select committee with about a weeks hearings in Auckland remains open. If the NACTs agree we will finish within an hour or so.


The gorilla in the room

Posted by on May 16th, 2009

The gorilla in the room of the Auckland super city debate stirred into action this morning. No I am not talking about House Leader Gerry Brownlee. Privatisation is the issue. My colleague Charles Chauvel put up an amendment to the Local Government (Auckland Reorganisation) Bill to protect assets during the transition to the super city.

Aucklanders are rightly fearful that as well as losing their voice in this new top-down super city, they also stand to lose strategic public assets like the port and the water company.

Am I being alarmist?  Generations of Aucklanders have built up $28 billion of public assets from the port to the water companies, parks, libraries, social housing, and shares in the airport.  Now consider the policy of Local Government Minister Rodney Hide’s ACT party to shed commercial activities and reduce local government to a narrow core of things like regulation, flood control and roads. Add to that a Government bulldozing through a gerrymandered Auckland Council that would install a permanent right wing majority. Then remember the determined but only partially successful efforts to flog off the airport and port in the nineties. (Mike Lee’s history of Auckland local government makes fascinating reading.)  And more recently John Banks and his C&R mates in Auckland City dispensing with social housing.

Aucklanders be afraid.  In spite of good speeches by Sue Kedgley of the Greens and Grant Robertson of Labour, Charles Chauvel’s amendment was of course voted down by the Nats and ACT. And that is why I am going to introduce at the next opportunity a private member’s bill to entrench public ownership of assets under the super city. Any asset sale will require a majority vote in a referendum. Good idea?


Gerry Turns Down Offer

Posted by on May 15th, 2009

There are a couple of blogs below that outline the filibuster on Auckland legislation. The Labour/green team has developed hundreds of amendments and about a dozen extra parts.  We can keep drafting them. We are probably able to keep the bill going well into next week.

We have one objective – to get the bill off to a select committee even for three or four weeks, including about a week of hearings in Auckland. the times are negotiable.

Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party are prepared to pull our amendments and new parts out if the NACTs agree to send the bill to a committee.

Gerry Brownlee has turned down down the offer but it remains open.