Labour attacks new law 'secrecy'

01:43, Jan 31 2009

The Government is being accused of unnecessary secrecy over its plans to push a series of laws through Parliament before Christmas.

Parliament spent yesterday debating National's tax cuts and KiwiSaver changes as the party pushed the Taxation (Annual Rates and Measures) Bill through all its readings.

National refused to table any of its other planned legislation such as a 90-day trial for new workers or the introduction of national standards for primary school pupils before it is debated in the House.

It was unclear late yesterday whether this was because National had not finished drafting the bills or simply did not want to reveal them until their turn came for debate.

Asked about the lack of availability of the legislation, Prime Minister John Key said: "That is a very good question and I don't know the answer. Ring (Leader of the House) Gerry Brownlee."

Brownlee was dismissive, saying he was not doing anything that Labour had not done before.


"Everything I have ever learnt about House procedures has come from (former Leader of the House) Michael Cullen," he said. "I am merely a humble apprentice at the feet of the master."

Labour and the Greens are furious at National's tactics.

Labour leader Phil Goff said that by the time National had passed its bills under urgency it would have rammed more through all their stages without going to a parliamentary select committee than Labour had done during nine years in office.

While Labour had often used urgency, it was rare for it to push a bill through all three stages under urgency, he said.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the Government was giving Kiwis no opportunity to debate the proposals before they became law.

"While the Government have laid out their plans to pass a range of laws which will have major impacts on New Zealanders, it's a real worry that they have failed to make the actual legislation available to the public," he said.

"How can we have a decent, open democracy if the people of New Zealand can't even access the law until the very moment it comes up in Parliament?"

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union wanted to study the bill giving employers the right to sack new workers within 90 days, but said the bill appeared so secret it did not yet have a name.

National secretary Andrew Little said the Government's attempts to "stifle" debate on the issue were "a betrayal of New Zealand workers".

"The Government couldn't even provide us with the official name of the bill, let alone the substance, but they're planning to have it in law by the end of the week. That's a disgraceful lack of transparency and democracy," he said.

Labour slammed National's tax bill, saying it did nothing for those earning below $20,000 a year.

Cullen said National's plans were a reverse of the "trickle-down theory".

"It's trickle up, taxing those on lower incomes and giving it to those on higher ones," he said.

Goff said the legislation was "a lie" for many New Zealanders who would not receive a tax cut.

Finance Minister Bill English said most taxpayers would be better off under the changes, which will deliver about $18 a week to average wage-earners and $24 a week to those earning more than $80,000 a year.

In another hiccup for National, the Maori Party said last night it would not support the 90-day trial bill because it would undermine the rights of low-income workers.

The Maori Party's support is not crucial to the bill's passage as National has the support of ACT, but it was seen as an early test of the Government's support-party arrangements.


The Press