Backlash over 'lost luggage' bill: Is the members' bills process flawed?

The Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill would determine the best way to advertise the ...
JAROM CHALABALA/123RF

The Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill would determine the best way to advertise the sale of lost property at airports.

The members' bills process has come under scrutiny after the selection of a National backbencher's bill that would see MPs debate the sale of lost luggage.

Labour and ACT have called for the "trivial" change lodged by Christchurch MP Tutehounuku (Nuk) Korako to be added to a Statutes Amendment bill in a tidy-up of regulations, rather than waste politicians time and taxpayer money going through the parliamentary process.

But this is not the first time a seemingly menial bill has been entered into the ballot and literally plucked from a biscuit tin.

ACT leader David Seymour said a truce, where major parties each removed menial bills, would be "wonderful".
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ

ACT leader David Seymour said a truce, where major parties each removed menial bills, would be "wonderful".

The member's bills process is "fundamentally flawed", concludes United Future leader Peter Dunne. 

READ MORE: MPs to debate lost luggage. Is this a waste of time?

He says there's a better way to get the bills dealt with and it would involve setting time-frames for a more proportionate system.

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne says the members' bills process is flawed.
Mark Tantrum

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne says the members' bills process is flawed.

"It would be better to, particularly from a smaller party's point of view, have almost a quota system so that each party was guaranteed a minimum number of bills per session," he said.

"Say there is a ballot procedure, but there's also a backstop that says during the course of the year each party will be guaranteed some measure of proportionality. So if you get to the latter stage of the year, and their bills haven't come up, [it] ensures every party gets a fair go."

HOW MEMBERS' BILLS WORK

Any MP who is not a Minister can enter a proposed bill into the ballot. Every second Wednesday MPs dedicate time to debate the issue and kick off the parliamentary process. 

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When time's freed up on the order paper, new bills are picked at random from the ballot - like a lottery draw. 

Some major historic law changes started in this form - for example, homosexual law reform 30 years ago. 

It's been a tactic for Governments to get their MPs to enter proposed bills to reduce the chance of Opposition bills being drawn. Opposition MPs use the ballot to highlight issues they know Government have no appetite for.

TRUCE WOULD BE 'WONDERFUL' 

So what if the major parties withdrew all the bills low down on the importance scale? A truce of sorts would be "wonderful", says ACT leader David Seymour.

"I'm certain that they would actually be able to do it," he said, however unlikely.  

"What do these people actually do if they can't even put in one worthwhile thing that they would like to see improve?" he said. "The number of one-page bills is just shocking."

But, in the end, it's up to voters to "punish" the MPs consistently putting in mediocre bills.

Seymour, also the regulatory reform under-secretary,  was happy to talk to any MP to help add minor issues to the Statutes Amendments bill. The changes in Korako's Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill actually made a lot of sense to Seymour, but wasn't worth a separate bill.

While it was important to set aside time to debate members' bills, Seymour was not in favour of Dunne's "quota" system idea as the quota was clearly decided by voting on seats in parliament.

LITTLE: 'AN ABUSE OF PROCESS'

Labour leader Andrew Little was a bit more receptive to looking at how the members' bills process worked. 

"Using the members' process for bills such as Nuk Korako's is an abuse of process by the Government," he said, as the Prime Minister had revealed the 'lost property' bill had the backing of the National caucus.

"Anything that brings parliament into disrepute because of apparent trivialising of the lawmaking process, then I certainly share Peter Dunne's concerns in that regard."

In the meantime, Dunne said some bills would sit in the ballot "until kingdom come". 

There are 74 bills currently still in the ballot awaiting to be drawn: 25 are National bills, 10 from NZ First, 27 are Labour's, 10 are from the Greens, one is from Act and one is from Maori Party.

 - Stuff

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