The overuse of urgency

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 13:58 17/08/2011

Be careful not to blink or you might miss some legislation hurtling through Parliament this week.

Once again Parliament is into urgency. The Freedom Camping Bill was passed in time for morning tea (and in time for the Rugby World Cup), and then MPs were on to the Student Loan Scheme Bill, which has to be in place before April 1. Also to be fast-tracked are the Maori Purposes Bill and the Aquaculture Legislation Amendment Bill number three.

Today's scheduled Members Day was the casualty. But is it the only loss? Is it really okay to advance laws without proper scrutiny?

On the Order Paper is a mystery "fixit" bill to close a loophole in some unnamed legislation. After a secret deal with the Labour Party, it will be whipped through in about 90 minutes tomorrow morning, with no input from select committee.

We'll find out then what it is. According to Government sources, it's not major policy and was passed under the previous Labour government. But if it were made public, unscrupulous types could take advantage before the loophole is closed, we're told.

It's known that acting Leader of the House Simon Power is uncomfortable rushing though laws under urgency if they are contentious. And it's true the Government has a lot to get through, with a diminishing number of sitting days before the House rises on October 6.

However, the so-called Hobbit labour laws and the maligned "Skynet" law got zipped through quick-smart. Now the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act did get an airing at select committee, but no public submissions were heard on the The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill and Opposition MPs called its passing a "day of shame".

It's hard to argue that Parliament shouldn't be allowed to legislate quickly when it's very necessary - such as in times of crisis. The quake recovery bill was rightly passed under urgency - and the Government made amendments after a whirlwind consultation, proving it can be done.

But - as blogger David Farrar and Labour MP Grant Robertson established in April - National are like Energizer bunnies when it comes to urgency. More and more, the public are starting to notice - and object.

With overuse the Government is in danger of wearing it out - along with the public's patience.  Bypassing or hastening public participation makes a government look arrogant and as though it doesn't care what the public think. The average joe already sees politicians as out of touch.

Should disquiet continue to grow, there are likely to be calls for reform, for instance requiring all or most of MPs to agree to urgency.

Are you worried about how this Government is abusing urgency?

Andrea Vance is on Twitter

64 comments
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V   #1   02:12 pm Aug 17 2011

I just wish they WOULD use urgency to clear some of the backlog. There are some highly non-controversial bills languishing on the Order Paper (i.e. supported by at least Labour + National), which have been through Select Committee. They should use Urgency to skip the Parliamentary time required for the later stages and get this legislation into force.

Then they might have more time to argue about the political stuff and get their points across in an election year.

Ben   #2   02:17 pm Aug 17 2011

"Are you worried about how this Government is abusing urgency?"

No.

Quick or slow, governments generally ignore the opinions of those who make submissions contrary to its ideas. There has been plenty of legislation passed at a nice leisurely pace which has later proven to be badly flawed. Anyone remember the Building Act 1993 where the government of the day was warned about the impact? Anyone remember legislation that changed the electricity industry? Anyone remember legislation that destroyed maternity services. We are feeling the pain from these ill thought out pieces of legislation today and not one was passed under urgency.

So if our legislators are going to pass crap they may as well do it quickly instead of going through the long drawn out motions of public consultation. Legislate in haste; repent at leisure.

Field Marshall   #3   02:18 pm Aug 17 2011

MP's know that NZ will best be served by an Upper House and it will serve MP's own self interest too, and that is why parties from both sides are abusing urgancy AND MMP ect to further the chances of an Upper House being introduced.

It is all simply about 'bringing the will of the people along' to pass the policy for an Upper house.

Ken Slugg   #4   02:19 pm Aug 17 2011

Hey Andrea,

Got any historical context? What other sorts of governments in NZ or elsewhere so regularly bypass established procedures. Sounds a bit like Agamben's study "A State of Exception" could be considered...

Ken

DanM   #5   02:19 pm Aug 17 2011

I agree, urgency has been overused by this Government, and for laws that shouldn't really have required it. They have mitigated this somewhat with their transparency with the electorate over most major issues, and how they have signalled most big moves well in advance to let people adjust to them. But they are walking a fine line with the urgency, and really ought to pull back from it some. Maybe it's just a first term thing, trying to get in and get things done and set up the way they want. Maybe it will lessen in their second term. I hope so, but I guess only time will tell.

The flip side of the coin though, is some activists (Minto, Bradford et al) abuse the public submissions and consultation processes just as much. Saving themselves the hassle of putting up with that nonsense was probably worth taking the risk of an overuse of urgency.

Benneh   #6   02:21 pm Aug 17 2011

I will vote for National if they tell us on October 6, "naturally we finished our set".

Robert   #7   02:22 pm Aug 17 2011

"It's known that acting Leader of the House Simon Power is uncomfortable rushing though laws under urgency if they are contentious."

Excuse me? Pretty sure the skynet bill was contentious, most constituents didn't want it, in its current form and they rushed that under urgency didn't they? Was it not Simon himself that wanted that bill passed through (before the election)? So I guess he has no problem with it when it suits him.

Graeme Edgeler   #8   02:22 pm Aug 17 2011

I'm concerned.

And there was a fair bit of concern from others. I think the expansion of broadcasting parliament from radio, to TV, to livestreaming and now to youtube especially has meant more people are in contact with what the House is actually like.

There have been past urgency motions where Geryy Brownlee has been apologetic, going into spiels about "what most people don't know about urgency".

The review of the standing order received a number of submissions (I suspect the most it ever has), and its report can't be too far away. Hopefully something will at least start as a result of that.

Dollynz   #9   02:41 pm Aug 17 2011

Yes, I for one am appalled at the way this government is ignoring democratic procedures. Let's hope the next thing passed under urgency isn't the "National Party right to rule uncontested" law. Far too much legislation is being pushed through, often with no real need for urgency - except perhaps to stifle public debate. Would the "Skynet" law have overturned the fundamental right of innocent until proven guilty if it had progressed through the correct procedures?

Brenda   #10   02:50 pm Aug 17 2011

Yes, this does worry me. But then I'm very worried about a lot of things this govt. is doing. Won't do me any good, they don't care about the people of this country, what they want or think. All they care about is votes and power. We no longer live in a democracy :(


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