Korako's inconsequential lost property bill reveals dark side of Govt tactic

Tutehounuku (Nuk) Korako has struggled to defend his airport lost property advertising bill.
CHARLOTTE CURD/FAIRFAX NZ

Tutehounuku (Nuk) Korako has struggled to defend his airport lost property advertising bill.

OPINION: None of the derision dumped on Nuk Korako's Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill does it full justice.

It is not just a trivial piece of legislative whimsy, it is vanishingly inconsequential.

It comes as close to nothing as it is possible to get without actually disappearing altogether.

If it didn't betray a more important issue about how the Government, and particularly the Executive, was running Parliament's members' bill process, we could all just laugh, shake our heads and move on.

More on that later.

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But first the execrable offering itself.

It's not often you get to reproduce in full the business-end of a "bill", but here goes:

In section 9(1)(ff) replace "the insertion of suitable advertisements in a newspaper circulating in the district where the airport is situated" with "publicising the sale in what the authority considers to be a fair and reasonable manner".

That's it. 

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So let's bust a few developing myths about the "bill" – and both law professor Andrew Geddis and legal frequenter of social media Graeme Edgeler have made similar points elsewhere.

First, there has been much banging on, in a world awash with lost luggage, about helping reunite travellers with their bags. It does nothing of the sort. Airlines do that, not airport authorities.

What it deals with is the fate of stuff people leave in airports; the odd umbrella, a bag of mints, a jacket maybe. Perhaps an iPhone.

But it doesn't help in any meaningful way to return even those goods to their rightful owners.

What that single limpid clause does is allow airport authorities NOT to advertise in a local newspaper when they decide to auction off the lost property accumulated in their back offices. That's all.

It doesn't remove a rule that restricts advertisements only to newspaper, as some have suggested. They can advertise as widely as they like now.

Nor does it require them to advertise the auction in an itemised way – so you could check if your umbrella, emblazoned with elephants, is included in the sale.

In short, it does nothing for travellers, nothing to help reunite people and possessions, nothing to bulwark us against an international tsunami of lost baggage.

What it does is make it easier for airport authorities, when they decide to sell lost property and pocket the proceeds. 

In the House on Tuesday, Korako, a National list MP, gave an amusing defence of the "bill". Given the material he had to hand, it was valiant but it was also misleading, implying many of the bogus arguments rebutted above.

If Korako doesn't want his parliamentary career defined by this nonsense he should be banging on the National whips' door, begging them to can it before it arrives on the floor of the House.

No wonder Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee tried to call the Opposition's bluff about wasting parliamentary time by seeking leave to vote on its passage immediately. And no wonder NZ First leader Winston Peters jumped in to refuse.

Nobody would want to be in the Government's, or Korako's, shoes when the law change lands in the House, nor suffer the the media spray that will follow.

If it has any shame – or sense of self-preservation – it will dump the "bill" altogether and slip the change into the next available Statutes Amendment Bill, where such arcane trivia belongs.

Which brings us back to how the Government is manipulating the once-a-fortnight members' day by stacking the ballot with Government backbenchers' Bills like Korako's lamentable deposit.

It wasn't so long ago, with the Government able to determine its legislative programme, that the members' ballot was seen as the route for Opposition and minor parties to put forward issues they saw as important.

When the Government had a strong majority there was little concern about what – or how many – proposed laws where wheeled up from the biscuit-tin ballot.

If the Government of the day objected, they could just knock them over like so many skittles. Next!

But with slim majorities, and especially with competing parties in the House since MMP was adopted, it is no longer so simple.

UnitedFuture's Peter Dunne and the two Maori Party MPs are able to deliver a majority against the Government and it can no longer be sure of the numbers on slightly left of centre issues, especially at first reading.

There are plenty of examples. Last week there were two: David Parker's move to bring contractors inside minimum wage laws and Andrew Little's healthy homes bill. Before that were Sue Moroney's (vetoed) extension to paid parental leave.

Hence the new tactic of stacking the ballot with as many National MPs' measures as possible. Then the odds are lessened of an Opposition measure, with the potential to embarrass, being drawn.

Having said that, there are small but worthy measures Government members can justifiably put into the ballot. Paul Foster-Bell's move to exempt RSAs from the need to obtain special liquor licences to serve alcohol on Anzac Day is a clear case in point. 

But others that are worthy and bring out the best in Parliament – such as the marriage equality law or ACT MP David Seymour's proposed assisted dying bill – can potentially be displaced by National's members' ballot-stacking.

And even if the Government hits "flush" on Korako's strained attempt, there are others lurking in the wings.

For example, you have to wonder in the harsh light of day if Matt Doocey still thinks his Companies (Annual Report Notice Requirements) Amendment Bill is such a good idea.

Do we really need a full members' day debate on an amendment to remove the requirement to provide a written notice of an annual report to shareholders? 

Brownlee and his fellow ministers may not like it, but if the kind of ridicule being heaped on Korako's nano-"bill" is the only antidote then so be it.

 - Stuff

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