Monday, March 24, 2008

The Members' Day logjam

The Press this morning has a piece on Members' Bills, highlighting the logjam that has built up on that part of the Order Paper. With only eight Members' Days until Parliament rises, and an enormous stack of bills built it, it looks as if interesting bills - Tariana Turia's Foreshore and Seabed Act (Repeal) Bill and Meyt's Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill are unlikely to get a first reading anytime soon.

The reasons for this are threefold. First, there has been a flood of private and local bills at the top of the Order Paper. These must be dealt with before any Members' Bills, and while frequently they are dealt with quickly (its not unusual for a local bill to be sent to committee by leave in five minutes, and then to have its final stages combined into one debate when it returns), most of each Members' Day has been spent on them. Second, there has also been a flood of second-reading debates, as all the bills sent off to Committee over the last two years come back to the House. Not only are second reading debates longer, they also pre-empt first readings, effectively putting these bills at the top of that part of the Order paper.

These two facts would create a logjam in and of themselves, but there has been a significant aggravating factor, in the form of deliberate delaying tactics by both National and Labour to prevent the House from getting to business they don't want to deal with. So National, which opposes Lynne Pillay's Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Bill, has spent a lot of time over the last few months talking it out, and talking out every trivial piece of legislation appearing before it on the Order Paper. Meanwhile, Labour has been doing the same thing, even advancing George Hawkins' Manukau City Council (Control of Graffiti) Bill (a piece of legislation made utterly irrelevant by the imposition of national-level controls) to the committee stage last week solely to waste time. The target of Labour's delaying tactics isn't clear, but I suspect it is Ron Marks' Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill, on which the numbers aren't certain, and which could progress against the wishes of the government if it actually makes it to a vote.

The upshot: Members' Days have been much blander this year than in the past, with the interesting and controversial legislation on the Order Paper not making it to debate. And its not going to get any better. While there's another pile of Members' Bills dues back from committee over the next few months (including Pita Paraone's Treaty of Waitangi (Removal of Conflict of Interest) Amendment Bill and Nandor Tanczos' Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill), with the way things are stacked up now, none of it is likely to receive a second reading.