Thursday, March 12, 2015

Legislate in haste, repent before you've even started

When John Key promised to remove MPs' outrageous, undeserved pay rise - without showing us the bill to do so - I predicted that it would be a knee-jerk rush job, which we'll probably need to fix later. It turns out that "later" is sooner than I thought: National is now having to pull the bill and redraft it before it has even been voted on out of fears it could give MPs even more money:

Prime Minister John Key's plans to quickly ram through changes to the way MPs' pay is set have hit a speed bump amid concerns they could deliver higher, not lower, increases in future.


But plans to debate it this week have been repeatedly revised, and it now seems unlikely to reach the floor of the House until next week.

"On Monday it was going to be Wednesday, on Tuesday it was Wednesday or Thursday, on Wednesday morning it was Wednesday, on Wednesday afternoon it was Thursday and today it's next week," an Opposition source said.

All of which is a potent reminder of why we have select committees and public submissions: to catch problems like this before they become law, and allow the public to suggest alternatives. And it suggests that what National should have done if it wanted to fix the problem this year is a two-stage process: an urgent bill to claw back the undeserved pay rise and substitute a politically set one in its place, followed by a proper bill through the normal Parliamentary process to fix the system in the long term. Instead, their poor political management and desire to be seen to be acting immediately has resulted in such a mess that the window for retrospectivity has basically passed. Thanks to National, MPs will probably get to keep this year's pay rise. And the public should hold them accountable for that.

(I have no problem with retrospectivity to correct a mistake, if it is done in a timely manner. But as more time passes, the case for a retrospective clawback becomes untenable. You could just do it immediately afterwards, before the money had been spent or plans made on that basis. But now that its no longer going to be immediate in any sense of the word, I think we just have to live with the mistake and instead commit to fixing it properly in future).