Tuesday, April 21, 2015

That perks SOP

Last month, the government tried to double the travel rort of retired former MPs by stealth via an SOP to the Statutes Amendment Bill. Fortunately they backed down in the face of overwhelming public opposition, but I was curious about the process behind this stealth amendment, so I asked Simon Bridges, the Minister responsible for it, for all advice and correspondence relating to it. I received the response last week. Great chunks of it have been withheld as legal advice, but its still illuminating for what's not in it. Notably:

  • There is no assessment of whether the amendments meet the "technical, short, and non-controversial" requirement for inclusion in a Statutes Amendment Bill. Given the subject matter of the amendment, you'd expect it to have raised multiple red flags for controversy, and as Graeme Edgeler pointed out at the time, it wasn't "technical" either. But there's simply no mention of this. Were all those Ministerial Advisers and Policy Advisers asleep at the wheel? Or are their heads so far in the Thorndon Bubble that they no longer recognise political asbestos when they see it?
  • Simon Bridges, the Minister in charge of the SOP, only consulted government support parties. Its a requirement for anything to do with a Statutes Amendment Bill to be consulted on with all parliamentary parties (because it takes just one person objecting to sink it). But there's no evidence that Labour or the Greens were ever consulted. The parliamentary Counsel's Office did query this in early March, and were informed by Ministry of Justice that "we were informed by Minister Bridges office that we did not need to attend to this". There's a later email saying that "all parties confirmed support for the amendments", but there's no documentation of this whatsoever. The emails imply that Ministry of Justice would normally hold formal support letters, but there's no indication of these being sought or received by Bridges.

Which looks like a significant end-run around the normal procedural protections on this sort of bill.

As for the origins of the amendment, it came from Parliamentary Services, who had originally been planning to put it up in this year's Statutes Amendment Bill. So we may see them make another attempt. Unfortunately, parliamentary Services is immune to the OIA, so we can't delve any further into where this harebrained scheme to give Roger Douglas a stealth pay-rise came from.