Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The return of the blitzkrieg

One of the most unforgivable features of the 80's and 90's reforms was the undemocratic manner in which they were implemented. Bills were rammed through under urgency, precisely to prevent public scrutiny and opposition. The speed was such that, according to Jane Kelsey in The New Zealand Experiment, "often there were not enough, or sometimes even any, up-to-date copies of the measures available for those taking part in the debate".

There's more than a whiff of the blitzkrieg about the government's plans to pass the Foreshore and Seabed Bill under urgency. According to the Greens' Metiria Turei, the government is not going to release its Supplementary Order Paper detailing the amendments until just a few hours before the debate:

"There will only be perhaps as little as a few hours to look at the changes the Government wants to make," she said.

"It's not enough time to give really serious thought to the impact of those changes."

While I appreciate their desire to pass the bill before the end of the year, this is simply going too far. I don't mind them using urgency to get the extra speed, but to keep the amendments secret until the last minute raises serious questions of what exactly they are trying to hide. Parliament should operate openly, and give both the public and MPs sufficient time to digest and formulate a response to the suggested changes. If this means taking a few extra days, then so be it. I see no reason why the Foreshore and Seabed Bill must be passed this week, rather than next.

I should note that the government's behaviour diverges significantly from the blitzkrieg model in that the bill has been subject to extensive public consultation and a full Select Committe process (though both were almost universally negative and the latter could not agree on amendments). But this unseemly haste at the end of the process recalls it at its worst. The government should be ashamed of itself for bringing the Parliamentary process into disrepute in this manner.