Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Thinktank: progressive bills

A No Right Turn Thinktank is where I solicit comments and try and start discussion around a small political project - in this case, Member's Bills. I've been devoting quite a bit of coverage to them this year, and its been pointed out to me that Parliament is working its way through them at a cracking pace. Unless MPs and researchers come up with some new ones, they might run out!

So, here's a plan: we could come up with some ideas for bills here, and then try and sell them to the politicians. An example of grassroots democracy in action.

The ideal Member's Bill is short - two pages at most, including the explanatory note. It must be extremely simple to understand, and therefore have a clear and limited aim - like repealing blasphemy or sedition, for example (for professional examples, see Jeanette Fitzsimons's Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill, or Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill). We're not trying to fundamentally change the world - just one small part of it.

So, any suggestions? What would you like to see changed?

(Useful resources: legislation.govt.nz)

Update: Bump. I'm keeping this at the top of the page over the next few days to give a decent chance for discussion. Otherwise it'll just get lost...


NZ's abortion legislation is a disgrace. I'd want legislation that:

1. Got abortion out of the Crimes Act
2. Got rid of the certifying consultants, tests for abortion and the Abortion supervisory committee.
3. Removed the requirement that abortion must take place is specicially licensed clinics, there should be no more restrictions on places where abortions were performed than any other medical procedure.
4. guarantees a women's right to choose.

It'd be that rare thing, a private members bill that saves the government money

Posted by Maia : 3/25/2006 12:58:00 AM

1. Amend MMP to list 125 seats only
2. Abolish local government above community board level, transfer competencies to national ministries (roading to Transit NZ, public transport to Transport, parks and reserves to DOC, water/sewage to Environment, planning to community boards, etc) - replace rates with local income tax/GST transfer from central Govt to local board
3. Join the EU and euro

Posted by Hans Versluys : 3/25/2006 10:28:00 AM

"a private members bill that saves the government money"

I understood that was precisely what Barbara Stewart's 100 MP bill was designed to do.

Not to mention (looking through NRT for a list of other bills - great work BTW):

Pita Paraone's drinking age bill;
Bob Clarkson's DIY builders bill;

Actually, okay, not that many of them...

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/25/2006 12:49:00 PM

Uroskin: Can I say that I was hoping for... smaller? And simpler?

1) could be done (didn't MMP start as a member's bill?) - but because of s268 of the Electoral Act, would require a referendum or a 75% majority. You'd need to convince a lot of people of the virtues of a list-only system, though (I presume 125 MPs is to give a nice, round threshold?)

As for 2), I don't know enough about local government to even know where to begin. 3) is really a foreign policy decision first, to be ratified by later legislation, and would of course require being invited by actual EU members.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/25/2006 10:35:00 PM

Maia: that's also somewhat bigger than I was looking for. It's also a worthy subject, and one I suspect a government would rather handle by Member's Bill rather than a government bill, simply for deniability.

Given what you're suggesting, it would be better to be a new bill rather than an amendment bill, so it would require substantial drafting (has any NGO got an example, I wonder?) It would closely mirror the existing Act up until s9. But then what? If sections 10-45 (and particularly 18, 32-34 and 37) are repealed (along with parts of the Crimes Act), does that make abortion an ordinary medical procedure subject to whatever laws those are governed under (and what laws are those anyway)?

You'd need a mirror of s9 saying that employees or lenders can't demand an abortion of anyone, and possibly some form of general protection clause. And a restatement of s46 protecting conscientious objection.

As for the Crimes Act, everything is done in terms of "unlawfully" performing an abortion or supplying the means. And the definition of that term (is s187A) could simply be amended to say it is unlawful unless the mother consents.

So, who do you think would take such a bill, and do you think it would have the numbers? In the past, there's been no appetite among politicians to restrict access to abortion. But would they vote to liberalise it, in light of the political shitstorm such would create?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/25/2006 11:20:00 PM

capital gains tax on houses.

Maia's reforms to abortion are ok - reducing beurocracy is good and we have reduced those controls to beurocracy. I suggest in addition you make the women pay for the abortion (via an abortion loan if required). That may counter the potential for a leap in the number of abortions.
Uroskins 1 is on 2 sounds ridiculously complex (but has a valid root to it) 3 is a little insane (not good to fix your currency to a highly disimilar economy).

Posted by Genius : 3/26/2006 10:21:00 AM

oh yeah and europe is a sinking ship.

Posted by Genius : 3/26/2006 10:23:00 AM

I'm pretty sure it would pass, there's been a majority for change in parliament for a very long time.

The problem would be finding someone who was prepared to bring it forward. No front bench Labour person could, it's supposedly part of the unwritten coalition agreement with United Future. And the Greens don't have policy on the issue. It's times like these you miss the Alliance (even though Laila Harre is probably don't more good where she is now than she would in parliament).

Probably your only choices are a backbench Labour MP who has decided they hate parliament and don't want to come back, or a backbench National MP without too many ambitions (it isn't beyond the bounds of possibility, given that the new crop are supposed to be more socially liberal).

I think 3 might require a change to the Hospital Act as well. I'll have to do some research.

It's difficult because if you want to guarantee access you have to make sure that abortion is performed for free. There are a lot of so called pro-choicers on the conservative side of the house who would have no problem voting against a section that said the state should pay for abortion. So it may be better to leave it as it is, as hospital services are free.

I'll have a look at the legislation some more and consider it.

Posted by Maia : 3/26/2006 01:12:00 PM

The levels at which a person can earn while on a benefit before their benefit decreases should be CPI linked (possibly recalulated yearly)

I doubt it would go though because the status quo is one of those creeping money savers. I'd still like to see who'd argue against it.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/26/2006 03:21:00 PM

I can't think of anything very precise at the moment but something beneficiary linked might be good on the principle that that legislation is not nearly as scrutinised as it could be. I'm not very up on it myself but I've heard rumours that people with mental illnesses find it very hard to access information as to their rights.

Another possibility might looking at the definition of employee in the ERA and submitting it should be substituted with the concept of worker as has been done in the UK (I think). Why this matters is that a number of statutory protections flow from the status of employee but it is arguable the protections should apply to a broader group ie. workers.

Also, related to that something should be done about triangular relationships ie. temps and other agency workers who firstly aren't defined as employees and secondly have no clear employer to proceed against if things go wrong.

Posted by Amanda : 3/26/2006 10:41:00 PM

Make Tea Not War, the worker idea is a really good one. I was wondering if a solution to the temp situation might be to define the company that has the day-to-day supervision of someone as having an employment relationship and some responsibilities of that relationship.

lerc, linking the rates of the CSC with the minimum wage would also be a good idea. Come wednesday, if you're over 18 and flatting with people as long as you have a full-time job, you won't be elligble for a community services card. Of course all these ideas wouldn't get anywhere because the government can just veto them.

I've thought about my abortion legislation a little more and I've figured out what it would involve.

1. Repeal all abortion section in the Crimes Act
2. Change section 29 so that abortions need only be authorised by one certifying consultant.
3 Change section 30 delete every section but section (1) and make the only criteria for being a certifying consultant, that they are prepared to perform an abortion on any woman who meets the criteria set out in the Crimes Act.
4. Changes section 32 (1) so that it says that if a woman seeks an abortion her doctor must refer her to a certifying consultant, delete every other clause of that section.
5. Rewrite section 133 so that it says an abortion shall be authorised by a certifying consultant if it is with the woman's consent, and if continuation of the pregnancy is more of a danger than abortion.
6. Delete section 34
7. Delete section 44

It's not ideal legislation, by any means, it steals Britain's fiddle, but with less administration. But it resembles the current practice pretty well.

Posted by Maia : 3/27/2006 12:59:00 AM

That's not the criteria set out in the Crimes Act but the Criteria set out in section 33 of this legislation.

Posted by Maia : 3/27/2006 01:00:00 AM

Oh dear Genius - I'm off to Germany as we speak. Do you think I should have brought my own food in case there are shortages - will the power be cutting out - and will I be mugged and shot by rampaging mobs? Will I need a wheelbarrow for Euro notes due to rampant inflation.

Or will it be like it usually is with most people having decent houses and cars, good public transport and a stable currency?

Posted by Rich : 3/27/2006 01:56:00 AM

well if you go to france you might be mugged by a rampaging mob - but more seriously you have confused "sinking" with "located on the bottom of the ocean". A common misconception.

In the short term of course europe does have some nice subsidies and so forth which seem to benefit the smaller countries so you could milk them for a while and then defect.

Posted by Genius : 3/27/2006 10:27:00 AM

Maia: that's the real problem. The politicians benefit from the current status quo because no-one has to take a position on it and they can avoid a shitstorm, and so no-one has any interest in rocking the boat. And if the alternative is seeing access limited only to the rich, then it probably is better to leave things as they are.

As for your suggested changes, I think the sections in the Crimes Act should stay, with a different definition of unlawful - the reason being that forced abortion seems to be a crime worthy of its own mention. But in that case it should be made clear that consent is vital - while its implied by s61 and 61A of the Crimes Act, its not unequivocal.

I'm also not sure whether "continuation of the pregnancy is more of a danger than abortion" is a relaxation. Remember, changing the wording means chucking the caselaw, which makes it contestable, and so it needs to be absolutely clear what the intent is.

Other than that, one certifying consultant and a liberalisation of the grounds is an improvement. Should we try drafting it sometime?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/27/2006 12:39:00 PM

My Tax reform bill:
Remove the punitive tax regime on people who hold second jobs. It encourages the black economy, discourages hard work and in our contemporary low wage economy it makes it difficult for hard working, working poor to get ahead through sheer bloody hard work.

A Capital gains tax on any third or subsequent domestic property. Currently we have an investment regime that encourages speculation in property and the Kiwi dream is multiple mortgages at 30-35 so you can semi-retire and become a member of a parasitic rentier class at 50-55. Banks invest not in production but in mortgages, which are literally as safe as houses. At the same time, give tax breaks to venture capitalists. Signal that people should invest in productivity, not landlordism.

Remove GST on books and food basics - it can't be that hard the British manage it.

Move towards a Universal Living Allowance.

My Electoral reform bill:
State funding of political parties and the outlawing of blind trusts for campaign contributions - Let the people see who is funding whom. Forbid secondary campaigning a la Exclusive Brethren within 3 months of a general election. Fix the date of the election. Extend the current term from three to four years. Abolish the Maori seats.

My Media reform bill:
The media demands it be given power without responsibility. Forbid any one company controlling more than 30% of the print, radio or terrestrial TV market individually. Sell off TVNZ and keep TV2 as the charter & minority interest channel. Re-nationalise the Telecommunications infrastructure and allow full competition for access.

Posted by Sanctuary : 3/27/2006 01:05:00 PM

Lerc: that would be a good change, and one that's more in the size I was looking for. I'm just not sure how to attack it. Rates for benefits and the income tests they are subject to are set in the schedules to the Social Security Act 1964. For example, Schedule 9 sets the unemployment benefit at various rates for various classes of people, generally (but not always) subject to "Income test 3". That test is defined in s3 ("Interpretation") as being a reduction of 70 cents for every dollar by which income exceeds $80/week.

Under s61H, the income thresholds (but not the rates of abatement) can be increased by Order In Council (meaning: the whim of Cabinet).

Looking at it, a bill could be designed which would a) update the thresholds since 2001, and b) pillage from s15 of the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001 to require an annual OIC to increase them in line with the CPI.

I should add that this is a fundamentally fair measure. But as Maia pointed out, it may be subject to the government's financial veto.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/27/2006 01:24:00 PM

I think Keith Locke may have had this in the ballot a number of years ago, but an International Treaties (Parliamentary Ratification) Bill seems a good liberal idea...

I suspect it'd have David McGee's support.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/27/2006 02:26:00 PM

Graeme: I'm fairly certain it has been, and yes, it would be a very good idea. As would a bill providing for a referendum to entrench the BORA (Keith's next after the Head of State (Referenda) Bill?)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/27/2006 03:02:00 PM

I propose a massive increase in the punishment for importing slave labour from third world countries.
such as seizing all the assets of companies that do it...
ok maybe somthign more thought out.. but still...

Posted by Genius : 3/27/2006 03:05:00 PM

I would like to see 161 MPs, with half being list and half being electorate (with the extra being an electorate MP)

Posted by Anonymous : 3/27/2006 04:23:00 PM

I am fully against abortions, however, I do agree that our current legislation doesn't reflect reality. I would however like to see the 20 week gestation period dropped down. 20 weeks is quite advanced for a fetus, and I would like to see it much lower.

Why? Because a few weeks later and those fetuses get born prematurely and they get treated, often with good results. The window between viable baby and fetus able to be aborted is just close.

Posted by Muerk : 3/27/2006 04:31:00 PM

Anon: Increasing the size of the House can be done very easily - but as with Uroskin's suggestion, fiddling in any way with the number of electorate MPs requires a referendum or a 75% majority. Apart from that, why 161?

As an evil thought, the 5% threshold is no more entrenched than the total number of MPs in the House, and could be amended by a simple majority.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/27/2006 05:52:00 PM

1) tax thresholds, all benefits and a number of other things should be automaticaly adjusted according to some measure of inflation.
It should all come in one go ideally.

2) yes everyone at all not using some sort of a trust like tax dodge is probably a mug. What it amounts to is a seperate tax rate for those with good accountants.
There is also a lot of people using companies to get fringe benefits and so forth.
then the problem comes down to enforcement since the lines get so fuzzy.
anyway like icehawk says simplicity is good. even the mugs should be getting a fair deal.

Posted by Genius : 3/27/2006 07:03:00 PM

The only solution to tax dodges is a flat tax rate with no exemptions, equal for buisiness and individuals; otherwise those in the know will always fit themselves into the exemptions.

The 5% electoral theshold needs to go, and we desperately need plain accountability and clear laws around campain finance.

Flat 5% duty on all imports while our balance of payments remains negative, as we are entitled to by treaty.

Invest the super fund firstly in local infrastructure, like lines, com-towers, roads, rail, ports, airports, and charge profitable rates on them to users as applicable: nationalising naturally monopolistic components of the economy to allow free competition on the rest.
Regional management of all of it.

Drug law reform, for government rather than black market control, using it to fully fund all required treatment of abusers.

Posted by tussock : 3/27/2006 07:58:00 PM

murek there is nothing in current abortion law that has any sort of time limit. If there is a time limit in New Zealand then it would be a soft one, after which it be harder to get certifying consultants to sign off. Or it would be caused by the limitations of different procedures we have. It has nothing to do with law.

I/S actually keeping abortion without consent in the crimes act would work. The changed wording to a greater danger is definately a relaxation, it's what they have in Britain, and so there's already quite a lot of relevant case law.

The other reason I like it is that with any other legislation there would be pressure to put in a time limit, and that time limit would be something that could be attacked. By setting that as the time limit then

I'll look at the British legislation more closely and get back to you.

Posted by Maia : 3/27/2006 11:55:00 PM


how many trusts would own houses if we got a capital gains tax on third houses? how many own them already?! (in anticipation?)

> Flat 5% duty on all imports while our balance of payments remains negative, as we are entitled to by treaty.

we are? hmmm cool. Better than our stupidly complex system at the moment anyway. 7.5% on one glove but 0% on a pair. (ok I'm exagerating but it is a bit like that with all the old tarriff concessions).

> Invest the super fund firstly in local infrastructure

I sugest investing it where it will give a good return. if that is infrastructure then cool - if infrastructure gives a bad return then no way. I guess interest groups tend to push government owned companies to act irrationally.

at the moment Id want the govt money offshore
1) so they can break telecom's back
2) the dollar will drop
3) to help the dollar drop

Posted by Genius : 3/28/2006 04:12:00 AM

Icehawk: playgrounds should be a school responsibility.
Genius: joining the euro would mean lower interest rates and a hedge against the US$ fall when commodity trading switches to Euros; EU membership would mean we can have a say in their development rather than being on the receiving end of it all the time, plus free access to all markets for labour, goods and capital. NZ has an associate membership invitation since 1973 when the UK joined but it was never taken up.

New Bills suggestions:
1. Lower the drinking age to 16 (with access to safe and supervised drinking areas such as pubs and youth clubs)
2. Increase the driving age to 18
3. Compulsory third party insurance
4. 10 yearly re-sitting of driving tests
(1 to 4 should be in one bill ideally)

Posted by Hans Versluys : 3/28/2006 02:08:00 PM

An idea I'd been kicking around in my head for a while, feel free to dribble with it, or boot it out if it's stupid - it's about cannabis law reform.

While a total overhaul of our drug laws is long overdue, this is merely an initial step towards a more sensible drug policy (i.e. one not influenced by United Future...).

The idea you ask? Well, something that has the effect of relaxing penalties for/police attention on individuals growing small amounts of cannabis in their home using hydroponics. Think about it - it could have the effect of decentralising cannabis production and supply, and hence control. It would severely weaken gang control over the industry by allowing individuals to avoid the criminal underworld in order to obtain cannabis.

This is based on the assumption (one that I assume people on this blog would make) that punitive laws cannot stop drug use, and that harm reduction is a more effective philosophy in drug policy.

And hey, as it would result in reduced contact with criminals, there would be less exposure to "P", which can only be a good thing, right?

Posted by Anonymous : 3/29/2006 09:52:00 PM

Sorry, forgot to sign the post above


Posted by Anonymous : 3/29/2006 09:53:00 PM

from a purely selfish point of view 1 cent to the US dollar will do me jsut fine! But if it is dropping anyway from the countries point of view you are right that there is no need to push it.

I would like to see our long run average slightly below the PPP rate. Good for exporters - of course we also need more exporters to make that work.

> joining the euro would mean lower interest rates

No it would just mean THE WRONG interest rates. For example if europe is boming we will get high interest rates even if we are in a depresion.

> and a hedge against the US$ fall when commodity trading switches to Euros

What about when it switches to Yuan?
And are you really trying to get NZ cripled by a massive rise in our currency destroying our export sector? what are the odds we would be buffered by a good internal economy like we were this time?

> EU membership would mean we can have a say in their development

There is that

> plus free access to all markets for labour, goods and capital.

the problem being they are quite far awayand it would presumably prevent us from achieving similar ties with closer countries that we would want to trade with more.

> NZ has an associate membership invitation since 1973 when the UK joined but it was never taken up.

I guess you could do it for the political power eh?

> Lower the drinking age to 16

OK.. but why?

> Increase the driving age to 18

surely this isnt progressive it is more er.. regressive.

> Compulsory third party insurance

This is also "regressive"

> 10 yearly re-sitting of driving tests

and this

I dont think that would help a lot - i.e. it would only make a very small difference.
Maybe if you did it at the same time as cracking down on gangs?

Also maybe there are other strategies available - for example - I wonder if there is a potential to flood the market with legal product that looks almost identical to the illegal product.

Posted by Genius : 3/30/2006 07:50:00 AM

Some clarifications:
1. Lower the drinking age to 16 (with access to safe and supervised drinking areas such as pubs and youth clubs): most of Europe has this, if you're old enough to have sex you should be able to have a beer too.
2. Increase the driving age to 18: it would do wonders to adolescent obesity rates if they went on a bike rather than by car to school. It would solve Auckland's traffic problem (there is no gridlock in school holidays) and boost patronage for public transport. Again, most of Europe has this.
3. Compulsory third party insurance: a no-brainer and would elevate driving to a privilege rather than a right. The free market (insurance companies) would price bad drivers off the road.
4. 10 yearly re-sitting of driving tests: again, driving rules change, motorways get built, eyesight deteriorates, brains fail. Why does your car need a WOF but you don't? (While we're at it, we could follow Singapore and ban all cars older than 10 years to ensure better technology, fuel consumption and less emission)

Some more Bill ideas:
1. Lower the voting age to 16 (if you work and have pay tax, you should have a say over how that tax is spent)
2. reform the lifestyle drug laws so there is appropriate and safe access to all of them (to cut the criminal gang's extreme profits and be able to sue your dealer under the Consumer Guarantees Act if he sells you dodgy gear)

Posted by Hans Versluys : 3/30/2006 11:29:00 AM

Ammendment to the Electoral Act 1993 to allow preferential voting.

This would require ammending section 168 - Method of voting (requiring 75% support, so not very likely to suceed).

The voter may write numbers within the circle immediately after the name, for both the party vote and the electorate vote, with a "1" indicating first preference, and subsequent numbers indicating subsequent preferences. If there is a gap in numbering, any subsequent numbers are to be discarded. If the same number is repeated, that number and any subsequent numbers are to be discarded. Discarding of numbers does not affect the validity of any previous numbers. If the voter writes a tick or other clear mark instead of a number, that mark is to be treated as a "1".

Computer-aided voting is permitted, but must print the vote on to a standard ballot paper to be checked and submitted by the voter. Any electronic record kept of voting has no official standing.

Sections 174, 178, 179, and 191 (possibly others, but those are the only ones I could spot on a quick scan) would also need to be ammended to allow for counting of preferential votes.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 3/30/2006 02:53:00 PM


you keep switching between arguments to achieve an aim at the cost of a right (like people needing to renew their licence, third party insurance, driving age) to asserting a right at the cost of an aim (like lowering the drinking age and legalizing drugs).

In your world the argument would become things like "if I can vote why can't I drive?" / "why is reducing traffic enough reason to deny me a right to a car?".

2) I suggest you threaten to sue your drug dealer if he gives you dodgy gear anyway. It might get a response.

Posted by Genius : 3/30/2006 06:18:00 PM

Icehawk: I think that's the best idea from the whole thread - and one we can push hard on. But wouldn't it be better if it was the Maori Party introducing it?

Of course, there's the financial veto - but the government doesn't have to use it, and this would be a very effective way of calling their bluff.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/30/2006 11:05:00 PM

Genius, it's called achieving a public good by removing obstacles put there in an age long gone, such as a drinking age way out of line with what people want - prohibition never worked on adults so why should it on 16 to 20 year olds?. If one wants a referendum on the drinking age one should ask 18 and 19 year olds only.
Bringing the black drugs market into the general economy (with associated consumption taxes, trade regulations and consumer protections - The Consumers Institute should cover current black market items after legalising the lot first - and put any dodgy sellers out of business); linking paying tax to political consciousness (voting at age 16); healthier and better looking bodies by physical activity instead of driving, which has mostly negative effects for our balance of payments, health service and road building programmes. Driving at an age when you can afford it and insurance companies are willing to cover you and it doesn't necessarily have to be 18. ome insurance companies might think you're not safe enough behind the wheel under age 25 and would adjust their premiums accordingly, a perfect free market solution.

Posted by Hans Versluys : 3/31/2006 11:09:00 AM