Saturday, September 16, 2006

In the ballot XV

Another batch of Member's Bills currently in the ballot. Previous batches are indexed here:

Sale of Liquor (Objections to Applications) Amendment Bill (George Hawkins): This would amend the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 to require every applicant for an on- or off-licence (meaning bars and restaurants) to conduct an evaluation of the social and economic effects of their proposed activities, and extend public rights of objection to any affected party (rather than the current situation where they are limited to anyone having "a greater interest in the application than the public generally"). The possible grounds of objection would also be extended.

Local Government (Rates Poll Demand) Amendment Bill (Rodney Hide): This bill is part of Rodney Hide's project to become the local Grover Norquist, and drown local government in the bathtub. It would amend the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002 to allow ratepayers to demand a local referendum on rate increases in excess of inflation. The poll itself is designed for maximum disruption - it must be held in the year in which the new rates apply (rather than before they are introduced) and requires refunds to ratepayers if successful. The aim is clearly to deter rate increases with the threat of additional costs and hassle. How local government is supposed to pay for the additional roads ratepayers and ACT politicians are clamouring for is left unstated.

Treaty Of Waitangi (Removal of Conflict of Interest) Amendment Bill (Pita Paraone): This bill would amend the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 to forbid serving judges of the High Court of Maori land Court from sitting on the Waitangi Tribunal. Currently, the Act requires that the chairperson of the Tribunal be a Judge or retired Judge of the High Court or the Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court, and allows the chairperson to appoint a Judge of the Maori Land Court as deputy chair. This provides the Tribunal with specialist legal expertise, but also creates the potential for a conflict of interest - particularly if the Tribunal becomes involved in an issue which had previously been before a judge in the courts (as it was in the case of the foreshore and seabed). I've yet to see any evidence of this actually happening - for example there was no overlap of personnel in the foreshore and seabed claim - but the poential is definitely there. NZ First's solution to this potential problem is to eliminate it by replacing sitting judges with retired ones. However, I'm not sure that's necessary. The general rule in the judiciary is that where a judge has a conflict of interest - where for example they would be ruling on an appeal against a case they have sat on - they stand aside. I see no reason why this couldn't (and wouldn't) be practiced by judges sitting on the Waitangi Tribunal.

As usual, I'll have more bills as they trickle in.