Thursday, November 30, 2006

In the ballot XIX

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

Criminal Cases Review Tribunal Bill (Richard Worth): This would establish an independent Criminal Cases Review Tribunal to investigate miscarriages of justice and if necessary recommend them to the Court of Appeal or to the Governor-General so that a pardon may be granted. The Tribunal would also recommend compensation where a miscarriage of justice is found to have occurred. The arrangements are modelled on the British Criminal Cases Review Commission.

This is a good bill which will add a useful safeguard to our justice system; I look forward to it being drawn or adopted by the government.

Public Works (Offer Back of and Compensation for Acquired Land) Amendment Bill (Te Ururoa Flavell): The Public Works Act 1981 empowers the government to acquire land where it is required for a public purpose (such as building a road). Currently, the law requires land taken by such a process to be offered back to the original owners when it is no longer required for public use. This bill would make four major changes. Firstly, it would tighten restrictions on government use, requiring land to be offered back the moment it is not required for the original purpose for which it was taken (so no more taking land for one purpose and then sitting on it), and removing the crown's excuses for not doing so. Secondly, where land was taken without compensation, it would be returned at no cost. Thirdly, it would extend the right of first refusal to the original owners' successors and descendents. Finally, it would provide for solatium payments to former owners as compensation for loss of opportunities where land taken is not used.

The primary target of this is of course crown acquisitions of Maori land under the Public Works Act, which frequently resulted in land taken for one purpose being used for another (or simply lying idle when the government changed its mind). But the underlying principles are fair, and it would require the government to be a lot more careful about compulsory acquisition.

However, there is some rather startling language at the end:

Any other consequential amendments to this or any other Act can be deemed to have been proposed should such be required to ensure that the purpose of this Act is upheld.

This is just cover for sloppy drafting. While lawmakers may miss crucial details (with unfortunate results, requiring retrospective legislation to paper over the mess), they should at least make the effort to do a proper job the first time, rather than just writing themselves a blank cheque.

Ethical Investment (Crown Financial Institutions) Bill (Maryan Street): This bill would require the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, the Government Superannuation Fund and ACC to pursue ethical investment strategies which take into account social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and international human rights norms. It would also require them to report on the extent to which these criteria are taken into account in making investment decisions. If passed, it would be a strong statement of New Zealand's principles, and likely rule out crown investments in tobacco companies, in countries which abuse human rights, or in companies with a reputation for treating their workers badly or unsustainable environmental practices. It might even result in these CFIs joining the Carbon Disclosure Project.

As for how likely it is to pass, it would not have made it to the ballot unless the Labour caucus backed it. Throw in the Greens and possibly the Maori Party, and I suspect it will pass if drawn.

As usual, I'll have more bills as I acquire them.