Monday, May 12, 2008

Out of time?

The Herald's Claire Trevett breathlessly reports that the government may be running out of time to pass the emissions trading bill and other key legislation before the election:

With fewer than 37 sitting days left before Parliament is likely to dissolve for the election, Labour still has about 70 bills to push through.
Firstly, Ms Trevett should learn to count - and in particular distinguish between government, local and member's bills in committee while doing so. From my count the government has 22 bills currently before the House (of which 10 are "parked" and which it will not try to progress), and 32 in various select committees (of which two have been buried for more than two years and are going nowhere). So, that's 42 bills, not 70. Secondly and more importantly, the government has control of the Order Paper, so it can arrange business to suit itself. But thirdly and most importantly, the government is only interested in a handful of those bills. They have never had much of a legislative agenda this term, and three quarters of that legislation is makework, the ordinary day-to-day process of tweaking and updating legislation. And they will happily ignore that to get their "policy" bills through.

Important bills include the emissions trading bill (due out of committee on June 11), the biofuel bill (June 4), the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill (July 25), the Summary Offences (Tagging and Graffiti Vandalism) Amendment Bill (waiting below the line), the Immigration Bill (30 June) and possibly the Employment Relations (Breaks and Infant Feeding) Amendment Bill (July 22). Everything else is fluff. The Budget will neatly fill in time until the first of these bills pops out of committee, but after that they have plenty of time, precisely because the rest of their agenda is so light. It takes 6-7 sitting days from the report back to pass a bill (3 for it to lie on the table in accordance with SO 292, one for the second reading, one or two for the committee stage, and one for the third reading; remember Members' Days get in the way), so even the latest of these bills (due back in July) can be passed by the end of August if the government prioritises them. Which they will.

The only way these bills will not pass before the election is if, as Trevett speculates, they are held up in committee. But I don't think that's likely, particularly with the emissions trading bill. Yes, National could embarrass the government if it voted for a delay - but only at the cost of becoming responsible for the problem itself. And in the case of climate change policy, that is the last thing they want.