Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tuesday is over

And they're done. After a marathon five-day sitting under urgency, Parliament has finally risen and gone home for the weekend. The normal passage of time has reasserted itself, and it is no longer Tuesday in the House (the politicians' presumption that time stands still under urgency has always amused me, and its a little reminiscent of Canute's attempt to command the tides. But I guess if a Pope can declare it not to be Friday because he wants to eat meat, then our MPs can pretend its still Tuesday in their little realm).

During that sitting, the government rammed through bills allowing 90 days of fire at will, imposing a crippling testing regime on primary schools, limiting the right to bail and increasing sentences for people who commit violence against children (which clearly includes smacking - bet the child beaters didn't expect that). None of these bills were so urgent they needed to be passed this week, and the govenment's refusal to send them to select committee was a gross abuse of our democracy. And they've paid for it; the goodwill Key had when he was elected has been significantly eroded.

(I am not including the government's self-interested tax-cuts in the above because it was a financial bill. Such bills don't normally get a select committee, and its entirely normal to pass them under urgency).

This rapid and secretive implementation of bad policy will hopefully come back to bite them. Select committees are useful - they find the mistakes and loopholes in legislation which its authors have overlooked. Thanks to the government's abuse of urgency, those mistakes wil have gone uncorrected. And when they emerge and cause problems - or when the inevitable stories about bad employers abusing probation, or schools neglecting education to focus on teaching National's moronic tests - people will remember that abuse. But the real worry here is that National will continue on this way. Over the last nine years, the realities of MMP and the democratic sensibilities of parties like the Greens and United Future have largely curbed the abuse of urgency that was so common under the previous National government. But with their support parties committed to backing them on procedural motions, and the help of the anti-democratic ACT Party (complete with the newly-reanimated Roger Douglas), National will not be limited in that way. And so we may see a return to the blitzkrieg tactics of the 80's and 90's, with policy being developed in secret and rammed through under urgency to bypass opposition and exclude the public from the democratic process. If that happens, National will likely be a one-term government. But it will be interesting to see if they are capable of recognising that.