Monday, September 21, 2009

More urgency this week

I've just been told that Parliament will be going into urgency for the third week in a row. The good news is that this week they won't be eating Member's Day (though thanks to some strategic delays, there won't be anything much to debate anyway). Instead, they will be moving urgency after Question Time on Thursday so they can sit until midnight and send the government's ETS bill to select committee.

This actually seems to be a rare case where moving urgency to sidestep the normal rules is justified. Looking at the sitting calendar, the House goes into a three-week recess next week, and does not sit again until mid-October. If they followed normal procedure, the bill would have to be introduced, lie on the Order Paper until next sitting week, then be debated - meaning they wouldn't get a first reading until October 13 at the earliest. Using urgency lets them introduce bills immediately, meaning an extra three weeks for the select committee process, while still meeting their deadline to amend the ETS by the end of the year (though I should note there's still no need to sit till midnight; a first reading debate only takes two hours, and they could normally fit that in before the House rises at 6, unless Question Time is dragged out).

If the government restricted urgency to these sorts of circumstances, then I would have no problem with it. Instead, it highlights their recent abuse of the Parliamentary process to ram controversial legislation through while limiting debate in Parliament, the media and wider society - the Douglas "blitzkrieg" strategy. It is a strategy made possible by their easy majorities and compliant support parties, and a strong reminder of the necessity to hamstring governments to prevent a return of outright majoritarianism.