Friday, October 29, 2010

The fastest legislature in the west strikes again

Back in 1979, in his book Unbridled Power, then-law lecturer Geoffrey Palmer infamously called the New Zealand Parliament "the fastest legislature in the west". The lack of checks and balances around the use of urgency allowed a law to go from an idea in the mind of a Minister to the law of the land in 24 hours.

We've just had a potent demonstration that Palmer was right, in the form of the Hobbit Enabling Act. The bill made far-reaching changes to industrial relations law for workers involved in film and video game production, effectively stripping them of all employment rights. It was drafted on Wednesday night, introduced at 15:00 Thursday, rammed through all stages under urgency, and passed just before 13:00 today.

This isn't the first time National has done this to us. This time last year, National had rammed through nine controversial policy bills by abusing urgency in this fashion. They had forced low-paid workers into a 90-day fire at will period, amended campaign finance rules to advantage themselves, removed bail rights, and forced the SuperCity upon Auckland, all without any chance for the public to consider these changes, let alone have a say on them. Since then, they've also abolished democracy in Canterbury, allowed the police to make laws as well as enforce them, exempted Corrections from the RMA to allow them to house prisoners in substandard conditions, and made Gerry Brownlee a dictator with powers to amend any law as he sees fit.

This has to stop. There is occasional need for urgency powers. But they do not exist to allow the government of the day to inflict their policies by surprise on the public. National is using them to systematically abuse our democracy, and us, its citizens. We should not tolerate it any longer.