Monday, March 21, 2011

Proof of National's systematic abuse of urgency

I've been browsing the submissions to the triennial Review of Standing Orders, and discovered something interesting: the New Zealand Centre for Public Law has an "Urgency Project", the aim of which is to examine the use of urgency in the New Zealand Parliament. Their submission [PDF] makes for very interesting reading, particularly the statistical appendix, which has the data on every urgency motion (bar one) since digital Hansard records began in 1987. One thing it shows conclusively is that the current government is on track to become the worst ever in its abuse of urgency.

Don't believe me? Here's the graph of the percentage of total sitting hours taken under urgency. As you can see, they're right up there with pre-MMP governments:


And here's the graph of the number of bills taken through all stages under urgency, with no select committee process. And National's figures are only for their first two years:


As the Urgency Project points out, the abuse of urgency undermines the democratic legitimacy of legislation. National has used it consistently to ram controversial legislation through while stifling debate. And while they say it is all about getting extra sitting hours and "making the House work harder", it is extremely telling that their sessional order to gain that extra sitting time without procedural abuse has languished on the Order Paper for over a year. They're not interested in fixing the problem - because then their abuse would be even clearer.

(The Urgency Project makes some extremely useful suggestions on how to resolve these problems, including an investigation into sitting hours and a distinction in Standing Orders between "extra time" and true urgency. But the abusive legislative habits of this government do not bode well for reform).