Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More on secret legislation

Last night I pointed out that the government's anticipated pre-election urgency included an unpleasant surprise: an unspecified, secret government bill, to be passed through all stages. All-stages urgency is normally used for urgent patch-up bills (for example, the Duties of Statutory Officers (Census and Other Remedial Provisions) Bill, which shifts the census cycle in response to the Christchurch earthquake), but such bills have never been kept secret until the present government. When Labour needed to pass such a bill (and all governments do), they took urgency for it, openly and publicly.

Last night I had a rather heated discussion about this over Twitter with Labour's Trevor Mallard. Surprisingly, he defended the secrecy, on the basis that it was required to prevent people from exploiting whatever loophole the law is designed to patch. My problem with this is that it is essentially security through obscurity (which isn't), at the cost of the transparency on which our democracy - and parliament's legitimacy - depends. But its also fundamentally misguided. After all, if the legislation is important enough that even its name must be kept secret to avoid people exploiting the loophole it is designed to fix, it is important enough to be passed immediately. Every argument for secrecy is an argument for speed, for putting that item of business first in the package of bills urgency is granted for.

By doing things in secret, the government (and Mallard) are privileging the convenience of politicians over transparency and good lawmaking. They are undermining our democracy, and failing to do their jobs properly. And that is something we should not tolerate from them.