Friday, May 17, 2013

Another abuse of urgency

Parliament is currently in urgency to pass budget-related legislation. Usually, this is justified - for example, when raising taxes, or sending major policies to select committee. However, the government has included two bills in the urgency motion (for all-stages passage, no less), which do not seem to be justified.

The first - the Crown Minerals Amendment Act 2013 Amendment Bill - is a patch-up job on the Crown Minerals Amendment Bill they rammed through just a few weeks ago. It seems that National was in such a hurry they left significant flaws in the legislation. However, that in itself does not justify no select-committee scrutiny, especially when the amendments won't come into force for up to two years. There's plenty of time to send this to committee and make sure they're doing it properly this time. But to add insult to injury, the bill expands the Anadarko Amendment to apply to waters above the continental shelf but outside our EEZ - a legislative grab which may not be supported in international law (and which has BORA implications). Given the lack of scrutiny for the original amendments, you'd think this deserved some.

The second - the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill (No 2) - is worse. This is the government's response to the family carers in Atkinson & Others v Ministry of Health, and it is aimed at overturning that court victory so the government can pay family carers less than anyone else. The Attorney-General has given it a negative section 7 report on the grounds that it unlawfully discriminates on the basis of family status (not online yet), but it is being rammed through under all-stages urgency. Worse, the bill's Regulatory Impact Statement [PDF] - the primary mechanism for informing MPs of the consequences of their legislative actions - has been heavily redacted. So MPs are being expected to decide on a bill with serious human rights implications, in the absence of the legal advice which would tell them whether they are making the right choice.

Again, this is unacceptable. Human rights should not be violated under urgency, and to do so makes a mockery of the BORA's reporting process and again calls into question Parliament's right to legislate in this area. They are trusted to do so on the basis that they will only violate the BORA after thinking long and hard about it; every time they refuse to do that, they simply strengthen the case to take that right off them by making the BORA supreme law and giving the Supreme Court the power to overturn MP's lazy excesses. As for the RIS, it makes a mockery of the claim that Parliament's consent to this law is in any way "informed" - and by doing so it undermines the legitimacy not just of the law, but of Parliament as an institution. If Parliament is simply mushroomed by the government, then its votes carry no weight, and the laws it passes aren't. Its that simple. National's continued contempt for Parliamentary process is in danger of undermining our entire democracy. We should not let them get away with it.