Friday, February 21, 2014


The government introduced another Statutes Amendment Bill this week - the fourth this term (or possibly, the fourth at once). Statutes Amendment Bills are supposed to be for amendments that are "technical, short, and non-controversial" - basically, minor clarifications and drafting errors. To enforce this, they are effectively passed by leave: if anyone objects to a clause at the Committee Stage of the bill, it is automatically struck out.

In the Herald, "the Insider" raises concerns about the bill's proposed amendment to the Ombudsmen Act, which updates the rules around when an Ombudsman can refuse to investigate a complaint. Comparing the current and new versions shows that the only difference is allowing the Ombudsman to refuse to investigate or further investigate when it is unnecessary. This doesn't seem controversial at all, and reflects existing practice, particularly around e.g. complaints of late OIA responses (where often mere notification that a complaint has been lodged will cause the information to miraculously appear).

The bill also makes minor tweaks to the OIA and LGOIMA, but these also appear to be non-controversial: defining legal privilege, further clarifying that an OIA or LGOIMA request doesn't have to refer to either Act and can be made in any form, allowing part-transfers, clarifying that documents may be made available electronically, inserting a "reasonable efforts" provision in "file not found" refusals, and specifically stating that a late response is grounds for complaint to the Ombudsman. Again these amendments reflect current practice (some even seem unnecessary), and are non-controversial.

However, there is one section which should be highly controversial: the proposed amendments to the Tokelau (Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone) Act 1977. These massively increase the penalties for foreign fishing in Tokelau's EEZ, by a factor of 167 for crew. Such an increase in penalties (and move away from a distinction between fishing companies and captains, who decide where to fish, and ordinary mooks, who don't) seems to be rather more than "technical". While its legislation that needs to be passed, this is not the vehicle for such a measure; the government should instead introduce a specific amendment bill for the purpose.