Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Statutes Amendment Bill fail

This morning National introduced a new Statutes Amendment Bill. Statutes Amendment Bills are designed for "technical, short, and non-controversial" amendments, things like updating references or recasting archaic language (while keeping its meaning unchanged). As a result, they have a special Parliamentary procedure and tend to whizz through. But National can't help itself, so in addition to the expected sorts of amendments - including one to the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Act 2013 which makes it clear that the Speaker's powers include the power to determine travel payments to de-elected MPs so they can clean out their desks - they're also trying to introduce significant new secrecy powers to the Victims' Orders Against Violent Offenders Act 2014.

The powers are contained in three new sections and allow judges to clear the court and restrict publication of proceedings and identifying details - a prima facie BORA breach - when deciding such orders. Those powers may be a good idea. They may be justified (that BORA breach, while prima facie, is almost certainly a justifiable limitation in the interests of justice). But one thing they're certainly not is "technical, short, and non-controversial". Any new power, by definition, is not "technical", and any new secrecy power is certainly not "non-controversial" given the inherent controversy around name-suppression and its consistent protection of the rich and powerful. The upshot: these powers should not be passed using the Statutes Amendment Bill, but instead should go in their own Bill where they can be properly debated. And I'll be looking for an MP to stand up and veto them on those grounds in the committee stage.