Thursday, April 30, 2020

A new extreme for urgency

We're in a state of emergency at the moment, demanding a quick policy response from the government. So, you'd expect some use of parliamentary urgency as a result, and it might even be justified. But even expecting that, I was shocked today to see the government introduce an urgent bill, with no debate on the first or second readings, and no committee state. Its the most extreme urgency I have ever seen in our Parliament. It means there will be a debate, and a vote, but no real scrutiny, and no chance to correct the inevitable drafting errors. And of course, the opposition didn't even get to see the bill until earlier today (its now online, so the rest of us can see it as well).

Its as if the regular procedural abuses had become so normalised that they had to invent a new one just to stress that they were taking the pandemic seriously. Except that its not a way to get good legislation. Even the democratic fraud of an abbreviated select committee stage would have been preferable to this (and since it has retrospective application, its not as if that would make much of an implementation difference anyway).

In a crisis I expect some urgency, where required. I don't expect Parliament to essentially just give up on doing its job as a legislature and stop scrutinising legislation entirely. While this is a technical bill, it changes a very complicated area of law, which makes scrutiny essential just to avoid mistakes. This terrible process all but guarantees a fuckup, which will then no-doubt require equally urgent legislation to fix. Wouldn't it be better if the politicians did their jobs properly in the first place?