David Seymour missed his opportunity to block Parliament going into extended sitting over gun laws because he spent too long talking to media.
The ACT leader was explaining his opposition to the Government’s decision to expedite the Arms Amendment Bill.
Speaking for nearly seven minutes, Seymour appeared to realise he was running late. He cut off the last journalist’s question saying, “Folks, I’ve gotta go. They might introduce it before I can object.”
But he was too late: while he was speaking to journalists, the Leader of the House Chris Hipkins sought leave of the whole House to go into extended sitting.
This allows Parliament to read the bill for the first time today, rather than waiting the usual stand-down period of two days. It also speeds up the select committee process.
Such a motion needs to pass unanimously. Before the vote, National and independent MP Jami-Lee Ross had indicated they would vote with the Government on the motion, meaning Seymour would have unilaterally derailed the move.
Fronting media after his faux pas, a somewhat sheepish Seymour said: “It’s a tough time taking a stand some days.”
The MP claimed the Government had brought forward the motion to take advantage of his absence, while it had the majority required to go into urgency regardless of his absence.
“Clearly making myself available to the press and communicating with the public has been my downfall here – you won’t see me make that mistake again.”
“It’s something you’ve got to laugh off because it hasn’t changed the overall outcome, but it does tell you something about the Government’s true colours that they would manipulate the situation to seek leave while I wasn’t there.”
Asked about what he had learned from the experience, Seymour said he would not be “so responsive” to media in future: “Clearly making myself available to the press and communicating with the public has been my downfall here – you won’t see me make that mistake again.”
Hipkins was unapologetic about the move, saying his swiftness with the motion was a reflection of his eagerness to move ahead with government business.
“If you want to be a parliamentarian, you actually have to show up to Parliament, and there’s not a lot of point in grandstanding if you don’t actually show up.
“But ultimately I’m pleased because it means the select committee can now have some consideration of the bill, it can still be progressed with a degree of urgency which is what the Parliament and in fact the public of New Zealand have indicated they support.”
There would still be a “fairly intensive select committee examination” of the bill, Hipkins said.
“We want to get it right, but we want to get it done quickly.”
‘Illogical and hazardous’ pace
Talking to media ahead of the vote, Seymour said he opposed extended sitting because he thought the Government was moving too fast with the laws.
“The speed at which the Government is moving is illogical and hazardous,” he said in a statement circulated before Question Time.
He noted because the Government had an interim measure in place to make it almost impossible to purchase military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles, Parliament did not have to act with urgency, but could afford to take the time to consider the legislation.
The Government didn’t need Seymour’s support to get the bill passed and in force by April 12, its self-imposed target. Hipkins could have moved the house go into urgency to pass the bill, which would not have required unanimity from members.
The Arms Amendment Bill was tabled on Monday in response to the Christchurch terror attack of March 15. It will ban Military Style Semi-Automatic weapons and shotguns, with limited exceptions.
After the first reading of the bill this afternoon, the Finance and Expenditure select committee will meet at 5pm to hear submissions. Hipkins told Parliament the bill would return from the select committee to be read a second time next Tuesday.
New Zealand’s swift lawmaking has often given observers pause. With a simple majority, a Government can face relatively little objection to its legislative agenda relative to other democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom.
Seymour raised these concerns with journalists.
“The only difference between our democracy and a dictatorship is that the people have their say, they elect a Parliament that holds the Government accountable,” Seymour said.
What this Government is proposing to do is suspend, in all sincerity, public consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny of its law-making, so it can rush through a law in nine days. And I suspect this law-making is being done as much for CNN as for the safety of the New Zealand public,” he said.
He did not say his objection was politically motivated.
“I suspect this could be politically damaging; many people will be angry but as a parliamentarian who is elected to this Parliament, one of my duties is to defend the principles of this place, to defend the democratic principles that say: if you’re going to make a law with urgency, there better be a damn good reason, otherwise people deserve a say,” he said.
Seymour will still have the opportunity to oppose the bill when it is read for a first time this afternoon.