A new process allowing members’ bills with the formal backing of 61 backbench MPs to sidestep the wait to be drawn from the ballot is being blocked despite broad support
Parliament’s Speaker is disappointed party politics is being put ahead of fast-tracking good legislation.
A new process was introduced last year which allows members’ bills that have the formal backing of 61 backbench (non-executive) MPs to sidestep having to wait to be drawn from the ballot.
The change to standing orders, designed to speed up the legislative process, means under this Parliament a members’ bill needs broad support from both Labour and National.
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Parliament’s Office of the Clerk confirmed that so far, none have surpassed this hurdle.
Speaker Trevor Mallard told Newsroom he had hoped the new rule would lead to better legislative proposals coming through from the backbenches.
“It is something I promoted, and I’ve been disappointed at the use of caucus mechanisms to block bills where there is broad support from Parliament for getting them into the system,” he said.
“The objective of this was to basically stop more of the nonsensical political bills where they had no hope whatsoever of going through, and stuff which is pretty basic government law reform which should be in one of the law reform bills or statutes revisions.
“It’s a responsibility of both caucuses to decide whether they want to actually have a mechanism which can improve the Parliament and improve the debate and improve the quality of the legislation.”
A case in hand is Labour MP Louisa Wall’s Protection of Journalists’ Sources Bill which will have to wait, perhaps indefinitely, to be drawn from the ballot after National refused to support it being fast-tracked.
This is despite agreeing with it in principle.
Wall said the proposed legislation would ensure “the press have comprehensive protection under the law to hold the powerful to account”.
The bill was inspired by the raid police made on journalist Nicky Hager’s house in an attempt to uncover the identity of the infamous whistle-blower, Rawshark.
“The reality is there will be bills where we agree with them quite often, but that’s not a reason to privilege them.”
– Simon Bridges
National’s justice spokesperson Simon Bridges said he personally agreed with the bill’s sentiments and his party was likely to vote for it at first reading.
But fast-tracking was “a big call for National” because it wants to see its own bills progress and not another member’s.
“I certainly wouldn’t say never. There may be instances but it’s not going to be something we will be doing every other week,’’ Bridges told Newsroom.
“The reality is there will be bills where we agree with them quite often, but that’s not a reason to privilege them.
“I think that other parties in the end, they might say it differently, but I think they will take a similar approach.”
Bridges described the members’ bill process as “a competitive lottery” and National’s best strategy was simply to stack the ballot with as many bills as possible.
“We’ve got 33 MPs, so every one of them should try and have a bill in there on something they feel strongly about.
“I’ve been lucky this year for the first time ever actually I’ve had one pulled on tax issues.
“I’m looking to put another one in and that’s the best way to get Opposition bills up.”
He put it back on the Government that if an issue was important, it should be picking it up as a government bill.
“That to me would be putting your money where your mouth is if you like.”
Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi says while Labour’s caucus fully supports Wall’s bill, his ministry is busy responding to the Royal Commission of Inquiry and working on election commitments like conversion therapy and alcohol reform.
“I think that makes the runway pretty busy at the moment,’’ he said.
Wall is well-versed at cross-party dialogue and remains hopeful of finding a way through for her bill.
“One of the other bills I’ve been involved with in my time at Parliament is female genital mutilation, which required an amendment to the Crimes Act.
“That was done in my capacity as co-chair of the cross-party women’s group and we created another mechanism through the business committee where each party was able to nominate a person whose name went on the bill and because it had universal agreement it was approved by the House and we were able to circumvent the ballot.
“So that’s what I would hope if I can’t secure 61 backbench MPs to support my bill,’’ she said.