6 Dec 2017

Spring cleaning the order paper

From The House , 6:55 pm on 6 December 2017

When a new administration enters the Beehive they generally arrive with a long list of things they want to achieve - and therefore legislation they plan to enact.


But writing laws is not fast; and while a back-bencher might hypothetically jot out a members bill on the back of a napkin, ministers have processes to follow and ministries to consult.


Hopeful parties can’t easily rack up legislation in hope of winning an election, because they only get access to ministry experts or the Legislative Drafting Office once they assume office.


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The Order Paper - the debating chamber's agenda. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox



So, for the first few weeks of most new governments, there can be a paucity of fresh legislation to take to the House. This is a talking point opposition MPs has been noting regularly.


When they arrived in the Beehive the new Labour-led Government had a couple of previous Members Bills in their back pocket to be going on with, but not much else.


Except for everything else.  

There is a lot of legislation that isn’t political or contentious. It’s law that calmly gets passed without anyone really noticing. Either because everyone thinks its useful - or because it’s dull - sometimes both.

It’s the 'boring but important' legislation that keeps the wheels turning on the machinery of Government, and it gets passed whoever is in government.


And there is a lot of it.


The Order Paper lists the bills currently up for debate in the House. Currently there are 25 bills on that list. The list grows as new bills get introduced, and shrinks as bills are passed or sent to Select Committee after their first reading.


Bills that are useful or necessary but hardly earth shattering, can easily find themselves gathering dust at the bottom of the Order Paper. There's always something else more important.


Which makes a quiet period very useful in churning through that legislation. And this is a quiet period.


So on Tuesday a hefty six different bills got attention in the House. Four of them completed a swift first reading and were whisked off various Select Committees for closer inspection.


Swifter than usual because the opposition was happy for business to proceed as quickly as possible. At one point National MP and former Leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee asked the House to give leave (to give unanimous permission to ignore the House's usual rules of procedure), so that five bills high on the Order Paper could proceed directly to their third (and final) debate.


It was a busy day and an impressive clearance rate, with the Opposition speeding the way in the apparent hope that the Government would run out of Legislation they were ready to progress.