8 May 2019

Parliament's to do list: Wednesday May 8: "It ain't over till..."

From The House , 9:00 am on 8 May 2019

Parliament is Government’s pesky boss, keeping a hawk-like watch on spending and performance.

And every year the House of Representatives spends months cross-examining agencies and departments on both; a process which ends with a ten-hour long debate about what those reviews discovered.

It’s long but it’s spread over a few days (so other legislation can make an appearance as well). That gives everyone a breather.

National MP David Bennett

The Annual Review debate is divided into topic sections, with each section led off by a Committee Chair, like the National Party's David Bennett (Chair, Primary Production Committee). The chairs must speak on behalf of the cross-party committee not for their own party, which seems harder than it sounds. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Question time - 2pm

The fastest moving part of a sitting day with 12 questions to Ministers. Opposition MPs will try to catch the government out while government party MPs will throw softer questions to give a Minister the chance to boast.

Follow up questions are the norm but at the discretion of the Speaker Trevor Mallard who has been known to award and remove when MPs misbehave.

Taupatupatu Whānui    - The General Debate     3pm(ish)

What

  • Twelve speeches of up to five minutes in length. Bigger parties get more speeches.

Why

  • The general debate allows MPs to bring up issues that debates on legislation don’t cover, making it a wide-ranging debate. Sometimes each party coordinates their talking points but they don’t have to. There’s fewer rules generally and it can be both raucous and entertaining.

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Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The Annual Review Debate (part 2)

What:

  • The official title is the Appropriation (2017/18 Confirmation and Validation) Bill but it’s more commonly referred to as the Annual Review Debate (which saves on spending half the debate describing it).

  • Ten hours of debate spread out over a few days

  • The “confirmation” and “validation” words in the title are key to the purpose of this bill. It’s technically a sign off on spending over the past financial year but also a check that government agencies did what they were meant to do.

Who:

  • Minister of Finance Grant Robertson is in charge of this bill, but any Minister can be asked questions and called for explanations about their area’s performance.

Why:

  • This bill is a regular part of Parliament’s financial cycle. The bill confirms the spending of the previous financial year but asks as an excuse for select committees to investigate the performance of all of the different parts of government.

  • Various heads of departments (like DHBs or ACC) are called to front up to select committees for a couple of months at the beginning of each year. They are grilled and asked to justify their ministry, department or agency’s spending and performance.

  • This debate is on the reports written about those investigations.

  • The Government party MPs will likely talk about how well it’s done and perhaps blame any failings on the previous government. Opposition MPs will likely focus on the flaws and talk about how much better they’d do if they were in charge.

But why really?:

  • Transparency. Annual reviews and this debate are done in the open so the public can see what’s going on.

Education Minister, Chris Hipkins

Education Minister, Chris Hipkins Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Stay in the sand pit till you’re five - committee stage

What:

  • The Education Amendment Bill (No 2).

  • This follow up bill of adjustments for education makes a number of changes including: adding student safety to the requirements for registration of private schools; preventing the Education Council from unilaterally changing the qualification requirements for teachers; expanding the provision of distance education through communities of online learning; ensuring that the option of ‘cohort entry’ (beginning in groups, not one by one on their birthday) for new-entrants doesn’t mean children start school before they are 5 years old.

  • This bill has now reached the committee stage where the details are discussed and changes suggested.

Who:

  • Minister of Education Chris Hipkins is in charge of this bill

Why:

  • That cohort change will mean that schools will now be able to opt for start-of-term or mid-term cohort entry (of all new students who turned five since the last cohort began school). This is because some children were starting school up to two months before they turned five (to be in the cohort closest to their birthday).

Housing damaged by the Christchurch earthquake

Housing damaged by the Christchurch earthquake Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Resolving earthquake insurance complaints - committee stage

What:

  • The Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal Bill
  • The Bill sets up a tribunal to help resolve insurance claims between policyholders and insurers, people with insurance and the Earthquake Commission. Claims have to relate to damage caused by the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.
  • A bill that's up for its committee stage is nearing the end of it’s journey through the House. A committee stage is when a bill is pulled apart and examined to make sure it will do what it promises to do.

Why:

  • The tribunal will aim to help solve long-standing insurance claims to help policyholders and insured people “obtain some closure” so they can move on with their lives.
  • First readings are usually a chance to outline the Bill and debate its purpose before it’s sent to a select committee for public consultation (if it passes the first reading).

Who:

  • Minister for Courts Andrew Little is in charge of this bill.

 Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier (center), Deputy Ombudsman Compliance  and Practice Emma Leach (left) and Chief Inspector OPCAT Jacki Jones, (right) speak to the Law and Order Committee about the illegal restraint of at-risk prisoners.

Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier (center), with Deputy Ombudsman Compliance and Practice Emma Leach (left) and Chief Inspector OPCAT Jacki Jones, (right) speaking in 2017 to the then Law and Order Committee about the illegal restraint of at-risk prisoners. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

What’s in a name? - first reading

What:

  • The Ombudsman (Protection of Name) Amendment Bill

  • The Bill will make sure that only an official ombudsman appointed under the Ombudsman Act can be called ‘Ombudsman’. Some exemptions are possible for private sector positions like the Banking Ombudsman and the Insurance & Financial Services Ombudsman.

Who:

  • Minister of Justice Andrew Little is in charge of this bill.

That’s the plan for today. To see how far through the House gets visit the Parliament website’s daily progress report here.