19 Nov 2019

In Parliament this week

From The House , 6:55 pm on 19 November 2019

There are many things up for debate in Parliament this week, including wheel clamping, farm debt and loan sharks. Among the work load here are few of the key things to keep an eye out for:

Speaker Trevor Mallard chairing the Standing Orders Committee

Speaker Trevor Mallard chairing the Standing Orders Committee Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

OK, new rule...

  • What:     Sessional Order (a new rule for Parliament)
  • Who:      The Speaker and the Standing Orders Committee

On Tuesday Parliament will consider whether to adopt a proposed new rule. Parliament sets its own rules. (Despite this extraordinary power it has not mandated chocolate fountains.)

Parliament's rules (Standing Orders) are rejigged at the end of each Parliamentary term. But along the way the rules can be changed with sessional orders which last until the end of the current term. At that point they are either added to the Standing Orders or dropped. It's a useful way of trying things out.

There was a kerfuffle in September when the National Party was found to be breaking the rules over using official footage of Parliament for political advertising. As a result the Standing Orders Committee held a quick inquiry as to whether to change those particular rules. 

Their report suggests freeing up the use of the footage by political parties, so long as it’s not edited to be misleading. There’ll be an open-ended debate on the motion to adopt the new rule, before a vote by the House.

The most interesting thing about the new rule is that the period when they are most likely to be needed (during an election campaign) is when they become most toothless. Once Parliament is dissolved the Privileges Committee (which the rules rely on to uphold any ruling by the Speaker) ceases to exist.

Labour MP Dr David Clark in the House

Labour MP Dr David Clark in the House Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Mental Health Commission revivification

  • What:        Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission Bill
  • Who:         Minister of Health, David Clark

The Mental Health Commission was closed in 2012. In September new commissioners were announced to s prepare the way for a replacement commission (once legislation had enabled it). Now the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission Bill is before the House for an initial debate (first reading). 

The Bill describes the new Commission as contributing to “better mental health and wellbeing outcomes for people in New Zealand. It will also contribute to improving equity for Māori, Pacific peoples, disabled people, rainbow communities, and other groups that experience poorer mental health and wellbeing outcomes. The Commission will hold the current and future governments and other decision-makers to account for improving mental health and wellbeing, challenging them to perform better. The Commission will be established as an independent Crown entity to provide independence from the Government of the day.”

Minister of Justice Andrew Little (centre) speaks to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on the family and sexual violence package.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little (centre) speaks to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on the family and sexual violence package. Photo: VNP/ Phil Smith

Enabling referenda

  • What:   Referendums Framework Bill
  • Who:    Minister of Justice, Andrew Little

When referenda or plebiscites have previously been held in New Zealand they have been enabled by a specific law, written for each one. The Referendums Framework Bill seeks to ease that by legislating the underpinnings of a referendum so separate laws aren’t required. 

A bill of some kind is required for the promised referendum on legalising cannabis, the stipulated referendum on the End of Life Choice Act, and potentially a third one on changes to the abortion law. 

The Bill is returning from an abbreviated consideration (two months) by the Justice Select Committee and the House will be debating the committee’s report and recommendations. 

The timeline has been hastened in order that the Electoral Commission (which organises New Zealand elections) has enough time to carry out their mandated responsibilities in also organising the referenda.

Labour MP Chris Hipkins on the Standing Orders Committee

Chris Hipkins as Minister for the State Services is responsible for the Public Service Legislation Bill Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

One bill to rule them all

  • What:   Public Service Legislation Bill
  • Who:   Chris Hipkins

The Public Service Legislation Bill has been created to replace the State Sector Act 1988, which administers the wider apparatus of government. The state sector covers everything from TVNZ to the Artificial Limbs Service, from the Ministry of Health to your local primary school; and from the secret squirrels to government owned farms. 

It includes ministries, crown companies, crown entities, departments, boards and joint ventures with private enterprise. Basically, it’s complicated, it changes over time and it all gets covered by one overarching law outlining expectations, management and responsibility. (OK there are other laws as well, but this is the specific one).

The law that outlines how it operates has to take account of the different layers (from policy setters, to front line services) and different levels of autonomy. The main purpose though is for a coherent, efficient and apolitical engine of state. Easy huh?

Winston Peters

  Winston Peters, Minster of Foreign Affairs Photo: RNZ / VNP

'When shall we three twentyone meet again?’

  • What:  Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC 2021) Bill
  • Who:   Winston Peters

One more fun bill that may turn up this week is on the order paper in preparation for APEC 2021 (which really begins in December 2020).

APEC meets in New Zealand in 2021 and a law is required to give police extra powers to manage its security.

These include allowing members of the armed forces to work under police control; allowing the security details of foreign leaders to carry concealed weapons; and allowing the police to close roads, secure venues, respond to aircraft threats, secure sea areas, and even to import and use ‘wireless electronic countermeasures’ (which apparently deceive radar targeting and similar threats).