22 Mar 2020

Parliament works on abortion, tax, and prisoner voting bills amidst Covid-19

From The House , 7:30 am on 22 March 2020

Covid-19 is dominating the news and minds of people across the world but it's less of a feature in the debating chamber as MPs still have to work on legislation.

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Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The Government issued instructions to self-isloate, imposed travel bans, and announced a $12.1billion economic rescue package in its response to the spread of Covid-19 throughout New Zealand and the world.

Criticism of this response from Opposition parties like the National Party and the ACT Party is unsurprising as their job is to question the Government's actions and hold it to account.

However that criticism has largely been relegated to the start of the sitting session like question time, the general debate, and special debates like the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson's announcement of the COVID-19 - Emergency Economic Package.

Outside of these debates the MPs worked on legislation as usual including:

The Abortion Legislation Bill

Minister of Justice Andrew Little speaks to media before heading into the debating chamber.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little is in charge of the Abortion Legislation Bill Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

MPs spent all of Tuesday evening and part of Wednesday morning working on the committee stage of this bill.

The Committee stage involves the House turning into a committee and working through the details of the bill to make sure it is worded correctly. It's also the last chance to make changes (called supplementary order papers or SOPs for short).

During the first session on the Bill's committee stage some MPs missed their chance to vote against an SOP which removed the details for how safe zones would be set up around abortion clinics.

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On Wednesday the Bill was up for its third and final reading in the House but just before that started Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson asked for permission to send the bill back to the Committee stage.

"I move, That the Abortion Legislation Bill be recommitted for the purpose only of considering Supplementary Order Paper 485 in my name, which relates to safe areas."

Davidson's motion failed to get enough support and the bill carried on to its third reading which was passed by the House 68 votes - 51.

The Act comes into force the day after it receives Royal Assent from the Governor General.

Faster reporting

The Justice Committee conducts an annual review of the Independent Police Conduct Authority

The Justice committee hearing evidence from submitters Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Two debates were held on instructions to select committees which would shorten the time they had to report back on a bill.

Select committees are smaller groups of MPs who meet to consider bills, petitions, conduct inquiries, and hear the views of the public, officials, lobbyists and experts. They compile this information into a report for the rest of the MPs (the House) to read; usually ahead of a bill's second reading debate.

A select committee normally has about six months to do this and if a Minister wants a report back sooner it has to ask the House to approve that decision.

Two requests were made, one for the Māori Affairs Committee to report back on the Local Government (Rating of Whenua Māori Amendment Bill by 29 June 2020 and a request for the Justice Committee to report back on the  Electoral (Registration of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill by 2 June 2020.

The National Party opposed both requests with National's Nick Smith saying the the Government "want to screw the scrum to make it easier for them to win the 2020 election" by asking for the Electoral bill report back sooner.

But the Governing parties have the majority and both requests were agreed to.

A full list of what the House worked through each day last week can be found here.