9 Dec 2020

Parliament goes out in a flurry of firsts

From The House , 6:55 pm on 9 December 2020

Wednesday was Parliament’s final sitting day for this very odd year. Oddly, it’s the fourth time Parliament has adjourned in earnest this year. 

As you might expect the final week had the usual tidying (agreeing a sitting calendar for 2021, and an adjournment debate). 

But it was a surprisingly busy week and among a slew of motions the House also passed five bills through first readings. The Select Committees these five bills have been referred to will soon ask the public for submissions. So you might like to know what they are.

A sign for a select committee room at Parliament shows what the committee is working on.

  Committees have formed and are now asking for submissions on multiple bills. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Child Carer Payments

The Social Security (Financial Assistance for Caregivers) Amendment Bill equalises and improves payments to some kinds of child carers. The committee chair that will review it is Labour MP Angie Warren-Clark. She described The Bill like this.

“Essentially, this is a bill about fairness. It's a bill quite simply around two lots of children often in very similar circumstances: one group of children who are under State care; the other group of children who are often under family or whānau care, or family members' friends' care. Essentially, what this bill does very simply is try to rebalance some of that inequity that is existing.”

National MP Louise Upston in Select Committee

National MP Louise Upston in Select Committee Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

National MP Louise Upston was in agreement in part. 

“In terms of the Christmas rule, or the Christmas and birthday allowances, that is a bit of a no-brainer. It does seem unusual that those allowances are paid to the foster caregivers and not to others.” 

Family Court Rejig

The Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill undoes changes to the Family Courts that Judith Collins made as Justice Minister in 2014. This Bill is the result of the work of an independent panel on those earlier reforms. 

The parties contest whether and what changes are needed, but agree the needs of children are central.

Labour MP Duncan Webb in Select Committee

Duncan Webb is the new Chair of the Finance and Expenditure Committee Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Labour MP Duncan Webb was also keen to see changes stipulated for lawyers. 

“I hope that judges in the Court, and the Law Society through its regulatory framework, will hold lawyers who play games, who stretch out proceedings, and who take an overly combative approach—I hope they will hold them to account to ensure that the interests of the child are absolutely upheld. If there's one thing that we clearly agree on in this House is that those interests must be paramount.”

Reserve Bank rewrite - Part 2

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand Bill changes some of the Bank’s underlying objectives. Including adding one of protecting and promoting the stability of New Zealand’s financial system. It also allows the Bank to co-operate and share information with law enforcement or regulatory agencies.

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson answers questions during the first Question Time of the 53rd Parliament

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson answers questions during the first Question Time of the 53rd Parliament Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

The Minister of Finance Grant Robertson tried to give it some perspective. 

“This is the second of the trilogy of Reserve Bank bills that this Government has in the past and will bring in the future to this House. For those who haven't been following along closely at home, the first of these bills, which became an Act, was the one that changed the objectives of the Reserve Bank to focus not just on price stability, as important as that is, but also on the concept of maximum sustainable employment....”

“The second part of the Reserve Bank review was to look at other matters, in particular matters to do with financial stability, policy, other organisational matters, and the regulatory framework for banks and other deposit takers. Such was the volume of work created by this review that it required not one but two further bills to be able to capture what has been done in the Reserve Bank Act review.”

Maori Aquaculture

Bill number 4 is a simpler one. The Maori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Amendment Bill. It aims to resolve settlement delays caused by some iwi having disagreements about internal allocations. 

Water Quality

And finally the Water Services Bill, which is likely to be of wide interest. Here’s new National MP Christopher Luxon with his first speech in the House. The National Party voted for this Bill to go to Select Committee.

“It is incredibly important legislation, because we all watched the pain of a community in Havelock North go through that water contamination, and we saw 5,500 residents fall ill, we saw 45 people hospitalised, and it was linked to up to four deaths. So this can, fundamentally, never happen again...” 

“So the bottom line is, anywhere in the world—but, frankly, here in New Zealand—every Kiwi, as the Minister said, should have access to and the right to clean, fresh drinking water. It is time to address it, because we do have a patchwork quilt of regulation in this space, and we need to ensure, fundamentally, that all drinking-water suppliers do actually all work to the same and a common standard that raises the floor of water delivery and water regulation in this country.”

And one more bill you can add to your list is the Holidays (Increasing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill - about which public submissions have now been requested. 

This Bill would double the mandatory minimum sick leave that employers must provide from 5 to 10 days per year.

There you go - six bills to submit on. Just when you were looking for a summer project.