Suggestions to rename a bill on Māori wards to include the words ‘ignore the public vote’, ‘screw the scrum’ and ‘under-arm delivery’ have been ruled out of order at Parliament.
Parliament sat for longer hours under urgency to work on the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill this week.
The bill gets rid of a requirement for local councils to be bound by poll results when deciding to establish Maori wards or constituencies. There’s no such requirement for general wards and constituencies.
Bills go through several stages of scrutiny and debate before becoming law with the purpose being to make sure the legislation is in the best shape possible.
One of those stages is the Committee of the Whole House and it’s often the most boring part of debates as the MPs refer to ‘clauses’ and ‘parts’ while they discuss the details like the title of the bill.
National MP Nick Smith said the bill is about ‘taking people’s voting rights away’ and the title should be changed to reflect that.
“If we want to change our electoral system at a parliamentary level, we have to have a poll. So my question for the Minister in the chair, the Hon Nanaia Mahuta, is that this bill is about removing the poll. That's what it does. That's what's repeated in all of her press releases. Why not be upfront in the title of the bill and refer to the removal of that poll?”
Dr Smith had put forward several amendments with alternative names for the bill including the:
"Local Electoral (Ignore the public vote) Amendment Act"
"Local Electoral (Under-arm delivery by Labour Government) Amendment Act”
"Local Electoral (Stacks the cards in favour of Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act"
"Local Electorate (Screw the scrum in favour of Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act"
The chairperson can decide (rule) if an amendment is out of order and in this case Assistant Speaker Jenny Salesa said that the suggestions did not meet the requirement that “an amendment to the title of a bill must be a serious or objective description of the bill rather than an attempt to criticise its contents”.
Ruling these amendments as out-of-order means MPs won't be able to vote and show their support or opposition.
National MP Simon Bridges argued for Nick Smith’s amendments to be allowed.
“I'd suggest to you, if you take the "screwing the scrum" amendment to the title, for example, it may be colloquial, but it's deadly serious,” he said.
“I simply want to know this: has Madam Chair ruled on these as a blanket ruling—she's just cursorily looked over them all and as a group said they're not serious—or has she given particular consideration to each one? Because it seems to me the former is simply not right and cannot stand.”
Criticism of the chairperson is considered serious and normally requires a formal process where an MP lodges their criticism with the Clerk of the House.
Salesa said it was “insulting” to be challenged on the ruling and the arguments in favour of Dr Smith’s amendments were not successful.
The original title of the bill was agreed to and the debate carried on through the other parts of the bill which will likely pass its third and final reading later on Wednesday evening with the support Labour, The Green Party, and Te Paati Māori.