The last of Budget 2019, bills from non-ministers and a special debate on immigration and border policies will take place at Parliament this week.
Finally finalising Budget 2019
Each budget that is announced spends about two and a half years being considered by Parliament.
There’s a pre-budget statement which gives a heads up on what will guide the Budget (December - March).
The Budget is announced (usually May) and is put through a lengthy scrutiny process (debates, hearings, and more debates referred to as the estimates).
There’s also likely to be a bill or two approving some extra spending because the Budget was just a guess at where the money needed to go and might need some adjusting.
Then Parliament starts reviewing how the funding from the Budget was spent and whether or not those who received the money performed well (the last stages of the annual review for 2019/20 are taking place now).
Before Budget 2021 is announced on 20 May, Parliament needs to finish off its scrutiny of Budget 2019 in the annual review debate. Half of the10-hour debate was done last week and the other half is on the list to be finished off on Tuesday.
The debate is on a bill called the Appropriation (2019/20 Confirmation and Validation) Bill and before it reached this stage there were hearings at various select committees where ministers and bosses of government organisations were questioned in public about their performance over the past year.
Reports are written about those reviews and debated by the House during the committee of the whole House stage more commonly referred to as the Annual Review debate.
“We go through in themes. Not every aspect gets debate, there’s a discussion about what people most want to talk about,” said the Leader of the House Chris Hipkins who's tasked with figuring out which order the House will work through business.
Last week, MPs debated the conduct and performance of the Speaker Trevor Mallard during which allegations of sexual assault made public in 2019 were discussed.
Hipkins said MPs are protected by parliamentary privilege from defamation proceedings.
“When members are accused of using parliamentary privilege to make an allegation, it means they are making a statement in the House where they are protected from legal action,” said Hipkins.
“Therefore, you do get members saying ‘go and repeat that outside the debating chamber’ because that ultimately would open that member up to potential liability.”
Hipkins said it’s important that members of Parliament are free to be able to speak their minds in a democracy but it’s a privilege which comes with responsibility.
“The last thing you want in a debate when ultimately Parliament is determining the laws is people being cautious and saying ‘I don’t think I can say what I really think here because I might get sued or might get legal action taken against me’ so it’s an important constitutional principle that those elected to represent those in the Parliament should have free speech but then ultimately that of course comes with a responsibility to use that sensibly.”
The topics up for debate this Tuesday include, transport, social development and employment, economic & regional development; tourism, housing, energy & resources, immigration, Corrections, Māori development, and police.
Alternate Wednesdays in the House are set aside to debate bills from MPs who are not ministers.
MPs often have to rely on the luck of the draw for their bill to be put up for debate. Those who can gain support from 61 or more non-executive (government) members can have their bill bumped up the list.
The bills up for debate this week are all at their second reading and include:
District Court (Protection of Judgment Debtors with Disabilities) Amendment Bill from Labour MP Anahila Kanongata’a Suisuiki
Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill from National MP Louise Upston
Electoral (Integrity Repeal) Amendment Bill from National MP Nick Smith
New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Fair Residency) Amendment Bill from National MP Andrew Bayly
“It’s a bit of an unusual members’ day in the sense that it’s all second readings. Normally on a members day when you have a first reading then there’d be a ballot to replace them on the order paper,” said Hipkins.
“These are all second readings so these are bills that have been off to select committee and are coming back for further consideration by the House.”
Special debate on immigration and border policies
Each Parliament, there’s a committee of MPs who review the rules for how Parliament is run. These rules are called standing orders and when they were reviewed last Parliament, a new rule was introduced to allow special debates on a range of topics including petitions.
After question time on Thursday at about 3pm, MPs will debate petitions on immigration and border policies with Covid-19 likely to dominate the hour of speeches.
“There’s obviously a lot of restrictions at the border at the moment with Covid-19 and a lot of people affected by that and various people have been petitioning parliament,” Hipkins said.
“I think it’s important that Parliament demonstrates that we have heard from those people and so the government has agreed with the proposal put forward by the petitions committee that we should debate this selection of petitions.”
The work of select committees is not often recognised and the public debate will bring more attention to some of the work that has been going on, Hipkins said.
See how far the House gets each day here.