21 May 2021

Gone by lunchtime - Budget urgency

From The House , 6:55 pm on 21 May 2021

On Thursday nights MPs scatter home to spend the weekend at farmers’ markets, cultural events and community soirees - being local MPs. Most List MPs do as well.

Parliament on Fridays is usually only scurrying staff (catching up before a renewed onslaught) and milling tour groups. Plus government ministers, who never seem to leave.

But on Budget weeks Parliament winds up into a frenzy for a Thursday announcement and then just keeps on going. Budget urgency is normal, through Thursday, through Friday and sometimes well into Saturday. Parliament doesn’t do Sundays. 

May 20 Parliament's House calendar

When the House goes into urgency the calendar on the wall freezes on that day. In this case Budget Day, May 20th. It was May 20th for an extra 13 hours.   Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Most elements of budgets don’t require legislation (other than the Estimates Bill that is the Budget); but there are always some changes that will amend other laws, and changes governments want effected quickly. 

This year there were just three bills, and the House managed to power through them.

The House went into urgency a little after four on Thursday and wrapped before lunch on Friday. Gone by lunchtime. It’s a New Zealand political tradition.

In that time they’d debated three bills through nine stages.

The Urgency Bills

Two of those three bills passed from beginning to end through all stages, and the third got a first reading and was sent off to a select committee for public hearings.

Grant Robertson gives the Budget speech

Grant Robertson gives the Budget speech Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

The Taxation (Budget 2021 and Remedial Measures) Bill is a tax bill in the name of David Parker (as Minister for Revenue). It passed through all stages.

The 2021 Budget is substantially raising benefits. This Bill is altering the Working for Families Tax Credit minimum so that low income earners don’t get out-of-whack with the new benefit rates.

The debate was mostly notable for displaying a striking lack of understanding among many MPs of the difference between communism and socialism. You may be able to discern that speeches tended to wander liberally, occasionally mentioning the legislation.  

The Bill was supported by Labour, National, and Te Paati Maori. ACT opposed. The Greens abstained.

Leader of the Opposition, Judith Collins gives a response to the budget speech

Leader of the Opposition, Judith Collins gives a response to the budget speech Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Second up for debate was the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Validation of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Charges) Amendment Bill. It also passed through all stages.

It retrospectively clarifies the legality of charging some Australians to stay in quarantine. The government had received advice that 600 or so Australian visitors might be legally able to contest the fee they had paid. The Bill retrospectively changes the law so that can't happen. 

Labour, Green and Te Paati Maori supported the Bill. National and ACT opposed it.

That bill illustrated a downside of passing legislation quickly (as has happened frequently in response to Covid-19). Without a select committee process and public feedback to provide alerts, mistakes can be missed (or at least the weird corners of the real world not be sufficiently taken into account). Some circumstances require quick lawmaking but fast and accurate don’t play together well.  

David Seymour giving his response to the budget

David Seymour giving his response to the budget Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Finally, the Education and Training (Grants—Budget Measures) Amendment Bill which got just a first reading before being sent to the Education Select Committee.

It enables the extension of pay parity to private company early childcare workers. It does that by allowing the Minister of Education to add conditions to increased funding for those organisations. So he would be able to say 'I can give you extra funding but you must use it to pay workers the agreed rates that government workers get'.

The Bill passed a first reading on a voice vote with unanimous support.

Submissions on that bill will be called for soon. The other two await consent from the Governor General.