This week at Parliament is relatively straight forward for MPs who will finish off the Budget Debate and work through a number of bills.
Budget 2021 was announced on May 20 but it takes a long time to work its way through Parliament.
The Minister of Finance’s speech revealing the details of where the Government intends to spend the country’s money for the next financial year is one of the longer speeches given in the House (about 45-minutes) but it’s just the start of an eight-hour long debate.
“It used to be significantly longer,” said the Leader of the House Chris Hipkins.
“We made the decision in the last Parliament to reduce the length of the Budget Debate because it was becoming a little bit of a cliche, a little bit repetitive, a little bit formulaic, and so making it shorter and sharper means Parliament can focus on other issues.”
The Budget Debate is part of the process to approve the Budget which is in the form of a bill called the Appropriation (2021/22 Estimates) Bill.
It’s first reading takes place without debate and the second reading takes place right after. The Budget Debate is part of the second reading and is long enough to allow all the party leaders a speech and most of the MPs.
“The Budget Debate now is the opportunity for ministers to highlight things in their portfolios that they’re particularly pleased about [and] for the opposition MPs to get into it and talk about the things they think should or shouldn’t have been in the budget,” said Hipkins.
“Occasionally you’ll get people raising local issues around the budget from a local electorate perspective.”
The Budget Debate will likely be finished off this week with four hours set aside for it on Tuesday, and two hours on Wednesday.
Other things to do
The Budget Debate is often paused so other bills can be worked on.
On the list this week is:
Maritime Transport (MARPOL VI) Amendment Bill - first reading
Fair Trading Amendment Bill - second reading continued
Health (National Cervical Screening) Amendment Bill - second reading
Intelligence and Security (Review) Amendment Bill - first reading
Gas (Information Disclosure and Penalties) Amendment Bill - second reading
Each reading of a bill has a different purpose.
The first reading debate of a bill is an introduction to its contents and lasts about two hours.
“It’s where MPs talk about ‘what’s the bill designed to do? What’s the purpose of the bill?’” said Hipkins.
MPs will often indicate whether or not they support the bill and may point out some parts of the bill they think are good or bad.
A second reading debate of a bill usually comes after it’s spent some time at a select committee (six months on average).
“The primary purpose of the second reading is to confirm any changes the select committee might have made to the bill,” Hipkins said.
Select committees take a closer look at bills and often seek the input of experts, officials, lobbyists, and members of the public whose opinions they take into consideration when writing a report on the bill for the rest of the MPs to read. That report can make recommendations for changes which are talked about at the second reading debate.
Hipkins said speeches will often include what the committee heard from the public and changes it made as a result.
“Sometimes there’ll be issues that the public raise that aren’t actually appropriate for the bill and they may touch briefly on those points,” he said.
“Although strictly speaking they’re supposed to stick to what’s in the bill rather than what’s not in the bill.”
The committee of the whole House stages come next for a bill that successfully passes it’s second reading. Often shortened to ‘the committee stage’ this part is where MPs publicly debate the details of the bill, right down to whether or not the title is appropriate.
“You go through the bill part by part, or depending on the structure of the bill potentially even clause by clause to consider exactly what the provisions of the bill are, do they do what the bill is intending to do.”
Drafting issues, ambiguity, controversial parts that need closer attention or issues that members are not clear on can also be brought up during this stage said Hipkins.
“Those are very tight and focused debates.”
Last minute changes can be made to the bill during this stage and ministers can be questioned on its contents.
“This is something that we’ve seen an evolution on,” said Hipkins.
“Members are encouraged to ask the Minister in the chair, the Minister responsible for the bill, questions about the bill, what’s intended by this clause, how do the clauses interrelate to one another?”
The third and final reading is a chance for MPs to reflect on the journey the bill’s gone through and go on record with their support or opposition to the bill.
“That’s us saying ‘ok now that it’s gone through all this process, it’s been amended, debated, are we comfortable with what’s left?’ Hipkins said.
After a bill has passed its third reading it’s sent to the Governor General for royal assent (the sovereign’s or their representative’s signature) which brings the bill into law.