13 Jun 2021

Mobility scooter seizure, verdicts of insanity and waka jumping before Parliament

From The House , 7:30 am on 13 June 2021

Non-government bills changing laws around mobility device seizures, the wording of verdicts for insane offenders, and waka-jumping MPs have been worked on at Parliament.

Every alternate Wednesday the House is sitting is set aside for debate on members' bills - bills from MPs who aren't ministers. 

The bills require a bit of luck or persuasion to appear before the House of Representatives. 

Each bill is assigned a number and put into a ballot to be drawn at random or if 61 or more MPs say they support it, the bill can skip the ballot process. Either way, it can take a lot longer for a member's bill to be progressed through Parliament than a government bill.

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The tokens are drawn from a biscuit tin that was purchased from DEKA in the 1990s.  Photo: Supplied / Office of the Clerk

The first bill before the House on Wednesday was the District Court (Protection of Judgment Debtors with Disabilities) Amendment Bill in the name of Labour MP Anahila Kanongata'a Suisuiki. 

The bill aims to protect people with disabilities who owe money under a court order by preventing the seizure of an item they need to live their life, for example, a mobility device. 

Bills go through several stages on their journey to become law and this one is at the committee of the Whole House Stage. There's no time limit for this part as MPs work through the details of the bill from approving the title to making final changes to wording. 

It works like a question and answer session with MPs able to stand up and make multiple points about the merits of the bill or question the MP in charge. 

Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime asked if submissions from groups like Age Concern suggesting caregivers for people with disabilities should also be protected by the law would be added in. 

"I wanted to ask the member her thoughts on that, because, obviously, in the new legislation that we've got, you have decided to adopt the unanimous recommendation of the select committee on that, but noting that that wasn't part of the original bill as you put it into the biscuit tin."

Kanongata'a Suisuiki said the definition of disability in the bill was changed at select committee to address this issue. 

"This acknowledges that there are disabled children, young people, or other people who are from our disabled community who actually do not own the vehicle but the vehicle is owned by the caregiver or owned by the parent," she said.

Labour MP Anahila Lose Kanongata'a-Suisuiki

Labour MP Anahila Kanongata'a Suisuiki Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

"So this is a further layer of protection in terms of protecting persons with a disability, and I want to acknowledge the work of the select committee in their recommendations and making this bill a better bill than it originally started."

A select committee is a smaller group of MPs that looks at the bill after its first reading and often hears submissions from the public. It will write a report for the rest of the MPs to read which can include recommendations. 

One of the issues brought to the Justice Select Committee was whether cellphones should also be included as they're considered essential items by those in the hearing-impaired and blind community. ACT MP Nicole McKee asked whether this would be added to the bill. 

"When we were listening to those submitters on this bill at the select committee stage, there were many of them who wanted us to ban the seizure of cell phones," she said.

"Those submitters came from the hearing-impaired and the blind communities because they regard their cell phones as essential items. They now come under the new definition of disability that we've put through there."

Kanongata'a Suisuiki said changes to the definition of devices were made by the Justice Committee in the bill. 

"If we refer to new subclause (5) in section 167 in clause 4, in this section it did change it to include "mobility device", but it also gave in the definition that it "has the same meaning as in section 2(1) of the Land Transport Act 1998." Anything outside of that is actually not relevant, and it's out of scope for this bill," she said. 

There a variety of reasons why an MPs might propose a member’s bill including correcting a perceived gap or defect in the law.

Kanongata’a Suisuiki said this bill was created at the request of a community. 

"Community Law South Auckland had asked me if I could sponsor a gap in the law that needed addressing, because there was a disabled person who had their mobility vehicle removed or seized because of debt, because of a judgment debt against that person. We are here today in the committee stage."

Another bill was also before the House for its committee stage but was dealt with in just one speech. 

The Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill aims to change the wording of a verdict for insane offenders from:

"Not guilty on account of insanity”


“the acts or omissions are proven but the defendant is not criminally responsible on account of insanity.”

National MP Louise Upston in committee

National MP Louise Upston Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

The MP in charge, National MP Louise Upston, said the change was one of three which takes a more victim-centred approach. 

"The first was to rename the verdict of "not guilty on account of insanity" so that victims and their families did not have to hear the words "not guilty". So the changes were proposed to: the acts or omissions are proven but the defendant is not criminally responsible on account of insanity," she said. 

But at during the select committee process, the Justice Committee found a problem with the proposed rewording. In law, “not criminally responsible” is not the same as “not guilty.”

"So we landed with a similar phrase, and the simplified language that was defined in the bill as 'proven but insane'," Upston said. 

Changes can also be made to a bill through a supplementary order paper (SOP) which is attached to the bill to be approved by the House during its committee stage. Upston had released one on June 4 which would have made amendments to approve the bill but she said last-minute concerns have been raised and more time is needed. 

"Unfortunately, though, at the 11th hour, some issues have been raised - and they are at the 11th hour, and I was made aware of them late last night," she said.

"Because of the manner in which this bill has progressed to date, has been with cross-party support, it is important that we take the time to consider the issues and to consider if further changes are required by way of an SOP."

The holdup doesn’t mean the bill has failed. Instead, the House makes a note of the decisions made and puts the bill back on the list to give the MP in charge time to fix it. 

It’s one of those occasions where all the parties agree and are working together to create a bill that will function as intended so the request for extra time passes without opposition. 

Not all member’s bills are this lucky. 

National MP David Carter

Former National MP David Carter introduced a bill to repeal the waka jumping legislation passed in 2018. His colleague Nick Smith (right) picked up the bill when Carter resigned.  Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The Electoral (Integrity Repeal) Amendment Bill originally in the name of former National MP David Carter and picked up by now-former National MP Nick Smith, managed to gain enough support to pass its first reading last parliament but not this time. 

Member’s bills can also be put forward in response to a government policy, to show an alternative political position. 

This Electoral (Integrity Repeal) Amendment Bill is a response to the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill from 2018 which was more commonly referred to as the waka jumping bill. 

That bill was about adding ways that a vacancy can be created in the House or in other words, how an MP leaves Parliament.

An MP who decided to leave their party wasn't required to also leave Parliament so the law was changed in 2018 to say a defecting MP would have to give up their seat. This would mean a resignation if they are a list MP or a by-election if they are an electorate MP.

The bill before Parliament last week aimed to reverse that law change and had enough support at the previous Parliament to pass its first reading and go through a select committee process. 

It was back before Parliament for the remainder of its second reading debate but the 2020 General Election means the parties with a majority have changed and this time the Labour Party had enough MPs to vote the bill down on its own. 

Labour MP Arena Williams said submitters had argued the problem the bill addresses is small and electoral mechanisms to hold politicians to account for breaking their electoral mandate already exist.

"They said that New Zealand already has effective political sanctions that do everything the waka-jumping provisions do. It says that political imperatives, electoral judgments, and media scrutiny are the best tools we have for regulating the views of politicians and ensuring they're accountable," she said. 

"I don't agree with those submitters. Without the waka-jumping provisions, some MPs have a disproportionately large platform with which to express themselves. It serves no one but the MP personally, and it definitely does not serve the voters who elect them."

National MP Simeon Brown in committee

National MP Simeon Brown Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

National MP Simeon Brown said the waka jumping legislation wasn't declared as a part of the Labour Party's 2020 campaign.

"They didn't say to New Zealanders whether or not they were going to support this piece of legislation. Even in the Clark years, they said this type of legislation should only be there for a transitional period of time. But now they're saying they want to bake this piece of legislation in for no known reason other than that they want to keep it on our law books."

Willow Jean-Prime said it wasn't listed in the Labour Party's 2020 manifesto as it was already law and not one of the party's priorities. 

"Those were the measures that we will take to keep New Zealand safe, accelerate our economic recovery, and take on the foundational challenges in our economy and society and, in particular housing affordability, climate change, which we've just received the report on today, and child wellbeing. The proposed repeal of the 2018 Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act was not among them in our manifesto, so that is true."

The vote on whether to read the bill a second time which would move it to the committee of the whole house stage resulted in every party except for Labour voting yes. But as Labour holds 65 of the 120 votes in the House the bill's journey was stopped here. 

See how far the House gets each day on Parliament's website here