22 Aug 2023

Parliament's final six busy days

From The House , 6:55 pm on 22 August 2023
Select Committee Room Clock at Parliament

Select Committee Room Clock at Parliament Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

It is the second to last sitting week for Parliament before it dissolves so that the Governor-General can officially call for an election.

On paper that means just six more sitting days … but there is still a huge amount of legislation that the government would like to get passed by the House before it rises. That means it is going to be another week under an urgency timetable, and another long, busy week for MPs. 

The man who plans Parliament's sitting agenda is the Leader of the House, Grant Robertson. I asked him how common these cram weeks are prior to elections.

“Pretty much the whole time I've been an MP,” says Robertson, “governments have used the final few weeks of a period before the election to finish off legislation they want to get done.”

He sees both practical and political reasons for that regular last minute rush. The practical reason is that, even if a ruling administration re-gains power there will be months before there is a legislature that can pass new laws. So get it done while you can.  

The political reason is about following through.

“It's about being able to say we've done what we promised we would do.”

Many people worry that when Parliament operates under urgency that reduces the democratic process by removing the ability for the public to feed back into legislation. It can do that, but this week it won't as the bills being debated under urgency have all already spent time being considered by select committees.

“For me”, says Robertson, “there has to be a very high threshold for [skipping the select committee process]. For leaving out the bit of the process where the public get to have their say, and where select committees can do the really good work that they do of sharpening up a bill, you want to make sure that happens in 99 percent of cases.”


The other thing happening this week is farewell speeches for departing MPs. 

“These are important moments for members who are finishing up, and in some cases, members who've been here for some time. …It's the chance to say, ‘well, here's what I did while I was here’. And here are some reflections on the world. I think you do tend to find in valedictories that people carry two or three things through their political career that either they didn't quite get to do or that really annoyed them. And you do hear them coming out. And I think that's good. It's a chance for people to leave those of us who are still here with some thoughts about what happens next.”