This is the last sitting week of the 53rd Parliament, and fittingly for such a busy term there’s a fairly packed schedule of government business for the next few days.
Things will wind up on Thursday with the debate over the adjournment of Parliament, and a look at what changes to Parliament’s rules will stem from the regular report of the Standing Orders Committee; but not before the Government first goes into urgency again to progress some bills, and even a last Member’s Day of the three-year term.
The House will rise on Thursday to clear the way for the general election which is to be held in just over a month and a half's time. This week is the last of a busy 3-week block in which the House has regularly been taken into urgency as the Government guided a couple of major reform programmes to their final legislative moments, particularly the repeal of the Resource Management Act and its replacement as well as water reform legislation.
“We’ve still got a range of bills that we want to get either through first reading so that they can head off to Select Committee and that process can begin while politicians are out campaigning, so the work of getting submissions and so on can start - plus a couple of bits of legislation that we want to finish off,” the Government’s Leader of House, Grant Robertson, explained.
“I’m satisfied with where we’ve got to. There will still be some bills that ministers had hoped would make more progress that haven’t, and that’s just the reality of the amount of time we’ve got. So there will still be bills left on the Order Paper that haven't been finished, but I think we’ve made pretty good progress.”
Voting Age legislation
One of the bills to get a first reading today will be the Electoral (Lowering Voting Age for Local Elections and Polls) Legislation Bill. Contrary to what some political figures have claimed, this legislation is not being rushed through by stealth before the general election, and neither is the voting age being considered even about general elections.
“This is a bill about local government elections, and the next local government elections being potentially held with 16-year olds being eligible to vote - just local government not central government elections, not for this election as some people seem to be suggesting,” Robertson said.
The legislation is at its first reading stage, following which it would be off to select committee where the public will be able to have their say on it. Robertson said he expected there would be a lot of submissions about the Bill, and that “as the next parliament gets into its work it'll be able to work through how it feels about the Bill”.
This Bill relates to the item that sits immediately before it on the Order Paper, which is the Report of the Justice Committee on Declaration of Inconsistency: Voting age in the Electoral Act 1993 and the Local Electoral Act 2001.
“This is as a result of court cases that have come through, and the Government is obliged to respond to this, and that response will occur in the report, and then the [Voting Age] Bill really flows on from there.”
If any government sought to amend the voting age for general elections, it would require a 75% majority vote by MPs.
Adjournment and Standing Orders report
Parliament will adjourn on Thursday. The adjournment has a debate attached to it, one which is typically a political debate.
“Parliament will dissolve itself in early September and so we don't have to put a date on when we're coming back. That'll be dependent on the election result, but [the adjournment debate] is an opportunity for everyone to recap the year and get ready to get out on the hustings.”
The item before the adjournment debate is a debate on the report of the Standing Orders Committee, its regular three-yearly review of Parliament’s rules.
“We need to make sure that when it comes to Parliament, that when making changes in the rules for how Parliament runs itself, that there’s consensus on that, and so it's been a pretty drawn out process for the members of the Standing Orders Committee, and what comes forward as a report has to be the broad agreement of that committee,” Robertson said.
“It’s an attempt to make Parliament’s processes more efficient but also make sure that we are using the Parliamentary processes to do the job of parliament, to hold the executive to account, and so you'll see an attempt there by the Standing Orders Committee to to get the balance of that right.”