There’s a look in the eyes of many people who work on precinct that tells you they just want this parliamentary year to finish already. But it’s not quite done yet and this morning’s grinding committee stage action prolonged the torture.
Parliament’s in urgency and running later than it normally does towards year’s end, as the coalition government continues dismantling the previous government’s legacy laws. Among the repeals being passed through all stages under urgency this week was the Resource Management (Natural and Built Environment and Spatial Planning Repeal and Interim Fast-track Consenting) Bill.
As MPs wearily resumed their seats in the chamber at 9am this morning, they were still grinding through the committee stage of this Bill. It's the stage where MPs debate the details. It can last as long as there are still things to discuss, and is the stage when the Opposition can slow things down with proposed amendments and questions to the minister in charge of the legislation. In this case it was the Minister of Housing and Infrastructure, National's Chris Bishop, who was fielding the questions and amendments. Many of them.
Although the MPs have had an arduous year and are desperate to go home, start Christmas shopping or get to their bach in Kinloch, Labour MPs in particular sought to grab their only chance to interrogate the inner details of a bill that’s undoing legislation they had passed only a few months ago. They couldn’t prevent it being overturned but they could slow it down very slightly. You could say they wanted to make the Government work for it.
As such, the Labour MPs got forensic with their questions and proposed plenty of amendments. And each new amendment proposed gave the MPs something new to discuss, more questions for the minister, a longer debate.
Sometimes amendments are proposed on the go, scribbled on a piece of paper and given to the clerks. Labour’s Kieran McAnulty penned one such proposed amendment to this Bill, seen in the picture below. However he pointed out it was incumbent on Bishop to answer a question that McAnulty had been putting to him before the Opposition MP could proceed with the proposed amendment. Bishop then indicated he was happy to look at it, and McAnulty headed off to the printing room. But before he could even leave the chamber, this part of the committee stage was closed off by the presiding officer without McAnulty’s amendment getting the chance to be tabled.
A bit later, during debate on the Bill’s clauses, McAnulty referred to the aforementioned incident as “an unusual and disappointing outcome, particularly when the Minister and I, we get on well, we work together constructively—we were about to, didn't get the opportunity, and we have the opportunity now”.
Bishop is the Government’s Leader of the House, and he as much as anyone is responsible for when this parliamentary year will finally wrap up in order for members to be released. Yet even he was losing track of time by this point. At one stage he conceded he didn’t know which day of the week it was, but was reminded by the presiding officer that technically it’s still Tuesday today (even though it's Wednesday in real life) because Parliament went into urgency on Tuesday. When Labour MP Arena Williams suggested that a parliamentary select committee should consider the Bill (obviously the Government was not having any of that), Bishop described her idea of timeframe, that a committee would meet during the summer break, as unrealistic.
“Really? The member’s offering (to convene a committee)? I’m not sure how your whanau feels about that. You might want to text your whanau before you commit to that over the Christmas break,” Bishop said.
Notably, the government benches were relatively full during this particular stage of the Bill. Usually in the committee of the whole house the other government MPs are barely present as they get to say almost nothing. But this morning a cohort of first-time Government MPs were soaking up the valuable learning experience of a Bill in committee stage.
This Bill was passed before lunch, but school's not quite out yet, with the coalition government yet to pass two more bills through all stages and also have an adjournment debate. The grind continues.