21 Dec 2023

Quick bills, long weeks at Parliament

From The House , 6:55 pm on 21 December 2023

It’s a truism that when governments change, the new bunch want to quickly make a mark.

That can be achieved by passing bills a new government has waiting and ready to go, or by tweaking bills already under consideration. Those things both happened back in 2017, the last time power swapped between the two major parties.

Another tactic is to wind back some of the laws made by the previous lot. That’s the initial move this time around, with two weeks of rewinds under urgency to begin the new Parliament.

Urgency is not new, the 2017 coalition also used urgency in its initial weeks to pass the Families Package (Income Tax and Benefits) Act. 

Christopher Luxon during the first debate of the 54th Parliament.

Christopher Luzon’s new government has passed three policy bills under urgency in each of the first two ‘normal’ weeks of the 54th Parliament. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

New legislation takes months to write. Doing it well can involve years of research, consultation and development. But new governments don’t have years to make early impressions. They need laws written fast.

If you have any spare Christmas wishes, feel free to send in them in the direction of the Parliamentary Counsel’s Office – the group that draft government legislation. I presume they will not be having a very relaxing summer.

The repeal tactic has one major advantage. A repeal bill is much easier and faster to draft. It gains time to work on the more substantive things.

The simplest of bills

On Thursday Parliament focussed on a bill to repeal the Taxation Principles Reporting Act, which was passed a few months ago. If you ignore titles, headers etcetera, the bill is three lines of text. Not full lines either. The crucial section is just 10 words long. 

A bill like that can be produced pretty quickly. 

Three weeks down

So far, the 54th Parliament has sat for three weeks. The first week was all ceremony and set pieces. The other two weeks have been largely spent under urgency to effect six repeals and one new piece of legislation. That bill was a reinstatement of a partial repeal made by the previous government. 

Three bills were repealed last week and three this week. 

This week’s bills

The reinstatement bill extends employment trial periods to all employers. Trial periods are currently restricted to employers with fewer than 20 staff. The guts of this bill removes just eight words from the current law, which would have made it an appealing early objective. 

The first of the repeals this week repealed two different laws – the two large laws that quite recently replaced the Resource Management Act after years of development. 

National has promised this repeal is just the first step of another major, but faster, rewrite. 

The other repeal bill is the short one mentioned earlier. It removes a new requirement for the IRD to report on whether the tax system is equitable, efficient, cost-effective or coherent. An odd aspect of repealing this reporting requirement is that surely the very first report is written, printed and ready to go out on New Years Eve.  Perhaps it will get revealed anyway via an OIA. 

Both of the first two ‘normal’ weeks have been long weeks under urgency, with MPs debating between 9am and midnight some days.

The Opposition have fought tooth and nail against all of these bills. This is not unusual when bills are debated under urgency (and without provision given for select committee hearings). But these bills would likely have been fiercely contested regardless on policy grounds.

The Opposition have made it all last as long as they possibly can; making the new administration really work for it.