Reading The Press today I noticed that Minister for Justice Amy Adams is rushing legislation through Parliament to apply parole like conditions to New Zealanders deported from Australia for committing criminal offences. Given that Mrs Adams has had a couple of years to change the legislation in her capacity as Minister for Justice, and the National led Government that she is a part of has had seven years, the sudden urgency is interesting to note.
So, when is urgency genuine, and when is it not genuine?
First we need to know what urgency is in terms of its use in Parliament.
I find it is an abused mechanism for getting legislation through. Sometimes it is used for getting contentious legislation through by avoiding sending it to committees that will subject it to scrutiny and may end up recommending significant changes or even rejecting it if found to be contrary to the principles of justice and how the law acts in this country. Both National and Labour have at various times used urgency to pass legislation whose need for the use of the mechanism was questionable.
A classic example of this that I am well aware of is the Crown Minerals (Crown Land and Permitting)Act, which was passed under urgency by the then Minister for Energy and Resources Simon Bridges to amend the Crown Minerals Act so as to deal more harshly to protesters attempting to block or delay mineral exploration or mining activities at sea. This Act was criticized for running contrary to the democratic principles on which New Zealand is founded, and was deliberately not sent to the Human Rights Select Committee. Nor was the public given an opportunity to have their say on it. The legislation is so contentious that two parties have vowed to repeal the legislation should they enter Government. The Act was also found by the Human Rights Commission to have breached New Zealand human rights law.
Another example was the Electoral Finance Act, passed by Labour led Government in response to findings that nearly every party in Parliament misused money under election rules in the 2005 General Election. It led to chaotic scenes in Parliament with the Speaker of the House nearly losing control of the debating chamber at one point.
However, I do admit in times of war, or an emergency of national or international importance it may be necessary to pass legislation under urgency. In doing so, I believe legislation should have two features that acknowledge it was passed under urgency and thereby not subject to wholly appropriate scrutiny:
- A recall clause that requires it to be brought back at the earliest reasonable date to be viewed and amended by appropriate Select Committees.
- A sunset clause to acknowledge that the legislation was introduced to deal with extraordinary circumstances and might not be appropriate to keep on the books after a specified period of time.
Different political parties will have different views of urgency and when it should/should not be used. The range of legislation for which urgency can be used has been abused in the past and will probably be abused in the future unless Parliament changes the rules, but for genuine emergencies such as an Alpine Fault earthquake crippling much of the country, yes there might be a case for urgency. But 95% of the time there is not.