New Zealand is well on the way to 200 days of the first term of the Jacinda Ardern Labour-led minority Government. The Bills of Parliament are flowing and it is time to look at a few.
The first reading of a Bill of Parliament is where the Bill is introduced to Parliament by the sponsoring M.P. or M.P.’s who authored it. At the first reading it is common place for Opposition parties as well as the governing parties to support it to the Select Committee phase. If by a simple majority, the vote is against it, the Bill ends here. For the Bill’s passage to Select Committee to happen there must be a simple majority in favour.
At the select committee stage Members of the public are invited to make a submission stating their support or opposition, or any recommendations concerning the proposed Bill. A report will also be prepared, which reprints the Bill with the changes made and states the issues covered whilst at Select Committee stage.
Right now these are the major Bills of Parliament taking public submissions:
- Employment Relations Bill
- Child Poverty Reduction Bill
- Education Amendment Bill
- Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis)Amendment Bill
- Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Renewal of Licences)Amendment Bill (No. 2)and Supplementary Order Paper (No. 14)
The full range of Bills of Parliament can be seen here.
After the Select Committee stage is complete it is time for the Second Reading. At this reading the changes are debated by the Committee. Changes that do not have unanimous support are subject to a vote. Changes that have unanimous support are automatically included.
These will be sent back to Parliament for the Committee of the House stage, where Parliament will debate the Bill and vote whether or not to accept the changes being made. If so, the Bill will move to the next stage which is the Third Reading, where the Bill is subject to a summing up debate – most Bills that make it to this stage are going to pass because Members of Parliament have generally decided how to vote by this point. Should the Bill pass this vote, it will be sent to the Governor General to receive the Royal Assent, at which point it becomes law in New Zealand.
My thoughts on the individual Bills mentioned above are below:
I support the Employment Relations Bill because it seeks to address areas of employment law that have been perceived as not fit for purpose, or which need clarifying. It promises to address collective bargaining, disputes and lockouts, provision of breaks, terms and conditions of employment and union involvement. Some or all of these had negative or critical coverage during the previous Government.
Although I support the Child Poverty Reduction Bill I have questions about how well it addresses the issues that have been raised. The explanatory note for the Bill says that it will require targets for child poverty reduction to be set and Governments held to them and require agencies to work together to reduce child poverty. All very well, except that the legislation governing the agencies themselves needs a thorough review and as far as is practicable, overhauled. Until then this will not see its full potential.
I support Education Amendment Bill. It removes a highly unpopular and problematic assessment regime for junior students. The National Standards regime was the cause of significant stress among both students and teachers and questions were raised as to whether the students were being excessively assessed and whether the data being collected was really helping parents understand how their child/ren were performing. It also removes the failed Charter School regime – which might work for one or two schools, but not in the New Zealand education system at large.
I support the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis)Bill. Reform around medical cannabis needs to happen, though there need to be strict and readily enforceable limits on the production of medicinal cannabis products including vetting of workers in any industry established, with Police and Ministry of Health oversight.
I have questions about the Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Renewal of Licences)Amendment Bill. To some extent the problems are as much around a failure of the Police to enforce existing laws. If Police were to do so, at least some of the problems currently experienced would disappear. The Local Alcohol Policy is all very well if there are recurring problems, but bars and restaurants cannot be blamed for a problem drunk that they have already sent packing.