An abuse of urgency

this week passed the Policing (Involvement in Local Authority Elections) Amendment Bill into law.

The bill amended the Policing Act to allow police officers to stand for local councils under the same rules as other state servants.

I supported the law change, and it was in fact in National’s 2008 election policy, so there is a mandate for the change. I believe Labour voted for the bill also.

So why am I unhappy? I am unhappy because the Government passed it through all three readings under , without referring it to a select committee.

There are effectively two sorts of urgency. The most common use of urgency is merely to extend the sitting hours of the House from 6.5 hours a day to 12.5 hours a day. I have few problems with that, so long as the Government keeps question time going.

But urgency sometimes is used to avoid a bill going to a select committee, and to pass it into law within a day or two. This is a necessary power for bills that are genuinely urgent. Common use is excise tax changes and sometimes in the early days of a new Government it is justified so some policies can be implemented immediately.

I do not believe there was a good justification for the bill to bypass the select committee stage. It doesn’t matter that it was inevitable it would be passed anyway as both National and Labour supported it. We, the public, were robbed of the chance to submit on it. The select committees are our voice.

Without an upper or second house, they are even more important. Bypassing them should happen as rarely as possible.

Some may argue it had to be passed in time for the local body elections. I agree, but it could have been introduced to Parliament earlier, or the Select Committee could have been given a shorter than normal (six months normally) period to report back.

Now this is a very simple bill for which there was an election mandate. But using urgency to bypass select committee sets a bad precedent, when it is, in fact, not urgent.

Labour used urgency to do some outrageous things – the worse being a retrospective amendment to the Electoral Act to save Harry Duynhoven after he invalidated his seat. This is a long way removed from that, but it remains a bad thing to do. The select committee process should not be seen as an optional extra.

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