Parliament at its best and worst

Just returned from making my third and fourth submission in the last fortnight to the Justice & Electoral Select Committee. As with the previous times, there was good questioning and discussion on the issue. Ths time it was about the name suppression clauses of the Criminal Procedure Bill.

As I was observing other submissions, I reflected it is a pity more people don’t get to see MPs at work like this. Unless the bill is a highly partisan one, they are genuinely engaging with submitters and looking for ways to improve the draft laws, before they are finalised. It’s an important part of our democracry, and one of the parts that works very very well. The absence of an upper house makes their role even more vital.

I hope that someday will broadcast (even just over the Internet) all public sessions of , as well as the House itself.

Sadly this week we also saw Parliament at its worst. Labour wasted four hours of the House’s time filibustering the Hamilton City Council (Parana Park) Land and Vesting Bill. This is a non controversial bill that is supported by all parties in Parliament and passed its 1st and 2nd readings without dissent.

Now I’m not against the Opposition being able to fillibuster. I blogged in 2009:

I do support the rights of the Opposition to – within reason. In fact I was the primary staffer who helped National delay the Employment Relations Act by a week in 2000.

But a filbuster is a blunt weapon for an Opposition to use, and if you get it wrong, it can hurt you.

I tend to think an Opposition should do a full filibuster only once per parliamentary term – it should be used against the piece of legislation that you think is most harmful to the country.

This was the test National used in 2000 with the then ERB. It gave all sorts of special favours to unions, and National decided it was the law they were most against.

Now some will say why filibuster at all? Well an Opposition can not defeat a law, so all they can do when it is a really really bad law, is delay it to show how bad they think it is.

But here Labour is filibustering a totally non-controversial bill. They wasted the entire four to four and a half hours allocated to local and private members bills on talking about how they like to go to the park.

Why? Well their real target is the next bill on the order paper – the bill.

It is interesting that Labour have decided that the VSM bill is so bad, thet they are going to try and oppose it with ore vigour than any other issue before Parliament – even more so than tax cuts, privatisation etc.

Why are Labour willing to risk a public backlash with their fillbuster, in the hope they can stop VSM (voluntary membership of student associations) occuring? Someone on Twitter provided the best answer – because there are no limits to what a parent will do to protect their young!

Compulsory membership student associations have been a major source of training and employment for future Labour Party MPs. So there are no big issues of principle involved.

What is even rarer is that Labour is willing to fillibuster private members day. Only one in six sitting days is given over to private member bills. And the vast majority of those sitting in line are from Labour or the Greens. They’re willing to stop all of those being debate, so long as they can delay VSM.

Of course they will fail. Even with fillibusters the VSM bill should pass into law in April or May. And the Government could always adopt it, and pass it as a Government measure. There is no way it won’t pass before the election.

Ironically the longer they delay it, the less time universities will have time to prepare their enrolment software.

It will be interesting to see how many weeks or months of fillibustering will Labour inflict on private members day, in their fight against VSM. It would be good to see on TV some of the inane filibustering speeches that were made yesterday on the Hamilton City Council (Parana Park) Land and Vesting Bill.

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