A new sort of filibuster

National has played some very smart cards to delay the Electoral Finance Bill without launching a fullscale filibuster against it.

Hell if it was up to me, I’d file 30,000 amendments and as each one takes a minute to vote on this would add on 500 hours to the debate and they would conclude it in around 30 weeks time.  Sure the Clerk’s Office would never ever talk to you again, NZPA would send an assassin after you for forcing them to listen to 30,000 votes and the Whips would lose their voices, but it would effectively kill the bill.

But the smart people at National have gone for a much better option.  They are delaying the bill by actually debating it clause by clause.  They have organised their MPs so each MP can speak on seperate clauses.  This makes it very hard for the Committee Chair to take a closure motion when MPs can point to speakers who have not yet spoken, clauses not yet debated and amendments not yet considered. Generally only an hour per Part of a Bill will be given but if you do what National has done, you ensure each Part’s debate lasts several hours.

And so they should.  The Government has used eight sub-parts in Part 2 of the Bill, just so it can be rushed through debate.  This deals with all the details of party donations, candidate donations, third party donations, party advertising, candidate advertising and third party advertising.  If only one hour was allowed for Part 2, then each sub Part would only get around eight minutes debate or two speeches.

National has also avoided using hundreds of time wasting  amendments.  I’d say 90%+ of their amendments have been constructive amendments based on submissions made.  The Government’s even adopted a small number of them.

Finally National has also craftily used a provision in Standing Orders where MPs can lodge questions not just to a Minister (which are restricted to 12 a day) but to any Committee Chair. So last week suddenly ten committee chairs were all asked about progress of work before their committees.  A very legitimate and cunning way to delay things a wee bit.

It will be interesting to see how the Government intends to get through the final stages, without resorting to urgency as they have promised not to do.  Assuming we trust them, this leaves two major options:

1) Complete committee stage today (they will have from 3.30 pm to 6 pm and 7.30 pm to 10 pm), have a members day tomorrow and then have third reading on Thursday.  This will then mean the 11 new bills will only be introduced and have first readings under urgency next week and with 22 hours of debate needed could keep the House going to around midday Thursday.

2) Complete committee stage today and then go into urgency on the 11 new bills and remaining business. This will take the House through until very late Thursday or maybe even Friday.  Then resume next Tuesday for the EFB 3rd reading and an adjournment debate.

Of note is that the electoral agencies asked for the EFB to be passed into law by 30 November at the latest if it was to have a 1 January commencement for the regulated period. Even that was very tight – in the UK they had months and months to get ready.  But even the incredibly tight one month deadline has been missed (and remember the Government delayed introducing the EFB for months on end while it did secret negotiations about it) and if it is only given third reading next Tuesday, that leaves only three days before basically Wellington closes down.

The sensible thing would be to delay the date the EFB comes into force until 1 April.  But no the Government is hell bent on regulating from the 1st of January.

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