I’m not quite on the same page. I do support the rights of the Opposition to filibuster – 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.
And this is the aspect I find somewhat bizarre around Labour choosing the Auckland Council to filibuster. Labour actually support there being an Auckland Council, and set up the Royal Commission that recommended it.
Now some will say, but wait the Government has changed some of the RC’s recommendations. Yes, this is true. But all those details such as the composition of the Council, Maori seats and the structure of the second tier are dealt with in a second bill, that is going to select committee for full consultation.
My other criticism of Labour’s filibuster is they overhyped it, and underdelivered. Labour MPs talked about keeping the House sitting until the Budget, when in fact they failed to even keep it sitting until Saturday midnight. They made two tactical blunders with their filibuster:
- Had too many amendments on the Part voted on just before midnight Friday. Labour had hundreds and hundreds of amendments to Part 3. Normally each of them would take around a minute to vote on, so they were counting on it taking up much of Saturday. But there is an exception to the rule that the House rises at midnight under urgency. It does not rise until all the amendments for a Part have been voted on, if that vote has started. So instead of having the voting delay things further, it just meant that MPs ended up sitting past midnight. There was no debate to be had – just a series of votes.
- They had too many amendments on the same clause, allowing the Government to take them out in a first strike? How? Well any Government amendments get put first, and if the Government amendment is passed, it can make redundant an Opposition amendment. The easiest example is the date the law comes into force – meant to be the day after royal assent. The Opposition put up hundreds of amendments proposing alternative dates. The Government then put up an amendment to change it it the second day after royal assent, and that wiped out all of Labour’s amendments.
Tactic No 2 stopped the House sitting until around 5 am Saturday as it wiped out most of Labour’s Part 3 amendments. But I was amused to get a call a bit before midnight asking me to bring in blankets and sleeping bags for National MPs. I felt like the Red Cross!