Auckland v Christchurch on quake law

Ben Heather in The Press reports:

A law passed for Canterbury’s earthquake recovery is an “unprecedented” surrender of parliamentary power, allowing the Government to make laws by decree, a group of Auckland lawyers say.

In an opinion from the Auckland District Law Society’s public issues committee, the was labelled one of the most “extreme” laws passed in New Zealand history.

“(It) is a virtually unprecedented abdication of power by the legislature in favour of the Crown.” The law surpassed powers given to government after previous quakes, such as Napier’s 1931 quake, despite the quake being less substantial, the committee said.

The act was passed unanimously by Parliament in September and gives the Government the power to change almost any law to aid the earthquake recovery.

As noted, was voted for by Labour and the Greens. I think it is great that the Opposition had such high trust in the integrity of John Key’s Government that they could vote for such a law, knowing that the Key Government would not abuse the powers voted to it.

Personally it would have been more desirable not to leave it all to trust, and to have had the Earthquake Act specify which Acts could be amended by Order in Council (rather than merely stating which ones can not).

So far, 14 changes, called orders of council, have been passed, amending everything from social security to the building code.

None of these decisions required parliamentary consent and they cannot be challenged through the courts.

The committee claims the law could technically be used to exempt police from prosecution or raise GST with only passing reference to the quake.

A more appropriate response would have been to amend legislation when required through Parliament, it said.

Here the ADLS get a bit unrealistic. Certain things had to happen quickly.

However, Canterbury-Westland Law Society branch president Allister Davis said the act was necessary and the committee’s view was “short-sighted”.

The act would expire in April 2012 and so far powers bestowed on the Government had not been abused, he said.

“Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary legislation.”

I guess you get a different view of constitutional proprieties, when your house is in the earthquake zone.

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