In Committee Blissfully Ignorant?

Chances are that right now there is at least one Parliamentary select committee sitting in Wellington deliberating on issues that are going to have direct and significant impact on your company or organisation; its status; its profitability; or the regulatory environment in which it operates. What is more, it’s an even bet that you don’t even know it is happening.
A quick primer on the way select committees work: The Government drafts Bills, the House sends them to select committee for consideration; the committee calls for and considers submissions from interested parties before reporting back to Parliament recommending what proposals in the Bill should be revised, retained or rejected. These same committees also have wide ranging powers to conduct inquiries into matters of current interest – for instance, the Scampi Inquiry.
There is nothing secretive about this process, although final deliberations are held ‘in committee’. The reasons you are unlikely to know that issues concerning your organisation’s welfare are being debated are (a) the fact that media invariably prefer to report on political titillation, rather than what is going on in the engine room, and (b) because the volume and breadth of new legislation passing through the process at any one time makes it difficult to keep track.
To illustrate just how much legislation is flowing through the committee process at any given time, here is just cross section of the Bills that are about to be reported back to Parliament from select committees over the next six weeks:
* On the 19th of this month we’ll see the report back on the Building Bill which introduces new regulatory framework for building work, building practitioners and product certification and accreditation (the wash-up of the leaky buildings saga). There was wide divergence of opinion on exactly who and what should be regulated with builders arguing that they were going to be held responsible for matters that are well beyond their yen;
* On May 3rd we’ll see what will be major shake-up of both the legal and real estate industries. The Lawyers and Conveyancers Bill seeks to reform the structure of the legal profession and will allow registered and qualified non-lawyer conveyancers to provide conveyancing services which were previously the exclusive preserve of lawyers. Needless to say the legal fraternity hasn’t given up without fight;
* Two days later it will be the turn of the Electricity and Gas Industries Bill that seeks to apply consistent framework to both the electricity and gas sectors. Theoretically this “reflects the close linkages between the electricity and gas industries, in particular with respect to electricity security of supply and reflects the establishment of an Electricity Commission”. Many submitters have argued that such linkages are damned distant.
* On May 27th it will be the Meat Board Restructuring Bill, which aims to restructure the Meat Board and form Meat and Wool New Zealand. The proposed changes would mean that the quota management functions and management of industry reserves would be retained in residual board with statutory powers. The Meat Board’s industry-good functions would be undertaken by new company (Meat and Wool NZ).
* day later it will be the turn of the Railways Bill which aims to promote the safety of rail operations and consolidate legislation relating to the management of the rail corridor. This may sound innocuous enough, but the debate has been anything but, with the rural community in particular taking the opportunity to give the rail authorities good whack around the ears on everything from stock safety to weed control.
If any of these are likely to impact on you or your organisation, the bad news is that your chance of having your say has long since passed; although it’s not too late to find out what happened, blow by blow (see Now whole host of new issues are being lined up. They include:
The Public Finance (State Sector Management) Bill that repeals Ruth Richardson’s Fiscal Responsibility Act 1994; the Maori Fisheries Bill that implements the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Agreement; the Parole (Extended Supervision) and Sentencing Amendment Bill that authorises extended supervision for child sex offenders; the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) that makes all sex offences gender-neutral; and the Social Security (Long-Term Residential Care) Amendment Bill that alters income and asset testing for people in long-term residential care.
Once again the chances are that many of those who will ultimately be affected by the deliberations of the select committees considering these matters, remain in blissful ignorance of what is happening. And will quite possibly remain so until it is again too late to influence the outcome.

Julie Collier is editor and publisher of Select Committee News.

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