IN COMMITTEE Legislation In Limbo

You can think of the select committee process as the conveyor belt that carries legislation from inception to completion. At any given time host of new bills will be shunting their way forward, having gizmos added or subtracted, waiting for the day when they will return to Parliament for the second and third readings, which will effectively package them for their launch into the legal marketplace.
Generally speaking, the process runs pretty smoothly, but approximately once every three years major disruption in production occurs. Parliament, along with its select committees, dissolves for general election; the conveyor belt shuts down and dozens of bills find themselves either abandoned on the factory floor or reported back to an empty Parliament with nobody to debate them.
This is pretty much what is happening at the present time.
Bills find themselves in one of the following potential positions. Some have been referred to select committees by Parliament and are awaiting the calling of public submissions; some are going through the submissions process, which may or may not be completed before Parliament rises; while few still have the opportunity of making it through into law before the election (at the time of writing the election day is yet to be announced).
Theoretically all Bills before Parliament are to be reported back by August 14 at the latest, but in reality this will be quite impossible.
For instance, the Taxation (Depreciation, Payment Dates Alignment, FBT, and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill; the Coroners Bill; the Evidence Bill; the Legal Services Amendment Bill (No 2); the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill; and the Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill, all have submission closing dates of August 12.
Clearly there is no way they can be considered in two days; and even if they were it would make no difference because by then (even given the last possible election day) our elected representatives will have downed tools and be busy out on the hustings, seeking to retain their jobs for another three years.
A very select group of bills just might become law before the 49th Parliament rises. We’re picking that the Courts and Criminal Matters Bill; the Appropriations Bill; and the Resource Management Electricity Legislation, all have fighting chance. Which raises the question of what is going to happen to all that hard drafted and rigorously scrutinised legislation that will still be lying about the workshop on election day?
In times gone by this legislation was automatically picked up by the incoming select committees. Under changes in Standing Orders, however, this is no longer the case. Now Parliament must actually resolve to carry matters forward or the Bills elapse and all the good work is for naught. We can assume that such motion will be moved and passed before Parliament settles back to listen to the valedictory speeches from departing members (Richard Prebble’s reflections may be worth tuning in to).
However, this in itself does not guarantee that such Bills are out of the woods. The incoming government may or may not be of the same general composition and political complexion as the outgoing number. But, either way, it is certain that both chairs and the composition of the select committees will be radically changed and there is no certainty that the new committees will hold the same views as their predecessors.
Irksome as it may be for those affected, some outstanding Bills may well be in for major redesign and retooling. In some ways, elections are damned nuisance.

Julie Collier is editor and publisher of Select Committee News.

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