IN COMMITTEE Loose Ends and Leftovers

Among the more interesting powers of Parliament’s select committees is the ability to call an inquiry into pretty much any matter it may so choose, request submissions, conduct hearings and subsequently report to Parliament on its findings. The Select Committee inquiry department has been having busy time of late.
The Health Committee set hectic pace with its inquiry into the exposure of New Zealand Defence personnel to Agent Orange and other defoliant chemicals during the Vietnam War and any health effects of that exposure. The committee looked at the issue of national organ donor register, and conducted further inquiry into hospital-acquired infection – all of which generated their fair share of headlines.
The same was true of the Local Government and Environment Committee’s inquiry into the alleged accidental release of genetically engineered sweetcorn plants in 2000 and subsequent actions taken; and the Commerce Committee’s briefing on Television New Zealand’s accountability to Parliament and the ongoing inquiry into the New Zealand electricity industry.
All of this activity notwithstanding, there were number of interesting inquiries still outstanding at the year’s end.
These included the Finance and Expenditure Committee’s inquiry into the revenue effects of fraudulent investment schemes; the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee’s ongoing inquiry into New Zealand’s political, economic, trade and cultural relationship with Latin American countries, its look at New Zealand’s relationship with Tonga, and its investigation into New Zealand’s role in the promotion of international human rights.
The Government Administration Committee will be busy this year with its inquiry into hate speech; Justice and Electoral had its inquiry into the shambles that was the 2004 local authority elections; Regulations Review held an inquiry into affirmative resolution procedures on the go; and the Social Services Committee was looking into factors contributing to poor outcomes for children.
All of these committees will no doubt continue to conduct their allocated tasks with great diligence.
However the Privileges Committee (traditionally referred to as “Parliament’s powerful Privileges Committee”) appears to be taking more relaxed approach to the two matters currently before it. They are question of privilege relating to an application for orders and declaration sought by Darryl Bruce Queen, and question of privilege concerning Buchanan versus Jennings – CP No IC9/98.
On May 19 last, the Speaker Jonathan Hunt informed the House that he had received notice of an application for orders and declaration sought by Darryl Bruce Queen in the High Court, Christchurch. The application sought orders against the Justice and Electoral Committee in its consideration of the Care of Children Bill.
In the Speaker’s opinion, “The application involves question of privilege, in that it asks court to direct select committee with regard to its consideration of business. The question therefore stands referred to the Privileges Committee. In the meantime I will be applying to the court to have those parts of the application struck out,” it was stated. And that is where matters presumably still sit.
Hopefully Queen’s issues will be resolved more swiftly than the Buchanan versus Jennings business which has been hanging around for nearly seven years; during which time Act MP Owen Jennings (the Jennings in question) has long since left Parliament and may well have forgotten what the matter was all about, along with everyone else, with the possible exception of Buchanan.
This year all manner of fascinating new inquiries will no doubt be initiated and many of them completed. It will be interesting to see, however, if finally the Privileges Committee gets around to wrapping up Buchanan versus Jennings which must surely be the inquiry process’ longest surviving loose end.

Julie Collier is editor and publisher of Select Committee News.

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