IN COMMITTEE Voting for Extinction

Most New Zealanders would be surprised to learn that some bills that come before Parliament arrive there more or less on the roll of the dice.
Bills can be described as “proposed legislation”. Normally they are proposed by the government of the day, and then only after the ideas that they propose have gone through wide-ranging policy development process – quite possibly having been the subject of debate at the time of general election – and then through an extensive legal drafting process.
However, there is one type of bill that can leapfrog all of that merely because some Member considered it good idea and because luck was on its side. Such bills are known as ‘Member’s Bills’ and at any given time only four of them can be lined up for introduction. Entry into the line is by ballot.
An interesting example is NZ First MP Barbara Stewart’s Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill that came out of the hat recently and passed its first reading in the House. The Bill, as its name suggests, seeks to reduce the number of Members of Parliament; specifically from 120 to 100, which is more-or-less what the situation was before the introduction of MMP.
As Stewart reminds us: “In 1999 referendum was held in conjunction with the general election of that year asking whether the size of the House of Representatives should be reduced from 120 members to 99. The result was an overwhelming 81.5 percent, or 1.7 million New Zealanders, voting in favour of reduction.”
Perhaps, but the question is what will happen now that the Bill has been sent to select committee for consideration? Should this Bill be adopted, it would be analogous to the proverbial turkeys voting for an early Christmas. After all, its passage into law would literally send 17 percent of their number into early retirement. If there was ever measure that could guarantee solid cross-party opposition (Stewart, and possibly her party, excepted) this is surely it.
But then again, when 1.7 million voters express common view on subject, MPs are pretty well obliged not to reject matters out of hand. For this reason it was not surprising that, when the Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill came before the House, it was sent to select committee for consideration.
What happens to it now that it is there is another matter.
In the writer’s opinion, the chances of any committee recommending that it is passed into law are zilch. Nevertheless, the very fact that it is before select committee, and that ordinary New Zealanders will have their chance to express their views on the subject, should give us some faith in the system. Even practice as seemingly archaic as choosing proposed laws by ballot does have something to recommend it.
And spare kindly thought for the plucky Stewart who, as one of Parliament’s lower profile MPs, may well – were her Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill to become law – find herself out of job.

Julie Collier is editor and publisher of Select Committee News.

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