Cheat sheet: What’s the rush? Parliament goes into urgency to pass massive wodge of new laws

Late on Tuesday, Leader of the House Chris Hipkins called an urgent motion for Parliament to sit longer and try to pass a whole pile of legislation, or get some key bills on to their first reading. A whopping 24 bills were listed (all listed at the bottom of this story). Bets are now taking place in the halls of power about how long MPs will have to stick around for this week.

OK, so what is the Leader of the House?

The Leader of the House, currently Chris Hipkins, is the Government minister in charge of the Government’s business in the House, law-making in particular, working with Parliament’s business committee. In other jurisdictions such as Australia they are known as the “Manager of Government Business”. In essence, they are the minister in charge of shepherding through legislation and deciding in what order bills will be heard and when. The opposition has an equivalent, currently National’s Chris Bishop.

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Before we get started, how does a bill usually become law?

Usually the process of a bill becoming law is the following: It is introduced into the House and has a first reading. If it passes this, it gets sent to a select committee where the finer points are debated, public submissions heard and kinks ironed out. It then has a second reading, and then there is a ‘committee of the whole house’ where the minister in charge of the bill answers questions about it. Finally, there is a third reading and the bill gets signed off by the governor-general, becoming law.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins has called for Parliament to advance a raft of bills this week.


Leader of the House Chris Hipkins has called for Parliament to advance a raft of bills this week.

And what is urgent?

An urgent motion is called mostly when the Government either wants to quickly pass a bill for political reasons – the House often goes into urgency to pass Budget bills – or practical reasons: legislation that needs updating otherwise Government payments might stop or legislation might expire. These matters are the ones that are actually urgent. It differs, but urgency essentially means that all stages or some stage of a bill can be heard consecutively, instead of going out to select committees for consultation.

Doesn’t that mean there’s less scrutiny of the Government?

Yes it does, which is why it tends to be used sparingly or to push through bills where there is less disagreement between parties.

Because it reduces scrutiny, oppositions almost always oppose urgent motions, before using them once they take the Treasury benches. Former speaker Trevor Mallard lashed out the Government for using urgency to pass its Covid-19 “traffic light” system last year. Labor was careful to note in this the release accompanying this lot of urgency, how sparingly it thinks it has used urgency.

“Despite the Government’s busy agenda, we make every effort to minimize the use of urgency, and our record stacks up well again National Party-led governments,” Hipkins said.

The House of Representatives debating chamber.


The House of Representatives debating chamber.

But why so many bills – it seems like a lot?

This Government has a busy (some would say unrealistic) legislation agenda, which has seen various things delayed by Covid-19 and the Queen’s death, which saw Parliament not sitting for a week. Effectively the House has about 17 hours of lost time to make up for the Queen alone. It won’t have made up that time until 3pm on Friday, before even trying to get a bit of extra time.

When urgency is called the Government fills up the list of bills so that if it gets through business more quickly than expected it has other stuff to get through.

OK, I understand trying to pass laws that are partially through Parliament, but why are new bills only having their first reading under urgency?

This is mostly to do with the time of year and the fact that next year is an election year. So the Government has bills it wants to send out for public consultation before the end of the year. By the time Parliament returns in mid-February it will have been out in the ether for a couple of months. The aim is, from the Government’s perspective, to maximize the chance of passing more legislation before the election.

Will Parliament really be sitting on a Saturday?

Maybe. In recent years Parliament’s sitting times have been reduced to make the place more family friendly. Parliament usually sits Tuesday and Wednesday until 10pm and on Thursday and the House rises at 5pm so MPs can get flights home to their families. It will now sit until midnight and sit until at least Friday. The Government will make the call by Friday afternoon so if the House is to rise, it will do so in time for MPs to get home. If it hasn’t, most MPs will be stuck in Wellington anyway, so it will probably run through Saturday. In this case, Wellington’s bars could have an overrepresentation of MPs over the weekend.

And finally, what is the point of all this, do we really need all these laws?

The answer to that question is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, but there are a couple of amendments to existing bills that will certainly go through: the Government’s clean cars standards measures and the changes, announced on Tuesday, to extend the deadlines of compliance of the Healthy Homes Standards.

The bill under urgency – in the order the Government will run through them

Please note the following contents and order of the urgent motion are subject to confirmation.

  • Water Services Entities Bill Committee stage
  • Residential Tenancies (Healthy Homes Standards) Amendment Bill All stages
  • Land Transport (Clean Vehicles) Amendment Bill (No 2) All stages
  • Social Security (Accommodation Supplement) Amendment Bill All stages
  • COVID-19 Public Health Response (Extension of Act and Reduction of Powers) Amendment Bill All stages
  • Dairy Industry Restructuring (Fonterra Capital Restructuring) Amendment Bill Committee stage, third reading
  • Climate Change Response (Extension of Penalty Transition for Forestry Activities with Low Volume Emissions Liabilities) Amendment Bill Committee stage, third reading
  • Arms (Licence Holders’ Applications for New Licences) Amendment Bill Second reading, committee stage, third reading
  • Companies (Levies) Amendment Bill Committee stage, third reading
  • Grocery Industry Competition Bill First reading
  • Fuel Industry Amendment Bill First reading
  • Crown Minerals Amendment Bill First reading
  • Local Government Official Information and Meetings Amendment Bill First reading
  • Legal Services Amendment Bill First reading
  • Accident Compensation (Access Reporting and Other Matters) Amendment Bill First reading
  • Health and Safety at Work (Health and Safety Representatives and Committees) Amendment Bill First reading
  • Security Information in Proceedings Legislation Bill/ Security Information in Proceedings (Repeals and Amendments) Bill Third readings continued
  • Māori Purposes Bill Third reading
  • Remuneration Authority Legislation Bill Third reading
  • Statutes Amendment Bill Third reading
  • Organic Products and Production Bill Committee stage, third reading
  • Natural Hazards Insurance Bill Committee stage, third reading
  • Digital Identity Services Trust Framework Bill Committee stage, third reading
  • Civil Aviation Bill Second reading Committee stage, third reading

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