‘Reckless and irresponsible’: Govt urgently pushing through 24 bills after Queen’s death caused lost time

PM Jacinda Ardern admits there is ‘confusion’ over the Three Water bill and has asked for the scope to be clarified. Video / Mark Mitchell

The Government is rushing through 24 pieces of legislation, some without public submission, after an urgent motion was passed in the House.

The motion, raised by the leader of the House Chris Hipkins, substantially extended the time when the House was sitting to allow the 24 bills – all at varying stages of progress – to be debated.

Hipkins said the urgency was necessary after a week’s worth of House sitting time was lost when Queen Elizabeth II died on September 9.

However, it meant four bills would move forward without going through the select committee process, which enabled the public to have their say on the proposed legislation.

The House moving with urgency had attracted strong criticism from all other parties in Parliament, who all opposed the motion in the House yesterday, but it passed as Labor held the necessary majority in the House.

The bills being progressed through all stages – which comprised of the first, second and third readings, select committee and committee of the whole House – included the Residential Tenancies (Healthy Homes Standards) Amendment Bill, which offered a 12-month extension to state landlord Kāinga Ora and private landlords to comply with the Health Homes Standards.

Also included was the Land Transport (Clean Vehicles) Amendment Bill that delayed the implementation of the Clean Car Standardan emissions standard for imported vehicles, to give importers more time.

The two other bills, Social Security (Accommodation Supplement) Amendment Bill and Covid-19 Public Health Response (Extension of Act and Reduction of Powers) Amendment Bill, concerned accommodation supplements for spouses of people receiving long-term residential care and the reduction of the Government’s Covid-19 powers such as lockdowns, respectively.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins raised the emergency motion.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
Leader of the House Chris Hipkins raised the emergency motion. Photo / Mark Mitchell

“It’s a necessary step as we want to get some bills to the select committee this year,” Hipkins said of the urgency.

“Some of the bills are administrative and four bills will go straight through without going to select committee, including a minor technical bill that ensures that the housing accommodation supplement for some people is not interrupted.”

Daily sitting hours could span from 9am to 12am, including two hour-long breaks, from Wednesday and could last until Saturday.

Among the bills was the Water Services Entities Bill, which contained the controversial proposal to shift the governance and management of New Zealand’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater from local councils to four regional entities.

The bill, often referred to as Three Waters, had received more than 88,000 public submissions through the selection committee process.

It was currently going through the Committee of the Whole House, when MPs considered the bill in detail and voted on proposed changes. It would go through its third reading in December.

Two of the bills set for their first reading under urgency this week had implications for the country’s cost of living crisis.

Minister of Energy and Resources Dr Megan Woods.  Photo / NZME
Minister of Energy and Resources Dr Megan Woods. Photo / NZME

The Fuel Industry Amendment Bill introduced several changes to the sectorincluding giving power to the Commerce Commission to improve the sector’s security and affordability, boosting the country’s fuel supply resilience and delaying plans that reduce emissions to ensure costs were not passed on to consumers through higher fuel prices.

The Grocery Industry Competition Bill established a Grocery Commissioner to force supermarkets to offer fairer pricesin addition to making it easier for smaller retailers to compete in the market.

The Arms License Holders’ Applications for New Licenses Amendment Bill, introduced to keep current firearms licenses valid post-expiry due to a backlog in the licensing system, had been through select committee but was set to go through second reading, committee stage and third reading this week.

Te Pāti Māori (the Māori Party) had slammed the move towards urgency with co-leader Rawiri Waititi calling it “dangerous and reckless law-making”.

He was concerned it would have a detrimental impact on Māori, as the ability to debate bills and source evidence was compromised under urgency, in his view.

“As tangata whenua, we are at the mercy of these major parties” co-leader Debbie Ngarewa Packer said.

“It’s being pushed through because the Government hasn’t done what it was meant to do – make legislation.”

National Party leader Christopher Luxon.  Photo / Mike Scott
National Party leader Christopher Luxon. Photo / Mike Scott

National leader Christopher Luxon said passing the legislation in an emergency was “irresponsible” and “completely mad”, particularly with Three Waters.

“The Government hasn’t listened, the Prime Minister now can’t explain the components that are being added in, last-minutethey should stop and they should sit down with councils and find a proper, enduring solution.”

Act leader David Seymour said it showed the Government was disorganized and would lead to legislation receiving insufficient scrutiny.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson believed the 24 bills would have taken more than one week’s worth of House time and was saddened to see the Government resort to urgent debate.

“We want robust debate and I’m not sure how 120 MPs holed up in [Parliament] for such long hours is going to give the level of debate that is also required.”

Hipkins, responding to the criticism, said the bills going through all stages this week were “largely technical in nature” and “relatively uncontentious”.

“I would be surprised if anyone was surprised,” Hipkins said, when asked if the public would be surprised by what was included in the bills progressing through all stages.

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