New Zealand governments are abusing their ability to pass laws under urgency, say a group of researchers from Victoria University’s Faculty of Law.
Senior lecturer Claudia Geiringer, Polly Higbee and Professor Elizabeth McLeay have just completed a new study examining the use of urgency to put bills through Parliament between 1987 and 2010.
Their research found that urgency had been used, at some stage, for more than 1600 bills during the 24-year period.
The current government has been one of the biggest users of urgency since the introduction of the MMP in 1996, along with National-led governments between 1996 and 1999.
By using urgency to pass bills into law, the House of Representatives is required to sit for longer hours, and, at times, on days it might not normally sit.
Under urgency, the government is able to dictate what bills are debated and ultimately passed into law.
McLeay said while abuse of urgency has been greater at some times than others, successive governments have relied on it to pass legislation more quickly.
She said the main area of concern is where major policy is pushed through under urgency, avoiding the scrutiny that happens at select committees.
“We’re not saying urgency should never be used, but there needs to be greater distinction between when it’s a result of the government being frustrated with the pace its legislation is progressing through the House, as opposed to the times when there is a genuine need for something to be fast-tracked.”
McLeay said media also tend to accept the frequent use of urgency.
“It’s become part of New Zealand’s culture.”
The public should be worried about the overuse of urgency.
“We believe relying on urgency to address the perceived problem of insufficient time to deal with the government’s legislation programme is undesirable because it comes at a cost to the integrity of the legislative process,” McLeay said.
“Even relatively benign uses of urgency contribute to a public perception that parliament is not following its own rules and the legislation is being rammed through.”
The researchers interviewed 18 current and former MPs and senior parliamentary officials as part of the study.
McLeay said there weren’t enough scheduled sitting hours to get through government business and using urgency was a legitimate tool to get extra time.