Otago Daily Times

Best, worst of lawmaking in space of a day

- Audrey Young is political editor of The New Zealand Herald.

WELLINGTON: It has been the best of lawmaking and the worst of lawmaking in the space of 24 hours by a singlepart­y majority Government on two different controvers­ial Bills.

One law is being rushed through under urgency, with no consultati­on. The other could not be more different.

In the best example, a review of the inadequate old law by experts was commission­ed by the last government and a broad promise put into the Labour Party manifesto about the party’s view.

Detailed decisions were then made by the new Cabinet, other parliament­ary parties were consulted on the highlevel plan and a process was outlined, including a select committee inquiry on a draft Bill.

The committee will hear from the public as well as specialist­s by the end of the is year, and a stated aim by the minister in charge, David Parker, is to have replacemen­t laws in place by the end of 2022. Brilliant.

There will be a big range of views because it is about repealing the Resource Management Act. It will be a contest of competing rights.

Environmen­talists, property developers, ratepayers and councils may well have competing interests. Lawyers will have firm ideas about the importance of case law.

The invitation to the select committee to hold an inquiry into a draft Bill is novel. But it represents a clear willingnes­s of the minister to allow some of the detail be written by a committee that will be exposed to arguments from all sides and will be able test them.

It is an acceptance that a public process can improve legislatio­n.

The worst example of lawmaking is also about what has turned out to be an inadequate law, the power of local referendum to overturn a council’s decision to establish Maori wards.

Maori wards were introduced by Helen Clark’s government with the best of intentions to address the woeful representa­tion of Maori in local government.

It was highly controvers­ial in 2002 and that was before the Foreshore and Seabed Act or Don Brash’s Orewa speech.

To gain wider acceptance — presumably — local voters were given a power of veto in a referendum which could be held with the support of 5% of voters and that veto has been widely used to overturn Maori wards.

There may have been promises given by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta to change the law, including to Local Government NZ, but they were private promises, not to voters.

There was no mention of it in Labour’s manifesto. The law change was mooted a month after the election. Debate about the process has been dismissed. It reeks of arrogance.

There has been no consultati­on as is customary with electoral law, with either experts or other parties.

It is being rushed through Parliament in order to prevent nine councils which are seeking to establish Maori wards for the 2022 election from being vetoed.

The first reading was held under urgency, submission­s open today — and close today — and the Maori affairs select committee will report back by next Monday in order that it be passed by March 22 to avoid local referendum­s.

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