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The House: Guns, Alcohol And The Pan Tax

The influence of lobby groups was raised and thrown around the House last night as the Government managed to cobble together the numbers to defeat the Alliance's Fire Arms Authority Bill, while a revamp of ALAC was sent through to select committee.

Matt Robson said, while introducing the Fire Arms Authority Bill that if the Bill progressed, for the first time Parliament would have listened to the public on the subject and the "powerful" gun lobby and MPs should not be afraid of that.

(Mr Robson's speech notes on the Firearms Authority Bill are on The Scoop at http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO9906/S00051.htm)

The Bill itself went back to the 1997 Justice Thorp report on firearms. That report itself sprung from work begun by John Banks as Minister of Police in 1992 after the Aramoana massacre, with the Arms Amendment Act.

The Bill tried to implement the report's recommendation on establishment of an independent fire arms authority.

The Government indicated it would opposed the Bill, but promised it would be introducing its own legislation shortly. Despite a number of impassioned speeches from the supporters of the Bill, none were swayed.

It looked for a while like that the vote might be interesting as National MP and Auckland Mayor, Christine Fletcher decided to support the Bill progressing. However once again the Alliance found itself undermined by one of it former members with Frank Grover, now Christian Heritage, helping to vote the Bill down. The final vote was 61 -59.

The Members session began with Annette King criticising Belinda Vernon's Alcohol Advisory Council Amendment Bill as shallow and achieving nothing. She said while it was meant to improve how ALAC worked, what it did do was widen the role to cover other poly-drug abuse, but weakened them and gave them no extra funding.

Labour's Health Spokeswomen said it was a facile bill, with the only good point in the legislation was that it changed the title of the boss of ALAC from Chairman to Chairperson.

Mrs King said she believed that the real reason for the legislation was that the National Party had friends in the beer and liquor business who were angry that ALAC were doing such a good job and in order for National to keep their support in the run-up to the election, the Government had to weaken ALAC.

However the Bill, which would see the Council's scope widened has the support of ACT, NZ First and along with the majority of the independents (or Mauri Pacific) to allow the Bill to go to select committee, even though some MPs did express concerns about some aspects of the Bill.

The Children's Health Camps Board Dissolution Bill was also sent on to select committee. The Bill turns the camps' board into a trust and removes them from legislation. The change has the support of the Board istelf, because it believes the existing statutory framework is not appropriate for them to work or grow under anymore.

Toilet humour then bubbled to the surface with an attempt to clean up the long running problems of 'pan taxes' on schools. NZ First's Brian Donnelly introduced the Educational Establishments (Exemption from Certain Rates) Bill.

The law change seeks to exempt some education establishments from sewerage charges. Mr Donnelly said millions of dollars had been "flushed down the toilet" as central and local government pushed back and for the blame for charges levied on schools.

Under the law schools don't have to pay rates and charges based on their properties, but councils can charge levies, and schools were funded at an estimated $6.50 per pupil for charges such as on sewerage.

However, some Councils base rates on the number of 'pans' on the property and this has led to some schools facing excessive charges.

Mr Donnelly and others referred to some of the absurd effects created, such as schools concreting up toilets to a avoid paying the charges and then being charged a toilet closure charge.

Katherine O'Regan said the Government would support the Bill going to the select committee, despite some concerns that this Bill might not be the best way to address the problem of the pan tax.

With the passage of that, MPs slapped each other on the back and agreed the House should rise at just after 9pm as the House had completed all the private and local bills on the paper. The process had started with the Hawke's Bay Regional Council (Surplus Funds Distribution) Empowering Bill going to select committee.

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