Free Press, 8 April 2019
Help a Little Girl
ACT’s beliefs could be boiled down to the simple observation that real generosity is putting your hand in your own pocket instead of someone else’s. Now is one of those times as we seek to raise funds for a five year-old girl, who’s spent her life paralysed in the Starship Hospital, to finally go home. This Friday, the Gibbs family are very generously opening up the breathtaking Gibbs Farm with all proceeds going to Ana-Carolina Bircham. Thank you also to Trade Me for putting the ticket sales on their home page. You can buy tickets here and donate to the cause here.
Making A Stand
Last week, the media had a field day pointing out a mundane fact: David Seymour can’t be in two places at once. It’s true, if he’s talking to journalists about rushed lawmaking outside Parliament then I can’t be inside objecting to rushed lawmaking. Ha! What’s not so funny is that 119 of his parliamentary colleagues were present and sat silent. Any one of them could have yelled ‘yes, there is objection’ to the Government trying to legislate a fiendishly complex area with only token consultation in over just nine days, but none did.
The State of Our Media
An absurd amount of the media attention, including Newshub’s lead six o’clock story that night, was about what one MP didn’t do rather than what the rest of Parliament did do. We don’t know what that tells us about the state of our media and democracy but we suspect it’s not good. The media have also widely misreported that David Seymour missed a vote. He did not, he can be seen speaking on the bill here and voting here. We don’t know why media companies bother stationing journalists inside Parliament if they can’t tell the difference between seeking leave of the house and voting on legislation.
A More Important Story
The media could have focused on the other 119 MPs and reported a much more interesting fact. The Government deliberately brought forward their motion to take advantage of Seymour’s absence. Chris Hipkins read it out at a speed that would be quite funny in other circumstances. If ACT is absent from Parliament for even two minutes, the other 119 will use the opportunity to embrace bad lawmaking.
Out of Character
Media might also have asked some questions about the Prime Minister and her Government. Why is the Government that has a working group for everything in such a hurry? Why is the Prime Minister of kindness ramming through new laws in the kind of dictatorial manner last seen under Robert Muldoon?
A Terrible Principle
No doubt the Prime Minister and the other MPs would say it’s too important for normal democratic processes. That’s a terrible principle. ACT has stood for the opposite principle. Parliamentary scrutiny and public consultation are important especially when the topic is important.
Put Another Way
If we believe making a law in nine days is a good idea, we could save an awful lot of time and money by cutting out all the usual consultation, discussion, and deliberation that makes up much of Parliament’s activity. If we don’t think such rushed lawmaking is a good idea, then we should not apply it to something as important as responding to the Christchurch terrorist attacks. The Law Society agrees. They said that they understood the Government’s urge to do something, but the rush would lead to bad lawmaking. Even adding a couple of weeks, they continued, could have dramatically improved the outcome.
And Don’t Forget
Another detail that has escaped widespread coverage is that semi-automatics are already legally on lockdown. An Order-in-Council signed by the Prime Minister the week after the attacks effectively said that only people with the high-level E Category license could buy, sell, or otherwise use semi-automatic weapons. The Order is temporary, but it doesn’t expire until June 2020. That takes care of the need for urgent action.
The Government has also signalled it will start progressing a new law almost immediately after this law passes. That could be our cautious, consultative, deliberative approach to effective problem solving. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the current hasty process is more about political theatre than public safety.
Three Tests of a Proposed Law
Even if you don’t care about parliamentary procedure, you should care what laws come out the other end. For any law you should ask three questions. One, what’s the goal? Two, do we think it will work? And three, will there be negative side effects?
No. 1: The Objective
The real goal is to be safe from the kind of terror seen in Christchurch last month, but that is a complex and ongoing task. With this legislation the Government aims only to remove military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles from our community because that’s what the terrorist used.
No. 2: Will It Work?
We’ve never done it before, but other countries have. The best estimates are that the Australians managed to buy back between 40 and 80 per cent of the prohibited firearms in their country. There’s no sensible reason to think we’d do better. It’s no wonder the Australian ban did not reduce gun deaths. The issue is often confused by the fact that gun deaths started plummeting there from the mid-1980s, but people who study the statistics rigorously find that the 1996 ban did not make them plummet any faster.
No. 3: Unintended Consequences
What of the side effects of this hasty process? One is an erosion of the respect for law. Many in the legitimate gun-owning community are very unhappy with the Government and the law it is making. Just when we need them as allies in gun safety, the Government is treating them with contempt.
A Dog’s Breakfast
Altogether we will probably be less safe after this law passes. It didn’t have to be like this. The Prime Minister could have extended her usual leadership style to getting people around the table and working out how to actually be safer. Alas, that process will likely now start with the second tranche of legislation haunted by the bitter aftertaste of this current folly.
ACT will continue to to scrutinise the Government’s actions, hold it to account, and ensure voters are heard. It’s important we maintain our tradition of sober, robust law-making at all times, but especially now. The best way to show defiance in the face of terrorism is to refuse to erode our democratic institutions. If you’d like to contribute to our efforts, you can do so here.