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Filibuster Raises Potential Standing Order Issues

The House rose at 10pm after making slow progress on Members’ Day, raising issues about how a Government could in theory bring Members’ Day to a complete stand still if they wished.

In effect tonight’s proceedings showed the Government’s majority in the House on procedural matters means it is possible to stop a closure motion being put, potentially bringing progress to a total halt. An eventuality which does not seem to be envisaged by Standing Orders.

National MPs stretched out the committee stage of National MP Paul Goldsmith’s Electronic Transactions (Contract Formation) Amendment Bill in order to delay debate on parental leave legislation, which is still some way down the Order Paper.

This saw some fine examples of the art of filibustering including one from retiring MP Chris Tremain who opined on the “historic” nature of the bill and the relevance of the bill’s title.

Much of the debate was reminiscent of Labour filibustering one of its member’s own private bill on the Royal Society in the previous Parliament, in order to prevent a vote on voluntary student union membership. This was ultimately unsuccessful because the Government eventually closed the debate by forcing the House in Committee to report progress and move on to the next bill.

However tonight the power of the Government’s majority in the House meant it was able to block motions to end debate. In theory it could mean an endless debate, though politically the use of this unusual tactic would be likely to bring a backlash.

A lesson of MMP parliamentary history has been progress in the House is reliant on the Government respecting the Opposition’s ability to oppose and the Opposition respecting the Government’s ability to advance its programme. This is because when co-operation over procedure breaks down both sides of the House can make life difficult for each other.

Public tolerance for Parliament being brought to a standstill would also be a risk for a Government which attempted such a tactic.

The Government did not push its ability to block debate to the limit and allowed progress to be made on the bill with the House eventually completing debate on the five clause bill and reporting it without amendment minutes before the House was due to rise.

Debate on the second reading of the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill was interrupted when the House rose at 10pm.

Earlier MPs completed debate on the Sullivan Birth Certificate Bill which allows an individual to have both her mothers named on her birth registration.

The bill completed its third reading on a voice vote.

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