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Election Timing Has Implications For Legislative Timetable For Energy and Environment Sector

First published in Energy and Environment on January 30, 2020.

The setting of election day as September 19 will mean there is a constrained period of time for the Government to progress its legislative agenda with some particular implications for the energy and environment sector.

With the House resuming on February 11 and set to rise on August 6 ahead of the dissolution of this Parliament, it will leave 52 sitting days this year before the election.

This may sound like plenty of time, but much of the House’s programme is consumed with set piece debates (such as the opening of Parliament, the Budget Debate and the annual review process), every second Wednesday is taken up by Members Day and as is the way with politics events often conspire to interfere with plans.

When MPs return to Parliament, they will be faced with a relatively light Order Paper, but there is a flow of major and minor legislation ready to flow back from select committee consideration.

As readers of Energy and Environment will be aware after a meandering pace over the year, there was a rush of legislation into the House at the end of 2019. Much of this was of major importance and fundamental to the Government’s long term agenda.

Amongst these are the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Bill (due back from select committee by June 17), Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill (April 24) Land Transport (NZTA) Legislation Amendment Bill (April 24) the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Bill (June 17) and the Taumata Arowai—the Water Services Regulator Bill (June 17)

Outside the energy and environment sector there is other crucial legislation for the Government ranging from education sector reform through to major changes to the public sector as well as commerce and financial sector reform.

Obviously, this all has the potential to cause a bottleneck as the year goes on. Ministers are already looking at ways to manage this and this impacts on two bills of importance to the energy and environment sector - the Resource Management Amendment Bill and the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading Reform) Amendment Bill.

The Bills are also not due to back to the House until March and April, but the Environment Committee has been meeting this week (covered in more detail in this week’s edition) to hear submissions and has put in place a very constrained process for this.

Submitters have been given speaking slots of five or ten minutes to give presentations and take questions (which were rare and far between). This includes organisation such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

These are complex Bills and their future progress is likely to be controversial. The Government wants them back in the House sooner rather than later. One of the side effects of all this is that both MPs on the committee and Ministers will be even more reliant than usual on officials analysis of submissions, particularly those of a technical nature.

Experienced lobby group, the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association said they were concerned at the rushed time frame, which would undermine support for the process. Lobby groups at the other end of the spectrum have voiced similar concerns that MPs on the committee seem unaware of the detail and implications of much of what they are considering. This underlines the importance of officials in guiding the committee’s and ministers direction going forward.

Another side effect of the constrained time for legislation this year is that Bills introduced this year have little or no chance of passing into law ahead of the election unless there is a reduced time for select committee consideration or the Government uses Urgency.

Amongst the sector’s legislation which is likely to fall into this category is anything the Government might come up with from Crown Minerals Act review, the proposed ban on mining on the Conservation estate (where a discussion document has been delayed for two years), detailed three waters regulation and any legislative changes flowing on from the Electricity Price Review.

Outside the constraint of the House’s time is the fact that officials across the sector are all under severely heavy policy workloads (as is the sector itself), politicians as well are also facing the reality of having their jobs on the line. This will mean an increasing focus on the politics and the popular, which can sometimes lead to unpredictable reactions.

First published in Energy and Environment on January 30, 2020.

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