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New Zealand Initiative Urges Quarantine For Non-urgent Legislation

Wellington, 26 March - Asking the public for submissions on pending legislation while the country is in pandemic lockdown risks making a farce of democracy and unnecessarily distracting the Government, according to a new policy paper by the New Zealand Initiative.

The business of government must go on, said the Initiative’s chief economist Dr Eric Crampton, but politicians can afford to put less urgent matters aside for the time being.

Presently, the due dates for submissions on 14 pieces of legislation fall within the Covid-19 Alert Level 4 period.

Dr Crampton said while some of these bills are worth prioritising even in the middle of a pandemic, he doubts they all do.

“Submissions made during Alert 4 lockdowns will not adequately represent the views of the community when many will be prevented from properly preparing submissions.

“The restrictions will especially disadvantage communities relying on access to public facilities like libraries when making their submissions. Maintaining existing legislative timelines for non-urgent legislation during a pandemic makes a farce of our democratic processes,” Dr Crampton said.

Select Committees have the option of extending submission deadlines but aren’t obliged to do so. This was confirmed by Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard this week.

However, even if the deadlines were to be pushed back it still wouldn’t solve the problem of allowing enough time for Select Committees to deliberate over the content of the submissions before advancing the bills to the next stage.

Dr Crampton said extending both the House of Representative’s reporting dates and the Select Committees’ submission dates by four weeks at the minimum would help the Government focus its resources on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic consequences.

But it also helps maintain the integrity of the democratic process.

“Doing so is critical to allow for appropriate democratic scrutiny of legislation that is important but not urgent. The democratic process matters. The House of Representatives must give itself, and the rest of us, an appropriate amount of time to process.

“Surely the members of the Health Select Committee has rather more urgent matters to consider right now than new regulatory framing for vaping,” he added.

A full breakdown of the pending legislation currently in front of Parliament, and the expected submission due dates, can be found in Dr Crampton’s policy paper Time to Process.

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