Here’s why a disappointed blogger is proposing a pay cut for MPs on Parliament’s Justice Select Committee

Malcolm Harbrow, at No Right Turn, has picked up on an important governance issue which our web search (a brief one, we acknowledge) suggests was missed by the mainstream media.

The Referendums Framework Bill was due back from Parliament’s Justice Select Committee yesterday. Harbrow would have been monitoring its progress because he was one of around 15 people who made submissions to the committee.

Today he reports:

But there’s no report on it. Instead, the bill has been bounced back to the House under Standing order 29593) because the Committee didn’t bother to produce one.

They probably tried. But given the membership of the committee (which includes 4 National MPs), and National’s opposition to the bill, they couldn’t pass one. Oddly though they couldn’t even produce a “we could not agree, but let’s fix the typos” report which is usual in such circumstances.

The net result: if you submitted on this bill, congratulations: you wasted your time.  

When Justice Minister Andrew Little welcomed the first reading on August 6, he said the Bill sets up the mechanics of any referendum to be held during the 2020 general election.

The Bill was referred that day to the Justice select committee.

“The select committee process is very important, and I encourage members of the public to have their say on the Bill when the Committee calls for submissions later this week” says Andrew Little.

“This Bill paves the way for the holding of a referendum on legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis, which the Government has announced will be held with the 2020 General Election”.

The government had deliberately created a generic Bill because of the prospect of a  referendum being held in 2020 on the End of Life Choice Bill.

Parliament will be debating this Bill today.

The cannabis referendum question on the ballot paper will be approved by the Government later this year and enacted through an Order-in-Council in early 2020.

Graeme Edgeler, a Wellington barrister with a strong interest in electoral
law, in his submission welcomed the adoption of framework legislation providing consistent rules for the conduct of national referendums.

New Zealand has held several referendums over the last few years, he noted – a referendum on the voting system in 2011, referendums on the flag in 2015 and 2016, and now the referendums are expected in 2020.

In respect of each of those referendums, the legislation had to reinvent the wheel: passing all of the rules around counting of votes, and advertising each time.

This should be unnecessary. The mechanical provisions of referendums should not need to change for each referendum. There would also be benefits to consistency in having future referendums essentially conducted under the same rules.

A permanent law which determines how referendums are to be held would be welcome.

Edgeler therefore submitted the bill should be a permanent piece of legislation, reviewed after each referendum or election in the same manner in which the Justice Committee enquires into general and local elections.

More significantly, Edgeler challenged the Bill’s provision that the decision to hold a referendum and the question(s) to be asked will be determined by order-in-council on the recommendation of a Minister.

Parliament should determine whether to hold a referendum, and should determine the exact question, Edgeler submitted.

“Given the role that referendums play in the legislative process, having Parliament determine when to hold a referendum, and what the question and options will be adds to the legitimacy (and likely public acceptance) of the result.

“This is especially so in cases where the referendum is to be binding (as might occur if  there is a referendum on the End of Life Choice Bill), but would even apply in non-binding referendums of the type proposed for cannabis legalisation.”

 Harbrow, too, submitted that the framework for referendums contained in  the bill be made permanent.

“This would save Parliament from having to reinvent (and debate the reinvention of) the wheel every time it wants to refer a matter to voters.”

In his post today, he says the select committee’s failure to report treats submitters with contempt.

” … and is another perfect example of how MPs earn their reputation and the contempt the public holds them in.”

Meanwhile, Harbrow tartly observes, each member of the select committee is paid $160,000 a year (“plus $16,000 a year slush fund”).

“We’re paying them to not do their jobs. Maybe we should be looking at some mechanism to dock their pay for this sort of bullshit in future.”

We imagine there would be widespread support for that suggestion – and for its broader application to everything that our MPs are supposed to do to earn their keep.


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