At face value it could be argued that the current rash of urgency infecting Parliament at the moment is no business of a group promoting discussion of architecture and urban design issues in Wellington. Over the weekend the government passed laws reinforcing (rather than strengthening) societal repulsion of violence towards children. Last week it reduced the rights of employees of small businesses. Apparently on the urgency menu this week is overturning the previous parliament’s biofuels legislation. We’re getting closer now to urban issues at last I hear you say. But the issue is one of process which will affect the viability of all laws passed in such a frantic fashion, and it is a threat to our democratic process and our rights to participate. I’m thinking most particularly about the inevitable changes to the RMA, another National Party target. I’m not saying that the RMA doesn’t need changes. It’s a complex piece of legislation which constantly is in need of revision and reconsideration, but this behaviour is extraordinarily unacceptable and is not the way to make sound laws.
I listened to the farce of amendments to the Crimes Act on the radio on Saturday. The first reading was closely followed by the second reading, followed (breathlessly) by the third reading. What’s the point you have to ask? Conventionally there are select committees sitting in between each reading, the chance for experts and us public to voice opinions, and to let the politicians know about the repercussions of the laws proposed – but not just the laws – their phrasing, and potential legal interpretations are challenged and presumeably gone through with a fine tooth-comb (so to speak). This is not simply a process of ensuring that the law has some validity – but also that the intention of the lawmakers (and the country) will be effected by the careful crafting of legislation. If Cullen’s assertion that the Opposition didn’t even receive the Bill to be debated until Saturday are true, then we don’t even have the opportunity for alternative views to be adequately voiced under this new regime.
I have only heard pathetic excuses for this dictatorial behaviour. Something about the mandate given by the election – but it seems more likely that the exercise is really about literalising political slogans about 100 days. Regardless of the mandate, the significance of a well-crafted writing of law is the thing that ensures enduring and fair judgements. The disregard for this process instils fear (in this writer at least) about what f*-ups will occur around more complex legislation such as the RMA. It also demonstrates the costs this current government (not parliament) is willing to risk, in order to play at, rather than be, a government.
These actions make the accusations levelled at the Clark government of arrogance and speedily passed legislation (a.k.a. the Election Finance Act) appear surreal. Do we want good laws made to protect and promote good architecture and urban design, or are we happy with the superficial? Whatever our political persuasions, we must demand appropriate and democratic processes are followed in our law making. We must ensure that we are not cut out of the process and that the key role of select committees are valued and respected.