The first steps of the 51st Parliament – Legislative reform

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Authors: Simon Watt, Paul East QC and Molly Woods

​​​​Following the official opening of Parliament just two weeks ago, the Government has wasted no time kick-starting the next phase of its legislative agenda. In light of this, our update:

  • comments on the mechanics of the legislative process during the period of transition between Parliaments;

  • provides a brief overview of the legislative reforms currently under way; and

  • offers some practical advice on lobbying for reform at this time.

Business from the previous Parliament

After each election, the new Parliament decides which of the Bills it wants to carry over from the previous term. Usually this is an opportunity for the new Government to “trim the fat” - prune from the list the Members’ Bills it has no intention of progressing. This time however, in keeping with its intention to return to business-as-usual as efficiently as possible, the Government simply moved to have the full list reinstated. In accordance with Standing Order 83, this means all Bills were reinstated in the same form, and at the same stage they reached when business lapsed in August 2014.

Select Committees were also named in the first week of the new Parliament in order to have business progress swiftly; a full list of the members of Select Committees can be viewed here.

Focus of legislative reform

Despite foregoing the opportunity to narrow the focus of reform with the carry-over motion, it is clear that the fifth National Government has a defined plan for legislative reform in its next term. In the first two weeks of Parliament, both the Employment (Relations) Reform Bill and the Accounting Infrastructure Reform Bill (now split into the Auditor Regulation Amendment Bill, the Charities Amendment Bill (No 3), the Financial Reporting Amendment Bill, and the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants Amendment Bill) have been progressed to the third reading stage.

The Government has labelled these reforms as key steps to further its Business Growth Agenda, which focuses on increasing investment in business and developing the job market. Further reforms in this stream have also been signalled: Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Paul Goldsmith has outlined his commitment to progressing the Commerce (Cartels and other Matters) Amendment Bill; the Standards and Accreditation Bill and the Trade (Safeguard Measures) Bill in the coming months. The Minister has noted he will begin meeting with a wide range of consumers, investors and businesses in the lead up to the Christmas break.

RMA reform

Another (widely-publicised) intended reform for this Parliamentary term, is the changes to the Resource Management Act 1990 (RMA). Controversially, in 2011 the Government proposed altering the wording of sections 6 and 7 of the RMA (the sections which provide the overall principles of the RMA, and guide the decisions and actions made under it), in order to place a greater emphasis on economic factors.

While the message has been clear that the 2011 Bill will be returned for re-drafting, the extent of the re-drafting, and therefore the content of this round of proposed changes, is not yet certain. The timeline for when the Bill will be introduced to the House is also a guessing-game. However, given the weighting the Government has placed on ensuring affordable housing in its third term, and its vision of streamlining the RMA to assist with this goal, it is likely that RMA reform will be "Category 1 or 2" on the Legislation Programme for 2015.

The Legislation Programme

At the beginning of each calendar year, Cabinet compiles the Legislation Programme for current and proposed government Bills, following consideration of submissions from Ministers on their preferred rankings. Bills on the Legislation Programme are ranked Category 1 through Category 8, in descending priority order:

    Category 1: must be passed or introduced as a matter of law in the year;
    Category 2: must be passed in the year;
    Category 3: to be passed if possible in the year;
    Category 4: to be passed under extended sitting hours;
    Category 5: to be referred to a select committee in the year;
    Category 6: instructions to the Parliamentary Counsel Office to be provided in the year;
    Category 7: on hold; and
    Category 8: not to proceed.

Ministers will be invited, by way of Cabinet Office Circular, to make submissions as to the priority of Bills for 2015, over the next two months. It is now a useful time for those who are interested in the fast-tracking of a certain proposed amendment to makes these interests known to the relevant Minister.

Lobbying for reform – when is the time to act?

With the commencement of a new Parliamentary term, and the reassessment of the agenda for legislative reform, the next few months are also a good time for parties to begin lobbying for any new reforms important to them. However, it is worth noting that if the Business Committee’s recommended sitting programme for the remainder of 2014 is approved by the House, there will only be four more Parliamentary sitting weeks before the Christmas break (this week; 25, 26, 27 November; 2, 3, 4 December; and 9, 10, 11 December).

In light of this tight timeframe, it is likely to be challenging for parties to have any completely new initiatives considered in time to be placed in the Legislation Programme for 2015, particularly if the initiative involves significant policy development or is not aligned with current policy priorities. Bell Gully’s Parliamentary consultant, the Rt. Hon Paul East, QC, advises that parties allow the new Government “a breather” for this period up until the Christmas break, and look instead to approach Ministers/Members with any new substantive reform requests in the New Year.

However, Paul East considers it would be wise to raise such an intention with Ministerial Advisers now, in order to flag the matter in advance and ensure the issue is at least on the Minister’s radar. Ministerial Advisers sit outside the public service as they are Parliamentary employees, but Paul East notes that they play an integral role in progressing law reform. Ministerial Advisers are available to be contacted by the public.


Disclaimer

This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.

For more information
  • Simon Watt

    Partner Wellington
  • Paul East QC

    Consultant Wellington
Related areas of expertise
  • Public law