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Although further research

is needed to establish a clear pattern of division based on party lines, there is some suggestion that the varying attitudes of support parties under MMP may account for such discrepancies. By contrast to the 1996-1999 parliamentary term, there is strong evidence that the Green Party had both a practical and cultural influence on the Labour-led governments during the 1999-2002, 2002-2005 and 2005-2008 parliamentary terms. It may also be that as support parties become more practised at extracting a price for their support on procedural motions, such as urgency motions, that the use of urgency will decline even further.

Time and the legislative process One of the recurring themes of the Urgency Project was the issue of time and the legislative process; governments have a legislative agenda and find it difficult to find the parliamentary time to progress it. This raised fundamental questions about how the House operates, what is expected of MPs, why there is so much legislation, and whether the quantity of legislation is necessary. The tension between

a government wanting to advance its legislative

equivalent percentages for the post- MMP parliamentary terms surveyed range from 22.7 per cent to 55.3 per cent . However, the impact of MMP on the use of urgency has not been consistent. For example, the 1996-1999 National Party led parliamentary term (which had 55.3 per cent of all bills introduced accorded urgency at some stage) is similar to the 1990-1993 pre-MMP term, which had 59 per cent of all bills introduced accorded urgency at some stage.

agenda, and a Legislature (or at least opposition parties) wishing to slow the agenda down, is not exclusive to New Zealand. It is difficult to make direct comparisons between Legislatures, but research into comparable Parliaments identified various tools used to expedite the process of legislation. Examples include: the use of the Main Committee in Australia to sit concurrently with the House in order to debate uncontroversial legislation; the ability to declare an “emergency Bill” in the Scottish

Parliament, and guillotine motions and programme orders in the United Kingdom House of Commons. Government tools to limit debate

or fast-track legislation often attract criticism and backlash from opposition members. For example, the passage under urgency of controversial legislation centralising the local government bodies of New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, was subject to thousands of computer-generated amendments by the opposition at the committee of the whole House stage. This filibuster-style delay tactic draws the public’s attention to the process the government is undertaking (or by-passing), although it can also have the converse effect of drawing public criticism of the opposition for being perceived to be wasting Parliament’s time.

Reform in New Zealand The Urgency Project concluded by identifying two primary concerns with how urgency was being used. First, urgency was being used more frequently by certain governments to pass Bills without consideration by select committee under MMP, despite MMP dispersing power beyond one political party. Second, the benign use of urgency was combined with the controversial use of urgency. This made it difficult to identify potentially democratically troubling uses of urgency from those non-controversial uses supported by parties of all stripes. The members of the Urgency

Project made a submission to the Standing Orders Committee, as part of the Committee’s triennial review of the Standing Orders. The submission made a number of suggestions for reform of the Standing Orders related to the use of urgency. Significantly, the Standing Orders

Committee adopted the suggestion for a separate provision for extended sitting hours to allow progress on single stages of legislation (also proposed in 2009 by then Leader of the House, Hon. Gerry Brownlee, as a sessional order). The House voted to adopt the recommendation, and the House first used the new

extended sitting hours provision on 8 March 2012. Disappointingly, the proposal that the Speaker be required to approve any use of urgency which skips the select committee stage for a piece of legislation was not adopted as a recommendation by the Standing Orders Committee. Urgency as a procedural method

for pushing forward the government’s agenda, and the responses urgency engenders in opposition parties, may contribute to a public disregard for the institution of Parliament. The public expects due process to be followed, but also that the parliamentary system will be flexible enough to allow genuinely urgent legislation to be passed without time being wasted by the opposition. Perhaps the best tool to keep all parties in check, absent stricter standing orders on the use of urgency, is an informed public and media. The complex and varying uses

of urgency in New Zealand often obscure what is actually being progressed or passed in the House. It is hoped that at least by separating out the two major uses of urgency, the spotlight will more easily shine on governments whose procedural actions deserve scrutiny.


• The project was conducted under the institu- tional auspices of the New Zealand Centre for Public Law and the Rule of Law Committee of the New Zealand Law Society. The project was funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation, to whom the authors are grateful. • Lesley Zines, Constitutional Change in the Commonwealth (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991) at 47. • Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Unbridled Power: An Interpretation of New Zealand’s Constitution and Government (2nd ed, Oxford University Press, Auckland 1987) at 236. • For further comparisons, see the 2009 House of Lords Select Committee on the Con- stitution report entitled “Fast-track Legislation: Constitutional Implications and Safeguards”. • See ures/8/7/8/00NZPHomeNews201203061- How-does-the-House-extend-its-sitting-hours. htm for an explanation of the extended sitting hours provision.

The Parliamentarian | 2012: Issue Three | 207

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