Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Herald on rushed law

The Herald's editorial this morning will not make pleasant reading for senior members of the Government. But that's not a bad thing; check this out:

On any number of counts, the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill represents a particularly sorry piece of law-making.
Both its content and the manner in which it made its way through Parliament warrant the strongest criticism. The bill, which allots $23 million annually to people who care for disabled adult family members, was passed under urgency, denying public input through select committee hearings. To add insult, official advice from the Health Ministry on the legislation was heavily censored, with whole sections of the 28-page document blacked out.
The legislation's contents see the Government again exercising its impulse to clear the decks when it comes across a situation that is out of the ordinary. In the process, constitutional niceties are dispensed with. The courts can be over-ridden and the checks and balances that should circumscribe Parliament are removed.
In this instance, the Government is responding to a Court of Appeal decision that its policy of not paying family carers to provide support services to disabled family members constituted unjustifiable discrimination on the basis of family status.

The legislation limits the liability of the Government. Payments of the minimum wage are limited to adults assessed as having high or very high needs. It is estimated that the cost would jump to $65 million a year if payments were extended to all carers and all disabled adults.
In the normal course of events, those rendered ineligible by the legislation would surely mount a legal challenge to see if the Government's policy complied with the verdict of the Court of Appeal. But under the legislation people can no longer bring unlawful discrimination complaints about the new law or any family care policy to the Human Rights Commission or take court proceedings. In the words of the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford, "This sends a chilling message to anyone seeing litigation as a road to solving issues relating to the protection of their economic and social rights."
Unsurprisingly, the Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson, found that the clause in the legislation which prevents carers from making a legal challenge breached the Bill of Rights Act because it limited the right to seek a judicial review. Not extending payments to all family carers could also be a breach of the Bill of Rights Act, he said. The Government, intent on limiting future claims, ploughed on regardless.

It's not a good look for the Government to be in conflict with its Attorney-General. Nor is it a good look for legislation to be rushed through under urgency, which should be used sparingly. Hurried legislation is seldom good legislation.

John Key has defended the Government's position however; Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key is defending new legislation that prevents people taking legal action against the Government, saying it is constitutional and necessary.
A bill legislating for the payment of family members looking after disabled adults was adopted by Parliament under urgency at the weekend.
It followed a Court of Appeal ruling against the Ministry of Health policy excluding family members from payment.
Critics say a clause in the bill preventing family members taking further legal action is unconstitutional.
Concerns have also been raised about the bill's regulatory impact statement, much of which is blacked out because it is "legally privileged". 
Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said Parliament had failed the families and the bill perpetuated existing discriminations.
But Mr Key believed the clause was legal, constitutional and necessary. It highlighted "a really challenging issue about where you draw the line between family responsibility and where the state should play a role". 

It is good that the Government has addressed this issue, which has been festering for almost ten years. However the manner in which it has been addressed is far from ideal in our ever-humble opinion.

Oppositions seldom get voted in. Changes in government are generally as a result of a voter backlash against the incumbent government. And an issue such as this can often be the catalyst for change.

We hope that this is not the case for the John Key-led Government, but it is treading a knife-edge at the moment in terms of the 2014 General Election, and issues such as this ought be better managed. Perception is everything in politics, and governments which are perceived to be arrogant or out of touch eventually get a DCM from the voters. National has some redeeming to do.


bsprout said...

KS, I applaud the views expressed in this post. I recently wrote a post myself where I talked about the old National Party of the 1960s that was the best organised political party in New Zealand and represented our heartland and mainstream. We need a return of a more honorable National Party with a modern version of the dignified and thoughtful governance of Sir Keith Holyoake and Brian Talboys.

National is now seen as pandering only to the very rich and using the very methods you describe to ram through dodgy legislation. They have already have to amend amendments in another fast tracked bill to progress oil drilling and too much legislation is being rushed without the consideration of select committees. It is just bad process and undemocratic.

I hope your party will listen to you as I think it reflects a growing discomfort for how we are now being governed. Judith Collins' appalling rejection of MMP reforms, was just thumbing her nose at the wishes of most New Zealanders to have the unfair and dodgy elements of MMP addressed. I haven't read one piece of political commentary that supported her intent or explanation. This Government has become a law unto itself.

Bernece Pau said...

You say only that the issue should be better managed, that this behaviour from Key and co threatens their electoral chances. You have missed entirely the seriousness and implications of National's abuse of position here. It is all New Zealanders who are being seriously wronged here but all you can see is National losing votes. How about you adddress the SUBSTANCE of the issue, for once?

Bernece Pau said...

Gordon Campbell says 'Don’t want to be unduly alarmist about this, but we seem to have an outlaw government on our hands – if by that we mean a government willing to suspend the ability of citizens to seek the courts’ protection if and when the government violates freedoms set out in our Bill of Rights.'

Does that no concern you Keeping Stock? Really? Or do you hold that it's just 'the opposition' making trouble for a very good John-Key-led Government? Really?

bsprout said...

Bernece, I would like to give credit to, KS, for what he has said:

"It's not a good look for the Government to be in conflict with its Attorney-General. Nor is it a good look for legislation to be rushed through under urgency, which should be used sparingly. Hurried legislation is seldom good legislation."

For a loyal supporter of the National Party it is a small, but important, step in the right direction. it would be great if there was less urgency, greater transparency and using select committees properly.