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May 27, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Urgent- With Apologies to Foreigner, Who Kick Ass

While I would like to write a column about kickass 80s rock bands, like Foreigner, Motley Crue and Whitesnake, I am here to spin yarns about politics.* This week’s topic is the sanctimonious bleating of the leftist complex about the Government’s use of the urgency procedure in Parliament.

Parliament usually sits from 2 until 10 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, and until 6 pm on Thursday. If the Government wishes for debates to extend beyond these sitting hours, this is called “urgency”. Urgency comes in two distinct flavours. The main effect of normal urgency is that a Bill can pass through more than one reading in a day of Parliament sitting. The House can also sit long on Thursday nights until 10 pm, start at 9 am the following day, and then sit until 12 am to use up the urgency hours. The second kind of urgency is called ‘extraordinary urgency’ (super-duper urgency). This is harder for the Government to get, as it requires the Speaker’s permission, and usually the informal agreement of the opposition parties. The House sits until the Bill has passed. Both kinds of urgency provide the capacity for Select Committees to be bypassed. If my memory serves me correctly, the last time super-duper urgency was used was to whack up taxes on cigarettes overnight by Tariana Turia. Pretty sneaky sis!

Labour has complained about the use of urgency in recent times, particularly for the partial privatisation of state-owned enterprises. This is despite the fact that when the Fourth Labour Government sold most of the state-owned assets, they too did it under urgency. There is a word starting with ‘h’ for that. Truth be told, the Fifth Labour Government (Clark et al) used urgency a whole bunch to pass legislation with minimal scrutiny as well. The first term of the Fifth National Government, comparatively, used urgency to an equal or lesser extent. In this second term which we are now all living through, the use of urgency has actually decreased. Why? Because National consulted with other parties on the Standing Orders Committee (which deals with the House’s Standing Orders), and reached an agreement whereby they can now extend sitting hours on a Wednesday or Thursday morning from 9 am to 1 pm, without putting the house into urgency. This is particularly good for the passing of Bills relating to the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process.

If you wish to read more about urgency, I suggest What’s the Hurry? Urgency in the New Zealand Legislative Process 1987-2010 by Geiringer, Higbee, and McLeay (Wellington, Victoria University Press, 2011).


*This expression comes from when uncouth shearers would come in to eat dinner and ‘spin yarns’
full of swearing and tales of vice in 19th-century New Zealand.

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