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18 Mar 2018 13:14
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  •   Home > News > Politics

    Parliament in for a scorcher of a session

    If National has started the way it intends to continue, this parliament is going to have a scorcher of a session.

    Parliament has sat for just two days and the battle plans are clear - this session is going to be a scorcher.

    It's going to be brute force politics as National uses its 56 MPs - more than any other party has - to make the government's life a misery.

    Within an hour of MPs returning to the debating chamber after hearing the governor-general deliver the speech from the throne on Wednesday, the action began.

    Shadow leader of the house Simon Bridges is a very smart operator, and as MPs were being sworn in he realised Labour was missing a few and might not have the numbers if he forced a vote on the election of Trevor Mallard as Speaker.

    Bridges didn't know for sure Labour was short and the government's house leader Chris Hipkins didn't seem to know either.

    So Hipkins struck the deal - more seats for MPs on select committees if National didn't force a vote.

    Hipkins later claimed he had known all along that he had the numbers but decided it would be better to get parliament "off to a good start" by having Mallard elected without a vote.

    Hardly anyone believed him.

    The most likely scenario is that Hipkins hadn't expected a vote so he hadn't bothered counting, and when he was challenged he couldn't risk a hugely embarrassing failure.

    He didn't have any reason to expect a vote, because National had given the government an assurance it would support Mallard in return for Anne Tolley becoming deputy speaker.

    So it was sneaky, but politics often is.

    National insiders claim Hipkins had been extremely unhelpful during discussions about the number of MPs on select committees, the groups of MPs who scrutinise bills and hear public submissions on them.

    Labour has a problem because it has fewer MPs than National, and wanted to limit numbers to 96. National pushed for more than that, and Hipkins agreed to increase it to 108.

    This is a very in-house issue but it's important.

    The government needs a majority on most of the 13 select committees or the opposition can play merry hell with its legislation.

    The more MPs there are, the more difficult it is for the government to get its act together.

    The next day the government put parliament into urgency so it could bring in its bill to increase paid parental leave.

    National - although it killed the same bill when it was in power - had decided to support it.

    The reason was simple and obvious - it's a popular bill and during the election campaign National had itself promised to increase PPL, although not by as much as Labour.

    But it wasn't going to give the government an easy ride.

    There were furious attacks on ministers for calling urgency, for which there was "utterly no reason" because the changes don't start until July next year.

    There was outrage over the fact that the bill won't go to a select committee for public submissions, even though it went through that process twice in the last parliament and nearly every submitter supported it.

    New Zealanders were being denied their right to have a say, it was an affront to democracy.

    The minister in charge of the bill, Iain Lees-Galloway, pointed out that when the previous government increased PPL it used budget legislation under urgency and there was no select committee process.

    No one seemed to hear him and a good deal of time had been wasted, which is something National can use its numbers for with very good effect.

    The government needs to push legislation through parliament to meet its First 100 Days commitments.

    National can, and probably will, make that very difficult.


    © 2018 NZN, NZCity

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