In 'da House | Issue 19

In 'da House | Issue 19

Mass Debaters

The system for debating members’ bills in Parliament has been in the spotlight lately. Last week, three opposition members’ bills passed their first readings in Parliament – a rare occurrence – and a couple of exciting new ones were drawn from the ballot, including Louisa Wall’s Marriage Equality Bill, which has generated lots of hot air already.

People are often surprised to hear how Parliament chooses which members’ bills get to be debated. The infamous “ballot” is really a biscuit tin with a bunch of numbers in it, each of which corresponds to a bill in the name of an MP. Interested spectators troop down to the Tables Office and watch while the biscuit tin is shaken up and numbers drawn out. Each MP can put one bill into the ballot each time.

Members’ bills can be a pain for the Government, particularly if Parliament chooses to support something that is not Government policy. We saw this last week when Sue Moroney’s Paid Parental Leave extension bill and David Clark’s “Mondayisation” bill passed their first readings, despite National voting against them.

Some, like the Marriage Equality Bill, are treated as conscience votes, so MPs can make up their own minds about how they vote. Even though the Marriage Equality Bill is in the name of a Labour MP, there is no guarantee that every Labour MP will vote for it. The Greens are the only party that has guaranteed that every MP will vote for marriage equality. For us, it’s not a conscience issue – it’s a human rights issue.

And then you get some members’ bills that are just all round awesome. I’m delighted to report that my Lobbying Disclosure Bill passed its first reading with unanimous support from all parties last week. This bill would require paid lobbyists to file quarterly returns disclosing who they have lobbied and what about. They would also be required to comply with a code of conduct.

Lobbying is an important part of the political process, but it’s currently completely unregulated. My bill would bring a measure of transparency to the process of political lobbying, and in doing so help to improve the reputation of Parliament and political decision-making. The public has a right to know who is lobbying MPs and what about. Sunlight really is the best disinfectant. As a new MP, I’m stoked to have the opportunity to see a member’s bill through Parliament so early in my Parliamentary career.
This article first appeared in Issue 19, 2012.
Posted 4:49pm Sunday 5th August 2012 by Holly Walker.