National’s Lost Luggage Bill ­— a worthless, cynical attempt  to waste everyone’s time

National’s Lost Luggage Bill ­— a worthless, cynical attempt to waste everyone’s time

National MP Nuk Korako has proposed an entirely ineffective and meaningless Bill in parliament that will do absolutely nothing, is not necessary, and appears to be a deliberate attempt by the government to stall the democratic process. It has resulted in criticism across the board, government ministers on the back foot, and an increasingly hilarious catfight between Gerry Brownlee and an Otago University academic. 

The Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill is what’s known as a Member's Bill, a form of Bill (Proposed Law) that can be put forward by any member of Parliament. Every second Wednesday, names are picked out of a biscuit tin to decide which Members' Bills get a parliamentary debate and an initial vote. This is basically the only chance an Opposition MP has to get major laws passed, and has produced some very significant reforms in the past —including the legalisation of gay marriage in 2013. 

There’s a bunch of Bills in the ballot, 74 to be exact, covering a whole host of really important issues. And most of them don’t exactly fit into the National Government’s agenda. So increasingly, National MP’s have been putting forward their own Members' Bills, therefore reducing the chance that an opposition Bill is selected. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and plenty of very good legislation is put forward this way. But Nuk Korako has gone beyond that. He has proposed a Bill that literally does nothing, solely for the purpose of blocking legislation from opposition parties. It’s a thoroughly undemocratic move.

Otago University Public Law Professor Andrew Geddis has launched a one man tirade against the proposal, calling it “the worst Member’s Bill ever” and “disrespectful to New Zealand”. 

The Bill is supposedly written to fix an extremely trivial problem regarding lost property at airports. As it currently stands, airports must to place an ad for lost property in the local paper before they are allowed to sell it. This isn’t talking about suitcases lost in transit, mind you, this literally only applies to odd items left behind in the terminals. Korako’s Bill removes that obligation in favour of more “relevant methods.” Except, as Geddis points out, the existing Act already allows airports to publicise the lost property in any “fair and reasonable manner”. So the proposal changes absolutely nothing. 

Not only this, but Geddis points out that even if Korako felt the change was necessary, there are other far easier ways to make small non-controversial amendments to legislation without triggering a full parliamentary debate and blocking other important legislation.

John Key has announced that the Bill has the backing of the entire National caucus, and Gerry Brownlee has stupidly decided that engaging Andrew Geddis in ad hominem attacks is the best way to defend his party’s insult to the democratic process, saying “Professor Geddis is demonstrating a degree of arrogance that can only come from academics”. 

Andrew Geddis offers a less than sincere response, saying “I apologise. I shall no longer make the arrogant assumption that the statutory requirement that my University “accept a role as critic and conscience of society” requires me to speak out if I see foolish or wrongheaded lawmaking. Instead, I will do my duty to democracy and assume that whatever MPs (at least, government MPs) do is completely fine and not to be questioned in any way, shape or form.”

This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2016.
Posted 10:47am Sunday 21st August 2016 by Joel MacManus.