Urgency of new Government no surprise

At the risk of seeming completely out of step with some of my fellow political commentators, I do not have a problem with the new Government rushing through Parliament legislation it wants passed before Christmas.

Some of the legislation was well forecast in Prime Minister John Key's 100-day plan and it should have come as no surprise to anyone that he wanted to make a mark in the first days of his Government.

Each government wants to make a mark to show it is setting an agenda of change.

Think back to Sir Roger Douglas, when he was a Labour finance minister, not an Act New Zealand MP, and Ruth Richardson when she was put in charge of the National Party's financial agenda.

Former finance minister Michael Cullen was no slug at change.

Other legislation, like the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, which contains the 90-day trial period for workers in enterprises which employ fewer than 20 people, was not signposted in the 100-day plan.

However, National is a party of free employment market policies and talk before the election was that a National-led government would change employment law, just as the Jim Bolger-led government had done in 1990.

But do not forget that the last Labour government also changed labour law and so did the 1984 David Lange-led administration.

Employment laws get changed as soon as a new government is elected.

There seems to be an unwritten rule about these sorts of changes.

What is a bit of a let-down for many observers is the hash National seems to be making around the introduction of the legislation.

Labour's shadow leader of the House, and expert in running legislation, Dr Cullen, is having a field day letting the Government dangle on a gently swaying rope as it blusters through procedural matters.

Government MPs persist in taking a call to speak, stretching out debates.

There have been some little slip-ups, like the tax changes for some higher-income people in the KiwiSaver scheme.

It was in the fine print of the election policy, but was not highlighted until this week.

National's Leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee, who has had years to prepare himself for this moment, persists in introducing Bills one-by-one instead of allowing the Opposition, media and the public a chance to view in advance the forthcoming legislation.

There are two schools of thought in Parliament why this is the case.

The first is that National does not want the Opposition to know in advance what is being planned, giving it little time to prepare its case against the proposed legislation.

But that can backfire with the Opposition then taking the maximum time in debates and dragging out the parliamentary sessions into Saturdays.

The second school is around National not yet having all of its consultation processes in place with its confidence and supply partners, Act New Zealand, the Maori Party and United Future.

The Maori Party is using its agreement with National to vote against the 90-day trial period.

Wiser heads are set to prevail this weekend, with senior MPs on both sides of the House likely to reflect on their respective positions before work starts again next week.

The Opposition will continue to oppose, but not at the expense of dragging the current session through to Christmas Eve.

In response, the Government is likely to start showing its hand a bit earlier, giving the Opposition time to consider its response.

Both sides will then have a face-saving position to which to retire when the going gets tough.

The week after Christmas, hardly anyone will remember that the new legislation coming in on April 1 was introduced under urgency.

Taxpayers will be looking forward to another tax cut and, given the speed of the spreading global recession, employers will almost certainly be facing further challenges.

The amended employment legislation, and the change to KiwiSaver, will be just another lot of red tape for them to deal with in their daily business.

The Government is clearing the decks and repaying promises made to its support groups.

So, despite the mock horror being expressed in some circles, there are no surprises from National.

Dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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