A taste of 12 new Statutes brewing in New Zealand Parliament

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New Zealand Parliament in session (RNZ Photo by Dom Thomas)

Russell Palmer
Wellington, January 3, 2021

The New Zealand Parliament is currently considering 12 new Bills, about which little is known or discussed, thanks to Covid-19 which gobbled up time and space throughout out 2021.

These proposed statutes are yet to complete the Parliamentary process.

The following is a glimpse of what is cooking.

The Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard)

The Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Member’s bill proposed by National MP Todd Muller would require the Minister to recommend mandatory safety standards for sunscreen products under the Fair Trading Act. This safety standard would match the Australia-New Zealand Standard for sunscreen.

The Bill specifies that sunscreens should match the SPF label that is specified on the bottle. You may think that would not be a novel idea, but it has been a struggle getting sunscreens to live up to their claims for ages.

“In Australia, the standard is mandatory, whereas in New Zealand. compliance with the standard is voluntary,” says an explanatory note.

Sunscreen being to a child on a beach (Ampak-123RF Photo)

This short bill passed its first and second reading in April and November. Although proposed by a Member of the Opposition, this Bill enjoys broad support from all parties in Parliament.

Muller said he had ‘minor skin cancers’ removed and that it is critical that New Zealanders like his red-headed children have confidence in sunscreen products.

“Both countries love the Sun and have high skin cancer rates. Both countries know the importance of sunscreen as part of the triple arsenal against the Sun that includes a T-shirt and a hat, but only one country requires compliance with the shared standard, and it is not New Zealand. This bill seeks to remedy this issue,” he said.

Labour’s Kieran McAnulty had a more graphic anecdote: “Playing Cricket with my mates at the beach, my shoulders looked like a bubble wrap. They still talk about it but sometimes you have to face the truth. The Sun is dangerous and should not be trifled with.”

Financial interests of Councillors

While MPs’ expenses and financial interests are publicly released on a regular basis, it is a different story for local Councillors.

The Local Government (Pecuniary Interests Register) Amendment Bill would change that, requiring Councils to publish an annual register of financial interests of Councillors, including business interests, employment, directorships, property, gifts and payments.

“Currently, the information collected and publication of members’ interests for managing conflicts of interest is inconsistent across local authorities. While some authorities have registers which collect information required by this Bill and make them available to members of the public, a majority of local authorities do not,” says an introduction to the Bill.

Given recent Serious Fraud Office investigations into the Christchurch and Auckland Mayors (Lianne Dalziel has been cleared but that of Phil Goff is ongoing), such a change seems timely.

It is the Bill tabled by Labour MP Tangi Utikere, a first-term MP who was previously a Councillor and Deputy Mayor in Palmerston North for 10 years.

“This bill provides a minimum standard of transparency to be adhered to by elected members. It will also require gifts to be declared. The threshold will be an estimated market value of more than $500. It will include hospitality and donations but will exclude donations for expenses incurred in an election campaign,” he said.

The proposed penalty for failing to declare will be a $5000 fine, which National Party MP Ian McKelvie (as former Mayor) said may not be enough to “stop you rorting your local community.”

With Labour’s Parliamentary majority and National’s support, this Bill is likely to become Law. The ACT has some reservations but may be addressed at Select Committee meetings.

Sale and Supply of Alcohol

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill is legislation proposed by National MP McKelvie, aiming to simplify alcohol regulations at races, allowing people to bring their own drinks.

According to the draft Bill, when a racing club with an on-licence or on-site special licence holds a race meeting, the grounds are exempt from being fined up to $20,000 or convicted as unlicensed premises.

“It would increase attendance on race days, making the industry more attractive and successful, and will be welcomed by racing clubs across the country,” McKelvie said.

The Bill is yet to have its first reading.

Plain Language Bill

No flowery phrasing with this one. The Plain Language member’s bill in the name of Labour’s Rachel Boyack aims to improve transparency by making government websites and documents jargon-free and easy to understand. It includes a requirement for agencies to appoint a ‘Plain Language Officer’ who will make sure these rules are being followed.

It was introduced to Parliament in September but is yet to have the first reading.

Listen: The Detail on why plain language is such an important skill

Surrogate security

Labour MP Tāmati Coffey’s Improving Arrangements for Surrogacy Bill will help parents using a surrogate (where someone agrees to become pregnant on behalf of the happy couple) to get the paperwork started before the baby is born, and they would legally be the parents at birth automatically.

It would also make the legal process easier and give more security to the surrogate, including requiring the prospective parents to pay child support if they change their minds.

The Bill itself still has a lot of growing to do – it has been introduced but no first reading yet but as a Labour Member’s Bill backed by their majority it’s very likely to pass.

Better living through Chemistry

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (Hazardous Substances Assessments) Amendment Bill will make it easier for the Environmental Protection Authority to do its job in assessing whether substances are dangerous.

“Right now, the assessment and reassessment of hazardous substances in New Zealand are very time consuming and very resource-intensive. As a consequence, since 2001, the EPA has only been able to complete 54 reassessments … there are outstanding 43 chemicals in urgent need of reassessment,” Environment Minister David Parker, who has sponsored the Legislation said at its first reading in Parliament.

It means that regulation of chemicals that are bad for people or the environment can be fast-tracked and conversely, good chemicals can also be integrated faster into industries.

The EPA will be able to consider testing already done overseas, for example, without having to carry out the research themselves from scratch. They will also be able to put restrictions on a chemical being reassessed – useful if, for example, there is a reason to think that they are more dangerous than thought earlier.

National’s Scott Simpson described the bill as falling into the category of dull but worthy.

Canine Companionship Clause

People with disabilities and their allies have been showing dogged determination in trying to make things more accessible, not least for those who rely on a paw or four to overcome the barriers society presents them with.

A best friend they may be, but disability support animals provide much more than fellowship – but human rules don’t always seem to account for this.

The Human Rights (Disability Assist Dogs Non-Discrimination) Amendment Bill aims to set down in law that discriminating against a person for using a disability assist dog is discriminating against that person on the basis of their disability.

It was originally written by former MP Mojo Mathers, now being championed by fellow Green member Ricardo Menendez March.

Speaking on his behalf at the Bill’s first reading, colleague Jan Logie said: “Disability assist dogs are more than just your average mutt. [They] perform many different tasks, such as retrieving objects for people in wheelchairs, or alerting deaf people to fire alarms or doorbells-they are … critically important [to] their owners’ lives. New Zealanders with disabilities should not be discriminated against because they need a disability assist dog to make their lives easier and more fulfilling.”

It would mean, for example, that someone trying to rent a home could not legally be discriminated against just because they have a disability assist dog.

All parties said that it was a very good bill and gave it a treat at its first reading before walking it over to the select committee, with ACT’s Tony Severin hoping that it would progress quickly to put an end to discrimination.

Making Stats a bit easier

This is the nerds: The Data and Statistics Bill would repeal and replace the Statistics Act 1975.

Advances in technology and the shift from paper-based systems to digital databases have left the old law with serious deficiencies and hence this Bill aims to fix some of those, making useful statistics easier for Stats NZ to publish, and easier to access.

It would add to the law, a requirement to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, in the collection, management, use and production of statistics and research, ensuring Māori have a voice in that, including in decisions about how data about Māori are collected and treated.

This is a government bill led by Statistics Minister David Clark that probably fits in that same “dull but worthy” category as the Bill on Chemicals. It has passed the Frist Reading and the Select Committee submissions closed on December 22, 2021.

The law of the Sea

From pirates to The Simpsons, international waters are famously portrayed as a lawless place, where the arm of the government cannot reach. No longer – or at least, it wasn’t ever quite that simple. The Maritime Powers Bill asserts New Zealand’s authority to enforce New Zealand’s criminal law (a) On New Zealand-flagged vessels (b) On foreign-flagged or stateless vessels in areas for which New Zealand has extraterritorial jurisdiction (c) When a person on a vessel in international waters is suspected of breaking the law

The aim is to ensure that things like international organised crime can be fought.

It is a government Bill in the name of Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and has been through the Select Committee process. Hence it will be fairly plain sailing from here.

The Green Party opposed it at the first reading, saying that the powers that the Bill grants are the same as those in the Search and Surveillance Act 2012, and that people granted powers as enforcement officers would go “beyond the police force-that have a very specific type of training in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act-to our defence forces, who do not, and to our customs officials, who do not.”

The National Party expressed similar concerns but was happy to let the Select Committee put it on a more even keel.

Protecting Journalists

The Protection of Journalists’ Sources Bill will be very close our heart.

Like Rick Astley, journalists do not like to give up their secret sources when they have offered protection to the sources. It is all about keeping everyone honest and ensuring that those whistle-blowers do not get everything blown back in their faces.

As the bill itself notes: “Journalists rely on source protection to gather and reveal information in the public interest from confidential sources. Such sources may require anonymity to protect them from physical, economic or professional reprisals in response to their revelations.”

It is a Member’s Bill sponsored by Labour MP Louisa Wall aiming to clarify some bits of law that were a bit vague – a vagueness that led to the Police search of Nicky Hager’s home and property over his book, ‘Dirty Politics. ‘The search was later ruled unlawful and Police eventually apologised to Hager and paid compensation.

The bill explicitly confirms that investigative journalists do indeed count as journalists when it comes to the journalistic privilege protections in the Evidence Act and that books written by these investigative journalists are also covered. It makes clear that Police must respect these constraints.

All parties spoke about their support for freedom of the press, and supported the Bill through its first reading, though National’s Simon Bridges and Nicola Grigg raised concerns over criminally obtained information, and ACT’s David Seymour questioned just how broad the definition of journalist would be stretched.

The legal boffins at Select Committee will no doubt have some red ink to apply to it this year.

Not guilty by Reason of Insanity

Have watched crime shows on TV in which the perpetrator gets to walk, thanks to pleading Not guilty by Reason of Insanity?

After Graeme Moyle’s brother was murdered, the offender was pronounced ‘not guilty,’ for this reason. He went to the house of his local MP Louise Upston (National), to see whether she could do something about that phrasing. The result, her Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill basically changes it to “proven, but insane.”

“The challenge in these instances is there is absolutely zero doubt about who caused the death, who committed the act,” she said at the first reading in July 2020.

“This bill changes the finding to something that demonstrates that there is no doubt about who committed the act.”

It has made the news a wee bit over the years – having taken a while to get prepared; it was then stalled a few times for various reasons (it turned out to be very complex) but Upston determinedly stuck it out.

At last, the bill has made it through the (big) House – passing as recently as last month with the government’s support (this in itself is a bit unusual for an Opposition Member’s bill) and has been enacted in law. So behave yourselves.

Amending the Medicines Bill

This one is Covid-related and quite useful. The Medicines Amendment Bill allows “the Minister of Health to give provisional consent for a medicine … where limited information means that a full consent process … is not feasible.”

It is a technical amendment to the Medicines Act and clarifies the law after the High Court ruled that while the Minister of Health could approve Medsafe-approved medicines to be used, it was not certain whether that was possible for the whole population or just a select number of people.

This was concerning Health Minister Andrew Little told New Zealand Doctor magazine, because governments had used the relevant Section 23 to ensure New Zealanders could get safe and effective medicines quickly, when needed, for over 40 years.

It was particularly concerning because of the urgent need to bring in new treatments for Covid-19. It was passed under urgency, all in one day, on May 19, 2021.

He said that the Medicines Act 1981 is out of date, and the government has been working on replacing it with a new Therapeutic Products Act, expected to be introduced this year.

Russell Palmer is Digital Political Journalist at Radio New Zealand. The above story and pictures have been published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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