My colleague Richard Anstice and I often get involved in making submissions to Select Committees on Bills before Parliament: sometimes for clients, sometimes for the legal profession and sometimes on our own behalf. I’ve been doing this since long before I was a lawyer – way back to the GST and fringe benefit tax reforms.
It’s surprisingly easy to get a good message through along the lines of, “If that’s what you want to achieve, you will need to do this otherwise it will turn to custard”. We are indeed fortunate in this country that we are a unitary state: no federal law competing with state law for our attention, only one House of Parliament so that access is easy, and the Select Committee system which is open to everyone and will listen to anyone with a sensible idea.
On that last point, I was beginning to wonder last Friday when I emailed my short and sweet submission on the Auckland Governance Bill at 5.18 pm, and got an automated reply saying that submissions had closed at 5 pm. I had checked the Parliamentary website to see if there was indeed a cutoff time, and as it didn’t show any, I reasonably assumed that the day ended one second after 11:59:59 pm.
It took a sharp exchange of emails and the assistance of a couple of sensible MPs to unstick my submission (and probably those of a few others who had done the same thing). Yes, we all have direct access to MPs and Ministers that people in other countries only dream of. But the system does work, and we should be proud of it. Not only that – we should use it! All the time.
One of the biggest shocks I had arose from a submission on a Bill in which I had seen a huge flaw – a gap which would have taken away lots of rights for businesses, their employees and their directors.
Gaps are always harder to pick than the positive statements that you disagree with. After I spoke to my submission at the hearing (by telephone) the Chair of the Select Committee thanked me and said, “We’re so glad that you pointed that out, no-one else spotted it”. They changed it of course. Scary stuff: What if I hadn’t taken the trouble to make that submission?
Richard has found a similar gap in the boy racer car crushing bill (memo to self: find out why he’s so interested in that...). Although there is protection for some finance companies and others who have registered security interests over vehicles in order to secure the money they have lent for them, there is no protection for Grandad or Auntie who has just lent the money but hasn’t registered the interest. They might not even find out about it till too late. Another submission.
You do get some fun moments, though. A few years ago there was a clause in a Copyright Amendment Bill that would have required librarians to keep records of who they were sending electronic copies to.
At the hearing, I pointed out that this would apply to the Parliamentary Library too, so copyright owners such as investigative journalists would be able to check up on which MPs were getting electronic copies of articles on sensitive matters. Yes, it’s being able to influence the law for the better that makes it all worth while. Do join in.
Rae Nield is a solicitor specialising in marketing law. This article is intended for general information and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice relating to your own specific legal problems. Rae Nield can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.