The Prime Minister's "state of the nation" speech on 25 January 2013 kicked off the policy and legislative debate for the year.  Under the general umbrella of establishing New Zealand as a "magnet for investment" and building a more productive and competitive economy, the Prime Minister talked about policy priorities and initiatives including a new apprenticeship scheme, MOM companies, PPPs, trade agreements, housing affordability, rebuilding Christchurch, social welfare, and law and order. 

The Prime Minister's opening statement to Parliament ("Statement") on 29 January 20131, gives further indication of how the Government's policy priorities translate into legislative priorities, which are diverse. These include new labour laws, resource management reforms, financial markets legislation, public service accountability, Partnership Schools and the Christchurch rebuild. 

This alert provides an overview of how the legislative agenda for 2013 may unfold.

It's all about priorities

There is never enough time to pass every bill that appears on the legislative programme.  Accordingly, before Parliament resumed on 29 January, all Ministers were required to "bid" for places on the programme, according to priority, and bearing in mind the Government's overall priorities - including that which is covered by confidence and supply agreements.  The Cabinet Office coordinates this process every year. 

Bids must be made for bills already before Parliament, bills currently being developed or drafted, as well as for any policy proposals that may result in a bill in 2013.  Priority rankings must be provided for each bid and include: must be introduced and passed in the year; to be passed in the year; to be referred to a select committee in the year; and on hold.

Although the Cabinet Legislation Committee decides on the programme for the year once all bids are compiled, ultimately the Leader of the House has control over the programme's timing during the year. This includes introducing new bills in response to changing government priorities and policy, meaning that the programme remains fluid.  The legislative programme is not publically released, and it has been withheld from disclosure under the Official Information Act 1982 in the past. 

The Statement is presented under the Standing Orders, which require the Prime Minister to outline the Government’s legislative and other policy intentions for the year ahead. This provides a high level indication of the Government's legislative priorities, but does not provide specific time frames or priority rankings.  

Accordingly, anticipating the Government's law making timetable is not easy.  That said, it is possible to make some high level assumptions regarding what will happen when in the year ahead.

How the 2013 legislative year is shaping up

The legislative year is broken up by the Budget.  The Minister of Finance's budget speech, usually in May, triggers well-established Parliamentary procedures that take up a significant amount of time through to July.  Accordingly, there is a window to get things done early in the year and a period of steady progress after the Budget, before the rush to finish things off late in the year. 

Pre-budget phase

The early part of the legislative year is a good time to focus on progressing and passing into law bills that were left on the programme from the previous year, and introducing new bills and shifting them to select committee with a view to them returning to the House later in the year. 

The following bills were mentioned in the Statement, and are either before select committee with reports due before the end of March, or have been reported back from select committee. Accordingly, they can be expected to be prioritised in the first part of 2013:

Employment

  • The Minimum Wage (Starting-out Wage) Amendment Bill makes changes to the ways minimum wage rates for youths, new entrants and trainees can be prescribed by Order in Council under the Minimum Wage Act 1983.  The select committee report is due 28 February 2013.

Commerce

  • The Financial Markets Conduct Bill overhauls financial markets and securities legislation, replacing it with a single, coherent Act.  It awaits second reading.  Consultation on the extensive regulations under the Bill has commenced, which creates extra pressure to ensure the Bill is passed in the first half of the year.
  • The Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill amends the Commerce Act 1986, introducing criminal sanctions for hard-core cartel behaviour and amending provisions that govern jurisdiction and penalties.  The Commerce Committee released its interim report on 28 September 2012 and a full report is due 11 March 2013.
  • The Companies and Limited Partnerships Amendment Bill awaits second reading. It amends the Companies Act 1993 and the Limited Partnerships Act 2008 as part of the Government's objective to increase confidence in New Zealand's financial markets and regulation of corporate forms.

Resource Management / Environment

  • The Resource Management Reform Bill aims to improve the consenting regime and provide for the delivery of the first combined plan for Auckland. Submissions are open until 28 February 2013 with the select committee's report due in June 2013.
  • The Marine Legislation Bill proposes amendments to the Maritime Transport Act 1994 and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012. The Transport and Industrial Relations Committee will report on 11 March 2013.

Fisheries

  • The Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and other Matters) Amendment Bill will implement the Government’s decisions on the regulation of foreign charter vessels to protect crew and New Zealand's international reputation. It was introduced late last year and is awaiting a first reading before being referred to select committee - likely in the near future.

State sector

  • The Government will progress two bills to strengthen leadership and accountability in the public service, increase operational flexibility and support the delivery of better public services. Submissions on the Public Finance (Fiscal Responsibility) Amendment Bill close on 14 February.  Submissions on the State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill close on 7 February 2013, while the Finance and Expenditure Committee's two reports are due at the end of May and June 2013 respectively.

New legislation

New legislation signalled in the Statement is also likely to be prioritised for introduction in the first half of the year, although that will depend on the amount of policy work still required in relation to each.  This includes the following:

Consumer Law

  • Consumer credit legislation targeting loan sharks and repossession is to be introduced.  Consultation was completed last year by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs on an exposure draft of the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Amendment Bill, with the intention of introducing a bill to Parliament early this year.

Labour

  • A wide-ranging review of health and safety will precede a bill amending the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. Additionally, focussed legislation implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Tragedy will aim to strengthen the mine permitting process and require applicants to demonstrate their mines are safe.  This may include a stand-alone Crown entity to promote work-place safety across the board.
  • New legislation intended to boost labour market flexibility, including improvements to collective bargaining rules and extended flexible working arrangements.

Local Government

  • Local authorities have been given a clear warning that the Government will intervene if they do not improve their planning processes.  Given that the Local Government Efficiency Taskforce has recommended significant legislative change and the Productivity Commission is considering the regulatory functions of local government, further amendments to local government legislation seem likely. Nick Smith, Minister of Housing has indicated the Government may take control of allocating land from councils that do not make it available, especially in Auckland and Christchurch.

Resource Management / Environment

  • In addition to the current Resource Management Reform Bill a more comprehensive package of reforms to the resource management system will be introduced.
  • The Government plans to introduce reforms to the management of freshwater arising from the work of the Land and Water Forum.
  • A new marine reserves bill will be introduced and three new marine reserves gazetted around the Subantarctic islands.

Construction

  • Legislation will be introduced establishing a mandatory national timeframe and process for dealing with the estimated 15,000 to 25,000 earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand and making these safer.

Other legislation on the move

Although not mentioned in the Statement, the following bills have been reported from select committee or soon will be, and are therefore also candidates for progression prior to the budget process:

Consumer

  • The Consumer Law Reform Bill significantly amends several consumer related acts, including introducing a prohibition on unfair contract terms in standard-form consumer contracts. It is possible that Simon Bridges' handing of the portfolio to Craig Foss could slow the Bill's progress.

Finance

  • The International Finance Agreements Amendment Bill amends the International Finance Agreements Act 1961, so that New Zealand legislation takes account of changes by the IMF to its Articles of Agreement.

Petroleum and Minerals

  • The Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill aims to promote prospecting, exploration and mining of Crown owned minerals for the benefit of New Zealand. The Bill amends the Crown Minerals Act 1991, the Conservation Act 1987, the Continental Shelf Act 1964, Reserves Act 1977, and the Wildlife Act 1953. A key change is the introduction of a two-tier permitting regime distinguishing petroleum and certain mineral permits. This means smaller scale/lower value operations will be subject to less stringent reporting and administrative activity when compared to Tier 1 permits. It also increases the scope for crown revocation of permits, narrows ministerial discretion in the process and alters the permit application process.

Transport

  • The Land Transport Management Amendment Bill amends the Land Transport Management Act 2003 to simplify the planning and funding framework, and repeal the Act's regional fuel tax provisions.
  • The Airports (Cost Recovery for Processing of International Travellers) Bill provides for cost recovery from processing travellers in the aviation security, biosecurity, and customs areas.

 Post Budget: July to December

The second half of the year will see steady progress, inevitably followed by a rush to pass legislation prioritised by Government (highlighted above) but for which the wheels of Parliament have moved too slowly to progress earlier in the year.

Additionally, select committee reports on the following bills are due from May 2013 onwards and, along with legislation that is new in 2013 and returning from select committee post-Budget, are likely to occupy Parliament at the back end of the legislative year:

  • The Financial Reporting Bill aims to improve the financial reporting system by making reporting consistent with the financial reporting system's objective, which is to provide information to external users that have a need for an entity's financial statements.  The Commerce Committee's report is due 28 May 2013.
  • The Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Amendment Bill proposes technical amendments to the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010It was introduced in November last year and is currently awaiting a first reading.   

Members' bills

Finally, a handful of members' bills have a chance of being progressed in 2013:

  • The ACT Party continues to receive tepid support for its Regulatory Standards Bill to improve the quality of regulation.  Following staggered progress through Parliament, the Bill has been returned to Treasury to re-examine the proposed options in the Regulatory Impact Statement. 
  • The Lobbying Disclosure Bill seeks to increase transparency and public disclosure around lobbying of Members of Parliament and their staff. It is contentious and will be widely debated. The submission process is complete and select committee report is now due on 26 July 2013, having been extended to allow the member in charge, Green MP Holly Walker time to develop options to address key issues raised by submitters.
  • The Holidays (Full Recognition of Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day) Amendment Bill transfers the holidays of Waitangi and ANZAC day to the following Monday, where these fall on a weekend. It has been reported back from select committee and awaits a second reading.

Throughout the year a full list of active legislation and progress can be found in Watching Brief, a regular publication from Russell McVeagh on developments in public law and policy of interest to New Zealand business.