Lack of public participation damages parliamentary democracy

The lack of public participation in fundamental legal reforms is damaging parliamentary democracy, says the Human Rights Commission.

In the past five years fundamental human rights issues such as the lack of public participation in submission processes, diminishing collective deliberation about fundamental changes, rushed legislation, the by-passing of select committees, and what appears to be less respect for submitters in select committee proceedings have been of concern, says Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor.

In a submission to the Standing Orders Review, the Commission says that each of these on its own is a cause for concern but the aggregated effect warrants serious scrutiny so that parliamentary processes are not further weakened.

The Commission has released a discussion paper called Strengthening Parliamentary Democracy which also refers to the unrealised potential of the Attorney-General’s vetting role under section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

“We believe there needs urgently to be a constructive and legitimate debate about how parliamentary democracy can be strengthened in New Zealand”, says Dr McGregor.

The Commission is keen to receive feedback on the paper and the recommendations for further action that it proposes. These are:

  • A minimum period of 12 weeks allowed for the public to make submissions to Select Committees.
  • A review of Parliamentary sitting time that takes account of scheduling, has regard for the scope of the legislative programme across the election cycle, and supports the family-friendly responsibilities of Members of Parliament.
  • The establishment of a dedicated Human Rights Select Committee.
  • The tabling in Parliament and referral to Select Committee of  recommendations made by international treaty bodies and New Zealand’s reports on its compliance with human rights treaty standards.
  • The Standing Orders of Parliament should specifically refer to the fact that no new major legislative provision is to be introduced by Supplementary Order Paper.
  • Continued use of innovative forms of e-governance and other approaches to ensure the business of Parliament is effectively notified and that public participation is enhanced.
  • Induction and professional development for Select Committee chairs and deputy chairs aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of Select Committees, the dignity of hearings and respect for submitters, and thereby the legitimacy of Parliament.
  • An amendment to Standing Order 246 to ensure dissenting views of members are included in reports.

Read Strengthening Parliamentary Democracy – Review of the Standing Orders (May 2011)

Back to top