Blog | The Policy Graveyard: Where Controversial Laws Come to Die

Blog | The Policy Graveyard: Where Controversial Laws Come to Die

By Jonathan de Jongh

Due to continued disagreements and compromises behind the walls of the Beehive, several laws have been stopped in their tracks or have failed to even see the light of day due to party politics. The latest victim is the capital gains tax proposed by the Tax Working Group earlier this year. According to Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern, a capital gains tax will not be enacted – at least not in this current government. However, this policy has not been the first victim of politics in the lawmaking and law reform sphere, and it certainly will not be the last.

Ardern’s announcement on April 17th cited a lack of consensus between the parties in government. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters referenced the lack of consensus amongst the general New Zealand public when asked about the proposed tax, but Peters emphasised that the coalition was still in “very sound health” despite the potential disagreements between Labour and NZ First around this issue.[i] Labour has been campaigning since 2011 for a capital gains tax, arguing that it could have helped to resolve “inequities in our tax system”.

This is the most recent example of party politics getting in the way of policy. In the past, there have been examples of contentious issues caught in the crossfire, such as the Three Strikes law – a piece of legislation that allows for judges to impose the maximum prison sentence for particular offences if any one or combination of those offences has been committed three times by one offender, including crimes involving homicide, sexual assault and robbery.[ii]–is-the-three-strikes-law-working

The three strikes reform came into force under the Fifth National Government in 2010 as a component of their ‘Tough on Crime’ campaign. Its purpose is to reduce the number of offenders and those imprisoned. However, in reality, the three strikes principle is challenged by judges’ discretion in sentencing and decisions on parole. Labour made it clear in their 2017 Election Justice Manifesto that their law reform would include repealing this legislation.[iii] However, due to disagreements with NZ First over the issue, Minister of Justice Andrew Little has been forced to take this issue off the table, at least for now. [iv]

Politically divisive issues aren’t the only legislative casualties of party politics; those that seem cut and dry in terms of their necessity are too. The current Zero Carbon Bill making its way through Parliament’s chambers and committees has been labelled by several groups and experts as “toothless” and “a watered-down version of the Bill”, one that has been chopped and changed at almost every stage of its progression since James Shaw’s original proposition as Minister for Climate Change.[v]

While the Bill passed its First Reading on May 21st, discourse is pointing to the real policy death here being the death of a Bill on climate change that will actually make a difference in New Zealand, regardless of its intentions.[vi] The National Party especially have been supportive of the need for the Bill, but are seriously concerned about some of the finer details, even after huge steps that have already been taken to make the Bill more palatable.[vii] While it is impossible to know every ramification of this Bill and the necessity of the changes, we only need to look to the vast amount of industries and organisations who have contributed to the discussion to understand how politics has its grip on issues that we should all be agreeing on.[viii]

Legislation that have the potential to make real change, such as the capital gains tax, three strikes criminal law reform and the climate change and carbon regulations, have all been inundated into the policy graveyard, but this may not necessarily be a bad thing. The important part is knowing which policies have been struck down and why, in order to inform our decision making when election season rolls around again.

Getting informed about which parties oppose and support which policies and voting accordingly, as well as writing to and talking with your local MPs, will inform their decisions on which policies to bring back into the discussion, resurrecting them as time and society changes. Sometimes policy death will be the result of what seems like an unfair political compromise for the sake of gaining seats in Parliament or confidence in votes, but when this happens, the best course of action is to show MPs the passion people have for these topics so they will not be disregarded but renegotiated and reconsidered. You and your fellow constituents have the power to resurrect, suffocate, or support policies being considered in Parliament, a power that should be embraced and utilised.

The implications of political alliances and rivalries affecting policymaking are is huge for the advancement of New Zealand. However, some may say this is a necessary evil to keep Parliament in check to prevent legislation that only a bare majority of the country would agree on from becoming law.

New Zealand is setting up for a contentious next few years, with debates on euthanasia, recreational marijuana usage and firearm law reform on the docket. With some radically differing opinions on each of these issues and more that will make their way into the chambers of Parliament, the inevitable reality will be a hard-fought battle for each pieces of the legislation to come, whether that results in a win or a loss.

The next election could bring another term for the Labour-NZ First coalition or return the government into the hands of the National Party, with the possibility of all kinds of agreements and alliances at play. What this means for us as New Zealand citizens is making sure we know who we’re voting for, what we’re getting ourselves into, and also accepting the reality that the political machine may end up wrapping some crucial issues into enough red tape to incapacitate their progress.

There is hope, however. With every three years comes a new Parliamentary term, and the chance for legislation to be revived, reinvigorated and revamped for a new voter base, new Parliament and a new New Zealand. Therefore, it is best to think of it not as a policy graveyard but as a policy library; they may be on the shelf now but the shifting political dynamic could bring back any policy into play at any moment.









The Public Policy Club is a non-partisan club at the University of Auckland that aims to encourage, educate and involve students from all backgrounds in the education and development of political knowledge. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PPC.

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