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Law Experts Criticise Quake Bill

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Gerry Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, Sept 28 NZPA - Law experts in New Zealand, Britain and the United States have written a letter condemning the Government's earthquake response legislation.

The 27 legal scholars called for a rethink of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act.

However, Earthquake recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the Act wouldn't be changed and he was not worried by what "hand-wringing academics" thought.

The emergency bill was passed unanimously in Parliament earlier this month, going through all its stages in one day as MPs acknowledged the need to be able to quickly clear away red tape and get on with the job of rebuilding homes, business premises and infrastructure damaged by the 7.1 magnitude earthquake.

The bill passed unanimously but the Greens voiced serious concerns about the extent of its provisions.

Scholars from six New Zealand universities, from the universities of Oxford and Essex in Britain and a professor from the New York University School of Law released a letter today addressed to the New Zealand people and parliament.

The legal experts, including constitutional expert Otago University Associate Professor Andrew Geddis, said they understood the need to rebuild quickly but abandoning constitutional values was not the way to go.

"(The bill) represents an extraordinary broad transfer of lawmaking power away from Parliament and to the executive branch, with minimal constraints on how that power may be used."

Key concerns were that:

* Through orders in council (legally enforceable decrees), individual government ministers could change almost every law, "effectively handing to the executive branch Parliament's power to make law";

* courts could not examine the process or reasons a minister had for thinking an order in council was needed; and

* orders in council have full legislative force and people acting under the authority of such orders were protected from legal liability, with no right to compensation should their actions harm another person.

Mr Brownlee said the law only touched legislation when it related to work around the Canterbury earthquake recovery -- for example speeding up consents -- and that was clear in the purpose statement of the law.

Also the process to get an order in council was not that easy -- it would have to go through the new Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission, his office, the relevant minister, the Cabinet committee, then Cabinet would have to sign it off.

"There's no over-arching power for any one minister to do whatever he or she likes," he told NZPA.

So far 10 orders in council had been made and they were publicly available.

"If they are worried about process then I think they should take themselves down to the people in Bexley, or Avonside or the other pockets of severe damage around the city and perhaps have a discussion with them and see how they feel about it.

"I am on strongly on the side of people whose lives have been dislocated, not the hand-wringing academics who frankly are contributing nothing to the recovery effort."

Green MP Kennedy Graham today raised concerns that the Act would be used as a basis for permanent legislation for future emergencies but Mr Brownlee said that was not something he was pushing for.

"It's not on the agenda at the moment... I think it would be a greater constitutional outrage to have a permanent provision in the law."

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