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11 November 2022

Thomas Tarurongo Wynne: The power of Parliament

Saturday 15 April 2023 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Thomas Tarurongo Wynne: The power of Parliament
Columnist Thomas Tarurongo Wynne. Photo: CI NEWS/16040843

Parliament is where the needs of the country, and not a single electorate, are met, discussed and turned into law so as the people can thrive and not just survive, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

The Income Tax Amendment Bill, which looks to provide relief for those living in the Pa Enua, as well as the Crimes Act amendments, are good examples of where our elected officials can do exactly that.

The Ombudsman, the Official Information Act, select committees and pressing our elected Members of Parliament, are tools we as people can use to provide, and provoke our members to take action and advocate in that House we call Parliament.

I joined the 52nd New Zealand Parliament in January 2000, and by the time it concluded at the election of November 2020, it had sat for 251 days, received 405 petitions, had 2928 oral questions in Parliament from members, saw 221 bills passed into law, including 16 private member bills, and its 18 different select committees had presented back to Parliament 1112 select committee reports scrutinising bills that had been presented at Parliament and were passing through the House.

Select committees provided the scrutiny to bills by way of public submissions and pulling the pieces of the legislation apart, so as they were fit for purpose, and were better able to transact what they hoped to enact.

Last year, the New Zealand House of Representatives and 53rd Parliament where I have worked these past three years, had sat for 85 days or a total of 569 hours and 37 minutes, 63 hours were tacked on to the normal sitting hours as well as 62 hours under urgency to progress bills through the House.

In total 94 Bills or pieces of legislation were introduced by Members of Parliament and Ministers of the Crown, with 85 of them making it to their third reading and into law.

The 53rd Parliament will conclude at the next New Zealand general election in October, but before that, it will have sat for no less than 90 days – and that was just 2022.

These past three years have been a huge learning of the machinery of Government and one I better understand.

How it works, why it does what it does, and why it is so essential that Parliament sits for the lives of those who are all affected by its sole power to enact legislation, and passing it into law.

Yesterday in the Cook Islands Parliament, the Crimes Bill was tabled for the second and third reading.

This Bill included amendments to remove legislation that prohibits same-sex relationships in the Cook Islands, namely the Crimes Act 1969, Section 154 and 155 – a revision that could only happen in that House and by those elected officials and Members of Parliament when they sit.

Listening to the debate in the Cook Islands Parliament, some Members of Parliament missed their calling as Orometua, and some forgot that with regard to the Crimes Act and homosexuality, this was not a debate on what is moral, or what is written in Leviticus, rather it is what should remain criminal under the law. Thankfully it passed and we congratulate all those Members of Parliament that supported the change and those for many years that have advocated for this legislation to be removed. Because what is criminal has changed over time, as pointed out so eloquently by the Hon. Tingika Elikana, even if what is considered moral has not.

If adultery, which the Bible says is clearly immoral, was also a crime in the Cook Islands, how full would our prisons be?

No one is calling for it to be criminalised for obvious reasons.

Edmund Burke, said – The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. He also said, Parliament is a deliberate assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purpose, not local prejudices ought to guide but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

Maybe Burke was thinking of the role of Parliament when considering this idea that evil exists where good men and women do nothing, because in Parliament as we have seen this week in Rarotonga, lives can change for good when good men and women rise to the occasion and to do as Hosea compelled us – to do justly, to love with mercy, and walk humbly with our God.