Worst. Members. Bill. Ever.

Nuk Korako's Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill doesn't do what it says it is intended to do, doesn't need to be in the form that it is, and is intended purely to prevent other more worthy pieces of legislation from being debated. National's 50th ranked list MP is really proving his worth here.

So the very professional Rosanna Price rang me up about Tutehounuku (NukKorako's frankly abysmal members bill, the Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill, and accurately quoted me in the resulting story as follows:

Otago University professor of public law Andrew Geddis says not only is the bill "disrespectful to New Zealand", but he found it personally insulting.

Oh dear. In print, that comes across as a little bit precious. All I can say is that I cannot deny that I said those words and yet I do not recognise that man. It is me, and yet, it is another, and for that I am truly sorry.

But here's what so got my dander up about the proposal. First, it is a waste of parliamentary time that could (and should) be spent on debating (and maybe enacting)  more important measures. Second, there is already an obvious, easy and quicker way to change this law (if it really needs changed). And third, the Bill doesn't even do what Mr Korako claims that it is meant to do.

Let me work backwards from that third point. Here's what the explanatory note to Mr Korako's Bill - which he claims to be "passionate" (yes, this is the word he uses) about - says it is intended to achieve:

This Bill keeps in place the intent of the [Airport Authorities] Act, which is to inform passengers of lost property before the airport authority proceeds with the sale of or disposing of the lost property. This Bill expands the way an authority can communicate with passengers to more relevant methods.

This Bill will modernise the Airport Authorities Act 1966 to take into account changes in how people receive and search for information. This Bill would allow authorities to use modern means of communication as well as future, unforeseen, means of communications as the airport authority may determine fit. 

So how does Mr Korako's Bill do this? Well, it would amend the existing 9(1)(ff) of the existing legislation: 

Any local authority or airport authority may, in respect of the airport which it operates, make such bylaws as it thinks fit for all or any of the following purposes:


providing for the establishing and maintaining of facilities at the airport for the reception and storage of lost property, and, after the insertion of suitable advertisements in a newspaper circulating in the district where the airport is situated, providing for the sale by way of auction of any such property that is unclaimed after being held by the authority for not less than 3 months

Under Mr Korako's proposal, instead of having to place advertisements in newspapers, airports instead would have to "publicis[e] the sale in what the authority considers to be a fair and reasonable manner." 

But note what the existing s.9(1)(ff) doesn't do. It doesn't stop airports from "publicising the sale in what the authority considers to be a fair and reasonable manner"! It simply says that one of these forms of publication has to be an advertisement in the local paper. So Mr Korako's bill actually doesn't "expand the way an authority can communicate with passengers to more relevant methods" (as he claims). Rather, it removes the existing obligation for the airport to communicate to the public in a particular way (while still being able to communicate in any other way it wants).

[Update: The explanatory note to Mr Korako's bill also gets something else quite wrong. He claims that "the intent of the [Airport Authorities] Act ... is to inform passengers of lost property before the airport authority proceeds with the sale of or disposing of the lost property". That's not true. The Act's intent is to just alert the public that there will be an auction of lost property, so that members of the public can come along and bid on it. There is no intention that the authority list precisely what property will be sold, and so airports don't have to do this when advertising auctions. See, for instance, these regulations for Queenstown airport. So Mr Korako's bill won't help inform passengers at all.]

Nevertheless, maybe that change is justified. Maybe it is a bit silly that airports in this day and age have to pay to put notices in the local paper before they can auction off property that travellers have lost (and then never reclaimed). After all, the Police can sell off unclaimed lost property that they hold after "a notice of its proposed sale has earlier been published in a newspaper circulating in the district in which the sale is to be held, or on a website authorised for the purpose by the Commissioner."

So even if Mr Korako misstates the effect of his bill, let's posit that taking this obligation off airports makes some sense today. Doesn't that mean his members bill is a good one - that it's a worthwhile legislative measure?

Well, no. Because there's already a legislative vehicle to quickly and cleanly make such "technical, short, and non-controversial amendments to a range of Acts" (as the Cabinet Manual puts it). It takes the form of the annual Statutes Amendment Bill, one of which presently is before the House. So why on earth isn't this change to the Airport Authorities Act, if it is needed and desirable, included in that omnibus piece of legislation? Why devote an entire separate bill to it, then take up valuable and limited parliamentary time to debate and vote on it? 

Which brings us to the first reason for my raised dander. This is such a clearly cynical and transparently negative measure that it sucks even by the standards of politics-as-usual. Here's why.

The drawing of members bills provides the opposition (and government support parties) with their only opportunity to get legislation before the House that the government does not like. It thus threatens the government's otherwise almost complete stranglehold on the House's legislative programme. That can lead to opposition MPs getting policy wins at the government's expense (like David Clark's "mondayisation of public holidays" bill); or even where they don't finally win, embarrassing the government (as when it had to veto Sue Maroney's "more paid parental leave" bill).

So in order to limit the chance of such losses/embarrassments, the government gets its backbenchers to put members bills into the ballot to dilute the odds of one of the oppositions getting drawn whenever there is space on the order paper. Because you can be sure that none of those bills from government MPs will be contrary to the government's interests.

Some government backbench MPs respond to this in a quite noble fashion, by drafting bills that nevertheless are well considered and respond to real and pressing matters of social importance. Step forwards Chris Bishop or Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi.  

But other MPs simply find some trivial matter - such as the fact that airports have to put notices in papers before selling lost property - and draft a bill around it so as to take up a spot on the order paper. And then the matter will get dragged out in the House, eating up parliamentary time that could be spent on discussing and voting on issues that actually could do some good for us as a society; issues such as Alfred Ngaro's proposal that children under 15 in small boats must wear lifejackets [Update: see comments below], or Marama Fox's proposal that November 5 become a public holiday in commemoration of Parihaka.

So, yeah, now that I think about it again, I am pretty insulted as a citizen of New Zealand that my Parliament is being treated in this way. We deserve better, I think.