Monday, February 18, 2013


Back in November, just before the House rose, the government introduced a Statutes Amendment Bill. The point of such a bill is to make a lot of "technical, short and non-controversial" changes to legislation in one go. As a result it tends to pass quickly through the House, but also has an enhanced scrutiny process: if any member of the House objects to a clause at the committee stage, it is struck out. This is a way of ensuring that those amendments truly are technical and non-controversial, rather than being a means of introducing policy by the backdoor.

I've finally got round to reviewing the bill, and it proposes a substantive amendment to the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 to protect the name and emblems of the 28th Māori Battalion. This may very well be worthy, but its clearly substantive, not technical. It effectively introduces a new criminal offence, and has Bill of Rights Act implications, in that it is a prima facie limit on freedom of expression (and on that point, the bill oddly does not have a BORA vet on the Ministry of Justice webpage. I assume they actually did one, rather than just going "oh, statutes amendment, nothing controversial there"...) It is therefore not suitable to be passed by a Statutes Amendment Bill. Instead, it deserves the proper scrutiny of the whole House.

As noted above, the amendment is likely worthy, and the limit on freedom of expression is highly likely to be a justified limitation (since its in the nature of a trademark). My objection here is to the process, not the substance. If the government wants to pass this, it should put up a proper bill, not try and slip it through like this.