The Greens are being fingered from two directions as culprits in holding up legislation considered vital for the IT sector.
The Electronic Transactions Bill and the Crimes Amendment (No 6) Bill are in a queue of half-finished laws that look increasingly unlikely to be passed before the general election.
Prime Minister Helen Clark, while telling Computerworld last week that she realises the bills' importance, says the government’s hands are tied by the Greens.
“We have a huge legislative programme; I understand the importance of this legislation, but the Greens allow us to call urgency only one sitting day every three weeks so we’re short of debating time,” Clark says.
The Greens are also implicated by Information Technology Association (ITANZ) head Jim O’Neill for specifically jeopardising the speedy passage of the Crimes Amendment (No 6) Bill, which outlaws hacking. O’Neill says the Greens are reportedly intent on debating the bill in detail when it returns to the house.
Green Party co-leader Rod Donald acknowledges the party wants further debate on both bills, but rebuts the accusation that they’re limiting parliament’s sitting time.
“That’s an outrageous accusation from whoever made it,” he says. The Greens backed a recent allocation of extra sitting days, he says.
“The question is not whether these bills are urgent, but whether they’re any more urgent than the other 30 bills sitting on the order paper,” he says. “If we tried to get rid of them all, we’d be sitting all day and all night for months.”
The Electronic Transactions Bill (ETB) is also in line for a going-over from the ACT Party. Such attentions mean that Leader of the House Michael Cullen is likely to give the bills low priority as he devises the legislative programme.
ITANZ’s O’Neill says while nothing official has been said, the news is discouraging.
“None of it gives us any confidence that these bills will be passed before an election,” he says. “Michael Cullen will be making sure that any bills that come up will be ones that are not debated.”
ACT MP Stephen Franks confirms the party does have reservations about the ETB and intends to participate significantly in its third-reading debate, but he has assured its sponsor, IT and commerce minister Paul Swain, that ACT will support it.
The bill is based on US legislation, by way of Australian law, Franks says, and in the process it has diverged in significant respects from the original “workmanlike” US model.
“We put it through a plain drafting stage,” he says. In the process, ambiguities were created, Franks says, and this is likely to mean that an act passed as the bill stands would have to be interpreted repeatedly in the courts, to establish case law.
“We should aim to have law that works well rather than law that looks well,” he says.
O’Neill says ITANZ is not alone in its frustration.
“There’s bugger-all we can do about it but continue raising the issue. We’re working closely with [IT minister] Paul Swain’s department, which is supportive, and the Ecat [e-commerce action team].”
Clark suggests voters hold the key to ending the logjam, by electing a majority Labour government.