If you were to go through Parliament’s list of hopefuls pending laws you could get excited and decide on a career in politics. It is not impossible.
Alternatively, you may fall asleep unexpectedly and crash your car (warning: never read the law while driving).
Less likely is it to be completely confused about what these nascent laws are. The New Zealand legislation may not have an exciting name, but luckily, those names really do make sense.
The minister in charge of the government’s legislative programme, House Speaker Chris Hipkins, had this to say about New Zealand’s legislative names.
“One of the things about the New Zealand Parliament is that we follow a very conventional approach when it comes to naming legislation, when it comes to drafting legislation. It’s not particularly political, and our statute book is a relatively high-quality statute book as a result of that.”
Decoding of the names of legislation
He is right. Here’s an example of one way the “conventional approach” works. A bill currently being considered by Parliament is the Accident Compensation Amendment Bill (Maternal Birth Injuries and Other Matters).
Yes, bills have long and convoluted names, but there are reasons for that.
This bill ends with the words “Amendment Bill” which tells you that it will make changes to a law that already exists.
That suffix also tells you that it is not yet an agreed law. A “bill” is legislation that is still under consideration. An agreed law is called an “Act”.
The law that it will modify is also listed there. That’s the first part of the name (“Accident Compensation”). So the bill will make changes to the Accident Compensation Act 2001. The date at the end of the law name indicates when the underlying legislation was originally passed.
‘But what changes will it make?’ I hear you cry. (Call it an auditory hallucination if you have to.)
The area of anticipated change is described in parentheses after the name of the law it will change. In this case, the bill plans to make changes to the way the ACC law deals with “maternal birth injuries” as well as some related “other issues.”
What it says on the box.
And we can be pretty sure that the “other business” in the title is related to that core intent because the rules of New Zealand law are strict about it. Except in specific and special circumstances, bills must have a single, unified policy objective.
New Zealand laws are really very WYSIWYG. They do what it says on the box. That also means MPs can’t add unrelated provisions, pig or assignments to the law as is common in the US Nothing extra is allowed. That rule should save a lot of money.
When amendment bills are approved
When bills that are titled ‘amendment bills’ are passed and become law…they vanish. Fear not, all that effort was not in vain.
All the changes the amendment bill wants to make to the basic legislation are made and, the job done, the bill vanishes like Keyser Soze, or the Wicked Witch of the West.
As a result, you will never see the word “amendment” in the name of an act. The now amended basic legislation retains its name, although, as washington ax slowly, over the years, it changes completely.
The plain old ‘bill’
One more thing to keep in mind. If a bill does not say “Amendment” in its title, it is:
- Entirely new law in a previously non-legislated area, or
- He plans to rewrite an existing law so completely that calling it an amendment would be misleading.
For example, this week it seems likely that Parliament will pass the Protected Disclosures (Whistleblower Protection) Bill.
Feel free to puzzle out the name of that bill from what you now know.
In this case, the bill changes the existing whistleblower legislation, but instead of changing it, it simply rewrites it entirely. So remove the ‘amendment’ suffix.
If you want a description of the bill, you can listen to Chris Hipkins in the audio above.