A dozen quirky new laws you may not have heard of

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas.

Here's 12 up-and-coming bits of legislation you may have missed thanks to the hustle and bustle of Covid-19 this year.

They are yet to complete the full Parliamentary process, so watch out in the coming year for more details.

Sunscreen standard: Bringing safety into the light

The Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) member's bill from Todd Muller would require the minister to recommend mandatory safety standards for sunscreen products under the fair trading act. This safety standard would match the Australia-New Zealand Standard for sunscreen.

What it boils down to is sunscreens would need to match the SPF label they put on the bottle. You'd think that would not be a novel idea, but hey - it's been a struggle getting sunscreens to live up to their claims for ages.

"In Australia, the standard is mandatory, whereas in New Zealand compliance with the standard is voluntary," the explanatory note explains.

The short bill passed its first reading in April, and its second reading in November.

Somewhat unusually for a members' bill from the opposition, it enjoys broad support from all parties.

Muller himself has had "minor skin cancers" removed and told Parliament it was critical New Zealanders like his red-headed children have confidence in sunscreen products.

"Both countries love the sun, both countries have high skin cancer rates, and both countries know the importance of sunscreen as part of the triple arsenal against the sun that includes a t-shirt and a hat, but only one country requires compliance with the shared standard, and it's not New Zealand. This bill seeks to remedy this issue," he said.

Labour's Kieran McAnulty had a more graphic anecdote: "Playing cricket with my mates at the beach and then coming away with shoulders that resembled bubble wrap. They still talk about it-big pus-y blisters all over my shoulders … too much information, but sometimes you've just got to face the truth, you know, that the sun is dangerous, and it's not something to be trifled with."

Councillors' cash communique: Following the money in local government

While MPs' expenses and financial interests are publicly released on a regular basis, it's a different story for local councillors.

The Local Government (Pecuniary Interests Register) Amendment Bill would change that, requiring councils to, every year, publish a register of the financial interests of councillors, including business interests, employment, directorships, property, gifts and payments.

"Currently, the information collected and publication of members' interests for the purposes of managing conflicts of interest is inconsistent across local authorities. While some authorities have registers which collect information required by this bill and make them available to members of the public, the vast majority of local authorities do not," the bill notes.

Given recent Serious Fraud Office investigations into the Christchurch and Auckland mayors (Dalziel has been cleared but Goff's is still ongoing), such a change seems timely.

It's a member's bill in the name of Labour's Tangi Utikere, a first-term MP who was previously a councillor and deputy mayor in Palmerston North for 10 years.

"This bill provides a minimum standard of transparency for elected members to abide by," he told Parliament.

"This bill will also require any gifts that are received to be declared. The threshold will be an estimated market value of more than $500. It will include hospitality and donations, but will exclude donations for expenses incurred in an election campaign."

The proposed penalty for failing to do this is a $5000 fine, which National's Ian McKelvie - himself a former mayor - argued may not be enough to "stop you rorting your local community".

With Labour's Parliamentary majority and National's support it's very likely to pass. ACT says it has some reservations but that might be sorted out once it gets through select committee.

Hooch and horses: BYO booze for the racetrack

Another member's bill, this one very very short and in the name of the aforementioned McKelvie, aims to simplify things for racedays by explicitly exempting race meetings from alcohol regulations, paving the way to bring your own booze.

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill simply states when a racing club with an on-licence or on-site special licence holds a race meeting, the grounds are exempt from being fined up to $20,000 or convicted as an unlicensed premises.

"It would increase attendance on race days, making the industry more attractive and successful, and will be welcomed by racing clubs across the country," McKelvie said in a written statement.

The bill's been introduced to the House but is yet to have a first reading, so it's a bit unstable. Who knows what kind of political hurdles it will have pass.

Plain Language Bill

No flowery phrasing with this one, the Plain Language member's bill in the name of Labour's Rachel Boyack aims to improve transparency by making government websites and documents jargon-free and easy to understand.

It also includes a requirement for agencies to appoint a "plain language officer" who will make sure these rules are being followed.

It was introduced to Parliament in September but is yet to have a first reading - here's hoping they keep it simple.

Oh baby: Surrogate security

Sometimes when two people love each other very much they have a child. Other times, they want to have a child, but can't - not without help.

Tāmati Coffey's Improving Arrangements for Surrogacy Bill would make it so parents using a surrogate (where someone agrees to become pregnant on behalf of the happy couple) can get the paperwork started before the baby is born, and they would legally be the parents at birth automatically.

It would also make the legal process easier and give more security to the surrogate, including requiring the prospective parents to pay child support if they change their minds.

The bill itself still has a lot of growing to do - it's been introduced but no first reading - but as a Labour member's bill backed by their majority it's very likely to pass.

Better living through chemistry

It may sound like it's trying to regulate Frankenstein-like experiments, but the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (Hazardous Substances Assessments) Amendment Bill basically just makes it easier for the Environmental Protection Authority to do its job in assessing whether substances are dangerous.

"Right now, the assessment and reassessment of hazardous substances in New Zealand is very time consuming and very resource intensive. As a consequence, since 2001, the EPA has only been able to complete 54 reassessments … there are outstanding 43 chemicals in urgent need of reassessment," Environment Minister and the bill's sponsor David Parker explained at its first reading.

It means regulation of chemicals that are bad for people or the environment can be sped up, and conversely good chemicals can also be integrated faster into industries.

The EPA will be able to consider testing already done overseas, for example, without having to carry out the research themselves from scratch. They'll also be able to put restrictions on a chemical being reassessed - useful if, for example, there's a reason to think they're more dangerous than was previously thought.

National's Scott Simpson described the bill as falling into the category of dull but worthy.

"I have to say, my colleague sitting to my right here, Stuart Smith, said he would wake me up. He said 'you won't miss your call, Scott. I'll wake you up when the Minister is finished'."

Hopefully it won't have a soporific effect on the select committee.

Canine companionship clause: Access pass for puppers

People with disabilities and their allies have been showing dogged determination in trying to make things more accessible, not least for those who rely on a paw or four to overcome the barriers society presents them with.

A best friend they may be, but disability support animals provide much more than fellowship - but human rules don't always seem to account for this.

The Human Rights (Disability Assist Dogs Non-Discrimination) Amendment Bill aims to set down in law that discriminating against a person for using a disability assist dog is discriminating against that person on the basis of their disability.

It was originally written by former MP Mojo Mathers, but is now being championed by fellow Green member Ricardo Menendez March.

Speaking on his behalf at the bill's first reading, colleague Jan Logie said: "Disability assist dogs are more than just your average mutt. [They] perform many different tasks, such as retrieving objects for people in wheelchairs, or alerting deaf people to fire alarms or door bells-they are … critically important [to] their owners' lives. New Zealanders with disabilities should not be discriminated against because they need a disability assist dog to make their lives easier and more fulfilling."

It would mean, for example, that someone trying to rent a home could not legally be discriminated against just because they have a disability assist dog.

All parties said it was a very good bill and gave it a treat at its first reading before walking it over to the select committee, with ACT's Tony Severin saying she hoped it would progress quickly to put an end to discrimination.

Where it really counts: Making stats a bit easier

Here's one for the nerds: The Data and Statistics Bill would repeal and replace the Statistics Act 1975.

Advances in technology and the shift from paper-based systems to digital databases has left the old law with serious deficiencies, so this would aim to fix some of those, making useful statistics easier for Stats NZ to publish, and easier to access.

It would also add into the law a requirement to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, in the collection, management, use and production of statistics and research, ensuring Māori have a voice in that, including in decisions about how data about Māori are collected and treated.

It's a government bill led by Statistics Minister David Clark that probably fits in that same "dull but worthy" category as the chemicals one. It's been through its first reading, and select committee submissions closed on 22 December.

In international waters: The law of the sea

From pirates to The Simpsons, international waters are famously portrayed as a lawless place, where the arm of the government cannot reach. No longer - or at least, it wasn't ever quite that simple.

The Maritime Powers Bill asserts New Zealand's authority to enforce New Zealand's criminal law:

  • On New Zealand-flagged vessels
  • On foreign-flagged or stateless vessels in areas for which New Zealand has extraterritorial jurisdiction
  • When a person on a vessel in international waters is suspected of breaking the law

The aim is to ensure that things like international organised crime can be fought. Yarr.

It's a government bill in the name of Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, and has been through the select committee process, so it's fairly plain sailing from here.

Just the Green Party has been opposed to it at first reading, saying the powers it grants are the same as those in the Search and Surveillance Act 2012, and people granted powers as enforcement officers would go "beyond the police force-that have a very specific type of training in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act-to our defence forces, who don't, and to our customs officials, who don't".

The National Party expressed similar concerns, but was happy to let the Select Committee put it on a more even keel.

Secret sources: Never gonna give you up

The Protection of Journalists' Sources Bill is one that's bound to be very close the heart of our RNZ staff.

Like Rick Astley, journalists do not like to give up their secret sources when they've offered those sources protections. It's all about keeping everyone honest, and ensuring those whistleblowers don't get everything blown back in their faces.

As the bill itself notes: "Journalists rely on source protection to gather and reveal information in the public interest from confidential sources. Such sources may require anonymity to protect them from physical, economic or professional reprisals in response to their revelations."

It's a member's bill sponsored by Louisa Wall, and aims to clarify some bits of law that were a bit vague - a vagueness that led to the police search of Nicky Hager's home and property over his Dirty Politics book. The search was later ruled unlawful and police eventually apologised to Hager and paid compensation.

The bill explicitly confirms that investigative journalists do indeed count as journalists when it comes to the journalistic privilege protections in the Evidence Act, and that books written by these investigative journalists are also covered. It also makes clear that police must respect these constraints.

All parties spoke about their support for freedom of the press, and supported the bill through its first reading, though National's Simon Bridges and Nicola Grigg raised concerns over criminally obtained information, and ACT's David Seymour questioned just how broad the definition of journalist would be stretched.

The legal boffins at Select Committee will no doubt have some red ink to apply to it in the new year.

Not not guilty by reason of insanity

Ever watch a crime show on TV and the perp gets to walk thanks to pleading not guilty by reason of insanity?

After Graeme Moyle's brother was murdered, the offender was pronounced 'not guilty', for this very reason. He went to his local MP, National's Louise Upston, to see whether she could do something about that phrasing.

The result, her Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill basically changes it to "proven, but insane".

"The challenge in these instances is there is absolutely zero doubt about who caused the death, who committed the act," she said at the first reading in July 2020. "This bill changes the finding to something that demonstrates that there is no doubt about who committed the act."

It has made the news a wee bit over the years - having taken a while to get prepared then been stalled a few times for various reasons (it turned out to be very complex) - but Upston determinedly stuck it out.

At last, the bill has made it all the way through the (big) House - passing as recently as last month with the government's support (this in itself is a bit unusual for an Opposition Member's bill), and has been enacted in law. So behave yourselves.

Such a rush: Drugs, stat

This one is actually Covid-related, and quite useful. The Medicines Amendment Bill allows "the Minister of Health to give provisional consent for a medicine … where limited information means that a full consent process ... is not feasible".

It is a technical amendment to the Medicines Act, and clarifies the law after the High Court ruled that while the Minister of Health could grant approval for Medsafe-approved medicines to be used, it was not certain whether that was possible for the whole population or just a select number of people.

This was concerning, Health Minister Andrew Little told New Zealand Doctor magazine, because governments had used the relevant Section 23 to ensure New Zealanders could get safe and effective medicines quickly, when needed, for over 40 years.

It was particularly concerning because of the urgent need to bring in new treatments for Covid-19. It was passed under urgency, all in one day, on 19 May.

He says the Medicines Act 1981 is out of date, and the government has been working on replacing it with a new Therapeutic Products Act, expected to be introduced next year.

-RNZ/Russel Palmer.

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1 Comment

Glad to see Local Government...

Posted on 04-01-2022 11:55 | By morepork

...will be required to account in more detail and more transparently. It won’t save much money because the system will still be rorted, but at least they will run the risk of being shamed for it.

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