Select Committee Power: And How to Plug into It: They're Not the Glamorous Face of Power-Broking but Parliament's Select Committees Are Where the Real Political Influence Is Wielded. They're the Backstage Powerhouse Providing the Grunt for Those with Starring Roles in the Theatre of Government. Savvy Business Leaders Keep Tabs on These Legislative Hothouses and Use Them to Influence the Business Environment. (Government)

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Worried about new legislation that may impact upon your industry, company or organisation? Want to tell legislators what you think in an environment in which your views must be heard? Then take a closer look at the way in which parliament's select committees now work.

Some feel that you cast your vote every three years and then take your chance as to what happens in between times. And, in the days of the first-past-the post government, that was pretty much the way it happened. It is no longer the case today. What has altered is not just the arrival of MMP, but the way parliament's select committee system has changed to adapt to it.

Traditionally, select committees--the committees of members of parliament that consider new bills that are before the house--were creatures of the government of the day. The government had a majority and appointed the committee chairs. As a result, while you were always free to make submissions, your chances of influencing the ultimate outcome were limited. Governments invariably had their way.

With the introduction of MMP all of that changed. Select committees became the engine room of the legislative process.

Today three important committees are chaired by members of opposition parties. Education and Science is chaired by New Zealand First's Brian Donnelly, Primary Production by National's David Carter, and Local Government and Environment by Greens' co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons. Another, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, is chaired by Peter Dunne whose United Future supports the governing coalition, while not being part of it.

Nor does the governing coalition often have a majority on committees these days. In fact currently the only committee with an outright majority is the Government Administration Select Committee. On all the other committees--there are thirteen subject committees--the support of at least one other party and on some, two other parties, is required before the government can command a majority.

All of which means we have moved into an era where governments cannot rely on select committees to rubber-stamp their legislative proposals.

An example of this is the Smokefree Environments (Enhanced Protection) Amendment Bill which started life as a small bill from Tuku Morgan, was adopted by the Government as it progressed and was significantly beefed up during the select committee process. Another is the Employment Relations Bill which was subjected to intense scrutiny and amendment.

The current Resource Management Amendment which initially was a Simon Upton (National) bill, was changed to shore up Green support in the first Labour coalition, and changed again to a Labour Progressive bill with a dash of United Future in it most recently.

Right now the Land Transport Management Bill is undergoing similar changes to better reflect submissions and the fact that the Greens have less influence now than they had when the bill was initially drafted.

Today's select committees are also more willing to use their powers of inquiry than they were previously; even if this may be against the coalition government's own interests or wishes. The Health Committee's recent inquiry into the health effects of cannabis, a Green initiative, is one such example.

The advent of MMP has made select committees-more powerful and also, arguably, more objective. The old "them and us" approach is no longer very productive in a situation where support for your stance on a specific issue may well come from a party that is generally implacably opposed to your political philosophy.

All of which means that the chances for an individual or an organisation to influence the final shape of legislation using the select committee process is greater than it was in the past.

Understanding the manner in which the legislative process operates; tightly-argued written submissions; a persuasive and well-informed appearance before the committee; backed up by briefings to influential MPs where possible can bring significant change to legislation. …