The coalition Government is looking to shake things up in several areas, particularly through major changes to law and regulations in the 100 Day Plan. Select committees can have a strong influence over the changes the Government wants to make and in a three-party coalition, which MPs end up on which select committees could be influential.

In this article we outline what select committees are and why they are worth watching in this Parliamentary term. We’ve highlighted particular select committees to watch in the three (or maybe four!) years. 

What is a select committee?

Select committees consider most law changes the Government wants to make, take input from the public and interest groups, and ultimately produce a report that goes back to the House. Who is on the committee is important - in terms of numbers and personalities. Given how reports are prepared, they often reflect the views of the majority party on the committee. 

Committee membership is broadly proportional to the party membership of the MPs. As a result, the parties that make up the government typically control most (if not all) select committees. However, in a governing coalition made up of three parties, determining select Committee membership is more complex than usual. It is likely that the smaller coalition partners will want representation on key select committees. Cabinet Ministers do not typically sit on subject select committees, which further limits the number of eligible MPs from each government party. This is likely to lead to some of these MPs sitting on a considerable number of select committees.

The numbers

There are 19 select committees: 5 are specialist committees that carry out specific functions of the House and 14 are subject select committees that broadly relate to government departments/Ministerial portfolios.

The number of members on a committee can vary, but normally a committee has between six and twelve members each, with parties broadly represented in proportion to party membership in the House. Given the musical chairs that might be required to secure roles for the minor coalition parties on key committees, a number of committees are likely to be towards the larger end.

National: National has 49 MPs and 19 Cabinet Ministers. This is clearly the most MPs of any party, but at the same time, it is the smallest number of MPs of any larger ruling party to date under MMP.

National will have 30 additional MPs to place on subject select committees, and will make up 40% of membership on the select committees. National could have anywhere between 45 to 91 seats in select committees. 

ACT: Act has 11 MPs, 4 of whom are Cabinet Ministers and 2 of whom are Ministers outside Cabinet. Presuming Ministers outside Cabinet are placed on select committees, they will have 7 MPs to place on subject select committees. They will only make up 9% of the seats in select committees. This means they will have to be highly selective of which committees they choose to sit on. They will have between 10 to 20 seats in select committees.

NZ First: NZ First has just 8 MPs, 4 of whom are Cabinet Ministers, and one of whom is a Minister outside Cabinet. They only make up 6.5% of the MPs in the House. This leaves them with 4 MPs eligible for subject select committees, which once again means the choices they make will be highly strategic. They will have between 7 to 14 seats in select committees.

Given these numbers, National is well placed to achieve their own election goals. More revealing for politics watchers will be where the more limited number of Act and NZ First MPs are placed. These seats will give an indication of which coalition agreement targets are being prioritised.

Committees to watch

Regulations Review: Usually relatively administrative, the role of the Regulations Review committee is to ensure regulations made by Parliament are created and used fairly and consistently. It traditionally attempts to act in a non-partisan way. It is chaired by a former Minister in opposition and usually only contains MPs from Labour and National.

However, many of the new government’s key goals involve legislative and regulatory reform, which typically pass through this committee. It will certainly be one to watch in the coming term. The creation of a new Minister for Regulation role and possible associated Ministry of Regulation creates an interesting point of tension with the traditional non-partisan characteristic of the committee. It begs the question: is there some overlap here?

Act is likely to place a senior MP on this committee.

Economic Development, Science and Innovation: Reforms to certain economic regulations are another priority of the incoming government. Some key focuses likely to be reviewed by this committee are reform to the Commerce Amendment Act to reduce regulatory barriers and enhance competition, changes to the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act, and changes to the Overseas Investment Act and the role of the Reserve Bank.

A key test for this committee will be the proposed select committee inquiry into banking competition.

Māori Affairs: Māori Affairs Committee is usually a more collegial committee compared to other subject select committees. The Committee attempts to work in the best interests of Māori. However, in this Parliament, Māori affairs are a major focus of the new government, and a highly controversial one. This committee is likely to consider amendments to Waitangi Tribunal legislation and amendments to the Marine and Coastal Areas (Takutai Moana) Act, review all legislation that references Treaty principles, and consider the Treaty Principles Bill set to follow. Any changes to use of te Reo Māori in government departments and titles are also likely to be shaped by this committee.

Expect to see robust debates and fiery submissions. The opposition is likely to place senior Māori MPs on the committee.

Environment: The environment has been another hot topic in the election campaign, and a few key developments are likely to go through this committee. These are the amendments to or replacement of the Resource Management Act, the replacement of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater, consideration of farmers’ ability to offset emissions with sequestration, and any amendment to the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry. Again, there will be fiery debates here and expect Labour to place former Ministers with RMA experience on this committee.

Education and Workforce: This committee will be considering changes to employment such as repealing the Fair Pay Agreement regime and reforming health and safety regulations. Changes to worker immigration schemes such as increasing the Recognised Seasonal Employer worker cap and changing the Accredited Employer Work Visa to attract skilled workers are also likely to be evaluated here.

Watch this space: The announcement of Select Committees will follow the meeting of the Business Committee after the opening of Parliament on Tuesday 4 December.

Special thanks to Elena Winstanley for her help preparing this article.



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