The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill is a flawed piece of legislature but a big part of the public outcry wasn’t just the bill itself but also the way in which it was passed. It made the public aware of the ongoing abuse of parliament’s urgency laws as well as the fact that politicians pass laws with little understanding of what the laws mean.
When Labour tried to pass the bill in it’s original form there was a huge public outcry. It’s of no great surprise that when it was National’s turn to pass the revised bill, it was slipped through using parliament’s urgency provision. The government claims that it was just a coincidence and that they were merely trying to catch up on time lost because of the Canterbury Earthquake. I don’t think that it was coincidence that the one law that was assured a large public opposition was passed under urgency. Urgency stopped the public from having a chance to object and it sped the bill through before the UN could release a paper which says that internet termination breaches human rights.
Using urgency, the government was able to pass the bill in a single sitting, removing the time between readings of the amendment. The government would like you to believe that urgency only extends sitting hours but the reality is that it allows a law change in a single day. National passed 17 law changes under urgency in the first two years of this term, one law every 6 weeks and most of them seem to have been unpopular. I believe that the misuse of urgency spits in the face of democracy.
It wasn’t just the urgency the upset so many, but, while watching the “debate” live via Parliament TV, we all got the impression that almost nobody knew anything about the topic. New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young compared the internet to Terminator’s Skynet and another MP claimed that all file sharing was illegal. Clare Curran tried to pretend that Labour was against internet termination, while still backing the law. Melissa Lee actually gave a massive speech in-favour of copyright infringement. Most of these people were on the select committee and most still knew almost nothing. It was all incredibly maddening and surreal.
I would like to point out two people who really brought their A-game to parliament that night. Firstly, Labour MP Jacinda Ardern who when faced with an unpopular law change via urgency, actively engaged with the public in real time via email and social media. As parliament charged ahead at full speed, Jacinda gave us all a voice that even haste could not stop. Second, but definitely not of a lower capacity was Greens MP Gareth Hughes. Gareth was the only MP who seemed to completely understand the law, it’s flaws and their potential ramifications. He spoke so well that in the middle of the third reading he inspired me to do something that I have never done before, donate to a political party.
This law change proved two things to me: That we must pass laws restricting the use of urgency to when it is truly needed and so that it will not be abused, and that we must watch our politicians closely to make sure that they do not pass laws blindly and without knowledge of the relevant subject matter.