Barry Soper: Power should remain where it belongs

Rob Muldoon was seen in some quarters as the most infamous practitioner of Prime Ministerial executive power in our history. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
Rob Muldoon was seen in some quarters as the most infamous practitioner of Prime Ministerial executive power in our history. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

If you've ever wondered what it must be like to have the power of the nation in the palm of your hand then reflect on what Rob Muldoon once said.

Muldoon mused that he could have an idea while shaving his expansive chin in the morning, have it endorsed by Cabinet, put it into the House in the afternoon and have it become law by midnight.

This was a man who was seen in some quarters as the most infamous practitioner of Prime Ministerial executive power in our history, much of it through Orders in Council.

Think of the more ridiculous shaving ideas he had, like car-less days in a failed attempt to lessen the impact of rising oil prices, the failed Think Big energy project to make us less dependent on the outside world, not to mention the economic ice box he had us living in, wage and price freezes and the frozen mortgage interest rates to name but a few.

The advent of MMP has largely put a brake on the sort of excesses we saw in that era, although the Government still has at its disposal Orders in Council which is where the Cabinet can have an idea, put it in front of the Governor General and have it passed into law without going through the Parliamentary process.

It's the ultimate in executive rule and it should be used sparingly, and in areas where the great unwashed don't run the risk of taking a bath.

There's a proposal to allow this unfettered power to be used to change parts of the Tax Administration Act and that's got Labour's revenue spokesman Stuart Nash hot under his well pressed collar.

The Act was passed by Parliament a couple of years before MMP and on the face of it, it's as dry as Graeme Wheeler delivering the Monetary Policy Statement at the Reserve Bank.

But it does touch on areas that affect everyone who coughs up part of their pay to the taxman every week.

The Beehive will give the IRD, through an Order in Council, the power to fiddle with the ACT while it changes over its computer system and once that's done after a few years, it'll revert back to the status quo.

Nash would argue the IRD has enough power now and fiddling with the Act is the job of lawmakers and not pen pushers and any changes should go through the Parliamentary process.

But it's the bigger issue, carte blanche permission to change the law which shouldn't be the job of unelected officials.

Orders in Council, and the power that goes with them should remain where it belongs, with the political executive on specific issues even if on occasion that's been misplaced.

- Newstalk ZB

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