The Government is under fire for fast-tracking legislation which retrospectively legalises the unlawful collection of thousands of dollars in fees from plumbers and gasfitters which was used to chase "cowboys" out of the industry.

But it argues the legislation is necessary. Otherwise industry regulator the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board would face financial ruin, leaving consumers at the mercy of unregistered and unscrupulous operators.

The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Amendment Bill was read for the first time last week, and Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson's motion that it be reported back from select committee just a week later was carried.

Mr Williamson said the legislation was necessary to address "inconsistencies between the board's functions and the funding provisions" in existing legislation.


Those inconsistencies relate to money collected from licensed tradespeople by the board for the purpose of funding legal action against unlicensed tradespeople or cowboys.

It was part of the board's disciplinary fee until 2010 when Parliament's regulations review committee discovered the money being collected from licensed members was being spent on prosecuting non- members.

That, said the committee, was illegal so in order to get around the problem, the board started charging a separate "Offences Fee".

However the regulations review committee is about to issue a ruling on a complaint that the offences fee is also illegal for the same reason.

Mr Williamson's legislation would retrospectively allow the board to collect fees for the purpose of prosecuting unregistered persons.

Without it, "the board could be left unfunded to carry out its statutory prosecution functions", he said.

"The board would be placed under significant financial pressure and would be unable to carry out its important statutory functions that directly affect the safety and the well-being of New Zealanders."

Green MP Holly Walker said there was a risk that if the offences fee was disallowed, the board would be forced to refund the money it had collected, leaving it in a "financially unviable position".


Labour's Raymond Huo attacked Mr Williamson's use of retrospective legislation, noting allegations that it was being used to protect the board from legal action and prevent the industry from recovering money illegally taken from it.

"This bill is nothing more than a cynical exercise by the minister ... to cover his mistakes of the past."

Labour will support the bill to select committee to give interested parties the chance to have their say.