Phil Goff made a good fist yesterday of pretending Labour has a choice when it comes to supporting or not supporting National's emergency legislation overruling the Supreme Court decision blocking covert video surveillance by the police.

The sad fact is Labour has no choice but to vote alongside National when the governing party rams a bill nullifying the court's finding through Parliament next week with little or no public consultation.

It is no-win for Labour. If the party's MPs back the bill, they will incur the wrath of legal purists who argue the legislation offends constitutional niceties on at least three counts. It has been drafted in haste. It is retrospective. And it is being rushed through Parliament under urgency.

If Labour votes against the legislation, it stands to be accused of being soft on law and order.


Little more than two months before an election in which it is already starting from way behind, Labour is simply not in a strong enough position to take a stand and claim the moral high ground by not voting for the bill.

And National knows it. Once the Prime Minister declared on Monday that the Supreme Court ruling had put some 40 court trials at risk and "some very serious criminals could walk free", the debate was over for Labour before it had even begun.

Labour has little choice but to back the bill, even if National could get the numbers in Parliament from other quarters - something which was still unclear last night.

One of National's support partners, the Maori Party, was making it pretty obvious it could not vote for the bill.

Act, National's other partner, was last night still deciding what to do. The party might well regard the bill's infringement of the Bill of Rights as beyond the pale. But it could take a different tack, given its strong push on law and order.

The Greens will also oppose the measure out of principle.

This is a case where minor parties have the luxury of being able to play to their audiences. Not so the major Opposition party. In such a situation, it is expected to take what most people would see as the responsible position and weigh in behind the Government. It would get the blame if just one trial was aborted because its votes had stymied the emergency legislation.

Labour cannot afford that. It was still making its dislike of the bill it has yet to see pretty plain yesterday. It was insisting that the measure be subject to select committee scrutiny, brief as that might have to be.


All in all, Labour was making clear its objections to the way National was handling things. But this amounts to little more than political window dressing prior to the party inevitably falling into line.