National Party MPs are crying foul after Labour put Parliament into Urgency to rush through a law change introducing the regional fuel tax to apply.
Labour had hoped to pass the bill today – it must be passed for the Auckland regional fuel tax to kick in on July 1.
However the National Party, which strongly opposes the measure, put up numerous amendments to draw out the debate and last night MP Jami-Lee Ross put up a motion to allow unlimited speeches in the debate on the bill.
Leader of the House Chris Hipkins said that would have had the effect of drawing the debate on the bill out indefinitely and that forced him to counter it by putting up an amendment to halt the debate.
He also put Parliament into Urgency to ensure the bill passed its final stages today.
Hipkins had a change of heart this morning and withdrew his amendment to block debate, saying he had reflected on it and did not believe it was in the best interests of the House. Ross' attempt to prolong the debate was also voted down.
However, Parliament remains in Urgency to pass the legislation through its final stages.
Speaker Trevor Mallard said both moves "were an affront to the House" before they were resolved.
National's Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee described Hipkins' attempt to halt the debate as anti-democratic.
"It's a dark day for democracy in this country."
He said when Labour was in Opposition, it had objected to the use of Urgency – a measure that means Parliament can sit outside its usual hours and the usual rules requiring a gap before the final reading of a bill do not apply.
The Green Party, which strongly disapproves of Urgency, also supported the motion under its confidence and supply agreement with Labour.
Hipkins defended the move, telling RNZ he was left with little option after the National Party put up a motion that would have extended the debate indefinitely.
"We have amended that to say there will be no further debate. I don't think either position is particularly in the best interests of the Parliament but ultimately we've been trying to do the right thing, we've been trying to avoid Urgency with this."
He said Labour had allowed two full days of debate already. "At some point, the Parliament does have to pass this bill."
He blamed National for putting him into that position, saying its motion would have allowed the debate to continue forever.
"I don't think that's a healthy position for Parliament to be in.
"When we were in Opposition, and we did a bit of filibustering, it's what Oppositions do, we never at any point sought to basically override the rules of Parliament so the debate could go on and on forever."
National has argued Labour could have passed it into law next week and still be in time for the July 1 start of the tax, but it is understood that would have meant Labour would have had to delay a Treaty settlement bill which is due to be read this afternoon.
The Green Party's whip Gareth Hughes said the party supported the use of Urgency when it was required. He said the bill needed to pass before July 1 and the public had had a say during the select committee process.
"This is a proper and justifiable use of Urgency.
"It is in stark contrast to National's excessive use, especially when they were forcing through bills without select committee scrutiny."
National introduced the use of "extended hours" to pass non-controversial legislation such as Treaty settlement bills outside of Parliament's normal sitting hours. That was only used when all parties agreed to it.
Labour is yet to use "extended hours" because its legislative programme is not yet heavy enough.