After months of wrangling, the government’s six urgent bills still appear to be in limbo.
The government has remained silent on the issue and not responded to our request for comment. There is no record in Hansard of the bills progressing successfully through Parliament.
The result of the bills would be to give the government, rather than the king, control over key judicial and police appointments.
Even if the bills are passed by the House, they may raise serious legal challenges.
As Kaniva News reported last year, New Zealand legal expert Dr Rodney Harrison said the king had withheld or deferred his signature from a number of pieces of legislation because they had been deemed to be inappropriate or unconstitutional.
If it was thought the new bill infringed on his powers, they might be rejected.
However, Dr Harrison said the king had no right to judge the merits of legislation passed by Parliament.
He said that under the 2010 Constitution, review and evaluation of the merits of legislation passed by the General Assembly did not fall within the scope of the king’s powers of sanction and signature.
He said the extent of the king’s power might have to be resolved in court.
The government proposed the bills in May, but Noble MPs walked out of Parliament and refused to co-operate with the government.
The bills are based on legislation proposed by the last government but which were never passed.
Those bills were made in response to a report on the Constitution by Peter Pursglove in 2014. It recommended that the Attorney General must be a member of cabinet and that the judicial panel which chose judges was dangerous as it was accountable to no one.
A number of people who have loudly opposed the bills in 2019 are the same ones who tried to push the bill through in 2014 before ‘Akilisi Pōhiva and the Democrats gained power.
The six new bills were initiated by Lord Tu’ivakanoo’s government in 2014. The noble MPs supported the bills including some independent people’s representative such as MP Sāmiu Vaipulu and former MP Dr Viliami Lātū.
However, when the Pōhiva government submitted the Bills to the House the same noble MPs, including MP Vaipulu attacked it and said the Pōhiva government was trying to remove some of the king’s powers.
There has been fierce argument over the right of the public to comment on the bills. The government said there had already been public consultation on the bill by the previous government and that it had sought a public response using talkback radio.
In his latest speech to Parliament the king appeared to support a public consultation conducted by a Parliament committee led by Lord Fusitu’a and Hon. Vaipulu and the Attorney General’s office on the Bills.
Lord Fusitu’a claimed the public consultations showed people did not want the law changed.
“It’s an overarching statement by an overwhelmingly large majority,” he told Radio New Zealand.
“The people have spoken and have rejected six bills, including the constitutional amendment.”
However, the Democrats have criticised the consultation process, saying it was not conducted in a clear, transparent and accountable way.
They said Hon. Vaipulu and Lord Fusitu’a repeatedly went on radio and television Tonga telling the public the bills were an attempt to remove the king’s powers.
Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva said there was no law in Tonga to stop people from submitting a bill to remove any power of the king. He said the last time the people submitted a bill to remove the executive power of the king was before 2010. His Late Majesty King George V accepted it and relinquished his executive power in 2010.
Hon. Pōhiva said the majority of voters still backed his government and the new Bills.
The main points
- After months of wrangling, the government’ six urgent bills till appear to be in limbo.
- The result of the bills would be to give the government, rather than the king, control over key judicial and police appointments.
- Even if the bill are passed by the House, there may still be serious legal challenges.
For more information
Review and judgement of laws passed by Parliament not in king’s power, says lawyer