Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


The law to make it easier for airports to sell your stuff

National MP Nuk Korako has the luck of the draw earlier this week, when his ‘lost luggage’ member’s bill was drawn from the biscuit tin of democracy that the Office of the Clerk keeps to conduct the member’s bill ballot.

Bills, particularly amendment bills, can be hard to grasp. You might have to know what the old law says, or what a bunch of other laws say, before you really understand them. And with member’s bills, there’s no requirement or practice of providing the background detail that explains what they actually do. Andrew Geddis has already written about Nuk Korako’s Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill, but I thought I’d look particularly at what this bill does and does not do.

Losing your luggage can be annoying. Isn’t it good to have a law to help passengers connect with the carry-on they forget to take with them from the plane, or the luggage that gets mis-directed?

It might be, but that’s not what this law is about. This law is about airports, not airlines.

If an airline sends you to Wellington, and your luggage to Christchurch, that’s got nothing to do with an Airport Authority. That’s the airline, and this bill does nothing to change that.

It’s in the airport authorities act, not the civil aviation act, so that probably makes sense.

What does the Airport Authorities Act require an airport to do with lost property?

Nothing. The Act imposes no obligations on Airport Authorities over lost property.

So this amendment bill will change that, and impose new requirements on airports when dealing with lost property?

No. The Act, even if amended by this bill, would impose no requirements on airport authorities in relation to lost property.

But isn’t this law change required so that airport authorities don’t have to advertise lost property in the newspaper, and can instead advertise it on their websites?

No. Airport authorities are not required to advertise lost property in newspapers. They are also not prohibited from advertising lost property on the Internet.

But wouldn’t it be a good idea for airport authorities to advertise lost property on their websites?

It might, but again, the amendment does not require this.

And second, no airport authority actually has a website. Most airports seem to, but airport authorities are different. They’re local authorities that deal with some of the regulatory stuff around airports.

What does the law actually change?

It amends the bylaw making powers of airport authorities.

So instead of imposing rules around lost property in the control of Airport Authorities in the Airport Authorites Act, those rules are contained in bylaws?

No. The bylaws made under this section are not rules imposed on Airport Authorities, but are rules made by airport authorities themselves.

But they’re required to have by-laws about lost property?

No. Airport Authorities are allowed to have rules around lost property, but they are not required to. Some do, and some don’t.

But those that do have bylaws have rules that require them to advertise lost property in newspapers?

No. Among all the Airport Authorities that have published bylaws that relate to lost property, none of them has bylaws that require them to notify lost property in newspapers.

Then how does this law or these bylaws help connect people with their lost property?

They don’t. The act, and the bylaws, and the amendments proposed to them have nothing to do with connecting people with their lost property. If an airport authority chooses to pass a bylaw about lost property, that bylaw must require the airport to keep that property (unless it’s perishable or valueless) for three months, but that’s it.

Most airports probably have lost property departments. They probably try to connect people with their stuff, but the act does not require them to do any of that, and the amendment isn’t proposing to change that.

But aren’t there requirements to advertise lost property somewhere to let people know what’s been found?

No. The act does provide that airport authorities can (if they want to) make bylaws around advertising, but these have nothing to do with connecting people with their lost property.

Well, what are the advertising requirements about?

Again, there aren’t requirements about advertising in the act, and there is no requirement to have a bylaw that relates to advertising. Instead what the act does is provide that, if, an airport authority chooses to have a bylaw relating to lost property, and chooses to have that bylaw provide that the airport authority gets to sell lost property it finds, it must advertise, in a local newspaper, the auction that it will use to sell that property.

But wouldn’t an advertisement that some property is going to be auctioned help someone looking for something know that it is missing, and where they could find it?

It might, but the advertising is about the holding of the auction, even when all of this applies, there is no requirement to actually list what found property is to be sold off. The requirements are about the advertising of the auction itself.

Well, if it’s not about connecting people with their property, what is it about?

It’s an anti-corruption measure, designed to protect the public interest. Airport Authorities are local authorites, and if they are going to be selling stuff, we want them be able to get as much money for it as possible. If the auctions aren’t advertised, then someone involved in the process could let a mate know when the auction was, and they could buy up what’s for sale cheaply when no-one else turned up. They’d get a bargain, and the airport authority would get ripped off.

The section is largely based on the old Police Act, dealing with the auctioning of lost property handed in to police. Police auctions have always had to be publicised as well, because if they weren’t taxpayers would miss out. The money from Airport Authority auctions doesn’t go directly to the government in the same way as money from police auctions does, but the principle is similar.

So this law change is about changing the way lost property auctions can be advertised by airport authorities, and allowing them to advertise them on a website, instead of in newspapers?

No. Airport authorities are already allowed to advertise their lost property auctions on websites.

Well, what does the bill change?

It removes the requirement of any airport authority that chooses to have a bylaw dealing with auctions of lost property, to include in that bylaw a requirement for advertising in the auction in local papers, and instead allows them to advertise those auctions “in a fair and reasonable manner”. This might include advertising in a local newspaper, but it might not.

Who gets the money from these auctions lost property?

The airport authority gets to keep it.

So, Nuk Korako’s bill is not about reuniting people with their lost property, but about making it slightly easier for airport authorities to sell that lost property, keeping the profit?


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