Parliamentary disgrace

Parliament this week has been a disgrace. Our supposed House of Representatives has been more of a melee of mongrel misfits in a house of reprehensible behaviour.

If the sort of behaviour we frequently witness in Parliament and in the political arena was practised in councils, boardrooms, committees, bars and school playgrounds they would be seen as dysfunctional and it would be condemned.

It’s bullying, dirty destructive behaviour that wouldn’t be acceptable in most parts of our society. New Zealand’s leaders should be setting a good example but they are doing the opposite.

It’s equivalent to kids throwing stones at each other.
It’s equivalent to eye gouging in rugby.
It’s equivalent to drunks kicking victims in the head.

It’s not only condoned by our leaders and parliamentary representatives, some of them actively participate and promote obnoxiousness, disrespect and abuse. They try to break people, destroy careers and bring down governments.

It’s not robust, it’s not holding to account. It far exceeds reasonable behaviour. It’s a very poor look for our House of Representatives. At times they represent the worst ways of dealing with issues, differences and competing agendas.

This is a problem that goes right to the top and most practised and prevalent in what are supposed to be our two major parties. The leaders of those two parties, John Key and David Cunliffe, are at the forefront of problem in what they do or in what they allow of their caucuses. Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee and Shadow Leader of the House Grant Robertson are also heavily involved.

They should be setting good standards and examples but they lead and allow the worst standards.

Parliamentary behaviour is often bad but this week was worse than usual.

The Speaker has an unenviable task trying to referee the rabble. In any sport if the referee or umpire was challenged, argued with and defied as happens in Parliament the game would be farcical and dysfunctional.

At times on Wednesday the Prime Minister severely tested the mettle and patience of the Speaker, who at one stage gave Key a final warning in Question 1 on Wednesday. Ironically it involved Cunliffe challenging Key about “high standards”.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The level of interjection now coming from my right is unacceptable.Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is sufficient. [Interruption] Order! The Hon Gerry Brownlee—please tone it down a little.Hon David Cunliffe: If the Minister believes in high standards…does the Minister think that those are the standards that New Zealanders have a right to expect of him or his Government?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! If members on my right want to stay for the full question time, I expect some cooperation. [Interruption] Order! A point of order has been raised. It will be heard in silence.Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need assistance. [Interruption] Order! As to the first point of order, the Prime Minister should resume his seat immediately when I stand. I said that to him, so I consider that matter closed, but it better not happen again.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Supplementary question.Grant Robertson: To the rescue, Gerry!

Mr SPEAKER: Order! All members have a right to ask a supplementary question.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Has he seen any reports of interesting and innovative fund-raising methods deployed by political parties? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no prime ministerial responsibility for other parties. [Interruption]

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just want to clarify before I take the point of order that the member is not in any way attempting to relitigate an answer I have given, because if that was happening, I would be tempted to ask the member to leave. If it is a point of order, I will hear it, but it better not be—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is always that temptation, but what I am simply saying is that I asked the question whether the Prime Minister has received any reports.

Mr SPEAKER: It is a matter of prime ministerial responsibility. It asked about any reports but then you went on, Mr Brownlee, about other parties’ innovative means of fund-raising, or words to that effect. I ruled instantly that I did not consider that was prime ministerial responsibility.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! My patience is fast running out with members on the right-hand side of this House. If the source is the Labour Party website, then that is freely available to all members and I will not be putting—[Interruption] Order!Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: Again, can you just clarify whether this is a fresh point of order?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is a fresh one—yes. I seek leave to table a document that shows people had paid $500 to attend a lunch—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, I want the source of the document.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I am not sure of the source but I am sure I can get it for you—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. [Interruption] Order! The noise is coming relatively equally from both sides. On this occasion I will not be ejecting any member. But I have points of orders raised. I call for silence; I expect silence.

Dr Russel Norman: Mr Brownlee asked a supplementary question and you ruled it out of order. Then you said to Mr Brownlee that if he disputes your ruling, you will be tempted to throw him out. He did dispute your ruling and you, in—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. What I took from the second point he raised was that he sought clarification rather than to dispute. That is the way I ruled it.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: From the source Scoop, I seek to table—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. Scoop is available to all members, and if this sort of nonsense continues from the Prime Minister, to restore order, again, I will have no choice but to ask the Prime Minister to leave the Chamber.

And so it went on, with antagonism and acrimony from both sides. The previous day Trevor Mallard was ordered from the chamber for making an accusatory interjection he refused to withdraw. Both Mallard and Chris Hipkins were ordered from the chamber on Thursday . That’s an indication of the degree of difficulty the Speaker had maintaining order.

The media are complicit in this. They report the worst of Parliament, that’s their job. But I don’t see much holding to account of Members of Parliament for a lot of their bad behaviour.

Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship:

“Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

I haven’t seen any holding to account from  media this week of poor Parliamentary behaviour.

It’s election year and political stakes are high. That should not be an excuse for the worst of dirty politics. In any sane situation it would encourage people to present their best behaviour and abilities.

In general people, voters, hate the negative obnoxious, abusive and destructive side of politics. They look at politicians with derision. Increasing numbers show their displeasure through their non-participation at the ballot box.

And many of those who vote are left choosing what they see as the least worst option.

There should be an opportunity for a perceptive leader and a perceptive party to recognise the problem and address it. That would take real leadership because it would mean having to confront entrenched negative behaviours.

John Key? David Cunliffe? The first to act on this – not just poliwaffle but act and continue to act on it – could gain a considerable advantage in the run up to the election.

Appealing to politicians to improve their poor behaviour is quite a sad situation. Pointing out the bleeding obvious shouldn’t be necessary.

Leaders should rise above some of the worst sorts of human behaviour, not promote and practice it. Anarchy in the streets would not be acceptable so why should virtual anarchy in Parliament be allowed to continue?

Parliament has been a disgrace this week. Our leaders are letting us down badly. They keep tearing the Emperor’s credibility to shreds, and seem blind to the tatters, or think that crap behaviour is acceptable. They keep shitting in our highest House.

10 Comments

  1. Yes I agree. Tuesday’s debate about Maurice Williamson should not have been allowed at all – mistake by Mr Speaker for sure. I was quite disturbed at the level of attack on Judith Collins and it was so wrong. Regardless what she did or did not do. The debate really was a waste of time. People are not paying taxes for that kind of immature behaviour.

  2. Phil Wild

     /  May 9, 2014

    ” I haven’t seen any holding to account from media this week of poor Parliamentary behaviour.” No because they are part of the problem, salivating at the thought of watching a playground bullying fight so that can get their sound bytes and panting as a severely edited “highlights” are fed to an every increasing turned off public.

  3. Brown

     /  May 9, 2014

    “People are not paying taxes for that kind of immature behaviour.”

    I hate to burst your bubble but yes they are. What is appalling is that, having moaned about it, later this year you will dutifully trot off and vote for more of it.

    • Oh! Arrogance has reared it’s head – well you have proved my point.

    • Oh! Arrogance has reared it’s head – well you have proved my point- let us see what actually happens 22 September.

  4. I agree.. its more like watching ‘petty bickering in the school-yard’ than serious political debate. The main protagonist (to my mind) is the PM, who increasingly uses condescending terms, when referring to opposition MPs. I accept that debating is about winning argument on the issues, BUT I thought that was with intellectual & rational discussion.. NOT the NONSENSE I often hear recently, in the ‘people’s house’. Methinks its likely to get worse as we draw closer to the election (20/9/14).

  5. kiwidave

     /  May 14, 2014

    MP’s assemble in what is called the “debating chamber” – pity none of them know what “debating” means.

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