Why MPs behave poorly in Parliament

One of the primary reasons why MPs behave poorly in Parliament is because political journalists feed the frenzy by giving the worst of parliament the most attention.

Claire Trevett illustrates this in Pokes and jokes hit and miss but Winston Peters still the master.

Peters may be the master of attention seeking but that doesn’t make it a healthy environment for democracy.

On Key:

To celebrate the occasion and the rare display of Black Caps sledging Australians, Key dedicated much of his speech at the start of Parliament to sledging his own opponents.

On Little:

Little was not bereft of comebacks. He welcomed back Michael Woodhouse – the overseer of health and safety reforms which listed worm farms as dangerous: “I am pleased that we have got through a summer with not a single worm farmer suffering a fatality or serious accident.”

He congratulated newly restored minister Judith Collins for making such a difference in such a short time, noting New Zealand had slipped two places in the corruption index in the two months she had been back.

On Shaw:

But then came poor old James Shaw, the newly minted Green Party co-leader. His caucus was not so well trained at laughing as National and Labour.

His valiant efforts met with a wall of silence.

The circus only rewards clowns.

Nobody was quite sure what he was banging on about, but happily the novice was followed by the master: NZ First leader Winston Peters.

Peters took his usual scatter gun approach to his targets, depending who heckled him.

The sensible leadership over Waitangi events has disappeared in Parliament.

Finally Seymour set about insisting closure of a charter school in Whangaruru was proof the schools worked.

It was all as incomprehensible as circling the desert of the real.

The most respectful and sensible speaker didn’t rate a mention – Peter Dunne. He began by paying a tribute to the late Rt Hon Bob Tizard. He acknowledged Annette King respectfully. And he closed with a welcome back to all members, with a special mention to new MP Maureen Pugh.

But that sort of thing doesn’t rate a mention. We have headline driven political coverage, which grotesquely distorts our democracy.

WHOOPS: And I forgot to mention Te Ururoa Flavell, who flies under the media radar because he’s one of the best behaved and respectful MPs in Parliament.

Straddling the political divide

Some see politics as a big division between one thing or another but in reality there’s far more fairly common ground than there are extreme differences.

But today the ODT chose to call their editorial Straddling the political divide, looking ahead to the year in Parliament kicking off. However i think what they are referring to is more of a divide between what the public would like to see of their Members of Parliament and how those MPs present themselves in Parliament.

Parliament resumes tomorrow with the Prime Minister’s statement taking precedence over other business.

While official business takes centre stage tomorrow, the political year started earlier with the State of the Nation speeches by political leaders.

Mr Key can take all the time he needs as his statement has no limit in length. The debate in reply has a limit of 14 hours but the Government can, if it chooses, and it probably will, adjourn the debate and get on with other business. The year needs to start strongly.

The debate in reply begins with the Leader of the Opposition moving a no-confidence vote in the Government and moves on from there into the Opposition parties trying to score some political points against the Government in general and Mr Key in particular.

Mr Key has been untouchable for seven years and will point to the achievements of his Government as he outlines parliamentary priorities for the year ahead. In the past, Mr Key has deviated from his set speech to get a march on the Opposition, which has an advance copy of his address.

Tomorrow can really be the time for Mr Key to put aside the political agenda of trying to make his opponents look silly and provide some uplifting goals to which he aspires.

The Opposition can use their time to avoid making personal attacks and focus on providing some alternatives to what it sees as damaging policies.

All of this seems sadly unlikely and New Zealanders will again be left frustrated on the sides of the political divide.

As I said at the start, I think one of biggest divides in New Zealand politics is  not left versus right (the main parties are often called National Lite and Labour Lite) but a divide between how our Members of Parliament behave in Parliament and how the public would like them to behave.

Robust debate with opponents and challenging policies are very important aspects of a democracy.

But far too often our politicians resort to petty attacking and opposing for the sake of opposing rather than based on common sense.

The tone of our politics and of Parliament must be set from the top, by the party leaders. When did we last have a leader who led by example?

John Key has been a very successful leader but I don’t think he has yet been a great leader. He often tries to be a person of the people, quite successfully going by the polls but that’s probably as much to do with a lack of strong opponents.

Andrew Little is yet to step up as a credible leader.

The party leader I’ve been most impressed with over the annual Waitangi debacle is Winston Peters, who spoke honestly about the core of the problems. Perhaps the wily old campaigner can rise above his usually futile game playing and end his career on a respectable high.

Is Key capable of providing ‘some uplifting goals”?

Or will he continue to massage the masses with meanderings, policy-wise?

Likeable (to half the population) but with modest achievements who eventual fades away? Or can he become a leader of our times? If he aspires to the latter he will need to do more than just wave a flag.

Can Key find a way of straddling the divide between successful politician and aspirational leader? Does he want to?

Euthanasia submissions due 1 February

Today’s Herald on Sunday editorial focusses on Lecretia Seales and euthanasia, and it points out that Health select committee public submissions on euthanasia close in a week.

New Zealanders have just a week left to voice their opinions on voluntary euthanasia and whether it should be considered under law.

It is not an easy subject. The very term we use to understand the process is altered – and sometimes manipulated – to serve a purpose. Euthanasia, assisted dying, suicide.

It is one of the most difficult questions of our age but one that needs to be asked and considered.

Public feedback to Parliament’s health select committee closes on February 1. In a little over a week, the chance to have a say will be gone.

Regardless of the opinion – or the outcome – it would be to our shame to choose not to contribute to that debate.

 Herald on Sunday

It is a difficult and important issue, covering an individual’s right to choose how they may end their life versus protection of vulnerable people.

The Herald shows how out of date they can be by not providing links to the submission page.

The Parliament website for the Health Committee isn’t helpful either. Business before the Health Committee doesn’t mention it, and if I follow it’s Submissions link I get:

Server Error

Oops – there has been an error. This error has been automatically emailed to our website team and we will endeavour to fix it as soon as possible.

But there is a page:

Petition of Hon Maryan Street and 8,974 others

Public submissions are now being invited on the Petition of Hon Maryan Street and 8,974 others.

The closing date for submissions is Monday, 1 February 2016

The Health Select Committee has received a petition requesting “That the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.” The petition asks for a change to existing law. Therefore the committee will undertake an investigation into ending one’s life in New Zealand. In order to fully understand public attitudes the committee will consider all the various aspects of the issue, including the social, legal, medical, cultural, financial, ethical, and philosophical implications. The Committee will investigate: 1. The factors that contribute to the desire to end one’s life. 2. The effectiveness of services and support available to those who desire to end their own lives. 3. The attitudes of New Zealanders towards the ending of one’s life and the current legal situation. 4. International experiences. The committee will seek to hear from all interested groups and individuals.

The committee requires 2 copies of each submission if made in writing. Those wishing to include any information of a private or personal nature in a submission should first discuss this with the clerk of the committee, as submissions are usually released to the public by the committee. Those wishing to appear before the committee to speak to their submissions should state this clearly and provide a daytime telephone contact number. To assist with administration please supply your postcode and an email address if you have one.

Further guidance on making a submission can be found from the Making a Submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee link in the `Related documents´ panel.

There’s a much more helpful site – Lecretia’s Choice

 

The Health Select Committee is taking public submissions on assisted dying and suicide.  They want to hear from New Zealanders about their beliefs and concerns about end of life choices.  It is your chance to tell our politicians how you feel about end of life care and the choices you want to have.

The Parliament website has a helpful guide that explains the Select Committee Process (PDF) and how it affects Parliamentary decision-making. They also have a longer guide on how to make a submission, the key points of which are covered at the end of this page.

The original petition was “That the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.”

We are not happy with the terms of reference created by the Health Select Committee in response to this, as they imply that someone seeking assisted dying wants to die, which couldn’t be further from the truth. They have also brought the issue of suicide into scope, even though this wasn’t part of the request of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society petition. However it is not possible for the terms to be changed at this point, so it is not worth debating this as part of your submission. It is best to focus on the terms as written. The terms of reference are:

      • The factors that contribute to the desire to end one’s life.
      • The effectiveness of services and support available to those who desire to end their own lives.
      • The attitudes of New Zealanders towards the ending of one’s life and the current legal situation.
      • International experiences.

The Committee intends to consider “all the various aspects of the issue, including the social, legal medical, cultural, financial, ethical and philosophical implications.”

More details at:

Lecretia’s Choice

Crush the Speaker?

Parliament has been degenerating into a bigger shambles than usual with long simmering Opposition disgruntlement threatening to boil over.

The Speaker has been under increased criticism. It’s an unenviable position, with David Carter struggling to keep the House under control.

He’s not the strongest of Speakers but he is also bearing the brunt of Opposition parties failing to make much impact.

Rather than up their own performances a few Opposition MPs would appear to be keen on crushing the Speaker.

Rather than look at their own incompetence they have increasingly taken to blaming the referee.

In MPs playing for yellow card Stacey Kirk suggests Carter may be moved on soon anyway…

But then what more exacting cue for an exit stage-left, with speculation pointing to a plum diplomatic posting for him – perhaps London or Ottawa – at the next Government reshuffle

…and explores the alternatives.

Maurice Williamson

Ask around Parliament and many would say Maurice Williamson would be a sound, and potentially hilarious, choice as Carter’s successor (which is likely why John Key won’t pick him).

A position best served to a senior politician on a downward trajectory – Williamson ticks that box.

Most importantly, his appointment could bring a return to what opposition MPs deem fundamental to Question Time: Ministers may actually be expected to answer questions.

A change of Opposition attitude and asking better questions might also help.

Gerry Brownlee

Perhaps it’s for that very reason Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee appears to be the front-runner, raising fears about what that might mean for political journalists.

He displays an obvious and growing disdain for the Press Gallery, overheard once lamenting how “bloody young” they are, and is a regular complainer about their actions in the corridors of power.

The Speaker’s job is to facilitate debate inb the house though. It’s the MPs job to feed the journalists with stories.

Other names murmured as outside chances include Anne Tolley and Jonathan Coleman. Both seem unlikely.

Anne Tolley

Tolley is determined to oversee massive reform of Child, Youth and Family, which has barely begun.

Jonathan Coleman

Coleman is hardly in the twilight of his career.

In fact, his name has also been thrown in conversations discussing the next Minister for Foreign Affairs. That at least makes more sense than Speaker, him already having proven himself in the understudy role of Defence Minister.

But the doctor appears to have hit his stride in Health and, while ambitious, Foreign Affairs is a tough ask for anyone with a young family.

Any other candidates for a new Speaker?

What about Judith Collins? In practical term she is probably in the twilight of her career, although I don’t know if she’s ready to accept that yet or not.

Crush the Speaker?

Leader should lead the damage repair in Parliament

Key stirred up some major indignation and offence with his remarks in Parliament in Tuesday. This blew up further yesterday when Key refused to withdraw and apologise his accusations that Opposition MPs sided with rapists.

It should be remembered that it is Key who was being criticised and attacked for not doing enough on the detained New Zealand citizens in Australia – but there weas little he could do about Australian measures to deport ex-criminals.

Kelvin Davis provoked Key – very inappropriately – by confronting him in the halls of Parliament and calling him gutless.

The Opposition is to an extent responsible for what transpired in Parliament.

I think Key went too far with his comments – they were designed to hit back politically, hard, but he may not have considered that the consequences of accusing MPs who (it turns out) have been sexually assaulted of siding with rapists was going to be very emotive.

Key was justified in hitting back against over-emotive attacks but deliberately or not he made a serious mistake in the manner of his response in Parliament.

I think that Key has a responsibility to front up on this and acknowledge he has caused undue hurt with his comments. I think he should apologise in part.

But he still has a right to rephrase his counter to the provocation of Davis and other Opposition MPs on the Austrlaian detainees.

Key may believe he has major public support for his stance on the detainees. But in stirring up serious angst on rape issues he should recognise how deep this will hurt many people, and I think he should deal with it appropriately and with care.

This has become a major mess in Parliament. Key is far from the only one responsible for the whole furore but in situations like this leaders should lead, and the leader of the country should lead the repairing of the significant damage that’s been done.

Shaw hits back, continued disorder threatened

In a speech in Parliament yesterday Green co-leader James Shaw has hit back at John Key and the Government and National after Key’s remarks in Parliament about opposition MPs supporting rapists and murderers and ‘child molesterers’.

He said that Key ” lacks leadershipand his comments were “completely unparliamentary”, and until Key withdraws his comments “this House will continue to see a high level of disorder”.

He also said that “the members of the Opposition now have no confidence in the procedures of this House and no confidence in the Chair” (the Speaker)  and “you have to accept that because of the nature of those rulings that we are going to see continued disorder”.

Shaw got into tricky legal territory in turning the focus on Key’s and National’s embarrassing secret – this is currently subject to court ordered suppression so some details are edited and PLEASE TAKE CARE IF COMMENTING.

JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green): The last couple of days have been a very sad time in this Parliament. Given that the last speaker, the Hon Hekia Parata, spoke about the quality of leadership provided by our Prime Minister and some of the statements that he has chosen to stand by, to not resile from, and to not apologise for, I am just going to read out a few other quotes of his that I think he may want to stand by in the future as well: “He made a very significant contribution to our caucus.” “He’s a loss in terms of the contribution I’ve seen him make as a politician.” “I’m very happy for him to continue in the position that he does.” “He is a fully functioning member of the caucus.” Those are in relation to [Edit – identification of person]. So when we stand accused of backing rapists and murderers we take great offence.

Alfred Ngaro: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Those comments—that current issue is actually before the courts and so I would like to take a point of order about it being sub judice.

Mr SPEAKER: I think on this occasion those remarks are OK within the general debate. I will listen more carefully. If there is any reference to a matter that is before the courts, that would of course be out of order. At this stage the speech is in order and it can continue.

JAMES SHAW: So when we stand accused of backing rapists and murderers and paedophiles, I say that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The quality of leadership—so-called—that has been provided by our—

Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to draw your attention to the fact that in the member’s speech he spoke about [Edit – identification of person] and then immediately started talking about rapists and drawing the Prime Minister into the debate. I do not know whether that is appropriate. I do not think it is because he is trying to link the two together.

Tracey Martin: Speaking to the point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I do not need assistance from the member. It is a dangerous territory that we are in. At this stage I have ruled that the speech can continue. If it moves to an area that is before the courts, then I would cease the speech immediately, because I am very conscious that Parliament has the responsibility that the judiciary has. In future if any members wish to get close to this line, the Standing Orders are quite clear that you need, in writing, to take this matter up with Speaker so he can be better prepared. But I have ruled that the speech at this stage and certainly where it has now moved to can continue. I do not want further objections unless we go into an area of territory that is dangerous, and, frankly, I will be listening very carefully, so I will be the first on my feet, I suspect.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled on the matter. Is it a fresh point of order?

Chris Hipkins: It is a fresh point of order. I will try to be very careful in doing so. It is that where members suspect that the particular Standing Orders that you are referring to—and I think we all know what they are—are being transgressed, I think we get ourselves into some difficult territory that it may be useful for you to provide some further guidance on to the House. Members may interpret a comment a member is making as traversing that material that either was not intended or so, but in raising a point of order they may themselves actually introduce material that links comments that either were not intended or were not intended in that way. I wonder whether you can give us some clarity on how members can raise that without themselves getting into the difficulty with the courts.

That’s an interesting and valid point. While initial comments may go close to a legal line it’s possible that comments in response could combine to threaten to trip over that line.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Well, I do not think there is any guidance I can give on that, but I accept the point the member is making. The issue now has been highlighted by the points of order raised. That is, effectively, what the member is saying. As I said, I have not ruled anything out at this stage but I am listening carefully. I invite Mr Shaw to continue his contribution.

JAMES SHAW: When we stand accused of backing rapists and paedophiles and murderers, we take great offence—particularly those members who have been the victims of rapists and paedophiles and murderers and who have fought for years and years and years for the rights of those victims. I find it absolutely extraordinary that the Prime Minister has chosen to distract from his own troubles by choosing to go on the offence and to say—for some inexplicable reason—that the records of members on this side of the House in fighting that fights are somehow the exact opposite. That is what he is accusing them of.

Key obviously hit a raw nerve. His attack was deliberate but he may not have considered the potential rammificatins of what he said.

That is an extraordinary thing. I mean, the lines that he is using—I get that they have been dreamt up in the Australian offices—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Crosby/Textor.

JAMES SHAW: —of political consulting firm Crosby/Textor, because they have been trotted out here and in Australia. He wants to look tough on crime, and I know it is a dog whistle to the kind of red meat brigade who consistently vote for National. But it is absolutely unacceptable in this House to accuse members of the Opposition of backing rapists and murderers. It is completely unparliamentary. It lacks leadership. It brings this House into disrepute. It is quite clear that until an apology is made for those comments and until they are withdrawn that this House will continue to see a high level of disorder. Mr Speaker, I would like you to reflect on your own rulings. I recognise that you have made a number of rulings in relation to this matter over the last several hours and looked at the events of yesterday, but you have to accept that because of the nature of those rulings that we are going to see continued disorder. Essentially, what has happened is that the members of the Opposition now have no confidence in the procedures of this House and no confidence in the Chair.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will stand and withdraw that comment.

JAMES SHAW: I withdraw and apologise, Mr Speaker—unlike our Prime Minister, who does not have the grace to do so.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just carry on with the speech.

JAMES SHAW: What we have seen here is that the Opposition has been attempting to hold the Government to account on its human rights record, attempting to hold our Australian friends to account for their transgressions of human rights.

What has happened is that in order to distract from that issue and in order to look tough on crime and boost the poll ratings amongst the sort of “Stamp them on the neck until they stop what they’re doing” crowd, the “Lock them up and throw away the key” crowd—I think it is the Prime Minister who should be locked up.

Emotions were obviously high but that’s starting to look like tit for tat abuse.

The extraordinary thing here is that they have just gone on the offensive and decided that in order to distract from all of that they are going to lay it on this side of the House—that for some reason members who have been abused, members who have stood up for the victims of abuse for their entire career are somehow backing rapists and murderers and paedophiles. It is utterly absurd. It is completely offensive. It lacks leadership. It is unparliamentary, and it brings into disrepute this House and our proceedings.

Parliament looks set to be a very unhappy place unless this is dealt with apropriately by all concerned.

Parliamentary All Black team

Audrey Young has selected an political All Black team – Here they are – All Blacks of NZ Parliament.

She has given details but here’s the team line up.

  1. Loosehead prop – Judith Collins
  2. Hooker – Trevor Mallard
  3. Tight-head prop – Gerry Brownlee
  4. Lock – Amy Adams
  5. Lock – Phil Twyford
  6. Blind-side flanker – Andrew Little
  7. Open-side flanker – John Key
  8. Number 8 – Grant Robertson
  9. Halfback – Ron Mark
  10. First five-eighth – Bill English
  11. Left wing – Jacinda Ardern
  12. Second five-eighth – Paula Bennett
  13. Centre – Annette King
  14. Right wing – Winston Peters
  15. Fullback – Steven Joyce

Who would want to try and coach them?

That’s 7 National to 8 Opposition and ten male to 5 female, which approximates Parliaments current proportions.

  • Reserves: Simon Bridges, Chris Hipkins and Te Ururoa Flavell.

The Greens may or may not appreciate being left out of the rugged team but Turei and ACT’s Seymour are on the sideline:

  • David Seymour has nominated himself as the water-boy but he has roped in Metiria Turei to be his special assistant to sniff test each bottle for alcohol.

Peter Dunne is the only one not represented, and he doesn’t really look like referee material.

TPPA to now go to Parliaments for Yes/No

The Trans Pacific Partnership agreement has been reached and can’t be re-negotiated – it would be untenable if twelve countries could go on re-litigating clauses they weren’t happy with.

Radio NZ explains with Deal goes to parliaments:

US President Barack Obama released a statement saying Americans would have months to read the Trans-Pacific Partnership before he signs it into law.

In the United States, the deal will next go to the Congress for consideration, and in New Zealand and other countries, it will go before the Parliament.

The 12 countries’ legislatures will have no ability to re-negotiate the deal’s terms, however, and will be limited to yes-or-no votes on signing it into law.

NZ Herald: After the deal: 90 days for scrutiny:

Once the Trans Pacific Partnership talks conclude, New Zealand and the 11 other countries must tick several boxes before the agreement can be brought into force.

Under a rule set by the United States, any agreement cannot be signed until 90 days after negotiations end, to allow time for full consideration of its pros and cons.

The same rule also says the agreement’s full text must be made available to the public after 30 days.

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will provide a report to the Cabinet on the costs and benefits.

The Cabinet will then decide whether to approve the agreement.

Once the Cabinet approves the deal, the full text will be tabled in Parliament.

It will then be scrutinised by a parliamentary committee, which will hear submissions from the public.

New Zealand will likely have to change its laws to bring them into line with the agreement. This would probably be done through a single piece of legislation, and was likely to include changes to copyright, tariff and patent laws.

The bill would provide a chance for a parliamentary debate on the agreement, but only on the parts of the law which need to be changed.

This process could not alter the text of the agreement.

After the bill passes and any other policies or regulations have been brought into line with the agreement, the Government will ratify the deal.

Other countries will follow similar processes.

I don’t know what happens if any of the countries pulls the plug on the agreement.

Use of social media in Parliament

Last year the use of social media in Parliament was referred to the Privileges Committee.

In May 2014, the Speaker referred to us as a general matter of privilege the implications for Parliament of people using social media to report on parliamentary proceedings and to reflect on members of Parliament (including the Speaker).

The committee has now reported back – Question of privilege regarding use of social media to report on parliamentary proceedings

In general social media is seen as a useful means of engagement.

We consider the growth in the use of social media to communicate about Parliament in recent years to be a positive development. Parliament has an active Twitter account and is exploring increased use of Facebook by select committees. A healthy democracy relies on public participation, and all communication channels need to be fully used to promote the work that occurs in the House of Representatives.

For many members of Parliament, social media has become an essential tool for engaging with people and constituencies. At the time of writing, 105 out of the 121 members of the 51st Parliament had Twitter accounts. Members’ use of social media can provide a useful and interesting parallel commentary on what takes place in the House or in committees.

Given the value of social media for popular engagement and its enduring presence in our lives, we have no intention of questioning whether members and others should use it to report on parliamentary proceedings. Rather, our focus has been on appropriate behaviour when using social media, including assessing the relevant rules currently in place.

It is good that a number of MPs are happy to engage with the public via social media.

Guidelines for the use of social media from Parliament have bee proposed:

SocialMediaGuidelines1

SocialMediaGuidelines2

Robb on Little: “You always know when someone is going places”.

Retiring Parliamentary staffer Shona Robb says that she thought from day one that Andrew Little would be “going places” and looks forward to seeing him in “the big role” in 2017.

Stuff reports – MPs’ long serving staffer retires after four decades:

After 39 years, six prime ministers and hundreds of MPs, Shona Robb has called time on her career. And as Parliament’s longest serving staffer clocked off for the last time yesterday, her silver wrist-watch stopped.

She started work in the Opposition typing pool in September 1976 – before Parliamentary Service was established and construction of the Beehive was finished. MPs Todd Barclay, David Seymour, Jacinda Ardern, Nikki Kaye, Julie Anne Genter and Simon Bridges were yet to be born.

Working for MPs for 39 years is a huge achievement.

Robb makes some interesting comments about Andrew Little – see the video from 1:12

But the last few years working with Andrew has been pretty special indeed, and you always know when someone is going places, and I think I knew from day one.

So I’m really backing this man and I hope that, you know, in 2017 he’s going to take the big role. So we’ll be there to see you do that.

There’s also some interesting visuals involving Grant Robertson while Rob was saying that.

LittleRobertsonRob

Well done Shona for a long career in Parliament. We’ll see in a couple of years if Little gets the big role as she anticipates.

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