Hipkins continues to question Speaker impartiality

Labour’s Shadow Leader of the House Chris Hipkins is to appear before Parliament’s Privileges Committee along with leader Andrew Little due to a complaint against the rule that “it is a potential contempt to make a serious allegation against the Speaker that reflects on his or her impartiality”.

Andrew Geddis has detailed this in Can bias be in the eye of the beholder – and can you call it like you see it?

in addition to complaining to the Speaker in the House, Little and Hipkins went to the media with allegations that the Speaker’s decision was taken purely to avoid the National Government suffering an embarrassing legislative defeat.

Here’s Chris Hipkins:

“[National] have clearly done the numbers and worked that out, and now the Speaker is interfering on their behalf to ensure the Government does not face that embarrassment,” Hipkins said.

“This is massive political interference in the parliamentary process by the Speaker.” 

And here’s Andrew Little:

“Instead of helping to push the legislation through quickly National has clearly had a word in the Speaker’s ear, leading him to make an unprecedented decision to stop the bill being read this year,” Mr Little said.

“The ruling raises serious questions about political interference.”

Standing Order 410(o) says that the House may treat (and punish) as a contempt statements “reflecting on the character or conduct of the House or of a member in the member’s capacity as a member of the House”. In other words, if you say something publicly that may lower the estimation of Parliament or individual MPs in the public’s eyes – assuming such a feat is possible – then the House may choose to punish you for doing so.

Furthermore, it traditionally has been accepted that this rule applies with far greater strength in respect to the Speaker of the House, whose ability to function depends upon everyone accepting (or, at least pretending to accept) that he or she does his or her job in a non-partisan, even-handed, quasi-judicious fashion.

This traditional understanding was spelled out by the Privileges Committee (P3C!) in a report issued just this September:

Reflections against the Speaker or other presiding officers, and in particular any comment that alleges that they have been biased in performing their duties, are among the most serious reflections that can be made about members. The rule that it is a potential contempt to make a serious allegation against the Speaker that reflects on his or her impartiality derives from the longstanding practice and tradition of the House of Commons. The rule serves to protect the reputation of the office of Speaker and the institution of Parliament.

Reflections on the Speaker have been censured in New Zealand on only six occasions, the last of which was in 1998. Standing Order 410(o) has therefore been used only on rare and serious occasions. The rules about reflections on members have constitutional significance, and there is no evidence that they are being misapplied to inhibit the free speech of members, the media, or the public. Accordingly, we believe that the rules should be retained in their current form. 

Note that this report was signed off by members of the National, Labour, Green and NZ First Parties … including by one Chris Hipkins!

Hipkins has said he will stand down when the complaint against him is heard.

For those interested, yes I am a member of the privileges committee and yes, clearly I will step aside. Clayton Cosgrove will replace me.

Remember Clayton? The MP you have when you don’t see any sign of the MP.

But Hipkins has continued with his criticism of the Speaker. Today he has tweeted:

This week Parliament has become a farce. OK for PM to tell lies and hurl personal abuse, but MPs who complain about it will be disciplined.

Question Time an essential check on govt power. But it should also involve answers!

Question Time is a farce. Specific questions go unanswered while ministerial insults and abuse go unrestrained.

Newstalk ZB’s chief political reporter responded:

Felix Marwick@felixmarwick
Felix Marwick Retweeted Chris Hipkins

adding to the charge sheet??

Open defiance of the Speaker is probably not wise from Hipkins with a complaint already under way, especially as he is Shadow Leader of the House.

Leave a comment

7 Comments

  1. David

     /  12th November 2015

    Hopkins generally asks good questions (written for him by the teachers unions) unlike the rest of his colleagues and especially the Greens who are utterly hopeless. Lockwood Smith was constantly exasperated with the quality of questions as is this speaker, we basically have a lazy and pretty thick opposition who don’t have the wit to skewer a minister which is why question time is full of “does he stand by his statement” crap.
    Ask a straightforward question and Mr Speaker will demand a straight answer, raise pointless points of order because you can’t ask a decent question and you will find it frustrating.

    Reply
  2. If they are going to start dicking with the Speaker, they should have the book thrown at them. Hate the playa, not the game. Lock the pair of them up for a week and see how they like it.

    Reply
  3. Okay this is what it is about:
    “This week Parliament has become a farce. OK for PM to tell lies and hurl personal abuse, but MPs who complain about it will be disciplined.
    Question Time an essential check on govt power. But it should also involve answers!
    Question Time is a farce. Specific questions go unanswered while ministerial insults and abuse go unrestrained.”

    For those who haven’t been watching, which parts are wrong?

    Reply
    • Which parts are wrong?
      1. “OK for PM to tell lies and hurl personal abuse, but MPs who complain about it will be disciplined.” The PM hurled abuse at the opposition MPs in retaliation for personal abuse at him. MPs were thrown out of the chamber because they defied the Speaker’s ruling.

      2. “Question Time an essential check on govt power. But it should also involve answers!”
      I agree. But the current Opposition tactic is ask the question “Do you stand by your statements”, and then follow up with a supplementary speech (which invites only a speech in return). If the opposition wants answers, then they need to start asking proper questions. The recently retired Clerk of the House, Mary Harris (a non-partisan person expert in parliamentary procedure), said this – she said that opposition MPs cannot complain about the quality of answers if they ask questions that are actually speeches about an issue.

      3. “Question Time is a farce. Specific questions go unanswered while ministerial insults and abuse go unrestrained.”
      Like I have written – questions need to be specific and well written. Ministerial insults will get passed if the opposition make an insulting speech first. The “rules of the game” are that an insulting question gets an insult in return. So Little accused the PM of being weak and lacking courage, so the PM responded that Labour were supporting rapists. Do you understand?

      Reply
  4. National should ask Carter to resign and then nominate a Labour MP to be Speaker…… then we can have them howl about not getting answers to their limp questions… is there a Peter Tapsell among the opposition who could play it straight down the middle and satisfy all parties?

    Watching Question Time this year it has been obvious that Labour and especially the Greens are inept in their questioning. Turia is particularly useless in my view – her questions are all emotional bluster and pathetic little sighs when no one agrees with her

    Reply
  5. Brown

     /  13th November 2015

    Hipkins sent out a housing questionnaire the other day. 3 questions on housing, 3 questions about who you vote for and do you want to be on our list. Amateurish, shallow and pointless fishing. And he’s one of their smarter ones.

    Reply
  1. Games in Question Time | Your NZ

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