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?

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29 Comments

  1. David

     /  27th November 2015

    You could just about blame Little for all of this, he is a bit useless at thinking on his feet and resorts to shouting and abuse and language….he treats it like a trades Union meeting. Fish always rot from the head if you ask me.
    Ask a straight question and you will get a straight answer. “Does the …. stand by all their statements” just doesn’t cut it, nor does running off to tame journalists.

    Reply
    • Jeeves

       /  27th November 2015

      “Ask a straight question and you will get a straight answer.”
      What, from John Key?

      Reply
      • jamie

         /  27th November 2015

        “Ask a straight question and you will get a straight answer.”

        That’s how Lockwood ran the house, and both questions and answers improved dramatically under his watch. Carter follows no such rule.

        In contrast, Carter’s rule is that if a Minister fails to answer a straight question 3 times in a row, that is the end of the question.

        It’s because of nonsense like this that opposition MPs have given up on tight questioning. If the Speaker refuses to insist on straight answers to straight questions, why bother with a straight question? You might as well go for the political point instead if you know you’re never going to get a straight answer.

        Reply
  2. First, let’s rule out a sly premise you’ve slipped into the topic Pete.
    How many MPs EVER “look at their own incompetence”?
    And isn’t blaming the referee the new meaning of “sportsmanship”?
    I’m all for an hilarious Speaker, hence my vote goes to Maurice Williamson, who I think would bring a real stand-up comedy quality to the role. He has the requisite respect of all his peers and, arguably, the entire population. Actually, I wonder why he isn’t PM?
    All the others bar none are way too valuable to National on the benches. Added together they constitute nearly an entire competent Member to support their glorified PM.
    “Any other candidates for new Speaker”? You’re kidding, right?
    Few are worthy of the name politician, let alone Speaker.

    Reply
    • Jeeves

       /  27th November 2015

      I thought ‘convention’ dictated that the speaker should be drawn from the Opposition benches….?

      Reply
  3. “The Speaker’s job is to facilitate debate in the house…”

    Sometimes he reminds me of one of those American football players running in front of the guy with the ball taking out would be defenders. Those blockers and tacklers are facilitating the team with the ball do what they want. I suppose then David Carter could be said to be facilitating debate.

    Reply
  4. Pete Kane

     /  27th November 2015

    To my knowledge Peter Tapsell is the only non governing (or coalition) party Speaker since the wartime government where Speaker Bill Barnard resigned from Labour in support of Lee but stayed on as Speaker (go figure).

    Reply
  5. Loki

     /  27th November 2015

    Mallard..
    He is never going to be a minister again.
    It will infuriate the lunatic fringe of the left. And doesn’t mess with the governments majority.
    Plus a notorious trouger like Mallard will appreciate the massive pay jump in the twilight of his career.
    Precedent was Tapsell.

    Reply
    • Not a silly idea Loki… he is an Assistant Speaker already and sits in the chair for some of the Bill Reading debates already…

      But Trev will just be biased the other way, but having actual answers to some straight forward questions wouldn’t be all bad as long as Trev doesn’t overdo the bias.

      Reply
  6. Ray

     /  27th November 2015

    Mallard, talk about the poacher becoming the game keeper
    His efforts as Assistant Speaker have been less than impressive
    Doubt if he has the gravitas for the job but watching him stuff it up would be fun

    Reply
    • jamie

       /  27th November 2015

      I think he’s done pretty well, definitely better than I expected. Seems like he goes out of his way to be fair because he knows he’s under scrutiny.

      Probably too much baggage to be Speaker though.

      Reply
  7. Carter is damn average. But if you listen to Question Time ona regular basis you will hear some pretty inept fumbling of questions and follow ups by many opposition MP’s. The lesser lights in the greens and NZ First are just awful.

    It also doesn’t help when political speeches masquerade as questions – when that happens then the Speaker has always allow latitude to respond in kind.

    Specific questions should get specific answers particularly lead questions which are on notice. the Do you Stand by All your Statements give Ministers the ability to slide away on supplementary questions with a simple i don’t have the information at hand, unless a previous question oral or written has ploughed the path.

    Seems to me there are 2 problems:

    1 – A weak Speaker showing Wilsonesque bias at times
    2 – A pretty poor mob of Opposition MP’s who are frustrated at their own inability to pin Ministers down – see the Gulf States schmoozle, regular limp Climate Change questioning, some of King’s factual wrong Health questions etc etc

    Hipkins does ok, David Parker makes some head way at times. Grant Robertson is borderline useless and English pretty much destroys him every time. James Shaw is getting closer, but Meteria is pants with her little sighs and and signs of frustration. JA Genter is ok at times on transport issues but always lets Bridges duck away by diving off in to Politic speeches in supplementary questions…

    Reply
    • jamie

       /  27th November 2015

      The reason there are so many “does he stand by his statements” questions (and I agree, they’re not helping) is because John Key refuses to answer almost any other question by shifting it on to some other minister. It’s the only question he can’t shift.

      “Specific questions should get specific answers particularly lead questions which are on notice.”

      Yep, doesn’t happen though. Carter has made it clear that he won’t insist on straight answers even to straight questions, so the opposition don’t bother any more.

      Reply
      • Jamie. If its a question related to a specific ministers portfolio a shift is perfectly fine. Key answering detailed questions on say Health ain’t going to happen for instance, policy questions maybe but specific execution related questions you have to be kidding.

        As for the straight question and answer. I have seen some skillful pushed away, some poorly framed and somewhere the Speaker should do a better job.

        It is not all Carter… the Opposition is pretty dreadful at times

        Reply
        • jamie

           /  27th November 2015

          Agreed on all of that, but Key made a practice of transferring EVERY question for a while, not just ones specific to portfolios. Even, for example, questions that asked for his opinion on a Minister’s performance were being transferred to that very Minister.

          That’s when the blanket “stand by” questioning began.

          p.s. Among other absurdities, I’ve seen Carter refuse to seek an answer to a (tight and specific) question on the grounds that “the question has political overtones.” He just makes it up as he goes.

          Reply
          • Wasnt aware of trying to transfer whats your opinion… that’s BS.

            I personally would like to see a truly neutral referee in the speakers chair but that goes against convention – in my mind Office of the Clerk. But I suppose they would just get politicised.

            Lets put Damien O’Connor in the Chair – he strikes me as hard but fair.

            Reply
            • jamie

               /  27th November 2015

              I like the neutral ref idea but like you I don’t know how well it would work in practice.

              O’Connor doesn’t strike me as being all that interested in the rules and protocols of the house. Besides, why would the govt want a Labour MP for Speaker?

            • Why not – no accusations of bias and the member taking the role who need to be scrupulous in observing balance. Tapsell did it way back….

            • jamie

               /  27th November 2015

              I think Tapsell was chosen because it was the only way for the Govt to have enough votes in the house to function. A smooth move by Bolger to avoid deadlocking the house.

              I guess we’re only a by-election away from that now. Maybe someone from neither Labour or National. What about Seymour?

            • Agree Jamie it was mostly about retaining a 1 vote advantage for Spud and it was a smooth move.

              Seymour – no he is too inexperienced and his goal is building ACT’s profile which as Speaker he couldn’t do.

              No it has too be National or Labour. None of the other parties have the experience bar NZF with Winnie and that would be a disaster

            • jamie

               /  27th November 2015

              Oh god, imagine it.

            • Winston? Would be him grandstanding all day… wouldn’t want him after a long lunch in Bellamys : )

            • jamie

               /  27th November 2015

              Shhh, don’t say his name three times…

      • Goldie

         /  27th November 2015

        The retired Clerk of the House, Mary Harris, made some very good comments.

        If the Opposition ask well thought out and specific questions, then the Minister will be compelled to answer them – maybe in a waffly or devious way, but nevertheless, they must answer the question. And the more specific and well crafted the question, the harder it is for the Minister to wriggle out. And a single question and supplementary is unlikely to produce results – what they need is a strategy so a Ministers cumulative answers can be used against them.
        Then a halfway good Opposition MP will have a supplementary question ready to skewer the Minister for that answer.

        But that requires WORK. That means the MP and the research team have to have done their homework, read lots of papers and briefings, and understood the issue inside out. It is really hard work – reading piles of PQs, official briefings, Hansard and OIAs. And having a set of supplementary questions ready at hand to fire in response to the likely answers. We used to call this “casting bullets” – boring work, but absolutely necessary for being an effective opposition. It also means long meetings working out how to construct question chains that can catch out a Minister, and having a strategist is important.

        The problem is that the current Opposition are, to be blunt, workshy. Research is really tedious and thankless work, and after several years of this, it becomes a real drudge. It is not helped by the fact that the Labour caucus is small (and their Parliamentary resourcing limited) and the Party is skint so they can’t do what the last Labour opposition in 1996-99 did which was to pool resources to develop expertise and experience. The current Opposition also don’t have a strategist or a leader in the House, who can set up the questions to create traps.

        So the problem isn’t the Speaker. It is that the Opposition are not doing the work and don’t have leadership in the House.

        In many ways I don’t blame Labour MPs. If you are a very clever young MP with fierce ambitions, after six years the idea of spending another night reading official papers must seem like torture. Appearing in a photoshoot for Woman’s Weekly is so much easier! So you stop doing your research, and blame the Speaker when your arse gets handed to you by a dominant Government.

        But Labour are abrogating their responsibilities. There is a reason why Opposition MPs have to do this horrible hard work – it is so when they eventually become Government they will be ready. They will understand the issues better than the cunning conniving officials trying to dupe them. They will be able to speak on complex policies with credibility. Blaming the Speaker is pathetic.

        Reply
        • jamie

           /  27th November 2015

          “If the Opposition ask well thought out and specific questions, then the Minister will be compelled to answer them – maybe in a waffly or devious way, but nevertheless, they must answer the question.”

          Perhaps you haven’t watched parliament for a couple of years. That’s exactly what is supposed to happen but Carter openly rejects that principle. His doctrine, stated by him at virtually every question time, is that it is entirely up to the Minister how they address a question and the only recourse is that the public will judge them if they address it poorly.

          It’s not pathetic to blame the Speaker for things that he is actually saying and doing.

          Reply
        • While I acknowledge the Speaker is poor I think this ^^^^^^ from Goldie is a huge part of the problem for the Opposition. Just saying Carter is the problem is an excuse. Didn’t National get in some skewering when Wilson was Speaker and Labour were the Government?? I believe they did.

          Reply
          • jamie

             /  27th November 2015

            Yes a bit of both I think.

            If the opposition kept it totally straight their complaints about the Speaker would carry more weight. But by the same token when they do play it totally straight they get walked all over by a govt unrestrained by a decent Speaker.

            Reply
  8. Zedd

     /  27th November 2015

    I think Carter’s days are numbered.. he is inconsistent in his rulings & is happy to boot out opposition MPs, but seems hesitant to do more than give the gentlest of warnings to Govt. MPs & even allows Key to talk over him. He even seems to smirk sometimes, as he rules against the opposition (seems to enjoy the power of his role.. a bit too much ?)

    I think the old bald guy (Tysh ?) would maybe do a better job :/

    Reply
    • jamie

       /  27th November 2015

      Yep Lindsay Tisch(?) has always been consistent. The other old National bloke who used to do that job until he left Parliament at the last election, Eric Roy I think – he would’ve made a good Speaker.

      Why they overlooked these good people with experience in the role in favour of the neanderthal Carter is beyond me.

      Reply

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