Strong start by Speaker

Trevor Mallard should have been well prepared for taking over as Parliament’s Speaker. He has been waiting to take over for several years, and he has an extensive knowledge of Parliamentary procedures and rules.

He preceded the opening Oral Questions with a statement:

Oral QuestionsSupplementary Questions

Mr SPEAKER: Before the House comes to the first question time of the 52nd Parliament, I would like to make some comments on how I intend to preside over oral questions. I have circulated this to members earlier in the day.

I expect primary and supplementary questions to be asked without interjection. Oral questions are an important mechanism for holding the Government to account, and, at a minimum, the House should be able to hear the questions being asked of Ministers. Strictly speaking, members are entitled to speak without interruption at all times, but the House has consented to some interjection to enable members to seek information—Speaker’s ruling 58/1.

In my view, oral questions will proceed more effectively if questions can be asked without interjection. Barrages of interjection other times, including during answers to questions, will continue to be out of order.

Supplementary questions are given at the discretion of the Speaker—Speaker’s rulings 172/1 and 172/3. In recent times, the Speaker has given an indication to the parties of the way they may allocate questions. I have continued that practice, and I have also indicated to the three smaller parties in the House that they are able to use their supplementaries across a week.

However, I do intend to use supplementary questions to encourage good behaviour from those asking and answering questions. Where no attempt is made to provide an informative reply, I’m likely to award the questioner additional supplementary questions.

Where questions are misused, I may reduce the number of supplementary questions available that day to the offending party, or I may increase the allocation to an opposing party. I aim to ensure a freer flow of questions and answers without the Speaker being so involved. I will still call on members to ask primary questions, but where a Minister’s asked an oral question he or she may answer immediately without waiting for a call from the Speaker.

After the primary question, I will simply nod to the member asking questions to indicate for them to continue with supplementaries. I will only call a member when inviting a different member to ask a supplementary question.

This was a sensible and clear way to kick things off. Mallard then followed up by preceding in an even handed manner, allowing questions to proceed without being dominated by bad behaviour. He laid down the law quickly.

During Question 1:

Rt Hon Bill English: What is the appropriate measure—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Sorry, I’m just going to start right now. Who is the member who interjected then? Right, there’s an additional question to the Opposition.

And:

Rt Hon Bill English: Does the Government stand by—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The chief Government whip, I think, interjected, or someone around her did. There is a further supplementary to the Opposition.

During Question 5:

David Seymour: Oh, yes, I would. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Kris Faafoi: Where’s your friends, David?

David Seymour: Well, you find friends in the most unexpected places.

Mr SPEAKER: Was that you, Mr Faafoi?

Hon Kris Faafoi: Yes, it was.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, Mr Seymour gets an extra supplementary.

Both those rulings were against Labour MPs.

In between Labour’s Leader of the House tried to swing one their way:

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier on, you awarded additional supplementary questions to the Opposition for Government interjection during their questions. Just a point of clarification on your earlier—well, actually, no, a question: does that apply when interjections are made by members of the same party during questions, as we had just before?

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, it does, but I think, as the Minister is aware, I am slightly deaf in my left ear, so I didn’t hear any interjections.

Funny.

There were some interjections through Oral Questions, but they weren’t allowed to dominate due to the Speaker showing he was prepared to penalise disruptive behaviour.

It made for a much better session in Parliament.

Another ruling:

Rt Hon Bill English: My question to the Prime Minister is this, then: are there other commitments that were made during the election campaign and in the Speech from the Throne that are now open to revision and later decisions?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We are committed to implementing what the Governor-General has said in the Speech from the Throne.

Hon Amy Adams: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to clarify: it’s been the practice in the House for some time that a member answering on behalf of another member should clearly identify that. I didn’t want to interrupt the question, but can you clarify whether that is still the case?

Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister answered the question.

He was correct, Davis was Acting Prime Minister as opposed to speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister.

In Question 3:

Hon Steven Joyce: I’m sorry, Mr Speaker, but just to be clear, the Minister released a fiscal plan prior to the election—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will sit the member down now and ask him to ask a question. Speaker Hunt used to have an old saying that questions start with a question word, rather than something else.

Another clear ruling in Question 3:

Hon Tracey Martin: In the 51st Parliament, the last Speaker made it very clear that the Government was not responsible for the manifesto or the policies of a political party. Can I ask for a ruling on that, please?

Mr SPEAKER: I’m happy to answer that. I think the member has been quite careful in the way that he has phrased his questions, asking whether the member was standing by the figures or still agreed with the figures. I think that is something that is acceptable. They’re a set of figures—it doesn’t really matter where they come from, and it’s a question of whether those figures portray the current position of the Government. If that was not the case, I would have ruled out the original question.

The Speaker also twice ruled that an an answer could be adduced by omission. In Question 3:

Hon Steven Joyce: Can the finance Minister then confirm that he doesn’t at all stand by the numbers he presented in the Labour Party’s fiscal plan prior to the election?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government is currently going through the usual process of putting together a Budget. We are absolutely confident that we will deliver a Budget that is in line with the Budget responsibility rules that were outlined in the Speech from the Throne and that will deliver to New Zealanders a fair share in prosperity. As I said in my primary answer, the final numbers are the subject of the normal Budget process.

Hon Simon Bridges: It’s simply this. The question was straight, really: whether he stood by the numbers they had pre-election. There really wasn’t any attempt to answer that specific question.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I’m not going to take any further comments on that. Both the asker of the question and I thought that there was a very clear response.

Avoiding answering can be assumed to be a negative response.

In Question 5:

Hon Nikki Kaye: Given the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday, that all people are entitled to care and compassion, will he guarantee that he will personally visit all of these partnership schools or the sponsors of the proposed schools prior to making any decisions about the future of some of our most disadvantaged children?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have been clear that we will deal with all of the issues around charter schools on a case by case basis and in good faith. The negotiations around potential changes to the contracts or arrangements will be conducted by the Ministry of Education and not by Ministers.

Hon Nikki Kaye: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a very simple yes or no—will he visit the schools of these most disadvantaged children—and he didn’t answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER:  Similar to the advice that I gave to the Hon Steven Joyce earlier, I think, by omission the answer was actually clear.

So a very promising, firm and fair start by the Speaker.

13 Comments

  1. robertguyton

     /  November 10, 2017

    Nick Smith was a disgrace.
    “Hon SHANE JONES (Minister of Forestry): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Early in the speech from the Nelson member, there were a number of gratuitous and unwise things that traduces the reputation of Mr Mallard. I’m disappointed that you chose not to intervene. Can you just give some clarification, Madam Deputy Speaker, as to how far a speaker can go in maligning the history or the reputation of Mr Mallard.

    Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: In fact, the member is quite correct, and I should have—in fact, I did query whether this was a wide-ranging debate, because the member to my left did go on for quite some time. However, I don’t know that any of it was necessarily untrue, and I didn’t take action.”

    • High Flying Duck

       /  November 10, 2017

      Nick Smith said something that was “not untrue”? The cad!

      • duperez

         /  November 10, 2017

        Go easy on Nick. He’s only recently returned from a walk around the 10 million hectares of state owned land he found in Auckland. And counting the houses built on them lately was very taxing.

  2. High Flying Duck

     /  November 10, 2017

    Mallard has certainly started well. He could turn out to be the best thing about this new crowd taking power.

  3. robertguyton

     /  November 10, 2017

    “Hipkins made the mistake of believing that National would not stoop to turning the opening of Parliament into an ugly display of aggressive partisanship. It’s a mistake he will do everything in his power to avoid repeating.

    Bridges, meanwhile, has signalled that National is ready to employ the tactics of the US Republican Party: obstruction without reason; obstruction without purpose; obstruction without end.”
    Chris Trotter’s latest is good.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  November 10, 2017

      Surely the current tactics of the US Democrats, not Republicans, Robert.

    • Trevors_elbow

       /  November 10, 2017

      So just like Labour the last 3 terms….
      .

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  November 10, 2017

        Little barked feebly at every passing car. So far the Nats have actually hijacked those they attacked.

    • alloytoo

       /  November 10, 2017

      And yet they didn’t appose Mallard’s appointment nor the parental leave bill

  4. Conspiratoor

     /  November 10, 2017

    Never rated mallard as an mp and thought he was out to lunch when he conjured up a Moa. But he’s shaping up to be a very good speaker. Will need nerves of steel to deal with nats bovver boys