MPs on notice over written question feud, reform possible

Trevor Mallard continues his very promising start as Speaker. He has introduced innovations to try to help the flow of questions and answers, he has been balanced, and has penalised interjections that breach his guidelines in a balanced way. And he has been prepared to adjust his guidelines as he sees how they work in practice.

Question time (Oral Questions) has been working better as a result.

See Speaker Mallard plans to let the game flow

Trevor Mallard says he wants to be a hands-off Speaker in Parliament — if MPs are prepared to play ball. Mallard spoke to Sam Sachdeva about which predecessor is his role model and his plans for parliamentary reform.

On Friday Mallard warned all MPs over the written question feud that had escalated into large numbers of questions to Ministers being submitted by the National Opposition.

Newsroom: MPs on notice over written questions furore

Speaker Trevor Mallard has put both sides of Parliament on notice in the war over written questions, warning them he expects a higher standard once the House resumes in 2018.

Speaking to Newsroom, Mallard said it was “very early days” in the new Parliament, but he expected both sides to resolve the situation by the new year.

“There’s clearly a bit of ‘young bull, old bull’ head bashing going on, and that is pretty inevitable as a settling down of new and different roles.

“I think it’s fair to say I wouldn’t be happy if the current approach from either side continued in the long term … I don’t want us to be in this situation after Christmas.”

“Members are meant to be individually approving each of their questions and I’m not convinced that’s happening, and ministers are meant to be individually approving each of their replies and I’m not convinced that’s happening either, but it’s not my role to dig deeper into either side.

“What I hope is that the Government eventually gets to the point of fulfilling its undertakings to be open and transparent.”

That’s a gentle but pointed reminder of what Jacinda Ardern had promised but have not yet delivered.

Mallard said he would not comment on the quality of the Government’s answers, “other than to say if it continued like that for a long period of time then I would get anxious”.

Asked specifically about decisions to decline written questions asking for a list of briefings, he acknowledged he had used the same approach while in opposition.

He has asked thousands of questions of Ministers in the past. He knows most of the tricks of Parliamentary process, a lot of it from his own experience.

While there were some cases where it was justified to withhold information, Mallard said “most stuff … should be able to be got out there by one route or another”.

However, he described written questions as “sort of like a last resort”, and instead believed it would be better to establish an automated method of releasing information.

“There was a strong view [in past discussions] that if you could get a system that was pretty much automatic, transparent, didn’t require application, then that would be better.

That sounds like significant reform, not just of systems but also of attitudes and practices of Ministers and their departments.

“That obviously takes time, it takes a bit of discussion with the Ombudsman to work out where lines should be.

“Eventually getting some websites going which contain most of that material, for example, Cabinet papers two months after they’ve been to Cabinet automatically up unless there’s a good reason not to, just that sort of stuff would mean you’d have a lot of access to, actually quite boring information, but access to what’s going on.”

Opening up more public mechanisms for transparency was the best approach, he said.

“Frankly, the idea that the written parliamentary question is the mechanism for transparency generally … it would be very sad if it had to be that, because I think it’s not just parliamentarians, everyone should be able to access the matters which should be publicly available.”

I hope Mallard has success with this sort of reforming and the necessary cultural shift.

National MP and shadow leader of the House Simon Bridges said the Opposition remained concerned that the Government was “simply not giving any respect to” the written questions process.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins refused to speak to Newsroom about the issue, with a spokesman saying he had said all he intended to on the matter and was focused on “delivering for New Zealanders”.

There is little sign of progress so far.


Leave a comment


  1. “Here you’ve got a government that’s not only not perfect, it’s showing contempt for the system.”

    Who said that, and when?

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  4th December 2017

    Mallard must read YNZ. i said earlier this stuff should just be automatically published on their website.

  3. PartisanZ

     /  4th December 2017

    I guess I must admit that reform of what we loosely call ‘democracy’, and especially its ‘culturally insane’ Westminster Parliamentary incarnation, will only happen in miniscule, nano-increments against ultimate, full-force, dominant culture resistance … Like trying to get a paedophilia investigation going amongst the English aristocracy …

  4. Gezza

     /  4th December 2017

    Trev needs to get working now on putting into place the measures & system to broadcast over the Parliamentary TV channel the contemporaneous English language translations of spoken Maori that MPs already receive, so that it’s happening from the first day Parliament resumes after the Xmas break. No excuses. Just get on with it. Hardly likely to be any tech problems. (If there *are*, time to sack their techs.)

  5. PDB

     /  4th December 2017

    “Leader of the House Chris Hipkins refused to speak to Newsroom about the issue, with a spokesman saying he had said all he intended to on the matter and was focused on “delivering for New Zealanders”

  6. NOEL

     /  4th December 2017

    ‘”….andd ministers are meant to be individually approving each of their replies and I’m not convinced that’s happening either……”
    I would have thought that was the intent of the opposition flooding the floor to have someone inadvertently leave a tit bit for them to munch on.

  7. I hear people attacking the new Govt. for making an issue of this; BUT maybe they should stop & look at what Natz. in opposition, are actually doing.. >6000 written questions in a month (many were duplicates from different MPs) compared to about 800 from the previous opposition in the same timeframe.

    SO.. what is this really about ?
    “DIRTY POLITICS from the Right AGAIN !!!!’

    btw: @pdb
    Natz. ‘Delivering for New Zealanders’ I thought it used to have ‘ALL’ in there once ?
    so, maybe it should be highlighted which NZers they claimed to be delivering for; the top 50.1% who previously voted for them, prior to 2017.. sez I 😀


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