Dysfunction in Parliament

Question Time (oral questions) has often been contentious in Parliament, in large part because it is the best chance for MPs, especially Opposition MPs, to get media attention.

Either tensions, frustration or deliberate attention seeking has simmering for some time, and flared up yesterday. Paula Bennett walked out in a huff over decisions made by the Speaker Trevor Mallard, and shadow leader of the house Gerry Brownlee followed up with a letter to the Speaker saying National’s confidence in the Speaker had been ‘badly shaken’.

Who’s to blame for this? Largely the party leaders Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges (and Winston Peters to an extent) have to take responsibility for the behaviour of themselves and their MPs in Parliament.

The Speaker should also reflect on whether his approach is as effective and fair as it could be.

The exchange yesterday that boiled over (or stirred the pot):

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all of her Government’s policies and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Can she confirm that as a result of her delay to the implementation of the winter energy payment, superannuitants will be around $300 worse off this year than they would have been following National’s proposed tax cuts?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, the member will be aware we very deliberately cancelled those tax cuts so that we could invest in the low and middle income New Zealanders who needed that investment more than the top 10 percent of income earners, who would get $400 million worth. We have, however, identified that superannuitants experience things like winter poverty. We would have very much liked our payment to have come in earlier. It starts on 1 July and then it runs through till September. When it’s fully implemented, those superannuitants can expect to receive $700 as a couple—$450—but, again, this year it is less than that, unfortunately.

Hon Paula Bennett: How can she justify waiting till 1 July for the winter energy payment because, as she said previously, it was difficult to implement earlier, and yet she could bring in a fees-free policy on 1 January worth $2.8 billion?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member would well know, having been the Minister for Social Development, making the largest changes to the welfare system in over a decade can be a complex exercise. We deliberately created a mini-Budget in December in order to expedite bringing in the winter energy payment, the Best Start payment, and Working for Families changes, and managed to do it in a time that I think even that side of the House would have found challenging, given their tax cut changes didn’t come in till the following year.

Hon Paula Bennett: Is the Prime Minister really leading us to believe that it would have been harder to universally give a one-off payment to all superannuitants on 1 May than it is to actually do the difficulties of different courses, 294,000 students, on 1 January for mixed payments?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she agree with education Minister Chris Hipkins that the fees-free policy will drive a 15 percent increase in student numbers?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Taking into account that we have to reverse a trend under that last Government of declining enrolment in post-secondary education, which we are trying to reverse. Of course, the members on the other side of the House have taken an unfortunate and narrow view of the need for us to have a greater proportion of our population in post-secondary education that includes those who have never studied before, who might be factory floor works or, indeed, McDonald’s workers, to go to wānanga or polytech to retrain, boost our productivity, and transform our economy.

Hon Paula Bennett: Let me rephrase: does she agree with the education Minister that the fees-free policy will drive a 15 percent increase in student numbers, particularly as she just said and accused us of not—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! The member finished her question some time ago.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The point that I was making is that we had declining enrolment numbers. In fact, we did point out that, actually, for the last year our expectations were lower than that. We know that we have to make up ground, because, as I’ve said, there was a tendency for post-secondary education to start declining, and we’re trying to reverse that trend. I would have thought the other side of the House would be a bit more ambitious about the options for New Zealanders to retrain and educate themselves.

Hon Paula Bennett: Is she concerned about the effectiveness of her flagship $2.8 billion fees-free tertiary policy given Treasury is now forecasting that there will not be a 15 percent increase, not a 5 percent—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member’s finished. She’s had two legs already.

Hon Paula Bennett: No I haven’t. Not even no increase but, instead, 900 fewer students. Actually, that is the relevant point, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, the two points I’d like to make—

Hon Gerry Brownlee:I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —is that this side of—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Point of order.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Gerry, I’ve got this. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, that was clearly an interruption of a point of order, so, clearly, you’ll want to rule on that.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I hadn’t yet called the member.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, you had, actually. The Hansard will show you had.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, if that is correct, I apologise to the member. The member now has the call. Would he like to make his point of order?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes. Your suggestion that the question is now over seems to me to fly in the face of there needing to be some verification for questions. If you want us to start writing novels before the actual question ends, we can do that, but some flexibility in being able to make a point with the question is not unreasonable given that everyone knows question time is a time when the Government defends itself and has a much greater opportunity to do that. That should be couched in terms of the information given or provided by the question, and that’s the point of verification.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I thank the member for his advice. I will listen carefully in the future. It would probably be easier to judge and less complicated if there weren’t addendums before the question started as well as unnecessary information for the purpose of the question during it.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The point I was making was actually that the member is reinforcing the issue that we had. We had a declining number of people engaging in post-secondary education, regardless of whether they were school leavers or those already on the factory floor. The OECD said we needed to do something about it; the IMF said we needed to do something about it—this Government is. It may take time, but it will be worth it.

Hon Paula Bennett: In November, when her education Minister made his statement that it would increase by 15 percent, did he know it was declining, or is she just using that as an excuse now to break her promise?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We all knew it was declining, we all knew we had to do something about it, and we all know that we’ve got a productivity challenge in New Zealand. This side of the House is willing to take that challenge on; that side would rather see barriers to education continue.

Hon Paula Bennett: So why was a $2.8 billion bribe for tertiary students more important than her promises around health, education, and police that she’s promised?

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, no. I’m going to require the deputy leader of the National Party to rephrase that question in a way that she knows is within Standing Orders, and she’s not getting an extra question for doing it; this will be a new supplementary.

Hon Paula Bennett: Why was a $2.8 billion payment for tertiary students more important than her promises around health, education, and police?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, a narrow view of the policy given this will have a greater potential impact for those workers who have never ever engaged in post-secondary education. But my second question: if it’s a bribe, will you reverse it?

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You ruled out a word that I wasn’t to use, and yet then the Prime Minister is free to use it in her answer.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Prime Minister could well have been reflecting the inappropriate comment of the member. [Interruption] Order! Order! If members can’t see a description of someone’s own policy as being different from a description of another person’s policy—picking up the words inappropriately used I think is not out of order. What I thought the member was going to object to was the Prime Minister’s reference to the second person, and I want to remind her that she should keep me out of the debate and out of the questions.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Well, all things considered, then, do we get that question back?

Mr SPEAKER: No.

Hon Paula Bennett: Why was $900 million—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Opposition just lost five questions. Gerry Brownlee will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, your job is to keep order in this House, not to prevent the Opposition from challenging the Government on their programmes. Your repeated recall of questions from us does that, and I think that is most inappropriate and bad for our democracy.

Mr SPEAKER: I want to thank the member for his advice, but I will not have senior members referring to me in the way that he did by way of interjection. I do regard what he has just done as grossly disorderly, and I will contemplate what will happen. I think members know that, in the past, anyone who made that comment would’ve been tossed out of the House, and I don’t want it to be my practice to do that—especially to a senior member of the House—but the member should know better, and I will contemplate what I will do as question time goes on.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the point I do want to pick up is that I think the use of taking away and gaining supplementary questions does question our ability as the Opposition to actually put the Government on notice, to actually ask the questions that we have a right to do as part of our democracy. My colleague may not have made that point as clearly as he wanted to, but that’s certainly how this side of the House feels.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I now regard that member as being grossly disorderly. She has again relitigated the point that I’ve been ruling on. The member knows well that supplementary questions are at my discretion. Any supplementary questions are at my discretion. I’ve chosen to use this approach. As a result of it, to date, the National Party have had 22 more supplementaries than they would’ve had according to the numbers given by the Clerk. They have done very well out of the process, mainly as a result of disorderly behaviour by Mr Jones and a couple of his colleagues. But the National Party is ahead on it, and I absolutely reject any suggestion that the National Party have not been able to ask the number of questions over this Parliament that they would’ve been able to otherwise. That’s just not true.

Hon Paula Bennett: Speaking to the point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, there’s no point of order. If the member wants a further supplementary, she can take it. If not, we’ll move on.

Hon Paula Bennett: No, I’m leaving. What a waste of time.

Mr SPEAKER: For how long?

Hon Paula Bennett: Oh, just for today.

Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.

 

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53 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 24, 2018

    Labour policies are always all about bribes and it is somehow not allowed to say so in Parliament. Weird, dishonest and pathetic.

    • Gezza

       /  May 24, 2018

      Tax cuts were a failed bribe by National. How is this any different?

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  May 24, 2018

        Ending a shake down is not a bribe.

        • Gezza

           /  May 24, 2018

          Any promised change that will make some group of people better off &, it is hoped, will cause them to vote for the party proposing it can be described as either a bribe or a policy.

          That is an absolutely pathetic argument you have attempted to make.

          Lift your game please.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  May 24, 2018

            My one sentence trumps your paragraphs of blather.

            • Gezza

               /  May 24, 2018

              That’s the thing. It doesn’t. You know it. it just reflects your silliness.

          • PDB

             /  May 24, 2018

            The tax cuts were in the main addressing tax bracket creep that the new govt continues to benefit from at the expense of taxpayers. Comparing that to the free year of student education that appears to have no sound reason behind it (as the parliamentary questions points out above in the fact Ardern is avoiding saying the policy won’t increase students by 15% as promised) is like comparing apples to oranges.

      • Ray

         /  May 24, 2018

        Is allowing tax payers to retain their own money really a bribe?
        Can using “hard working ” tax payers money to subsidise your voters kids through university be not a bribe.

        • Gezza

           /  May 24, 2018

          Well my generation & a few Parliamentarians did really well out having their tertiary education paid for & maybe some even got PhD’s on the public teat, so there’s certainly a case to be made for the unfairness of students ever since that stopped having to shoulder a huge burden of debt that their parents didn’t.

          And if allowing tax payers to retain their own money is your priority we’d have no taxes & no flipping government or public services at all.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  May 24, 2018

            Some earned their education by winning scholarships and holiday jobs. Others by voting Labour.

            • Gezza

               /  May 24, 2018

              Well my two brothers come from Taranaki so they have a few clues and they largely only earned their flat rent, rock concert tickets, wine, beer & spirits supplies & other sundry expenses from holiday jobs – so they were fortunate their course fees were paid.

          • Gerrit

             /  May 24, 2018

            “And if allowing tax payers to retain their own money is your priority we’d have no taxes & no flipping government or public services at all.”

            Some would argue that would be a good thing. It has merit that concept.

            • Gezza

               /  May 24, 2018

              Some would argue that would be a good thing

              Mostly crims, narcissistic obscenely rich people, mental defectives, and straight out idiots, I believe.

          • David

             /  May 24, 2018

            When 10% of the population was going to university it was probably affordable with 40% going now and interest free loans, student allowances, 75% subsidy on course costs and a growing body of opinion that quite a few are wasting their time there doing low value courses there should be some scrutiny.
            Its not as if they are solving a problem, anyone who wants to go goes but with Labour endlessly chucking money at students for votes the institutions themselves are being starved and slipping down international rankings and churning out low value graduates.

            • Gezza

               /  May 24, 2018

              but with Labour endlessly chucking money at students for votes the institutions themselves are being starved and slipping down international rankings and churning out low value graduates

              Labour hasn’t even been in government for a year yet, the policy is only to pay for the first year of tertiary education (should be the last year of an graduate degree: Kitty is right), the policy came in this academic year which hasn’t ended yet, for students whose courses don’t end for 3 years at least, is it for university students only, and how in God’s name given the preceding points can you assign anything to do with international rankings and low value graduates to this Government?

              Please explain.

            • David

               /  May 24, 2018

              The universities themselves have oft complained that funding is skewed towards winning the student vote rather than developing the institution itself. I think the OECD has us as the most generous to students and miserly to the institutions but about average for post school spending.

  2. David

     /  May 24, 2018

    If Ardern is allowed to avoid answering the question that her government is spending 2.8 billion to raise student numbers by 15% and it doesnt look like it will she should be held accountable, its what question time is for. Ardern usually gives a campaign speech instead because she cant answer and its an opposition win so Mallard does his usual thing of throwing the questioner to protect Ardern.
    Its nothing to do with bad behaviour he is just rendering the opposition impotent in the house which is not good for either side or the country.

    • NOEL

       /  May 24, 2018

      Aw I don’t think its that bad.
      Afterall if what the Speaker said of past examples is correct he would have been tosed out on his ear.

    • duperez

       /  May 24, 2018

      In other words Ardern played the game as the game has been played for years?

      • David

         /  May 24, 2018

        Not really, Lockwood was very good, Carter would require an demand if the question was concise he also constantly battled Key to bring him back on point as he wandered off like Ardern does and made a speech, Carrter would cut his mic off and sit him down.
        Mallard seems to see his job as looking after Ardern, as does Peters which is all rather sweet but she is smart enough to handle things herself. Basically you have patronizing old men thinking Ardern needs baby sitting when she doesnt and is quite capable of handling being asked to account for her governments actions.

        • Traveller

           /  May 24, 2018

          I think one of the hallmarks of Mallard’s speakership (? ) is his anachronistic protecting of Ardern. Others see his behaviour as partisan, personally I see it as also extremely paternalistic and patronising. It happens every day in the House. He essentially turns all questions to her into a patsy forum. He’s doing no favours for her in my opinion .

  3. Blazer

     /  May 24, 2018

    the angst of Algerian gypsies,Afrikaaners and arseholes continues…unabated.

  4. duperez

     /  May 24, 2018

    You can go on the rugby field to deliberately skew the game and take the fluency out of it. You can do that when you know you’re not on a winner and the more obstructive you can be the better.

    The particular actions in themselves don’t have to be major and dramatic but can disrupt the whole affair. This scrum the front row lines up slightly off centre to the right, next one to the left. Then the prop’s bootlaces are undone, the lineout thrower can’t hear the call, the wing’s broken his fingernail or the first-five who hasn’t tackled or been tackled has sore ribs. Really sore.

    And the ref, already a stickler but who just wants the game to happen, starts to get picky and look for nuances on nuances of the various laws of the game. A borderline pass is ruled forward and the back-chat starts. Someone is ruled offside and the whistle is extra long and loud. On the field, “How the hell can that be offside?!?!”
    And bellowing from the sidelines, “Idiot ref, there’s no way that was offside. Bloody ref’s biased.”

    • Gezza

       /  May 24, 2018

      😳 Wot?

      • duperez

         /  May 24, 2018

        Sorry.

        National people in Parliament are pissed off they can’t do whatever they like in question time. When they can’t get their way and throw tantrums, some of their supporters also start throwing tantrums.

        (Even though I’m in the wrong game, if the TMO were used in every ruling and every incident for all Speakers it is likely discontent would be common.)

    • PDB

       /  May 24, 2018

      Red card for you dups, you’re playing the wrong game.

  5. alloytoo

     /  May 24, 2018

    What’s really shocking is how the MSM reported this incident.

    If the speaker appears to be running interference for poor performing ministers (including the PM) then the issue needs to be addressed, not only by the opposition, but also by the MSM.

    • Gezza

       /  May 24, 2018

      True. You wonder sometimes if there is a Parliamentary Press Gallery.

      It’s noticeable in the video how Speaker Trev pointedly looks up the Press Gallery at the end of that exchange with Paula yesterday – what was that about?

    • PDB

       /  May 24, 2018

      Big Gerry appears to know more about how the system works than Mallard does – no doubt hurting Trev’s massive ego.

      • Blazer

         /  May 24, 2018

        Nationals form’ so quickly ..forgotten..

        • PDB

           /  May 24, 2018

          Carter was crap but Mallard is possibly worse whilst Lockwood was possibly the best – your post means nothing in the matter of whether Mallard is up to the job.

          • Blazer

             /  May 24, 2018

            Mallard is as good as Carter…..so on that basis…National should STFU.

            • PDB

               /  May 24, 2018

              Trev is clearly worse though – claiming as fact that a National party person made a sexist remark about Ardern, with no evidence it was ever made, is overstepping the mark.

            • Blazer

               /  May 24, 2018

              he heard it…that is..evidence.

            • PDB

               /  May 24, 2018

              He ‘thought’ he heard it – not good evidence, especially as no one else heard it & the audio does not back him up.

  6. Zedd

     /  May 24, 2018

    When Paula said ‘Im leaving’ & Trev. replied ‘for how long’.. Im thinking he (& others) was hoping it was for good.. to join Key, English & Coleman etc.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  May 24, 2018

      So Trev’s mind was on his politics rather than his job.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  May 24, 2018

        And then the disgusting little prat had the cheek to demand Bennett apologise later.

      • Zedd

         /  May 24, 2018

        dont be silly Alan.. its all about politics

    • duperez

       /  May 24, 2018

      No, I’m thinking Trev’s mind was on the job. We don’t know. He could’ve been working out when to seek an apology.
      Zed’s was the mind was on the politics, postulating on what Mallard was thinking.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  May 24, 2018

        Since Mallard was reportedly leering at the Press Gallery as he said it I don’t think your rescue attempt has any legs.

      • Zedd

         /  May 24, 2018

        purely speculating.. perhaps a bit of wishful thinking (on my part)

        I see it went on today.. with Mallard, calling on several to ‘withdraw & apologise’ & then ejecting Ms Bennett.
        I think most regular parliament watchers/listeners know there is interjection, but Natl (in opposition) seem to think, if they yell down/constant attempt to ridicule, the minister speaking, it somehow negates their answer ?
        SCHOOL-YARD stuff, at best 😦

        • PDB

           /  May 24, 2018

          Maybe they can ‘up the quality’ a bit by bring a couple of dead fish into question time? Maybe bash each other like Mallard & Tau? Maybe unfairly attack a person under parliamentary privilege?

          https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10483091

          You know, the non-SCHOOL YARD stuff Labour/ Mallard have got up to in the past.

          • Blazer

             /  May 24, 2018

            not more…’whataboutry’! 😉

            • High Flying Duck

               /  May 24, 2018

              I know – it’s everywhere. Some hypocrite above posted:

              “Mallard is as good as Carter…..so on that basis…National should STFU.”

  7. duperez

     /  May 24, 2018

    In reference to above: it’s funny when those who try to stuff the game up complain that the ref’s the problem …

  8. Gezza

     /  May 24, 2018

    Politics gets ugly at Parliamentary Question Time
    ‘Stupid little girl’ lights the fuse – Speaker Trevor Mallard – his way or the highway?

    OPINION: It’s getting ugly, but National can probably feel justifiably aggrieved about the umpire changing the rules.

    More …
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/104156146/politics-gets-ugly-at-parliamentary-question-time

  9. PartisanZ

     /  May 24, 2018

    Dysfunction IN Parliament … ?

    No … Dysfunction IS Parliament …. as we know it …