Parliament disarray continued

On Wednesday Paula Bennett walked out of Parliament in frustration at Speaker’s rulings. Yesterday Trevor Mallard ejected Bennett from the House in frustration at an ongoing and escalating stoush between the Opposition and the Speaker.

Question 4 was the big blow up but it was far from the only confrontation yesterday.

Question No. 4—Transport

4. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Transport: Does he remain committed to his proposals for new and increased fuel taxes in light of recent reports of petrol prices reaching record highs; if so, what consideration, if any, will he give to the increased cost of living his fuel tax proposals will have on New Zealand families?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): I am committed to striking—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can I ask—Ms Bennett, can you just wait at least until the Minister’s started answering before you start your interjections.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I am committed to striking a balance between affordability and taking urgent action on the transport infrastructure deficit that we inherited. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates that the changes to fuel taxes will see an average family in Auckland pay an extra $5 per week. By contrast, our Government’s Families Package will put $75 a week into the pockets of 384,000 low to middle income families. In terms of considering the impact of taxes on fuel prices, I intend to follow the same process as the Hon Simon Bridges did in 2015.

Jami-Lee Ross: If petrol prices continue to increase, will he revisit his proposals to increase fuel taxes, which will raise petrol prices even higher?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: International oil price fluctuations have a far greater influence on petrol prices than the policy of the previous Government and this Government of regular, small excise increases. As successive Governments have shown, it makes no sense to make major infrastructure investment decisions based on highly volatile oil price fluctuations. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m just going to ask Mr Hudson and Mr Stuart Smith just to turn their volume down a little bit.

Marja Lubeck: What reports has he seen of past Governments varying the amount of fuel tax levied to match variations in the global oil prices?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: None.

Jami-Lee Ross: Is he concerned that the rising cost of petrol will increase even further if he is successful in increasing fuel taxes by up to 25c a litre?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, as I’ve tried to make abundantly clear to the member, the increase in fuel excise is a very, very small increase compared to oil price fluctuations. And I would point out to the member that instead of paying $400 million to the wealthiest 10 percent, this Government’s putting—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Jami-Lee Ross: Is he saying that his proposal to increase fuel taxes in Auckland by up to 25c a litre—as he’s announced—is small?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, what I would point out is that 25c is the maximum rate that was consulted on in the draft Government policy statement. It’s not necessarily the rate that we’re going to settle on. It applies only in Auckland, where the regional fuel tax is in place, not to the rest of the country. The reason that we are investing in our transport system is because we’ve inherited a legacy of an infrastructure deficit after nine years of totally unbalanced transport policies. We’re committed to doing the right thing for this country and the right thing for the economy.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question earlier was ruled out because we were referring to 2017, yet the Minister seems to be able to make comment about the last nine years as he wishes to, and I’m just asking for some clarification.

Mr SPEAKER: I have a feeling the member’s trying to relitigate a ruling I made quite some time ago. I think I will ignore it.

Hon David Bennett: Oh, you can’t do that. You just ignore things.

Marja Lubeck: What lessons will the Minister take from past increases of fuel excise while international petrol prices were high?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: In 2015, the fuel excise was increased after petrol prices increased by 40c per litre. Prices later stabilised and returned to $1.70 per litre by the end of that year, 2015. I’ve learnt from that experience that you cannot make infrastructure investment decisions based on international oil price fluctuations. They’re simply too volatile. I learnt also from the former transport Minister that those fluctuations dwarf the changes in the fuel excise.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! David Bennett will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: Point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member knows absolutely that he interjected an unparliamentary remark in my direction during the asking of the supplementary question.

Hon David Bennett: And what for? Why do I withdraw and apologise?

Mr SPEAKER: Sorry?

Hon David Bennett: Why do I withdraw and apologise, Mr Speaker?

Mr SPEAKER: Why?

Hon David Bennett: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: Because the member made an unparliamentary remark and it was exacerbated by the fact that it was done during the asking of a supplementary question.

Hon David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What was the unparliamentary remark?

Mr SPEAKER: I’m not going to repeat what the member said about me. Withdraw and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: Mr Speaker, I need an explanation—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member will withdraw and apologise now or I will take more serious action than has happened in the House for quite some time. Is the member going to withdraw and apologise?

Hon Paula Bennett: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I’m not having a point of order. I am waiting for Mr Bennett to decide whether he will comply with my instruction to withdraw and apologise for reflecting on the Chair while a supplementary question was being asked. Is the member going to withdraw and apologise?

Hon David Bennett: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I’m not having a point of order, Mr Bennett. You’re either going to withdraw and apologise or I will name you. [Interruption] Order!

Hon David Bennett: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, sir, but it is in reflection to me yesterday having to withdraw and apologise. I genuinely do not know what it was for. I did not make a comment as I left, and this is leading to this kind of disorder, when we don’t know what the actual line is as to what you find offensive and what you don’t. I’ve looked at Hansard. I know what I said as I left. I made no disparaging remarks about you last night, and this leads to my colleagues in a position now where—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. The member will resume her seat. If she wants an explanation for how she breached Standing Orders yesterday, I suggest she watches the TV, either on Parliament TV or on at least one of the news channels to see herself interjecting on her feet as she left.

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

Mr SPEAKER: Is it a new point of order, Mr Brownlee—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: —or is it a relitigation?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, it’s a new point of order. People might like to look at the TVNZ clip that’s currently running, of a member challenging the Speaker on frequent occasions and ultimately being required to leave the House, and being quite messy all the way through. On none of those occasions was the member named. My question simply is: why do we go suddenly from a position where the Speaker does not want to, apparently, make people leave the House, does not explain what an offence might be, but then simply requires people to accept the arbitrary decision of the Chair or be named, which everyone knows is quite an extreme step for anyone in this House? It seems the step that—we’ve gone from a very, very simple straightforward position of how you deal with these things to one that is quite Draconian. And I think that is the problem we’ve got with the inconsistency of the way the Chair’s operating at the present time.

Mr SPEAKER: I note the member’s comments but, as the member knows well, naming is—I think Standing Order 90—the punishment for being grossly disorderly. And refusing to withdraw and apologise for quite an extended period of time is grossly disorderly.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: If it’s the same matter, Ms Bennett, you’re running a serious risk of losing a number of supplementary questions from your team from the first Tuesday back.

Hon Paula Bennett: So, to be clear, Mr Speaker, what I wish to be is actually not unruly in this House. So I need clarification that it was yesterday when I said “It’s a waste of time” that you took such offence to that I had to come back and—well, when I come back you insisted that I withdraw—

Mr SPEAKER: That’s exactly right. If the member had not said that she was leaving the House, I would have required her to withdraw and apologise then. But seeing as she was self-banishing herself, I thought that that was the best way of dealing with it and we could get on with business. I did reflect to the member later on that on a previous occasion, when I had done exactly the same thing—made a comment as I was self-banishing—the Speaker sent for me and made me come back and apologise, and then booted me out again. The member was treated pretty leniently.

Hon David Bennett: Yeah, didn’t get named though.

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! No, the member will resume her seat. Mr Bennett will withdraw and apologise again.

Hon David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member will withdraw and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: I just want to table a withdrawal, because I might as well be using it all the time, the way the House is going at the moment.

Mr SPEAKER: So the member’s declining to withdraw and apologise?

Hon David Bennett: No, I’m seeking your guidance—

Mr SPEAKER: No, you’re not seeking my guidance; you’re going to withdraw and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: Mr Speaker, what for? I just—I need to know what I did wrong.

Mr SPEAKER: Mr Bennett, you reflected on the Chair, on my ruling—again. I mean, the member understands what he does. He is not an unintelligent member. It’s not something that happens accidentally. But the member should be able to remember sort of 30 seconds after he made a comment that he did. The member will withdraw and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: [Member pauses] I withdraw and apologise, sir.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is the Chair immune from the provisions of Standing Order 120?

Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, can the member say that a little bit more loudly?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes—is the Chair immune from the provisions of Standing Order 120?

Mr SPEAKER: No.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Then isn’t simply requiring members to withdraw and apologise, without some explanation of the reason for that, impugning improper motives against a member?

Mr SPEAKER: For goodness’ sake! Mr Brownlee, this has got to the point of being ridiculous, the member is—[Interruption] Paula Bennett will leave the Chamber. [Interruption] The member will leave the Chamber.

Hon Paula Bennett withdrew from the Chamber.

Mr SPEAKER: Now, I’ve lost where we were at.

Hon David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I’m next up, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question—David Bennett.

Hon David Bennett: No, primary question.

Brownlee’s letter to the Speaker

Gerry Brownlee, Shadow Leader of the House, has written this letter to the Speaker (Trevor Mallard) expressing “serious concerns’ about Mallards chairing of Parliament.

He details his concerns and says” As a result our confidence in you as Speaker has been significantly shaken. This is not an acceptable position for you to be in.”

His main concerns are about a “silly little girl” story being circulated to media.

We expect a full explanation from you about your role in pushing this story in the media before the House resumes at 2 pm tomorrow.

I don’t know how an ultimatum will go down with Mallard.


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.

 

Griffin had offered to resign, doesn’t want to stay at RNZ

As soon as Clare Curran was appointed Minister of Broadcasting chairman of RNZ Richard Griffin offered to resign, but she asked him to stay on ‘during the transition’.

Griffin has been chairman for nine years, three three year terms, but does not want to have a fourth. It is unlikely he would be offered another term anyway.

ODT (NZME): RNZ chairman offered resignation to Clare Curran

“I proffered my resignation to her the day she was appointed. I think it was the honourable thing to do,” Griffin told the Weekend Herald.

Curran, he said, was gracious and asked him to stay on during the transition to the new Labour Government.

“It’s no secret Clare and I aren’t exactly bosom buddies but I thought it was a reasonable thing to ask and I was happy to do so given that it was going to be a difficult time for all of us.

“But not quite as difficult as it has turned out to be.”

Griffin’s third term as chairman of the RNZ board finishes at the end of April, nine years in all. He doesn’t anticipate an invitation for a fourth, nor would he want one.

“No I would not,” he said emphatically. “I think I’ve run my course and I’m sure they do too.”

He said he was very embarrassed and at times was noticeably annoyed when questioned at the select committee meeting on Thursday, and his annoyance also comes through in an interview with the Sunday Herald.

His biggest regret of his nine years with RNZ? “The last few weeks.”

“I really regret that a great talent and an interesting woman is now having to suffer the slings and arrows. I’m sorry for her. I believe that Carol thought her loyalty to the Minister checkmated her loyalty to the company and I can understand how that could happen.

“I don’t know what possessed her and I don’t know what possessed the Minister. It’s such a pity.”

He has seemed reluctant to criticise but lets a bit out here, suggesting that Hirschfeld’s loyalty to Curran was why she kept lying. On Curran – “I don’t know what possessed the Minister”.

Griffin seems undecided on whether to hand over the recording of a phone call from Curran to him. This would clarify who is being straight on what Curran said to Griffin, and whether Curran tried to encourage Griffin not to appear before the committee.

The recording either clears Curran of trying to block Griffin’s appearance at the select committee to set the record straight on her meeting with Carol Hirschfeld or it could damn her if, as Griffin claims, she suggested it would be better for him not to appear and that a letter would suffice.

Griffin will spend this weekend at his home in Ruby Bay, west of Nelson, deciding whether to voluntarily hand over the voicemail on his mobile phone.

He had asked RNZ to retrieve the voicemail after it was requested by the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee following his and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson’s appearance on Thursday.

But even as efforts were being made to extract the voicemail, Griffin was reconsidering. He worried that refusing to hand over the recording could further damage RNZ but said there was nothing to be achieved by releasing it.

“I will decide over the weekend,” he said.

He seems torn between protecting RNZ’s reputation and causing more of a ruckus, but there is guaranteed to be more attention given to this tomorrow as media will wanting to know if he is going to voluntarily comply with the request to hand over the recording.

On Friday:

If Griffin doesn’t decide to hand it over he could be compelled to by the Speaker. Trevor Mallard has been involved in controversial situations involving Curran in the past:

Stuff: Whistleblower wins defamation appeal

The woman who accused Labour MP Trevor Mallard and a top public servant of destroying her reputation has won an appeal to the Supreme Court.

In 2007, whistleblower Erin Leigh accused Mallard, then Environment Minister, of defamation.

This was after she raised questions about political interference and alleged former minister David Parker pushed for Clare Curran to be appointed to a communications role with the Ministry.

All three Labour members involved are currently sitting Members of Parliament.

At the time Mallard was asked an oral question on the matter in Parliament and spoke negatively about Leigh.

He told the House she had “repeated competence issues” and said Curran had been appointed to “fix up the mess”.

That’s a long time ago, but is somewhat ironic in the present situation.

In its decision released today, the Supreme Court found Gow’s interaction to be covered by qualified privilege but said he could not face a defamation claim unless Leigh could prove he acted with ill-will.

“The issue is whether the public servant, or whoever else communicates information to the Minister, needs more than qualified privilege in order to enable the Minister, and the House as a whole, properly and efficiently to deal with parliamentary questions.”

The Court found that was not necessary and said it was a “no bad thing” that public servants were prevented from acting with ill-will when advising a minister.

“It is very much in the interests of the proper functioning of the House that those communicating with a Minister in present circumstances, whoever they are, have a disincentive against giving vent to ill will or improper purpose.”

Also ironic.

Speaker appears to protect Peters from questions in Parliament

Trevor Mallard started in his role as speaker promising a better way of managing the parliamentary bear pit, but as time goes on he is raising eyebrows rather than standards.

In a bizarre exchange in Parliament yesterday he seemed to be protecting Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters from questioning over a serious claim that an NZ First minister was behind a threat made by new MP Jenny Marcroft (as alleged by National MP Mark Mitchell – see NZ First claims ‘misunderstanding’, Peters instructs apology to Mitchell).

Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

Question No. 2—Deputy Prime Minister

2. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements and actions?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): Yes, I do, in their context.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he believe his actions and those of other Ministers have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I’m going to ask the member to rephrase the question to make sure it is entirely within the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister. He has no responsibility for any other Ministers.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you, sir. Does he believe his actions have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, and compared with that member and her colleagues, my actions are as pure as the driven snow.

Hon Paula Bennett: When he said yesterday in his statement as Deputy Prime Minister, “Mr Mitchell may have misunderstood her underlying point.”, what was the underlying point Mr Mitchell misunderstood?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Because this is a very finely tuned matter, I’m going to do what I did with Dr Smith last week and seek an assurance that that statement was made by the Deputy Prime Minister and, in the body of the statement, uses that appellation for the Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I expected your question on that. I have a copy of it that’s clearly under the Deputy Prime Minister, and clearly has it written as his statement. I’m happy to—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, the member tables it and continues with the question.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you. Would you like to hear the statement again?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, I heard it. We’re not slow learners over here. Can I just say that when I was first made aware of—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Just answer the question.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, if you keep quiet for five seconds, old man, you’ll hear it. [Interruption] Can I just say that when I first heard of a report of this conversation, I knew that someone had got the wrong end of the stick, and so I thought, seeing as my colleague had allowed another parliamentary colleague to get a mistaken impression, that we should correct it as fast as possible. I thought that was the right thing to do. I mean, there’s nothing big about this, but we’re surely not going to have Mr Mitchell trying to make a mountain out of a molehill?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Having listened to the reply and looked at the statement, I accept the member’s word, and it is very clear that it is headed “Deputy Prime Minister”. It is, however, clear to me that there is nothing in the statement that is the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In all fairness, the statement that has been put out is clearly “Deputy Prime Minister”. It doesn’t even say “Leader of New Zealand First” on it. I double-checked that. So he has made those comments as the Deputy Prime Minister and, as such, he has responsibility for them as the Deputy Prime Minister and should be answering accordingly.

Mr SPEAKER: I think you have to go quite a lot further than mislabelling a statement—[Interruption] minus three supplementaries—in order to bring something into ministerial responsibility. He might be responsible for mislabelling a statement, but there are areas which he is not responsible for, and the activities of Ministers, as was made very clear by the Prime Minister, as all senior members of the Opposition will know, is a matter for the Prime Minister and not the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the problem with your ruling is that it ignores the fact that the Rt Hon Winston Peters, putting out a release under the banner of the Deputy Prime Minister, has made an accusation against one of our members that he now, apparently, simply cannot be questioned upon. It is not an unreasonable thing to ask him “What did he mean? What was the other side of the story, which my colleague apparently has not understood?” To say that the House can’t question the Deputy Prime Minister about a statement he makes as the Deputy Prime Minister, I think, begins to—frankly, it just shields him from any of the normal scrutiny that would go on someone who makes, from a ministerial position, such an accusation.

Hon Chris Hipkins: The closest example I can think of where the House has dealt with this matter before was when the then Labour Opposition was trying to question the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key, about statements that he had made in his capacity as the leader of the National Party, but he had made them at his prime ministerial press conference. The Speaker of the House at the time—I can’t actually recall what the exact issue was, but I remember arguing about it—argued that he had made those statements in his capacity as leader of the National Party even if the venue in which he had made them was his prime ministerial press conference. The question is not where a statement is made or how it is cited or the title that is used in citing; it’s whether the Minister has ministerial responsibility for the matters in question. In this case, the Deputy Prime Minister does not have ministerial responsibility for the issues he’s being questioned about.

Hon Nikki Kaye: I did want to rise to speak because you have taken three Opposition questions as a result of my outburst. I am, frankly, appalled that, in this House, a Minister could put a statement out with the words “Deputy Prime Minister” and then, as Speaker, you could somehow know that he wasn’t acting in his responsibility and he had mislabelled the statement. That’s why you got the outburst. I would ask you to reflect on this. It’s a very serious matter. It’s not possible, in my view, for the Speaker to know what’s inside a Minister’s head. They’ve issued a statement in the capacity as Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Can I just make it absolutely clear to Nikki Kaye that I am quite offended by her comments then. I know what the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister are, and that’s what’s important, and I ruled that way.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: There is no comparison between the example given by the Hon Chris Hipkins and the current situation. For a start, if a person is being interviewed by a group of journalists in a stand-up situation, they may well be asked a range of questions and they may answer them without actually specifying “I am now taking this hat off and putting this hat on.” That was, you will recall, established well by the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt, when he sat in the chair that you now occupy, some years back. But, in this case, the Deputy Prime Minister, on the Deputy Prime Minister’s letterhead, put out a statement making an accusation against a colleague of mine, suggesting, effectively, that my colleague had got the wrong end of the stick. We’re just now saying, “Well, what was the right end of that stick?” He must know for him to have made that statement. Given that this is not a trivial matter, any suggestion that someone gets in the road of a member of Parliament doing their work—the elected work that they are sent to this place for—is a serious matter. Therefore, for Mr Peters to simply say, “Well, you know, the Hon Mark Mitchell must have got the wrong end of the stick or got the wrong meaning, etc.”, cannot just stand as a statement by the Deputy Prime Minister that says, “Close off; nothing to see here.” Surely, he can be questioned about what he actually meant?

Mr SPEAKER: If, in the body of the statement, which I’m sure the leader of New Zealand First approved, it had said “Deputy Prime Minister”, I would have had more sympathy. But the fact that it has been printed by a press secretary on an inappropriate letterhead does not—[Interruption] minus another three—bring it within the Deputy Prime Minister’s responsibilities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does that mean that a Government press secretary should know the difference between a letterhead that says “Leader of New Zealand First” and that of Deputy Prime Minister? You can only assume that it was done through the offices that are located on the ninth floor, which are Government offices—ministerial offices—not party offices.

Mr SPEAKER: In actual fact, I think, as the member is aware, there are a number of people who are employed in those offices who are dually employed, including in his own leader’s office.

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

Mr SPEAKER: A further point of order?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes it is, because that implies that there is some level of bad behaviour going on in the Leader of the Opposition’s office—in other words, using of taxpayer funds illegitimately, unreasonably—and that is not the case. But it would be worse if that was somehow to be the reason why there would be an excuse for the Deputy Prime Minister to make an accusation on Government letterhead, using Government resources to make that accusation, but then not come under any scrutiny in the House whatsoever.

Mr SPEAKER: I do want to, if I can, draw this to a close as soon as I can, and I want to be very careful about reflecting on mistakes made by staff members—especially a person who has had quite a history around these buildings, working for a number of parties. But it is clear to me that someone made an error in putting it on this letterhead.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’ve got two points of order. The first is around the process of tabling documents and the supplementary question from the Hon Paula Bennett. You, as Speaker, had then asked for the document, and yet there wasn’t a process of tabling it. So my question is: have you made a ruling, as a result of that action, that you have to sight any documents that are made by members of this House in a supplementary question before you allow them to be raised on the floor?

Mr SPEAKER: The answer to that is no, and I let the member ask her question. Carry on—second point.

Hon Louise Upston: Sorry, Mr Speaker, on that first point—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the first point’s been dealt with. If the member has a separate point of order, she may raise it, but that point of order has been dealt with. Second point of order?

Hon Louise Upston: The second point of order is the assertion that you’ve made, Mr Speaker, about a staff member making an error. As a member of this House, I’m curious as to what’s led you to that conclusion, given that it is a document that’s on letterhead from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume her seat now. If she is curious about my rulings and requires tutelage, I’m happy to explain it to her but not to take up the time of the House. I’ve made an indication to members that if they don’t understand my rulings, if I’ve not been clear enough, then I’m willing to talk to them about it, but points of clarification—or points of curiosity, as this one might be characterised—are not allowed under the Standing Orders. I’m going to warn the member: she’s disputed my ruling once already; if she disputes it again, I will view it very seriously.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In terms of the Speakers’ ruling that you have just used, could you please bring that to the attention of the House? I’ve been listening to the comments around me and I just want to know what that ruling is, please.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think the member’s now trifling with the Chair.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My point of order is simply that if we are now to move on from this—get it all nicely resolved; everyone is happy to an extent—is it reasonable that we, effectively, lose six supplementaries because of a mistake made by one of Mr Peters’ staff members?

Mr SPEAKER: No. The six supplementaries have been lost because members on my left breached the Standing Orders.

Fletcher Tabuteau: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware of any molehills that have been transformed into mountains of late?

Mr SPEAKER: And three of the supplementaries have just been given back because the member knew that that was not a proper question.

Speaker’s Rulings — Retrospective Rulings

I missed a Speaker’s ruling from Parliament, thanks for pointing it out duperez. It adds to recent discussions here. In brief:

…in light of the matters raised, it is worth referring to the full text of the report at page 14:

“There is a well-established prohibition on raising points of order in the House about events that have passed. This helps ensure that points of order address matters that are relevant to the maintenance of order at that point in time and are not themselves used to disrupt the order of the House.”

This prohibition on retrospective points of order is appropriate and we encourage Speakers to continue not to entertain them.

Points of order are not intended to ask questions or to seek clarification. They are to deal with matters of order at the time they are occurring in the House or to draw the Speaker’s attention to the fact that a member intends to exercise a right given by Standing Orders, such as making a personal explanation.

The committee intended that the Speaker could, on his or her initiative, deal with retrospective matters of order. It did not empower members to raise such matters on the floor of the House and, in fact, required them to be raised privately with the Speaker.

Members have a right and a duty to raise points of order where they feel the House is outside its Standing Orders, but any attempt to bring into question the Chair’s decision is out of order and is in no way protected by the Standing Orders.

So points of order are for dealing with compliance with Standing Orders as debate unfolds in the House. Raising issues about past decisions and clarifications need to be done in private with the Speaker.

Questioning rulings is forbidden – for good reason, if it was allowed it would enable endless bickering with the Speaker.

This was raised by ex-Speaker David Carter on Wednesday 6 November 2017.

Speakers’ Rulings—Interpretation of Speaker’s Ruling 20/5

Rt Hon DAVID CARTER (National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to ask you to give serious consideration to a considered ruling to points that were raised at the start of question time around retrospectively raising points of order. I did not make that point at the time, because I considered that your patience was getting to a stage when it may have been dangerous to do so. But as you and I know, when we go back and look at Hansard, subsequent to question time, we often see pieces in that Hansard that we wish to question and raise with the Speaker.

You and I both sat on the Standing Orders Committee and were both partly responsible for the inclusion of Speaker’s ruling 20/5 around the ability to raise issues retrospectively. You will remember, without doubt, the history of why that particular point was put into the report of the Standing Orders Committee and consequently into Speakers’ rulings.

I think it is a very dangerous precedent that could be potentially made by your initial ruling today that, unless matters are raised instantly, they cannot be raised at all.

I ask whether you would consider the points that I think were raised considerately by members at the start of question time, particularly by Opposition members, and have a look at Hansard again and perhaps come back to the House with a considered ruling and the ability for us to raise, retrospectively, points of order that we think are worthwhile raising.

There was no discussion that I recall during the deliberations of the Standing Orders Committee about a stage by which such concerns were raised privately with the Speaker in his office. Members of Parliament—Opposition and Government—have rights to raise points of order and I ask you to reconsider very carefully your original initial ruling made at the start of question time today.

Mr SPEAKER: I want to thank my right honourable predecessor for his intervention. I will seek further advice on this. Clearly, we have different memories of the reasoning behind this and the methodology to be used, and if it’s shown that his memory is better than mine, which I wouldn’t at all be surprised by, then I will come back to the House.

The Speaker came back to the House on this on Thursday.

Retrospective RulingsInterpretation of Speaker’s Ruling 20/5

Mr SPEAKER: The second point: yesterday, the Rt Hon David Carter raised with me the issue of retrospective rulings on matters of order. I’ve reflected on that matter and on methods of disagreeing with a ruling of the Chair. Earlier this year the Standing Orders Committee considered the matter of retrospective rulings.

An extract from the committee’s report appears as Speaker’s ruling 20/5. However, in light of the matters raised, it is worth referring to the full text of the report at page 14: “There is a well-established prohibition on raising points of order in the House about events that have passed. This helps ensure that points of order address matters that are relevant to the maintenance of order at that point in time and are not themselves used to disrupt the order of the House.

This prohibition on retrospective points of order is appropriate and we encourage Speakers to continue not to entertain them.

We consider, however, that the Speaker is able to deal retrospectively in the House with matters of order if the Speaker considers it is important and in the House’s interest to do so. The Speaker’s primary task is to preside over the effective conduct of proceedings. Where an incident may have a continued impact on the House’s ability to deal with its business, the Speaker can address the matter.

Members should raise such issues privately with the Speaker, outside the House. This ensures that the prohibition on retrospective points of order remains undisturbed and members can discuss their concerns with the Speaker away from the charged atmosphere of the Chamber. There is still, of course, a strong presumption that points of order will be raised immediately. As always, rulings of the Speaker are final. A retrospective ruling on a matter of order does not reopen the matter for discussion.”

The committee intended that the Speaker could, on his or her initiative, deal with retrospective matters of order. It did not empower members to raise such matters on the floor of the House and, in fact, required them to be raised privately with the Speaker. While the event that led to the change involved a comment that the Speaker had not heard, the report did not restrict members’ rights to raise a variety of matters relating to the order of the House and the rights of members. The presumption remains that a point of order must be raised once and cannot be raised by a member at a later time—Speakers’ rulings 20/3 and 20/4.

Speakers from Guinness through to Carter have ruled that when a matter has been the subject of a decision by the Chair, that decision is final and comment on it is not allowed. Members have a right and a duty to raise points of order where they feel the House is outside its Standing Orders, but any attempt to bring into question the Chair’s decision is out of order and is in no way protected by the Standing Orders. To persist in doing so, despite warning, makes it a highly disorderly procedure—Speakers’ ruling 22/3. The only way to challenge the ruling of a Speaker is by a direct motion on notice—Speakers’ rulings 17/6 and 18/1.

Points of order are not intended to ask questions or to seek clarification. They are to deal with matters of order at the time they are occurring in the House or to draw the Speaker’s attention to the fact that a member intends to exercise a right given by Standing Orders, such as making a personal explanation. I thank the Rt Hon David Carter for raising this matter.

I will circulate this ruling immediately and I will be available in my office from 5 to 6 p.m. today and again next week, if members require further clarification.

Pointless points of order

The Opposition risks losing credibility and effectiveness in Question Time by raising far too many pointless Points of Order. Not just barking at every car, but also barking at cars that don’t exists, are making a mess of the best opportunity for the Opposition to hold the Government to account in Parliament.

In Thursday’s Question Time Michael Woodhouse was first in Q1. Then in Q3:

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just on behalf of the Opposition, we just understand that they’ve had a bad week and they need to encourage themselves today with a bit of a handclap.

Mr SPEAKER: And Paula Bennett, that was not a point of order, and seeing we’re in question time, the National Party will lose two supplementary questions.

It didn’t end there:

Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the answer to the previous supplementary question, the Minister himself raised these matters and—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and the fact that one member breaches the Standing Orders and I didn’t intervene is not a reason for someone else.

Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: The member’s not going to—especially after the ruling that I’ve just given—dispute what I’m going to say.

Hon Steven Joyce: I just want to clarify if I could—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no.

Hon Steven Joyce: —in a general sense, if I could, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member can’t. I want to make absolutely clear that there is no such thing and no ability in our Standing Orders to have a point of clarification, or to do the sort of interrogation that I believe the member was going to start, as to what the Standing Orders are. When I have ruled, that is the end of the matter.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you now ruling that if a Minister introduces some new material into an answer, that cannot be used in a subsequent supplementary?

Mr SPEAKER: I want to apologise to the House for not stopping the Minister earlier and ruling it out. I should’ve; I didn’t, and I am ruling that irrelevant material introduced in either a supplementary question or in an answer does not give licence for further extension of things that are outside the relevance question for that question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it his view and position that the coalition Government came to the view that an expanded, visionary, forward-looking economic programme was far more likely to deliver justice to the people of this country, rather than voting for something because there’s nothing else on offer?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, I do. I mean—

Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Peters has just raised the election campaign and voting again, which is the very thing you ruled out in my supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, he actually referred to the, the substance of his question was around the policy of the coalition Government.

This all detracted from a question originally aimed at making an important point about the scrapping of tax cuts.

Q5 – point of order from Judith Collins.

Q6 – two from Simon Bridges, one from Nathan Guy. Plus:

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We’ve only got a limited time for questions in this House. [Interruption] Sir, can I be heard in silence. It’s a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: Absolutely, because all points of order are to be heard in silence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. We’ve only got a limited time for questions in this House, and affording someone in this time to think up what he wants to ask next is not part of the procedure of this House.

Mr SPEAKER: My view is that there are a number of members who take a little time either preparing in their minds or getting the questions out. Frankly, I’d rather have thought-out questions than many of them that we get.

Q8 Points of Order:

  • Carmel Sepuloni – 1
  • Simon Bridges – 3
  • Gerry Brownlee – 3
  • Winston Peters – 1

Q9 Points of Order:

  • Brett Hudson – 2
  • Gerry Brownlee – 2
  • Nikki Kaye – 1
  • Chris Hipkins – 1

Q11 Points of Order:

  • Nick Smith – 4
  • Simon Bridges – 1
  • Gerry Brownlee – 1

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to raise the point of order—it’s highly unusual. The member’s calling for it, so we haven’t moved on. I’m just—I’m clearly seeking to understand what’s gone on here.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and to make it absolutely clear, the number of supplementary questions are entirely at my discretion. I have decided, because of the interjection from Dr Smith, I will not allow any further Government or Opposition supplementaries on this question. I’m not taking away—if the members want to use them on the next question, they can, but not on this one, because of Dr Smith’s behaviour.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think there are some very important questions that should be asked in this. I’m sorry that you’ve taken this. One of the new pieces of information that the Minister managed to give the House was the new collaborative way that the Government wants to work with all sectors, to see if they can meet the target, and I think it would have been appropriate if there had been an opportunity to ask him if he’ll put out a list of suitable species for home gardeners to put on their list of tree plantings to help the Government with their target.

Mr SPEAKER: Sorry; as a result of that frivolous point of order, another one of the supplementary questions for the National Party has been lost.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It’s a very reasonable request. When the Government’s most important flagship programme is around these billion trees—

Mr SPEAKER: No, Dr Nick Smith will resume his seat. He will resume his seat now. I have ruled that we are moving on to question 12 because of an inappropriate interjection by Dr Nick Smith when he had been called for a supplementary. If Dr Nick Smith intervenes again, on that question, it will result in further loss of supplementary questions to the National Party.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What was the comment that I made, that, as a consequence, has—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat.

Q12 Points of Order:

  • Steven Joyce – 3
  • Simon Bridges – 6
  • Parmjeet Parmar – 1

Some of the Points of Order were reasonable, but many were frivolous or seemed pointless – in other words, a waste of time and an unnecessary and counter productive diversion.

Question Time concluded with:

Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, I was listening very carefully to that answer—before the gratuitous bit—and I’m sorry, but in a previous supplementary the Minister has been asked, “What proportion will be the Government—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. I’ve ruled that it’s been addressed. In fact, I’ve stopped her for over-addressing it.

Hon Member: Supplementary question?

Mr SPEAKER: No, the National Party has run out of supplementary questions.

Trevor Mallard is making a real effort to allow an effective Question Time. The Opposition are running a real risk of blowing it.

Politics 101 – pick your battles wisely, and make sure they are battles you have a good chance of winning.

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.

 

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.

Trevor Mallard as Speaker

Long time Labour MP Trevor Mallard (first elected in 1984, 33 years ago) has achieved his ambition of the last few terms – to become Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives.

Mallard has had a fairly chequered political career. In the past he has been very tribal and combative, but he seems to have mellowed and has tended to keep a lower profile as he worked his way towards the big chair in Parliament.

He probably has as good a knowledge of the rules and customs of Parliament as any MP so is well qualified on that count. He has served as Assistant Speaker for the last term.

Mallard should start as Speaker with a virtual clean slate. He has the necessary knowledge and experience. It will be his temperament and his impartiality that will be tested. We will have to wait and see how well he conducts himself.

From Parliament:  Meet the Speaker of the 52nd Parliament

The Rt Hon. Trevor Mallard, Speaker, 52nd Parliament

The Rt Hon. Trevor Mallard, Speaker, 52nd Parliament
Source: Office of the Clerk, 2017

Candidates for Speaker are nominated and seconded by other MPs. Only one candidate was nominated so an election was not needed and Mr Mallard was declared as Speaker-Elect.

Once declared, Mr Mallard travelled to Government House to be confirmed as Speaker by the Governor-General.

He will be known as The Right Honourable Trevor Mallard.

The Speaker is essential to the running of the House and has to command the respect of all MPs. The New Zealand Speaker is allowed to maintain links with their party (unlike in some other Parliaments), but must not show any preference or disrespect for any political party, for the Government, or the Opposition while chairing proceedings in the House. All MPs must be given a fair opportunity to participate in the business of the House.