Yesterday’s Herald Editorial is a must read for new Ministers, and the new Speaker:
Governments before 1984 did not encourage their ministers to engage in political jousts at question time. Ministers generally treated even mischievous questions with seriousness and respect. They replied in considered terms that did not often give much away but were usually more informative than the mutual abuse of recent years.
Yes, Muldoon might snap at you, but he would also answer the question.
Since then things appear to have deteriorated to the point that question time in the Clark years became merely sneering and nasty. The Prime Minister adopted a practice of pointedly turning and looking away from the Opposition leader while delivering dismissive responses to his questions. The advent of MMP may also be to blame. The House seemed to have a higher tone when members were addressed by their electorates rather than by name.
Sneering and nasty – apt descriptions indeed. And I do agree that it was less combative when the Opposition MPs had to be referred to as “the Honourable Member for Hunua” or equivalent.
The new Prime Minister appears to have more in common with them than its parents. He was born too late to acquire the cynicism of youth in the 1960s. And as a comparative latecomer to politics he seems better equipped to ignore its petty contests than are those who made it their career.
He would do well to encourage his new ministers to conduct themselves with dignity and decorum in the House. The Government’s role is crucial to its conduct. Oppositions have to be aggressive and provocative, ministers need not reply in kind. Ministers have the advantage of status at question time, they should use it. A polite, restrained, factual answer to a politically-pointed question would be far more impressive on television than the tedious partisan exchanges of recent times.
While there would be lapses, I do hope Ministers do consider the wisdom of the Herald’s advice. Polite, restrained, factual answers will enhance them, not be a sign of weakness. Sure the odd question will be irresistable to bat away, but it would be nice to have Ministers from time to time exceed the minimum requirement of “addressing the question” and actually answering it.Tags: NZ Herald, question time