Take a bow, Lockwood Smith. At long last, the House has a Speaker who seems serious about removing the blight on New Zealand’s democracy – the increasing tendency of Cabinet ministers to thumb their noses at the constitutional convention that they are accountable to Parliament.
Smith dropped a bit of a bombshell on the first sitting day of the year when he expressed displeasure with Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson’s reply to an Opposition question about the minimum wage, and then instructed her to answer the question again.
Such a practice is almost unheard of. You could see the jaws of National Party colleagues collectively dropping in shock.
I am 100% with Lockwood on this. His ruling does not apply too all questions, but only to the pre-notified primary questions and only when they are asking something factual, rather than an opinion. In those circumstances, one should get a proper response. Now of course the Minister should be able to robustly swipe back at the Opposition also, but this should be on top of giving the actual answer, not instead of.
Such interventions will not win Smith plaudits from his colleagues. They sat in Opposition for nine frustrating years complaining about Labour ministers diving for cover when the political heat was on.
Now in Government, they would expect the boot to be on the other foot. That it isn’t may be unfair on National. But stopping the parliamentary rot meant someone had to start somewhere at some time. Smith has done the right thing by serving notice that he expects ministers to lift their game. The onus is now on him to continue in the manner in which he has begun.
I seem to recall the Herald’s Political Editor saying she thought Lockwood would bomb as Speaker. I look forward to her next blog
In a more minor change Lockwood has also changed the route the Speaker’s procession will take every sitting day at 2 pm. Rather than go straight from the Speaker’s Office to the back entrance to the House through a private corridor, it will now go through the main lobby, allowing the public to see it.
This met with support from all sides, but funniest comment was Dr Cullen who suggested Lockie make it clear that the press gallery can not ask questions of the Speaker during the official procession. I doubt even Duncan Garner would be quite that cheeky!