Simon Upton writes in the Dom Post:
While coalition politics has certainly blunted the arrogance with which big parties behave in power, only Question Time guarantees that ministers are given a rocky ride, which is why I always found it so hard to understand why Speakers hid behind the mantra that they weren’t there to comment on the quality of ministerial answers – thereby giving carte blanche to those lazy ministers who couldn’t be bothered doing their homework or didn’t want to front up. My political awareness was switched on in the early 1970s listening to Question Time during the days of the Muldoon ascendancy.
His devastating control of Question Time as Leader of the Opposition had me enthralled. By the time I arrived in the House in 1981 that mercurial brilliance had turned to stone.
Muldoon was devastating not just as Opposition Leader, but even as Deputy Opposition Leader. Kirk banned Ministers from going on TV with him.
Lockwood Smith did not spend his parliamentary career dreaming of the Speaker’s chair. But the infelicitous comments that sidelined him from ministerial office turned out to have a deeply silver lining: Dr Smith is requiring ministers to answer the questions that are put to them. This seemingly obvious requirement is, for our Parliament, revolutionary. For the first time, Opposition members have an ally when a minister contemptuously greets a serious question with a non sequitur or a put down. Finally, voters get to see ministers held accountable. And it is all thanks to an MP who has decided that if he’s going to occupy the third highest office in the land, he’s going to take that office seriously. Three cheers for Mr Speaker Smith.
It is ironic. Lockwood ended up Speaker partly as a “punishment” for gaffes, but as Simon Upton says it has a silver lining in the way he has taken the job so seriously.
Whether his brave departure from an indefensible tradition sticks will, of course, depend on whoever succeeds him. Labour and its allies will in due course return to office. Will they be prepared to nominate a similarly tough-minded democrat for the job and be prepared to submit to the same treatment? I hope Phil Goff and his colleagues are taking stock of what Lockwood Smith has done for them. He is the best Speaker in living memory – on this one ground alone – and his initiative deserves to be perpetuated.
If Labour were smart they would keep Lockwood on as Speaker, when they return to office. I suspect he may have retired by then.
Let’s assume Labour win in 2014. Who might be their Speaker? King would be good, but I expect both her and Goff will retire between 2011 and 2014. Darren Hughes will want ministerial office first. Maybe David Parker if he is still here – a lawyer can be useful. I presume Barker and Ross Robertson have retired by 2014. A possibility could be Winnie Laban – she would be dignified. Damien O’Connor might be a possibility also, if he is still there. He would be popular with most MPs.