Lockwood’s valedictory

February 14th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Lockwood Smith gave his valedictory statement to Parliament yesterday, and it was a very interesting speech covering his time in Parliament. Very little was about his high profile role as Speaker – a lot was on policies and portfolios. The speech is in the draft Hansard. Some extracts:

By 1984 the economy was in a mess, and I hope history will record more positively the decisive actions of both the Lange-Douglas Labour Government and the Bolger-Richardson National Government that followed. The resilience of the New Zealand economy during the recent global downturn owes much to the courage of those Cabinets, at least in their early years, putting New Zealand’s very real needs ahead of political considerations in pursuing necessary reform.

I agree. Without those reforms, we would be truly stuffed.

Twenty-eight and a half years is quite a long time—long enough for me to see 288 members arrive in this place and 263 leave. So many things we rely on today did not even exist then. It is not just the iPads and smartphones; personal computers were in their infancy, as were, I must say, some of our current colleagues.

I think Jami-Lee wasn’t even born then!

Regrets that have lingered include my voting against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986. I faced the classic dilemma of voting according to my own judgment, or the opinion of those I had been elected to represent. As a new member I opted for the latter and I have always regretted it. Edmund Burke was right.

Edmund Burke’s quote on this issue  is one of my favourites.

Science and technology have been so crucial to the advancement of human well-being, yet scientists are a rare breed in politics. Internationally, there is something of a disconnect between the two. In politics, for example, green is the claimed colour of sustainability. Yet in science the very reason we perceive plants to be green is that they reflect green light. They cannot use it. It is red and blue light that sustain most of our living world. [Interruption] It is true!

Heh.

In 1987 my life was to change for ever. Jim Bolger appointed me National’s spokesperson on education, and the Minister was none other than Prime Minister David Lange. He was a formidable parliamentarian with a great sense of humour. I still remember the Tuesday when I came into this House after tripping and landing on my face when vaulting over a gate on the farm. Lots of skin was missing. David Lange called out across the House in his booming voice: “Huh! He’s been visiting kindergartens again.”

I can almost hear Lange’s tone saying it.

And, yes, I confess to being the architect of both the student loans scheme and means-tested student allowances. While the former, I would argue, was good policy—made less good by some later changes—the latter I was never happy with. It was so transparently unfair where students whose parents were unable to, shall we say, camouflage their incomes were pinged and all were means-tested up to an age when young people simply are not dependent on their parents at all.

Great to hear Lockwood say this because I agree. I have never supported means testing students based on parental income up to the age of 25.

I dreamed of a seamless education system where students could pursue their learning via a multitude of pathways, their hunger for greater theoretical knowledge driven from the challenges experienced in developing their skills in practical areas of interest. I think it is fair to say that the qualifications framework is now well embedded into our senior secondary, tertiary, and industry training systems. But to me it is only starting to deliver its full potential. With the explosion in knowledge I wanted to see motivated students well into their first tertiary qualification or part way through an apprenticeship-type programme before they completed their secondary years. And it is great that is starting to happen.

The qualifications framework is on of his biggest legacies.

Not many would know I put 7 years’ work into a project to redevelop New Zealand’s income tax, benefit, and tax credit systems. The work started on trying to find a way round the massive churning involved in employers deducting PAYE only for the Government to pay it all back to some employees in family tax credits.

I did some of this work with Lockwood, when I was an opposition staffer. We tried to find parabolic equations which could deliver a fair tax rate based on someone’s income and number of children, and not change net incomes greatly. Economically we were able to do so, but politically having a parabolic equation as the tax rate would have been rather difficult :-)

My research unravelling that interface soon got into the challenging area of effective marginal tax rates. At the time a single parent with three dependent children seeking to work their way off the domestic purposes benefit and trying to get from $10,000 of earned income a year to $25,000 would have had to work an extra 20 hours a week at $15 an hour say. The problem was the effective tax on that extra $15,000 of earned income was about $13,300, meaning that even though the parent was paid $15 an hour, their take-home pay would have been little over $1.50 an hour. Things have improved somewhat since then, but high effective marginal tax rates still remain a significant disincentive for many people.

They do. I’d like to see lower or no tax rates on the first $10,000 or so of income, in return for lower welfare payments and hence less steep abatement rates.

Some commentators assess members on how successfully they play the political game. But to me what sets a member of Parliament apart is how much they care about the impact of the State on an ordinary person, and how far they are prepared to go in representing people whose lives can be so knocked around by the actions of the State.

This is a core role of an MP, in my opinion.

As I look to the future, this is something that troubles me. The introduction of MMP in 1996 changed this place. Some of it is for the better. There is no doubt we have a broader face of representation, and that is good. But like so many policy changes, it is the unexpected outcomes that need to be watched, and one of those outcomes has been a significant shift in the accountability of members. Obviously, list members are very much accountable to their political parties, as they owe their place on the list to their party. But the pervasive power of the party vote has meant that all members are now totally accountable to their parties. This House, in so many ways, has become a place of political parties rather than a House of Representatives. I am not for one moment trying to make a case for the old system, but I do believe there will come a time when we will need to re-examine that balance of accountabilities. Representation is enhanced when members have to help ordinary people in their local communities, many of whom may never have voted for them.

Well put, and it is an issue. The protection of the party list has insulated many MPs. This is one reason why I do not support dual candidacies.  Electorate MPs should stand or fall with their electorates.

But standing head and shoulders above them all despite her shortish stature is Beryl Bright. I stole Beryl from Merv Wellington almost 27 years ago—I am not sure he ever forgave me.

Merv often carried a grudge – including against me.

She was my executive assistant in the early years, my senior parliamentary secretary in my 9 years as Minister, and loyally stayed with me despite losing almost half her salary when I was back in Opposition, and has continued to look after me in my time as Speaker. Perhaps most special of all, though, Beryl helped shape the lives of so many young people who worked with me as a Minister. Young people like Simon Tucker, newly appointed High Commissioner designate to Canada; Ben King, now foreign affairs adviser to the Prime Minister, and Matthew Hooton, commentator and founder of Exceltium. For all Beryl did, thank you seems such an inadequate word, but I say it from the bottom of my heart. She was wise, witty, loyal, and tough. Even my wife, Alexandra, quickly realised she first had to win over Beryl.

Heh.

 And so, Alexandra, I likewise say thank you for sharing me with this place. Alexandra gave up so much of her own professional career that we might be together again. As a professional counsellor she taught me to find the good in all people. She made me a better person, which in turn enabled me to be a better Speaker. In recent years I have felt so guilty that she gave up her wonderful counselling job at King’s College to be with me and yet has had me only part time. From now on it is full time, I promise.

There are few other jobs that require so much from spouses.

I will miss having Lockwood as an MP. He is to some degree the reason I ended up involved in the National Party. In 1986 I was a first year at Otago University and I saw a poster advertising that he was speaking on campus. I was interested to hear and meet him, so went along. He gave a great speech and I joined the National Party that day.

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Another parliamentary farewell

February 11th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Lockwood Smith will give his valedictory speech this week. I’ve already blogged several times on Lockwood’s contribution to Parliament, and will cover his valedictory.

It is timely to recognise that this also sees the retirement of Beryl Bright, who has worked for Lockwood for over 25 years.

Many staff work for an MP for a couple of years only. To work for one MP for over half your working life is a huge commitment. You become essential to them, and effectively part of their family.

Those who stay with an MP for the long haul, often have their own ups and downs which coincide with the MP. If your MP is a Minister and there is a change of Government, you go from being a Senior Private Secretary managing an office of a dozen people to a sole executive secretary.

I recall in 1999 when this happened, Parliamentary Service added insult to injury by initially saying that someone who had been an SPS for nine years had to come in at the bottom of the salary scale for executive secretaries as their ministerial experience was deemed to be with a different employer! Common sense eventually prevailed.

An experienced staff member makes a huge difference to an MPs effectiveness. They don’t just run their office and diary. They act as eyes and ears and protect them whenever they can.

I think my first experience with Beryl was in 1991 when I was organising the Young Nats policy conference we wanted Lockwood as Education Minister to attend. It was at National Park in Mt Ruapehu. Beryl politely but firmly pointed out to us that what we were asking was for an extremely busy Minister to get up at 5 am, drive an hour and a half to an airport, then fly to Auckland, then fly to Taupo, then drive an hour or so to us, and then do the same in reverse. In other words he would be giving up his entire Saturday just to spend an hour with us. That was part of the job – making sure that we understood that while we were just getting him for an hour – his attendance was in fact a major undertaking for him. Lockwood was a great supporter of the Young Nats and turned up though pretty much every year without fail.

So if you are an aspiring MP, you should hope you manage to get a Beryl Bright to work for you. The difference it can make can not be under-stated.

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Armstrong on Smith

February 1st, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

So exits Lockwood Smith as Parliament’s Speaker. And to genuine and sustained applause from MPs from all parties.

Except Winston whose speech yesterday was churlish. Winston goes from having the Speaker being the guy who beat him for a safe seat nomination in 1984, to the guy whom he unsuccessfully tried to sue for defamation. He holds a grudge.

Once the House was under way, there could often be too much referee’s whistle rather than him allowing the two main parties to engage in no-holds-barred debate. He was noticeably reluctant to grant applications for snap debates – one of the few means available to Opposition parties to hold Governments to account. He was subject to potential no confidence motions from Opposition parties.

Yet no other Speaker has done more to help the Opposition and uphold Parliament’s role of ensuring Cabinet ministers are accountable for what happens in their portfolios. His insistence that a minister address the actual question being posed by an Opposition MP rescued Parliament from fast-approaching irrelevance.

He has indeed, and the precedents he has established will carry on beyond him.

Carter is an avuncular figure who enjoys respect around Parliament for the quiet, modest and unfussy way he has gone about doing a good job in his ministerial portfolios. He will do a good job as Speaker even though he might not have wanted the job. But Smith will be a hard act to follow.

Indeed.

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Hipkins on Lockwood

January 24th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Hipkins blogs at Red Alert:

At some stage over the next few weeks, possibly as early as next Thursday, parliament will elect a new Speaker. As an opposition MP I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but we’ll be sad to see Lockwood Smith go. As Speaker, he has raised the bar in terms of ministerial accountability in the House. His most significant ruling, that when asked a straight question ministers should give straight answers, has changed the whole nature of Question Time. That ruling will remain in place long after his departure, although whether the new Speaker has the ability to implement it with the same precision and diligence is yet to be seen.

Just before Christmas, Lockwood raised the bar again, this time relating to ministerial accountability outside the Debating Chamber. Under parliament’s rules MPs are also allowed to ask written questions of ministers. There are a lot more of these and they don’t always receive the same level of attention questions in the House do. But they’re a vital information channel for the opposition, and they’re another way we can hold ministers to account for their performance and the performance of their departments. …

But the effect of this ruling will extend well beyond this one instance. If the new Speaker maintains this new high standard, the improved level of accountability we’ve seen at Question Time will extend beyond the walls of the Debating Chamber. That’s a good thing.

I’ll blog more fully on Lockwood’s achievements and legacy when he steps down as Speaker, but I thought this post by Chris Hipkins was worth highlighting. It’s not often the Senior Opposition Whip would be so laudatory of a Speaker.

I agree that Lockwood has done an excellent job in improving accountability of the Executive.

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Lockie confirmed

December 19th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Michelle Cooke at Stuff reports:

Parliament’s worst kept secret of 2012 is official – Speaker Lockwood Smith is heading to London to take up the position of New Zealand High Commissioner.

The House has risen for the year, MPs are on holiday and Smith has put his role as Speaker of the House aside to move to the United Kingdom.

Smith’s upcoming move was already widely known, but Prime Minister John Key formally announced the appointment today.

“Lockwood Smith has had a distinguished political career and his nomination is a mark of the high esteem in which he is held,” Key said.

“I wish Lockwood and his wife, Alexandra, all the best for this new appointment.”

Smith has been a Member of Parliament since 1984 and was the MP for Rodney from 1996 until 2011, when he was elected under the National List. His fellow MPs elected him as Speaker in 2008 and again in 2011.

It is understood that MPs will vote in a new Speaker at the end of January. 

My understanding is that the first day back is debate on the PM’s statement. The second day back will be the election of the new Speaker. I’ll post more on Lockwood’s legacy in January, but suffice to say for now that he has improved democracy in this country by his insistence on Ministers having to actually answer questions.
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Funding approved

March 9th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Adam Bennett in the NZ Herald reports:

Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith had been criticised over his decision not to grant funding for a note-taker for Ms Mathers.

He did not decide not to grant funding. He was not able to do so without going through a formal process, which he has now done.

However this morning he announced permanent funding had been approved by the Parliamentary Service.

The matter was discussed earlier this week by the Parliamentary Service Commission – made up of senior MPs from all parties.

Dr Smith said “having complied with all legal requirements” a final decision regarding funding support for Ms Mathers had been made.

“I am issuing a direction to the Parliamentary Service which will provide the lawful authority to provide equipment and personnel services to Ms Mathers while she is a member of Parliament.

“Specifically, Ms Mathers will continue to have access to electronic note takers while she is an MP. This support will be in addition to that to which she is already entitled, to ensure she may fulfill her role as a member of Parliament. ”

Dr Smith said the cost of the services would be met from the Parliamentary Service’s baseline and was additional to the funding provided to support all members.

This is the correct decision.

Dr Smith went to say he planned to develop a captioning service to make proceedings of the House more accessible to the hearing impaired.

“Services for the business of the House are not subject to the advice of the Parliamentary Service Commission. Consequently, I intend working with the Office of the Clerk to develop this service and will raise this with the Standing Orders Committee which deals with such matters.” 

This is also a good thing.

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Not widely reported

March 6th, 2012 at 9:22 am by David Farrar

Remember all the demonisation of the Speaker over the Mathers funding situation. The Herald reports:

Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith has been criticised for his decision not to grant funding for Ms Mathers, but he has said he does not have the authority to approve it.

The matter will be discussed by the Parliamentary Service Commission – made up of senior MPs from all parties – tomorrow night.

A spokeswoman for Dr Smith – who has been paying for the service from his parliamentary budget while the matter is being debated – said he had “some options to offer”.

So Lockwood has been using his own private budget to cover it. Hardly the person the Greens portrayed.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said her party had received advice from a law firm on whether the money should come out of the support budget all MPs receive, or from that which supports the overall operation of Parliament.

I wonder how many hours of recording could have been paid for, by now hiring lawyers?

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Hours for Mathers

February 15th, 2012 at 8:42 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Parliamentary Service was working hard to provide technology and he had asked officials to explore voice recognition software. “That technology is something we are working on right now. That doesn’t have to wait for a Parliamentary Service Commission,” he said.

Smith also accused Mathers and Green party whip Gareth Hughes of politicising the matter and making public the details of a private meeting.

So it is not a dispute over technology to help her do her job, as it appeared yesterday. That is being provided. It is a dispute over hours.

Each MP gets funding to cover 80 hours of staff time, or two full-time equivalent workers, a week.

Mojo Mathers estimates she needs 1000 hours a year for electronic note-taking required for her to participate in Parliament through a laptop on her debating chamber desk.

The Speaker has suggested the other 13 Green MPs pool their support budgets to give some of their unused support hours to Mathers.

Now I do support Mathers being given extra hours, but this can’t be done at the whim of the Speaker. All Electorate MPs gets 120 hours a week and all List MPs 80 hours a week. To give Mathers extra hours you need to set up a third category of MP, and publish a formal determination specifying the criteria to qualify, and what the extra support hours or funding will be.

It is worth noting that the Green caucus as a whole gets 56,000 hours of support staff a year, plus $1.88 million of funding. The 1,000 hours is less than 2% of their overall hours and a party that consists entirely of List MPs rarely uses all its allocated hours up.

Again, I support a change to the funding rules to cater for a situation like Mathers. But the Greens could have chosen to work with the Speaker to establish a time-table for changing the determinations, rather than do a hatchet job on him.

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Greens picking National to win

July 23rd, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Ele at Homepaddock has picked up on this:

Green’s Kevin Hague, say they’re going to test Smith when the new Parliament is sworn in after the November general election.

Ele points out that this means that the Greens are expecting Lockwood to still be Speaker after the election, which means of course they are expecting National to command a majority in Parliament.

So not even the Greens think Labour will win.

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Distasteful

July 15th, 2011 at 11:44 am by David Farrar

Lockwood refuses to allow Harawira to swear an oath which is illegal under the Constitution Act 1986. It was nothing to do with language – he is able to swear the oath in te reo. But he wanted to use words not allowed. he wanted to use the oath as a speech where he talks about reducing inequalities etc. That is what we have parliamentary speeches for.

Anyway, because Lockwood upheld the law, Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn has compared him to a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

That’s a pretty disgusting smear. It’s the extremism in politics that John Ansell was referring to. I didn’t agree with John’s ad, but I do agree you should be able to have a view that the Maori seats should be abolished, and not be called a racist.

Likewise you should be able to insist someone follows the official oath, without being compared to the KKK.

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Rugby jersies in Parliament

June 7th, 2011 at 3:30 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Labour MP Clare Curran has been kicked out of Parliament for wearing a Highlanders Super Rugby jersey.

Curran appeared at Parliamentary questions this afternoon wearing the team’s old blue, gold and maroon kit in protest at the new lime green colour.

Speaker Lockwood Smith declared the jersey violated Parliament’s strict dress codes and ordered Curran to leave.

Labour colleague Trevor Mallard protested the decision.

I would have thought a rugby jersey was a pretty obvious “no” in terms of meeting the House dress code.

Personally I think the dress code should be relaxed so men do not have to have a tie and jacket, but even I would hestitate to suggest that rugby jersies should be acceptable in the House.

Her ejection from Parliament highlighted the lack of rules around what women should wear in the House, she said.

“I certainly never expected to be thrown out of the House for being a woman wearing a football shirt. I think it was an over reaction.”

She said she was surprised and would consider whether she would change and return to Parliament this afternoon.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei left the House with Curran.

Turei later tweeted saying it was an example of sexism in Parliament continuing. “Has Ross Robertson ever been scolded for his sports team scarves let alone kicked out? No”

I hate it when people cry sexism mindlessly.  And this is mindless.

I have absolutely no doubt that a male MP would be kicked out by Lockwood for wearing a rugby jersey in the House.

If anything, the rules are sexist against men. The dress code for men is far more proscriptive than for women MPs.

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Perks gone

November 18th, 2010 at 6:13 am by David Farrar

As expected:

The Speaker has finally sounded the death knell on travel perks after almost 40 years of MPs enjoying taxpayer-subsidised flights for their private international trips and holidays.

Lockwood Smith announced last night that the perks giving MPs discounted international travel would no longer be available for them. …

However, he intended to set up a scheme to allow backbench and Opposition MPs to travel on parliamentary-related trips of their own initiative, rather than the limited opportunities for official travel.

He said the new scheme would have tight rules and was likely to require some personal contribution from MPs towards costs.

I still think the appropriate way to do this, is to increase the bulk funding each parliamentary party gets. Nothing will ensure only high quality trips are funded, like the fact they would be competing for funds with staff, research, policy and comms.

Any sort of dedicated fund or entitlement will end up with controversy.

The Remuneration Authority will decide if MPs will get an increase on their base salary to compensate.

They will – it is basically required by law. The real question is how much.

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MPs travel perks

November 1st, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

It was reported last week that Lockwood Smith has decided not to include details of how much each MP has used of their “travel” perk, as it is discouraging MPs from using it – which is unfair as the value of the perk is deducted from their remuneration package in setting their salary.

Now Lockwood has identified the problem correctly, but in this rare instance I disagree with his solution.

It is unfair to be deducting the value of the perk from the salary, and to be having witch hunts against those who use it. But the solution is to abolish the travel perk and increase the salary – not to try and keep the details secret.

Lockwood and the PM have opened up the books greatly, and doing so is a one way street effectively. Even if the Parliamentary Service only now publish the total amount of travel perks used, the media will question each individual MP about whether they have used it, and so the end result will be the same.

The Herald quotes Rodney Hide saying much the same:

“Why don’t you just pay the MPs, don’t allow the rebate and cover their legitimate expenses?”

While the Green Party is looking at releasing their rebate details anyway, Hide could not speak on behalf of all his MPs on whether they would follow suit.

“I don’t think the speaker can put the genie back into the bottle, because people quite naturally expect transparency and accountability and it would be impossible to explain, in this day and age, that this rebate is being paid out of an MP’s salary, even though it is.”

I agree with Rodney that this is what should happen. There has been an argument that the travel perk should stay, because it is the only way to recognise more experienced MPs service. But I would say that if we wish to do that, then do it directly through salaries. There is no reason the Remuneration Authority can’t be asked to set a slightly higher salary for MPs who have served a certain number of years. some may argue against this also – my point is one should set the salary to cover all remuneration, and then just have legitimate expenses claimed.

Some MPs do use their travel perk for a mixture of work and play – such as travelling to meet colleagues in other countries. But that can be funded from the Leader’s Budget. If the argument is their budgets are not big enough to cover that, then lets debate that, rather than keep the travel perk which will never be accepted by the public – inevitably it will go the same way as the perk for ex MPs.

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Lockie to retire from Rodney

October 27th, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:

Parliament’s Speaker Lockwood Smith has confirmed he will stand down from his Rodney seat at the next election and seek to be returned to Parliament on National’s list instead.

The move follows months of speculation that Dr Smith would not seek re-selection in the blue-ribbon seat because of the constraints of his role as Speaker.

Dr Smith said he would continue to help his constituents and push the major roading projects in the electorate, “but as Speaker I have found it to be a little more difficult to be involved in political debate”.

“By my seeking a place on the National Party List, I feel that no matter what the future may hold for me the people of Rodney will be able to select a new member better able to voice their views in wider political debate.”

Lockwood has been a very popular MP in Rodney, and they will be sad to see him go. He will probably romp in at the top of the National Party list also. Lockwood frequently forces Ministers to ask questions they don’t want to, but this doesn’t dampen his popularity in the party. To the contrary he gets treated as a rock star at conferences, with delegates lining up to say how wonderful it is to have a Speaker who holds the Government to account -even if it is their Government.

I would not be entirely surprised is Sir Lockwood ends up in a diplomatic role towards the end of the next Parliament (if National is in Government again).

The selection for Rodney will be interesting. Steven Joyce lives in the electorate and is a popular person in the party (chairing winning campaigns does that). However there is no guarantee that there won’t be many strong candidates seeking the nomination and Steven I suspect will want to be careful he does not do a Phil Twyford and go for a nomination, and fail to gain it

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Fair call on network car parking

June 18th, 2010 at 7:22 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

TV3 and Television New Zealand have been punished following breaches of Parliament’s rules, including one cameraman entering and filming inside Labour MP Chris Carter’s suite of offices in his absence and without his permission.

Lockwood Smith withdrew parking entitlements for their networks in Parliament’s basement carpark after they failed to get permission to film in the corridor and stairwell. However he also noted a cameraman had entered an MP’s offices without permission – a clear breach of parliamentary rules.

This is a fair call. MPs are publicly accountable, but it doesn’t mean their offices are public space.

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Keeping the register accurate

June 4th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Taranaki Daily News reports:

MP Jonathan Young failed to declare to Parliament a pecuniary interest in a company in which he holds a directorship, triggering a “please explain” demand from the Labour benches.

Mr Young, National MP for New Plymouth, is a director of Seaview Super Trustees Limited, a firm he says “carries his trust’s properties”, and for which he is listed by the Companies’ Office as holding a 50 per cent shareholding. The other 50 per cent is held by his wife, Maura. Another director listed, without a shareholding, is North Shore accountant Mark Thompson.

Parliamentary rules require that MPs must declare any interest where they hold a directorship or more than 5 per cent of the voting rights.

Labour MP Pete Hodgson said that at the very least, Mr Young “had some explaining to do”.

He does. It clearly should have been disclosed. However I am not aware of any “gain” from non disclosure, and think that the omission would be accidental.It sounds like it is associated with a trust which he did declare.

A similar apparent non disclosure comes from Shane Jones. It was reported in July 2009:

The New Zealand United States Council is sponsoring a visit to Washington DC by Hon Shane Jones and Craig Foss MP, respectively Chair and Vice Chair of the New Zealand United States Parliamentary Friendship Group in the 49th Parliament. …

In Washington DC 20-23 July Shane Jones and Craig Foss will meet their counterparts from the Friends of New Zealand Congressional Caucus

Now if we turn to the Register for the year ending 31 January 2010, we find:

Craig Foss:
United States of America – representing New Zealand-US Friendship Group. Contributor to travel:
NZ-US Council (USA domestic airfare). Contributor to accommodation: NZ-US Council.

And when we turn to Shane Jones we find:

Shane Jones
Rarotonga – play in New Zealand Parliamentary rugby team in match against Rarotongan
Parliament team. Contributor to travel: Air New Zealand (subsidised airfare). Contributor to
accommodation: Parliamentary Rugby Club (subsidised accommodation).

So Shane has failed to disclose the funding from the NZ-US Council.

Now like with Jonathan Young, I don’t think there is anything sinister about it. But maybe Pete Hodgson will be calling on Shane Jones to also “explain himself”. That is when he takes time off from pursing H Fee Mark II.

Also of note is that bloggers pointed out Chris Carter failed to disclose his trip in January 2010, to St Kitts and Nevis to observe elections. Carter has now filed an amended disclosure, including this.

Amusingly Lockwood Smith also forgot to disclose gifts of a kilt and a vase, which he also included in an amended disclosure!

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Speaker stands firm

June 2nd, 2010 at 10:11 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Chalk another one up for Lockwood Smith. Parliament’s Speaker yesterday secured a small, yet potentially significant, victory in his continuing campaign to get Cabinet ministers to answer opponents’ questions in the House in an informative and meaningful manner.

It followed a confrontation between Smith and Finance Minister Bill English. This was no Mexican stand-off. Smith was always going to win. His authority would have been seriously undermined had he not done so. Which begged the question why English chose to defy the Speaker’s requests that he make a better fist of answering what was a pretty straightforward question of little consequence in the grander scheme of things.

But that is by-the-by. Alongside imposing greater transparency on MPs’ expenses, Smith’s drive for proper ministerial accountability during question-time is the best thing that has happened to Parliament for a very long time.

I think almost everyone is pleased at the changes that Lockwood has instituted.

It will be interesting to observe one day, whether a future Labour Speaker will continue with requiring Ministers to actually answer questions.

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Clifton on Parliament

May 27th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Jane Clifton writes:

It’s probably safe to say that yesterday was the first time in history – possibly anywhere in the world – that a male Speaker of Parliament has found it necessary to defend his masculinity before the House.

Speaker Lockwood Smith’s unexpected intervention came after Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee, unconsciously reverting to a habit formed when Margaret Wilson was speaker of the last Parliament, referred to him as “Madam Speaker”. Dr Smith boggled somewhat, but politely waited until Mr Brownlee had finished his answer – which Mr Brownlee clearly considered to be a particularly witty riposte to pesky questions from the Greens – before asserting his manhood.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone except Dr Smith had noticed the garbled “Madam”, so the general air of shock can be imagined when he suddenly announced to Mr Brownlee: “I need to assure him that I have never had a sex change.”

MPs turned agape to Dr Smith, while a staggered Mr Brownlee struggled with his composure, clearly trying to think how his clever answer about mining could have been interpreted as a slur on the Speaker’s gender.

“I expect not!” he said, floundering. “Or there would have been a statement to Parliament.”

“It’s just that I’m not Madam Speaker,” Dr Smith explained, to everyone’s relief.

Heh classic.

You can see it below on the video from In the House. I have to say I think In the House is a world class service. Being able to find and embed videos from the House within a few hours of proceedings in Parliament is excellent.

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The worst behaved in Parliament list

December 23rd, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

United Future leader Peter Dunne has given up on his annual list of worst-behaved MPs, saying Speaker Lockwood Smith’s reign has ushered in a new era of dignity and propriety.

To be fair, I think the absence of Winston helps also. But the House has been a far less toxic place this year.

Mr Dunne did honour Labour’s Trevor Mallard with a lifetime achievement award in bad behaviour “for services to melodrama, fisticuffs, and generally aberrant behaviour”.

When Lockwood orders him to apologise, you can actually see the supressed rage in his eyes!!

The Herald does find a few insults though:

Labour’s Moana Mackey apologised for referring to Hekia Parata as “Lady Parata” and “her royal highness”. National’s Paul Quinn was pulled up for calling Labour’s backbench “monkeys”.

I’d rather be called Lady Parata than a monkey I have to say – well if I was a female Parata that is!

Some apologies:

SHANE JONES
For saying of Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee, “the notion of him and energy is a mathematical impossibility”.

PHIL HEATLEY
For claiming another “fiddled the books” in ACC and Housing; for wishing the Speaker would use a 90-day eviction order on Trevor Mallard.

Heh.

RODNEY HIDE
For North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams’ “madness”, for calling Trevor Mallard “the angry one”.

Isn’t truth a defence?

JOHN KEY
For claiming Green MP Metiria Turei thought Phil Goff was “racist”. She had said his speech was “the worst kind of politics”.

So worse than racism?

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SST on Lockie

December 14th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The SST has done an extensive profile of Speaker Lockwood Smith. The beginning:

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS in the snake pit, and somehow Locky remains an innocent. The MP kept smiling his spooky smile through decades of derision and scorn. He began his public life as a fuddy-duddy – should school kids be reading the nasty sex scene on page 96 of The Color Purple? – and threatened to end it as a dork. Smith was appalled at the uproar which greeted his remarks during the election campaign about the small hands of Asian vine-pruners. Gosh, he didn’t mean to upset anyone.

National leader John Key made him say sorry, pencilled him out of cabinet, and in due course sent him to the Speaker’s chair. This is a place where parties put senior MPs they don’t know what to do with. The politician, says a parliamentary insider, was “dead and buried”. But Alexander Lockwood Smith, PhD, 61-year-old owner of a fine baritone voice and the best set of abs in parliament, refused to lie quiet in his grave.

Instead he launched a couple of revolutions and turned himself from laughing stock into an odd sort of political leader. He put an end to aeons of skullduggery and secrecy by publishing MPs’ expenses. He turned Question Time in parliament from a tableau of official evasion into a real test of the government’s mettle. He became that rarest of political animals, the celebrity Speaker. The pundits praised the new hero of accountability and openness.

The whole article is a good read.

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Upton on Lockwood

November 4th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

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.

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Awesome performance from Lockwood

October 15th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett covers Parliament yesterday. I have to say I thought Lockwood was in awesome form as Speaker.

First of all he handled a huge amount of complaints from Labour MPs about his decision to now allow signs about an industrial dispute to be displayed on boxes, so they get seen on TV. The rules allow party logos, but not signs or slogans. You could see certain Labour MPs were right on the brink of either walking out, or trying to wallop Lockwood. Even normally good natured Darren Hughes was pushing it, by slapping a box off a desk onto a seat, rather than placing it there.

But no way was Lockwood being partisan. Gerry Brownlee obviously did not want to answer the question about when the Government decided to back or fund a TVNZ bid but Lockwood kept insisting that as the question was set down, and factual, it deserves an answer. Gerry tried arguing that as no amount had been discussed, he could not answer that but Lockwood insisted. Look at this exchange:

10. BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Broadcasting: When did the Government decide to offer financial support to a TVNZ-led bid to gain the free-to-air rights for the Rugby World Cup?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Broadcasting: The Government is committed to the concept of a stadium of 4 million people supporting the Rugby World Cup in 2011. Free-to-air broadcasts of matches must, therefore, have the widest possible coverage. The Government is united in that view. However, the specifics of any costs have not yet been determined.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: I do not need a point of order. The question on notice asked a very straight question: when did the Government decide to offer financial support to TVNZ? Either the Government has or it has not offered support, but the House deserves to hear an answer to the question since it was on notice and it is a straight question.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: And I gave a straight answer. The specifics of any costs have not been determined.

Mr SPEAKER: The question on notice did not ask what the cost was. The Minister is perfectly at liberty to point out that the Government has not decided to offer financial support, but the question asked “When did the Government decide to offer financial support to a TVNZ-led bid to gain the free-to-air rights for the Rugby World Cup?”. It may be that the answer is that the Government has not decided to do that, but if it has, the question asked about when it decided. It did not ask about how much money is involved. I ask the Minister to answer the question.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I raise a point or order, Mr Speaker. You are deciding to interpret the question as being one that is correct. I would love to know where the verification that the Government has made such a determination came from in the first place. I decided—

Mr SPEAKER: I invite the Minister to resume his seat. A perfectly fair answer to the question would be that the Government has not made such a decision. That is a perfectly proper answer, but the Minister did not offer the House that answer. It is a perfectly fair and proper question, and there is public interest in it. I believe that the House deserves to hear an answer. Forgive me; I am not interpreting the question. “When” is a very simple word.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government has not determined the specifics of any costs that may be required.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, I say the question was one of timing, and “when” is a very simple word. I think your office has been supplied with material from the Hon Jonathan Coleman, which I am sure people will be finding for us now, indicating that the Government had made that decision. All—

Mr SPEAKER: I do not want to get into debating the substance of the matter. The question simply asked “When did the Government decide to offer financial support?”. It did not ask about the specifics; it asked when a decision was made to offer financial support. It may be that it is not in the public interest to reveal that, but the question has been on notice for some hours and I think the House deserves to hear an answer.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have said three times that it has not made that determination.

I really can’t recall any previous Speaker being so willing to force an answer out of his or her own party’s Ministers.

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Even stupid questions should be answered

September 17th, 2009 at 6:08 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong reports:

Opposition MPs were aghast and Government members agog in Parliament yesterday after Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee broke with convention and refused to respond to a question from Greens co-leader Metiria Turei.

Brownlee had simply had enough. He had already answered five questions from Turei on National’s intended “stocktake” of mineral resources on Conservation land. He had repeatedly told her the Government had no intention of plundering or pillaging national parks or other valued parts of the Department of Conservation estate.

But Turei’s questions – which might more accurately be described as political statements masquerading as questions – just kept on coming.

So what was the actual question Gerry refused to answer:

Metiria Turei: When the Minister said in his speech that “… New Zealanders need to know that this country is also well endowed with natural resources.”, is it not the case that Kiwis already know how blessed we are, already know that our magnificent conservation places are like gold to the New Zealand economy, and are aghast at his attempts to plunder those areas for fool’s gold and dirty coal?

As Armstrong said, it is a political statement more than a question. But so are many questions. Brownlee explained later:

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: In answering questions this afternoon I have made it clear that the Government has no intention of mining high-value conservation land. From the member’s question, she does not seem to want to accept the answers given. It is no wonder that she gets no answers to her questions.

However I think it is a bad look not to answer, even the most stupid loaded questions. If the Greens want to waste all their supplementaries getting more and more hysterical over a stocktake of minerals, then let them and swat their questions back at them, rather than refuse to answer them.

There is a precedent it seems though:

However, Parker was trumped by United Future’s Peter Dunne, who had found another ruling which stated a minister was not even obliged to seek the call when asked a question.

In Dunne’s view, such a practice was unusual, and even undesirable. But there was a clear precedent for Brownlee’s refusal.

And words of wisdom from the Speaker:

Saying he was not about to turn these past rulings on their heads, the Speaker still had something to say about Turei and Brownlee.

The former would be “well advised” to reflect on the wording of her questions. She promptly ignored him and asked another highly loaded question which went down the same track as its predecessors

As for Brownlee, the public would make its judgment. “Ministers would be very unwise to refuse to answer them, because in the court of public opinion a minister would be condemned for refusing to do so,” Smith said.

In other words, Brownlee should not make a habit of it.

Indeed.

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Espiner on Mallard vs Lockwood

June 29th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner blogs on Mallard vs Lockwood:

Initially Mallard seemed to be suggesting taking a motion of no-confidence in the Speaker, but later said on his blog that Labour would “wait for a better case”.

I think he and his colleagues need to draw a deep breath and wait for a considerably better case.

Lockwood Smith is the best thing to happen to Opposition parties since Question Time was invented. He is easily the most fair, unbiased, and straightforward Speaker Parliament has had in years.

High praise.

In sports parlance, he’s a ref who plays advantage and isn’t always on the whistle. When Mallard took a frankly pathetic point of order yesterday to complain that Key wasn’t addressing the chair when he was speaking, but had his back to him, Smith shut him down quick-smart, saying he was more interested in what the Prime Minister was saying than how he was standing.

That’s what I like about Lockwood Smith. He doesn’t suffer foolish or pedantic points of order. He’s all but stamped out the tabling of press releases. He requires ministers to answer, not just address the question. And he doesn’t yell “order” every five seconds for some minor transgression.

For years people have used the ability to seek leave to table a document as a method of scoring an additional point. You would say something like “I seek leave to table the Minister’s press release of xx in which he says how poor people should move house”. Lockwood has no power to refuse to seek leave on behalf of a member, but often reminds the MP seaking leave to table such a document that the Standing Orders Committee has noted this is an abuse of standing orders as you should only seek leave to table a document MPs do not alreay have access to.

This has massively reduced such frivolous tablings, which means more time for actual questions and law making.

Overall, Labour should thank its lucky stars Lockwood Smith is the Speaker and quit moaning.

As a result, I think Parliament is a much more smooth-running and frankly democratic place.

Smith has thrown out far fewer MPs so far than his predecessor Margaret Wilson, and it was always odds-on that Mallard would be the one to finally go.

Colin is assuming that the Labour Opposition are glad to have a Speaker that has made Ministers more accountable and increased the public regard for Parliament.

I am not so sure that is a wise assumption. I would go further and suggest many in Labour hate the fact Lockwood is regarded so well by the gallery and those in the public who follow Parliament. Don’t think that Labour welcomed the changes Lockwood introduced. It was not only National Ministers who protested them. Senior Labour MPs on several occasions asked Lockwood to reconsider his new interpretation that Ministers must answer the question if it is a clear primary question with a potential factual response.

Hunt and Wilson were amongst the most partisan and well connected Labour MPs. They were tribal Labour. Imagine how galling it must be to senior Labour MPs to have even some of their own supporters talking about how great Lockwood is doing and by comparison how bad Wilson and Hunt were?

Those senior Labour MPs will also know that Lockwood’s forcing Ministers to answer questions will (ironically) actually help the Government as the sight of arrogant Ministers being asked “How many unemployed people are there” and refusing to actually give an answer is part of what creates the impression of time to go.

Finally the fact it is Lockwood that has proven so popular as Speaker will also chafe some in Labour. They opposed his nomination, and he has always been a target for certain Labour MPs.

So I think Labour are going to actively look for opportunities to try and attack Lockwood, and possible even no confidence him. They, I suspect, would be more than happy to go back to the old days, if they can.

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Lockwood being tough

May 7th, 2009 at 4:50 pm by David Farrar

Lockwood was pretty tough on the Government today. Made Rodney Hide admit there was no cost estimate for the Auckland re-organisation, told Pansy Wong off for far too long answers and slapped down Jonathan Coleman for not answering a question and just attacking the Opposition spokesperson.

To which I say – keep it up Lockwood. Good job.

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