Young interviews David Carter

March 30th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Audrey Young writes:

Opposition parties are frustrated that Mr Carter is not applying the same method as Dr Smith.

Generally Dr Smith would decide whether a question was “straight” or “political” and if he deemed it a straight question he would not accept a political answer – one that contained a political attack on a party.

That was hugely different from the days when ministers could simply use a word from the question and be deemed to have acceptably “addressed the question”, which is the requirement.

Mr Carter has opted for a halfway house. If he believes a minister has not addressed a question adequately, he will allow an MP to repeat it, sometimes several times, and Mr Hipkins has used it to the greatest effect with his questioning over the resignation of Education Secretary Lesley Longstone.

“The reason is he is asking straight questions,” said Mr Carter.

Mr Carter said he thought Dr Smith was the best Speaker he had ever seen in action “but I never thought for one minute I would do things exactly as Lockwood did”.

“He tended to paraphrase the question as he saw it and paraphrase the answer as he saw it and then draw a conclusion as to whether the answer was adequate enough.”

Mr Carter said he attempted to do that for the first couple of days but the result was that some MPs sought to bring the Speaker’s comments into a question in the House.

Ultimately if the minister hadn’t given a satisfactory answer, it was not the Speaker’s responsibility, it was the minister’s responsibility.

“At some stage in proceedings you have got to move on and then the Members of Parliament and anybody listening to Parliament will judge the accuracy and ability of that minister.”

I’d make the point that the first months of a Speaker’s regime are always turbulent, and the best time to judge is around four months in.

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Inevitable

March 28th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Speaker David Carter has ejected MPs from the House for the first time, kicking out Labour’s Trevor Mallard and Chris Hipkins this afternoon.

Mr Mallard was told to leave the debating chamber after telling Mr Carter to “sit down ’til I’m finished” during question time.

Let there be no mistake. Any MP who ever acts that arrogantly to the Speaker will be kicked out of the House – at a minimum. Actually damn lucky not to be named.

 

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Norman on Carter

March 22nd, 2013 at 6:41 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Greens co-leader Russel Norman has written an open letter to new Speaker David Carter urging him to return to the rulings set down by his predecessor Lockwood Smith or risk increasing disorder in the House.

Smith instituted a new regime that ditched the old requirement for ministers to merely ”address” a question in favour of a tougher requirement to answer a direct question where possible.

But opposition MPs have been frustrated at what they see as Carter’s shift away from that.

Norman is due to meet Carter soon to discuss the letter.

In it Norman said he felt compelled to write after sitting through ”another chaotic question time”.

He said Smith’s rules in summary were that “a straight question will get a straight answer” and that delivered a more orderly and effective question time.

I thought the straight question gets a straight answer rule was a very good one, so in that regard I agree with Norman.

What I’m not so sure about is whether that rule is or is not still being applied. I simply have not watched enough question time to judge. I would make the point that there remains a difference between a primary question and a supplementary. A straight primary question should get a straight answer. A supplementary question which is seeking very specific data may often be unable to be answered unless it was very tightly connected to the primary.

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Armstrong on Carter

March 15th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Taking over as Parliament’s Speaker after Lockwood Smith’s departure for the High Commissioner’s job in London was never going to be easy, no matter whom the Prime Minister hand-picked for the role. …

David Carter, Smith’s replacement, knows his initial months in the job will be judged by how close his management of the House follows the Smith doctrine.

Carter, however, has made it clear that when it comes to improving ministerial accountability, it will be done his way – not Smith’s.

The latter’s tougher stance on ministers’ answers benefited the Opposition. Labour then proceeded to push the boundaries, complaining that just about any reply did not properly answer the question.

Carter has his own solution – to embarrass the minister answering the question by immediately telling the Opposition MP to put the same question again. And again if need be.

This may not seem much of a sanction, but it makes the answering of a question to the Speaker’s satisfaction something of a test of competence. …

The other noticeable change under Carter’s regime is to allow more latitude for interjections and barracking from all sides of the House – an acknowledgment that the chamber is the principal venue for the display of political passion.

Carter also deserves credit for keeping one of Smith’s time-saving innovations – blocking MPs from trying to table documents to make a political point when those papers are freely available elsewhere.

It is still far too early to say how Carter’s tenure will end up rating the in the long list of Speakerships. As far as the Opposition is concerned, the jury is still out.

What is clear is that Carter will apply the same approach he has employed throughout his political career – to quietly and slowly build respect among both political friend and foe for handling things in a commonsense, unfussy, and unspectacular manner.

I haven’t watched question time much in the last month. How do people think Carter is going as Speaker?

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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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Why did Labour put Trevor up?

February 1st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

I’m surprised Labour put Trevor Mallard up as their nominee for Speaker. While of course National would always have made sure the numbers were there for David Carter, a different choice could have put pressure on the Maori Party and United Future and ACT to vote for Labour’s nominee.

But the moment they nominated Trevor, everyone thought it was a piss take. In fact they literally laughed in the House when he was nominated. Trevor being nominated for Speaker is a bit like Brendan Horan being made Racing Minister. The mere fact you want the job, isn’t enough of a qualification to get the job. In fact I declared on Facebook and Twitter that if the new qualification for top parliamentary jobs is that you really would like it – well then I declare my candidacy for Minister of Finance!

Labour could have either nominated a Labour MP who would be seen as a serious contender, or with a bit of mischief nominated a different National MP (who would have declined but the point may have been made). No one would have laughed at the nomination of Ross Robertson or Annette King.

In fact I understand Annette’s latest thinking is that she won’t stand for Mayor of Wellington, as that would allow Little into Rongotai. Hence so long as Labour looks competitive in 2014, she plans to stand again and will be Labour’s nominee for Speaker after the election. If that is the plan, would have made sense to put her up now.

So why did Labour put Trevor up? The only reason I can think of is it was the only way they could try and get him out of caucus and ensure he has nothing to do with their next election campaign!

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The new Speaker

January 31st, 2013 at 2:21 pm by David Farrar

It is no surprise that the Rt Hon David Carter has just been elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Labour put up Trevor Mallard as a candidate. Not sure that was the best way to try and get the Maori Party or Tau to vote for you :-)

There were no proxy votes allowed for the election.

After the speeches of congratulation, Speaker Carter will go to Government House to present his credentials and the House adjourns until the week after next.

The vote was 62-52.

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Speaker Elections

January 30th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key says he is expecting an acrimonious start to the political year – and the gloves are already off over the election of Parliament’s new Speaker.

Labour has indicated it will not support National’s nomination of Primary Industries Minister David Carter as Speaker when Lockwood Smith vacates the chair this week.

The Speaker’s role is always contested and this year’s nomination has seen more jostling than usual with Carter said to be a reluctant nomination, while National backbencher Tau Henare has been angling for the job over the opposition of his colleagues.

Henare stirred the pot further this morning after being asked how Carter would go in the role.

His response was “who?”, before adding: “S … that’ll start the year off well.”

Labour leader David Shearer said the Government had not consulted Labour over the nomination.

“Until that happens the gloves in a sense are off,” he said.

Shearer said the issue was about the functioning of parliament and Labour wanted to be taken seriously over who should be the referee – Key was not respecting the convention of consulting the Opposition.

Key said Labour had already made its feelings about Carter’s nomination clear. He expected the vote to be split but that was not unusual.

“I’ve seen it before in my time in Parliament,” the prime minister said.

In 2004 National rejected the nomination of Labour candidate Margaret Wilson.

The Greens and NZ First have also said they will not be voting for Carter, but what will be more interesting is whom they nominate or vote for as an alternative.

The last contested election for Speaker was in March 2005. Three candidates declared their nominations – Margaret Wilson, Clem Simich and Ken Shirley. They got 64, 37 and 5 votes respectively.

Meanwhile Claire Trevett interviews David Carter on his plans in the role:

National’s David Carter admits it will be “a big ask” to be non-partisan as Speaker but says it was a critical part of being the Speaker and he would give it all he had. …

Asked if he could be non-partisan, he acknowledged that was a challenge for all Speakers.

“In all honesty, having been a very political and active player for 18 years in this place, the transition I have to make if I’m elected as Speaker is to be completely without bias. That is a big ask but I will do it to the best of my endeavours.”

He said it was the mark of a good Speaker to be apolitical. …

Mr Carter said today he was looking forward to the job.

“It’s a great honour – a great challenge. I don’t expect it’s going to be an easy time in the House, but I’m really looking forward to it, if I am successful on Thursday.”

Lockwood got mauled a fair bit in his early days by Mallard and Cullen. I imagine it will be much the same for Carter. What will be more interesting is how things go around three months down the track, as things settle down.

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Clifton on Carter

January 28th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Jane Clifton writes:

The grandest, steepest ladder in this upheaval which to its ascender feels a lot like a snake, is that extended to outgoing Primary Industries Minister David Carter, who, to make room for the Cabinet “refresh”, has been frogmarched toward the Speaker’s chair.

It is no secret that David enjoyed being a Minister, and especially Primary Industries. And he was well liked and respected in that portfolio. So a few have joked that the traditional (from the days when an angry King might execute a Speaker) reluctance the nominee is expected to show will not be feigned :-)

It also pays well and ends in a knighthood or damehood if one isn’t a republican. But though several Nats – notably colourful old-timers Maurice Williamson and Tau Henare – would practically auction their grannies for the job, and in Williamson’s case probably do a cracking job, it’s an ill-kept secret that Carter’s first love is primary industries.

I think Maurice has the skills, humour and knowledge to be a good Speaker. However the decision is obviously linked to Cabinet renewal also.

But that is not to say that I think David Carter won’t do well. I recall that many people were skeptical of how Lockwood would do as Speaker, and Lockie was been simply outstanding. In one sense, Lockwood has made it harder for his successors.

He’s also not one of those MPs who has a particular fondness or feeling for Parliament as the endearingly idiosyncratic institution it is. A Speaker needs to be fast on his or her feet, and demonstrably even-handed. Carter is affable, but has always been sharply partisan.

I have to rarely disagree with Jane here. I don’t think David is sharply partisan. Certainly not within 100 miles of Jonathan Hunt and Margaret Wilson.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is specially resistant to the Carter speakership, which, given Winston’s genius for parliamentry disruption, is a combustible state of affairs.

Well that is because he sued Carter for defamation and failed. I don’t see why that should be held against Carter. Peters was no fan of Lockwood also – nursing a grudge because Lockwood beat him for the Kaipara nomination in 1983 or 1984.

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No Speaker Tau

December 8th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald writes:

National MP Tau Henare has indicated he has given up on the race to be the next Speaker, claiming the “scaredy cats” Maori Party had broken a promise to support his bid.

Mr Henare announced he intended to run for the Speaker’s position on Twitter in September – and yesterday he again turned to Twitter to send a signal he was about to end his campaign.

Their support was key. If all the opposition parties and the Maori Party vote together, then they have 60 votes. If Tau voted for himself he could have become Speaker by 61 votes to 60.

His tactics were bold and somewhat unprecedented. I doubt there ever has been a Speaker elected who didn’t receive a single vote from any of their party colleagues. It would have been a huge defeat for National to have a Speaker elected whom they did not support.

Not that I personally have any issues with Tau as Speaker. He’s funny and feisty and would throw Trevor and Winston out a lot – which has to be a plus.

However, Mr Henare was optimistic and had lobbied hard until yesterday when he tweeted that the Maori Party had now reneged on an undertaking to support him, which he said was critical to his decision to run in the first place.

“All I can say is maybe someone should start another Maori Party, maybe one that doesn’t renege on deals. Scaredy cats,” he tweeted.

He said he had that agreement in writing “and they still turned tail”.

I imagine they received some indication of how (un)successful their 2013 budget bids would be, if they voted for Tau.

Actually I don’t know what happened, but the reality in politics is government survive on trust and co-operation. The Maori Party probably worked out that humiliating the Government by electing a Speaker not supported by the Government (as far as I know no modern Speaker has ever been elected against the will of the Government) would seriously damage their relationships with Ministers and the Prime Minister.

The Maori Party co-leaders could not be contacted last night. Their support is unlikely to have been enough to get Mr Henare the job even with Labour’s support. The Speaker is voted on by Parliament and it is understood Henare was trying to persuade some of National’s caucus that they did not need to vote along party lines to try to make up the numbers he needed.

Labour MP Trevor Mallard said Labour had not yet decided who it would support for Speaker. Asked whether he had given any undertaking to Mr Henare, he said “I told him if we made a difference to the numbers, I’d take it to caucus”.

That would have been a fascinating discussion.

On Twitter, Mr Mallard had another job suggestion for Mr Henare, observing Mr Henare’s old job was up for grabs again – as deputy leader of NZ First.

Heh. They can hardly pick someone worse than the former deputy – Peter Brown!

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The next Speaker

October 22nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Sue Kedgley writes:

The worst-kept secret in Parliament is that the present Speaker, Dr Lockwood Smith, is retiring at the end of the year and heading to London to become our high commissioner there.

The assumption is that the new Speaker will be a National Party MP, because for some odd reason it has been an accepted convention that the Speaker should come from the ranks of the party that is in government.

It isn’t an odd reason. It is the norm in almost every country.

Why shouldn’t long-serving MPs with vast political experience who are not members of the Government, such as Annette King, Winston Peters and Phil Goff, be selected as the next Speaker?

I’m not against an opposition MP being Speaker. in fact in 2008 I suggested Michael Cullen would be an excellent Speaker. But Peters would be the worst Speaker ever, and you’d have to be demented to suggest him. Goff is far far too partisan to ever be accepted. I’d have no problem with Annette King as Speaker – she’d be pretty good.

But I expect the Government will vote for a National MP, because at the end of the day, why wouldn’t they?

In 1992, former Clerk of the House, Sir David McGee, recommended that, once selected, New Zealand Speakers should remain in office, regardless of any change in government, until they retired from Parliament.

That’s not a terrible idea, unless they are a terrible Speaker.

In 1999, three former Speakers recommended that Speakers should sever their connections with any political party, and remain in office, (usually unopposed in their electorate) as long as the House was satisfied with their performance. The Speakers also questioned the idea that the Speaker’s appointment should be seen to be at the disposal of the prime minister, and as serving the purposes of the government.

This is a more silly idea, as it means only electorate MPs could become Speaker.

Surely it’s time, in 2012, to take up these ideas, and stipulate that a Speaker, once appointed, should sever links with their political party and become an independent MP. Perhaps future Speakers should also be selected by secret ballot, and be required to give up their right to vote, other than to exercise a casting or a conscience vote.

I quite like the idea of a secret ballot, so that the vote is truly an independent one.  The suggestion though that they give up their right to vote undermines MMP and proportional representation as it means the party they came from gets one less vote.

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Trans-Tasman makes a rare mistake

September 13th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Trans-Tasman this week said:

Given the jockeying for the Speaker’s role inside National, why not offer the post to the man who has got a burning desire to preside over the House, deputy Speaker Ross Robertson? At one stroke, it could strengthen the coalition’s majority. After all, there’s a precedent, when Jim Bolger enticed Labour’s Peter Tapsell to take the Speaker’s chair back in 1993. On the other hand, it might be seen as just a tad too Machiavellian…….

Not machiavellian, just totally ineffective.

Trans-Tasman should know that the Speaker has had a deliberative vote since around 1996, when MMP came in. The party the Speaker comes from has no impact on the Government’s majority in the House.

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Over-hyping

September 11th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The headline in the Herald was:

Henare not up to the job, indicates PM

The first paragraph was:

Prime Minister John Key has given a brutal assessment of what he thinks of National MP Tau Henare’s qualifications for the job of Speaker.

So what brutal things did John Key say about Tau?

 Mr Key said National would work with other Parliamentary parties to find somebody who was acceptable to them

That’s it? Out of that statement you run a headline of PM indicates Henare “not up to the job” and call that a “brutal assessment”.

It is quite reasonable to do some analysis of context and speculate that the PM’s comments indicate he may not think Henare would be acceptable to other parties. Reading between the lines is part of the job.

But you can take that too far. In no way did the PM indicate Tau is “not up to the job” let alone make a “brutal assessment” of him. How can anyone call his fairly bland comment a brutal assessment? There is also a difference between being supported by other parties, and being “up to the job”. Before he became Speaker, Labour were very hesitant about Lockwood becoming Speaker – and he turned out to be brilliant.

A brutal assessment would be saying “MP X is not up to the job of Speaker, and would not be acceptable to Parliament”.

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Who will be the next Speaker?

September 10th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

National MP Tau Henare has put his hand up for the job of Speaker when Lockwood Smith leaves to become High Commissioner in London later in the year.

Mr Henare confirmed he was interested yesterday and said he had raised it with Prime Minister John Key.

He would not say what the response was – and Mr Key has also approached Maurice Williamson and David Carter.

Other names I hear mentioned are Anne Tolley and Peter Dunne. I do not believe Dunne wants the job. I also hear that David Carter’s preference is to remain a Minister, but will serve if needed.

If a Minister becomes Speaker, it is thought likely Nick Smith will be reappointed to the ministry. If Carter or Tolley become Speaker, then the vacancy would be in Cabinet. If Williamson becomes Speaker, then the vacancy would be outside Cabinet – and that might be seen as unsuitable for an MP of Nick’s experience.

Mr Henare is an outside chance – but believed he could do the job, including controlling the “argy bargy” of Parliament. Asked whether he had ever added to that “argy bargy” he admitted he had, but said that was valuable experience.

“I’ve spoken to people who’ve said, ‘That’s like giving the keys of the bank to the robber.’ I laughed at that, and I thought, ‘They might be right, but who better than someone who knows about how people operate in the House and enjoys the cut and thrust of the Debating Chamber.’

“What we are looking at is somebody who can handle the argy bargy, who can bring an amenable style, who enjoys the House and can see the serious side, but also the lighter-hearted side of the House as well.”

Tau is obviously campaigning on the poacher turned gamekeeper theory!

It would be nice if multiple candidates actually stood, so the House has a genuine election. But I suspect the National caucus will have an internal vote on a preferred candidate and all vote for that person.

Whomever does become Speaker will certainly have huge shows to fill. Lockwood had made a massive change in the way Parliament operates – and for the better. He will be missed.

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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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Peter Gibbons reflects on Question Time

August 14th, 2009 at 9:49 am by Peter Gibbons

When outraged observers talk about the behaviour of our politicians being worse than children, they have almost always just watched Question Time.  This is a vociferous and often fractious one-hour ritual played out on most House sitting days mainly for the benefit of the near-catatonic Press Gallery hovering above.

Having closely observed more Question Times than may be healthy, I’m still a little old-fashioned in the sense that I believe it is a critical part of a robust Parliamentary democracy.  Ministers are held to account and forced to justify their decisions under pressure.  For Opposition members, it can be a chance to raise issues and increase their profile.

Certainly, Question Time can be pedantic and petty, it can be nasty and noisy.  Listeners may struggle to hear what a Minister is saying over an orchestrated barrage of interjections but that is the rough and tumble nature of politics sometimes. 

During the nine-year term of the last Government there were two decisions by the Speaker which resulted in significant changes to how Question Time operated.  One was a significant improvement, the other, in my opinion, contributed to a drop in respect for Parliament as a whole.

The positive change which I will cover in this post was a seemingly minor ruling by Speaker Hunt that the National Opposition (as it was at the time) had a set number of supplementary questions. 

Both primary and supplementary questions are allocated proportionally and minor parties, depending on their size, may get only one or two questions (or even none) on any given day.  Largely by tradition at the time, National had two supplementaries for each of their primary questions and one supplementary on every other question on the order paper.  This meant that National was expected to ask a supplementary even on the most mundane Government patsy question – and they duly did.

This system operated unchallenged for a number of years.  One day, in the middle of a heated series of questions late in Question Time, Speaker Hunt refused to allow Nick Smith (from memory) to ask his second supplementary question which, up until that point, would have been standard procedure.  When pressed on his ruling, Speaker Hunt said effectively that National had used up their allocation of questions for the day based on their (low) number of seats in Parliament at that time.  It was pointed out to him quite strongly that the tradition was well established but the Speaker said he was bound only by Standing Orders.

At the time, very little was made of this ruling which appeared to be largely motivated by a desire to shut down a long-forgotten line of questioning on an issue which does not stick in my political memory.  It did however dramatically (if unintentionally) change the dynamic of Question Time. 

National was no longer obligated to ask supplementary questions on patsy questions or questions from other parties they had no interest in.  They were also no longer limited to two supplementaries on their own questions.  Instead, they could choose to almost “dog-pile” three, four, five, six questions onto what they thought was the biggest issue of the day.

It is fair to say that Labour ministers initially on the wrong end of the dog-pile were not overly enamoured with the new system.  The Opposition could keep asking questions on the issues of their choosing rather than having to think up and ask a worthwhile supplementary on the latest developments in Patagonian Toothfish quota management. 

While perhaps an unintended consequence of the original ruling, this change meant Question Time became more dynamic, more tactical and more focussed on the issues of the day.

In a future post, I will examine a later Speaker’s ruling which had quite the opposite effect.

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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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Lockie on Q&A

March 29th, 2009 at 2:56 pm by David Farrar

I missed watching it live, but have now viewed the second segment of Q&A online. The guest was Lockwood Smith (and his fiancee).

The panel discussion afterwards was very interesting. It was Therese Arseneau, Paul Holmes, Ron Mark and Laila Harre. They were all very approving of Lockwood’s decision to try and get Ministers to answer the question, if it is a straight forward primary question.

Laila made an interesting point, about why this may have happened. She said that Lockwood is not personally or politically very close to the National Party Leadership. She contrasted that to Margaret Wilson and Jonathan Hunt who were both extremely close to Clark. In fact we got told how every time she had been in the Speaker’s office, Clark had phoned Hunt while she was there. There is a certain incompatability with being a senior advisor to the PM, and being the Speaker. And we saw that when we had the disgraceful collusion over Harry Duynhoven’s status as an MP.

Lockie I am sure values his own public reputation more than making life too easy for his colleagues. Hence why he has tried to change some things. And ironically I think it actually benefits National also, even though some weaker Ministers may find it hard going. The public see a Government as very arrogant when it refuses to answer even the most simple questions. It loses votes eventually.

What I have found interesting is that Lockie has actually introduced a number of changes, not just redefining the line between addressing and answering the questions. They are:

  1. Playing “advantage”. This was referred to as a light handed regulatory approach with clear boundaries, but I see it as a rugby analogy where he concentrates more on kepping the game flowing, rather than penalising every technical infringement. Several times I have heard him say something along the lines of giving the Opposition more supplementaries because a Minister went on too long. So rather than pul everyone up, he is just striving for a reasonably fair process.
  2. The previously referred to moving the boundary between addressing and answering the question
  3. Is cracking down on points or order that are not points or order. Winston used to be the biggest offender at that – I would say only around 2% of his points or order were legitimate, but Wilson would never pull him up.
  4. Discouraging tabling of documents just to be able to read out what it is. He can not stop anyone seeking leave to do so, but has tried to shame MPs by pointing out whenever they seek leave that they are abusing the process and leave should only be sought for documents not already available to MPs. And this seems to have had some effect on reducing such tabling requests
  5. Time – it has been many years since question time took only an hour. Hell Helen called a snap election in 2002 because of a few extra minutes a day of question time. In the last two years it was routinely taking around 100 minutes. It is now a lot closer to 60 again.

TVNZ also has online the transcript of the interview with Judith Collins.

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Praise for Lockwood

February 11th, 2009 at 6:56 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong praises Lockwood Smith for what he calls his “democratic bombshell”:

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!

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Dom Post on Speaker

December 9th, 2008 at 1:38 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post Editorial also calls for an improvement in question time:

In theory, question time is one of the cornerstones of a parliamentary democracy, The Dominion Post writes. It gives the Opposition an opportunity to hold Government ministers publicly accountable for their stewardship of their portfolios.

In practice it is a farce. Names are called, tempers fray and points of order are endlessly relitigated.

As we saw today, with stupidity over electing the Deputy Speaker.

The root cause of many of the shenanigans is the standing order that requires ministers to “address” questions, but does not require them to answer them.

Instances happen every day.

Take just one example. In September, ACT leader Rodney Hide attempted to quiz then broadcasting minister Trevor Mallard about a 2004 TVNZ interview in which serious allegations were made about fishing company Simunovich Fisheries. The broadcast could be viewed on a blogger’s website, he informed Parliament. Had Mr Mallard seen the site or received any reports about it?

Mr Mallard responded by referring him to a different site that had nothing to do with the matters raised by Mr Hide, but ridiculed National leader John Key.

Mr Hide complained. Speaker Margaret Wilson ruled in Mr Mallard’s favour. “The member may not be satisfied with the answer and others will judge the quality of it, but it was addressing the question of blogs.”

The blog in question was Whale Oil, incidentally. But it is a good example. Serious criminal allegations involving perjury to a select committee were the topic of the question, and the Minister treated it as a joke and wouldn’t even give a straight answer to whether he had seen the leaked tape.

It would be naive to think that National ministers, who have spent the past nine years suffering at Labour’s hands, were now going to turn the other cheek and answer questions in a straightforward manner. But new Speaker Lockwood Smith will do himself and his National Party a favour if he insists on a greater degree of relevancy in ministerial answers.

Indeed.

A Speaker’s reputation is inextricably linked with that of the Parliament over which he or she presides. A government’s reputation is influenced by the way its members conduct themselves in the debating chamber – the theatre in which their actions receive the greatest scrutiny. That is something Labour forgot at its cost during its last term in office.

Labour’s sense of entitlement was very vivid in their last term.

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Goff on Speakers

November 21st, 2008 at 1:07 pm by David Farrar

NZPA report:

Mr Goff today repeated criticism of National leader John Key’s decision to nominate as Speaker Lockwood Smith, whom he believes is too partisan to be fair.

This is nonsense, especially coming from the party that appointed Jonathan Hunt and Margaret Wilson to the Speakership. Someone should challenge Goff to explain how Smith would be more partisan than Hunt or Wilson?

He also said National intended to appoint Lindsay Tisch as deputy speaker.

He must read my blog, as that fact went unreported until I highlighted it from the video of the press conference :-)

Both Dr Smith and Mr Tisch missed out on Cabinet roles and Mr Goff said the appointments were to placate the long-serving MPs rather than choosing the right person for the job.

Now here Goff is on stronger ground than the nonsense about Lockwood being too partisan. It is a political reality that there not being room for them in Cabinet is a strong factor in why they are the nominees for Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

But this does not mean they will not prove to be sound choices. Doug Kidd was made Speaker in 1996, basically because they needed room in Cabinet for new Ministers. But Kidd went on to be an excellent Speaker.

And let us remember Labour made Ann Hartley Deputy Speaker, and she was a disaster.

He said the roles were being treated as “a dumping ground for those that can’t get into Cabinet” and thought MPs like Eric Roy and John Carter were better choices.

Eric and John would be very sound choices, and there are factors such as Cabinet inclusion at work. But those in glasshouses should not throw stones. Here is who Labour is putting up for Assistant Speaker:

Labour would have nominated Rick Barker for the role.

Asked why Mr Robertson was not considered, Mr Goff said while he was fond of the role he had other talents, had been appointed as spokesman in several areas and was a useful local MP.

Now could anyone claim Barker would be better than Robertson who is widely respected? Of course not. So Goff is guilty of exactly what he accuses National of.

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Who will be Speaker?

November 15th, 2008 at 11:27 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports four contenders for Speaker. They are:

  1. Lockwood Smith
  2. John Carter
  3. Eric Roy
  4. Richard Worth

They each have their own claims for the job. Lockwood is National’s longest serving MP. John Carter has been a Whip for many years, knowing Standing Orders well. Eric Roy was a very popular Assistant Speaker and Richard Worth would being a first class legal talent to the role.

This may dismay some, but I think Michael Cullen would also be a damn good Speaker. But I think his latest game playing over Treasury accounts has killed off any chance that he could be seen to make the transition from partisan player to referee.

As for the four candidates, it will presumably go to a National Caucus decision and then the preferred candidate checked with coalition partners.

But wouldn’t it be nice if it was left to the House as a whole to decide? If all parties would agree not to apply the whip and allow a free vote, then they could have a preferential ballot as allowed for in Standing Order 19. It would be fascinating to see all MPs vote from their seats.

I presume two of the unsucessful candidates will probably become Assistant Speakers and that Labour’s Ross Robertson will be Deputy Speaker.

UPDATE: Mallard is against Lockwood being Speaker. That probably helps Lockwood immensely.

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Speaker Smith?

November 12th, 2008 at 7:39 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner speculates that Lockwood Smith will be made Speaker.

Lockie is a former host of W3, so I guess that will be good training :-)

Colin also predicts portfolios:

  • Welfare: Paula Bennett
  • Corrections/Police: Judith Collins
  • Justice: Simon Power
  • Education: Anne Tolley
  • Health: Tony Ryall
  • Trade: Tim Groser
  • Foreign: Murray McCully
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A National-led Cabinet

November 6th, 2008 at 10:33 am by David Farrar

Audrey Young looks at possible roles in a National Government:

United Future leader Peter Dunne would be the prime contender for Speaker if National formed the Government after Saturday’s election, the Herald understands.

I’ve heard of this possibility for some months. It depends I suspect on how well United Future goes. If only Peter is returned, then Speaker would make a lot of sense. If he gets one or more MPs coming back with him, a Ministerial role makes more sense. For my 2c I think Peter could be a very good Speaker, and very impartial. But he has also proven himself as a competent Minister.

Act leader Rodney Hide could be put in charge of prisons – as well as Inland Revenue.

Hell that is a good idea. Rodney could well sort out Corrections and I love the idea of him being in charge of IRD! It would also allow ACT input into tax policy which I fully support.

And new National MPs Steven Joyce and Hekia Parata could leap-frog incumbent members straight into the Cabinet.

The day they announced Steven’s list ranking, I concluded he would go straight into Cabinet. I’ve also regarded Hekia as the only other new entrant who could credibly go straight in. Not as certain as Steven but definitely a possibility.

If, however, National or Labour needed a support agreement with the Maori Party, co-leader Pita Sharples would be likely to get Maori Affairs and Associate Education.

The Maori Party co-leader, Tariana Turia, would be likely to get a portfolio within the Ministry of Social Development, and Associate Health.

Tariana in welfare would be great. And Sharples in Maori Affairs could lead a devolution of government spending in key areas to Maori providers rather than the state.

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