The right of response

As I am a sad git with no life, I sometimes read the list of papers presented to for fun. Yes I do need to get out more often. Does an Abba concert tomorrow count? Though not.

Anyway amongst the papers this week, was a response from an Elspeth Buchanan, which had been accepted by the Speaker. This is not widely known but if an MP says stuff about you in Parliament, well you can’t sue them as they have privilege, but you can apply to the Speaker to have a response incorporated into the official record. This is quite rare though, hence I was interested in what it was about, as I had never heard of . Her response said:

On Tuesday, 6 September 2011, Hon referred to me by name during the committee stage of the Trade Marks (International Treaties and Enforcement) Amendment Bill. In his speech, Hon Pete Hodgson mentioned that I had commented on the bill when it was being considered by a select committee. His comments on my professional competence and my alleged opinions about the bill make me out to be both dishonest, as being in favour of sales of infringing and counterfeit products, and incompetent.

Mr Hodgson’s comments about me are incorrect and have considerable potential to damage my professional reputation. At no time have I advocated that there should be no restriction on the importation into New Zealand or sale in New Zealand of counterfeit or infringing goods. Rather, I have simply made submissions on the most effective way to restrain the importation or sale of infringing or counterfeit goods. Further, the derogatory comments made by Mr Hodgson as to my professional responsibilities and professional competence are wrong and completely without foundation.

This got me curious as to what Hodgson had said. While I have time for a lot of Labour MPs, I have to say Pete Hodgson was not one of them, as he was a chief muckraker. Normally though his target is other MPs.

Ms Buchanan’s firm of patent attorneys made a submission on the Trade Marks (International Treaties and Enforcement) Amendment Bill. The submission is here. It seems fairly unremarkable. There is no record of what Ms Buchanan said at her oral submission, but it was obviously something that Hodgson didn’t like.

Now look at Hodgson’s speech during the committee stage of the House debate. He refers to Buchanan no less than nine times, everytime in a derogatory way, such as:

Let me tell members what patent attorney Elspeth Buchanan has to say about these matters. “Patent attorney Elspeth Buchanan”—the newspaper tells us breathlessly—“knows how hard it is to tell knock-offs from the real thing.” It then quotes her as saying this: “ ‘I’ve been judging trademark infringements for 40 years professionally,’ ”—so Elspeth Buchanan is in her later years—“ ‘and I often can’t tell between the genuine and the fake,’ she said.” That is a pity, because that is what she is paid for. It is a bit of a shame, but anyway, there we are. She said that she has devoted her entire life to telling one from the other and she cannot, so I just wish her a really happy retirement, I do. It is just a shame that she has spent her life not being able to do what she is being paid to do.

That is such a nasty characterisation of what she may have said. You have to wonder if she dated him one at high school, and dumped him, he seems so nasty about her. the jibes about her age, how she should retire and the implication of incompetence.

We think Elspeth Buchanan is wrong, with a capital “R”. We think that Elspeth Buchanan should stand in favour of action against counterfeiters and people who are cheats and liars and stuff like that. She is a lawyer! She went to a law school, and she is letting these cheats and liars off. It is a disgrace.

And that is even worse. No wonder the Speaker allowed a response.

I highlight this matter not just to take a swipe at Hodgson (that is just an added bonus). I highlight it because I think Hodgson’s behaviour is hugely against the public interest.

We want citizens to make submissions to select committees. Generally we have an excellent select committee process. I am one of those who often submits on bills, and appreciates it is a bit of a privilege (but also a right) to be able to address MP directly on issues of concern. I have to say too I have always appreciated the fact that generally MPs from other parties have engaged with me on the issues, and I have always felt I got a good hearing.

But if submitters think that merely by saying what they think to a select committee will end up with them being abused and slandered in the House of Representative, it will deter people from submitting. Look at what Hodgson said about Buchanan, and think about whether you would want to risk having comments like that made about you, as a consequence of exercising your right to make a submission? Especially, when Hodgson’s comments come up second highest in a Google NZ search on your name. Hugely damaging.

I am not suggesting that MPs should not comment on what submitters said, and why they disagree with them. But what Hodgson said, and the way he said it, was grossly abusive and unfair. It also confirms all my previous prejudices about him.

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