Government incompetence in the House strikes again

Two more examples in the last 24 hours of how the Government is failing to get even the most basic details of House management right.

We saw this last year also when they were so disorganised they had to filibuster their own legislation to slow it down. But they are now nine months into Government and still struggling with the most basic stuff.

A lot of Government work is complex, challenging and difficult. And it rings warning bells when the Government is failing at handling the stuff which is simple and straight forward.

The first example is reported by Stuff:

“Human error” caused the Green Party to leave an oral question empty today, as two new resignations hit their back office.

Question number eight – one of the few Questions every week reserved for the Green Party – was not received by the 10.30am deadline on Wednesday.

Co-leader Marama Davidson said this was the result of “human error” in their Parliamentary office, acknowledging some “teething issues” as the party transferred into Government.

They’ve been in Government almost nine months. And regardless of that in Parliament for 18 years. As a former staffer let me tell you that on house sittings days there is a total focus on oral questions. You always have an early morning meeting to decide what to ask, and then research staff write it up and file it. How you can have a dozen or more staff and not get a question in on time is beyond me. Especially when it is your sole question. It is harder when you have say half a dozen as you have to get them all done and all signed off by different MPs.

But the bigger issue is the sudden announcement by the Government that the House was to go into urgency last night.

There was absolutely no advance notice of this by the Government. MPs at 9.30 pm at night were planning on the House resuming at 2 pm today, and suddenly they learn at 9.35 pm that the House will be in urgency and resuming at 9.00 am.

The issue isn’t so much using urgency for a couple of tax bills, but the fact there was no notice or even hint of it. Normally the Government will either inform other parties through the Business Committee or through the Business Statement.

So not only was there no notice of urgency being required, but you have a Government so incompetent that only last night did they realise they may not get their tax bill passed by 1 July (when it was due to come into force). The Leader of the House should have been over this weeks ago, and should have been able to advise at least last week of the need for urgency.

Actually a competent Government would have placed these bills higher up the order paper, so they don’t even get close to the 1 July date. The Government decides the order.

Now again this is basic House Management 101. It isn’t rocket science. If the Government isn’t even up to being able to schedule bills properly, well it speaks for itself.

Now to make things even worse, the Government attempted to shut down debate on the bill. Yes, they really did. Here’s what happened. Jami-Lee Ross moved:

That it be an instruction to the Committee of the whole House on the Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill that all members wishing to speak that have already spoken in Part 2 have the ability to have a full four calls reset to zero so each member is able to restart their speaking number.

Now this motion isn’t as significant as you might think because actually it doesn’t extend the time available for debate. It allows an individual member to seek more calls, but it is the presiding officer who decides when to accept a closure motion. If the Government was smart it wouldn’t have even bothered opposing it as it really makes little difference to how long the committee stage debate would go on for.

But instead Chris Hipkins moved an amendment:

That the motion be amended to delete all the words after “That” and replace them with “That it be an instruction to the committee that the remaining questions on the Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill be put without further debate.

Yep the Leader of the House is trying to use the Government majority to remove the right of the Committee of the House to scrutinise and debate individual clauses and parts. That is almost unprecedented and outrageous. Basically and act of desperation as he has left things so late, he resorts to trying to stop the House scrutinise the legislation.

This is an attempted abuse of urgency far worse than probably any Government since Muldoon has done. And recall how Labour used to complain about just normal use of urgency. They are now trying to have a new form of urgency – one without debate.

This morning Hipkins withdrew his amendment as even the stupidest Minister must realise how awful this attempt to stop the Committee of the House scrutinising a bill looks. But it doesn’t change the fact he did try. Basically he lashed out under pressure and scored a huge own goal.

The Government has also been lashed somewhat by the Speaker who noted:

While I’m on my feet saying how things should work, in Speakers’ Rulings there’s a very good Speaker’s ruling from one of the previous Assistant Speakers in the last Parliament on how Parliament should work during the committee stages. What that says is, effectively, if reasonable questions are asked, the Minister should answer them. That will not lengthen the debate; that will shorten the debate. My view is that if Ministers had done that, this debate would have finished on Tuesday, and we wouldn’t be here in this situation now.

So again a stuff up by the Government.

The mismanagement by the Government has of course antognised the Opposition, who will now extend the committee stage out as long as possible.

It could all have been avoided with better scheduling by the Government, and if they had given an indication of urgency in advance.

Chris Hipkins is in theory very capable. But it has been apparent for some time he is not coping with his workload of Education, Tertiary Education, State Services, Ministerial Services and Leader of the House.

The PM really needs to do a reshuffle and find someone competent (a tough ask admittedly) to take one or more portfolios off him so stuff ups like this don’t keep occurring.