Parliament’s powerful Finance and Expenditure Committee has collapsed at its first meeting with accusations flying between the two major parties over whose fault it is.
Under Parliament’s strict procedural rules, the entire schedule for the committee has had to be abandoned because a quorum was not obtained.
But why a quorum was not obtained is now the subject of fierce debate, with neither side conceding ground over who was at fault.
National’s MPs on the select committee maintain the meeting was killed because only “four out of seven” Government MPs showed up on time.
Once again Labour shows a new level of incompetence. There is nothing more basic than getting MPs to turn up on time to select committees. All other Governments have managed it. Excuses such as an MP was sick is just that – an excuse. The whips would have known this in advance and their job is to assign a replacement.
Now, the prime minister has been forced to weigh in and chastise her MPs for failing to show up on time.
“My expectation is they do their jobs and there are no excuses,” she said.
“I absolutely have an expectation that MPs fulfil their roles and requirements while they are in this complex.”
I understand this is not the first time – that Government MPs are habitually late.
Aside from more than 20 members of the public who had taken time off work to give evidence and submit on some of the items, Finance Minister Grant Robertson was also scheduled to appear in front of the committee later in the day, as well as Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn and his officials.
These meetings are some of the only occasions at which ministers are required to front to MPs to be held accountable for their agencies’ business.
A quorum might have been obtained had the National MPs stepped back inside the room. But serious constitutional questions have been raised over whether Opposition MPs should outnumber Government MPs on such a powerful committee in anything other than the rarest of circumstances.
Under standing orders, a meeting has to have a quorum and that has to be obtained no later than 10 minutes after the meeting is scheduled to start. After that 10 minute deadline the meeting has to be abandoned, effectively because there is too much business before Parliament that cannot be delayed.
But National made the wrong decision to not assist the Government in getting a quorum. Sure you want to make the Government look incompetent, but you forgot that it stuffs over members of the public who have gone to some time and expense to appear. The submitters interests should have come first.
The public hate this sort of stuff, and the arguing over who is at fault – hence they conclude a pox on both their houses. Labour won’t be defeated because the public care they are late to a select committee. Labour will be defeated because they are not delivering on housing, health and education.
What National would have been smarter to do is use the absence of Government MPs to seize temporary control of the committee and elect one of their own as Chairperson. Another possibility would be to vote to hold an inquiry into something the Government opposes. That would teach the Government a lesson, without dicking over the submitters.