Mal­lard’s worst slip his wardrobe mal­func­tion

Ques­tion Time rules set scene for Speaker’s maiden voy­age

Weekend Herald - - Claire Trevett -

When MPs re­turned to Par­lia­ment this week, they dis­cov­ered Je­sus and the Queen had left the build­ing and the ba­bies had ar­rived.

The new Speaker, Trevor Mal­lard, had stripped out ref­er­ences to Je­sus and the Queen in the te reo Maori ver­sion of the prayer that be­gins each ses­sion of Par­lia­ment.

Only Almighty God re­mained. Mal­lard also aban­doned the pre­tence of be­ing “dragged” up to do the job and im­ple­mented a de­ci­sion to al­low ba­bies (other than MPs) into the de­bat­ing cham­ber.

The first of those was Labour MP Wil­low Jean Prime’s 3-month-old, Heeni, who has now spent more time in the new Par­lia­ment than NZ First leader Win­ston Pe­ters.

Al­low­ing ba­bies into the cham­ber was ac­tu­ally a de­ci­sion made last year by a com­mit­tee of all par­ties, but Mal­lard is not one to miss out on claim­ing credit where he can.

He did that by hold­ing Heeni in the Speaker’s chair dur­ing a de­bate on the Paid Parental Leave Bill — some­thing that may come back to bite him when he tries to cas­ti­gate an­other MP for us­ing a prop in the House.

Each Speaker brings his or her own touch to Par­lia­ment, cos­met­i­cally and in more sig­nif­i­cant ways. Mal­lard set­tled on wear­ing his aca­demic gown.

That is an ill-fit­ting piece of cos­tume that falls off ev­ery time he stands up caus­ing great mirth among the MPs.

That has re­sulted in the words “[gown slips from shoul­ders]” ap­pear­ing re­peat­edly in Hansard.

Be­yond the wardrobe mal­func­tions and ba­bies, the first Ques­tion Time also de­liv­ered the type of dis­ci­pline Mal­lard in­tended to ap­ply to min­is­ters answering ques­tions — some­thing both Na­tional and Labour would be con­cerned about.

The Na­tional Party on show at Ques­tion Time was not the bruised, sulk­ing mess Labour might have hoped for.

There are some sour grapes at the plight it has found it­self in — it is now ar­gu­ing while the Labour-led Gov­ern­ment is nu­mer­i­cally le­git­i­mate, its poli­cies do not have a wide man­date be­cause Labour se­cured 38 per cent of the vote to Na­tional’s 44.

But when it comes to get­ting on with its new job, the key peo­ple in Na­tional have adapted sur­pris­ingly quickly to Op­po­si­tion.

Only one — Ju­dith Collins — ap­pears to be ac­tu­ally en­joy­ing it but so far this Op­po­si­tion is not the same as that dis­patched to Op­po­si­tion by Labour in 1999 or when Labour was then sent pack­ing in 2008.

Shane Jones rather bru­tally pre­dicted it could not last, di­ag­nos­ing Na­tional as be­ing in shock. “It will grow as they learn about the lone­li­ness, the ir­rel­e­vance and, bit by bit, the pub­lic in­dif­fer­ence which will re­veal to them how ac­tu­ally lonely they are.”

The last Na­tional Op­po­si­tion mas­tered the art of foren­sic ques­tion­ing in Par­lia­ment and English was one of its finest prac­ti­tion­ers.

His first at­tempt showed that skill could eas­ily be re­vived. Collins too man­aged to cause some blushes.

Those with­out prior ex­pe­ri­ence in Op­po­si­tion such as Steven Joyce and Si­mon Bridges strug­gled more.

Na­tional is con­sid­er­ing get­ting in some of the vet­er­ans of ques­tion­ing — such as Sir Lock­wood Smith or Tony Ryall — to pro­vide some train­ing.

The time for that type of at­tack ques­tion­ing will come.

It used the first Ques­tion Time not so much for at­tack as an ini­tial probe of which min­is­ters might lack the abil­ity to with­stand the white heat in the fu­ture.

It was also a bid to get Labour min­is­ters to make com­mit­ments that Na­tional could use to slap them about the chops with later if they failed to meet them.

It got lit­tle of the lat­ter, al­though it prob­a­bly learned Grant Robert­son will be no pushover while Kelvin Davis could be vul­ner­a­ble once he can no longer get away with say­ing sim­ply that an­swers will be given “in due course”.

At the mo­ment, things are evenly bal­anced.

Labour, NZ First and Green min­is­ters have just got ac­cess to their pre­de­ces­sors’ pa­per­work and the dirty lit­tle se­crets in them — such as Hous­ing Min­is­ter Phil Twyford’s dis­cov­ery of the 45,000 hous­ing short­fall in Auck­land.

But Na­tional’s for­mer min­is­ters also know those port­fo­lios in­side out.

Done right, Ques­tion Time can be used with dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect by an Op­po­si­tion.

But that also re­quires some­thing of an ac­com­plice in the Speaker.

Over the ages, Speak­ers have im­posed dif­fer­ent de­mands on the stan­dard of an­swers they ex­pect min­is­ters to fur­nish.

Na­tional was al­ways sore when it was last in Op­po­si­tion that min­is­ters got away with giv­ing the fee­blest of an­swers to ques­tions.

They were al­most more ag­grieved when they got into Gov­ern­ment to dis­cover Sir Lock­wood Smith now ex­pected them to give more ro­bust an­swers and oc­ca­sion­ally forced them to do so. In that re­spect, Na­tional at least was sat­is­fied with the maiden voy­age of Mal­lard al­though Labour may be con­cerned Mal­lard will ride them par­tic­u­larly hard to en­sure he is not ac­cused of bias.

Mal­lard set out new rules in ad­vance. The most en­cour­ag­ing was his new sys­tem of re­wards and pun­ish­ment by way of strip­ping a party of ques­tions or award­ing them ex­tra ones.

He made it clear he ex­pected min­is­ters not to dodge ques­tions: “Where no at­tempt is made to pro­vide an in­for­ma­tive re­ply, I’m likely to award the ques­tioner ad­di­tional sup­ple­men­tary ques­tions.”

Mal­lard also made sure that Labour was the first he pun­ished, award­ing Na­tional two ex­tra ques­tions and Act one af­ter Labour MPs in­ter­jected while they were ask­ing ques­tions.

While there was an out­pour­ing of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Mal­lard af­ter his first ref­er­ee­ing stint, it was also made clear that not all was for­got­ten.

Na­tional’s Nick Smith launched into a tirade over Mal­lard’s old sins, say­ing he had been one of the most par­ti­san MPs in Par­lia­ment, pushed the bound­aries hard, was in­volved in fisticuffs and was one of the worstbe­hav­ing MPs in Par­lia­ment’s his­tory.

“His chal­lenge is to change his leop­ard spots, to turn from be­ing the poacher to be­ing the game­keeper.”

When Shane Jones later ob­jected to Smith say­ing some “gra­tu­itous and un­wise things” about Mal­lard, Deputy Speaker Anne Tol­ley said Jones was pos­si­bly right but none of what Smith had said was nec­es­sar­ily un­true.

Ev­ery long jour­ney starts with a sin­gle step and for the time be­ing, Mal­lard is hav­ing enough trou­ble mas­ter­ing his gown with­out wor­ry­ing about his spots.

Labour, NZ First and Green min­is­ters have just got ac­cess to their pre­de­ces­sors’ pa­per­work and the dirty lit­tle se­crets in them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.