They’re at it Again
Remember the Electoral Finance Act? This assault on democracy was the Clark Government’s epitaph (ACT’s John Boscawen helped it into its grave with enormous Queen St Marches for Democracy). Well, the Labour party are attacking democracy again.
In Over His Head
Education Minister Chris Hipkins is already overloaded. Not only is he the Education Minister but also the Leader of the House, a position usually held by a big gun like Gerry Brownlee. He is feeling the pressure. Free Press has seen petulant correspondence from Hipkins unbecoming of a student, let alone an Education Minister. A good teacher would smack his little bum.
What’s the Issue?
The Government is trying to bully parliament out of holding it accountable by cutting back select committees. Because they expanded the number of Ministers and Under-Secretaries to a record 31, they’ve gotten short of MPs to sit on Select Committees. Their solution? Just reduce the number of MPs from all parties on Select Committees.
Skip this Bit if You Don’t Want the Details
In the last parliament there were 13 regular Select Committees with 120 seats. Roughly, 60 for the Government and 60 for the opposition. This was hard work for the Government, because Ministers generally don’t sit on committees so the 60-odd Government seats were filled by only 35 people (plus Under-Secretary Seymour, always a good sport). By appointing a record 31 MPs to Ministerial and Under-Secretarial posts, they’ve left only 32 Government non-executive MPs to fill all of the select committee slots. This is why they want to reduce the Select Committees down to 12 committees of 8, meaning 96 seats. About 46 of these go to National and ACT MPs, but there are 57 of us. That means 11 members of parliament will not sit on Select Committees.
Taxpayer Loses Again
When New Zealand got rid of its Upper House of Parliament, Select Committees were supposed to do the job of scrutinising the Government’s work. They are important and make up about a 1/3 of a back bench MP’s workload (the other thirds being electorate work and debating in the House). The New Government is making sure that 11 MPs will be idle for a third of the time.
$11 Million Dollar Waste
As a rule of thumb an MP costs a million dollars a year once you allow for staff, offices, flights, and so on. If eleven MPs lose a third of their job for three years then the Government has just wasted $11 million.
Much Bigger Waste
Of course, that is not the real waste. It is a record 31 Ministers and undersecretaries with their wild tax-and-spend policies, held accountable by fewer and smaller select committies. Taxpayers will pay and pay as a super-sized Government attempts to bully the very institution of Parliament that’s there to hold it accountable.
The new Leader of the House can’t have spent much time reading standing orders. If all parties do not agree on procedural matters like establishing Select Committees, then they go to time-unlimited parliamentary debates. ACT has always been an opposition party, and we cannot wait to get stuck in.
Meanwhile, it has been suggested that the Government should get the majority of the speaking time in Parliament and ACT, none at all. When asked which MP irritates her the most, Jacinda Ardern named David Seymour as ‘getting under her skin.’ Trying to silence ACT in parliament is not only a constitutional outrage but will lead to another time-unlimited debate from ACT and National. At this rate, the first weeks of the Ardern Prime Ministership will be a circus.
A word to the Wise
The inexperienced Leader of the House should think carefully about the tradition he is inheriting. Westminster Parliaments are designed to restrain tyranny and, with the possible exception of the American system, they are peerless. Built up over centuries in the Standing Orders and Speakers’ Rulings are a gauntlet of traps for young players a little sick of self love, and the opposition will be using them widely. After all, what’s the point in inheriting an institution like Parliament if you’re not going to use it?