Raymond Huo, a Labour MP, officially celebrated this year’s New Zealand Chinese Language Week by reading the Parliamentary prayer in Mandarin at 2pm on Tuesday.
News of the reading was contained in a press release from Silvereye Communications and is recorded at Hansard, but news media seem not to have paid much heed (at least, Point of Order found no media report of what transpired in a Google search).
It didn’t escape the critical attention of economist Michael Reddell, however, who posted his thoughts in an item headed Shame on our MPs.
Yesterday at the start of Parliament’s sitting day, the prayer was read in Chinese by Labour MP, Raymond Huo. This was apparently in recognition of the PRC-government sponsored Chinese language week.
There are three “official” languages in New Zealand: English, Maori, and sign language. Chinese is not one of those languages, so why is it being used as an official part of parliamentary proceeedings in this country?
If Raymond Huo is disappointed he did not win more headlines with his prayer reading, Point of Order reminds him of questions put to him last month which – who knows? – may well have earned him a place in one of the headlines here on our blog.
The questions were prompted by a press release from the End-of-Life Choice Society on August 16 headed MP accused of being rude and aggressive in select committee hearings.
The statement advised that the society had lodged a formal complaint about MP Maggie Barry, accusing her of being rude and aggressive in select committee hearings on assisted dying.
Society president Maryan Street had complained about Barry’s “trademark rudeness and discourtesy” in a letter to Justice Select Committee chairman Raymond Huo.
The letter was tabled with the committee at Parliament.
Street said many members of her society had registered their concern at the MP’s treatment of them when they made submissions to the committee on David Seymour’s End of Life Choice bill.
For many people, this had been their first experience of making a personal submission before a select committee and Barry had turned it “into a tortuous one”, she claimed..
“They have come away feeling unheard and diminished. That should not be the outcome of any submitter’s experience of presenting to a select committee.”
Allegations about Barry’s behaviour were also aired on Stuff under the heading National MP Maggie Barry accused of bias during euthanasia hearings. The report said:
A euthanasia advocate has lodged a complaint against National MP Maggie Barry, saying she has been “disparaging to submitters” on the contentious End of Life Choice Bill.
Dr Jack Havill, a retired intensive care specialist, lodged the complaint after viewing interactions between Barry, who has been vocal in her opposition to the Bill, and oral submitters at a hearing in Hamilton.
“I do not maintain she should not have opinions against the Bill, but the public expects her to act impartially in her role as deputy chair [of the justice select committee],” he said.
“Our opinion is she should resign from the position as deputy chair because she is heavily compromised.”
Stuff reported Bets Blake, a retired palliative care nurse with 52 years’ experience, as describing the making of an oral submission to the committee as “traumatic“.
“I was reluctant to do an oral submission. Maggie demonstrated an interest in what submitters opposing the bill were saying, smiling and nodding at them,” Blake said.
“At the end of their submissions she thanked them. She didn’t challenge them at all. If they cited statistics, these weren’t challenged.”
Stuff went on to report that, near the end of Blake’s submission, Barry got up from her seat to get a refreshment.
“I felt she was dismissive of people who held an alternative view. I went back to my seat feeling upset and angry. It was an awful and tortuous experience.”
Barry was reported as saying the hearings had been harrowing and difficult, but she was “considerate” to all views.
“I respect the process and debating the issue. I’ve spent many hundreds of hours hearing this. It’s tough hearing it and saying it, and I’m aware of this and treat people with absolute respect.”
She also said it was up to all MPs on select committees to ensure submitters get a fair hearing and submissions are heard and tested, and any resulting legislation reflects feedback.
“It is not up to lobby groups who are campaigning on an issue to try and force MPs whose views they don’t agree with to stand down.”
The justice select committee received a record 35,000 written submissions on the bill and has toured the country to hear 3500 submitters appearing in person.
MPs’ behaviour on select committees and codes of conduct to govern it raises interesting questions.
Point of Order’s Bob Edlin accordingly wrote to Huo on August 17, seeking confirmation that, as chairman of the Justice Select Committee, he had received a letter from Maryan Street which complained about Maggie Barry.
Did you receive this letter and – if so – what procedure will be followed to act on it?
Do you think the alleged disrespect to submitters from a committee member reflects on you as chairman of the committee?
Huo has not yet replied.
But on September 4 he did respond to a letter to him from Maryan Street dated August 12. The time lag suggests that maybe he has a heavy in-tray of correspondence to deal with and therefore Edlin should wait patiently …
He told Street:
Select committees do not consider complaints about MPs. They are constrained from doing so under Standing Order 200. Subject to the House’s rules, MPs largely have freedom to carry out their parliamentary duties as they see fit, and are politically accountable. The conduct of MPs in parliamentary proceedings can be formally examined only on the referral of a question of privilege. No such matter has been raised.
The Chairperson or other members presiding over a meeting must balance the committee’s inherent nature as a political forum with other interests, so that
* meetings are facilitated so time is used effectively
* participants in parliamentry processes are treated fairly and respectfully, and
* parliament engages well with the public and democratic participation is is encouraged.
All members of the Justice Committee acknowledge that the End of Life Choice Bill raises very sensitive issues. We also recognise that it takes courage for submitters to give voice to their perspectives and, in many cases, convey their deeply emotional experience to MPs in a public forum.
Similar advice was given by Speaker Trevor Mallard in response to another person’s questioning the conduct of Barry.
Members of select committees, including chairpersons and deputy chairpersons, are able to participate freely in discussion. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy, and members are expected to hold strong views and advocate for particular positions. When a member shares views in a public forum, he or she will be judged on the basis of those words and can be held accountable by electors for them. You may, if you wish, correspond directly with the member to raise your concerns about her remarks.
The issue of a code of conduct for members has been discussed previously and considered by the Standing Orders Committee. There has been a general reluctance to implement any initiative that would fetter the legitimate freedoms of members.
Mallard concluded that, furthermore, many of the features you would expect of a code of conduct (for example, management and declaration of conflicts of interest, improper behaviour such as accepting fees or bribes, divulging confidential proceedings) are already well-covered by the existing rules and procedures of the House.