Mallard looks like a sitting duck but the Nats may prefer to wait to bag the PM as well

Back  in   March   the  NZ  Herald  carried  a  report  headlined  “Mallard mess  needs  sorting”.  It  was  written   by  Audrey  Young, then  the political  editor.

The  Labour Party  didn’t  heed the  warning  and  now  this failure is  leaving  a  bigger mess:  on Tuesday night Speaker Trevor Mallard  accused a former parliamentary staffer, to whom he had apologised for claiming he was a rapist, of sexual assault.

In the aftermath, National Party leader Judith Collins again called for Mallard to be removed as Speaker of the House, describing his behaviour as a disgrace and contending he was “temperamentally unfit” for the role

Meanwhile  Prime  Minister Jacinda Ardern  has  boxed  herself  into  a  corner.  She has expressed  “overall”  confidence   in  Mallard  as  Speaker  of the  House,   so  she  can’t sack  him.

But  the  longer  he  stays,  the  more  damage can be done to  Labour. Continue reading “Mallard looks like a sitting duck but the Nats may prefer to wait to bag the PM as well”

Free speech in Parliament challenged: Maori Party MPs press the Speaker to bar questions they regard as “racist”

The Speaker was reprimanded by the PM yesterday, in the aftermath of the furore generated when he accused a former parliamentary staffer – to whom he had previously apologised for claiming he was a rapist – of sexual assault.

Then he was chided by Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer for failing to stop “racist” questions being asked in Parliament.

Other than Hansard, the only account of this attempt to curb MPs’ right to speak freely in Parliament was a Newshub report headed Rawiri Waititi lashes out at ‘Māori bashing’ in Parliament as Jacinda Ardern challenges Judith Collins to say ‘partnership’

But to whom – we wonder – is the Speaker accountable?

To Members of Parliament, we would have thought, because they vote to elect the Speaker at the start of each new Parliament (after every general election).

 This is the first task of every new Parliament once members have been sworn in.
Candidates are nominated by another member and, after the election vote, the Speaker-Elect visits the Governor-General to be confirmed in office.
Continue reading “Free speech in Parliament challenged: Maori Party MPs press the Speaker to bar questions they regard as “racist””

Nick Smith’s fairness questions (were Maori ward supporters given more time?) spark call for reopening of submissions on bill

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union  has drawn attention to a significant constitutional issue regarding our right to be consulted fairly on laws which affect our voting rights.

It’s the suggestion (the union said “disclosure”) that Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahata gave local councils advance notice of her Māori wards legislation and the short time that would be allowed for public submissions. 

The Minister had given her allies a five-day head start to prepare submissions on the Bill to entrench Maori wards, union spokesman Jordan Williams contended.

Members of the public, on the other hand, were given just one day’s notice to prepare for “the disgracefully short two-day submission window.”

Williams insisted:

“The Minister knew perfectly well what she was doing. The decision to warn her mates before blindsiding the general public can only be read as a cynical attempt to manipulate the consultation process and limit the contributions of New Zealanders opposed to the Bill.”

This compromising of the process warranted the Speaker reopening the calling of submissions, Williams said. Continue reading “Nick Smith’s fairness questions (were Maori ward supporters given more time?) spark call for reopening of submissions on bill”

Mr Speaker wrongly cried “rape”, and then apologised – now let’s see if he becomes Sir Trevor

As  the political  year  comes   to an end, the  Labour  Party  has  much to celebrate, highlighted by  an electoral victory  that could lead to its longest term in power  under  its  most popular  leader  in history.  This was remarkable, in an era  when  governments  in  most Western  democracies    are  under  strain.

But  there  is   at  least one blot  on the Labour  escutcheon:  the Mallard  affair.

Despite  calls   for his  resignation, Trevor  Mallard has no intention of  stepping aside from  his  role as Speaker, the  third  highest  post  in  NZ’s constitutional  arrangements.

He  has offered  profuse  apologies for having defamed  a  person with  an accusation  of  attempted rape,    the  Prime  Minister  has accepted  he  made    a  “mistake”,  and  the  taxpayer   has picked  up  the  legal bill  of  $330,000 (and  counting) that is the price-tag on this “mistake”.

So  that’s  all  neat and  tidy,   it’s  history  now, and Parliament  can look forward to  another  year  of  his  judicial  guidance  in the  tradition  of   his  predecessors?

Well, not  quite.  Opposition  parties  have declared they have no  confidence  in him.

Hardened Labour  supporters  can  say  this is  just  the  Opposition  parties   playing  politics.  And  many  taxpayers  who  have to pay the legal price  of  the  Mallard “mistake”  may  yawn  at  what  they regard as nothing more than the  ugly side  of the political games played inside  the parliamentary  arena.

Yet  this  is  the  issue:  how  much judicial authority  can Mallard  exert in what  is  supposedly  the  highest  court in the  land?

Presiding  in Parliament  is  not  some  sort of game,  with the  referee  flourishing  a  red  card  now  and then.

Mallard  told a select committee  he almost immediately regretted describing the series of sexual assault complaints  in a review of parliamentary  culture  as  “rape”.  If this be so, why didn’t he offer  an apology earlier?   Is it because  a motion of  no confidence  may have been moved  long before the election?

Veteran  Press Gallery   journalist Barry Soper contends he withdrew  the rape claim just recently because, had he done so last year, chances  are he  would not have survived a no-confidence  vote  in his Speakership.  New Zealand First would not have supported him.

He may, of  course,  have been  bound  by legal advice.  But  meanwhile the  target  of  his  allegation  not  only  had had his employment  suspended  but  was suffering  from  mental stress.  And  if he had  not been tracked down  by a  journalist  and  aided  in finding  a  QC, he  could have   been  left the victim of  an unfounded calumny.

This means scant compassion  was shown  to  a  person  who (Point  of  Order  understands)  had  served  in the  parliamentary  precinct  for 20 years.

Those  who  support  Mallard  argue   he was motivated  by the  need  to  overhaul  the  once prevalent culture  in Parliament  of bullying  and other  unpleasant practices. And  who can be  critical  of  his championing  the  underdog, essentially  the tribal instinct of any  Labour  MP?

With  the  support  of the  Prime  Minister,  accordingly, it  seems  he  can  occupy  the Speaker’s chair  for  as  long as he  wishes.

But Point  of  Order  portends one delicate issue remaining  for the Prime Minister.  It’s the tradition of offering a knighthood to a Speaker  serving  a  second term.

The  dilemma  for Ardern  is that she will be accused of setting a new standard, if she offers Mallard a knighthood, and it will be the mark of disapproval  that  would rule out a  third term in the Speaker’s chair she if she doesn’t.

Boris rides the storm

The inevitable hail of editorial outrage has descended on the head of PM Boris Johnson after yesterday’s Supreme Court decision overturning the Queen’s prorogation of Britain’s Parliament.  He in turn has hastened back from the UN to resume the battle in a reconvened legislature.

The general line is gross-abuse-of-convention-thank-God-for-the-Supreme-Court.  For example, the Financial Times concluded in thunderous tones“The 11 judges unanimously concluded that Mr Johnson’s five-week suspension of parliament was an unlawful attempt to silence MPs, at the very moment the UK, through Brexit, faces the biggest shake-up in its constitutional status for decades. “ Continue reading “Boris rides the storm”

Queen breaks law – but badly advised

In a stunning denoument, Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that if you want Brexit, you really need to vote for Boris Johnson.

Well, not exactly …  The Court decided – unanimously – that Boris’s advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament for five weeks was unlawful – and it follows that the Queen’s decision was null and of no effect – in effect Parliament was not prorogued at all. Continue reading “Queen breaks law – but badly advised”

Parliament is sovereign – but that means it has to exercise its sovereignty

As every first year constitutional law student knows, in the Westminster system, Parliament (or the Queen-in-Parliament) is sovereign.

There is no question where responsibility for the UK’s leaving the EU must lie – with Parliament.

So the British Parliament exerted its plenitude of sovereign powers when it installed a government pledged to Brexit following the 2017 general election. And when it passed laws setting a leaving date.  Also when it rejected the EU withdrawal treaty negotiated by former PM Theresa May.  And definitely when it granted supply to the May government and its succeeding Johnson government to keep on trucking.

So what is one to make of Boris Johnson asking the Queen to prorogue Parliament (that is end the Parliamentary session in mid-September and then start a new one after a delay of a month or so – ostensibly to pass his triumphantly-negotiated but highly-unlikely new EU withdrawal agreement). Continue reading “Parliament is sovereign – but that means it has to exercise its sovereignty”

The Ihumatao saga could have a far-reaching impact on NZ politics

Is the government digging itself into a hole as it awaits a solution to the problem of contested land at Ihumatao?

For two days in a row, PM Jacinda Ardern has backed away from questions over a   Crown loan being used to purchase the land where a housing development has been held up because of a long-running protest.

Continue reading “The Ihumatao saga could have a far-reaching impact on NZ politics”

Andrew Little’s priggish rebuke suggests “Fascist” might be an acceptable word when his “hate law” is enacted

Justice Minister Andrew Little sounded distinctly priggish, when he chided National’s Nick Smith in Parliament yesterday.

Smith had asked if Little stood by all his statements, policies, and actions on electoral law and referenda?

The answer was yes, he did.

But Little couldn’t resist the temptation to go further and say:

” … I should point out that the accepted plural of ‘referendum’ these days is ‘referendums’.” 

This was a disquieting reminder that the “accepted” way of saying things could well be incorporated in a new “hate” law which Little seems keen to have enacted to curb our freedom to express ourselves.   Continue reading “Andrew Little’s priggish rebuke suggests “Fascist” might be an acceptable word when his “hate law” is enacted”

Soper throws some light on case of man “in a very dark place” over Parliamentary harassment report

Parliament is the place where laws are made. Justice is dispensed elsewhere, as the bloke stood down from Parliament after publication of the Francis report probably would attest.

Veteran Parliamentary reporter Barry Soper reports that the man

…  was stood down by the closed shop Parliamentary Service last week, which is exempt from the Official Information Act and will not have to release documents over the alleged incident.

The Francis report, dealing with bullying and harassment in Parliament, revealed three serious allegations of sexual harassment. Continue reading “Soper throws some light on case of man “in a very dark place” over Parliamentary harassment report”