Today I watched Parliament T.V. I wanted to see how the Government was going to handle the concerns being raised in Parliament about the combustible mix of asylum seekers and detainees of a criminal background on Christmas Island. I wanted to see how Prime Minister John Key would approach the subject of deteriorating mateship between Australia and New Zealand, which even has some of the Government support M.P.’s such as United Future leader Peter Dunne concerned. What I got was something altogether different.
What I got was a cowardly attack on Opposition Members of Parliament raising quite valid points by a Prime Minister bent on committing what looked like on television to be blatant character attacks. It started when Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little started Oral Question No. 1 in the House. It looked quite civil for a short period of time, but the answers and their tone turned nasty when the supplementary questions began. During one particularly fiery clash the Prime Minister attacked Iain Lees-Galloway (Labour Party, Palmerston North), accusing him of supporting rapists. The Speaker of the House tried to restore order, promising to investigate the exchange, but it was not enough. With his fellow caucus members in an uproar Labour M.P. Chris Hipkins raised objections but was shut down by the Speaker. Subsequently I am not surprised that in the ensuing uproar most of the Labour Party caucus elected to leave the chamber. There was also condemnation from the Green Party co-leaders Metiria Turei and James Shaw.
The office of Prime Minister is one every person in New Zealand who is eligible to hold it, should aspire to look up to. It is one every Prime Minister should uphold the standards set by their predecessors – National and Labour Prime Ministers alike. And it is one that should not be shielded by the Speaker of the House, whose job is to maintain order and ensure that the business of the House is conducted in a proper fashion befitting of what New Zealanders expect.
Yes there has been disgraceful conduct in the House of Representatives in the past. When the Labour Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark was in office, the 2006 Electoral Finance Act and the fallout from it led to scenes in the House where the Speaker had no obvious control of either side of the debating chamber. A couple of months ago, when their leader the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters was ejected from the House, his entire caucus followed suit.
In the heat of debate, when things get contentious as they clearly do, there is always the risk of a Member of Parliament saying something out of frustration that they should not have or their words come out in the wrong order. In those circumstances if an apology is due, an apology is due and one should not delay in making it both to the House and to the Member(s) concerned. At the time of writing this no such apologies were on offer from the Prime Minister or his office.
I expect better of the House of Representatives than this.