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The Standard

Contempt for democracy

Written By: - Date published: 5:30 am, September 17th, 2009 - 45 comments
Categories: national/act government, Parliament - Tags: ,

Gerry Brownlee in Question Time yesterday. He’s asked a question, just sits there and refuses to answer. Doesn’t even open his mouth, just sits there with a smug look on his face.

Lockwood, out of his depth like always, just ignores the rules to cover Brownlee’s arse.

Only ten months in and this Government is abusing or ignoring democratic checks and balances as it suits them. The arrogance and contempt for democracy are astounding.

45 comments on “Contempt for democracy”

  1. SeaJay 1

    Heh, just mentioned @ Tumucky, the GerBil was taught by his mum not to talk while chewing, and he was obviously chewing it over!

    captcha- answer!

  2. lprent 2

    The speaker is wrong. The question was valid (albeit couched in the usual politically weighted terms). Effectively Brownlee has disrespected the voters that put that MP in the house to ask that question. That is unacceptable in an MP and a trend that needs to be stopped now.

    I’d suggest that MP’s shun and deliberately disrespect Brownlee.

    Talk during his speeches in the house and during his appearances at select committee. Continuously reschedule any appointments that they have with him. Filibuster during any legislation he is associated with. Announce that ANY legislation he is associated with will be rolled back without compensation to affected parties taking advantage of it.

    • Graeme 2.1

      I agree that the Speaker was incorrect, but Eddie’s suggestions that the Speaker ignored the rules and was “out of his depth as always” is laughable.

      Speaker’s Ruling 162/5 states: “It is not obligatory on a Minister to answer a question. It is certainly customary but there is no sufficient reason to say it is binding.”

      However, Lockwood has turned previous rulings on S.O. 377(1) on their head. I doubt that the above Speaker’s Ruling survives. When S.O. 377(1) says “An answer must be given ‘ it should now mean exactly that.

      • Marty G 2.1.1

        So…. Lockwood got it wrong by relying on an outdated rule.

        Also, as you know, there’s a difference in Parliament’s rules between addressing a question and answering it. Brownlee was surely obliged to address the question.

        Can you think of a single example of a minister refusing to say anything before?

        • Graeme 2.1.1.1

          There is a difference between addressing a question and answering one. That difference is irrelevant here. If one accepts that Brownlee was able to refuse to answer the question, he is also able to refuse to address the question.

          As for your second question – not in relation to an oral question. Ministers do often refuse to answer questions put to them in the course of a committee of the whole stage, but that is rather different.

          • Marty G 2.1.1.1.1

            I’m obviously only talking about QT, Graeme.

            And I’m not sure why you think that addressing and answering are synonymous in this case when they aren’t normally in the House.

            Stop making excuses for Brownlee and Lockwood. You know that ministers have to give a response unless they believe it’s not in the public interest to do so (and even then, surely. they have to say it’s not in the public interest as they have in the past). Otherwise, ministers could just sit there whenever they like.

            • Graeme 2.1.1.1.1.1

              What excuse have I made for Brownlee?

              Indeed, what excuse have a made for Lockwood?

              As best as I can figure it, I’m the first person to suggest that the Speaker’s Ruling on which Lockwood (and David Parker and others) were basing their discussion is no longer valid.

              And I don’t think the two are synonymous in this case. I think the acknowledged difference between the two is immaterial in this case. This is different.

              Of course I accept that ministers have to give a response. That’s why I commented here that Lockwood was wrong when he accepted they didn’t have to.

              And this obviously has happened before – not least on the occasion in which Speaker’s Ruling 162/5 was made. I don’t remember that occasion because it was some time ago. I was not closely following the House at the time, and it was some 12 years before I was born.

      • roger nome 2.1.2

        oh that’s just grand then Graeme – who needs accountability in a representitve democracy when you’ve got smarmy plutocrats to treat us like idiots. The arrogance of the right will be their undoing.

  3. Ron 3

    It’s going to be his style isn’t it? I made a comment about his way of dealing with media questions recently. Unelievable arrogance. And once again not a peep fro the timid, Britney obsessed, teenage media. Brownlie’s attitude i AT LEAST as intesting as mp dozing off in thehouse which ued up three or four days of my news space as I recall.

  4. britney 4

    oh puh-lease

    “Brownlee has disrespected the voters that put that MP in the house”

    wake me up when it gets important.

    • Marty G 4.1

      yeah, I agree Britney, f*ck democracy, f* respect for the process and the people who put you there, I love John Key, whatever he and his monkeys do is fine by me because he has a nice grin and make funnies on the telly

  5. britney 5

    yawn, minor spat amongst the monkies in the zoo.

    “disrespected the votas” – gangsta

  6. lukas 6

    It is a bad look from Gerry, I agree, but I would not call it arrogance and would put it down to a series of dense questions. I imagine Gerry was sick of answering the same question put a different way five times, perhaps Turei needs to listen to the “questions” she puts to ministers?

    It is within standing orders for him to not take the call, that is pretty clear. Perhaps standing orders need to change to make members answer questions. Even Eddie would have to admit that Lockwood has been better at getting ministers to answer questions than Speaker Wilson!

    • Marty G 6.1

      surely not the ‘Labour did it too, I railed against it when they did it but because they did it, it’s OK for National to do it’ argument?

      I don’t think the standing orders are at all clear. No other minister has ever just sat there before that anyone can remember, which strongly suggests the rules as used don’t allow for it.

      It doesn’t matter whether the minister judges the question dumb or not, if they think it’s dumb they should just say so. If ministers can choose not to answer a question based on that then they will just not answer any difficult questions.

      • lukas 6.1.1

        “surely not the ‘Labour did it too, I railed against it when they did it but because they did it, it’s OK for National to do it’ argument?”

        No, not at all. I think standing orders need to change to make it compulsory for members to answer (not just address) questions. Gerry, was still within standing orders to not take the call, that is clear. Just because you can not remember it happening before, or because it is an old standing order is irrelevant.

        “It doesn’t matter whether the minister judges the question dumb or not, if they think it’s dumb they should just say so. If ministers can choose not to answer a question based on that then they will just not answer any difficult questions.”

        Sure, for the first four questions you can do that, when it gets to five questions you start getting a bit bored of the alarmist crap that Turei is spouting out.

        • felix 6.1.1.1

          Presumably you know of a standing order or speaker’s ruling which specifies that 4 answers are required but a 5th is not necessary.

          Could you point to it please?

  7. britney 7

    Gerry and Metira up a tree…they’ll be at it like rabbits after a few gins at the backbencher.

    shudder. picture this if you will….

  8. coge 8

    Brownlee did the absolutely right thing. Why on earth should he respond to an emotionally charged diatribe punctuated with third-rate patronizing rhetoric. No answer was his stern reply & good on him. Looked completely honest & sincere to most Kiwis.

    [don’t laugh, you guys, coge actually went around and asked most Kiwis last night. It was a big job, give him some credit]

  9. tc 9

    No surprises at all with GB’s performance and the fact the media ignore all these changes to house rules and the ill deserved protection that govt MP’s get as a result of the ‘rules’ and the powderpuff speaker who couldn’t enforce a booze up in a brewery.
    NACT isn’t operating a democratic process it’s running a corporate spin/PR process where the rules aren’t there as more than a nice coffee table book for those downtime moments.
    It’s 21st century muldoonism…..crosby textor styles…..change the rules, threaten and breach confidence if need be, repeat the slogans, smirk when all else fails as we’re in control so cop it sweet NZ.

  10. toad 10

    The most recent Speaker’s Ruling on this was 162/4 from Speaker Wilson:

    A Minister must give an answer “if it can be given consistently with the public interest’. The Minister is instructed under Standing Order 377(1) to consider the public interest in framing a reply. In considering consistency with the public interest, the Minister may address such principles as privacy, commercial sensitivity, or national security. But, ultimately, the judgment of whether a particular reply is consistent with the public interest is for the Minister to make. It is not a matter for the Speaker to judge. Nor is it a matter for the member asking the question to suggest that because that member considers the matter to be a matter of public interest, the question should be answered in a particular way.

    Note: “A Minister must give an answer…

    Lockwood appears to have overturned that in relying on the much earlier ruling by 162/5 from Speaker Jack:

    It is not obligatory on a Minister to answer a question. It is certainly customary but there is no sufficient reason for saying it is binding.

    and 163/1 from Speaker Harrison:

    A Minister is not obliged to seek the call in answer to a question if the Minister does not intend to answer it. In these circumstances the Minister is treated as having refused to answer. There is no obligation to give reasons for a refusal to answer although it is preferable to do so. To avoid a series of supplementary questions it may be preferable to indicate the refusal to answer on a point of order.

    Of course it is within any Speaker’s prerogative to overturn a previous Speaker’s ruling, as Speaker Wilson did with 162/4. But I would have thought Lockwood should at least have addressed 162/4 in making his ruling or given a reason why he considered the earlier rulings should take precedence.

    • Tigger 10.1

      Thanks Toad. I suspect if Lockwood had any idea what he was doing he would have given an answer but alas, he does not.

  11. britney 11

    Crosby textor, yeah right on, theyll be blackberrying Gerry during question time, not.
    (maybe updating him on big ben pie stocks at the regional shell stations granted)

  12. coge 12

    Where is the groundswell of outrage over this? I would suggest the silent majority of Kiwis either don’t care, or tacitly approve of Brownless response. Maybe Meteria should re-calibrate her questions, as is befitting a party co-leader. With respect, she brought in on herself. However I do accept that she hasn’t been in the co-leaders job long & naturally there will be teething problems.

  13. graham 13

    it was a stupid question and got the correct responce

    • snoozer 13.1

      No, the correct response, as Chris Hipkins says below, is to say ‘that’s a stupid question and I disagree with the premise’. Ministers don’t just get to ignore questions in question time. We might as not have it if they can.

  14. I think in Question Time the general rule should be that ministers give as good as they get. Ask a loaded political question, get a loaded political answer. Ask a straight question, get a straight answer. This seems to be what Lockwood is saying he wants, and I think that’s a fair call.

    Where I have a problem is where opposition MPs ask a straight question with no ‘political’ charge and the minister then answers that, but includes a long rant about the person asking the question. Key tends to do this a lot. That leads to a very one-sided question time.

    I have seen Lockwood shut down ministers when they attack the questioner rather than answer a straight question, but his willingness to do so seems to depend very much on who the minister being questioned is.

    As for Brownlee, he could have avoided all of this simply by standing up and saying “I don’t agree with the assertion put forward in the question’. That would have been that!

  15. felix 15

    Has anyone considered the possibility that he’s still thinking about it?

  16. Daveski 16

    It’s a little odd that anyone would find anything strange about the theatre of parliament.

    As for Brownlee, clearly he could have handled it differently.

    I’m most intrigued as to why Eddie made no mention of the question. Perhaps this explains it:

    But Turei’s questions – which might more accurately be described as political statements masquerading as questions – just kept on coming.

    I think most unbiased people would see the whole political process as a contempt for democracy.

    • felix 16.1

      “Political statements masquerading as questions” are hardly unusual though. The usual response to such is a political statement masquerading as an answer.

      I’m guessing Brownlee wins a bit of a boost from the hardcore Nats who hold the Greens beneath contempt and are still pissed about the MoU.

      • Daveski 16.1.1

        I don’t see Brownlee’s actions as laudable in any way nor should they be celebrated. Just pointing out that it’s hardly the contempt for democracy Eddie is claiming nor does the normal theatre of the absurb that passes for parliamentary process do much for democracy.

  17. burt 17

    A more partisan speaker would have said; The member has answered the question…

  18. ben 18

    Only ten months in and this Government is abusing or ignoring democratic checks and balances as it suits them. The arrogance and contempt for democracy are astounding.

    Oh PLEASE.

    How about we compare National’s not answering the sixth question on some inane topic to Labour’s third term anti-democratic antics?

    It is a horribly unfair comparison, of course.

    Sean Plunkett tore Hodgson a new one on Labour’s treatment of Peters just this morning.

    Yes, Standard folks, the readers of this blog CAN remember 10 months ago, and beyond, and we know rank hypocrisy when we see it.

    No defender of Labour can EVER call anybody else anti-democratic after their despicable behaviour last term. When you do, I’ll be here to remind you.

    • lprent 18.1

      Well I’d disagree about Labour’s last term. More spin from NACT than reality – as I said at the time. The perception of arrogance was more from a siege mentality than actuality.

      But this government is already the most un-democratic and autocratic one that I’ve seen since Douglas and Richardson

      Labour’s bills went through select committees and they didn’t push government legislation through under urgency. This one pushes virtually every government bill of any national importance through urgency and often skips select committees.

      Labour spent long periods of time on consultation on bills (usually too much). This one seems to think that merely asking their paymasters will surfice.

      This government thinks that breaking their election promises is normal. Labour went to great efforts to honour theirs.

      Labour went a long way to ensuring transparency in the political process. This government avoids listening – just look at the attendance of government MP’s at select committees. Explains why their reports from select committee bear no relationship to the submissions.

      This governments ministers don’t front to question time. They send patsy’s instead.. Too gutless to front up.

      etc etc….

      That is the difference between reality and spin.. Unfortunately you cannot distinguish the difference – what kind of a fantasy world does your head live in? Do you see flying pigs as well?

    • felix 18.2

      “anti-democratic antics”

      “despicable behaviour”

      Care to back up those big brave words with some real life examples? Ones that are so horribly, horribly despicable and anti-democratic that “no defender of Labour can EVER call anybody else anti-democratic” once you’ve given them?

      Otherwise it seems like you’re just, you know, talking shit really.

      • George D 18.2.1

        Every time Margaret Wilson ruled that members need only “address” the question, rather than answer it, I was appalled. You’d hardly ever get a straight answer from a minister. I am equally appalled by the same behaviour in this Parliament, it is no better or no worse.

        At least this is obviously not answering the question.

        • felix 18.2.1.1

          As opposed to now, where we get straight answers all the time. Ok then…

        • Draco T Bastard 18.2.1.2

          From what I read, Wilson ruled that ministers needed to answer the question unless they had a damn good reason not to such as Not in the public interest which is quite reasonable. The Speaker now has ruled that ministers don’t need to answer at all.

          • Graeme Edgeler 18.2.1.2.1

            I’m not sure that’s correct. Wilson’s ruling was to essentially restate S.O. 377(1). It was also given in circumstances where a minister had sought to answer a question, so it was directed more at the content of replies rather than whether they needed to be made at all.

            I do believe that given recent re-interpretations of S.O. 377(1) Ministers are required to seek to call to answer all questions, but I’m not sure that Wilson’s ruling assists in reaching this conclusion.

  19. I read on another forum, that in fact he did answer the question over and over again, and got sick of answering the same question, so he stopped.

    • felix 19.1

      If only there were some way of knowing for sure what is said in the house – some sort of official record. And imagine if such a record did exist, it would be even more awesomer to have video and audio recordings to check it against.

      But I’m such a dreamer. I suppose we’ll never know.

  20. Felix:

    I think it is recorded, well most of it, Labour tried to pass a bill that you couldn’t use certain images or sounds or something, which was one of the reasons people got sick and tried of their George W Bush type ignorance.

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