Herald political editor John Armstrong has slammed National’s recent behaviour in Parliament saying it verges on “being a disgrace to itself and the institution”. This incredibly strong language from a senior journalist is the result of a National government that is undermining democratic accountability by refusing to seriously answer questions in Parliament. John Armstrong goes as far as to describe National’s attitude as “arrogant”.
Shame on National. That party’s behaviour in Parliament over the past couple of weeks has on occasion veered close to being a disgrace both to itself and the institution.
Those are incredibly strong words from a senior journalist. And the reason for Armstrong’s terse tone is the way government Ministers Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce decided they would first lie, then obfuscate, during Parliament’s question time about whether NZ’s income gap with Australia had grown.
What has been disturbing in this debacle, however, has been the way National has responded to parliamentary questions about the income gap. The low point came on Wednesday when Steven Joyce briefly deputised for Brownlee. Tributes to the fallen New Zealand soldier in Afghanistan had delayed normal proceedings and Brownlee had to leave to catch a plane before the House had got to his question.
A week earlier, Brownlee had told the House in response to a question from Labour that “yes”, the Government did have milestones by which it would measure the progress it was making towards closing the income gap, although he would not reveal them.
So eyebrows shot through the chamber’s ceiling when Joyce made the startling admission that there were, in fact, no such milestones. Even more startling was what Joyce said next. Brownlee had given Labour what was technically known as a “brush-off”. A perusal of Parliament’s standing orders fails to list a “brush-off” – technical or otherwise – as an acceptable means of answering a parliamentary question.
This is an incredibly serious attack on our democratic institution by Key Government ministers. Brownlee is Leader of the House and in that role should be helping to facilitate the running of Parliament, not undermining it. And Joyce as the Prime Minister’s closest Ministerial colleague should be doing likewise.
Parliament is the heart of public accountability. It’s a serious concern that National refuses to take the institution seriously.
It is true that the proceedings of Parliament often fly by under the public radar; listening to MPs talking is hardly the most popular past-time. But it’s incredibly arrogant of National to try to take advantage of this lack of interest by ignoring democratic accountability. This is yet another example an attack on democracy by the Key Government.
They won’t get away it.