It’s now Simon Bridges’ turn to be the one whining in the media about the new government, complaining that Labour is planning to go through with plans he himself praised in Parliament to decrease the presence of larger parties in Select Committees, a move that was unanimously agreed to earlier by all parties.
Clearly he hasn’t gotten the memo on new talking points, however, as he does concede in his outraged flip-flop that the new government are “using [their] majority to make the opposition less effective.” It’s nice to see National MPs finally acknowledging that a majority of New Zealanders who voted did so for our new government, even if it does come with a rather pathetic whining tone.
Bridges also wins an award for the best ironic comment since Donald Trump forgetting when it was he claimed to have an excellent memory, by claiming that “nobody envisioned the current situation, where the biggest party by far is in opposition,” when it is in fact one that National has previously whined about when they thought Clark’s Labour Party would fail to outpoll them back in the day. I for one also envisioned it more recently every time I decided to volunteer for campaign activities to unseat English’s previous lot as the government, as I knew we weren’t going to approach a situation where Labour was the biggest party in Parliament this election, and I would suspect there are many other readers of The Standard who contemplated that scenario too, if they were watching the polling. Certainly more than 50% of voters seemed positively inclined to the idea, too. He must carry around a distinct lack of awareness with him like some sort of isolation bubble, because straight-man lines this good just don’t write themselves without some sort of powerful denial going on.
Select Committees are an important and influential part of our process, where the Government gets its feedback on changes from the community, and recommends adjustments to bills based on it, but the important part is actually having a representative there to listen to good ideas that may have come from your corner or elsewhere that might otherwise have been missed, not actually to be able to bully your way through to an outcome by dint of numbers, and using them to genuinely obstruct business rather than to improve the quality of bills was never intended.
Chris Hipkins is absolutely correct to charge ahead with the changes to eliminate roughly 24 spaces on select committees, which would leave some MPs without any to attend, although government backbenchers would all still have roles due to cabinet members traditionally not sitting on select committees. Those members can instead focus on asking questions in question time, giving speeches in the house, or, shock horror, actually talking to their constituents and attending community events to listen or participate, and can swap in with others from time to time to get the necessary experience to move up in their party if necessary. National had previously threatened to abuse its size on select committees to obstruct the business of Parliament with no other justification than simply because they had lost, so despite their claims of moral high ground about the importance of opposition, any negative side-effects to them are thoroughly earned, and can be considered if and when National prove they are willing to function as a loyal opposition, that allows New Zealand’s legitimate government to operate, even if they disagree with how. They will still have a fair voice in matters, but parliamentary moves to obstruct business should be saved for bills that are genuinely disastrous, and where the public is actually against them. National, of course, will most likely get no such chances where it actually opposes such legislation, as the only decision looming with any prospect of popular revolt is Labour’s continued flirtation with signing a TPP without significant progress on a better way around the ISDS issue, and National supports TPP11 regardless of public opinion.
If National are such a strong opposition, I’m sure they’ll find a way to cope, but it seems like by “strong opposition” they mostly just meant “we’ll keep trying to abuse process and hope the new Government doesn’t find a way to cut us off.” Bridges needs to realize that we live in New Zealand, not the United States, and you can’t try to walk all over your political opponents and then complain that they retaliated and put you back in your place. Welcome back to opposition.
Update: During the swearing in of the new Speaker, absences of a number of Government members temporarily gave National a majority of votes due to those members not having been sworn in. A deal was struck that National would not oppose Trevor Mallard as speaker, but Labour would add another twelve select committee slots- enough for all of National’s backbenchers to get on select committees- in exchange for their not nominating an opposing candidate for Speaker. This may allow National to obstruct the new government’s business in select committees, however by setting the tone in a more collegial manner, may also have convinced the opposition that it is no longer necessary to do so. I await with interest the first select committee hearings so we can all see which it’s going to be.
Update 2: Turns out National didn’t have a majority after all: 58 government MPs were sworn in at the time, and 56 opposition MPs. However, by carefully phrasing their comments in the house, National were able to imply they might have a temporary majority without actually lying, and have embarrassed the new government on its very first day in Parliament.