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Democracy needs straight answers to straight questions

Written By: - Date published: 10:57 am, March 21st, 2013 - 49 comments
Categories: accountability, clayton cosgrove, democracy under attack, Parliament, russel norman, Steven Joyce - Tags:

The current Speaker in the House, David Carter, is a disaster.  Yesterday was beyond a joke as he let the government get away with avoiding providing serious answers to important questions.  It began with a question that had been diverted from the PM to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises.  It was a question to John Key about criteria he had stated in the past.

1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Has the Government met the five criteria the Prime Minister laid out for proceeding with asset sales?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises) : Yes. In particular, one criterion was that New Zealand investors would be at the front of the queue and that we would need to be confident of widespread and substantial New Zealand share ownership. At 10 o’clock this morning the number of New Zealanders who had pre-registered their interest in Mighty River Power went over 400,000.

David Shearer: When the Prime Minister said that the third criterion would be that companies would need to present good investment opportunities for investors, with which international investors had the Prime Minister had discussions that have yet to be made public?

Hon TONY RYALL: In respect of that answer, of course I am not able to tell them exactly to whom the Prime Minister has spoken, nor am I able to comment on the nature of the investment at this time.

David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This just illustrates the inability of the Government to be able to answer a question from the Opposition.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question. He said he was unable to relate a conversation—[Interruption] Does the member have further supplementary questions?

Then, with question 2, Russel Norman and Clayton Cosgrove asked questions that were not answered by Steven Joyce.  Joyce used a lot of smoke screen words to divert from answering the question:

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, that did not even get anywhere near the question. I simply asked whether, having guaranteed the big end of town through the covered bonds legislation, he would commit to implementing the proposal we have put forward. He talked about the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme and responded to an interjection, but he never answered or even addressed that question.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister said he did not accept the proposition that was put by the member. If the member wishes to ask further supplementaries, he has the ability to do so.

Later during Question Time, when Mallard and Norman attempted to complain about the Speaker’s inconsistencies and not following precedents set by the previous Speaker, Lockwood Smith, they were told Clark just had a different style.

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I agree with you that it has become very noisy. I would argue the key problem is that the decision or the ruling of Speaker Smith that a straight question gets a straight answer is no longer being upheld under your new Speakership. That is creating disorder.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is now questioning the competence and the bias of the Speaker. That is very serious. I am attempting to elicit sensible answers for members, but on many occasions members are wanting the answer designed to their satisfaction. That is not what question time is. The question must be addressed, but it will not necessarily mean that the question at all times will be answered to the satisfaction of the member asking the questions.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to agree with what Dr Norman said, but to make it clear that no one—and I do not think Dr Norman did—attributed bias to you. What he indicated what was that there is a different set of rulings, and they are quite different.

Mr SPEAKER: I accept there are certainly different styles. From the moment you have a different Speaker, you will have a different style.

It is parodied well by Imperator Fish

David Shearer: Thank you Mr Speaker, my question now to the Minister of State Owned Enterprises: Has the Government met the five criteria the Prime Minister laid out for proceeding with asset sales?

Tony Ryall: Blue cheese.

Shearer: Point of order, Mr Speaker. What kind of answer was that?

Mr Speaker: The minister answered the question. He may not have given the answer you wanted, but he nevertheless gave an answer. Do you have any supplementary questions?

Russel Norman has now published an open letter of complaint to the Rt Hon David Carter:

I strongly urge you to revert to the set of rules that Lockwood Smith had developed over the course of his Speakership. These rules can be summarised as “A straight question will get a straight answer”.

I agree.  However, what David Carter has exposed is the underlying approach that Lockwood Smith used much more subtly.  He sometimes allowed the PM and his ministers to avoid being fully accountable to the NZ public. Smith was more consistent, and maintained a more orderly House.  Most often he was fair to all sides. But there were limits to how well he served democracy.

 

49 comments on “Democracy needs straight answers to straight questions”

  1. toad 1

    How dare Russel Norman question the Speaker’s self-proclaimed bias.

    That is apparent for all to see.

    As is his incompetence.

    • DR 1.1

      If the speaker has proclaimed himself as biased, he should not only be questioned but reprimanded as well. The essence of democracy is to hear what everyone has to say and then form a conclusion from what everything has been said.

      Unless you don’t understand what democracy is all about, there’s no point for you to try to understand what’s written here.

    • big bruv 1.2

      Toad. I have gone back as far as I can yet for some reason I must have missed the posts where you ripped into Margaret Wilson for her bias. This is the same Margaret Wilson who is widely considered to be the worst speaker the house has seen since the days of Dr Wall.

      Why was it that you did not have this level of “concern” in Wilson’s days?

      Might it be that like all lefties you simply cannot deal with a level playing field?

      Never mind, you have at least another two terms to get used to speaker Carter.

  2. Andre 2

    One house and no accountability How did we get in this pickle?

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      A parliament that can do pretty much what it likes and is unaccountable to the public as we have no say between elections. We need the power of recall.

      • AmaKiwi 2.1.1

        + 1

        Absolutely!

      • Ugly Truth 2.1.2

        To revoke their power an alternative must exist. To have authentic power an alternative system would have to be lawful, and presumably this system would also be democratic. Such a system could be implemented by re-establishing common law hundred, although it’s purpose is to keep the peace rather than to effect public policy.

    • Civil government was “deemed necessary”. The remedy is to abandon it and re-establish lawful government.

  3. framu 3

    this is the man who rang up talk back and rather unsuccessfully pretended to be a dole bludging maori.. so im not holding out much hope for his role as speaker to be any better.

    its high time the speaker was from the judiciary not a political party

  4. vto 4

    Forget it. Nobody believes any of the shit that comes out of this government anyway.

    A boycott of the entire Parliaentary question time and other questioning would be the effective approach.

  5. Matthew 5

    I would like to see an appropriately timed walkout by all opposition parties, just to press the point.

    • SpaceMonkey 5.1

      Would love to see that!!

    • xtasy 5.2

      It should have happened some time ago, they better talk to each other and do this soon!

      • North 5.2.1

        Yeah, rapid succession stoushes involving a senior Labour member (not Mallard), followed by a senior Greens member, followed by Winston.

        If the shock waves of the latter stoush weren’t enough to stop Mr-Tory-Farmer-Speaker-Carter treating members like his working dogs down on the farm, Hone would rise and deliver a plain language point-of-order perfected with pukana. Then everybody walks out leaving only:

        Dunnokeyo waving his little handies and giggling girlishly

        Blinglish hoarsely booming “Get on back ya bastards !”

        Bunter Brownlee’s corpulence in the throes of a shallow 6.5

        Botox Banks elevating with malodourous flatulence

        Imagine it. Such fun ! Second only to Canberra.

  6. grumpy 6

    Lockwood introduced a degree of responsibility to ministers to answwer questions that had almost been totally destroyed by Wilson, the most partisan Speaker for decades.

    Carter is no Smith but still better than Wilson

  7. mac1 7

    Mrs Mac1′s unsolicited comment when listening to Question Time yesterday, “Is that the Speaker? He sounds very biassed.”

    I’ve listened to the Speaker and thinking about his technique to allow a question to be asked three times if a opposition member complains about the Minister not answering the question, two points come up.

    Firstly, such a practice seems a waste of time if the same non-answer is supplied. It means that not so many parliamentary questions get asked, in the period allowed, yes? A tactic which would advantage the Government.

    Secondly, and more importantly, if the Speaker maintains that Ministers are ‘addressing the question’, as he states is his style of doing things, why then does he feel the need to have the question asked three times if that is all that he is going to require of Ministers, as opposed to the previous Speaker’s insistence upon answering the question.

    Interesting to hear just now (10 a.m.) a RNZ report upon opposition complaints. The only interviewee was Gerry Brownlee as Leader of the House giving a smooth version of QT as being more orderly now. I suspect that things will be much more disorderly as the opposition get more frustrated. The report from RNZ was unsatisfactory in its coverage of this issue with a one sided response.

    This comment was also posted earlier today at Red Alert.

    • xtasy 7.1

      Yes, and I have noticed, that under this government, Radio New Zealand has also become “more orderly” – i.e. is not raising sensitive issues much anymore!

    • ghostrider888 7.2

      yes mac1, this speaker appears to be some sort of parliamentary “village idiot.”

  8. infused 8

    I watched question time yesterday and there was a ton of shouting and what not. It’s a shitfest. Regardless of the speaker. He should be ejecting members.

    • freedom 8.1

      There should be a simple rule, if a member is speaking everyone else shuts their pie holes. Yes it might slow things down a bit but surely and very quickly less of the tragic stuff will end up in Hansard?
      Would that be such a bad thing?

      Seriously if a question is being asked or answered and you open your trap, outside of asking for a point of order, you are out for the day. The level of juvenile bs in our Parliament of late is embarrasing, unhelpful and completely disrespectful to our Democracy. A Democracy that was once about the people of New Zealand is now all about their owners. Do not forget we are discussing behaviour that is unacceptable in a Primary School let alone our House of Representatives.

  9. chris73 acualy is Dolan 9

    Now you have a small idea of what the right were complaining about Wilson and Hunt…except Carters still better then either

  10. Raymond a Francis 10

    As I said to my wife, if you think had a hard day at school today take a look at this

    Talk about pot calling the kettle black and being given an inch and taking a mile……pathetic

  11. Wayne 11

    The supplementary asked by Dr Norman actually was answered by Mr Ryall.

    You could not actually expect Mr Ryall to know who everyone the Prime Minister has met, and it could not have been forseen that this supplementary would have arisen by looking at the primary.

    That is how Ministers have to think about these things and prepare for question time. They look at the primary, and try to think of all the possible questions that might arise as supplementarys. It does not seem to me that Mr Ryall could have reasonably thought that such a supplementary would arise.

    Did Dr Norman know something that he thought would embarrass the Govt, in which case he should have been more direct in his supplementary.

    Direct or specific questions that are within the reasonable contemplation of the primary question should be able to be answered, but a “fishing” question is generally too wide ranging.

    So was this a “fishing” question, or does Dr Norman know more?

    • Draco T Bastard 11.1

      You could not actually expect Mr Ryall to know who everyone the Prime Minister has met, and it could not have been forseen that this supplementary would have arisen by looking at the primary.

      Perhaps that was why the question was addressed to the PM and not the Mr Ryall.

      • Wayne 11.1.1

        No, as I read it the question was to Tony Ryall, as Minister of State Owned Enterprises. Maybe Dr Norman should ask the PM the same question.

        • Draco T Bastard 11.1.1.1

          It began with a question that had been diverted from the PM to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises. It was a question to John Key about criteria he had stated in the past.

          Perhaps you need to learn to read then.

          • Wayne 11.1.1.1.1

            Yes, I see that, but Russell Norman would have known by 11.00 am that the Minister of State Owned Enterprises was answering the question, mostly because the qusetion as asked was actually his portfolio responsibilty.

            To require a qestion like this to be answered by the PM it would have to have a quote from the PM in it, referring to something that only the PM could answer. But reference to 5 criteria for the SOE sales is something the Minister of SOE’s could answer, and indeed would be expected to know.

            If Dr Norman has something really interesting about the PM, he will frame the question so it is impossible to transfer it to another Minister. He has been in Parliament long enough to know how to do that.

            Transfer of questions is quite common. Opposition MP’s are suppossed to know the ways of drafting questions, so that it will not happen

            • Wayne 11.1.1.1.1.1

              I note that the primary was asked by David Shearer, and I have now seen the full transcript of the Question One.

              So does Dr Norman have anything specific?

  12. framu 12

    “Direct or specific questions that are within the reasonable contemplation of the primary question should be able to be answered”

    agree there – but i listened to some of the exchange on the raido during the drive home (motorway drive so i got to listen to all of it)

    there were pretty straight forward, direct questions being asked of ministers – and the speaker was letting them answer with some extremely indirect answers – some of which boiled down to “im not going to answer that!”

  13. bad12 13

    The politics of it all, what a shambles of a question time was Wednesdays little episode, by contrast today’s was one hell of a yawn,

    The Minister of Everything Steven Joyce got to revel in the title like a pig in muck as Slippery the Prime Minister, Bill from Dipton (Diptin what is what i want to know), and, Pinocchio, SOE Minister Tony Ryall were all conveniently absent from the House so Joyce got to flex His innate ability to waffle on endlessly saying nothing much at all,

    Back to yesterdays abysmal effort by the Speaker where at the point of Pinocchio/ Ryall saying that He was not privy to any advice Slippery the Prime Minister had received Pinocchio/Ryall was allowed to NOT answer the question and more importantly the Speaker happily let Slippery who was present in the House off of the hook of answering that particular question,

    The politics of it all???, there is ONE thing that National has that make that particular rabble and cohort of out-right fools electable and that is Brand Slippery,

    Watching Slippery closely has become a bit of a sporting occasion round here, and reading the body language and nuances of His speech can be very enlightening,

    At this point in the electoral cycle we have been quietly impressed with the demeanor of our Prime Minister which has gone from that of being almost lost in a form of gay abandon from the initial power rush of Prime Minister-ship to one of dark petulance as the faults of His Leadership become exposed and understood by more and more of the populace,

    In other words the gloss is starting to wear thin on the Slippery one and He, lacking a depth of intellectual rigor is finding that less of us are willing to let Slip His glib attempts at comically sweeping the worst aspects of His Government, becoming more apparent by the week, under the carpet of smile’n’wave or glib assertions of being relaxed about this or that,

    The politics of Wednesdays little charade of having Him pass questions to the likes of Pinocchio/Ryall and today’s ‘no show’ of the 2 Ministers plus Himself are the same,

    It is all designed to protect ‘Brand Slippery’ and His many faults from the scrutiny of the wider electorate, it doesn’t matter to National whether or not the likes of Pinocchio/Ryall becomes increasingly more disliked by the public and the same situation is Nationals strategy around Minister of Everything Steven Joyce,

    Come election time 2014 both Joyce and Pinocchio/Ryall will be shuffled off stage left for the duration and ‘Brand Slippery’ will be the face of the National Party seeking a third term, with bthat in mind National have to ensure that as little of the mud that is flung Slippery’s way in the ensuing 20 odd months sticks and thus National will use any means to ensure that ‘Brand Slippery’ remains untarnished hence the House Speakers abject allowance of the Prime Minister to effectively pass the buck of responsibility at yesterdays question time…

  14. AmaKiwi 14

    In every organization I have belonged to the moderator of the AGM is selected for their capacity to be fair and unbiased.

    How about a binding referendum to have candidates for speaker nominated by the Law Society and elected by the people?

    Yesterday’s freak show was not a condemnation of Carter. It was a condemnation of the system.

  15. xtasy 15

    I used to enjoy some Question Time sessions when Lockwood Smith was Speaker. He did not always get decisions right and in some cases also was soft on his Nat “mates”, but generally he was pretty good and tried to apply sensible rulings and orders.

    With Carter I experienced a sudden shift to disappointment and annoyance, as he is not delivering any good standards at all. The bias shown by him letting off ministers with statements like “the answer was replied to satisfactorily” is appalling. Some questions are not answered at all in substance, and it is also an insult to questioners, having to repeat questions twice or three times, to try and get an answer.

    No this man has turned NZ Parliament into an embarrassment for NZ democracy. It is becoming a “demockery” kind of House now, or a “National Parliament” instead of a “NZ Parliament”.

    So now I wonder about the worth of bothering to listen to or watch Question Time at times.

    Democracy, accountability, transparency and responsibility must be taken serious in government, and sadly the QT we now get is not delivering, sadly also not the Official Information Act and Privacy Act requests, that are answered in a contemptious manner more and more often by government agencies and ministries.

    NZ is really losing its way.

  16. Jane 16

    I regularly watch question time and there is plenty of blame to go around. Shortly after Carter became speaker the opposition were pushing him harder than they had been Lockwood, bouncing up with dodgy points of order and generally messing about (reminded me of my 3rd form class when our teacher changed half way through the year, pushing to see where the new boundaries were) and I heard Carter say ‘the Minister has addressed the question’ and thought right there’s a warning of things to come, if they continue on being stupid then where Lockwood would call on his eloquence and be helpful (often way more helpful than I’d like) Carter is not going to bother with it and will retreat to just moving on.

    The delusion is that question time is about asking questions and getting answers, it’s not, it’s about who can get tonight’s allocated 30 second politics sound bite on the news. In order to make the question sound bite able they wrap it in so much drivial that it’s easy to get out of answering it. In Normans case it’s always some shrill quip about destroying the world, Winston is generally incomprehensible but thundering, Shearer tries but stumbles on the lines. Mallard seems to have got lost in obsecure point of order land and seems to pop up just so he can get his name in the days hansard. It is possible to ask questions that either get an answer or show the Minister is dodging but they would be boring questions and wouldn’t play well on the news.

    • karol 16.1

      I regularly watch question time and there is plenty of blame to go around. Shortly after Carter became speaker the opposition were pushing him harder than they had been Lockwood, bouncing up with dodgy points of order and generally messing about.

      Give examples of these as compared with all/most that have been about questioning the inconsistent rulings contradicting previous standing orders, and shielding the PM and ministers from answering serious and important questions?

      The delusion is that question time is about asking questions and getting answers, it’s not, it’s about who can get tonight’s allocated 30 second politics sound bite on the news.

      I agree that Question Time has become too dominated by game playing (the media has some responsibility here), but the government avoiding being held accountable (under the protection of the current speaker) is contributing to this. Russel Norman is actually one of the MPs least into game playing, endeavours to follow the rule.

      In Normans case it’s always some shrill quip about destroying the world,

      Oh dear. Up to that point you had me.  I was thinking you were making a serious attempt at objective analysis.  Show me examples of Norman doing this?

  17. big bruv 17

    The hypocrisy of the left is breathtaking at times.

    Have all of you forgotten how Margaret Wilson gave Clark a free ride?, have you forgotten how she let ministers get away with not even addressing the question?

    I watch those fools Mallard and Norman stomp their feet in the house when they cannot get their way yet neither of these two losers said a word about Wilson while she running defense for the corrupt Clark Labour government.

    Yes Carter might not be as helpful to the left as Lockwood was, but he sure as hell is fairer than Wilson or that fat waste of space Hunt ever were.

    Suck it up lads, in six or so years you might get a chance to put Trev in the chair, in the mean time you can spend the next couple of terms pondering how bad Hunt and Wilson were.

    • karol 17.1

      Wilson was way better than David Carter as Speaker. I never watched parliament when Hunt was speaker. What evidence do you have of Wilson’s bias?

      I don’t think the answer for the left is to wait for a Labour Speaker (and I certainly wouldn’t want Mallard there).

      A far better solution is to have a neutral speaker – someone with a legal background and a sound understanding of politics.

  18. Chris 18

    Carter is a dick. Especially when he has let the nits off answering a question and then smirking. It is no wonder the nits can just answer anything they like ,usually ending with a long tirade against Labour of a hundred years ago,relevant to nothing and then sitting down with a “you can’t touch me” sneer at the Opposition. They know bleeding well that carter will support them on the basis of “I am satisfied that the question has BEEN ADDRESSED” What does that even mean. The Opposition should just abandon their question of the day and just point out that there is no point in asking anything of those giggling,dribbling excuses for a government and then walk out. This government has totally devalued the whole question/debate process and they should be ignored until they grow up.

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