Yesterday, Jonathan Coleman was handed the job of doing the introductory speech on the Taxation (International Investment and Remedial Matters) Bill 2010. Coleman was reading from a prepared speech that someone had handed him, and it was the wrong speech for the wrong Bill. Coleman, without seeming to realise anything was amiss, proceeded to repeat verbatim a speech Peter Dunne gave a year ago for the Taxation (International Taxation, Life Insurance, and Remedial Matters) Bill.
Here’s a Minister of the Crown, introducing a Bill to Parliament and he knows so little about the issue that he is meant to be championing that he doesn’t even realise he’s talking about the wrong piece of legislation. In the video, you can hear Labour MPs yelling out to him that he’s talking about the wrong Bill, but he just raises his voice over the top of them.
In his speech, Stuart Nash asked Coleman to point out the clauses in the current Bill that he had just spent ten minutes talking about. Of course, they don’t exist in that Bill, they were passed a year and a half ago. Nash speculated that the ambitious Craig Foss might have been behind embarrassing his colleague.
It’s pretty funny to laugh at Coleman making a tit of himself but there’s a serious side too.
I’m pretty sure that in the UK MPs aren’t allowed to just read out prepared speeches, and I think that used to be the case here too. Obviously, MPs need notes but what’s the point in us paying Jonathan Coleman quarter of a million dollars a year to mindless repeat what is written down on a piece of paper in front of him? It makes a mockery of the institution of Parliament when the responsible minister is so disengaged that he doesn’t even realise he is reading a speech about a different Bill than the one he is asking Parliament to pass. It’s basically contemptuous of the democratic Parliamentary process.
I’ve been thinking for some time that the debating speeches in passing Bills need some reform to make them more than just hot air, which they are the vast bulk of the time. How much value are we, the voters and taxpayers, getting from a process that allows a minister to yammer on for ten minutes about the wrong law?