Here’s John Armstrong’s view on Julia Gillard addressing Parliament, as published in the NZ Herald this morning.
Greens’ vigilance on Gillard merits praise – John Armstrong
The Greens have got some unwarranted stick for blocking Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard from addressing Parliament while it is officially in session. They were right to do so.
Their intervention has produced a compromise which most people will struggle to see as much different from what John Key had originally proposed. That saves face for him.
The compromise is significant, however, in the huge symbolic difference between what will happen tomorrow and what Key had hoped for.
The Australian Premier will be speaking to a meeting of MPs which coincidentally is being held in the parliamentary chamber outside sitting hours with the permission of the Speaker. The meeting will not become part of the official record, normal rules will not apply and the meeting will carry no special status.
The Greens’ objection to Key’s plan was made clear to MPs during closed-door meetings some months ago. Had it been ignored, there was a strong possibility they would have refused leave for Gillard to speak – only one MP’s refusal is required to halt proceedings. That would have been humiliating for her and acutely embarrassing for Key.
So what, after all, was wrong with the original plan? The Greens had two reasons for blocking Gillard.
The first follows the British constitutional line that the floor of the House remain sacrosanct and only the people’s elected representatives should tread it. This flows from English history; that MPs should not be threatened or unduly influenced by “strangers” – such as the King’s soldiers.
The second reason is that giving Gillard the full honours would have set a worrying and dangerous precedent. As Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says, no Government could avoid the Chinese President officially addressing Parliament if there was such a precedent.
The Chinese would take refusal as a massive diplomatic snub. But going ahead would provoke a huge uproar if, in Norman’s words, “the No 1 enemy of democracy” was allowed to lecture a chamber filled with democratically elected MPs.
What message would that send? Key may yet have reason to thank the Greens for their vigilance.