by Gareth Hughes
Question Time is an important part of our parliamentary democracy. How do you think the new Speaker is going in refereeing it?
Last week Russel Norman raised some questions about the new Speaker of the House David Carter’s performance in an open letter, particularly around his interpretation of Standing Orders referring to Question Time and the new Speaker’s insistence that Ministers need only ‘address’ the question as opposed to ‘answering’ it. I think there is a key difference between answering and addressing a question, as this blog post humorously points out.
As Russel said, ‘we can’t hold the Executive to account if the Speaker does not require Ministers to answer questions.’ Russel and I met with the Speaker last week to pass on our concerns and I see David Shearer met with Carter yesterday too. A week on, and I still have concerns about how Question Time is being handled and it is still, at times, fast becoming something of a farce.
This continued today with Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Chris Hipkins kicked out of the Debating Chamber for raising a point of order challenging the Speaker to enforce Parliament’s rules on the Prime Minister’s gross misuse of the point of order system. I hope this doesn’t become a trend. Video of the exchange can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXFglrDodM4.
Speaker Smith’s simple rule that a straight question would receive a straight answer was a good one and saw many more examples of clear, succinct and non-loaded questions being asked and Ministers having to front with real answers. We need bring order back to Question Time and to do this, is to make sure it is also ‘answer time.’
Some might throw their hands up in the air and consider this typical politics and unfixable but I disagree. In a Parliamentary system where checks and balances on executive power are few and far between, Question Time is an important channel through which we can make sure the elected Government is held accountable.
So what do you think?