Open letter to the Speaker re: Question Time

Rt Hon David Carter
Speaker of the House of Representatives
Parliament Buildings

20 March 2013

Dear David

After sitting through another chaotic question time I feel compelled to write this open letter to you as Speaker.

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”. These rules resulted in a much more orderly question time and a much more effective question time. The Opposition knew that if they asked straight questions then the Speaker would insist that Government Ministers gave straight answers. And we knew that if politically loaded questions were asked then the Ministers would be free to give politically loaded answers. Ministers retained the “public interest” defence for not answering questions.

Your current approach of only requiring Ministers to “address” the question means that Ministers now know that they don’t need to answer questions in Question time. This is causing disorder in the House as opposition members attempt repeatedly to get Ministers to answer questions. It also means that the House of Representatives is unable to fulfil its function of holding the Executive to account for their actions – we can’t hold the Executive to account if the Speaker does not require Ministers to answer questions.

If you continue down your current path Question time will continue to be disorderly, increasingly so, and the House will rightly be viewed as no longer serving its democratic functions.

Yours sincerely

Russel Norman

12 Comments Posted

  1. I was originally going to let them off lightly by just suggesting we require primary school levels of behaviour, but hang it, these people are paid enough, and their job is important enough, to make it reasonable to expect them to behave to the same standard as any other professional.

  2. Question time is a farce anyway. The greens are the only party that treat it with any respect and their questions are too limited.

    Labour and NZ First are just interested in scoring politial points. I know that they call it ‘holding the government to account’ but any line of questions that begins with ‘Does the Minister stand by all her/his statements’ is a waste of time?

  3. Could we also seek a ruling that behaviour considered unacceptable in any other New Zealand workplace (interrupting speakers during meetings, verbal abuse of workmates, grandstanding, deliberately wasting time) shall also be considered unacceptable in parliament?

  4. Right on,Russel! I’ve been appalled by Mr.Carter’s behaviour over the past few weeks! He seems to believe that his job is to protect Govt. Ministers and their policies. And he seems to be perpetually in a bad temper and on the defensive. He will certainly be seen historically as one of our worst Speakers.

  5. I never though I’d hark back to the Golden Age of Dr. Smith but to give the man credit, his evenhanded, schoolmarm-ish attitude to MP naughtiness and superb application of the somewhat esoteric House procedure definitely raised the bar.

    Carter = cheerleader, not Speaker.

  6. Well put Russel. The speaker’s still a bundle of nerves. Perhaps if he reflects on how he has gone so far he may take up your suggestion. Lockwood Smith at least had a semblance of fairness in his approach, something lacking from David Carter.

  7. Total bloody shambles alright. I’m surprised more opposition members haven’t been kicked out of the house out of sheer frustration. “Addressing the question” means Coleman gets can legitimately say “How would I know?” – 3 times if he wants! The general public will continue to lose faith in the democratic process, what the Govt wants really.

  8. How can anyone of good will, whatever political views they may hold, disagree with this? After all, Lockwood Smith was also from the National Party but fairness mattered to him.

  9. Good on you, Russel – about time someone did this.

    As a frequent watcher of Question Time, it’s disturbing what a shambles it has become since Smith was replaced by Carter as Speaker. Voters deserve better than what we’ve been getting recently.

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