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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: MPs turn wrath on caustic Speaker

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Lockwood Smith was the target of a blistering attack. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Lockwood Smith was the target of a blistering attack. Photo / Mark Mitchell

There it sits on Parliament's current order paper, a veritable caustic cuckoo in a nest filled with otherwise harmless notices of motion. Winston Peters' blistering attack on Speaker Lockwood Smith is in typically no-holds-barred contrast to the dozen other contributions listed below it.

Members' notices of motion are rarely debated. They are mainly a device for MPs to offer congratulations to constituents for achievements such as - using current examples - winning a world clay shooting championship or securing a valuable export contract to Russia.

Peters' motion singles out the Speaker for special mention. It does not mince words.

Revealing the depth of his frustration with Smith's handling of Parliament, Peters has moved that the House has no confidence in the Speaker because of his "gross misunderstanding of standing orders ... his inappropriate and unacceptable handling of the point of order process and for abuse of his power as Speaker".

Ironically, Smith has arguably done more to help Opposition parties such as Peters' New Zealand First than any Speaker in living memory.

But there have been growing gripes from all quarters that Smith has been going too far in seeming to want to also be Parliament's coach and commentator when his role should strictly be referee only.

When these tensions boil over in the House, Smith's exasperation with repeated points of order challenging his rulings can see him reply with a particularly cutting remark or putdown.

That was the case yesterday as MPs struggled to comprehend Smith's ruling that the phrase "position of hypocrisy" was okay parliamentary language.

His decision was a surprise as words such as liar and hypocrite have been considered out of order since Dick Seddon ruled the roost a century ago.

Labour frontbencher Clayton Cosgrove pleaded with Smith to offer some clarity and consistency in his rulings. Smith was merciless in response, saying he had given "reasonable clarity to people of reasonable intellect".

The jibe was too much for one of Cosgrove's colleagues. Trevor Mallard got to his feet to seek leave to move Peters' motion. Smith's blushes were saved by his National colleagues refusing leave.

Cosgrove got the last word, however. He determined revenge was a dish best served immediately. Speaking a few minutes later in the Wednesday general debate - and with Smith still in the chair - Cosgrove wove in a reference to an unnamed Minister of Education who lacking "intellect" and "smarts" had abolished the apprenticeship system in 1992. No prizes for guessing that the proud holder of the education portfolio in 1992 was one Lockwood Smith.

- NZ Herald

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