When the jousting turns nasty

The dynamics between Rodney Hide and Winston Peters are complex. Strange as it may seem, they need each other.

Hide has relentlessly exploited New Zealand First's embarrassment over big-business donations to the party in what is a blatant play to voters who detest Peters.

The latter's attacks on Hide are similarly Peters appealing to those who hate Act.

This feeding off each another has meant their jousting has contained a large element of attention-seeking. The bitching, while intense, has had its humorous moments - heightened by Hide's insistence on wearing his ridiculous yellow jacket.

But yesterday things turned nasty in Parliament. The pair are now locked in a fight to the political death. "Where's the canary?" asked Peters, cracking the afternoon's only joke.

But Hide was garbed in a serious-looking business suit. He began by making allegations regarding Simunovich Fisheries, NZ First and cheques for large sums of money. He wound up what turned out to be an extraordinary afternoon by refusing to obey the Speaker's order to leave the chamber.

His refusal was only brief. But it was the most serious challenge to Margaret Wilson's authority during her three-year tenure. When MPs are told to leave, they leave. They may make silent protest by leaving slowly and reluctantly. But they leave.

So when Hide announced he was staying, there was a collective holding of breath. Realising the grief he was about to cause himself, he finally walked through the door to the lobbies.

He was by that stage a very angry man. He was also a very lucky man, somehow escaping the further punishment of being "named" by the Speaker.

The provocation was strong enough for her to ask the House to apply the sanction which would have seen Hide evicted for the remainder of the day's proceedings. The risk was that the Opposition might not have concurred, undermining Wilson's authority even further.

Had Hide remained in the chamber, Wilson would have had to call on the Serjeant-at-Arms to have him removed. If that had happened, Hide would have been out for the remaining weeks of the current Parliament. But he has unfinished business with Peters.

His tactic yesterday was to make his questions sound like statements so that his allegations of corruption could be reported by the news media under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

But Peters has been around too long to be fooled by that trick. He constantly broke into Hide's questioning with points of order, blocking Hide from voicing a clear sound-bite for the television cameras.

Peters simultaneously claimed that what Hide was saying was the subject of defamation action by him and therefore sub judice so Parliament was not allowed to debate it. Wilson ruled in Peters' favour, saying she was obliged to take his word for it.

Hide vigorously objected, saying his material was quite separate from that before the courts. He tried again. Peters objected again. After close to half an hour of this argy-bargy, Wilson deemed Hide could not ask his question in the way he was trying to do.. When he complained, she ordered him out. He made to go, complaining it was an "absolute disgrace".

Then he stopped. "I actually won't go now, Madam Speaker." But Wilson urged him to "think carefully" before doing that.

Hide heeded the message, the House by now stunned into silence punctuated only by the mass clicking of camera shutters as newspaper photographers tracked his exit.

- NZ Herald

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