John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Mr Speaker Carter does it his way

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Speaker David Carter knows he will initially be judged by how closely he follows his predecessor's doctrine. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Speaker David Carter knows he will initially be judged by how closely he follows his predecessor's doctrine. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Taking over as Parliament's Speaker after Lockwood Smith's departure for the High Commissioner's job in London was never going to be easy, no matter whom the Prime Minister hand-picked for the role.

Smith will be judged favourably by history for rescuing question-time from its descent into a meaningless hour or so of petty political point-scoring, having made ministers address the question rather than allowing them to spout some vaguely connected spiel.

David Carter, Smith's replacement, knows his initial months in the job will be judged by how close his management of the House follows the Smith doctrine.

Carter, however, has made it clear that when it comes to improving ministerial accountability, it will be done his way - not Smith's.

The latter's tougher stance on ministers' answers benefited the Opposition.

Labour then proceeded to push the boundaries, complaining that just about any reply did not properly answer the question.

Carter has his own solution - to embarrass the minister answering the question by immediately telling the Opposition MP to put the same question again. And again if need be.

This may not seem much of a sanction, but it makes the answering of a question to the Speaker's satisfaction something of a test of competence. Such an approach also avoids the Speaker looking as if he or she is in the Opposition's pocket.

The other noticeable change under Carter's regime is to allow more latitude for interjections and barracking from all sides of the House - an acknowledgment that the chamber is the principal venue for the display of political passion.

Carter also deserves credit for keeping one of Smith's time-saving innovations - blocking MPs from trying to table documents to make a political point when those papers are freely available elsewhere.

It is still far too early to say how Carter's tenure will end up rating the in the long list of Speakerships. As far as the Opposition is concerned, the jury is still out.

What is clear is that Carter will apply the same approach he has employed throughout his political career - to quietly and slowly build respect among both political friend and foe for handling things in a commonsense, unfussy, and unspectacular manner.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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