Ask and you shall receive, the Bible says, and National is seemingly determined to test it.

National has come under fire for lodging thousands of written questions in the month since the Labour Government was sworn in.

This, according to Labour's Leader of the House Chris Hipkins amounts to "spam".

If so, it is spam Labour has subscribed for.


It is true that National is using the Written Question in mischievous fashion to an extent.

Many of the questions Labour has cried foul at are aimed at finding out exactly who ministers have been meeting with on different days of the week.

According to National MP Brett Hudson it is because more general questions along those lines were fobbed off with a line such as "the minister meets many people" and an invitation to be more specific.

So National is now being more specific.

On the face of it, it looks like National are playing silly buggers.

There will be some members of the public who will bridle at MPs whiling away their hours at what seems to be gamesmanship.

But Written Questions are an important part of an Opposition's toolkit and therefore of democracy.

The most important thing an Opposition can have is information.


Yet of all the imbalances between the Opposition and Government (resources, staff, pay) the second biggest is the gap of information. The biggest is power.

The Government has all the information it could hope for, the Opposition lives in a long drawn out information drought.

Labour right now are finding out the extent of that gap – they are uncovering all manner of things the previous Government either kept secret deliberately or because nobody thought to ask about them.

In turn, it too will now decide to keep some of those things secret or use them for political attacks of its own against National.

Written Questions can only be used by parliamentarians. They are a quicker path to get information than through the Official Information Act most mere mortals must rely on. The response deadline is six working days, rather than the 20 under the OIA.

Used well, they can gather tidbits of information incrementally which can be put together to form a bigger picture. That can then be used to pinion the Government through the other tools at an Opposition's disposal – Oral Questions of a minister in Parliament and the media.

National's aim is three-fold. It is to stress-test the new Government while it is still short-staffed and working out how to find its way round. It is to highlight that National has hit the ground running in Opposition – and try to force Labour into further stumbles.

In response, Labour is trying to seed the perception that National is wasting time simply trying to make the new Government look stupid with a range of tricks from shenanigans in the House to this latest one.

But National is also using the questions to try to fill a gap in information. Fresh from office, it knows just how many secrets can be kept and is trying to winkle out a few of them.

Labour is yet to release the Briefings to Incoming Ministers and has declined Official Information Act requests, such as for the longer document NZ First leader Winston Peters revealed existed between his party and Labour.

Labour's chief saving grace at this time will be Heather Simpson, who has taken on the role of Cerberus at the Gate of Information – the guard dog of what is given out and kept hidden.

Hipkins has his own history with Written Questions and knows what an important tool they can be.

It was that system he used to inquire about the citizenship status of an Australian born to a New Zealand father after a wee chat with a former work colleague who now works for Australian Labor.

We all know how that turned out. Hipkins was reprimanded by Ardern and Australian politician Barnaby Joyce is fighting a byelection after being forced to resign for being a dual citizen.

Hipkins is right that National is using it as a fishing expedition. It won't worry National one iota.

In Opposition, there is a lot of time to sit in the boat and wait for a bite.