The battle between National and Labour over Parliamentary questions has taken an unusual turn – a Minister assigning homework to a National MP.
Opposition MPs can lodge written questions to ministers, with the answers then published online. Since Labour came to power National has lodged thousands, with many asking what meetings a minister held on a specific date.
Labour has called it the Parliamentary equivalent of spam mail but National is unrepentant, saying its approach has been forced by a lack of transparency by the new Government.
National's Shane Reti, MP for Whangarei, has lodged a number of written questions, asking various ministers how he can help them achieve policy aims.
"How can the opposition data spokesperson [Reti] best help the minister with robust data external hard drives, USB and media card policies?" Reti asked Social Development Minister in one such example.
"Data security and the policies around the management of the data is an operational matter for the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development," Sepuloni replied.
However, Health Minister David Clark hasn't played such a straight bat to similar questions from the Whangarei MP.
After Reti asked Clark how he could best help him with robust data and uninterruptible power supply policies, Clark responded: "The Member may like to write a report on this matter and submit it to me by February 2018".
Another homework assignment was suggested after Reti asked how, as Whangarei MP, he can help Clark address Northland's suicide rate.
"The Member may like to engage with people across his electorate on this issue and report to me on his findings by February 2018. I would also encourage the member to submit to the upcoming ministerial inquiry into mental health, and encourage members of his community to do the same," Clark responded.
Reti received a lengthier response from Transport Minister Phil Twyford, after asking how he could help the minister improve Northland's roads.
"I thank the Member for his offer," Twyford wrote back. "It is good to see a National MP who is interested in working constructively with the Government in the interests of New Zealand, and not just wasting his own time or that of the public service. The Member can assist by asking locals which transport issues they believe have worsened the most in Northland in recent years and are most in need of remedying.
"He can also ask for locals' views on the previous National Government's policy of underfunding maintenance and safety upgrades to Northland roads for nine years. I look forward to receiving his report by mid-January 2018 to help inform Government policy."
The sparring over written questions is not the only tension between National and the Labour-led Government over the operation of Parliament. There was a disagreement over the number of MPs on select committees, and National has pushed back against the Government's use of urgency to rush through some pieces of legislation.
On Friday National MP and whip Jami-Lee Ross yelled at the Chair and Labour MP, Adrian Rurawhe, after Rurawhe cut off National MPs from raising points of order, telling them it appeared raising them was a deliberate tactic to delay the vote on the families' package bill.
That caused Ross to yell out in protest, telling the Labour MP that he was being "grossly disorderly and disrespectful", and it was past time for a lunch break.