When the House rises for the last time tomorrow on the 53rd Parliament, there is one award for excellence that few MPs would disagree with.
And that is for Speaker Adrian Rurawhe, who has been exceptional in the chair.
Unlike many Speakers of the past, he is a man of few words. He does not feel the need to expand on the decisions he makes by explaining his thinking behind them ad nauseam.
It often appears that he makes his decisions on gut instinct rather than with some encyclopaedic knowledge of precedence in the House Bible, Speakers’ Rulings.
That is also why his decisions, with a few exceptions, are accepted and are not met with defiance or histrionics.
The arguments between MPs and the Speaker over whether the relevant minister has addressed the questions have all but ended. Rurawhe simply says “I believe it has been addressed” and that is the end of the matter.
There is no perceived political agenda behind his rulings, as was often suspected by the Labour Opposition towards David Carter and by the National Opposition towards Trevor Mallard.
Rurawhe is even-tempered and rarely riled. He intervenes rarely. When he is asked to intervene because, for example, a minister has got too political or too abusive, he will hear the objection and more often than not, declare it one-all. He is the master of moving on.
If National leads the next Government, senior MP Gerry Brownlee is tipped to become Speaker. If for some reason Brownlee could not do it or chose not to do it, National could do a lot worse than asking Rurawhe to continue in the role as Speaker.
MPs ordered out
In August 2022, Rurawhe took over from Mallard, in whom the Opposition had no confidence, and Rurawhe’s more moderate style may be reflected in some of the end-of-term statistics.
In 2021, 15 MPs were asked to leave the chamber, in 2022 eight were asked to leave and so far this year MPs have been ordered out or suspended six times: Green MP Julie Anne Genter once, Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi twice, his co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer once and Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson twice.
Waititi was “named” yesterday for his stated intention to breach suppression orders in a court case. He was suspended for a day with most of his pay docked, although he was on a catwalk in Auckland at the time.
That makes it the fourth time in Waititi’s first term as MP that he has been suspended from the House or ordered out, and means he is top of the MPs’ league table.
David Seymour is second, having been asked to leave three times this term.
But neither comes close to the Top 10 for which records have been kept since 1984:
Winston Peters 54 times, Mallard 37, Nick Smith 36, Rodney Hide 24, Gerry Brownlee 21, Tau Henare 19, Chris Carter 14, Richard Prebble and Ron Mark 12, Merv Wellington and Phil Heatley 10, and Sir Bill English nine times.
And, just out of interest, those ordered out seven times since 1984 is a veritable hodge-podge of MPs: Sir Bill Birch, Judy Keall, Michael Laws, Sir Rob Muldoon and Tony Friedlander.
It may also be possible that Rurawhe’s style is having a moderating impact on the type of insults ruled to be unparliamentary. Here’s a selection of unparliamentary comments from this year:
- “Oh God, what a Neanderthal!”
- “It is a Labour Party that the unions control, they fund and they own it. And this is the payback to the unions.”
- “Stop your National Party laundering.”
- “I am not prepared to be race-baited by that member.”
- “I want to inform the member that the cannabis referendum voted no, because I fear she may have broken the law before she gave that speech.”
They appear to be a mild-mannered insult compared with those of the past, for example:
- “You’re corrupt.”
- “They have no principles left to sell.”
- “God, the Speaker is as bad as the Labour Party.”
- “What a shabby, grubby, filthy National Party we’ve got.”
- “It’s pretty simple, Simon.”
- “You’re the puppet master.”
- “I’m not sure what crypt she was sleeping in.”
- “Stop being reckless with the truth.”
The Enough Already Award
It might have been okay the first time, or even the second or third time. Mercifully, the scratch in Mark Mitchell’s record will end tomorrow. Since May, National’s police spokesman has asked the same question 16 times of Police Minister Ginny Andersen (17 if he asks one on Thursday).
“Does she stand by her statement, ‘It is my view that New Zealanders feel safer’; if so, why?”
And almost every time, Anderson responds the same way in the House: “I stand by my full statement at the time it was given: it is my view that New Zealanders feel safer with the Government on track to deliver 1800 extra police.”
The origin of the contest goes back to a written question in March soon after she became Police Minister. Mitchell asked: “Is there a single statistic or measure that she can cite as being most important to see change in her time as Police Minister, if so, what is that statistic or measure and what goal does she have for it?”
She replied: “Ensuring New Zealanders feel safe. I am committed to doing this.”
He then asked again in a written question: “How will she know that they feel safe?”, to which she replied: “It is my view that New Zealanders feel safer with the Government on track to deliver 1800 extra police.”
It was one of Rurawhe’s few bad decisions that, against Labour’s objection, he has allowed Mitchell to only half quote Andersen.
But it is inexplicable as to why National’s House strategists give Mitchell the go-ahead each day to be so repetitive for so little effect.
Crime is one of the biggest concerns of the public and yet discussion is focused on something unexceptional the Police Minister said in March.
It is hard to go past Education Minister Jan Tinetti, who gave a wrong answer to the House in February on whether she had been responsible for publishing school attendance data, failed to correct it when the error was drawn to her attention, and ultimately it led to a Privileges Committee finding in June that her “high degree of negligence” meant she had misled Parliament.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson has finally met his match in National finance spokeswoman Nicola Willis, and it has happened daily in Question Time since she took over in March last year.
Robertson churned through plenty of them since he became Finance Minister in October 2017: Steven Joyce when English was leader, Amy Adams and Paul Goldsmith when Bridges was leader, Andrew Bayly and Michael Woodhouse in a tandem role when Judith Collins was leader, Bridges when Christopher Luxon was leader, and finally Willis when Bridges resigned from Parliament.
It is a contest not without its moments of humour. She recently asked: “How big is his hole ...” before realising what she said.
In their latest encounter over National’s tax policy, he called her Trick-ola, and said her performance was worthy of the Johnsonville Amateur Dramatic Society.
Most improved MP
Luxon may not be as agile in the House as Chris Hipkins or Robertson or his deputy Willis. He is not a natural in the chamber but nor has he made any blunders. And considering he was sworn in as a first-term MP less than three years ago, he does well enough as Leader of the Opposition to put him beyond question as the most improved MP.
Best select committee chair
It was going to be Green MP Eugenie Sage, who did an excellent job chairing the Environment committee hearing the thousands of submissions on the bills to reform the RMA Act. Time was limited but she showed respect to every submitter.
But in the past few months, there is a new contender, David Parker, who has chaired the powerful Privileges Committee hearings into Tinetti (see above), disclosure of confidential information by Act MP Simon Court from a select committee, failure to properly disclose and amend shares to the registrar of pecuniary interests by Labour MP Michael Wood, and claims that National MP Tim van de Molen intimidated a select committee chair. It is almost a record of busyness for the committee.
In what has the potential to be a contested and volatile environment, Parker earned the praise of all members on it for the way in which he chaired the committee - so he shares the honours with Sage.
Many of the best speeches in Parliament are delivered with cutting wit in the Wednesday general debate by Finance Minister Robertson. These, for example, from a speech he gave on May 3: “In the same way that Dracula is a great friend of the blood service, Chris Bishop is telling tenants all across New Zealand that ‘It’s OK to be kicked out for no reason, because we are your friends,’” and “Nicola Grigg said that she’d been on a live export ship but gave no good reason why she got off it.”
But retiring National MP Todd Muller delivered the best and most constructive speech of the year in his valedictory last week. Among various subjects, he has been one of the few to try to explain the divisions as he sees in it over Māori and economic and political aspiration - and to set out what parties could be doing about it.
“There are two polar opposite views that are pulsing through our communities,” Muller said. “One: that this country is being radicalised by the ‘Māorification of our society’, and the other is that we are very slowly, but inexorably, moving to a Treaty-centred future which was imagined in 1840 ...
“The two great tribes of New Zealand politics - the Labour Party and the National Party - have a real responsibility here. As collective representatives of the significant majority of the country, we need to be mindful of where these debates and policies are taking us. One of the great examples of bipartisanship of the last 30 years has been our focus on settling historical Treaty claims - often in innovative and inclusive ways.
“But the areas of common agreement around the role of the Treaty in New Zealand are being eroded by increasingly fierce and partisan demands and responses.
“We progress as a society when the centre holds, whilst slowly moving that centre to reflect the changing nature of our aspirations and beliefs. But if the centre collapses because the extremes are too unyielding, or either one of the main parties rapidly moves to embrace that extreme, we put the bonds that bind our society at great peril. But the political centre has to move as well ...
“Framing Māori aspiration as a binary choices between radicalism and conservatism is as dangerous as rapid changes to our institutions without due diligence and consultation.
“So I ask the two great tribes of New Zealand politics to quietly begin refreshing and strengthening their relationships across the aisle on this kaupapa, and work together to allow the centre of NZ politics to move but also to hold.”