Check out this exchange from Q1 yesterday:
Phil Twyford: Is she aware that the $8.7 million over 5 years cut from the training incentive allowance will affect 4,500 people every year—people who are training to get more skills so they can get off the benefit?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We have not cut the money from the training incentive allowance. What we have done instead is to change the qualification level that they can actually get it for.
Carmel Sepuloni: That is a lie!
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Look, I understand that Labour is having a bad day today and its members are feeling a bit angry. It is all right.
Chris Tremain: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hate to interrupt the Minister but there is a member from across the Chamber shouting out the word “liar”. It is unnecessary, it is totally untrue, and she should not be saying that. Can you ask her to withdraw, please.
Mr SPEAKER: All I heard was a totally unacceptable barrage of noise. It just sounds awful. I do not know how members think it sounds to the public, or how it looks on television, but it does us no service in this place, at all. I did not hear the particular offence, but a member has taken offence to it. If a member owns up to having said that, I would ask the member to stand, withdraw, and apologise for having made that interjection. If a member does not, then I cannot do anything about it, because I did not hear that particular interjection—the overall noise level was so high. [Interruption] I am dealing with the matter, and if a member does not feel the need to do that then I am going to let the matter lie there.
Chris Tremain: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order is being dealt with, and I say to the National back bench that if they want the matter dealt with, they will not carry on like that.
Chris Tremain: The member who shouted that across the floor was Carmel Sepuloni, not once but on a number of occasions, and I ask you to deal with this matter, because I certainly took offence to it.
Mr SPEAKER: Offence has been taken. I ask Carmel Sepuloni to stand, withdraw, and apologise for accusing a member of being a liar. If the member says she did not say that, I will accept her word. Is the member claiming she did not say that?
Carmel Sepuloni: I said it, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, if the member said it, she will in all seriousness apologise now to this House and withdraw that remark.
Carmel Sepuloni: I would rather leave the House than withdraw and apologise for that statement.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will do what the Speaker requires. Either the member will get to her feet, withdraw her comment, and apologise, or I will name her.
Carmel Sepuloni: Reluctantly I withdraw and apologise—
Mr SPEAKER: The member is running the grave danger of being named. The member will now get to her feet with dignity, as required in this House. I will not have this place treated with contempt by that member. She will get to her feet, withdraw her comment, and apologise with no other words, or I will name her.
Carmel Sepuloni: I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member.
Ms Sepuloni was VERY lucky to escape unscathed from this exchange with the Speaker, who was quite right to suggest that she was treating Parliament with contempt. For a first-term member, her lack of respect for the Parliament was patently obvious.
Only two questions later, Trevor Mallard stormed out of the House in a huff after this exchange with the Speaker:
Aaron Gilmore: Has he seen any reports on exemptions to the tax rules on capital gains on share trading?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen a couple of interesting reports. The first was a Government policy released by the then Minister of Finance in the last Government, which this Government has maintained: “Capital gains on New Zealand and Australian shares held via a vehicle like a managed fund will no longer be taxed. … It is … important for encouraging people to save through KiwiSaver.” That was a policy position taken by Dr Michael Cullen, and remains a current policy. The second report was by Labour’s finance spokesman, David Cunliffe, who told the New Zealand Shareholders Association that under Labour’s proposed policy KiwiSaver funds would tend to be taxed on the capital gains. So I think it is now Labour’s policy that capital gains on Australian and New Zealand - traded funds will be taxed, and that will punish 1.7—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —million—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —KiwiSavers.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Unlike the previous question, that was a question from a colleague from the member’s own party. He reported accurately the report he had received, but he erred in expressing his view about KiwiSavers being punished. That was beyond the provisions of the Standing Orders.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, I invite you to review the tape of that one and see whether you called the Minister to order three or four times while he studiously avoided looking at you.
Mr SPEAKER: When the member’s own behaviour is perfect, I will take his advice on that matter.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite you to reflect on that and see whether you should address points of order raised or provide a commentary that sounds more like an Australian cricket commentary.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the member’s view, but if the member wants me to take his points of order seriously, he needs to behave—most times—seriously. It is a very simple matter: the matter the member raised is a matter for the Speaker to decide. It is for the Speaker to decide whether the Minister did not respond quickly enough to my being on my feet. I admonished the Minister for going into an area that the supplementary question did not allow for, and, as far as I am concerned, that is the end of the matter. All I say to the member is to just reflect on his own behaviour if he is going to criticise the behaviour of other members in this House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite you to consider whether it is appropriate for the Speaker to express prejudice before—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat right away. I have to deal with the behaviour of members in this House all of the time. I have been, I think, quite generous to the shadow Leader of the House and some of his behaviour in this place. I noted last night that in the Committee the member was told to leave the Chamber, and he argued with the Chairman. The shadow Leader of the House argued with the Chairman instead of leaving when he was told to leave. Members need to think about their own behaviour if they are to be taken seriously in this place. Had the point of order been a serious point of order, I would have acted on it immediately.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If you are going to reflect, as the member requested, I think you should reflect on the latitude that that member seems to get in this House. As you pointed out, yesterday he was asked to leave the Chamber by a—
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think we should take this matter any further. I have dealt with it as Speaker, and that is the end of the matter. I have made it very clear to the members of the House that I do not view bad behaviour favourably. When the Hon Trevor Mallard raised a point of order claiming that another member had behaved poorly, I suggested, because I did not believe that the offence was so bad, that the member reflect on his own behaviour. It seems that quite a few members of the House actually share my view, it would be fair to say. But that is the end of the matter.
I just want to see behaviour in this House improve a little. In recent times it has become poor, and we are not seen well in the public eye when we allow that to happen. If members doubt the behaviour of certain members, I tell them to look at the television replays—look at the tapes. I do it all the time, and at times it is not good. At times I just have to make it clear to members that they should pick up their game, because the public does not like seeing its Parliament behaving badly. If I have offended the member, I apologise for offending the member, but the behaviour has not been very good.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will be interested to know what the point of order is about.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I am about to advise you of it, Mr Speaker. I would like some clarification. Without wishing to relitigate the exchange we have had, I think the issue is simply this: no one is challenging your right to make a ruling—that is absolutely correct, and we would support you making a ruling—but what follows or prefaces that ruling, inevitably, is a commentary. You may see that as your right and privilege as an evolving Speaker’s role, but the difficulty is that that commentary often becomes a narrative well outside what could be seen to be judicious and impartial. It is your right to make a ruling. You are the referee, but you are not in the game, I put to you, Mr Speaker.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As someone who has recently been on the other end of decisions of the Speaker, I think it is fair to say that we need to reassert a standard that has been held in this House for 20 years, which is that the impartiality of the Speaker is not questioned. Questioning the Speaker’s impartiality has never been a custom of this House, but the Opposition is starting to get into that. I sometimes disagree strongly with the Speaker, and have had cause to do so recently, but questioning the impartiality of the Speaker takes us down a road that leads to disorder, and it should not be occurring. We can disagree with the Speaker, but not question his impartiality.
Hon Rick Barker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not take many points of order, but that point of order was very provocative. I sat on the other side of the House, where that member is now, and heard member after member of National questioning the partiality of the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt and the partiality of the Hon Margaret Wilson. I was galled by it then, and I am even more galled by the member saying that they did not do it. I just wanted to lay that on the record. I accept that the member is correct in that we should not question the impartiality—
Mr SPEAKER: I think the House has expressed a view. All I say to all members is that if I have offended a member, I apologise for that, but we have to improve the behaviour. If members think that some of the behaviour that we have seen in recent times is acceptable, then I am sorry, but I disagree. The only way I can make it clear to members that the behaviour is becoming unacceptable is to invite members to look at the tapes to see what the public sees, and to see why we lose respect. That is all I am asking. If comments offend members at times, be assured that it is not without a lot of provocation, because I have been very tolerant of some members’ behaviour. I just want to see the behaviour improve a little.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Without again wanting to revisit the matter, I think you have missed the point, with respect.
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise. The member will resume his seat. We are not going to waste more time on this. I have not missed the point, at all; I heard what the member said. The member thinks I make too many comments, and maybe I do. I accept that. But it is a way of indicating to a member when their behaviour to me is becoming unacceptable to the House. It is not that I have missed the member’s point; I heard it. Maybe there is some merit in what the member has said, but I can assure the member that the public sees my performance as being absolutely impartial. I get a lot of feedback from the public and they see it as that. In fact, I could say I was criticised somewhat yesterday for not being impartial, but that is enough on that matter.
This was a most interesting exchange indeed, especially when Lockwood Smith referred to the incident the previous evening when Trevor Mallard was clearly asked to leave the Hose by Eric Roy, but argued the toss and stayed. As shadow Leader of the HOuse, surely Mallard's role is to set an example to his MP's in how TO behave, not how NOT to.
But we wonder whether the pressure is building in Labour's caucus. There's the Phil Goff/SIS drama, there's the Looming shadow of a series of dreadful poll results which will see many members, Ms Sepuloni amongst them lose their places in Parliament, and there is the plethora of SMOG's being scored by Labour MP's. It is well known that Labour's caucus is highly factional, and we suspect that there is plenty of tension between those factions.
This is not a week that Labour can take any satisfaction at all from. We are of the opinion that strong leadership and caucus discipline are required, or the shambles of the last two days will be repeated, and Labour's support will continue to erode. One thing that good governments need is strong opposition, and the current Labour opposition is anything but strong.
Has the horse bolted? And who can provide the leadership that will unite the broad church which the Labour Party caucus is? We don't have those answers; do they?