Since the 2011 General Election, we have commented a number of times on how well Russel Norman has been leading the Greens, and how he was looking like a de facto Leader of the Opposition.
Sadly, events in Parliament yesterday have severely dented our respect for Russel Norman. Here's a synopsis of what happened.
After the normal opening formalities, John Key moved a Notice of Motion on the deaths of the three New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan. Key led off the tributes, followed by Labour leader David Shearer. But when it came to the Greens' turn, it was not the leader who spoke, but Dr Kennedy Graham. Dr Graham's contribution was one of the shorter speeches given.
Come Question Time, Russel Norman asked Q4 to the Prime Minister:
Will he commit the Provincial Reconstruction Team to Bamiyan province in Afghanistan when the current deployment ends in October; if so, why?
This was not an unreasonable question. Nor was the Prime Minister's reply, confirming that it was the government's intention to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2013, and that the current rotation would indeed be replaced when their rotation ends shortly. Key would not give dates for that, for obvious reasons. Norman probed around the edges in his supplementary questions, and received detailed, considered and non-political responses from the PM.
Come the end of Question Time, this happened:
We are pleased that Dr Lockwood Smith refused to grant what would have been a politically motivated debate. The House had already paid its respects to the fallen soldiers; now Russel Norman was seeking to blame the blame game, for wholly political purposes. Norman wanted the debate to include the deaths of the soldiers, the operations on which they were engaged, the equipment provided to them and the timing of New Zealand's withdrawl from Afghanistan.
We started to blog about this at the time, but we were upset and angry, and sensibly decided to sleep on it. This post is nowhere near as caustic towards Dr Norman than it may have been had we blogged immediately.
But even after a sound sleep, we do not resile from our criticism of Russel Norman for a callous attempt to politicise the deaths of three brave young New Zealanders, before their bodies had even left Afghanistan on their journey to their final resting place. There is a time and a place for everything, and yesterday was neither the time nor the place.
Russel Norman had his chance to speak about the deaths of the soldiers, and to pay tribute to them. He passed on that, giving the speaking spot to Kennedy Graham. Perhaps we should be grateful for that, because we doubt that Norman could have been as statesmanlike as his colleague.
But we are left with the feeling that Norman's decision not to speak to the Notice of Motion was a cynical ploy designed to give him an extra shot at the government. That he would do so at a time such as this is inexcusable.
All sorts of game-playing goes on in Parliament; we know that. But emotions were running high yesterday. Winston Peters was ejected from the Chamber, and Stephen Joyce and Trevor Mallard were perhaps fortunate not to follow. We shudder to think how an urgent debate might have panned out.