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August 7, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Week in Politics

If there was a film made after last week, it would probably be called How National Got Its Mongrel Back. While the party’s attempts to make itself cool have been less than an unqualified success, the party has upped the ante in the House. They have been trying to wrangle the agenda off Labour, flushing the ballot box with member’s bills and this week coordinating questions to Labour MPs who have their own bills in, and questioning Labour chairs of select committees. Hardly sexy stuff for the media to report on, but make no mistake, the Nats are busy.

Of course, this would be alright if the House was a noble and reverent place devoted to debate, above the party partisanship… But there’s no chance of that being true. Punters who went to see New MP Charles Chauvel (Labour, List) take his oath, were treated to the most exciting day in the House in a long time.

First a little background. Leader Don Brash had taken the extreme step of laying a motion of no confidence in Speaker Margaret Wilson after her refusal to deal with Taito Phillip Field’s (Labour, Mangere) conduct as contained in the Ingram report. Now, this has been going on for a while and the story hasn’t died, all the while National had been able to exploit the situation with aplomb…until last Tuesday.

An inability to work with other parties on resolving the matter and a brain explosion on standing orders left National getting its motion canned, AND the Green’s censure motion quashed. Even Field’s offer to give an explanation to the House was ended by a solitary voice in the National ranks (although he later got his chance). Gerry Brownlee (National, Ilam) later commented “…for the Greens and Labour to have conspired to try to put a lid on the fallout from this affair is nothing short of a disgrace.” Because, dealing with this is more important that anything else on the agenda I guess?

What the hell was going on? What was supposed to be an effort to root out the truth, and demand an explanation, was bogged down by a party’s own pettiness. National wanted the matter to be continued in the Select Committee, and to do that they were prepared to remove the Speaker. The Greens tried to get past the matter and move on by calling for a public rebuking of Field, an approach that would have destroyed National’s biggest coup in months… it’s a bit like the public backlash at National and ACT over the David Benson- Pope matter being over-handled.

To add to the chaos, Ron Mark (New Zealand First) challenged the National party over their botched purchase of the Charles Upham as hypocritical in response to their criticism of the Government’s overbudgeted purchase of the NH-90 helicopter fleet. Former NZF Colleague Tau Henare (National, List) joined the fray, suggesting Mark’s one time support of the Ship’s $38 million purchase (and latter sold for $8 million), a charge that Mark rejected, having not even been an MP when the ship was bought in 1994. That would have been that, had Mark not flipped the bird to Henare as a final show of defiance. The outrage from Brian Connell (National, Rakaia) and Henare led them to be both ejected from the House, with Mark later misleading the House by denying it all. Thankfully TV3 caught it all. Disgraceful.

Speaking of which, regarding the Speaker, first a disclaimer: I think she’s terrible as speaker (I am disappointed with her ability to control debate in the House). People have been comparing her to the last Speaker to have their confidence questioned: Gerard Hall. However, where Wall was anally retentive, Wilson is plain impotent. A change to the speaker’s ruling on interjections in question time opened a barrage of questions to Speaker Wilson from the National benches. After a suggestion by Wayne Mapp (National, North Shore) to provide more consultation on the new ruling, Wilson uncovered a wider problem: she had been asking for that over the last six months! If this is a genuine attempt by the National party to nullify or remove Speaker Wilson, then it may not be such a wise tactic. Rumours are strong that she is getting ready to leave in Labour’s ‘renewal’ and the number one contender to fill the chair is (as the rumour goes) Michael Cullen (Labour, List), replacing one soon to retire List MP with another. This could make another attempt to neuter the chair a difficult challenge.

As mentioned earlier, last week new MP Charles Chauvel took his oath and gave his inaugural speech to the House. It lacked the humour that some of the speeches featured earlier in the year by the newbies contained, and was a solemn and sober piece. It took the time to focus on his own Pasifika and blue collar origins, and the need for cooperation with the US and Australia as trading partners, but also made a commitment to support the Pacific. His speech was more about a serious dedication to serving the public, and making a point to keep his private life out…

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