The state of New Zealand’s Parliament and Parliamentarians was demonstrated by two political events this week. One received very little media coverage (and deserved much more) and the other led the news for days (yet deserved no coverage).
The first of these was the Justice and Electoral Select Committee’s decision that Barbara Stuart’s (NZ First, List) private member’s bill reducing the number of MPs from 120 to 99 should not go any further. The Dominion Post led with a headline proclaiming that MPs had just voted to keep their jobs, but as with almost everything that is printed in The Dom, the underlying reasons for the decision were much more complicated. The common argument for reducing the number of MPs is cost saving; fewer MPs mean less taxpayer’s money spent on not only salaries, but flights, staff, offices and all the other perks that our elected officials enjoy, not to mention getting rid of those no-name MPs who generally do nothing (ironically, a group that many people would claim Ms Stuart would fit into). Conversely, fewer MPs mean smaller parties will lose significant chunks of their caucus – Rodney Hide (ACT, Epsom) and Peter Dunne (United Future, Oheriu-Belmont) would essentially become lone operators, while NZ First and the Greens would be a shadow of their former selves. Also, then less people doing what is already an over burdened job – most MPs work long hours, often traveling to and from Wellington several times a week. This not only places pressure on the Members, but also on their families.
This segues quite nicely into the next important event; Je Lan Brash, Peter Davis, and mud – from both sides. The first shot was fired by Trevor Mallard (Labour, Hutt South) during question time, when he inferred that Don Brash (National, List) was having an affair with Business Roundtable deputy chair Elaine Foreman. Several days later, the Sunday Star Times led with an article claiming that Helen Clark’s (Labour, Mt Albert) husband, Peter Davis was gay because he was filmed being kissed by a male friend of the family (pun intended) at Clark’s election night party over a year ago. Both stories did the unthinkable – momentarily removing Taito Philip Field (Labour, Mangere) and the Exclusive Brethren from the headlines. However, the exchange did nothing else but lower the political environment, dragging two innocent by-standers (in the form of Mrs Brash and Professor Davis) down with it, and put the Young Nats conference on the news. And – inevitably – fueled further speculation about Brash’s departure as leader of the Nats, and according to the Dom Post, soon to be replaced by Finance spokesperson, John Key (National, Helensville (respect!)), with Gerry Brownlee (National, Ilam) as deputy. Ironically, this comes only weeks after speculation about Clark’s next post – none other than Secretary General of the United Nations.
In other developments, the High Court has come out and given Chris Carter (Labour, Te Atatu) a clip around the ear, recommending a reappraisal of his decision earlier this year to veto the development of the Whangamata Marina. While it is a victory for the pro-marina lobby, this is not over yet. The judicial review requests the Minister to look at the evidence presented to him (or her) and make a justifiable decision, which is to say that if he still says no, he had better dazzle us all with a good reason the second time round.
However, bets are on that the honourable member for Mangere will be featuring heavily in this column next week…