Bridges planning to logjam Parliament
By Richard Harman (author)
National is threatening to exploit Parliamentary rules to run a filibuster which would effectively freeze procedures as it continues to oppose a Labour move to cut back the number of MPs on Select Committees.
National's Shadow Leader of the House, Simon Bridges, says the party is ready to carry out its plans tomorrow when the first full sitting of the new Parliament takes place.
However, Labour’s move to cut the committee slots follows a proposal supported by National during the last Parliament to reduce the number of Select Committees from 13 to 12 and a recommendation to reduce the number of MPs on Committees.
Labour’s proposal exactly follows the proposal contained in the review of Standing Orders published last July which was produced by a Committee chaired by the-then Speaker, David Carter and on which National and its support parties had a majority.
But the Committee did not take account of a situation where the largest party in the House might be in Opposition.
Bridges told POLITIK Labour’s proposal would leave 11 National MPs without a Select Committee role.
That would mean they would have nothing to do during the mornings that Parliament sits because that is when the Select Committees sit.
“They would come to Parliament, have their lunch and then go to Question Time,” he told POLITIK.
The Standing orders Review did envisage some MPs not having Committee slots.
It noted that the Business Committee could currently appoint permanent non-voting members to committees, and “this could be done more frequently in future to ensure all members can have regular involvement in committee work.”
“Parties could also effectively split a seat between two or more members on an ongoing basis, under the current provisions for temporary changes to membership, so particular members are able to specialise in portfolios within select committee subject areas.”
This actually happens informally in practice now.
NZ First, for example, only had Winston Peters sit in his seat at the Finance and Expenditure Committee if a big issue was under discussion; otherwise, Fletcher Tabuteau was there.
But Bridges appears to want to have nothing to do with a compromise like this and instead wants to try and block Labour and demonstrate that they can’t run Parliament.
He told POLITIK that he would not agree to the Committee proposal when it is considered at the new Parliament's first Business Committee meeting today.
All he might be willing to consider would be some half way house on numbers which allowed more than 96 positions on the Committees.
"We don't expect 120 seats, but 96 is too few," Bridges told POLITIK.
"If we met somewhere in the middle, we'd probably get there, but Chris Hipkins (Leader of the House) won't consider that.”
But if Labour remains intransigent then National will not agree in the Business Committee to the formation of Select Committees at all.
Technically that would leave the House without any Select Committees which are needed as part of the legislative process.
“Labour will then need to come back to Parliament and put a motion to force the numbers through and it's a time unlimited debate, and we will fight them hard.
“And so they, with this big issue on our side, a small issue on their side, going to find that they have got a much less reasonable, more obstructive Opposition that will find issues to muck them around on because they are not playing the Business Committee the way we did for nine years where we consistently found the middle ground.”
Bridges is in effect threatening a filibuster at a time when he knows that the new Government has a long list of Bills it wants to introduce and some of which it wants to pass.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday said Labour was committed to its action plan for its first 100 days which would expire on February 3 and that it may need urgency to get all its programme through by then.
Bridges is, therefore, thretaneing to block that programme.
But he may be misunderstanding the rules of debate on any motion to establish the Select Committees.
The Speaker-elect, Trevor Mallard, one of Parliament's most experienced Members, told POLITIK that though the debate was unlimited, it could be subject to closure motions if a Member was not introducing any new material into the debate.
“That sort of thing is not the end of the world,” he said.
“It’s a nuisance, but it is subject to closure motions.
"You would have to have people saying new and different things, and I would have thought in that sort of debate after two or three speeches you would have trouble doing that."
Mallard will be elected Speaker today, and it looks like he will be presiding over a much fractious and confrontational Parliament than the last one.