What is National trying to do
By Richard Harman (author)
The National Opposition must believe there is more to the Karel Sroubek saga than has so far been made public.
That can be the only explanation for their dogged pursuit in Question Time of the Prime Minister on the matter.
But in the process -- -once again --- they have set off a debate about whether Speaker Trevor Mallard is impartial.
Mallard himself would not comment at all last night “for obvious reasons.”
But National's Shadow Leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee, who was thrown out of Parliament by Mallard yesterday afternoon was willing to talk.
He said he thought Mallard was "overly pedantic about the niceties of Parliamentary language.”
“And it was at a time when the Prime Minister was clearly struggling to answer the questions.”
Brownlee’s ejection followed the kicking out of Opposition Leader, Simon Bridges.
Bridges shouldn’t be complaining about his ejection.
This was how Hansard reported it:
Hon Simon Bridges: "Has she entirely washed her hands of anything to do with the Sroubek fiasco, and is she ducking and diving to get out of its way?" [Speaker stands] "Oh, here comes the protection."
SPEAKER: "No—the Leader of the Opposition will leave the House."
Brownlee’s crime was to interject: “Struck a raw nerve.”
After the two were ejected, most National MPs, in what appeared to be a co-ordinated move walked out of the House leaving behind only those who were going to ask questions.
It is clear that what the Opposition are trying to do is somehow allege there is a cover-up going on over the on-off deportation of Sroubek and that the Speaker is protecting the Prime Minister from their questions.
On Tuesday Bridges asked the Prime Minister whether she knew personally any of the people who had made representations on Mr Sroubek's behalf?
But the Prime Minister wasn't there, and her questions were being answered by the Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, who understandably pointed out there was no way he could answer that question.
National's deputy Leader, Paula Bennett, kept up the pressure during the General Debate yesterday.
“So yes, we want to hear from the Prime Minister what is going on in the Soubreek fiasco, what her involvement is,” she said.
“We will stand here day after day and ask questions on behalf of New Zealanders on serious matters that the Prime Minister can duck and can dive and can avoid and can just use a lot of words but not actually say anything.”
National has an advantage in that one of their supporters, Mark Davey, is now the partner of Soubrek’s estranged wife.
They have therefore turned the focus on her and how it was that Immigration officials managed to visit her while she under Police protection.
But yesterday was more about their tactics than the ins and outs of the Soubrek affair, and it raised questions about the Speaker.
It was left to one of the Opposition’s senior MPs, the former Speaker, David Carter, to try and retore some sense to the Debating Chamber.
“The events of question time today caused me to reflect on the frustration that is building amongst the Opposition,” he said, addressing the Speaker in a Point of Order.
“ Can I just ask you to carefully look at the questions that are being framed and asked this week and the answers that have been given?
“If the answers given are used to attack the Opposition or to attack, particularly, the Leader of the Opposition, tensions will rise to the extent that frustration will be expressed.
“I think your action this week has not been helpful to the order of the House.”
That was a polite way of telling Mallard he had inflamed the situation; privately the National MPs were saying he was protecting the Prime Minister.
The Government’s Leader of the House, however, was quick to find fault with the Opposition.
“When you're doing that consideration, I wonder whether you would also consider the repeated reflections on the Chair that we have come to see during question time," he said.
“I have been removed from the House for reflecting on the Chair on more than one occasion.
“This, I believe, is the first time you, as the Speaker, have asked a member to leave the House for reflecting on the Chair.
“The previous Speaker, in fact, removed someone for coughing at one point during question time.
I think we do need to protect the role of the Chair and the impartiality of that role.
“I think that continued and repeated reflections on that are going to lead to disorder on both sides of the House.”
Yesterday’s walkout showed
Whether it is the practice of placing files in party colours on members’ desks or yesterday's walkout it is becoming obvious that MPs are increasingly regarding Question Time as political theatre which they hope will be picked up by the prime time TV news programmes.
Serious questions are now asked, almost exclusively, in Select Committees.
As yesterday showed, neither the questions nor the answers in Question Time add much to anyone’s knowledge of anything.