Brownlee challenges Mallard
By Richard Harman (author)
The row over National using clips from Parliamentary TV in its Facebook posts has now turned into a review of Parliament’s Standing Orders on the TV coverage of Parliament.
This follows an order from Speaker Trevor Mallard for National to take down a number of videos from its Facebook sites which featured clips of Government MPs speaking in the House.
Mallard said Standing Orders required that if the clips had been edited then National must have the permission of the MPs shown in them.
Mallard has strongly hinted that he favours reform of the rule.
And so it wasn’t surprising that the Standing Orders Committee, which he chairs, met (in secret) on Thursday afternoon and agreed to review it.
Five National MPs led by the Shadow Leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee, sit on the Committee.
But instead of the Committee’s move placating National, the following day (Friday) the party ramped up its protest against Mallard’s ruling and refused to take the videos down.
Caucus members were briefed in a conference call in the middle of the day, and then later an email went to all of them advising them that the National Leader's office would post a video to their individual Facebook sites at 5.00 p.m. on Friday.
National was plainly trying to call Mallard's bluff, and the email advised that each individual MP's authorisation would be inserted by the Leader's office on each video post.
That way, every National MP would be liable for any sanction that the Speaker might impose.
But the whole operation was driven by the Leader’s office.
”There is nothing you or your staff need to do,” the email said.
“The Leader’s Office will take care of it all for you.”
The video showed edited excerpts from a speech Deborah Russell in Parliament drawing an analogy between Greek philosophy and the Wellbeing Budget.
In a press release to accompany the mass posting of the videos, National Leader Simon Bridges said Mallard had put the National Party in the worst of all positions.
“The Speaker has neither referred the matter to the Privileges Committee for a definitive public hearing nor ruled in our favour as we believe he should,” said Bridges.
“Instead he has attempted to stop us from holding the Government to account by drawing attention to Parliamentary proceedings. “
“He has pushed the matter to a process which effectively gags us for a significant period of time.”
The irony now is that National wants the rule changed when it had not agreed to it being changed when the matter last came before the Standing orders Committee in 2017.
But National's Shadow Leader, Gerry Brownlee, is concerned that the process of changing the rule could get bogged down in Parliamentary procedure and thus effectively put an embargo on using the videos.
And he argues that Mallard did not have the power to order the cessation of the videos I in the first place.
“He does not have the authority to bring down interim judgments because what if he's wrong?” Said Brownlee.
“And so he does not have injunctive powers as a court might have
“ And he hasn't sought to have his positions upheld by the Standing Orders Committee nor with the Privileges Committee.
“So there is no case of privilege; there is just a not even a ruling because it's not based on standing orders.
“There is a decision, a decree by the Speaker.
“We don't believe he's got the right to do that right.”
The Prime Minister, on the other hand, was quite certain at her post Cabinet press conference yesterday that the Speaker did have the power to what he did.
“We should follow the rules that are set within the Business Committee (in fact, it is the Standing Orders Committee) and that is what the Speaker is seeking to uphold,” she said.
Brownlee says his concerns in 2017 about the use of Parliamentary TV footage were part of wider concerns he had about the misuse of parliamentary debate election campaigns.
And he says the argument that because the videos seek to convince people of a point of view, they are advertising, is wrong.
“The question here is was it advertising.
“ If it is as he was suggesting designed to change opinions or otherwise, what do we do every day of the week.
“That's what politicians do. “
The argument is very much an "inside the parliamentary bubble" argument, but it does have wide implications.
On the one hand, Mallard would be quite within his rights to take action against Bridges for defying his order, albeit that Brownlee argues that he did not have the power to make the order in the first place.
At the same time, Parliament's rules for TV coverage are ridiculously pedantic and out of date.
POLITIK believes the Speaker is likely to sympathise with those who want change.
The danger is that if National politicises the issue too much, they will paint Mallard into a corner and he will have little choice but to uphold the current rule.
In 2019 that would be anachronistic and a pity.