Parting barbs urge change for media, elections

Dunedin South Labour MP Clare Curran has gone from Parliament and, as anticipated, she did not go quietly.

Having surveyed the chamber and told MPs that politics was carried out in "an immature and destructive way", Ms Curran then raised her sights to the Press Gallery above and upbraided it for what she termed its often unwise, immature and unaccountable coverage of politics.

This chastisement was greeted with a degree of scorn, various scribes responding with an assortment of views along the lines of "MPs get the media coverage they deserve".

There is some truth to that, but Ms Curran’s broader point has some validity.

No matter what your trade, self-examination and self-review is never wasted, and it would not do the media any harm to check its high horse is not lame before taking it out for a gallop.

One thing Ms Curran and the media agree wholeheartedly on is the need to improve how the Official Information Act functions.

While she has often seen her passion for open government used against her as a weapon, Ms Curran’s heart is in the right place on this one and it would be good if whoever forms the government following the election heeded her call for more proactive release of official documents.

Labour MP for Dunedin South Clare Curran gives her speech.
Labour MP for Dunedin South Clare Curran gives her speech.

Green Party list MP Gareth Hughes during his valedictory statement in Parliament on Tuesday....
Green Party list MP Gareth Hughes during his valedictory statement in Parliament on Tuesday. PHOTOS: PARLIAMENT TV
Almost as an afterthought, Ms Curran threw in the suggestion that Justice Minister Andrew Little should consider greater electoral reform - specifically, state funding of elections.

This thorny topic has considerable barriers to overcome - most notably public opinion, which is highly resistant to the notion of handing over even more taxpayer dollars to politicians.

Money is at the root of this issue, particularly who should be able to spend it to espouse political opinions, and how much they should be able to spend.

The Electoral Act weaves a tangled web of regulations which hobble the right to free speech in the interests of trying to create a level playing field, by limiting donations and curbing the option of anonymity for those who would be significant participants in politics.

Refereeing this contest is no easy task, and proponents of state funding of elections argue ruling out external funding and paying for election expenses from a central fund means no one party enjoys an unfair advantage due to the influence afforded by large donations of someone else’s money.

It is - rightly - controversial, but it is also worth further, measured debate.

Ms Curran was not the only local MP to say farewell on Tuesday. Green MP Gareth Hughes also took his final bow.

"I entered [Parliament] at the age of 28, taking Jacinda Ardern’s place as the baby of the House," he recalled.

"The next year, Jacinda and I shared the award of the Herald’s backbencher of the year. If politics was a race, though, I think she’s lapped me a couple of dozen times since then."

Mr Hughes and his family are moving to Quarantine Island as its sole permanent residents: "In the midst of a global pandemic, Quarantine Island does sound pretty appealing."

Hale and well met

Of the many Dunedin South Labour stalwarts Ms Curran thanked on Tuesday, Kevin Hale may have been the one who laid the most on the line for his MP.

As Ms Curran detailed, Mr Hale ferried her to the airport and back for a dozen years, and not without incident.

"One morning, so determined to pick me up, he and his car ended up hanging over the cliff at Broad Bay, on the Otago Peninsula, due to ice under the snow.

"A cow literally ran in front of his car and totalled it after he left me at the airport one morning, putting him briefly in hospital. And then there was the large hay bale that fell off the truck on to his car on the motorway.

"Note I wasn’t in the car for any of those incidents. I’m amazed you’re still with us."

Urgency required

Parliament worked plenty of overtime this week to progress legislation before the election, and its extended sitting hours caught out some MPs.

National Dunedin-based list MP Michael Woodhouse was sitting in Parliament’s cafe on Wednesday talking to, well, me actually, when he glanced at Parliament TV and suddenly realised he was actually meant to be speaking in the House.

Luckily for Mr Woodhouse, East Coast Bays MP Erica Stanford took his call.

Mr Woodhouse did not otherwise shirk his duty that day though, speaking a dozen other times on various Bills.

Government for all

The Electoral Act section 74 states that every adult person is qualified to be an elector, but the Electoral Commission does not want under-18-year-olds to miss out on all the fun.

It expects about 85,000 pupils from more than 500 schools to take part in its Kids Voting programme in which, among other things, classrooms will run their own elections.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

 

 

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