More open government welcome move

Parliament. GETTY IMAGES
Parliament. GETTY IMAGES
For most people, Parliament is the 10-second snippets they see on television of Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges shouting at each other across the debating chamber at Question Time.

However, most of the real political work takes place in committee rooms and hearings, when Parliament's 17 select committees examine legislation and monitor the performance of ministries, Crown entities and officers.

Anyone can go - as long the committee is not in a public excluded session - but until recently there was no way to watch a select committee at work unless you were there yourself.

That is changing.

Most committees are now live-streaming proceedings and posting them on Facebook.

There are still technical issues to iron out - video of the Southern District Health Board's appearance on Wednesday is still stuck in some digital purgatory waiting to see the light of day - but increased access to committee hearings is a welcome step towards more open government.

The health select committee is one which is well suited for its purpose, its membership boasting former clinicians, a former mental health worker, and a one-time hospital administrator.

However, committees have an ever-changing line-up of MPs as members sub in to replace those absent through illness or other business - or attending to hear a matter of local interest.

Hence, a range of southern MPs popped in to room 7 on Wednesday morning to raise their concerns with the local DHB.

Waitaki National MP Jacqui Dean queried SDHB managers about maternity services in Wanaka specifically and the region generally, before deferring to her Dunedin-based colleague Michael Woodhouse.

As you would expect his party's health spokesman to do, Mr Woodhouse conducted a forensic examination of the causes behind the SDHB's $20million-plus deficit, and questioned whether its projected financial performance was achievable.

Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie queried how health services in her electorate were performing relative to performance targets and whether they were holding the SDHB to account, while NZ First's Jenny Marcroft asked a range of questions on mental health, on behalf of her Lawrence-based colleague Mark Patterson.

Cancer treatment targets, the review of Oamaru Hospital, pharmaceutical costs, primary care changes, and initiatives to improve Maori health were among topics raised later in the session.

Select committee hearings are strange beasts.

At their worst, they descend in to turgid points-scoring exercises, but at their best, they provide rigorous scrutiny of proposed laws and a high degree of oversight of public expenditure - the SDHB had to file a 177-page response to written questions from the committee, not forgetting the three appendices.

The SDHB may well feel it got off lightly.

It has one of the largest deficits in the country and, apart from some sharp prodding from Mr Woodhouse, there were few questions on that issue.

MPs did somewhat better on changes to maternity services in the regions and extracted news which will give some heart to women in Wanaka.

However, one suspects if Clutha Southland MP Hamish Walker had been there,, the SDHB would have been given a grilling over changes to services in Lumsden - an issue on which he is campaigning vigorously.

There was also surprisingly little interest in the new Dunedin Hospital, even though many issues MPs were interested in, such as changes to primary health, are directly linked to the new build.

Committee chairwoman Louisa Wall did suggest that if members had more questions they might invite the SDHB back for another chat.

Who knows, maybe the live stream will actually work next time?

How policy is made

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi had a splendid night out at the Eagles' Dunedin concert last weekend ... but he heard a sad story along the way.

"Someone in the line when I was leaving said they had bought their ticket for $200 over face value and it wasn't the ticket they were expecting."

Lo and behold, come Monday afternoon, Mr Faafoi was at the Prime Minister's post-Cabinet press conference, announcing a crackdown on ticket scalpers.

Policy formulation takes a bit longer than one morning, but it's nice to imagine Government could be that responsive to issues.

You look familiar

Tuesday night's public meeting on proposed polytechnic reforms drew a big crowd, and plenty of local politicians were there.

One of the more unexpected contributors was former Green Party co-leader - and more recently Otago Polytechnic art student - Metiria Turei, who had no need to introduce herself to Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

A political comeback seems unlikely, but Mrs Turei is obviously still following the game closely.

Riding again

Michael Woodhouse is not a man to let a good number go to waste.

He suggested last month that combined health board deficits were half a billion dollars - and was reassured by Health Minister David Clark just days later that they were instead a mere $346million.

Mr Woodhouse gave "half a billion" another trot around the debating chamber during the Budget Policy Statement debate on Wednesday afternoon, accusing the Government of "fiscal irresponsibility" for good measure.

Expect this horse to go a few more laps yet.

Comments

Its a joke to say this government is open ///

 

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