Southern Say: Thorny debate keeps Dean’s hands full

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean presides over Parliament during Speaker Trevor Mallard’s contentious...
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean presides over Parliament during Speaker Trevor Mallard’s contentious appearance in the annual review debate on Tuesday. PHOTO: PARLIAMENT
Speaker Trevor Mallard has instituted a new policy in recent weeks, where each day one of his assistant Speakers reads the prayer which starts the proceedings of Parliament.

It was the turn of Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean to read the prayer on Thursday, but she may well have been doing a great deal more calling on divine help earlier in the week, when she had the misfortune to be the presiding officer during the most tumultuous debate of this session.

In a turbulent, tortured hour on Tuesday night, Mr Mallard, as the minister in charge of the Parliamentary Service, was slowly turned on a roasting spit by National MPs Chris Bishop and Dunedinite Michael Woodhouse, as a stern-faced Mrs Dean watched.

Many words have been written about what was an unsavoury juncture in recent political history, and the general consensus that this was a low moment for almost all concerned is spot-on.

Mrs Dean, who had very much wanted to be assistant Speaker, might have been wondering about the proverb that the Gods punish us by giving us what we want, as she found herself having to deal with a slow-motion car crash in front of her eyes.

On this night she was on a hiding to nothing: try to rein in her National Party colleagues and she could be accused of protecting the Speaker, give her colleagues carte blanche and she could be accused of not maintaining order in the House.

Mrs Dean opted for the safest — and perhaps the only — option, of letting the debate go on more or less without her intervention and offering silent supplications that things would not go too far off the rails.

To the extent that there was not an out-and-out slanging match between the Speaker and the Opposition, that was probably the best approach.

It was the next best thing to a donnybrook though, and there were various unpleasant and unparliamentary things said which Mrs Dean could perhaps have clamped down on.

However, it is entirely understandable why she felt she could not close down Mr Mallard — who exemplified the power imbalance by at one point calling for order before he realised that that was not his job at the moment.

Mr Woodhouse, barring a couple of rash jibes, mainly stuck to a forensic questioning of the timeline of Mr Mallard’s involvement in the case of a Parliamentary Service staffer accused of impropriety.

National believes that somewhere in Mr Mallard’s handling of this case is a fumble which will spell the end of his time as Speaker.

But as it has ramped up its attack, it has also run the risk of that narrow point being lost in the wider argument about harassment which sits alongside it.

While Mr Bishop’s visceral and personal wrangle with Mr Mallard captured the headlines, that animus also served to obscure the case that Mr Woodhouse was trying to build.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s letter to Bathgate School. PHOTO: FACEBOOK
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s letter to Bathgate School. PHOTO: FACEBOOK
Mrs Dean did move to assert control over proceedings later in the debate, when an exchange between Mr Bishop and Labour whip Willow-Jean Prime did threaten to go far too far, and she did so in a way which snuffed out a potentially explosive moment.

Mrs Dean has demonstrated calm control over the House when she has been presiding.

Usually rostered on for evening sessions and often to oversee committee of the whole debates, Mrs Dean has watched over some complex debates such as the Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill and climate change legislation.

On Tuesday, Mrs Dean might have been internally imploring that she be dealing with the Girl Guides Association (New Zealand Branch) Incorporation Amendment Bill instead, but externally she looked poised and growing into her new role.

Political promise

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern makes a lot of promises, and rival politicians and the media watch closely to see if she keeps them.

That’s nothing compared with the scrutiny the promise she made last week will get, though.

Ms Ardern wrote to the pupils of Bathgate School, which she was meant to visit before fog over Dunedin prevented her plane landing, and pledged that she would be back.

Some disappointed but expectant young learners will no doubt hold her to that.

Southland MP Joseph Mooney and friends. PHOTO: FACEBOOK
Southland MP Joseph Mooney and friends. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

You are always being watched

One thing politicians soon learn is that wherever they are, whatever they are doing, they are always being watched.

Not only was Southland National MP Joseph Mooney closely escorted, but by very friendly folk, during a recent visit to the Te Anau police station, but he was also closely watched by an enormous wapati looming right behind him.

Save the date

The most anticipated wedding in New Zealand in recent history will take place this summer, AAP reported this week, when Ms Ardern and her fiance Clarke Gayford tie the knot.

On Wednesday morning, Ms Ardern (40) revealed on Coast Radio she and Mr Gayford (44) would wed after two and a-half years of engagement.

"We have finally got a date. Finally," she said, declining to reveal the precise date, but adding it would be "this coming summer".

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

 

Comments

"The most anticipated wedding in New Zealand in recent history will take place this summer, AAP reported this week, when Ms Ardern and her fiance Clarke Gayford tie the knot". Yawn, you maybe excited about it but there will be thousands of New Zealanders who aren't.

Prayer is something that people need to believe that the request will be answered in order for prayer to be answered. If the prayer in Parliament is done with disbelief it will be ignored from above. Likewise, singing the national anthem in disbelief will leave the country open to dissension, envy and corruption.

 

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