Woodhouse’s attack role keeps him on the move

Michael Woodhouse’s busy Wednesday at Parliament at the finance and expenditure select committee....
Michael Woodhouse’s busy Wednesday at Parliament at the finance and expenditure select committee. PHOTOS: Parliament
As a member of the parliamentary rugby team, Michael Woodhouse keeps relatively fit, which is just as well given his punishing schedule on Wednesday morning this week.

The Dunedin National Party list MP’s day started off with an early morning meeting of the finance and expenditure select committee, of which he is a member, and at the same time a meeting of the governance and administration select committee, of which he is not a member.

The dilemma was caused by the point role Mr Woodhouse has been given in National’s ongoing war with Speaker Trevor Mallard.

The party has long felt aggrieved by the way the Speaker manages Parliament, feeling he is all too ready to punish National’s misdeeds but is not prepared to clamp down on those of Labour.

Michael Woodhouse in the House.
Michael Woodhouse in the House.
This is not an unusual complaint: Opposition parties have felt aggrieved at the Speaker during almost every Parliament.

What is unusual about this confrontation is the degree to which National is prepared to pursue it.

Mr Woodhouse was one of the senior party MPs who grilled Mr Mallard when he appeared before the governance and administration committee last December, and he had every intention of being there for Wednesday’s meeting and its annual review of the Parliamentary Service.

The service administers Parliament and its staff, and hence had a central role in the investigation of the behaviour of a former parliamentary staffer — a staffer whom Mr Mallard had to apologise to for his comments on the case.

While staring at Parliamentary Service chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero, National and Mr Woodhouse were really looking elsewhere, at Mr Mallard.

But before Mr Woodhouse could take his seat in Room 5 of Parliament House, he first had to sprint over from Room 2 in Bowen House, where in his role as National’s finance spokesman he could hardly eschew the opportunity to grill Finance Minister Grant Robertson, the guest du jour.

This hectic Wednesday morning aptly demonstrates the bind National finds itself in following its drubbing in last year’s election.

Its senior MPs are finding themselves spread thin trying to keep up the attack on the Government, while waiting for its remaining MPs to step up and do some of the heavy lifting.

Michael Woodhouse at the governance and administration select committee
Michael Woodhouse at the governance and administration select committee
Hence back at G+A, Mr Woodhouse (who should have been elsewhere) and Chris Bishop, who as Covid-19 response spokesman was meant to be at the health select committee meeting, were leading the attack in preference to National’s MPs on the committee — chairwoman Barbara Kuriger, who had to stay above the fray, and Nicola Grigg, who while very able has only been in Parliament a mere few months.

On Wednesday it also fell on Mr Woodhouse’s shoulders to move National’s by now weekly attempt for the House to debate a motion of no confidence in Mr Mallard due to his aforementioned comments in the staffer case.

This has no chance of being debated and only serves to irritate Mr Mallard, which might explain why Mr Woodhouse opted to keep out of the Speaker’s sight until later that evening.

His return to the chamber was to deliver a personal and insightful speech in the first-reading debate on the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill.

A member’s Bill in the name of Labour list MP Louisa Wall, the Bill seeks to regulate the way anti-abortion protesters demonstrate outside facilities where abortions are carried out.

Mr Woodhouse, who voted against abortion law reform in the last Parliament, opted to take a call, but it was not the whys or wherefores of abortion which motivated him.

"For the record, I just want to say how much compassion and concern and sympathy I have for any woman who is going to have to go through a termination," he said.

"And the idea of running a gauntlet, however peaceful and quiet, of people holding signs, often with the most distasteful and disgusting images on them — I absolutely condemn that behaviour."

But, he asked, should that protesting be a crime?

Free speech is a bedrock issue for Mr Woodhouse, who told the House that an issue which might cause him to cross the floor and vote against his own party was any step to undermine New Zealanders’ freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Mr Woodhouse said he agreed with many of the provisions of the Bill, and issues it raised such as intimidation, interference and obstruction were probably unlawful anyway.

"Does simply standing in a safe zone expressing those views constitute a breach of this legislation," he asked, "and who decides what constitutes that breach?"

Mr Woodhouse said his feelings were that all people should have the right to their views and to express those views, but he also felt not allowing the Bill to go to select committee would deny people with a different view from his own the right to express it.

"That support will end if my concerns are confirmed and those infringements on behaviour, however distasteful, do breach section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act [the right to freedom of expression], and if the committee isn’t able to make sufficient improvements to it, I think that would be the end of my support."

Expect to hear much more from Mr Woodhouse on this topic later in the year.

Legislation is now being drafted to put into effect recommendations from the royal commission report into the Christchurch terror attacks, and that is expected to include regulation of hate crimes and hate speech.

"I see this as an important early sojourn into a very difficult conversation that this House is going to have to have over the next year to 18 months," he said.

Unhip National Part leader Judith Collins famously described her two finance spokesmen, Mr Woodhouse and Andrew Bayly, as "joined at the hip".

Not this week though ... as Mr Bayly is classed as an Auckland MP, Mr Woodhouse has been socially distancing from his colleague this week.



Please! This guy is a list MP. He like the many others of his ilk wouldn't know hard work if it jumped up and bit him on the posterior. Attending meetings is not hard hwork. Even if they are parliamentary select committees. Playing rugby is a game, it's done for fun, it's not hard work. Giving voice to your opinions is talking, it's not hard work, especially when what you have to say, mostly, turns out to be poorly researched and wrong. As for the so called war with Speaker Mallard: well, any cursory analysis of Mallards performance in the House would demonstrate that he is streets ahead of his predecessor, David Carter who would be the most biased speaker to have ever held the post. I think this is part of the national party's problem, they had so long being able to get away with blue murder in the house and can't cope with being held to account. In any event Woodhouse does not have the intellectual rigour to face off with Mallard, he's on a hiding to nothing, again.
But to come back to my point, a list MP's job being hard work? Hah! Absolute piffle.

Some people don’t need the others’ approval. They build themselves a pedestal and they climb it. One stupid person is enough to admire them, and you cannot escape their greatness.

Mike, thanks for this article. It now gives me more reason not to return back to the Nats. His "freedom of speech" view sums him up = I have the freedom to say something - shame its nothing.

Why would anyone trust this man ? When COVID was rising here he knew well before the parliament that two women had travelled out of infected Auckland and did not contract the authorities but waited so he could score in the parliament and put down the efforts of Labor. When challenged he said, 'That's politics' Yes indeed--but it catches up with you when you put people last.