Speaker's chair a hard one to fill
TALKING POLITICS BY GORDON CAMPBELL
OPINION: It is a measure of Lockwood Smith's success as Speaker of the House that the current crop of contenders to replace him don't look up to the job, either in their ability to manage the traffic at Question Time, or on personality grounds.
As Smith has shown, a quasi-regal bearing and a sense of humour can be a useful combination when you're in the Speaker's chair, or on your feet trying to maintain order in the House.
So far the names being tossed around as Smith's replacement have ranged from the ridiculous (Maurice Williamson) to the bizarre (Tau Henare) to the terminally grey (Lindsay Tisch) to the uninspiring duo of David Carter and Eric Roy.
Plainly, Mr Speaker has a key role to play in ensuring that Parliament gets its job done.
Yet under successive governments, the job has routinely gone to one of the spare wheels, whose talents can't be put to better use elsewhere.
That fact alone may rule out the current Minister of Agriculture, David Carter, who may be deemed indispensable to the changes to the Resource Management Act that the Government has in mind.
Then again, elevating Carter would give Prime Minister John Key a rare opportunity to promote fresher talent without unduly offending the person being kicked upstairs.
After all, being Speaker offers a luxury flat on Parliament's grounds, lots of overseas trips and almost unlimited powers within the Parliamentary complex.
It may be a dead end job, but it is a nicely upholstered one.
If Carter can't be spared, then Invercargill MP Eric Roy is the probable fallback option.
Roy, now 64, has been an MP since 1993, has served as assistant Speaker under Doug Kidd and Jonathan Hunt and is Smith's current deputy.
In that role, he has from time to time been tested by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, and has gamely held his ground on most occasions.
A keen hunter and a church elder, Roy has been a regular attendee at the prayer gatherings convened at Parliament by Pastor Rasik Ranchord of the Abundant Life Centre, and was prominent among the MPs who opposed Louisa Wall's recent private members Bill on gay marriage.
"I am openly conservative with social issues," Roy said at the time, "and I don't think that is a bad fit for Invercargill, as shown by election results."
Is what's good for Invercargill necessarily a good fit for the nation?
Roy's personal views, of course, would not determine how he performs in the Speaker's chair, where is already a known - and uninspiring - quantity to MPs.
Roy has had relatively gentle treatment when coming in off the bench as a replacement Speaker. Being in the hot spot day after day would be a far more gruelling experience.
Ultimately, as the referee of Parliament, the Speaker has to ensure that the work of Parliament is carried out efficiently.
The government needs to pass its legislative agenda, and the opposition needs to get a fair chance to test that legislation, especially within the Question Time bearpit.
Right now, Smith looks like being a hard act to follow in that role. In choosing the next Speaker, the Government needs to be looking beyond its second (or third) tier of talent for the job.
- Upper Hutt Leader