Mallard misses, Peters speaks his mind

JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 13:08 01/02/2013

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OPINION: Making the poacher a gamekeeper, giving Dracula charge of the blood bank, declaring Gareth Morgan head of the Cat Fancy - it was hard to know which non sequitur the Opposition was going for when it nominated Trevor Mallard yesterday as Parliament's new Speaker.

It was a protest against the Government's refusal to consult them over its decision to have David Carter installed in the plum job.

But Mr Mallard, one of Parliament's most-ejected miscreants - he threw himself out of the House last year after an altercation, to save the Speaker the trouble - was a shock contender.

Still, even the Greens, viscerally opposed to the sort of verbal and even physical biffo for which Mr Mallard is known, were in support.

NZ First leader Winston Peters was so keen on the protest that he sought to prolong the drama by seeking leave for an hour's debate before the vote. When that failed, he asked for one after it.

Naturally, given the Government's majority, and to everyone's relief - especially Mr Mallard's - Mr Carter won the ballot by 10 votes.

Though known to have been keener on remaining a minister when initially shoulder-tapped for the role, he was the only Speaker in living memory not to have put up at least a faint charade of the traditional ceremonial reluctance as the whips escorted him, one clamped on each arm, to the Speaker's chair.

In past centuries, Speakers had to be dragged, protesting vigorously, to the job because the monarchs they tended to have to displease from time to time were in the habit of having them executed. Mr Carter's demeanour was one of total surrender.

Mr Peters', however, was not, choosing to ignore the tradition of making only warm, tactful speeches upon the election of a new Speaker. "I'm not gonna stand here today and make out that everything's fine and dandy, because it's not," he snapped.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge the contribution of departing Speaker Lockwood Smith, he said. He was then churlish enough to deplore Dr Smith's appointment as High Commissioner to London, rather than one of the professional diplomats whose careers had been so cruelly blighted by recent restructuring.

He then complained bitterly about the Government's undemocratic and high-handed refusal to consult the Opposition about the new Speaker. His party would give Mr Carter "a fair go," he said, but the gallows tone in which he signed off his speech, "All the very best of British!" did not leave a terribly jolly impression.

Everyone else's speeches were genuinely congratulatory - though, for some reason, Prime Minister John Key made a point of hailing Mr Carter's and Dr Smith's shared interest and expertise in the artificial insemination of cattle.

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UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne reminisced about how, as St Bede's schoolboys together, Mr Carter had sung the lead in a production of HMS Pinafore while Mr Dunne had been in the background dancing a hornpipe.

Opposition MPs were unkind enough to suggest nothing much had changed.

An alarming portent emerged, however, in Mr Carter's disclosure that he had been advised to model his Speakership on that of another St Bede's old boy, the late Sir Gerard Wall.

Sir Gerard is generally regarded as the most irascible Speaker of the past 30 years.

Mr Mallard was sporting enough to put Mr Carter straight about the wisdom of this advice, deploying typical understatement in describing Sir Gerard as having run the House "like a Pakistani cricket umpire". Mr Carter, in turn, was sporting enough to suppress his alarm at hearing this.

As he was the first to say after being elected, he is about to undergo a big learning experience.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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