MPs give karaoke-style question time a whirl

ABOUT THE HOUSE - JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2013

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OPINION: When comes to chronic non-performance, Novopay is a mere parvenu compared to Parliament's sound system.

Faced with yet another outage, MPs were forced yesterday to use hand-held microphones like karaoke performers - and tempers were riled when even those failed to reliably relay their every golden word.

It's nearly 30 years since MPs were expected to speak in the House without amplification, and the art has been lost.

Curiously, given the imperative to politicians of being heard loud and clear, the sound system has never been trouble-free, and not even the addition of monstrous ugly sound towers suspended from the ceiling has curtailed the problems.

Frustrated with the delay in waiting for a messenger to bear the roving microphone from speaker to speaker, some MPs tried to go unplugged. But they were invariably overwhelmed by interjections from opponents.

Still, it's an ill wind. Education Minister Hekia Parata seemed only too happy to intone her defence of the decision-making behind the faulty teachers' pay system in an environment where she was nearly impossible to hear. Just a couple of gems were audible through the Opposition's derisory din: Mrs Parata said the education system was a "pipeline", and the Government insisted on it being "belted and braced".

Other MPs, including Winston Peters and Denis O'Rourke, regarded the microphone warily, fiddled with it, and managed to turn it off, then on, then off again, and then became grumpy with it.

In fairness to them, it wasn't always possible to tell from the actual sound quality whether the thing was working or not. Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, a radio veteran, gave it a playful, "Testing, testing, one two three".

Various suggestions were made about songs and stand-up routines that might be undertaken, mercifully none taken up. But question time was considerably slower as a result. Speaker David Carter announced after an hour's desultory karaoke that the proper sound system was now working again, but no-one was greatly surprised to find that it wasn't.

The karaoke prize, however, went to National's Jonathan Young, who, during one of the mike's unresponsive phases, began his question in a specially plaintive tone: "My question is to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology . . ."

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- The Dominion Post

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