Parata has good no's for deflecting awkward questions

ABOUT THE HOUSE - JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 05:00 24/10/2012

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No means no - but only in Parliament could there be such a fact-free debate about what exactly the question might be to which no was the answer.

Parliament's Speaker Lockwood Smith yesterday ruled that MPs would simply have to live with the mystery, after Education Minister Hekia Parata gave the simple answer "No", but did not specify what she was actually saying "no" to.

Labour's Lianne Dalziel had asked her a two-part question: were Christchurch's new clustered schools allowed to make submissions about individual schools in their cluster, and would they be bound by the same deadline as everyone else?

Under Parliament's rules, ministers are obliged to answer one question. When Ms Parata simply said "No", she left no clue as to which question she was answering.

Ms Dalziel sought clarification, but Dr Smith was playing hardball. Seemingly stung by Winston Peters' complaint last week that the Speaker was making a bad habit of translating ministers' answers for them, Dr Smith this time refused to be helpful.

It was Ms Dalziel's fault for not restricting herself to one question at a time, he said, and it was not his job to coax extra out of ministers' answers.

A protracted, grumpy debate about this ended only when UnitedFuture's Peter Dunne reminded the House about Dr Smith's Speaker's Ruling 177.6, which said, "The Speaker is the Speaker, not a quiz master".

Dr Smith, a former television quiz master, laughed gratefully. Ms Dalziel then took his advice and formally asked Ms Parata which question she had just answered. Ms Parata said she had answered the second question.

Alas, as Ms Dalziel went on to seek an answer to her first question, Ms Parata became - as is her custom - steadily more opaque. Eventually Dr Smith did intervene - not to translate Ms Parata's byzantine answers, but to repeat Ms Dalziel's questions to her slowly and clearly in the hope she might actually answer them. This was not a great success.

Eventually Labour's Trevor Mallard asked whether it might help if Dr Smith rescinded Speaker's Ruling 177.6 and tried being a quiz master again.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key came highly prepared to annoy the Green Party, after seeing co-leader Russel Norman was down to ask him about new deep-sea drilling rules.

After parrying the drilling questions, Mr Key gratuitously changed the subject to Dr Norman's proposal to expand the money supply.

He whipped out a banknote, which he introduced as a $100 billion Zimbabwean note, an artefact of that country's attempt to allay a currency crisis by "printing money".

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"When they printed this, it bought you about a bumper box from Kentucky Fried Chicken and a couple of bottles of Coke," Mr Key added, throwing sugar, non-free-range poultry, trans-fats and two multinational corporations into the mix just to further aggravate the Greens.

And narked they were. For perhaps the first time ever the Greens refused a fellow MP leave to table a document - in this case, Mr Key's application to table his $100b note.

Mr Key smirked, shrugged and slipped the note back into his wallet - perhaps with the thought that one never knew when one might next find oneself peckish in Harare.

- The Dominion Post

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