'Pointofordah' Peters gets in first jab at new Speaker

ABOUT THE HOUSE - JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013

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OPINION: As new Speaker David Carter began his first full sitting day in the job, Winston Peters started as he meant to go on, too: "Pointofordah!"

This is usually the first thing out of the NZ First leader's mouth at question time - but this was before the first question had even been asked. Mr Peters' urgent problem with Mr Carter was "the regalia you're wearing". What was the background of the feathery capelet bedecking the Speaker's shoulders?

Mr Peters' mockingly querulous tone - "because we're full of curiosity" - made it clear he was really asking: "What the heck have you come as?"

Mr Carter decided not to take offence, however, and explained good-humouredly that it was a Maori gift, symbolising "goodwill, honour and peace to the House".

Mr Peters laughed delightedly as if he'd just heard the punchline to a good joke - though there was an immediate outbreak of goodwill in the form of House-wide applause for Mr Carter.

Save for a little cantankerous sniping later from the usual suspects, Mr Peters and Labour's Trevor Mallard, and a bit of cheek from Green co-leader Russel Norman, Mr Carter had a reasonably undemanding workout.

Saving him some aggro was the fact that the day's two dogboxed MPs were tactfully absent - Richard Prosser, who has demanded the grounding of anyone Muslim or Muslim-looking because they might be a terrorist, and Maurice Williamson, who has retained his building minister role despite a claimed conflict of interest.

Prime Minister John Key gave questions about Mr Williamson the blarney treatment, saying, "Two weeks ago they [the Opposition] wanted him to be Speaker. This week they don't want him at all!"

A couple of MPs cautioned Mr Carter against his predecessor's controversial habit of acting as a translation service for burbling ministers - but there was nearly an exception called for when Mr Key claimed that the Australian navy was good at "disinterrupting" refugee boats. He had apparently homogenised "disrupting" and "deterring"; a new "Key-ism" was born.

Things threatened to get a bit dicey when Brendan Horan, whom Mr Peters has exiled from his caucus, asked a question about former National prime minister Jenny Shipley's directorship of the failed Mainzeal Property and Construction. Mr Peters, who regards savaging former Tory foes as his exclusive privilege, got tetchily to his feet and tried to get Mr Horan's question disallowed on technical grounds - only to ask pretty much the same question himself. Neither got a useful answer, but at least each managed to agreeably annoy the other, so all was not lost.

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It was a wonder MPs resisted a second round of applause later when Education Minister Hekia Parata finally answered a question about the Novopay fiasco in plain English. "Clearly with hindsight the decision . . . was not the best decision and it has caused incredible problems for everyone," Ms Parata admitted.

Given weeks of tooth-pullingly painful attempts by Labour's Chris Hipkins to get so much as an acknowledgement that anything was even faintly amiss from the jargon-fluent former bureaucrat, this was almost shocking frankness.

Ms Parata couldn't keep up the plain-speaking much beyond that sentence. After some Speakerly translation of her elliptical replies, it was established she had not read all the background documents to the deal, but had relied on what officials and consultants had told her.

Mr Hipkins looked a teeny bit relieved. At least she was back to blaming officials and boffins. If ministers started simply accepting responsibility for fiascos, where would the sport be for the Opposition?

- The Dominion Post

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