Treasonous impulses fit for a prince

Parliament's tendency to try to artificially suppress MPs' baser urges, so as to note heart-warming or worthy subjects, invariably sets the House up for extra nastiness later.

Things deteriorated rapidly yesterday after Prime Minister John Key moved to congratulate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of Prince George. That Green MP Kennedy Graham, in pointedly theatrical tones, added his party's "fulsome" congratulations - a much- misused term whose true meaning is "effusive but utterly insincere" - skewered what generosity there may have been in the discussion.

It didn't help, either, that Mr Key said he had "watched [the Cambridges'] love grow over time". Either he is a bigger women's magazine reader than anyone dreamed, or he was boasting about the extent of his access to royalty.

Either way, by the time MPs got to questions, it was a grump-fest. Winston Peters told "Big Ears" - Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce - to shut up, and Trevor Mallard accused the Government of accusing the Opposition of treason, sending Speaker David Carter reeling anxiously toward a review of Hansard before he ruled on this "very serious matter".

The Opposition asked its favourite stock question three times: "Does the prime minister stand by all his statements?" This is supposed to catch Mr Key off-guard in guessing which of his statements he might have to defend. His response was to stand by a recent statement from the Opposition, pointing and laughing.

When Labour asked him about housing affordability, he ridiculed its proposed foreign house-buying ban. When Mr Peters asked him about foreign buyers and local banks disadvantaging home buyers, Mr Key again concentrated on Labour's policy.

Asked about the controversial proposed new spying legislation, he said Labour had operated under the faulty existing law, "and used the information . . . Now they don't want anybody to have it!"

Only when asked about what led to the Parliamentary Service handing over Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance's phone records to a leak inquiry did Mr Key make some effort not to talk about the Opposition for a minute or two.

He caned the commission, saying its actions had been wrong, but expressed little knowledge beyond that. "I'd have to check, but to the best of my knowledge I was not absolutely aware . . . I don't have that information."

Noisy interjected speculation followed about what a state of non- absolute awareness would be like, till Mr Peters changed the subject to himself. Was it not true that in 2008, one MP - and here he puffed his chest out ever so slightly - was asked by five political parties to hand over his phone records, and did so willingly?

This rather broke the thread of the rest of the Opposition's pro- privacy, anti-spying campaign, so was not pursued.

A fresh brawl soon ensued as Mr Carter ruled out a question by Labour's Chris Hipkins to Education Minister Hekia Parata, on the grounds that Mr Hipkins had misinterpreted something Ms Parata had just said about standards for charter school teachers.

Mr Carter said she had said something different to what Mr Hipkins said she said. Ms Parata then contradicted both what she had just said, and Mr Carter's interpretation of what she had just said. Mr Peters appealed to the Speaker. "We're still no wiser, despite your rulings and points of order . . . What is your interpretation of what she said?"

Mr Carter by now looked as though he was positively longing for a comparatively relaxing spot of treason adjudication.

The Dominion Post