Editorial: An experienced interjector

20:31, Jul 31 2012

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake - a saying attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte. If there's wisdom there, it hasn't been embraced by our parliamentarians.

Often they feel moved to interject or heckle speakers, all in the name of robust and traditional debate.

A far more well-known saying is that experience is the name we give to our mistakes. In which case, Maggie Barry is now entitled to consider herself an experienced parliamentary interjector.

She surely made a mistake of tactics, as well as taste, when she challenged Jacinda Ardern during a parental leave debate with the query: "How many kids do you have?"

It wasn't all that shabby a heckle, by the sometimes regrettable standards of the House. But it was querulous and personal, and close enough to the mean barbs directed at former prime minister Helen Clark, to motivate both reproach and mockery.

Ms Ardern fended it off easily enough; she hadn't been to Antarctica but she knew it was cold.


Ms Barry has been reminded about the many matters she has spoken about in the House on the basis of knowledge gained from sources other than experience; notably the law of the sea, the domestic purposes benefit, and sewage disposal in Tauranga.

At least she had been to Stewart Island by the time she spoke about visitor levies. Just the once, admittedly, but that counts.

Given that Ms Barry's position is now, perhaps plaintively, that it was all in jest, the happy irony is that jesters have taken up the invitation to invoke the need for experience before anyone opens their mouth.

It has become something of a Twitter sport.

Some offerings are still pointedly political, for all that - no heterosexual people able too talk about same-sex marriage; you can only talk abut asset sales if you have three Trade Me stars or more.

Others are deliriously silly: the paedophilia debate gets very awkward. Mojo Mathers can't vote for the Speaker.

And the best, hands down: sadly, as a woodwork teacher, Gerry is allowed to supervise the rebuild. Sorry, Christchurch.

In itself this has been an agreeable diversion, though we've probably now reached the enough-is-enough stage.

We should also draw a useful reminder from this. Two, if you want to include the perils of mean-spirited interjections.

You could call the extension of Ms Barry's thinking as reductio ad absurdum - subverting an argument by taking it to ridiculous extremes. But really the extension isn't all that great.

Experience is a vivid teacher, though we learn to our collective and personal cost that in some circumstances it can also be a brutal, unforgiving one. So there's a lot to be said for learning through intelligent assessment about the experiences of others. Even, dare we say, showing a little empathy and imagination.

The Southland Times