The Speaker of the House, Lockwood Smith, has riled MPs (some, anyway) with two recent rulings. One newspaper made him its "wally of the week" on the strength of one of them, his resolution of a language matter. Prime Minister John Key - when remonstrating with Green Party co-leader Russel Norman - had noted the Greens were commiserating with jobless miners but refused to support new mines that could employ them. He declaimed: "I call that hypocrisy!" Dr Norman complained he had been called a hypocrite, something ruled out of order more than 100 years ago but Dr Smith ruled that saying something was hypocrisy was not the same as saying someone holding that position was a hypocrite. When MPs quibbled, Dr Smith made a series of points (all valid) to buttress his position: they were grown up, he did not want to be ruling out more words, and the debating chamber was "a robust place". Indeed. Yet parliamentary debate is constrained by a remarkably long list of words - like "hypocrite" and "liar" - that must not be used, even when no other words are as apt.
The second matter to pique MPs was Dr Smith's instruction that no staff, members' guests or visitors be allowed to sit in the seats in the chamber at any time. Labour whip Chris Hipkins denounced this as "unnecessarily draconian" and unreasonable.
NZ First leader Winston Peters recently moved the House have no confidence in Dr Smith for his "abuse of his power as Speaker". He and other vexed MPs won't be troubled for much longer by rulings that frustrate them.
Dr Smith will step down soon to become New Zealand's High Commissioner in London. That's a shame. Notwithstanding the criticisms, he is widely regarded as the best Speaker the House has had in living memory (for starters, he can control Mr Peters).
Political writer Gordon Campbell laments that none of the contenders to replace him looks up to the job, either in their ability to manage Question Time or on personality grounds. In terms of best serving the public, the shuffling of jobs is disappointing. The London post will be filled by another politician rather than a professional diplomat and Parliament will lose the admirable skills of someone who has made huge - and welcome - changes to the way it operates.
- © Fairfax NZ News