Wednesday 11 November 2015

A Disgraceful Performance: Why John Key And The Speaker Need A Refresher Course In Democracy.

Extraordinary Accusations: John Key accuses the Labour Opposition of "supporting rapists and murderers". The Speaker's failure to require the Prime Minister to withdraw and apologise sparked a rare walk-out from the Chamber and, later, a Vote of No Confidence in the Speaker. That the Prime Minister may have a majority of New Zealanders backing his cruel denigration of Australian Immigration's detainees matters not one whit. Human rights are not the playthings of majorities: they are inherent and inalienable.
THE DAILY BLOG’S EDITOR, Martyn Bradbury, believes New Zealand is better than its present Prime Minister and Government. I hope, desperately, that he’s right. But, ours is a representative democracy, and my great fear is that this John Key-led, National Party-dominated, Government is just that – representative.
Were a majority of Kiwi voters shocked by the behaviour of the Prime Minister and the Speaker during Question Time, yesterday? (10/11/15) Or did John Key launch his extraordinary attack on the Opposition parties in the confident knowledge that, far from being shocked and disgusted, the New Zealand public was lined-up right behind him?
One has only to listen to the talkback radio stations, or hear the comments from listeners read out on RNZ-National’s Morning Report to know that there is a substantial number (quite possibly a majority) of New Zealanders who view the entire Australian immigration scandal from the Prime Minister’s perspective. How likely is it, really, that a politician as shrewd as Key would accuse the Opposition of “supporting rapists and murderers” if he wasn’t quietly confident that most New Zealanders saw things his way?
Fairfax Media’s political editor, Tracy Watkins, thinks it most unlikely: “He [did it] knowing he is on the right side of the argument politically – most people would have no argument with Key’s assessment New Zealand should not bother shedding any tears over the plight of the Kiwi detainees.”
Coming at it from a slightly different angle, the NZ Herald’s political editor, Audrey Young, was equally confident in her assessment of yesterday’s events: “The suggestions by some Labour MPs on Twitter that democracy was at stake was over-reaction and nonsense. There were plenty of errors in the high drama at Parliament today but there was nothing undemocratic in what occurred.”
The high drama and errors Young refers to relate to the behaviour of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, David Carter, and to the decision of about half the Labour Opposition to walk-out of the parliamentary chamber in protest. Against all precedent, Carter had ruled that the PM was under no obligation to withdraw or apologise for his repeated accusations that the Labour MPs were supporting rapists and murderers. When the furious Labour MPs finally returned to the House they moved a symbolic Vote of No-Confidence in the Speaker. Again, this was a most unusual and disquieting response to the Speaker’s behaviour.
The independence of the Speaker – most especially his or her independence from the Executive Branch of Government – is a cornerstone of the Westminster System of representative democracy. The tradition dates at least as far back as the 1640s in England.
It was in 1642 that King Charles I, accompanied by a company of soldiers, strode into the House of Commons to arrest five Members of Parliament on charges of High Treason. When asked to point out the five traitors, the Speaker, William Lenthall, replied:
“May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here; and I humbly beg Your Majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what Your Majesty is pleased to demand of me.”
Speaker Lenthall responds to Charles I: "I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here."
As our constitution has evolved over the past 300 years, the Executive and Legislative branches of government have, in some respects, become one. The members of the Cabinet are all drawn from the House of Representatives, as is the Chair of Cabinet, the Prime Minister. The contemporary equivalent of King Charles I, the most important political figure in the land, must be a Member of Parliament.
This places a very heavy burden on the Speaker’s shoulders. If he or she is to be “Parliament’s Person”: the staunch protector of the legislators’ rights and privileges against the Executive’s natural inclination to make them dance to its tune; then it is vital that there be not the slightest hint of any bias in the Executive’s favour. Most vitally, the Speaker must ensure that the Prime Minister and Cabinet can be held to account for their actions. When questions are put to them by MPs, it is the Speaker’s duty to extract meaningful answers.
It is also vital that the Speaker defend the rights of those MPs who form no part of the majority that keeps the Executive in office – the Opposition. Any suggestion that the conduct of the Speaker is regularly failing the test of strict impartiality, and that the Opposition is being thwarted in its duty to hold the Executive to account, is of the most extreme seriousness. If true, then democracy would indeed be at stake. Because a parliament in which the Opposition is prevented from holding the Government to account, is a parliament from which the Executive is free to rule without restraint.
It is this absolute obligation on the part of the Speaker – and of our democratic system generally – to protect the rights of the minority against the power of the majority that goes to the heart of the arbitrary incarceration of New Zealand citizens by the Australian state. No matter what these detainees have done, as human-beings they have the right to be treated justly and humanely. That the Prime Minister has a majority of New Zealanders backing his cruel denigration of their characters matters not one whit. Human rights are not the playthings of majorities: they are inherent and inalienable.
In and out of Parliament, the protection of the rights of the minority is what allows our democracy to function. It is no over-reaction on the part of an Opposition to call out a Speaker who is failing to provide that protection. And to suggest that, in its absence, our democracy is not threatened, is the most dangerous kind of nonsense.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 11 November 2015.


Charles E said...

If in Parliament a member abuses another the Speaker usually orders them to say sorry. If the abuse comes from both sides the Speaker sometimes does not take such action. That is what happened here and the laughable walking out of Labour was just to show their new and no doubt temporary unity.
No story relating to democracy here. All pure politics and as usual, as you point out, the usual party has won that battle.

Anonymous said...

Because kelvin Davis practised thuggery on John key and got away with it, it looks to me that Labour and the Greens believed they could do the same. They want to throw insults at John key and when he throws them back they get precious and stage a cowardly walk-out. The attacks on the speaker were a ill considered gang-bash. What a idiocy the Labour and Green MPs are making of our parliament. Their credence is "if you can't stand the heat of the kitchen then you should get out' makes them look foolish and childish. They are making a mockery of our democracy to prove their own idiocy. Chris your article needed to be written but I believe you are wrong in the side you have taken.

pat said...

you are much too reticent with your hypothesis Chris....the Speaker is bent and our democracy is in peril

Brendan McNeill said...

“..there is a substantial number (quite possibly a majority) of New Zealanders who view the entire Australian immigration scandal from the Prime Minister’s perspective.”

Do you think?

We witnessed today a number of Labour and Green women MP’s who stood up to say “I was sexually abused,” or “I felt sexually abused” or “Someone mentioned sex in my presence.” And as a result they engineered their expulsion from the house in what can best be described as an act of theatre designed to discredit the PM.

I’m not normally a National voter, but you would have to have rocks in your head to be supporting the child abusers, rapists, and violent criminals detained at the Easter Island detention centre.

Like it or not, the politics or the ‘optics’ as pundits like to say, are 100% in favour of the PM in this debate. Labour and the Greens are protesting in support of whom exactly?

Labour may have had a great conference, Andrew Little may be a decent human being, but protesting in support of rapists and child abusers does them no credit in they eyes of the voting public.

Who is advising these people? Are they wedded to a life in opposition?

Kat said...

Just 'modus operandi' for Key & co. Whats new here really. Key & co have at least 47% support of the electorate. NZ has always been divided somewhere down the middle. Thats why 'THE MIDDLE' is always touted as the place to win in politics in this country.

If you want NZ back then kill a tory. Metaphorically speaking that is!

Anonymous said...

Carter is doing well as Speaker, building upon the legacy of Lockwood Smith, who reintroduced honour and impartiality to the position.

As Trotter conveniently fails to mention, the position of Speaker was thoroughly besmirched by the partisan Margaret Wilson. His criticism of the even wicket Carter affords the players is merely nostalgia for the tilt Margaret Wilson afforded the Clark regime.

Anonymous said...

[i]I’m not normally a National voter, but you would have to have rocks in your head to be supporting the child abusers, rapists, and violent criminals detained at the Easter Island detention centre.[/i]

Entirely agreed. Easter Island (the one with the statues) doesn't have a detention centre, so it would be insane to support anyone detained there. Christmas Island on the other hand... I take it you consider John Key's former bodyguard a violent criminal?

Anonymous said...

[i]Carter is doing well as Speaker, building upon the legacy of Lockwood Smith, who reintroduced honour and impartiality to the position.[/i]

Carter is not fit to clean Smith's shoes.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

“..there is a substantial number (quite possibly a majority) of New Zealanders who view the entire Australian immigration scandal from the Prime Minister’s perspective.”

Yes there are. In the States they call them "low information voters."

Tiger Mountain said...

despite it being revealed that there are NO NZ rapists or murderers on “the Island”,-murderers-on-christmas-island
the tory filthgate remains remains open, even mildly here on Bowalley Rd with Mr anonymous

sorry is still the hardest word for the PM as Tania Billingsley knows and as de funded rape crisis centers and closed Relationship Services know, and Sue Moroney will know when her Parental Leave bill is vetoed, women are visibly a problem for the Nats

the tyranny of the majority does put democracy at peril in this type of scenario, it is defending the legal and other rights of some unpleasant people that will help save it

Guerilla Surgeon said...

“Someone mentioned sex in my presence.”

Link please Brendan? I haven't come across this, though I'd haven't had the time to follow it in the detail I should have. But if you are exaggerating for effect, you are trivialising something you almost certainly know very little about. And if you were in parliament, I would be calling upon you to withdraw and apologise.

Galeandra said...

Some of the commentary around these events has the flavour of mob rule, or even the lynching party. It takes great character to suppress indignation and submit to reason and the rule of law. That this commentary reflects the majority values of the wider community is very disquieting. How long till we have calls for the return of capital punishment, I wonder.

Anonymous said...

These men are not 'detainees', they are convicted criminals who are where they are due to their own actions.
You write 'No matter what these 'detainees' have done they have the right to be treated justly and humanely' – Why? Just like they treated their victims?
You write the poor things were 'arbitrarily incarcerated'.
Such few criminals have debased the life of hundreds of people, most especially the poor. These men are not poor misguided creatures who don't know that their activities hurt other people. They had their day in court. They were judged and sentenced. Where on earth do you get 'arbitrary incarceration' from? Perhaps because when their sentence was over they refused to return to New Zealand and were sent to Christmas Island? From where they continue to use up public money trying to retain their place in the sun?
You write about loss of democracy but what about the social contract? The New Zealand government could learn a lesson from the Australian government in preserving the peace and letting citizens go about their lawful business in confidence and safety. Enough of this sentimental moralising about thugs and bullies. John Key told the truth about them. 'Cruel denigration' indeed.

Jigsaw said...

You really should listen more carefully Chris- John Key said 'if you want to support rapists etc' -he didn't say that they did. They are simply showing by their actions that they do support these convicted criminals-Angry Andy keeps saying that we don't want them back as though there is some options-they are New Zealand citizens after all-as much as we might hate that. Another own goal for Labour!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Why? Just like they treated their victims? "

Yes they do have the right to be treated justly and humanely, because that's what makes us better than them. Not to mention that some of them went to Australia when they were very, very young – therefore Australia should own the responsibility for making them criminals.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the Christmas Island detainees have done they presumably have "served their time" and they should therefore be accorded the same rights as ordinary Australian citizens. John Key's insult, which implies that the opposition in some way condones rape and murder, is therefore patently untrue. It is a grave insult and the speaker should have demanded an apology.

Grant said...

@ GS. You're right about 'low information voters'. It appears that half of them don't even have the reading and processing skills to work out the difference between Easter Island and Christmas Island.

@ Anonymous 12:11- 8:56. You start with being utterly wrong in your first sentence and continue being utterly wrong throughout your ill informed rant. Here's a novel idea for you, how about holding back on the knee jerk indignation and actually applying some intelligent thought to the matter.

Grant said...

@ Jigsaw: Hardly worth pointing out that you are wrong as you nearly always are, but even Carter admitted yesterday that Key DID use unparliamentary language the FIRST time he disgraced himself by making the accusation about opposition support for murderers and rapists. Carter was quite clear when addressing the house yesterday that he should have called for Key to withdraw and apologise but didn't because he *didn't hear it and the opposition only called for a retraction four or five minutes later.* The phrasing to which you refer in your comment was Key's SECOND attempt to pick the mud up and throw it again using language which Carter claimed was not unparliamentary because it was worded slightly differently. As usual your partisan hatred gets in the way of your ability to absorb and process information accurately.

@ Charles E. Ditto

greywarbler said...

This is a familiar tactic from RWs or fence sitters looking for their moral base. "I’m not normally a National voter, but you would have to have rocks in your head to be supporting the child abusers, rapists, and violent criminals detained at the Easter Island detention centre."

Typical primitive mob reaction. All thee years of education but we still haven't been taught to sift for facts, and check sources before blabbing on with so-valuable and wise utterances. A lot of what is being written on this post is less valuable than a duck's quack, which conveys useful info to other ducks.

I view this series of events and the climate in which it is happening as having unpleasantly similar parallels to the 1930s in Germany. There were signs of breakdown of respect and law long before the fully fledged outbreak of violence and persecution and all the time the Nazis were building a fervent following. It seems that fascism is on the rise and is there any country in the world that has sufficient moral strength and freedom to throw us a lifebuoy?

Grant said...

Can anybody spot the discrepancies in the following report from:

""Offences committed by those at Christmas Island included manslaughter, indecent treatment or dealings with a child under 16, armed robbery, and assaulting a police officer.

Key told MoreFM he was "absolutely correct" to suggest Labour was backing serious criminals at the detention centres, and did not regret his remarks.

"I'm sorry, but my position is correct - I've stood up for New Zealanders, protecting New Zealanders, and I've stood up for those people in detention centres by getting them a much better deal.

"Fundamentally, the facts are as I've portrayed them: a third of all of these people who are in detention or coming out of prison going into detention have been convicted of sex offending, rape, murder, manslaughter, robbery, grievous bodily harm.""

For those who have difficulty reading and processing the written word, here's some help.

Firstly NO rapists and murderers despite Key's lies to the contrary.

Secondly, a third (1/3 or 33%) of the DETAINEES according to Key have committed serious offences including the ones he lied about. What about the other two thirds?

Finally, it seems to have escaped the attention of the frothing 'hang 'em high' brigade, that the opposition wants to support the detainees in two things: A. Their applications to remain in Australia. B. The right to be treated with a modicum of human decency while their cases are being processed.

In other words the opposition would much prefer that the detainees stayed in Australia and didn't return to NZ, but, if that is not possible they would like them to be returned to NZ in an efficient and timely manner without being abused in the mean-time. Sounds like a civilized approach to me.

If ALL the detainees currently held at Christmas Island and the rest of the Australian Gulags truly were dangerous criminals there might be SOME justification for the ill-informed hysteria around this issue. But the truth is that the majority have committed relatively trivial offences or simply failed a fairly arbitrary 'character test' as in the case of the ex-soldier who served in Afghanistan for FIVE YEARS, was chosen as Key's protection detail when he was there and by all accounts has a clean record.

greywarbler said...

You are reasonable and mild to the point of reproach as to your request for decent behaviour from the gummints of Oz and NZ.
"B. The right to be treated with a modicum of human decency while their cases are being processed."

I demand that modicum of human decency to extend beyond their cases being processed, and right to the end of their normal span of human life./\

greywarbler said...

There are similarities between Easter and Christmas Islands, apart from the fact that they both commemorate important advents in the Christian calendar ushering in a message of love, kindness and better treatment of the vulnerable and one another.

The similarities now are that both have a number of immobile stone heads that are incapable of acting kindly on Christian principles, carved out of base rock which can be used by base humans beings to carry out sacrifices.

Victor said...

Live streaming online from Parliament has been a revelation to me. I find it difficult to identify much that resembles impartiality in the conduct of Mr Speaker Carter. It's truly shocking.

Jigsaw said...

Pathetic tactics by Labour and especially pathetic from Kelvin Davis-a man who showed us just how racist he really is by declaring the Waitangi Tribunal to be correct when they stated that the northern tribes didn't mean to sign away sovereignty in 1840. He demonstrates one of the main problems with the Maori seats in that Davis doesn't care what the general electorate thinks - he is only interested in his Maori electorate and grandstanding for them.
Grant - glad you read all my posts and enjoy them-can't say the same about yours unfortunately-I don't read them so I can't say if they are all wrong-I suspect just most of them. If like Chris, you think that one speech from Angry Andy will make much difference then just watch for the next polls.

Barry said...

Australians don't want them. New Zealanders don't either.

Grant said...

@ Jigsaw. So you've got nothing in reply to the salient points of my comment? Pretty feeble reply there matey.

Grant said...

So first Key tries to deflect from his own inadequacies by claiming the opposition is 'backing serious criminals at the detention centres.' (The dead cat technique)

With scarcely a pause to draw breath he then says 'I've stood up for those people in detention centres by getting them a much better deal.'

Spot the problematic mind-bending NewSpeak going on here. The man couldn't lie straight in bed.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Gosh jigsaw, you know better than anybody what was in the minds of the "northern tribes" when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi? Better than the actual historians? And you're annoyed because he advocates for his electorate? This is bizarre. That's his job for god's sake.
And to be frank, for someone who supposedly values politeness your dismissal of Grant's posts without reading them is sort of rude :-). Close to your favourite - ad hominem.

Richard Christie said...

@ Grant.

You missed another of the non sequiturs from Key: that Key is "protecting New Zealanders" by increasing the number of rapists and murderers living in their midst.

(Go figure)

@ Brendon. You get the cigar for predictibility.

Brendan McNeill said...

Oops, yes I said ‘Easter Island’ when of course it should have read ‘Christmas Island’. Either way, Labour’s behaviour in support of these criminals provides an early Christmas for John Key and the National Government. Despite the subsequent emotive reporting from TV news and other outlets, there are few New Zealanders who are about to empathize with these serious criminals in the way that Labour has.

It appears that many of these ‘New Zealanders’ have been detained as ringleaders responsible for up to $10M of damage to the Christmas Island detention centre. This is after they have ‘served their time’ or done their ‘lag’ or whatever the appropriate term is.

I may have invoked a resurrection metaphor when a divine birth was more appropriate, but either way, there is no way that Labour can resurrect their fortunes off the back of this criminal disaster.

Perhaps Labour have been caught advocating for Barabbas?

greywarbler said...

Why does Mr Key act as his own attack dog? Trevor Mallard used to be that for Helen Clark didn't he? It does not elevate Parliament and the Prime Minister's role to have him standing shouting deprecations like a fishhusband. Is it that this behaviour is second-nature to him, that a contentious bully just lurks behind the smarmy smile? The oligarchs behind the PM must be very demanding of him demanding 120 per cent.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Still avoiding the hard questions I see Brendan. Who said "someone mentioned sex in my presence." Or are you just trivialising sexual assault?