Parliament, New Zealand
05/07/2018
Items on the Balustrade
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Government Lolly Monitor and other Vital Elements of Democracy

The fourth committee stage of the Social Security Legislation ReWrite was the perfect opportunity to observe the government benches with their hair down, so to speak.  

Tonight’s session was one of those procedural pantomimes that are a necessary part of the process to progress bills through the house. One National MP after another proposing a series of Supplementary Order Papers (SOPs) of varying quality, interest and worth; only for the Minister of Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni to bat them back, despite assurances of policy neutrality from the opposition. This all happened in a comparatively low-key atmosphere with no-one in the speaker’s chair. Deputy speaker Anne Tolley was Madame Chair and sat at the table in front of the speaker’s chair with the Minister as befits a committee stage.

Given that this charade didn’t require any input from the government benches, they took the opportunity to relax and pass the time in a variety of ways other than giving serious attention to the proposals being outlined across the floor.

Kieran McAnulty is the government lolly monitor.  Normally he is relatively discreet and furtive about his activities, surreptitiously handing off his tub of treats to colleagues. Tonight however, he evidently felt he had permission for a more public and uninhibited display of largesse. He strode around during Simon O’Connor’s second attempt to persuade the minister to accept an amendment related to recidivist drug addicts like a St John’s officer at a multi-casualty disaster, tending to all those stricken with boredom or stunned by O’connor’s persistence in the face of inevitable disappointment.

Jan Tinetti played the part of the popular girl in high school, the centre of a gaggle of Labour backbenchers clearly valuing their gossip with one another over any contributions the nominated speakers, including their own minister, might be making.  We know it’s going to be a wave through session for the government, but you could make an effort. Labour seem to have a smaller pool of willing and able speech makers than the opposition, leaving the balance of their crew to slide into parliamentary delinquency.

Ruth Dyson busied herself with her camp mother duties.  Fussing around from one MP to the next, appearing to engage in vitally important communications with various functionaries and signal earnestly across the floor to the opposition benches.  Whilst everyone else is chatting and horsing around, hurling one-liners at the opposition, the senior whip lets us all know that without her crucial interventions through the session, the government could not possibly hope to achieve the rigid, lock step party-line vote which followed on every single amendment.

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