Yesterdaze: Several points of disorder

The Question Time peacock competes for worst Speaker in living memory, writes James Elliott's news of the week

PM Jacinda Ardern kicked off the week by appearing at the Techweek conference in hologram form prompting a slew of Star Wars comparisons on social media. I don’t know if there was a meme that had her imploring ‘Help me Helen Clark Kenobi’ but there should have been. Unfortunately the PM has rebels in her own alliance with Phil Twyford playing the role of a malfunctioning C-3PO, dissing Treasury officials as ‘kids fresh out of University’ and earning a rebuke from the boss. Having been rebuked, Twyford then proceeded to take on another sci-fi character, this time re-enacting ET’s phone home. But having been caught making that phone call on a domestic flight he followed the ‘When Ministers Stuff Up’ playbook (coincidentally the working title of Murray McCully’s autobiography) and tendered his resignation as Minister of Transport. The PM declined the offer seemingly deciding on the much tougher punishment of keeping him in charge of Kiwibuild.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff also got in on the Star Wars vibe using a cloaking device to keep a PWC feasibility study on a prospective Auckland waterfront stadium under wraps. Councillors complained that they were only allowed to read the PWC report under supervision in the mayor’s office, prompting a complaint to the Ombudsman. To be fair to the mayor a waterfront stadium is Auckland’s project version of the Holy Grail so it’s appropriate that the study be treated with the reverence accorded to a sacred text. Unfortunately this million dollar text contained no greater revelation than that further analysis is required. With sea levels rising faster than the consultants can complete their analysis, by the time we get a definitive recommendation Eden Park will probably be a waterfront stadium in its own right.

Also cloaked in secrecy was the result of the measurement of the penis belonging to Kapiti councillor David Scott, who is accused of indecent assault and on trial in the District Court. The measurement, taken with a wooden ruler, was suppressed but his defence nonetheless fell short as he was found guilty. However the real contest for appendage of the week was raging between David Seymour and Mark Richardson. Seymour’s improbable run on Dancing With The Stars is morphing into the perfect metaphor for his political career, a bumbling performer but somehow not ejected due to the vagaries of the voting system. He’s cunning though. His scaremongering letter to Epsom constituents warning about state housing tenants with mental health issues seemed designed to appeal directly to voters, the message being ‘vote to keep me dancing and out of politics’.

Seymour’s NIMBY dog-whistle pricked up the ears of Mark Richardson who joined in with his own reckon, objecting to all state housing in the same suburb where he lives. He talked about putting his nuts on the line and having a moat, basically as incoherent as it was callous.

We know about Richardson’s views on this and other issues because he spouts on Newshub’s AM Show prompting Newshub to then post a breaking news item on Newshub’s news platforms about his controversial comments on the Newshub show. 

Creating news of his own this week was the Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard. He wasn’t so much Mallard as peacock with his capricious Question Time rulings, deducting supplementary questions from National for repeated interjections. Perhaps taking a cue from Donald Trump, Speaker Mallard seems intent on dismantling the legacy of his predecessor David Carter - that legacy being the worst Speaker in living memory.

Mallard’s unpredictable practice, aimed at maintaining order during points of order, only resulted in several points of disorder. Paula Bennett said she was sick of being treated like a child by Mallard and self-fulfilled her narrative by stomping out of the debating chamber in protest on Wednesday. Having taken the hump on hump day and perhaps realising the irony of her petulant perambulation, but probably not, Bennett was back in the House on Thursday. This time she dealt with the matter in a more mature fashion, getting thrown out of the House by the Speaker because that’s what grown-ups do.

National complained vociferously that the Speaker’s conduct of Question Time is a threat to democracy. Only those who participate in Question Time rather than those having to endure its tawdry theatrics as observers could possibly be that pompous. However National may have an unlikely ally in former US President Jimmy Carter who said this week that “there’s a general feeling on a global basis that democracy has reached its peak and is declining”. Jimmy Carter may well be right, but I don’t think he had the playground pranks of our Parliament in mind when he sounded that warning.

Have a peaceful weekend.

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