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Dysfunction in our House

Monday September 24, 2018 Written by Published in Opinion
The Constitution requires that Parliament elect a Speaker, but a reader asks is Henry Puna’s Government usurping this function. 18092411 The Constitution requires that Parliament elect a Speaker, but a reader asks is Henry Puna’s Government usurping this function. 18092411

Dear Editor,

The dysfunction down at Parliament continues.


On 8 September you ran my piece about the election of the Speaker. In there, amongst other things,  I raised what I thought was a quite legitimate question as to the operation of Article 34(2) and the requirement that “every question before Parliament shall be decided by a majority of the votes of the members present” irrespective of the provisions of Article 31(2) which restricted the appointment of the Speaker to the Prime Minister's sole nominee the point being that if there were a better choice the PM's nominee could be voted down until such time as he recognised the error of his ways and came back with an acceptable name.

Was this question ever raised during the induction workshop with the overseas advisers?  Did anyone seek a legal opinion? One would imagine that if one had been obtained that rubbished my argument Government would have delighted in making that announcement. There was none but it would not have mattered anyway because surprisingly, and ironically, the Leader of the Opposition, speaking for his team, seconded the nomination motion clearly forgiving (or forgetting) the numerous past occasions, and transgressions, when the Chair had favoured the Government and failed to protect the rights of the minority and made it difficult for them to effectively perform their role as parliamentarians.

For those legal beagles out there who never have anything to say about the breakdown in our polity consider this: If the framers of Amendment No. 24 (the sole nominee provision) intended to prohibit the application of Article 34(2) there would have been any number of ways I am sure of ensuring that. For example prefacing Article 31(2) with the words Notwithstanding Article 34(2). In the absence of that, or something similar one would think that 34(2) still operated wouldn't one?

There is another limb to this issue. The Constitution requires that Parliament elect a Speaker but in its operation Article 31(2) it is actually Government usurping this function, and the nomination in Parliament is really just a charade leaving one to ask is Amendment No.24 then a violation of the separation of powers and an ouster clause by any other name?

Moving on. How many people have wondered why, in this 53rd year of self-government and Parliament required to meet in session at least once a year, is the present Session being labelled the 49th. Where did we lose the other four?

The Speech from the Throne.

An impartial Speaker would never say in relation to the Speech - what a wonderful Speech that was.  She should not even comment favourably on the event either it being essentially her event. The Speech from the Throne outlines the Government plans, reviews developments and announces the legislative agenda known at that time. Supporters of Government would likely subscribe to that view that it was a wonderful Speech but unless it incorporated Democratic Party

policies that Party would likely have a differing view so the unwarranted praise from the Chair might not sit too well with them. It also has a distinctly biased flavour to it.

Government pre-Ceremony announcements, and reporting, referred to the Speech as when Government outlines its programme and agenda for the ensuing four fours. Total rubbish. This would appear to be built on the mistaken belief that there is only a ceremonial opening and Speech once every four years.  But there has not even been that.

This is part of the problem. We have a Constitution. We have Standing Orders but if they do not suit those in charge they are ignored. A bit like audited accounts and limits on unauthorised expenditure. If it is inconvenient or something the Government wishes to avoid, or hide, they just disregard it. Why has the Speaker failed to pursue Government for the audited accounts for example when the Constitution requires them to be forwarded to her annually?  Why has there been no Ceremonial opening since heaven knows when?  The Constitution requires a Session each year. Each new Session is to commence with a ceremonial opening. This is required by the Standing Orders. The Speaker is responsible for administering the Standing Orders so why have the years been allowed to slip by with none?

And my final observation on the Speech at this point.  THE SPEECH IS NOT APPLAUDED. I wonder - did the Opposition members join in the clapping?  Even if protocol allowed it, which it does not, you only applaud something because you liked it; approved of it.  Were those the sentiments of those applauding.  The programme was silent on the question of applause. It should not have been. Whose was the final approval for publishing the day's events?

Address in Reply

The Address in Reply which normally follows is an opportunity for far reaching debate on practically any subject. It is one of the few opportunities for such latitude. Typically the Opposition uses it to expose the weaknesses in the administration and advance its own ideas. In some commonwealth countries it provides a vehicle for a no-confidence amendment so calling it wonderful and applauding it is a bit of a nonsense.

Concluding, when the Prime Minister moved the motion that a respectful Address be presented to His Excellency he not only got the words wrong (S/O 23) but mixed it up with government's wish that the debate be postponed until after the Budget. Not wishing to compromise my sanity any further I did not tune in Friday but that motion, with the Budget reference, which was seconded and the question  put  theoretically, because the Chair was not quick enough to detect the potential confusion, actually meant the Address in Reply debate, procedurally, should already have been all over which was clearly not the intention and it probably just continued its merry way unperturbed by the pesky need to follow rules which is becoming our tradition.

            John M Scott

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