This week’s Parliamentary confidence vote was a prime example of an Opposition reigning-in the government which tried to ignore standing orders that have been created under the country’s supreme law – the Constitution.
The government tried to do this because it didn’t suit their purpose to follow procedure. The motion tabled by former PM Henry Puna for a confidence vote was clearly out of order and the Opposition pointed this out. The Speaker eventually conceded this to be the case.
The Opposition was doing its job – that of scrutinising the government’s actions and holding the government to account. The government’s motion was clearly flawed, despite knowing for weeks that there would a resignation and a vote of confidence.
Even with all the resources available to them, like Crown Law, the government could not get right the extremely fundamental and important Parliamentary procedure of a vote of confidence motion.
The Opposition asked that the Speaker deliver a decision on the motion that had been tabled and challenged to be out of order before proceeding with any further business. It was a call for accountability – a serious error had been made and it needed to be rectified.
That decision the Speaker delivered was confused – while she didn’t believe Standing Order 397 was applicable, she also conceded that the motion tabled by Mr Puna was out of order. Under SO 397 if a minister wants to table a motion of confidence or no confidence, he/she must first resign. The motion must then sit in Parliament for 14 days. The motion has to include in the Parliament Order Paper within the correct time frame.
When the Acting Clerk, laid down rules that there would be no statements, no debates and no questions raised, in the out of Parliament meeting, the Opposition understandably took issue with this move to gag them. This is unheard of. There are no such rules that apply that deny the members the right to speak and ask questions.
When Parliament was suspended it was on the basis that after the out of Parliament meeting members would go back to Parliament. Instead the CIP MPs headed straight out to the Queens Representative’s official residence. Opposition MPs then left for home. At about 7.30pm parliament resumed. No advice was given to Opposition MPs that this would be happening. That was why they were not present. The Speaker was recorded as being disappointed that the Opposition MPs were not present but conveniently omitted to explain that they were not notified.
When Parliament fails to function according to its own rules and attempts to permit government to influence and trample on democracy and the right of members and the people of this country to be heard through petitions, then our Parliamentary system is in serious trouble.
Credit must be given to QR Sir Tom Marsters for supporting the actions of the Democratic Party Opposition in Parliament stating that it shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, “but rather as an example of doing things properly.” Thank you, Sir Tom, for endorsing that democracy must prevail at all times, starting with our supreme institution.
A Parliament without a robust, questioning and challenging Opposition is a weak one which does not serve the voters and people of our country. The Democratic Party Opposition, led by Leader Tina Browne showed the country that our Parliament’s integrity is not to be trivialised or ignored. We need to be grateful to the leader Tina Browne and her team of 11 MPs for the courage to do the job that is absolutely expected of our Opposition. Credit must be given to Titikaveka MP Sel Napa for raising questions about the flawed procedure and standing her ground, despite being heckled by the CIP male MPs.
Well done to the Democratic MPs of standing firm with the objective of delivering democracy and protecting the integrity of the legislative process. Parliament was faced with a constitutional crisis and could have resulted in the Queens Representative having to assume the responsibility of caretaker government. This was averted because leader Tina Browne and her team upheld the integrity of Parliament.