Even though more important things are happening on the Mainland, Parliament is displaying its worst and best qualities this week.
Although the dreadful vigil at Pike River overshadows everything else, Auden reminds us that even tragedy cannot stop the world from turning;
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.
Or, as another great writer summed up the worst that can happen: so it goes.
I do not intend the above to diminish or belittle what is unfolding on the West Coast, but rather to note that as the families and loved ones of 29 men sit in what must be the most awful of circumstances - not knowing - the tawdry minutiae of life carries on irregardless. Specifically, Parliament this week is revealing the worst and the best sides to its character.
First, the worst. On Wednesday evening, barring some miracle (or National's ministers again deciding they need the time for their own "urgent" purposes), Paul Quinn's Bill to strip all prisoners of their right to vote should receive its third and final reading.
I've railed already about what a stupid idea I think this is. And I've pointed out how poorly it has been progressed through the House by National MPs. That basic failure to respect the purpose of Parliament, especially where it is legislating with respect to the fundamental rights of New Zealand citizens, continued at the Committee stage.
Of the 13 MPs to speak on this proposal, only 3 from National's ranks spoke up to defend the measure. The Act Party - the champions, remember, of individual liberty and personal freedoms - didn't even bother putting up a speaker to justify why it was voting to remove a fundamental human right from thousands of citizens.
And to top it off, the legislation's sponsor, Paul Quinn, came up with this doozy in his speech:
Then [Lianne Dalziel] proceeded to go on to ask what the mischief was behind the bill. Well, there is no mischief; this legislation is what the overwhelming majority of people want. ... The overwhelming majority of the community want prisoners not to be able to vote.
That's just excellent. We've an MP admitting that there is absolutely no reason behind - or no demonstrable justification for - his proposal to disenfranchise a set of New Zealand's population. It's just "what the people want" ... even though only two people actually made submissions to select committee in support of his Bill ... one of whom was himself ... and the other was David Farrar.
Well, so it goes, I guess.
But just when I was starting to think that Parliament was a bit of a lost cause, in that it did not seem able to deal with serious topics with the proper respect for its lawmaking job, the House's Electoral Legislation Committee releases its reports on three interlinked pieces of electoral legislation.
While I haven't been able to dig through all the detail yet - which is where the real action always is - my first impression of their work is pretty positive. For one thing, the Committee has taken its time, looks to have taken the submissions made to it seriously, and explained why it has made the decisions it has.
For another, the Committee has been willing to compromise in order to come up with an overall package of measures that have broad buy-in from most, even if not all, parties. This inevitably means that there's going to be something in its proposed package to annoy everyone - it certainly doesn't reflect every aspect of my ideal regulatory regime - but given the pervasive disagreement in this area, that's to be expected. To gauge whether the Committee got its compromises right, I'd suggest that the fact that different parts of the proposals have both "pissed off" David Farrar and caused Idiot Savant to discern "a declaration of intent on [National's] part to behave corruptly" shows that they're in the right ballpark.
But here's the bit I really don't get. Parliament's worst and best moment this week have something in common: Paul Quinn.
It's his Bill that will sully Parliament's legislative record this Wednesday. Yet he also is a member of the Electoral Legislation Committee that did a pretty good job looking at important law. How can this be? Are there really two Paul Quinns - one who behaves like a bit of a dick when given his moment in the spotlight, the other of whom is a capable and thoughtful legislator behind the scenes?
O' What may man within him hide, though devil on the outward side!