Opposition MPs walked out on the Law & Order Committee yesterday because of Sandra Goudie's poor chairing--John Key should take action; after all committee work is at the heart of an MP's job

Sandra Goudie hasn’t exactly been a star in the parliamentary firmament since she first attained a place at the rear of National’s much diminished back bench in 2002.

Since then, her biggest claim to fame arose the day after the 2005 election, when she joined a group of protestors in an illegal chainsaw massacre of mangroves in the Whangamata Harbour.

Ironically, the National Party’s website profiles her as a judge for the Farm Environment awards, and as a former representative on the Hauraki Gulf Forum.

Environmental credentials aside, Ms Goudie has now gone on to distinguish herself by provoking outright rebellion amongst opposition members on the Law and Order Select Committee.

Yesterday three Labour MPs – Clayton Cosgrove, Rick Barker and Carmel Sepuloni – plus one Green MP, David Clendon – simply walked out on the Committee, after what Mr Cosgrove describes as her ongoing refusal as Chair “to respect the democratic role of Opposition MPs to ask questions and challenge Government departments.”

Cosgrove went on to say the MPs’ revolt came in the wake of 18 months’ poor chairing from Ms Goudie, including disallowing the right of Labour MPs to ask for expert advice from relevant officials; shutting down members who were trying to ask questions; giving very little notice to opposition members who sought to put up questions on parliamentary estimates; and the voting down of a Labour minority report.

All of these tasks are what committee work is about. If opposition MPs can’t carry them out, they are being prevented from doing the jobs for which they are paid.

As someone who has done their time on many select committees during the ten years I was an MP, I can sense the anger and desperation behind yesterday’s walkout.

Select committees truly are the engine room of Parliament. Whatever your political affiliation or place in your party’s hierarchy, this is where a lot of the real work gets done.

Committee members are charged with analysing closely every bill that comes before Parliament, hearing submissions from the public, quizzing officials on the details of legislation, and with holding Ministers and Government Departments accountable for their spending and actions.

Most MPs take their committee work very seriously, as this is one place where you are doing your best to scrutinize, amend and challenge on behalf of all those who voted for you and your party.

There is enormous frustration when a Committee chair stops you doing your work, or is simply so incompetent that you can’t do your job properly. Without naming names, this happened to me a few times during my tenure at Parliament, but on the whole most chairs do take their role – and the extra salary that comes with it – pretty seriously.

I sincerely hope that Sandra Goudie’s lords and masters in the National caucus won’t brush this incident aside as something that’s the Opposition’s problem, not theirs.

As in any workplace, it isn’t an employee’s fault if they’ve been promoted beyond their capacity.

There seem to be times when both Labour and National appoint MPs as Committee chairs as a sop to their ambitions or as payment for services rendered, rather than out of any commitment to appointing someone who is actually capable of doing the job.

This isn’t good enough. The committees are a serious part of our democracy. When MPs are denied the chance to do the job for which they’re paid, it is an affront to all of us.

I don’t know if John Key ever reads Pundit, but I”ll take a guess that he  gives it at least the odd cursory glance, and ask him to have a serious look at the affairs of the Law & Order Committee, taking into consideration not only his responsibilities for the functioning of Parliament but also to the voters and taxpayers of this country.

There’s no question Sandra Goudie has made a popular place for herself among the gumboot and chainsaw brigade in the bluer parts of the Coromandel – but if she can’t chair a Select Committee fairly and well, it’s time the PM gave her some other work to do, and let the rest of her colleagues get on with the job.


Comments (5)

by Andrew Geddis on July 02, 2010
Andrew Geddis

The thing that really annoys me about the walkout is that it was sparked by the Opposition MPs being denied the chance to get advice on Paul Quinn's Bill to take the vote off all prisoners. Given the importance of this issue - whether or not to deny some individuals the most important democratic right that there is - you'd think that the Committee majority (i.e. National) would bend over backwards to ensure the process is scrupulous.

Perhaps the House could bend the rules again and let Simon Power take over as Chair ... he seems to "get" it better

by stuart munro on July 03, 2010
stuart munro

The problem with arguing for MP competence is that it is not procedural fairness per se that we require of nominally democratic governments, but prudent  balanced pragmatic and representative policies.

The three strikes bill itself probably does not meet these criteria - and this failure occurred prior to the select committee process.

No amount of procedural orthodoxy will recover the waste of time and scrupulous attention that should be focused on implementing solutions to New  Zealand's numerous problems.

This kind of second rate legislation, and the wrangling it produces, largely occurs because it enjoys not broad public support, but the support of a cynical and experienced clique of politicians. NZ would be much better governed if some public representation system existed to dilute the powers of such cliques.

Lacking such a system, a limit on parliamentary terms at least tends to get rid of the most cynical operators.

by Graeme Edgeler on July 04, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Stuart - I'm reasonably sure three strikes is representative.

But I'd also note that the form it went into select committee was almost reasonable. It was the version that came out (albeit decided by cabinet) that was the problem.

That said, I don't think it's second-rate legislation. As policy, it might be bad, but if only all legislation was that clear. There were problems with the bill that went in that were fixed. It's now pretty clear what the bill means in every situation, it's not complex, nor confusing. It's probably a model of legislation.

by stuart munro on July 04, 2010
stuart munro

Representative of whom?

Three strikes is not a policy - it's a sound bite.

I think perhaps you are confusing clarity with quality. Good legislation had better advance the interests, prospects, happiness or fairness of the polity.

Soundbites are simple demagoguery - a candid admission of unfitness to govern.

by Graeme Edgeler on July 05, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Three strikes is ... a sound bite.

As is that objection to it.

The Sentencing and Parole Reform Act is policy. Policy with which we both disagree, and policy with a catchy name attached to it, but policy nonetheless. It does our argument no credit to assume that all those whom we oppose are brainless demagogues.

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