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Spouse Stoush Tensions Temporarily Simmer Down

Following a meeting with the Speaker Jonathan Hunt this morning, the party whips have agreed to reign in attacks on MPs’ spouses and families – for now.

The whips agreed to further discussions within their caucuses and across party lines on how to handle conflicts of interest arising from spouses working in the public service and a possible new code of conduct for bringing up issues involving family members in the house.

From Left: Rick Barker (Labour), John Carter (National), Rod Donald (Green), Ron Mark (NZ First)

Labour Whip Rick Barker said no one has gained from the recent spate of dirty politics. “Collectively over the last few weeks we have failed to enhance the reputation of Parliament,” he said.

But agreement on standards across the board appears unlikely. NZ First Whip Ron Mark told reporters after the meeting that spouses may have to accept that there are certain limits to where their career can go in the public service.

“I would certainly disagree with Ron,” said Green Co-leader Rod Donald, attending on behalf of Green Whip Ian Ewen-Street. “I don’t think there should be any limits on spouses in the public service.”

From Left: Carter, Donald, Mark and Ken Shirley (ACT)

Mr Donald said there needs to be an end to personal attacks in the house on both MP’s families and the members themselves. “Attacks on members can have effects on families too,” he said.

But the Speaker indicated Mr Donald’s vision of a kinder, gentler Parliament will remain just that. “It’s the nature of politics that you do get vigorous debate … your whole life is going to be under scrutiny,” he said. “I don’t think you can have a standing order that covers these situations. You can’t prevent members having free speech.”

Speaker Jonathan Hunt following his meeting with the whips

The speaker said many of the recent personal attacks happened outside of Parliament, which he couldn’t prevent, but said MPs who cross the line in the House will be reprimanded.

“I’ve had a large number of letters from people who say they don’t like it, and I don’t like it,” he said.

United Future Leader Peter Dunne, who ignited the simmering tensions by accusing the Prime Minister’s Husband Peter Davis of using his wife’s influence to orchestrate the appointment of his friend Dr Joel Lexchin to review Pharmac, said MPs shouldn’t try to score points against individuals, but deal with the issues.

From Left: Shirley, Peter Dunne (United Future NZ)

But Mr Barker warned: “if the intention is to condemn, then the evidence will be found.”

Responding to a reporter’s suggestion that the latest heated round of personality politics was the worst ever seen, the Speaker said he has seen occasions when it has been as bad and it has passed just as quickly.

Mr Hunt said in the past he’d seen politicians say things in the house after a few dinner drinks that they never even remembered saying.

From Left: A reporter, Grant Gillon (Alliance), Barker

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