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Politics: Unlock The Doors

During the liquor debate an unusual event happened after the first vote... there was a spontaneous cheer from many MPs, when the cry went out “Unlock The Doors”.

The nostalgic cry to an almost forgotten age was a reminder of how much Parliament had changed under MMP.

The liquor debate votes were from my memory the first use of the ‘personal’ vote since the 1996 election.

Prior to 1996 any contested vote was a ‘personal’ vote - that is each MP voted aye or no. After 1996 the first step after a voice vote was contested was a party vote, where the nominated MP, usually the Whip, tells the Clerk how many votes their party has.

This number is usually the number of MPs from that party, but it does vary as after a certain number of MPs are absent from Parliament, they lose the vote of that member.

This has led to one of the first anomalies that has seen bending of the rules in a spirit they were not intended to be. Mauri Pacific is still not recognised as a party in Parliament, despite it being recognised as a party for the allocation of campaign money. This means that Mauri Pacific members are treated as individuals when it comes to voting and they hand their proxy instructions to be cast for them. This is the same for other one MP parties.

Mr Henare has been quite unrepentant about using the tactic, it is allowed under the rules and means that his MPs are not bound within the grounds of Parliament for campaigning purposes.

The party vote has been the main vote used over the last three years and while there has been the occasionally confusing episode - usually around the casting of ‘individual’ MP’s votes - it has gone reasonably smoothly.

Technically a ‘personal’ vote can still be called for, but so far has not happened, because they are mainly envisaged to test whether a party vote has been correctly cast and to do this would mean questioning the word of an MP, which is not possible under standing orders.

Some of the ‘magic’ has gone out of the vote though. No more is there the ringing of the bells, the locking of the doors to the lobbies for MPs votes to be counted and then the unlocking of the doors to allow MPs to flee to other business.

The liquor votes were a flashback to the past. They were a bit of a novelty for newer members and caused confusion for the newer staff members for logistical reasons. Parliament is spread over three buildings with a road between Bowen House and the rest of the grounds. Below the road is a long tunnel with horizontal and vertical escalator to allow MPs in Bowen House of even an infirm nature to make it in the rquired time.

However that means the elevators in Bowen House being free and unimpeded. During the first liquor votes that didn’t happen as staff wandered around wondering what the bells meant, and if they did know managed to hog the lifts anyway. In the end none of it mattered, it was just a reminder of days past.

Writing this I talked to a few people and one reminded me that I may be in danger of rosy-glow nostalgia. “Remember the shipping filibuster”.

Yes the filibuster under the old voting system did turn Parliament into a form of torture as the Opposition forced hundreds of votes over sure-to-be defeated amendments. The bells rang endlessly for days.

It was a pain, but then again there is nothing like a good filibuster either.

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