Upton-on-line Feb 23rd
Relief will be breaking out in the murkier corners of the new Ministry in the light of the Speaker's latest ruling on the accountability of Associate Ministers.
Upton-on-line revealed, last week, the extraordinary web of delegations that has been spun by in the margins of the Cabinet. We speculated then that there would be many hours of happy hunting at Question Time pinning down hapless Associate Ministers who had been delegated the onerous task of "assisting with policy development".
Such hopes have been dampened a little by Mr Speaker's ruling that Associate Ministers "are only answerable in their own right for matters which have been formally delegated to them." Assisting in general policy development is not, in the Speaker's view, a particular delegation.
That seems a plausible conclusion - particularly so when it is doubtful whether the exertions of some of these characters could reasonably be described as providing 'assistance' (as distinct from confusion or plain obstruction).
The Opposition should not despair, however. Questions about the stranger utterances of Associate Ministers can be happily addressed to the principal Minister. The more competent Ministers will, in due course, live to rue the day they were left to answer for the gaffes of their off-siders. It will be all care and no responsibility as they say.
Last week's report described Mr Speaker Hunt as "a large, occasionally fierce and immovable object with thickened skin and ancient mien who has stumped the savannah over more years than any of the other animals can remember."
This week's report from the great Rift Valley has to place on record the new Speaker's spectacular success in raising the tone of Question Time. As the valley's Game Keeper he presides over life and death with equanimity. And unlike any of his predecessors, he seems to have actually succeeded in getting people to focus on asking - and answering - questions.
His formula is simple: if the Opposition asks genuine questions it gets to ask more. If it lapses into jeering better suited to the watering hole, it gets axed. Similarly, Ministers who play up find the Speaker inclined to expose them to additional supplementary questions (for which eager staffers haven't supplied answers).
Mr Speaker's physical and moral gravitas - as well as his sense of humour - are the key. His predecessor, Mr Speaker Kidd was a legal giraffe whose valiant (and well-liked) attempts at discipline never seemed to carry the prospect of a knock out blow to the thorax which Mr Speaker Hunt communicates with a single glower.
In short, Mr Hunt is shaping up to be the best thing that has happened in the valley for a long time. And the animals are loving it.
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The herd and the predators alike are wondering if they have a new loner on their hands. Despite the life and death roles in which the animals are cast, they need one another. Herbivores and carnivores have a symbiotic relationship which is easily disturbed.
During the last migration, Rodney Hide had the animals scurrying in all directions with his campaign against perks for MPs. The question being asked today is whether the parliamentary ecosystem is threatened by another attack of rabies from within - this time from Nandor Tanczos. The nation's leaders are drunk in charge, he alleges. Fear is sweeping through the valley and watering holes are deserted lest the rogue jackal strike.
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In response to readers' requests we have provided the cast to date:
The animals -
The Rift Valley, the Valley - The Debating Chamber
Herbivores - Labour, Alliance & Green MPs
The herd - Collective noun for government MPs
Carnivores - National and ACT MPs
The predators - Collective noun for opposition MPs
Scavengers - NZ First MPs
The Great Migration - A parliamentary session
Forest margin dwellers - Timid ministers rarely heard from
The Game Keeper - Mr Speaker
The Watering Hole - Bellamys