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Anderton Address To Officers & Clerks Conference

8.30 am 2 July 2001 Hon Jim Anderton Speech Notes

Address To The 32nd Conference Of Australia And Pacific Presiding Officers And Clerks


Thank you for the invitation to open the 32nd Conference of Australia and Pacific Presiding Officers and Clerks.

This conference is one of the many activities organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The Association has the mandate to "promote knowledge of the Parliamentary system."

Discussions on Parliamentary matters which take place on occasions like this are an excellent opportunity for speakers and clerks of our Commonwealth to compare notes and look at ways to improve parliamentary democracy in our region.

I would also like to welcome the observers to this conference, including Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Regional Representatives Hon George Cash, Hon O'love Jacobsen MP and Hon Nathaniel Waena. I am particularly pleased to see Mr Jim Hastings the Clerk of Journals from the United Kingdom House of Commons here with us.

In opening this conference I want to acknowledge that the work you do is essential to our democratic way of life.

Democracy is a precious and valuable idea.

People in this country often take it for granted.

Our form of democratic government is not ideal. It has its faults. However, parliamentary democracy as it is practiced in New Zealand has proved remarkably adaptable to the changing views of New Zealanders.

There have been some changes over the years, most notably the changes to franchise, abolition of the Upper house and the change to Mixed Member Proportionality adopted in 1996.

But the underlying strength of our democracies is their ability to represent the views of the people who are governed.

Here in New Zealand I can go into our Parliament and express any political view I want too – within reason now that I am the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand!

This is not always the case in all other countries, or in all other assemblies.

New Zealand's Parliament is one of the most open with the most transparent procedures of any assembly in the world.

We have a free an open society.

I recently meet two American tourists in Queensgate Mall, etc (who couldn't believe they had met the Deputy Prime Minister).

We are fortunate in New Zealand to have David McGee as the Clerk of our house; he is a noted parliamentary expert and has written an authoritative work on New Zealand Parliamentary practice.

He describes the roles of Parliament and the House of Representatives, "to legislate, to provide a Government, to scrutinise and control the Government, and to represent government and the people".

The last point is important because our communities face change as our societies adapt to new technologies and patterns of social, environmental and sustainable economic development.

Parliament needs to maintain and, if possible, extend popular support, for its role.

Both politicians and parliamentary professionals have an important part to play in achieving that objective.

Without the support of the governed, the House of Representatives cannot itself govern.

This brings to mind the graffiti "Democracy used to be great, but now it has got into the wrong hands".

In the 1980s and early 90s in New Zealand Parliament 'got into the wrong hands' and lost touch with most New Zealanders.

The result was higher levels of voter dissatisfaction than at practically any other time in our history, and an increasingly volatile electorate. This produced pressure to have a Parliament more finely tuned to the perceptions of the people.

We had a referendum where First Past the Post was replaced by MMP.

This has produced many changes to the way we do things.
Singapore Free Trade Agreement, Disagreement clause.

At the same time, however the other important part of making Parliamentary democracy function is the people who make it work.

If procedures don't adequately serve the roles which Parliament is expected and has to play, and the machinery of government doesn't function, we would have political paralysis. This would only lead to cynicism and demand for even more dramatic change. Change that could threaten democracy itself.

Making Parliament work requires skilled, dedicated people who are non partisan and serve the institution honestly and effectively.

I can report that in New Zealand David McGee and his staff are set the highest of standards. The dedication and integrity with which the Parliament and House of Representatives in New Zealand are managed are, I believe, without equal (but I would say that wouldn't I!).

I am sure your conference will provide the opportunity to exchange views and learn from each other. Stronger assemblies in our part of the world will serve to enhance the cause of political stability and peace.

Without it, neither the people nor the nations of this region can or will prosper.

I wish you well in your deliberations.

Thank you.

ends

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