Q+A: Jessica Mutch interviews Winston Peters
Q+A’s deputy political editor Jessica Mutch
interviews NZ First leader Winston
NZ First leader Winston Peters says Parliament’s new Speaker, David Carter, has not risen above his National Party colours to be Parliament’s independent voice overseeing procedure in the House.
Peters told TVNZ’s Q+A programme on Sunday that as Speaker, “You’re Parliament’s man or woman, you’ve got to be independent, you’ve got to be professional, and above all, you’ve got to be fair.
“He (Carter) hasn’t got past his political colours. He hasn’t dropped the National Party background, and he’s got to do that to be successful. That’s what it actually means in there. If you talk about the romance and majesty of the job, it’s to be Parliament’s person above all else, fearing no party or baggage or obligation. He’s got a long way to go to get there.”
Since Mr Carter took up the Speaker role two months ago, he has been heavily criticised by opposition parties for the decisions he has made on Points of Order in the House. Last Wednesday, Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Chris Hipkins were asked to leave the House by the Speaker for their behaviour.
He did concede that being a “referee or an umpire’s never easy”.
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Q + A
JESSICA MUTCH INTERVIEWS WINSTON
WINSTON PETERS – Leader, New Zealand First
Look, being a referee or an umpire’s never easy, and you’ve got to have the knack. And some people have got it, some don’t, and some can by a lot of hard work and a bit of humility learn it. And he’s got a long, long way to go.
JESSICA Out of ten, what score would you give him?
WINSTON Well, he’s about three and a half at the moment, and I would think that even he would regard that as a pretty good score, but he’s got a long way to go. And if he doesn’t work out, I think we’ll have to look seriously at an independent or some other MP doing the job, because this sort of thing cannot go on. And there’s a lot of justification for the angst and upset of a number of members of Parliament. It’s not political. It’s just not right to have an unfair environment, either unknowingly or consciously.
JESSICA You talked about having someone independent. Do you think we’ve got to that point now?
WINSTON I think we were at the point a long, long time ago, but, of course, all the parties use it as a promotion link or as an equivalent to a Cabinet post, and it comes with a knighthood now, as you know. And so this is a huge inducement for people to do what they would ordinarily not do.
JESSICA Because we’ve seen in the House this week – we’ve seen almost a bit of a tag team with Trevor Mallard, Chris Hipkins, Russel Norman and yourself. Is this a game?
WINSTON No, it’s not a game. The fact is that you’re there to ask questions that the public wants the answers to, and it’s in the ambit of responsibility of these ministers and their capacity and their knowledge to answer them properly. And frankly, I’ve seen some ministers in the past you could never nail because they got up and briefly told the truth. And it’s still the smartest policy.
JESSICA So do you think this is a principle of Parliament that basically we have to have a Speaker who works to make the whole place work?
WINSTON Well, the most unusual people have been good Speakers. The best I ever saw was a guy called Burke – Kerry Burke. People are the—
JESSICA Why was he good?
WINSTON Well, we never thought he would be, and within a week, it was obvious he was going to be because you could tell from his demeanour that you had gone too far and that you weren’t being fair. He never kicked anyone out, and he got amazing cooperation out of the most unlikely people. So I think he was very, very good, and we did not think at the start he would be. Now, he was across the divide. He was a different party’s Speaker, so it’s not so much the party, it’s whether the person understands – you’re Parliament’s man or woman, you’ve got to be independent, you’ve got to be professional, and above all, you’ve got to be fair.
JESSICA In terms of fairness, do you think that David Carter is still very much leaning in favour of National?
WINSTON He hasn’t got past his political colours. He hasn’t dropped the National Party background, and he’s got to do that to be successful. That’s what it actually means in there. If you talk about the romance and majesty of the job, it’s to be Parliament’s person above all else, fearing no party or baggage or obligation. He’s got a long way to go to get there.
JESSICA Because some people would say you’ve been kicked out of Parliament, according to the Parliamentary Library, 38 times. Are you the best judge of what makes a good Speaker?
WINSTON Yeah, I am.
JESSICA Why is that?
WINSTON Because I’ve been treated more unfairly than most.
JESSICA So do you think—?
WINSTON I didn’t come here to make friends, and I didn’t come here to be put down or shut down. And if I was in a court of law, I’d get the answer, and I’m entitled to the answer here too.
JESSICA Do you respect the job that he’s doing?
WINSTON To be fair—
JESSICA Because that’s a point—
WINSTON he didn’t want the job.
WINSTON But the National Party wanted an extra Cabinet post member to be made available. That’s why Williamson outside of Cabinet didn’t get the job.
JESSICA And he’s only been in the job for two months, so don’t you need to give him a bit of leeway?
WINSTON Well, he’s been in Parliament long enough, hasn’t he?
JESSICA Yeah, but doing that—
WINSTON He’s been here since 1994. That is almost 20 years. If you haven’t learnt something in 20 years, maybe you should have gone.
JESSICA Do you think, though, that he does need to be given a little bit of leeway – give him a break, so to speak?
WINSTON Yeah, I think that’s fair.
JESSICA Are you doing that, though?
WINSTON Well, he’s had more than enough breaks so far.
JESSICA Because it seems like you’re giving him a pretty hard time. And watching from the debating chamber, it looks like you’re rarking him up a bit.
WINSTON Well, there’s no use saying, ‘Look, we’ll let the speaker do what he likes and try and learn,’ whilst you lose the game every day trying to get at the truth. Because this is a game or business that’s a raging battle for political plow. And if you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand Parliament. And people are expecting you to put your best foot— and give your best foot forward and give it your best shot. And you cannot have something that is hindering you from doing that.
JESSICA You sued the Speaker a number of years ago for defamation. Some people would say this is personal for you.
WINSTON No, it’s not because of that. You know, you’ve got to have a Speaker that works, because Parliament has got to work in the end run. And for Parliament to work, we’ve all got to make compromises, but you shouldn’t have to make too big a compromise.
JESSICA Does that personal clash, though, make it more difficult for you?
WINSTON It’s not a personal matter between him and me at all, but, you know, he came to me before he got the job and said, ‘We need to talk.’ And my answer was, ‘Well, look, if nobody bothered to consult us about you being chosen in the first place, what would our conversation be about?’
JESSICA So he can stay in the job, in your opinion?
WINSTON Well, he can stay in the job whilst he shows that he’s up to doing the job.
JESSICA And is he?
WINSTON And that should be the condition anyone stays in their job.
JESSICA Is he up to it?
WINSTON Well, as you say, it’s only two months. He’s got a long way to go. We do hope that he does get up to it, yes.