OPINION: Parliament’s debating chamber has never been a place for the faint hearted. After all, they don’t call it the bear pit for nothing.
So it was only a matter of time before Parliament blew up over Speaker Trevor Mallard’s drive to clean up question time.
Speaker-in-waiting for the last decade, Mallard came into the job with some firm ideas about how things would run under his rule but his effort to stamp out heckling and the usual rough and tumble of political debate is going down like a cup of the proverbial.
Mallard’s new penalties include deducting questions from the Opposition if they step out of line. If Government MPs misbehave, the Opposition picks up extra questions.
But after nine years in Government, much of which was spent staring down an increasingly hostile and rowdy Labour opposition across the House, National can probably feel justifiably aggrieved about the umpire changing the rules.
If an MP had been kicked out every time someone heckled during the last term of Parliament, the debating chamber would have been empty most days.
National is also grappling with the abrupt loss of power and access to officials and information that comes as a right when you are in Government.
Question Time is one of the few occasions in which they can hold the new Government and prime minister to account, and scoring political points off the Government on those occasions does surprising things to Opposition morale.
Which is why resentment has been brewing that Mallard’s new rules are an attempt to screw the scrum in the new Government’s favour.
Throw into that mix Mallard’s incendiary claim that one of National’s male MPs called Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a “stupid little girl” and National’s explosion on Wednesday after having more questions deducted was about as predictable as night follows day.
The mystery of the “stupid little girl” interjection has gone around the world but no one has owned up, and audio of the moment when it is supposed to have been said is almost indecipherable.
National leader Simon Bridges has all but accused Mallard of making it up, which comes close to an expression of no confidence in the Speaker.
Things will only get uglier from here on in unless Mallard agrees to a rapprochement.
Support for this article was provided by stuff