While reading the news while eating breakfast this morning, I was surprised to discover that the Green Party is set to hand over many of their parliamentary questions to the opposition National Party.
Speaking from experience, Question Time is a guilty pleasure of many undergraduate students who happen to be at home on Tuesday-Thursday afternoons with nothing better to do. Question time should be all about obtaining information and keeping ministers accountable. It’s also when Parliament is at its most theatrical, mostly due to the antics of Winston Peters (my favourite being an insult directed at Gerry Brownlee in 2012).
One curiosity is that the questions are allocated based upon the number of seats a party has. Given that more than half of MPs form a government, more than half of the questions are allocated to the government. Since the government has all the information at its fingertips and is not interested in holding itself to account, it has no real need for these questions. Subsequently half of Question Time is so-called “patsy” questions where government MPs ask each other softball questions that allow them to talk up the government’s performance.
While I haven’t watched a Question Time session for the new Labour/NZF government, the patsy questions by the National/ACT/UF/MP government were dull and misinforming. The Green Party also sees patsy questions as pointless, as cited for their decision to hand their questions over to the National Party.
While I agree that patsy questions are a waste of time, I have two objections to giving the questions to the National Party:
Firstly, James Shaw was quoted as saying:
“We think patsy questions are a waste of time, and New Zealanders have not put us in Parliament to do that; we’re there to make positive change for our people and our environment.
The National Party will not use these questions to improve peoples’ lives or the environment. They will use them to oppose the Government’s agenda in favour of corporatist, anti-environmentalist conservatism and not for positive change. Shaw has naively assumed that all MPs are as decent, honest, and compassionate as he is.
Secondly, the Green MPs support the government in a confidence and supply deal that allows them considerable freedom to criticise much of the Government’s agenda for not going far enough. For example, the government is betraying its voters by pushing ahead with the terrible CPTPP “trade” deal despite wide opposition from the public. The Greens could use their questions not to ask softballs to their own ministers, but to hold Labour and NZF ministers to account instead.
I suspect the dimwitted mouthpieces in the media will soon praise the Greens for their “maturity”. The vapid blue-greens now have another reason to feel good about themselves while remaining disconnected from reality. Meanwhile, the National Party will have more scope to resist the slight semblances of progress that our “centre-left” government is willing to make.
This abdication of responsibility by the Greens is bad for democracy, bad for the environment, and bad for the quality of life of the New Zealand people. I expected more from the Greens, the logic behind this move beggars belief. The Greens should be using their influence to drag the government further left and not allow the National Party to call the shots. I hope they see sense and call off this ridiculous decision.