THE HAPS

ACT is always pushing for better policy, our latest release is Real Change: Law and Order. The full document was widely publicised when released last week. It is filled with positive solutions, such as Instant Practical Penalties for youth criminals.

Meanwhile, it is all on in Wellington. There are scandals in Labour and National, a protest, the country’s least popular Speaker retires, Nelson is flooded and the Government is in pickle about whether Māori language is mandatory for teachers.

QUESTIONS GAURAV COULD ANSWER ABOUT ARDERN GOVT

We can’t tell if Gaurav Sharma is a tortured genius or hapless self promoter. For the former, we present his rise from the lowest stream in fifth form (after arriving from India) to Proxime Accessit (second in the school) at Auckland Grammar. For the latter case, his grinning in the limelight while he dynamites the career he swears he slaved for for until a few days ago.


What we do know is this. The Uffindell and now Sharma scandals are not helping New Zealanders solve their problems. Prices rise and crimes are committed while the news cycle spins on a couple of dubious characters. None of it’s a good advertisement for democracy, which needs all the help it can get around the world right now.


But Free Press is an optimistic publication. We try to make the most of things, and we got to thinking about how Gaurav could make New Zealand a better place from his precarious position. It turns out that he’s ideally positioned. Gaurav’s frustrations are ones that Opposition MPs feel, too.


He’s in the Labour Party, but not in the Government. In theory he is a Parliamentarian, just as interested in holding Government Ministers accountable on behalf of the good people of Hamilton West as, say, David Seymour is for the people of Epsom. At the core of Sharma’s frustration is that Labour hasn’t promoted him to be a Minister in the Government, but won’t let him hold it accountable either.


So he’s going rogue from no man’s land. He’s opened a can of whoop-ass on Labour. His scheme of takedowns is not showing any sign of slowing.


Forty MPs, nearly a third of Parliament, are in Sharma’s position. They are the Labour MPs who aren’t Ministers. No Government had had so many backbenchers. They’re at the centre of three riddles that Sharma could answer.


How do they get you to give one minute speeches? Labour backbench MPs are not good speakers. They get very little practice, they’re only allowed to speak for one minute at a time in Parliament.


These Labour backbenchers are, by their own admission, very clever people. They’re academics and teachers and union organisers, people who are used to talking for an hour at a time. Yet somehow their speeches in Parliament are only one minute, sometimes two if they’re lucky.


In written form, Parliament’s Hansard shows their feeble spurts. It reads like they have little more than a paragraph to say for themselves. How do the Labour heavies get them to say so little?


How do you resist doing Select Committee inquiries? Select Committees have always favoured the Government instead of holding it accountable. (David Seymour has a Members’ Bill that would turn Select Committees over to the opposition).


However, Labour’s select committees are the worst. They have bigger majorities on Select Committee thanks to 2020’s COVID-assisted landslide. They refuse inquiries and block opposition members from asking questions when there is one. They’ve been reprimanded even by Speaker Mallard for their poor behaviour.


As with speaking in Parliament, these are talented people. They could ask great questions on Committee, if only they were unleashed. But they don’t. What do the Labour Party say to them? How are they controlled? Is it threats or promises?


Then there’s the Official Information Act (OIA). Sharma’s released screenshots that claim to show Minister Kiri Allan telling backbenchers not to put anything in writing on behalf of their constituents because ‘things unfolding through OIA process less than desirable.’ Instead they should ‘talk to [Ministers] directly.’


The upshot is you ask the Minister and he or she says yes or no and that’s it. They certainly don’t want any public scrutiny of their decisions, or any public record of what Labour Backbenchers really think.


The upshot is that this Government, has managed to suppress a third of Parliament from doing their job. They barely speak in the House, they block rather than assist Select Committees, and they only advocate for their constituents if the Ministers agree.


Explaining how this has happened under the Ardern Government would help explain what’s going on in New Zealand. If Sharma could reveal good answers to these questions, he’d be doing all of us, and the cause of democracy, a great service.

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