I did something yesterday that I hadn’t done in ages. Watch Oral Questions in parliament. I’m not sure what happened in all the episodes I missed, but nothing much seemed to have changed.
For those unfamiliar, Question Time takes place in parliament at 2pm each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the roughly 30 weeks per year that parliament sits. The best, or at least more serious, sessions are on the Tuesday and the Wednesday.
Thursdays, the equivalent of a Friday in most work places, can be a bit less focussed. It’s the end of the week, plus party leaders don’t usually attend on a Thursday. While the heavy drinking days of decades past are largely gone, it’s also not unknown for some MPs to be feeling a tad under the weather after a big Wednesday.
Some MPs have even made a practice of getting themselves kicked out of the chamber on a Thursday, allegedly in order to get an earlier flight home. Simon Bridges was so obvious in doing this on repeat occasions that, then speaker, Trevor Mallard called him out on it. As one might warn a child acting up - I can see what you’re doing.
Question Time, or Oral Questions, is an hour long opportunity for MPs to put questions to government Ministers. You can read about how questions are allotted and how Oral Questions work here.
Broadly these are the types of questions that MPs ask:
Political grandstanding - the opposition MP doesn’t actually have a question to ask but will use a series of supplementary questions to repeat prepared sound bites and accusations that they would like to have appear on the 6pm news.
Patsy questions - these are asked by a member of the Minister’s own party. They are an opportunity for the government to give a speech on the great work they’re doing, with the hope of it appearing on the 6pm news.
WTAF questions - odd things that are peculiar, or very limited in scope. Usually asked by backbench MPs that no one has ever heard of, or MPs who find themselves as independents with a new found passion for asking questions relating to their electorate.
Break the Minister questions - I don’t have anything to ask you but I’m going to continuously twist your words and make allegations against you, while my colleagues make barnyard animal noises, until you have a breakdown. Also known as “the Melissa Lee”.
Encouraging questions - challenging the government in a constructive way to do even more. These are quite rare but are occasionally used by the Greens, who like to smile pleasantly at the Minister while asking them why they keep eating babies.
Sometimes Oral Questions begins with a Patsy question but usually, as yesterday, it’s a grandstanding question from the leader of the opposition.
Question 1, Christopher Luxon to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all of his Government's statements and actions?
The leader of the National and/or ACT parties ask this question most sitting days. It has a couple of advantages over more detailed questions.
Because the primary question is essentially limitless in scope the MP asking the question can follow it up with pretty much any supplementary question they like. The downside of leading with such a generic question is that they can’t actually ask for any specific information.
Primary questions are circulated earlier in the day so that staff can prepare information and data for the Minister. If a question has not been “put on notice”, the Minister isn’t expected to just know the answer off the top of their head, so they’re not required to answer it.
The other advantage to repeatedly using this question is that is doesn’t require any effort. Although I’m sure the fact that Luxon and Seymour use it so frequently is purely coincidental. Having said that you wouldn’t expect Nicola Willis to rock up with such a question. She definitely seems like the sort that has always done their homework. The kid at school who would’ve found a way of letting the teacher know if you hadn’t done yours.
Christopher Luxon’s supplementary questions were mostly focused on mocking government advice to reduce power bills, one suggestion being to take shorter showers. Ha Ha - funny isn’t it, mocking the idea that people might be careful with their money at a time of high living costs. Hilarious.
I wonder if it’ll be as funny when Nicola Willis, as Finance Minister, is challenged for suggesting flour and water would be a good way to fill hungry tummies. Better living everyone.
It was pointed out to Mr Luxon that National ran the same kind of energy saving campaign back in 2009. The man who launched that National campaign, Gerry Brownlee, and Luxon, agreed that while the Labour one is a waste of tax payer’s money, the National one had in fact been “brilliant”.
That theme continued when Luxon played his favourite game - your spending is inflationary, but mine isn’t. Because I said so.
Question 1 concluded with the Prime Minister saying “I think the point remains: it is valid to encourage New Zealanders to think about the decisions they take on a day-to-day basis and what that can do for their energy demand, and it's just as valid to do it now as it was when Gerry Brownlee was doing it.”
I was just feeling glad that we must’ve already solved Climate Change, Poverty, and Health funding. I mean, I assume they must be solved. The only other explanation, given Luxon used his question to quibble over sensible, non mandatory, money saving advice, would be that those other things are just not as important to him. As showers.
Question 3, DAVID SEYMOUR to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his Government's statements and actions?
Hmm, this one looked familiar.
It sounded familiar too. David was also concerned at the suggestion people have five minute showers. He asked if it was time for the Government's spending to take a cold shower? I’m assuming, although I really don’t want to think too hard about it, that Mr Seymour was alluding to temperature related shrinkage.
Again the Prime Minister responded - It is just as important now as it was when the National Government repeatedly launched energy efficiency campaigns when they were in Government supported by the ACT Party.
If anyone thought the questioning from the two men, who would lead New Zealand, was a tad petty - Matariki was up next.
David Seymour: Does he think that the $18 million in the Budget for "public awareness of Matariki" could be cut given a popular website called G-o-o-g-l-e dot c-o-m can find 3.4 million results mentioning Matariki in 0.31 seconds?
Rt Hon Chris Hipkins: It's good to see the member has diversified his Google searches away from his own name. But I do think that Matariki is a holiday that New Zealand should be proud of, and I have no issue with us spending a very modest amount of money helping to promote Matariki, understanding of what Matariki is, and New Zealanders' celebration of it.
Apparently David Seymour’s idea of an effective way to inform the public, is that they can just use Google. Great. For about the 450th time I was struck by just how glad I was that Mr Seymour was nowhere near being in charge when Covid hit.
Question 5, NICOLA WILLIS to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with Treasury's statement in the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update 2023 that “relative to the Half Year Update ... interest rates are likely to stay higher for longer to manage inflationary pressure”, and what impact does he expect this will have on mortgage holders?
I will save you the long response to the initial question.
Nicola then used a favourite approach of hers, asking her supplementary questions……. very…… very…… slowly. As if to imply that the person she was talking to was a bit slow. Sadly for Nicola she was talking to Grant Robertson and she’d brought a fork to a gun fight.
Nicola went down the same spending under Labour is inflationary, but it isn’t under National, road as her leader. I don’t know what the basis for that argument is. Magic pixie dust? Or it’s coloured blue, or something? The alternate name for this tune is private spending good, public spending bad, which is a philosophical argument, not an economic one.
Grant spoke to Mrs Willis at normal speed, he’d no need to resort to speaking slowly.
Hon Grant Robertson: I think the member needs to look very carefully at the design of the tax package that she is putting forward, and ask herself, in the environment that we're in right now, if she really, really thinks that giving the kind of tax cuts to the highest-income earners would not be inflationary and, apart from anything else, would be the wrong thing to do.
In answer to the first part of her question, I just invite the member to read past the executive summary of the BEFU, where her quote came from, to page 15, which shows real Government consumption declining over the forecast period.
The questions continued. Simeon Brown didn’t have one to ask but tried to make himself useful by yelling out “couldn’t even run a bath” over the top of associate Education Minister Jo Luxton. He then realised they were supposed to be talking about showers so he started shouting that they “couldn’t even run a shower” instead.
Parliament feels a little dull at the moment from an entertainment perspective. Christopher Luxon is no John Key in the debating chamber. He is also no Judith Collins, or Simon Bridges. In fact the only one I’d compare him to would be Todd Muller. Truly a battle for the wooden spoon in the pantheon of National Party leaders.
Love him or hate him, or even both, Winston Peters was hilarious in the chamber. When he got that twinkle in the eye, that grin that indicated the punchline was about to arrive, the feigned outrage, and the trail mix of theories, he was the second most memorable MP I’ve seen in the debating chamber.
The top one wasn’t Jacinda, she was formidable for sure, but the top job doesn’t allow for much mirth. No, it’s Grant Robertson. Whether you consider his level of knowledge and mastery of detail. His genuinely funny monologues and biting ripostes. Or his ability to speak from the heart about people. He’s the best in the business in my opinion.
Chris Hipkins made Christopher Luxon and David Seymour look a bit silly yesterday, although to be fair it was largely self inflicted. Judging by the form Grant Robertson demonstrated, Nicola Willis might need to do a wee bit more homework after all.
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