Britain's cash-for-access episode is proof that NZ must tighten parliamentary rules and introduce a code of ethics. A political scandal in Britain, where five politicians have been caught selling their services to fake lobbyists, begs the question - could a cash-for-access scandal ever happen here? It seems unimaginable that one of our MPs would ask questions in the House, obtain access to ministers or host events in Parliament, in return for cash or other backhanders from lobbyists.
I hope that the 50th Parliament will take up the issue of reforming the way Parliament works.
Not the minor twiddling around the edges that the Standing Orders committee does periodically, but a much more fundamental review of how Parliament can be modernised and made more relevant.
So much of Parliamentary procedure is arcane, out-dated, irrelevant and in need of modernisation. Parliament won’t even accept e-petitions, and the Speaker won’t even accept the tabling of digital documents! And a lot of parliamentary debate is so tedious and irrelevant that the media don’t cover it, and few people listen to it.
Many Zealanders tell me they are completely turned off by the nastiness and hostility in the debating chamber.
I suspect one reason for the low voter turn-out in this year’s election is that many people feel alienated from Parliament and the entire political process.
People on my facebook are saying that Parliament is fast becoming irrelevant, and that participating in the democratic process doesn’t seem to make any difference these days. One guy said he felt disempowered and invalidated when he went to the trouble of making a submission to Parliament recently. He felt the entire select committee process was like a ‘democratic placebo’ which does nothing but wasted a lot of his valuable time.
That’s another reason why there needs to be a review of every aspect of the way Parliament works, to see how it could be made more effective and relevant.
We also need to give more power and independence to Parliament, so that it can better hold the government to account. At the moment Parliament operates a lot of the time like a rubber stamp to the executive.
Politicians are notoriously reluctant to make changes to the way they work, so I would like to see an independent review of the way Parliament works. But I am not holding my breath.
See my articles on the need for reform of Parliament.
The worst-kept secret in Parliament is that the present Speaker, Dr Lockwood Smith, is retiring at the end of the year and heading to London to become our high commissioner there. The assumption is that the new Speaker will be a National Party MP, because for some odd reason it has been an accepted convention that the Speaker should come from the ranks of the party that is in government. And so far all the names mentioned as possible candidates for the next Speaker are National Party MPs - Tau Henare, David Carter and Maurice Williamson.
Mr Mallard argues that this committee is too important to be a political plaything, and that someone who is more independent, and not beholden to ministers, should chair it. This is an excellent idea. But why just the finance committee? All of Parliament's select committees are important, and they all need more autonomy. Select committees are supposed to be the engine room of Parliament.
*/ All around the world people are questioning the relevance of political institutions, and public cynicism is growing, not only with politicians, but with the whole political system. In America, the Occupy Wall Street movement is calling for a clean-up of the American political system, which they say is corrupted by lobbyists and by dysfunctional and bitter partisanship.