Rocky start on the first day of parliament

House trading
Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Today was the commission opening of parliament, in which the Speaker of the House was elected. This went in an interesting way.

Winston Peters and David Parker, along with 3 other government MPs and 1 opposition MP, were absent, unable to be sworn in.  Winston and Parker were overseas attending the APEC meeting. Thus, when the time came to elect the speaker, it was believed the government didn’t have enough votes to elect Trevor Mallard.

Simon Bridges raised a question, asking whether members not yet sworn in could vote. Expectedly, the answer was no. The National Party front bench then huddled together in conversation, stalling the process.

Labour’s Minister for State Services came over, as did Grant Robertson, joining National in discussions.

National then voted for Trevor Mallard as speaker of the house.

Afterwards, the opposition confirmed they had struck a deal to increase the number of select committee seats to their advantage in exchange for their support of speaker. National had played their cards well, forcing Labour’s hand. An embarrassing mistake for the new government!

Unfortunately, in reality, the government had 57 MPs (excluding Mallard, who couldn’t vote for himself), while the opposition had 56. The Labour Party never needed to make a deal with National to elect Trevor Mallard. They appeared to have fallen for National’s bluff.

This looks embarrassing.

The government appeared to have given the opposition what they wanted, without having any need to. National made them look like fools who don’t have their stuff together. This is not a great start for a government already being attacked for being messy and chaotic.

The government now states this was to avoid a vote, which they viewed as a rockier start.

It’s hard to tell whether this is genuine, though it probably is. It would have been sensible to communicate this beforehand. I’m not sure why the government would care if it went to a vote or not, unless they really valued their time or an alternate perception of stability over select committee seats.

I would not argue that this outcome was more stable than a contested speaker election.

If National had contested the election of the speaker, they would simply lose, and it would be bad for their reputation. Few like needless challenges. Instead, Labour agreed to National’s terms, giving them more power in select committees. I would call this an embarrassing failure for the government, and a sly move from National that makes them look like clever bargainers.

And this is all before Winston chose to sue National and the media.