Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Absent Members

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  • Moz,

    What about those members whom the electorate would gladly pay if only they would absent themselves from the house?

    Excuse me if I'm unusually cynical right now, I live in Australia where the media thinks they're the chorus in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and keep singing "where are the clowns, there ought to be clowns..." and the parties are playing along.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I'm thinking of solutions that don't require changes to the law - like you I agree that it's not a particularly useful one. Is there the possibility of a statutory body (the SSC?) publishing a register of attendance? I mean, it's difficult enough to work out who attended Parliament on a particular day, let alone 120 MPs over 3 years of sitting.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Ahem: when I worked in woollen mills, you clocked in.
    Is this going to be so difficult for hon members in this electronc age?

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • rustyskates,

    Ahem: when I worked in woollen mills, you clocked in.
    Is this going to be so difficult for hon members in this electronc age?

    Solution: foursquare! Who will be the mayor of the Beehive?

    Since Mar 2009 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Joanna,

    Solution: foursquare! Who will be the mayor of the Beehive?

    Awesome!

    Also Graeme, what's up with this whole rational thinking business about how actually we do have control over our MPs? Shouldn't you just be baying for blood?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 746 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Solution: foursquare!

    Or Flybuys - every sitting day gets you closer to that shiny toaster. They could even add the remaining travel perks to the scheme.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I agree that treating our MPs like schoolchildren or clock-watching factory hands is silly. I don't vote for them to sit around in Parliament. I did it so that they would vote in the important legislation in a direction I agree with. How they come by their opinions on what should be done is entirely up to them and could be done by spending a lot of time with their constituents, discussing with their colleagues, browsing the internet, or lying in bed for all I care.

    The ones who hold some Ministerial brief clearly have more regimented jobs. But I'd expect the party to hold them accountable first, and the public second if they fail of these duties. Not some bureaucrat.

    Why was I not surprised to find you blogger link going to Kiwiblog? DPF has banged on about this shit for years and years, like enforcing his idea of working hours on MPs is somehow going to make them actually do better jobs.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Thomas Johnson,

    I thought that they whole $10 story was rather pointless. Surely Carter is getting much more 'punishment' by Labour leader and party than any sort of hand-smacking by the speaker.

    Focussing on attendence is rather pointless, anyone who cares can find out which MP's are doing a decent job by looking locally and at resources which are already available (although I note that CC has been purged from the Labour website)

    Wellington • Since Oct 2007 • 98 posts Report Reply

  • Mikaere Curtis,

    IIRC, Gerry Adams et al were able to be absentee MPs at Westminster - they had a policy of never setting foot there. I think this was a factor in moving Northand Island politics from violence to dialogue. Full-time, paid activists are able to get a lot done.

    This is an example of what Graham is proposing, with arguably positive outcomes.

    Tamaki Makaurau • Since Nov 2006 • 528 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Or Flybuys - every sitting day gets you closer to that shiny toaster. They could even add the remaining travel perks to the scheme.

    To address Ben Wilson's point above, select committees could be worth more points, as would ministerial responsibilities.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Excuse me if I'm unusually cynical right now, I live in Australia where the media thinks they're the chorus in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and keep singing "where are the clowns, there ought to be clowns..."

    Moz: That would be a Sondheim musical, and rather than 'Send in The Clowns' this wee gem might sum up the Australian election better -

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    I'm thinking of solutions that don't require changes to the law - like you I agree that it's not a particularly useful one. Is there the possibility of a statutory body (the SSC?) publishing a register of attendance? I mean, it's difficult enough to work out who attended Parliament on a particular day, let alone 120 MPs over 3 years of sitting.

    I suspect that's the sort of thing they'd regard as a contempt.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    I'm thinking of solutions that don't require changes to the law - like you I agree that it's not a particularly useful one. Is there the possibility of a statutory body (the SSC?) publishing a register of attendance?

    A statutory body? No chance. Parliament doesn't like being told what to do by other people. Parliament itself? Maybe. After the bit I reference above, the Law Commission's Issues Paper notes:

    The Serjeant-at-Arms kept a daily record of members’ attendance in the House.

    However this record of members’ attendance is no longer maintained. Since 1985, the Speaker has been able to delegate the power to grant leave of absence to other members. As a result, a central record of attendance became practically impossible to maintain, as each party had delegated authority to grant leave of absence and maintained its own records.

    in 1999, the Standing Orders Committee considered the obligation on members of parliament to attend the House. It described section 20 of the Civil List Act 1979 as “totally ineffective” and suggested that the provisions of section 20 should either be repealed or made effective. It also noted that the record keeping should either be made effective or it should be abandoned, but that making it effective would
    greatly increase the parliamentary bureaucracy, and would probably require a recentralisation of the granting of leave of absence, a course which the Committee did not favour.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Why was I not surprised to find you blogger link going to Kiwiblog? DPF has banged on about this shit for years and years, like enforcing his idea of working hours on MPs is somehow going to make them actually do better jobs.

    I actually wrote the sentence first, and went looking for people to link to at the end. DPF was just the first place I looked.

    I think you're being a little unfair on him too. DPF hasn't complained about MP working hours; rather, his past concern was about sitting hours. He doesn't expect MPs to sit in the House for massive amounts of time, he'd just like the House to make more time available for the passage of legislation. It's not actually all that many hours in a year.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I agree that treating our MPs like schoolchildren or clock-watching factory hands is silly. I don't vote for them to sit around in Parliament.

    Um... no, but by the same token I think it was entirely justifiable for eyebrows to raise when the US Senator with the worse attendance record in the last Congress wasn't the man who was recovering from major brain surgery.

    I did it so that they would vote in the important legislation in a direction I agree with. How they come by their opinions on what should be done is entirely up to them and could be done by spending a lot of time with their constituents, discussing with their colleagues, browsing the internet, or lying in bed for all I care.

    Well, I guess while your MP is contemplating legislation while wrapped around a hot water bottle, there might be one or two constituents in Te Atatu hoping someone is covering the constituency clinics. Might be nice if electorate MPs actually front those occasionally -- I know from experience that they can actually make a pratical difference to people's lives, even though they don't get a lot of media play.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    I liked the old idea of actually having to be in the house to vote, at least then the opposition had a chance to affect the outcome of a debate. The whole party whip thing needs a good rodgering too, if you ask me, there is little point in having MPs at all if they just agree with their dear leader all the time.
    As to the attendance issue, chip the buggers I say and arrange it so's us voters can administer a shock when they piss us off.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Well, I guess while your MP is contemplating legislation while wrapped around a hot water bottle, there might be one or two constituents in Te Atatu hoping someone is covering the constituency clinics.

    There's a lot of ways they could spend their days that would be wonderful to people in need. They could go down to a soup kitchen and lend a hand too, or pitch in on the road works with a shovel. But I don't think it's really my place to insist they do. Basically their main job is to represent, and they have a lot of leeway in how they do that, and the mechanism for the constituents to reward or punish them is already in place.

    I think you're being a little unfair on him too. DPF hasn't complained about MP working hours; rather, his past concern was about sitting hours.

    Right, but he seem to equate the available sitting hours with work-that-should-be-done, and frequently rates the MPs on that scale.

    I guess I have a very different opinion about the job of MPs. I couldn't give the slightest crap about how many hours they put in on whatever DPF thinks they should, if they end up voting for legislation that I think is wrong. Not one minute of the time they spent diligently getting their twaddle onto Hansard counts against that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Basically their main job is to represent, and they have a lot of leeway in how they do that, and the mechanism for the constituents to reward or punish them is already in place.

    I think that's an argument at cross purposes to what is happening with Carter. If he was working but just not sitting in the house that's still working. If he's on leave, he's not doing that work at all, so it's like me taking annual leave or sick leave.

    I don't mind that, but there's a valid question to be asked of how long an MP can be paid to be an MP but not actually do the work. 2 months? 6 months? a year? Surely at some stage the speaker has to say to their party leader "umm, what are we paying this guy for again?"

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Surely at some stage the speaker has to say to their party leader "umm, what are we paying this guy for again?"

    Perfectly reasonable. The mechanism to allow this is for the House to amend Standing Orders.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I don't mind that, but there's a valid question to be asked of how long an MP can be paid to be an MP but not actually do the work. 2 months? 6 months? a year?

    3 years per review. And if they're still getting voted in, then perhaps them not doing the work is exactly what everyone wants.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    And of course, being in the House is no measure of effectiveness.

    Roger Douglas was reading bad crime-fiction in the house the other day. Yeah, I'm probably in contempt, but some things are simply contemptuous.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    You people all realise that health is a prohibited ground of discrimination in NZ, and that sacking someone for being sick is both illegal and immoral, right?

    And yes, that applies to the House too. The BORA binds them just as much as it binds every other part of the government.

    But Carter aside, I agree its a potential problem, which needs to be dealt with. And Graeme's suggestion of simply making it a contempt is a good one. Besides, it would help focus contempt on how the House manages itself, and away from it trying to manage what we think of it.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    In a democracy, there doesn't need to be legislation around things like MP absences or party-hopping. If it's a big deal for us, we get to kick them out.

    To go off on a slight tangent: as someone who at one time voted Alliance with my list vote, only to see Alamein Kopu paid $70K a year not turn up to work, then to refuse to represent the party she was a List MP for, for more than two years, I would disagree that simply being able to vote them out every general election is sufficient as a check against this sort of behaviour.

    At the same time, I'm not sure that leaving this sort of thing to the discretion of the Speaker is such a good idea either-I find myself agreeing with Lockwood Smith's underlying implication that the unusual power of the Speaker over someone's career and livelihood should be looked at carefully. We so often speak of expecting MPs to "play by the same rules as the rest of us"; maybe we should start looking at treating their conditions of employment the same as the rest of us too.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    I've just been reading through the transcript of the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill (First Reading). Quite interesting stuff, given subsequent events.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I'm 100% with Graeme on this. The electorate should be the judge of an MPs performance. Having Parliament able to sanction members is at best unnecessary and at worst an interference with our right to elect who we choose.

    Following from that though, if it's a breach of the BORA to fire an MP for sickness as I/S suggests, are the electors liable if they vote out a sick MP?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

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