4 Apr 2019

Has political peace broken out?

From The House , 6:55 pm on 4 April 2019

There has been a unified sense of tragedy since the Christchurch attacks, and the near unanimity achieved in the political response regarding gun control is extraordinary given the subject matter but surely it's not 'peace in our time'.

It was extraordinary on Tuesday when every MP (except one without a good watch), agreed to move fast on an issue stuck in aspic for most of their political careers. For the younger MPs, for most of their lives.

Labour MP Michael Wood chairs the Finance and Expenditure Committee

Labour MP and Chair of the Finance and Expenditure Committee Michael Wood. He is leading the committee review of the firearms control legislation that passed its first reading on Tuesday. The FEC was chosen as the responsible committee as it has a big membership and a wide cross representation.  Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The last couple of weeks have been unusual, and on the topic of gun control that sense of combined purpose is obvious. The parties have cooperated well to achieve a process that feels driven by Parliament rather than by Government. For example the Government could have achieved a speedy process for the bill via an urgency motion, requiring a simple majority, but opted to seek the leave of the House, requiring unanimity (and achieved it when the sole dissenting voice was late for the compulsory start of the day's sitting). 

So, yes, there is cooperation and a reasonably unified purpose, but there is not about to be an epidemic of agreement.

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Labour MP Kiri Allan wills an answer from a submitter on the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

When the week began the flags around Parliament returned to full mast, and so did “politics as usual”. This is not a bad thing. What’s a Westminster system based on the adversarial testing of performance and ideas, without the adversarial bit.

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters listen to a question

 Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters listen to a query from Simon Bridges during Oral Questions on Wednesday Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Parliament is generally civil but the very idea of a Parliament is the ascendency of excellence through a clash of ideas. So a lack of comity is pretty much baked in. 

Despite that, Parliament agrees on things more often than you might think. But disagreeing is more usual. And gun control wasn’t the only thing up for debate this week, it was just the one getting all the attention.

This week - other than the gun control bill two Local Bills completed stages, one progressed, one died. Three Member's Bills got through a stage - two of them survived. And seven government Bills survived a stage of debate, eight if you count the budget confirmation that didn't require debate. So there was a lot to disagree about.

National MPs Alfred Ngaro & Louise Upston listen to an answer

National MPs Alfred Ngaro & Louise Upston listen to an answer Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

And a lot was disagreed about. It wouldn't be Parliament if that wasn't the case. It's really the whole point.

So yes, there’s been something of a truce. But it's a subject specific truce, they do happen. It’s not an armistice.