14 Apr 2019

The house with walls of noise

From The House , 7:30 am on 14 April 2019

If you’re in the mood for a wall of noise experience you could try an industrial metal concert, but it’s cheaper to go to Parliament for Oral Questions.

Ok, that’s an unequal contest, but sometimes it feels close. When people watch question time from the public gallery for the first time their response is frequently some version of ‘I had not idea it was so loud!’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks in a debate on the Prime Minister's Statement.

 Members of the Public can experience Parliament in all it's glory (and volume) from the public galleries around the chamber. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

It’s particularly loud if the rhetorical contest is between the party leaders. Sometimes it’s actually hard to make out the Prime Minister's answers over all the barracking, despite the fact that, as the MP answering she is amplified.

The really disconcerting thing is that it’s not loud all of the time. The moment an answer is finished and it’s time for the next question, you could hear a pin drop. MPs can interject during answers but not questions.

So what’s the point of all of the noise? Is it anger, or frustration, or is there a sharper point to it all?

There are tactics and I asked Gerry Brownlee to explain some of them. Listen to his take on it in the audio above (after a brief explanation of the rules of ministerial responsibility - bonus). 

National MP Gerry Brownlee in the House

Gerry Brownlee in the debating chamber, where he is the Shadow Leader of the House, responsible for leading the opposition's response to the government's legislative plan. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith