12 Feb 2020

MPs start debate on confidence in the Government

From The House , 6:55 pm on 12 February 2020

Party leaders launched into the first debate of the year slinging criticism across the House but the debate on the Prime Minister’s statement is actually a chance to remove those in power. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to the Prime Minister's Statement

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to the Prime Minister's Statement Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The Prime Minister’s Statement is an outline of the Government’s plan for the year and it’s the first item of business MPs deal with when they return to the debating chamber after the summer break.

The Statement itself used to be read out in full but now the MPs speak more generally about the Government’s performance. 

“We are the Government of infrastructure. We are the Government of housing, we're the Government of family and child wellbeing, of health and mental health, and the Government for the environment. We are a Government of progress,” Prime Minister Ardern told the House. 

“There is more to do. After nine years in blue smoke and darkness, there is plenty more to do, but this year is the chance for New Zealanders to have their say in making sure we as a Government continue to get the job done.”

Leaders of parties with six or more MPs are allowed 20 minutes for their speeches. Following Ms Ardern was the Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges. 

National Party Leader Simon Bridges during the debate on the Prime Minister's Statement

National Party Leader Simon Bridges during the debate on the Prime Minister's Statement Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

“We hear the stories of New Zealanders who feel they are working harder. They are trying harder. They are doing more,” he said.

“They are spending more time at work, but the tax, the cost, the regulation, whether they are working for someone or they're their own employer, is making things harder, and taxes are going on others and not on them, as money is wasted by this Government like it's a drunken sailor.”

Quips aside the debate is actually about whether or not the House of Representatives has confidence in the Government to lead the country.

Each debate is kicked off with a motion which is a proposition put before the House to consider. 

So Ms Ardern’s speech began: “I move, That this House express its confidence in the coalition Government and commend its programme for 2020, as set out in the Prime Minister's statement.” 

Usually the Leader of the Opposition will put forward an amended motion which Mr Bridges did:

“I move, that all the words after "That" be deleted and replaced with "this House has no confidence in the Labour-led Government because, in just two short years, it has plunged New Zealand into deficit and failed to deliver on any of its promises."

This is now what the House is debating and if a majority of MPs vote in favour of Mr Bridges’ amendment then a new Government would have to be formed. 

But there was a slight hiccup with getting it officially on record. 

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Standing Orders are the rules for how the House works and it's the job of the Speaker to make sure the rules are followed Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

An amendment has to be in writing, signed by the mover, and delivered to the Clerk who sits at the Table in front of the Speaker. 

This has to be done before the mover finishes their speech so the Speaker can read out the new motion for the subsequent speakers to debate. 

But Mr Bridges hadn’t yet done this. 

“For the 12 years I have been in this Parliament, when things are tabled, when motions like that are put, there is customarily a period of time in which to put that before [the House],” said Mr Bridges. 

“I had just finished my Speech and If I wanted to take a little time and actually let Mr Peters start Speaking and hand it over to the Clerk, I think that’s incredibly reasonable.”

The Speaker is in charge of making sure MPs follow the rules of the House and Speaker Trevor Mallard said the rule book says otherwise.

“Anyone who has observed this House knows that it is a practice to give to the Whips a copy of the amendment which is given to the Clerk during the speech, because it has to be put by the Speaker at the end.”

The amendment was eventually put forward and the other party leaders then spoke

Up to thirteen hours can be used for the debate meaning most MPs will get a chance to speak. 

The debate is spread out over several days so other legislation or business can be dealt with. At the end of the debate a vote will take place on whether or not the House has confidence in the Government. 

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